For anyone that has watched a Detroit Pistons or Red Wings home game this year, one thing is glaringly apparent. It’s not the shiny new features of the Pizza Palace (as I call it). Nor is it the conglomeration of banners that share a space for the first time in Detroit’s illustrious sports history. No, what is missing from these games are fans; specifically fans in the lower bowl of the arena. Now, there may be many legitimate reasons for this, such as price or purchasing restrictions, but it doesn’t help the embarrassment one feels knowing our arena is half empty on TV.
Stuck in an NBA Spin Cycle
For the Pistons, this problem should be front and center on a list of many. Their roommates in the Red Wings bring home an average of 19,515 fans per home game (fourth in the NHL), while the Pistons can only muster around 17,232 (19th in the NBA). While it is hard to make a cross-sport analysis like this, the numbers do stand out. The Pistons, who have been on the fringe of potential playoff seeding and the lottery over the past few seasons, are stuck in an NBA spin cycle. They haven’t been bad enough to secure top draft talent and are not a particularly appealing free agent destination, leaving them with little room to improve their roster.
Team President/Head Coach Stan Van Gundy and General Manager Jeff Bower saw this along with a team that was limping into February at 23-26 and decided to make a bold move. They pulled off the trade of 2018 by acquiring power forward Blake Griffin. In securing him, the team looked to Griffin as a player who will not only elevate the team back into playoff contention but will put butts back in Little Caesar seats.
Out of the Playoff Picture
Unfortunately, this plan has lost its way just as it began. The Pistons have gone 9-13 during Griffin’s tenure and are firmly outside of the playoff picture this season. Instead of helping them reach new heights, he has helped the team settle into mediocrity. Now, the blame does not solely lie on Griffin, as a lengthy injury to point guard Reggie Jackson and coaching mistakes made by Van Gundy have also cost the Pistons wins down the stretch, but something is not right with this team.
As the 2018 season winds down and we look towards 2019, the Pistons will have some very large evaluations to make. Van Gundy has one year left on his contract and his job is in a state of flux. His dual role of president and coach has made a large impression on this team during his time in Detroit and it will be interesting to see how the Pistons organization handles him this off-season. When Van Gundy was first hired back in 2014, he came in as someone looking to establish a culture for the Pistons.
This was something I can respect.
The team was looking for a sense of direction after many lackluster years. Van Gundy, though conventional in his playstyle philosophy and approach to players, seemed to be a coach that was hungry to get back into the game and looked to use this drive for the Pistons. His results in Detroit have been less than ideal but Van Gundy is deserving of one final run. With a fully healthy Jackson and an entire offseason to work with Griffin to finally solidify his role in the offense, Van Gundy will have what it takes to provide the potential of improvement in 2019.
A Curious Salary Dilemma
If they do choose to bring him back, the team will still have a lot of decisions on their hands. With the addition of Griffin, the Piston’s salary structure going forward is a curious one. Currently, the Pistons have over $117 million dollars on their roster next season, which puts them over the salary cap ($101 million projected for 2019) and close to the luxury tax area ($123 million projected in 2019). This does not leave much space for the team to improve at all. The Pistons are stuck and will likely bring the same team back next year unless radical moves are made. One such move could be trading one of their best players, Andre Drummond.
While this move would have a huge impact on the fans and team, Drummond offers the only real value that can be used to make the kinds of improvements the team really needs. Outside of said move, not much will change on the Pistons roster in 2019.
Whether the Pistons decide to make wholesale changes to the team/organization or choose to make quiet moves in the off-season, something must be done. The current system is not working, and fans have spoken back with their declining attendance numbers. To drive more fans to come out in their numbers, the Pistons need to do more than just bring in a former flashy star in Griffin; they need to produce a winner, sooner rather than later.