What’s a Winning Streak?: Early Returns on Detroit’s Post-Josh Smith Post

(Photo Credit: Mike Mulholland, MLive.com)

(Photo Credit: Mike Mulholland, MLive.com)

They’re a juggernaut! They’re unstoppable! Next stop playoffs! Are all ridiculous things to say about the 2014-2015 Detroit Pistons. Especially the third one. And yet somehow it suddenly seems in play after the Pistons cut polarizing Power Forward Josh Smith. (NO JOSH! NO! SHUTUP! YOU ARE NOT A SMALL FORWARD! NOW, BE QUIET AND LET ME WRITE MY ARTICLE! HEY! I SEE YOU OVER THERE SHOOTING THREES! STOP IT! YOU’RE NOT A SMALL FORWARD!).

On December 22nd Tom Gores and Stan Van Gundy gave Detroit fans a Christmas present and Josh Smith a lump of coal and decided to just cut Smith, eat the $29 million remaining on his contract, and move on from yet another Joe Dumars mistake. The Pistons haven’t lost a game since. They are a sterling 5-0 without J-Smoove on the roster, and look universally happier and more productive. Now, this win streak is proooobably gonna come crashing down over the next couple games as the Pistons have to go on the road to San Antonio and Dallas in back to back games, but so what. I’m happy about the Pistons’ play for the first time this season.

The first thing this makes me think, then, is “Good Lord… how much of a locker room cancer must Smith have been?” In Joe Dumars’ last year at the helm in Detroit he brought in two guys, known to have attitude problems and to create locker room issues, Smith and Brandon Jennings. I obviously know nothing about what’s going on in the Detroit locker room, but I have to imagine something was up for such a drastic and immediate turnaround to happen. I mean… the Pistons grabbed as many wins in the last 5 games without Smith as they had in the entire season with him. They’ve gone from 5-23 to 10-23, and are somehow only 3 games back from the 8 seed in the East. It is also reassuring to see that Brandon Jennings (the other potential locker room issue) has seen his play return to the excellent form of early this year, (before he injured his thumb) in Smith’s absence, so it seems he’s not a problem at all.

In any event, the existence of locker room drama is not hard to believe when you consider all the Greg Monroe drama that’s been going on.

(Photo Credit: Tim Fuller, USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo Credit: Tim Fuller, USA TODAY Sports)

Greg Monroe is the keystone to Detroit’s 4 years and running rebuilding project. Detroit picked him #7 overall out of Georgetown in the 2010 draft, and he nearly immediately became the centerpiece of a new era of Detroit basketball. They followed that pick up by taking Brandon Knight and Andre Drummond as lottery picks in the next two drafts, and suddenly had the core of a new, young, exciting team loaded with potential. Now, they stupidly traded away Knight last year for Jennings, but the frontcourt core of Monroe and Dre is still intact (for now) and the only thing that ever made sense in my mind was for Detroit to build around these two.

Instead, however, Joe Dumars (put in the impossible position last year of make the playoffs or get fired) signed Josh Smith and threw everything off. Detroit had no need for Smith. Drummond was the starting center, and Monroe the starting Power Forward. Monroe was the backup center, and Detroit had a bevy of other 4s to back up Monroe at Power Forward (Jonas Jerebko, Josh Harrellson, etc). Signing Smith meant Detroit either had to start Smith at the 4 (his natural position) and bench Monroe or start Smith at the 3 where he would jack up innumerable terrible threes.

The Pistons ultimately tried both those plans… both of them failed… and they may have pushed Greg Monroe out the door in the process. This summer Greg Monroe signed his one year qualifying offer (something which NEVER happens) rather than signing a lucrative extension with the Pistons, risking his entire future and millions of dollars for an opportunity to not play in Detroit and not play with Josh Smith for the rest of his career. At that point I honestly felt like Monroe was out the door, and the team would NEED to give Smith his minutes since we would be moving on into the future with Smith as our starting Power Forward. However, now I have hope that that may not be the case.

Things are going so well right now, and there appears to have been so much tension lifted from this team with Smith’s departure, that I feel like Monroe may stop to make a calm, collected decision about his future after the season. He is obviously going to end up with a max deal, either in Detroit or elsewhere, so he needs to decide whether or not he was serious about leaving Detroit, or simply wanted to play without Smith. I think and hope it was the latter. And I think Monroe will see that too. The entire team, including Monroe, appears happier now, and if a few things fall right (a playoff run in the terrible Eastern Conference?), they could all be happier still.

Image via USA Today Sports

Image via USA Today Sports

When the Pistons hired Stan Van Gundy they turned a page. All Van Gundy as ever done is turn losing franchises around and win games. You just knew he would fix the Pistons, we just didn’t’ know how long it would take. Now it looks like he may already have things on the right track. Can Detroit go 30-19 the rest of the season? Maybe. And if they do, and they end with a 42-40 record, which is probably good enough to make the playoffs in the atrocious East. Best case scenario for Detroit right now is to mimic Portland from last season.

(Photo Credit: Sam Forencich, Getty Images)

(Photo Credit: Sam Forencich, Getty Images)

Two summers ago all the rumors out of Portland said that LaMarcus Aldridge wanted out and nothing would stop him. The Blazers had been a losing team for too long, and he wasn’t interested in spending the rest of his career in the lottery. What happened? Portland starting winning. And kept winning. And winning and winning and winning until they had somehow worked their way up to a 5 seed in the historically strong Western Conference last season, then parlayed that into an upset victory over Dwight Howard, James Harden and the Houston Rockets in the first round. No more complaints of wanting out now, right LaMarcus? Winning fixes everything. Portland surrounded LaMarcus with a young studs in Damien Lillard and a cast of really good NBA players in their prime (Wes Matthews, Nic Batum) and it was off to the races. Aldridge re-signed in Portland and they’re now the TWO seed in the West. What a beautiful sight.

If Detroit made a run at a playoff spot maybe we could convince Greg to stick around in the same way. They already have the young stud to pair with him (Drummond) and have some solid players around him (Jodie Meeks, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jonas Jerebko, Brandon Jennings[love him or hate him]) There is a foundation for success here. It just hinges on Monroe returning to the fold and making his way into Stan Van Gundy’s oft grumpy but nevertheless loving arms. Moreover, the way the NBA salary cap works, Detroit can pay Monroe more money than anyone else, so if we can prove that we’re just as competitive as any of his other suitors it would only make sense for him to come back to town. Things are better now Greg!!! I promise!!! Look how happy your are with Andre in that picture up there!! ALL THE SMILES GREG!!! WE WILL GIVE YOU ALL THE SMILES IF YOU COME BACK!!!

Either way, I’m not gonna let myself worry about all that just yet. Right now I just want to enjoy this ride. It’s been quite a while since Pistons games have been imbued with “hope” (whatever that is… I wouldn’t know… I watched the Lions playoff game last night). So whatever happens this summer happens, but for now to Pistons look to be worlds better in 2015 than they were in 2014, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Time to sit back and enjoy the Drummond, StanVan, Monroe, and Jerebko era while its in front of us. [What’s that? You don’t think I should have included Jerebko in there? Think again fool. Look at this man.]

You beatiful hunk of man you, Jonas Jerebko. Keep doin' them Jerebko things.

You beatiful hunk of man you, Jonas Jerebko. Keep doin’ them Jerebko things.

Anyway, enjoy the Deeeeeeeeeetrooit Baaasketbaaaaaaaall folks.


My Foray into Basketball Bigamy: Part Three

A New Beginning: A New Hope

This is Part 3 of a 3 part series. For Part One click HERE, Part Two HERE or just scroll down… you know… its whatever…


This past summer I moved from Lexington, Kentucky (college basketball Rome) to Seattle, Washington. I had been hoping against hope that the Sacramento Kings would be moved to Seattle for the refounding of the Supersonics so that I could be reunited with Boogie Cousins and Patrick Patterson on the same team, hoping this time to follow a more effective blueprint toward becoming a true fan. I was wanted to 1) get swept up in the wave of jubilation sure to follow after Seattle was finally reunited with pro basketball. I knew it would be much easier to become a fan of a team if I could see games in person and feel like they were a part of the same community I was a part of, like what happened for me in Lexington with the Cats. And 2) I hoped to use 2 of my favorite Kentucky Wildcat players to help bridge the gap for me. Boogie Cousins is a misunderstood Saint of a manchild and there is nothing I would have loved more than bringing him home to me in Seattle. But this was not to be…


Does this look like the face of a lockeroom cancer to you? I thought not.

However, the memory of last year’s playoffs was too good for me to give up on my dreams of adopting a new NBA team for this upcoming season. SO if not the Sacremento/Seattle Kings, then who could I justifiably throw my lot in with? I knew I wanted to have Kentucky connections to a team so I had a few options. I could stick with the Kings if I loved Boogie so much, but that team reminded me too much of my Charlotte days with the ineptitude inherent in the franchise for me to follow through. I could turn toward the rising star that is the Washington Wizards and John Wall, but the presence of Emeka Okafor on that team feels like splitting up with your wife, only to have her become a low end stripper at a disreputable gentlemen’s club, only to patronize said establishment on a weekly basis and try awkwardly to avoid eye contact… so they’re out.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Dallas Mavericks

“Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact, don’t make… DAMMIT EMEKA!!!!”

Jodie Meeks, a beloved and beleaguered Cat from the Gillispie Era was on the Lakers, but by this point I couldn’t stomach being a Laker fan. And the Hornets seemed too trendy a pick for me to go back to The Brow. (I’m a Lions fan you see. Gotta have me some loveable losers) I certainly wasn’t going to follow MKG back to Charlotte with Michael Jordan now heading the ship. Phoenix seemed promising with Archie Goodwin (one of my favorite Cats and a player who won’t be remembered nearly as fondly as he should be by UK fans because of the atrocious season that was his UK career) and Eric Bledsoe on board, and so did the Sixers with their new league darling GM and the acquisition of Nerlens Noel and a potential 2 lottery picks to add to that next season. But both teams seemed just too distant from me to make any connection with them. I had no reason to root for them other than these Kentucky players. So I gradually came toward the decision that I needed to make perhaps the most egregious flip flop of my sports fan career.

I decided I needed to adopt the Detroit Pistons. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I could unite my Detroit fandom across all 4 major sports, jump on board with my dad and make it a familial endeavor, and bring my attempts to love the NBA back to their 2004 roots, albeit on the opposite side that I started on. The entirety of that 2004 team at been swept away, especially Larry Brown, removing any remaining hostility I may have had, and so the time seemed right. If I couldn’t have a Seattle Boogie Cousins, I would adopt Detroit.


(Just thought I should include the fact that after his time with the Pistons, Old Man Brown ended up with Charlotte. Yet another reason for me to have jumped ship.)

Moreover, there were a lot of positive reasons to pick Detroit. They were a team that was rebuilding (so I felt I could hop on the bandwagon closer to the ground floor without truly being a bandwagon jumper as they were not on course for a playoff bid) But they were rebuilding around some great young talent (so I could hope for the future and grow with a young team, watch them develop and get excited for their future prospects.) And most importantly, they had my second favorite player from my favorite Kentucky team of all time: Brandon Knight!


(The Pistons may have permanently screwed him up flipping him between 2 guard and the point, but Brandon Knight is as clutch as it gets, forcing Kentucky into the final four through sheer testicular fortitude. PS That shot goes in if you were wondering. DOWN GOES THE BALROG)

I was choosing a franchise with real NBA history (much like my UK Wildcats) a team which had requisite UK ties (in Knight) and a core of potential future all stars in Knight, Greg Monroe, and most importantly Andre Drummond. They wouldn’t be a playoff team right away so I could grow with them and feel like I had invested before the big pay off of a playoff push. Everything seemed right. SO I started reading the great guys over at Piston Powered every day and began my new life as a Pistons fan.


And then, very quickly, everything began to change. For one thing, the Pistons shockingly signed Josh Smith, a questionable move but one which is assuredly exciting and can’t really be argued with if the Pistons become a playoff team. They brought in Luigi Datome which really excited me. Who doesn’t want a Luigi on their team? ( I can see it now… “More of the European guy! Give me the European guy! Yeahhh jack up a 3 Luigi!”) But more distressingly for my purposes,.. my Kentucky connection was jettisoned.

Now, this move arguably improved the Pistons in the present (even if that meant mortgaging a small portion of their future) and as I was already beginning to identify with my new team I was OK with this but I was definitely sad to lose my UK connection on the team. And then… the Basketball gods once again delivered mana from Heaven for me, this time in the form of Josh “Jorts” Harrellson!!!!!



Slayer of Balrogs and bringer of justice! Josh Harrellson is possibly my favorite Kentucky Wildcat of all time.

Be happy Pistons fans. This is what success looks like.


I mentioned Knight was my 2nd favorite player on that 2010 UK team (my favorite team in any sport of all time). Well the only player I liked better than him on that team was Jorts! I was ecstatic! Moreover, while it doesn’t sound like Pistons wise guys think he’ll pay I think he has a place on this team! This Pistons team desperately needs shooting because of the abundance of talent inside after the Smith signing and that Jorts can do in flying colors!!! (just as the Louisville Cardinals). With Drummond, Monroe, and Smith clogging up the floor, having someone like Jorts who can mix up the lineup as a possible stretch-3 who can knock down shots would be infinitely helpful and I for one think (hope) Jorts will be able to outperform Singler, Datome, and Jerebko (although I do love me some Swedes) in that role. I couldn’t be more excited for Jorts’ future in Detroit! I just pray it lasts more than one year… or at least one year… please don’t cut Jorts Joe Dumars… I’ll be devastated!!!


Watch out you Basshunter-lookin studmuffin… Jorts is here for your minutes

SO while its been a rollercoster summer with my newly adopted Pistons, I’m already falling in love with them and can’t wait to head into my first season with the team. I love all the Jalen Rose hommerism coming from Grantland.com. I love Jorts. I love the fact that noone knows if this team will be good or terrible next year. I love the looming Greg Monroe trade options and the looming potential Rondo acquisition talk. I can’t wait to see if Tony Mitchell can be the stellar pro he looked like he’d be during his first year in college. (and subsequently whether he can be another massive upswing product like Drummond in Detroit) I ABSOLUTELY love Andre Drummond (now that he’s not at UConn) and the Jennette McCurdy love story that has been going on this summer. Whether they’re really any good or not remains to be seen, but the Pistons will certainly be exciting this year on and off the court. These guys are young, exciting, endearing, and as far as I’m concerned this is the group I need to make my NBA fandom stick, and I can’t wait to get started.