NBA’s Worst: The Detroit Pistons

The Detroit Pistons currently sit ninth in the Eastern Conference and 21st overall in the league with a 26-29 record. They are not only plummeting in the rankings but have continuously been relegated to the unenviable position of NBA purgatory— based on the trajectory of the current team, the Pistons are slated to finish the season shy of the playoffs and a low lottery pick in the coming NBA Draft. This scenario is not the ideal scenario for the Pistons, as they not only miss the playoffs but cripple their chances to attain high-level talent in the NBA Draft. At this point, many Piston’s hopefuls should believe Interim General Manager of the Pistons, Ed Stefanski, can finally pull the plug on the ineffectual core of Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond. However, what makes the Detroit Pistons undoubtedly the worst franchise in the NBA, is that they even lack the capacity to tank. With the NBA Championship remaining nothing more than a pipe dream and the Western Conference All-Star Team (Golden State Warriors) stymieing the hopes of 29 other franchises, the logical choice for the Detroit Pistons is to acquire cost-controlled talent through the NBA Draft. Unfortunately, the glutenous contracts of their lackluster trio— Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond— limit the Pistons’ ability even to do that. Furthermore, the Pistons lack unique young talent that can lead to internal growth within the roster all while the presence of bad contracts bloats their payroll and consumes their financial flexibility to make roster moves.


Stars that Hurt the Team

While other objectively horrible teams such as the Washington Wizards and the Charlotte Hornets (to a lesser extent) are weighed down by colossal contracts of their own stars, these teams still possess valuable assets such as Kemba Walker and Bradley Beal. On the other hand, the Pistons most impactful players are not only inferior compared to other players around the league but are also on the books for huge contracts. Point guard Reggie Jackson will receive $35,130,434 in the next two seasons, which is a severe overpay for logging a +1.0 net-rating in his on/off splits and accumulating only 3.1 win-shares this season. Additionally, the Pistons most valuable player, Blake Griffin, is locked up to a 5-year $173 million deal with a player option. Despite his +4.6 net-rating when on the court and 5.3 win-shares, Blake Griffin’s value and production will only sharply decrease with age due to his reliance on athleticism. Already in his athletic decline, Griffin will become 30 on March 16th and guaranteed $102,919,892 for the next three years.

To make matters worse, Griffin will collect an exorbitant $38, 957,028 in the 2021-2022 season if he chooses not to exercise his early termination option. Finally, despite Andre Drummond being only 25 and showing promise as a scorer and rebounder (16.5ppg and 14.8rpg), his one-dimensional game stunts and depreciates his overall effect. Drummond’s inability to switch onto quicker perimeter players and stretch the defense (91.4% of shots came between the rim and 3 feet) demonstrates his lack of versatility. His unimpactful game is further expressed in his advanced stats: 4.6 win-shares and +1.8 net-rating. To compound this issue, Drummond is guaranteed a whopping $52,527,282 in the next two years and has a player option for $28,751,775 in the 2020-2021 season.

To summarize, the Detroit Pistons are likely chained to the collective contracts of Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond, as no teams would consider taking on massive long-term contracts for ineffectual talent. With the last year of these contracts coming off in the 2023 offseason, they will only act as a hindrance to the success of the Detroit Pistons with their plummeting value. These contracts offer sufficient talent to win games in the season, but not enough to play meaningful games in the NBA Playoffs (or make the Playoffs altogether). This perpetual pattern of mediocrity will only lead to further mediocrity and stagnation for the Pistons.


A Bleak Long-Term Outlook

Looking past the dreadful max contracts handed to their suboptimal coalition of Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond, the Detroit Pistons roster also lacks any sort of long-term cornerstone to build off.  This dearth in long-term talent is the result of the Pistons’ debilitating habit of mortgaging the future for short term needs, leading to a lack of internal growth. Young talents including Luke Kennard, Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson, Bruce Brown, and Khyri Thomas (so far) have not demonstrated any level of star potential (combined win-shares of 2.4 in 53 games). Instead, Detroit has drafted these players–– primarily shooters and wing defenders–– as rotation players for their specific skill. While this in the short term gives the Pistons stopgaps within their rotations and fills team needs, the Pistons are relinquishing the opportunity to add a project that can eventually blossom into a high-level player and become the centralized focus of their team. This explains their myriad of draft blunders in recent years. Most notoriously, the 2017 NBA Draft offered a chance for the Pistons to take the prolific and athletic guard Donovan Mitchell; Nonetheless, they prioritized team needs in shooting and went for sharpshooting Luke Kennard despite his lack of other discernable skill. Using the NBA Draft as an avenue to fulfill team needs as opposed to drafting a developmental project that can eventually grow into a cornerstone has severely limited the Pistons chances of competing in the upper echelon of the NBA Eastern Conference.



A Bloating Payroll

The Detroit Pistons in the 2018-2019 season have $125,013,947 committed to their lackluster roster, placing them just $481,625 below the tax line. This level of financial inflexibility makes it difficult for the Pistons to make roster moves, whether it be through trade and signing. It doesn’t help that large contracts were handed out to market value players including Jon Leuer ($19,510,724 over two years) and Langston Galloway ($14,333,333 over two years). Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to be any significant form of cap space relief in the foreseeable future as a combination of Ish Smith, Jose Calderon, and Zaza Pachulia’s contract only grants a $10 million release, placing the guaranteed salary at $116,807,015 for the 2019-2020 season. Compounding the issue even further are the contracts mentioned earlier of Jackson, Drummond, and Griffin, as Griffin and Drummond’s depreciating value on the market would only discourage the exercise of their player option. In other words, the Detroit Pistons’ choice to tie a massive sum of salary in the long term to mediocre talent has restricted the Pistons financially, thus, limiting their ability to improve their prospects for the foreseeable future.

While the Detroit Pistons by no means is the worst team in the NBA talent-wise, their debilitating contracts force an ineffectual trio of stars onto the court without the option to trade them. Additionally, their lack of star potential in their young prospects from their short-sighted draft choices had all but assured a bleak outlook for the future when their current stars move on. Finally, their lack of financial flexibility has severely restricted general manager Ed Stefanski from making decisions and evaluating options to improve the team. The combination of these three factors undoubtedly makes the Detroit Pistons the NBA’s worst.



Sports Reference LLC ” Reggie Jackson 2018-2019 On/Off.” – Basketball Statistics and History. 02/05/2019

Sports Reference LLC ” Reggie Jackson.” – Basketball    Statistics and History. 02/05/2019

Sports Reference LLC ” Detroit Pistons Team Payroll.” – Basketball       Statistics and History. 02/05/2019

Sports Reference LLC ” Blake Griffin 2018-19 On/Off.” – Basketball     Statistics and History. 02/05/2019

Sports Reference LLC ” Andre Drummond 2018-2019 Shooting.” –       Basketball Statistics and History. 02/05/2019

Sports Reference LLC ” Andre Drummond 2018-2019 On/Off.” –          Basketball Statistics and History. 02/05/2019

Sports Reference LLC ” 2017 NBA Draft.” – Basketball Statistics and    History. 02/05/2019

Sports Reference LLC ” Bruce Brown.” – Basketball       Statistics and History. 02/05/2019

Sports Reference LLC ” Luke Kennard.” – Basketball      Statistics and History. 02/05/2019

Sports Reference LLC ” Khyri Thomas.” – Basketball      Statistics and History. 02/05/2019

Sports Reference LLC ” Henry Ellenson.” – Basketball    Statistics and History. 02/05/2019

Sports Reference LLC ” Stanley Johnson.” – Basketball Statistics and History. 02/05/2019

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