It’s never easy to fully come to grips with reality as a sports fan. Especially not when said reality equates to rooting for a 9-22 basketball team orchestrated by an NBA legend-turned-general manager whose Teflon coating wore off years ago.
After nearly half of the NBA’s ambitiously-shortened season, the Pistons are still, without question, one of the league’s most dismal teams. That much cannot be disputed. One look around The Palace on game night is more than enough of a reminder of just how far this organization has fallen. It's painful, really.
But with so many local eyes already fixated on the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery and the ensuing NBA Draft, it’s hard to get a true grasp on what the average Pistons fan is actually looking for over the next few months. Do people actually want to see this team turn on the jets, defy logic, and make a ridiculous leap towards the postseason? Is there even a long-term benefit the Pistons could actually gain from something like this?
The "tank now, win later" philosophy is a new, but very real quandary for Detroit basketball supporters at the moment. Everyone knows this is a rebuilding year. The extent of which, though, is hard to put a finger on. A few weeks ago we had a 4-20 basketball team, one that looked destined to snag a future elite big man like Anthony Davis or Thomas Robinson at the top of the draft. In many ways, the future then was surprisingly bright. All the Pistons needed to do was *gasp* continue to play at the same level and things eventually would work themselves out.
Now? We're looking at a Detroit team that has won five of its last seven and might just be figuring things out on the court. Whether that's a good or a bad thing depends mostly on your point of view, and not necessarily the sanctity of your fandom. What is clear, though, is that the once bright future for 2012-13 and beyond has been muddied up significantly in the span of a few weeks. And it's starting to drive people nuts.
Instead of having the first crack at guys like Robinson and Davis in June, the Pistons are setting themselves up for possibly the fourth, fifth, or sixth-best forward in the draft class with the way they are currently playing. And, quite honestly, that just isn't good enough for a team that lost 20 of its first 24 games.
No true fan ever wants to root against his or her own team. And nobody is suggesting that the players and coaching staff should throw in the towel and give up on the season. We all know that isn't going to happen anyway. But there is a growing faction of Detroiters who are becoming more frustrated by a Pistons win than by a loss as of late, and when you step back to think about it, they have a pretty good point.
Part of the reason people feel this way is because of how downright scary the hypothetical situations are to swallow. What if the Pistons continue winning and somehow end up narrowly missing the playoffs by a few games in the East? Is that the definition of a successful campaign to anybody? To wind up with a first round pick a few spots worse than each of the previous two drafts, in the strongest big man draft pool in recent memory? An end result like that would make the entire season feel like a cruel tease, but it's entirely feasible.
It is a terrible feeling knowing that your beloved pro basketball team is on the skids, even if history has proven they will be rewarded with a nice, shiny prize at the end of the season for their troubles. The problem here is that the Pistons are doing it all wrong. Any hope for a successful campaign went out the window during that abysmal stretch to open the year, much like how the dream of a No. 1 overall pick seems to be going out the window as we speak. In a sense, it's the worst of both worlds.
As unfair as it might be, a good deal of Detroit's future will come down to how it finishes out the regular season and positions itself for the league's upcoming ping pong competition. A few extra wins now might have such an adverse effect come June that the player the Pistons want/need/can't-live-without could theoretically be off the board. Frustrating to think about, sure, but hey, that's the reality of what we're dealing with.