By Jason Berndt
This was intended to be the year when the Detroit Pistons shifted away from tanking and became more competitive. Following a league-worst 17-win season, the Pistons took a significant step by signing Monty Williams to the most lucrative coaching contract in NBA history. Heading into the offseason with high lottery odds to secure Victor Wembanyama and approximately $30 million in cap space, Detroit had a genuine opportunity to enhance its roster through free agency.
However, the Pistons’ aspirations were thwarted when they plummeted to the fifth overall pick in the draft lottery. While Ausar Thompson served as a commendable consolation prize, the team opted to utilize its cap space to acquire veterans Joe Harris and Monte Morris, along with an additional future second-round draft pick. Relying on internal development and Williams’ coaching prowess, the Pistons held optimism, particularly with the return of former No. 1 draft pick Cade Cunningham, who had been limited to 12 games the previous season due to a shin injury. Despite Cunningham’s impressive showing at the USA Basketball training camp, the Pistons, with Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, and other young talents, have struggled to make a significant leap.
Regrettably, the 2023-2024 season has not seen the Pistons progress. At 2-11, they remain the NBA’s worst team, casting a shadow over four years of rebuilding efforts. In a recent game against the Toronto Raptors, the Pistons suffered a 142-113 blowout loss. Toronto, known for its offensive struggles, scored an exceptional 134.4 points per 100 possessions against Detroit. This marked the Pistons’ 11th consecutive loss, underscoring their ongoing challenges. Comparatively, other teams that once shared the league’s basement with Detroit, such as the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic, have experienced newfound success. Since the 2019-2020 season, the Pistons hold the NBA’s worst record at 82-234, with a winning percentage of 25.9%. In contrast, the Rockets and Magic have made positive strides, raising questions about Detroit’s lack of improvement.
One contributing factor is Cade Cunningham’s struggles to fulfill his role as the franchise player. Cunningham, despite being 22 years old, has encountered difficulties with turnovers and scoring efficiency. The team’s poor spacing further compounds his challenges, as injuries have deprived Detroit of key shooters. Additionally, some questionable coaching decisions, such as persistently starting Killian Hayes over Jaden Ivey, have raised eyebrows. Hayes, while a defensive asset, lacks offensive contribution, leaving fans and analysts questioning Monty Williams’ choices. “We got to be realistic about the situation,” said Pistons guard Cade Cunningham. “It’s hard to just be like, ‘we’re good, we’re good,’ you know what I’m saying? Because we’re bad. We have to address that. We have to address what we’re not good at. Address it with not only our words, but on the court.”
Despite bright spots, including promising performances from Jalen Duren and Ausar Thompson, the Pistons find themselves in a disheartening present with a 2-11 record. The team’s future may hold potential, but the current struggles prompt reflection on the effectiveness of leadership, player development, and strategic decisions. As the losses accumulate, there is a growing sense that Detroit’s situation is worsening despite expectations for improvement.