The Detroit Pistons have fallen far since their days of routine appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals, and there are many reasons behind the plunge.
Joe Dumars has often been public about his plans, and he said near the end of the Pistons' recent run of success that he wanted to avoid the bottoming-out process that the franchise experienced following the Bad Boys' runs in the early 90s.
The plan has not gone well to say the least, as the signings of Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon have been disastrous and Dumars' decisions to stick with veterans such as Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton too long have been roundly criticized.
The young talent has shown flashes but guys like Rodney Stuckey haven't been able to take the torch from Chauncey Billups, Hamilton in his glory days, and other Pistons stars.
Now, the Pistons rest at the bottom of a weak Central Division and are near the bottom of the league in key stats like points, rebounds and assists per game, and fans are wondering if it's a good idea to even think about making another half-hearted charge at an undeserved playoff spot.
Some have even questioned whether or not the Pistons should "tank" to get a higher draft pick.
No franchise ever wants to be accused of not attempting to be competitive, but the Pistons can make the proper decision to play their young players a little more more in order to find out what they've got, which may result in them sacrificing a small handful of wins in exchange for development bonuses.
Brandon Knight is averaging about 32 minutes per game, which is a solid number for the rookie considering he's just 19 years old, but he could probably play a little bit more. He's been over 35 minutes in every game since January 6 so the Pistons are on the right track in that department.
Second-year man Greg Monroe is at 32 minutes a game as well which is also about the right number for the Pistons' leading scorer. But Austin Daye should be playing more than his current 11 minutes per game pace as the season goes on.
Daye has been battling an ankle injury; the Pistons need to play him more down the stretch when he gets healthy over Tayshaun Prince, and they likely will. At the same time, the Pistons also need to showcase Prince for a possible trade, so another 9-15 minutes a game or so for Daye sounds about right considering that Prince is at over 33 a game. It's a tough balance to work out between the two wiry, multi-skilled forwards, which makes many fans wonder why Dumars brought Prince back in the first place.
Then there's Jonas Jerebko who's playing about 28 minutes a game. Jerebko might as well play more minutes, however, because Ben Wallace and Jason Maxiell should not be part of the team's future plans. Even though Jerebko is better suited as an energy guy off the bench on a top flight team, playing more minutes would be excellent for his development.
In addition, Dumars should explore every trade route possible for his veterans, and not be hesitant to pull the trigger on a deal should it benefit the Pistons in the future. Even if that means flipping a more proven veteran for someone who has some potential but has underachieved so far, or for cap space, he should strongly consider it.
The Pistons are a prideful bunch and the last thing they want to do is give up on the season after less than 20 games, but at the same time, Dumars has to keep an eye on the future and not fool himself into thinking the Pistons have any shot at contending, or that making the playoffs as an 8 seed would benefit a franchise bereft of top-flight talents in any way.
The term "tank" is thrown around a little too often by fans because it's not something any franchise wants to be associated with nor is it a realistic option. But the Pistons can tweak things a little bit and start thinking more long-term as they wait for their season to finish out.
Even the fans would be more excited about a young team coming together and showing potential than watching the veterans attempt to scrape out another playoff spot that won't amount to much when it's all said and done.
Nick Meyer is a lifelong Pistons fan from metro Detroit.