About six days ago, the news broke so quietly out of Auburn Hills that pins dropping and feathers falling to earth actually made more noise.
Tom Gores, the Detroit Pistons’ enigmatic new owner, broke his silence. He was threatening his team a bit following their unacceptable, dismal 2011-12 campaign. While meeting with reporters, he lit into his club with lofty expectations for next season that would surely make waves.
“We better make the playoffs,” Gores said to the assembled media. “We have great players, so I’m not sure it requires any moves.”
There you have it (what’s left of you) Pistons’ fans. It appears the offseason agenda was already quietly set. Unless Gores is playing fantastic poker, your 2012-13 Detroit Pistons will look very much like, well, the 2011-12 Detroit Pistons, whom Gores actually believes improved in enough areas not to warrant even the tiniest of overhauls.
How many games was he watching? While it’s true that strides were made considering the insubordination and cluelessness from the past two seasons generally disappeared, the Pistons were still barely competitive by NBA standards. They were a below average team, and below average teams always need to do be doing whatever they can in the offseason to become great, no matter how much “improvement” can be seen.
At least we know Gores watched two games. Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News pointed out Gores identified the Pistons’ win against the Los Angeles Lakers and a game where they nearly defeated the Miami Heat as franchise stepping stones. That’s what we’re hanging our hats on? What about losses to the Milwaukee Bucks, Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers? For every game where Detroit hung around against great competition (who were likely playing down to them anyway) the Pistons showed a bigger tendency to no-show against the bad teams they should have beaten. Nothing’s more mediocre than that.
From an outside perspective, the timing of this commentary was fishy. From the Pistons’ standpoint? The timing of this commentary couldn’t have been any more perfect from a strategic standpoint. Six days ago, Detroit was caught up in early season baseball fever while still wondering what’s next for the Red Wings. The Lions’ NFL Draft was in the news, and as everyone knows, that’s the third biggest holiday in Michigan behind Christmas, Thanksgiving, and an April day without snow showers. It’s hard to not view this empty threat as nice lip service by Gores; a cannon launching mere water balloons. Naturally, his brash statement will make headlines. “We better make the playoffs!” That sure sounds intimidating across front pages, and casual headline readers will assume he means business.
But read on and scour deeper for other quotes, and you find far more interesting nuggets. Goodwill’s article also alludes to Gores being satisfied with the front office, which roughly translated means: Joe Dumars isn’t going anywhere soon. Wouldn’t you think the ninth worst team in the NBA might like to review everyone’s performance at season’s end, especially the architect? Be patient with new coach Lawrence Frank and give him the benefit of the doubt, but when’s the appropriate time to revoke Dumars’s consummate free pass?
Yet, continue to the end and there’s Gores, talking about the need to win Piston fans back the “right” way. Poorest attendance in the NBA? Better have more Vanilla Ice-type concerts at halftime. Making trades? Firing people? Letting players walk? Rebuilding for glory? That’s boring. If the music’s loud enough and the lights are bright, maybe nobody will notice what’s happening on the floor. It’s kind of like, “if the headline sounds intimidating enough at a busy time of year, maybe the fans will think someone means business.”
At this point, it appears the only business the Pistons will conduct this offseason will be of the “as usual” variety. This team desperately needs an unexpected trade to shake up a stale climate and serve notice to the rest of the league. If not, the franchise will be forever caught in neutral, not moving forward enough to make a comeback, but not bottoming out enough to create meaningful change.
More than anything, tangible actions are needed to prove that Gores’s words carry weight.