The Pistons at the Crossroads
Since losing to New Jersey on February 1 to drop their record to 4-20, the Detroit Pistons have been on a roll. They have won 10 of 16 including impressive victories over the Lakers, the Celtics and the Hawks. Although they are playing better, there is little indication that they are actually being better run. The improvements have come from guard Rodney Stuckey, who figured to improve from a slow start, and from Greg Monroe who has established himself as one of the best young big men in the game. The team is still doling out far too many minutes to Tayshaun Prince, who winning basket against Atlanta notwithstanding is on the downward slope of his career, instead of Jonas Jerebko, who is on the upward slope of his.
This week’s trade deadline should give Pistons fans a solid sense if their management understands where the team is in the cycle of contention. Trades to bolster the future of a contender with a Monroe-Stuckey-Brandon Knight nucleus suggests that the front office gets it. Trades to try and grab the final playoff spot at a cost of young players might doom the team to mediocrity.
The Thunder’s Weakness
Video of the Cleveland Cavaliers’s 96-90 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder should be watched by coaching staffs of every Western Conference playoff contender. The Thunder played their game; Durant, Westbrook, and Harden all had solid outings and Ibaka had 13 points and six blocked shots. However, the Cavs exploited the Thunder’s weaknesses. Cleveland owned the offensive glass with 21 boards at their own end (Oklahoma City is 21st in the Association in Defensive Rebound Rate). In addition the Cavs got into the paint whenever they wanted; 56 of their 96 points were at the rim. Thus, even on a night when Kyrie Irving shot 4-12, the Cavs notched an impressive road against one of the best teams in the NBA. They did it thanks to taking many more shots than the Thunder and by breaking down the OKC perimeter defense. The Thunder are still the team to beat in the West, but they can be beaten.
Lakers fans should be upset about their team’s performance, but Mike Brown’s offensive system is not the biggest culprit; the roster construction is. The Lakers have three all star caliber players, Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol, and nine scrubs. Only Matt Barnes and Josh McRoberts stand even a ghost of a chance of making any other NBA rotation. For instance during the Lakers loss to Detroit on Tuesday, the bench accounted for 74 minutes and 7, yes, 7 points. It’s proof that Magic was right two weeks ago when he said that Kupchak was no longer running the front office. Kupchak has built championship rotations by adding key parts like Shannon Brown and Trevor Ariza. This mess has none of his hallmarks.
Martin Johnson wrote a weekly NBA column for the New York Sun from 2003-’08, and for http://www.theroot.com from 2008-’10. His sportswriting has also appeared in the NY Times, Wall St. Journal and the Atlantic Monthly.