New GM candidates will find an eyeful in video of season-ending loss
Losses are like dogs. They come in all shapes and sizes. But the two that burn ulcers in a coach’s gut are (1) the ones where his team meets every expectation but doesn’t get the reward it deserves and (2) the ones where they just don’t put up a competitive fight.
The Pistons, strangely enough for a team that endured 53 losses in a season that underperformed expectations by a mile, didn’t have a ton of either. (Too many of other types, alas.) John Loyer said before Wednesday’s finale he could think of three games in his then 31-game experience where he left disappointed in effort.
The finale surely didn’t pad that total, but it will be Exhibit A for the season in that other type of loss that causes sleepless nights.
When whomever Pistons owner Tom Gores and his inner circle choose as the new Pistons general manager pops in the videotape of the 112-111 loss to Oklahoma City, on the other hand, it likely will spur a very different reaction.
That game, in fact, will serve as a very effective sales tool for the new GM in his pursuit of the next Pistons coach. NBA coaches today come to their job with very few fixed ideas of the tactical toolbox they’ll employ. Everybody has coveted tenets, of course, but nobody locks into a system and demands that square pegs fit into round holes any more. The game has become too fluid to expect success otherwise. It would be like taking over a team quarterbacked by Tom Brady and installing the read-option offense.
So just as the ownership group is going to want to be dazzled by prospective GM candidates’ visions for how they would build out the roster around the young core that did its own dazzling in OKC – more on that in a minute – the new GM, once installed, will be looking for a coach who can offer ideas of both how to maximize the strengths of the roster he’ll inherit and bolster (or at least camouflage) the weaknesses that contributed to 53 losses.
This is doable. There is a fine line between winning and losing in the NBA, where talent is more evenly distributed by a degree of magnitude than it is on the college level. Chemistry and roster fit and a reliance on youth were all factors that worked against the Pistons this season. Find the right coach and those factors can be diminished. Diminish them just enough to turn a chunk of those maddening wins that got away into wins that were preserved and pretty soon a team starts believing in itself and winning becomes the expectation, not the hope.
Who had Toronto as the No. 3 seed in the East this season? Compare Toronto’s roster to Detroit’s. A few moves – a few right moves, not necessarily blockbusters – can do for the Pistons what tweaking, internal development and a little good fortune did for the Raptors, who now play with a swagger no one would have believed possible three or four months ago.
Back to Wednesday’s finale at Oklahoma City. The Thunder had every reason to want to win that game. They were embarrassed by Monday’s loss at New Orleans. They needed the win to wrap up the No. 2 seed, which could be very critical if form holds in the first round and the Thunder meet the Los Angeles Clippers – two legitimate title contenders – in the second round. The arena throbbed with playoff intensity.
The Pistons could have easily wilted. Human nature says players probably had minds occupied by thoughts of the next day and an off-season away from the disappointment and frustration that has weighed on them for weeks, if not months.
But look what they did. And look who did it. Andre Drummond went out with 22 points and 13 boards and flashed a hook shot on the verge of becoming a devastating weapon. Greg Monroe flirted with a triple-double and supported insiders’ beliefs that his offensive game will continue to evolve and expand. Kyle Singler put into evidence another case for remaining a heavy-minutes starter.
And Kentavious Caldwell-Pope … whew! It wasn’t just the 30 points and harassing defense on Russell Westbrook, it was the way he carried himself, as if he expects to be this team’s starting shooting guard come October and for a very long time. He drained rainbow triples and attacked the paint. His lightning strike from the wing, complete with a whirling, two-handed flush, was breathtaking from court level and left the home crowd a little slack-jawed. They’re accustomed to seeing such flashes of brilliance from Kevin Durant and Westbrook, not so much from someone in a dark-colored jersey.
The new GM will look at those four players – ages 25, 23, 21 and 20 – and see he’s not starting this game at his 20-yard line but more like the other team’s 40. The red zone is another completion and a few off-tackle dives away.
It doesn’t stop there. Josh Smith’s many gifts must be integrated and that’s among the challenges the new management team and coaching staff need to address. Brandon Jennings, 24, will get a boost from the defensive flexibility Caldwell-Pope offers so the Pistons can draw full benefit from his havoc-wreaking quickness.
They didn’t blend all of their strengths together effectively enough to win at the rate they expected this season. Now a new set of eyes, with a fresh set of ideas for how to make it work, will take a crack. When they convene in whatever new form they take next October, here’s guessing the inevitable enthusiasm they express won’t need to be manufactured.