DETROIT – The Detroit Pistons' season is over. They will be postseason spectators for the second consecutive year and for the third time in Stan Van Gundy’s four seasons as head coach and team president.
The Pistons showed promise at a few important points throughout the season, but luck was not on their side as injuries to key players piled up. This is the franchise’s ninth losing season (39-43) of their last 10.
However, the highlights from this Pistons season show they have a chance to be right back in the mix for the 2018-19 season.
What went wrong?
Early this season the Pistons looked like a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.
They got off to a 14-6 start by the end of November; good enough for second place in the East. Despite the season-ending ankle injury to forward, Jon Leuer on Oct. 31, the team looked strong heading into the dog days of the season.
However, the injury bug struck the Pistons again the day after Christmas when point guard Reggie Jackson went down with a right ankle sprain in a game against the Suns. Jackson was averaging just over 14 points and five assists per game before his injury.
Jackson’s injury led the team to a complete makeover just before the All-Star break.
Just over a week before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, Van Gundy shocked the NBA world by trading for Los Angeles Clippers forward, Blake Griffin.
The trade sent Pistons’ starters Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley to the Clippers, as well as their 2018 first-round draft pick and Boban Marjanovic. The Pistons received Griffin, Brice Johnson and Willie Reed.
Griffin came to a team that had fallen to 23-26 as of Jan. 31. They fell to ninth place in the East and Griffin was not enough to dig them out of that hole.
The Pistons went 6-11 after the All-Star break before Griffin missed the last four games of the season with an ankle injury.
After missing 37 games, Jackson returned to the Pistons lineup only to play four games with the regular starters before Griffin’s injury.
Their 115-108 home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers last week officially eliminated them from playoff contention and opened up the discussion about where the team is headed toward next season.
What comes next?
Perhaps the most important topic heading into the offseason for the Pistons is the job status of Van Gundy.
In early March, reports started circulating that said both of Van Gundy’s jobs were in jeopardy. Sirius XM NBA reporter Mitch Lawrence reported on March 3 that Van Gundy could lose at least his role as team president, if not his job with the team all together.
Pistons’ owner, Tom Gores will meet with Van Gundy next week to talk about the future of the team.
Pistons’ vice chairman, Arn Tellem has been reported as a candidate for the team president job should Van Gundy be fired.
The team itself will remain the same barring any blockbuster trades in the offseason. The contracts of Jackson, Andre Drummond and Griffin handcuff the Pistons to this core group until 2020, when Jackson’s five-year, $80 million contract is set to expire.
With any luck, all three players will stay healthy next season and build on what little experience they have together on the court.
The trade for Griffin shipped away the Pistons’ 2018 first-round pick, so any hope of a new, young prospect coming to the team next year should veer toward the young players they already have.
Stanley Johnson will be entering his fourth season with the team and 2017 first-round pick, Luke Kennard will have his first professional year under his belt. Johnson averaged career highs in points, rebounds, assists and steals this season playing 10 more minutes per game than last season.
The potential of this group will not be met until their core gets significant games played together. However, Drummond and Griffin are two All-Star caliber players, and Jackson -- when healthy -- can be the difference needed to get the team over the hump next season.