Pistons slipped in 2019-20, then took steps toward a rebuild
Only Griffin remains — and the 2019-20 season was yet another reminder of how fragile the star forward’s health has been.
Griffin played just 18 games this season because of knee problems. The Pistons were 20-46 and well out of playoff contention when the coronavirus interrupted the season in March. By then, Detroit had traded Drummond and bought out Jackson, two clear steps toward a rebuild for a franchise that has been stuck in neutral for about a decade.
The season was a step backward for the Pistons, who made the playoffs in 2019 thanks to a marvelous performance by Griffin. He averaged a career-high 24.5 points per game in 2018-19, then followed that with a career-worst 15.5 this season in limited action.
“Obviously, this past season was I guess disappointing — not really being healthy, and for the most part, a lot of our guys not being healthy," Griffin said. “Didn't really have a great look at our team, I don't think.”
The Pistons acquired Griffin during the 2017-18 season, and Stan Van Gundy's tenure as coach and team president ended when Detroit didn't make the playoffs. With Griffin, Drummond and Jackson all under significant contracts, Detroit didn't have much flexibility. Although they made the playoffs in 2019, the Pistons were swept by Milwaukee and seemed stuck in mediocrity — a situation that became worse when Griffin wasn't healthy this season.
The Pistons haven't won a playoff game since 2008, and they haven't picked higher than seventh in the draft since 2003 — when they infamously took Darko Milicic at No. 2.
It remains to be seen whether Detroit's lottery luck will change any time soon, but when they moved on from Drummond and Jackson, the Pistons chose a new direction.
“I think it's something the fans can get behind — to watch guys grow and develop and move forward,” said Dwane Casey, who just finished his second season as Detroit's coach.
Griffin wasn't the only Detroit player with knee problems. Luke Kennard averaged a career-high 15.8 points but played in only 28 games.
Kennard said Thursday he's now 100% healthy. Griffin said he's been able to do basketball workouts.
With the Pistons moving into more of a rebuilding mode, the question is whether they can become contenders again on the 31-year-old Griffin's timetable.
“If I’m on the Detroit Pistons, then I’m doing everything I can to prepare to play for them and win games. That’s just how you’re wired as a player," Griffin said. "As far what we do in the offseason and what we want to do next year, that’s going to be up to them.”
Griffin may have a better chance to win elsewhere — and he could have good trade value if he can put his latest injury problems behind him.
Forward Christian Wood averaged 13.1 points per game and impressed Detroit fans with his energy in his first season with the Pistons. Casey said Wood is doing fine with no ill effects following his bout with the coronavirus.
Jackson's up-and-down tenure with the Pistons is over, so they're definitely in the market for a point guard. Derrick Rose played well last season but averaged only 26 minutes amid concerns over his injury history.
“I think to grow as a team, we have to have a starting point guard, whether it's through the draft or free agency," Casey said. "The same in the NFL with the quarterback. You've got to have that centerpiece, that quarterback, that computer out there — getting the ball to people in the right position, the right places, being coach on the floor.”
Guard Bruce Brown, a second-round pick in 2018, averaged 8.9 points in increased minutes this season. Rookie forward Sekou Doumbouya averaged 6.4 points in 38 games and doesn't turn 20 until December.