Yashinsky: Owner Tom Gores, the Invisible Man, Hurts Pistons

Tom Gores (Dan Lippitt photo from tomgores.com)


The Detroit Pistons are a mess.   

They were trounced by the Clippers at home on Monday afternoon.  It was another lifeless effort, the second straight Palace thrashing at the hands of an opponent missing its best player (Clippers without Chris Paul, Jazz without Gordon Hayward).

The roster is in shambles.  

Josh Smith was signed to a hefty four-year deal this past summer, despite his heavy mileage (this is his10th year) and oft-questioned work ethic.  He has clanked his last nine 3-point attempts, no surprise considering he is literally on pace to become the NBA’s worst single-season long-range shooter in history.  Look it up, it’s true; he’s attempted 155 treys thus far, connecting on exactly 24% of them.

I see former Piston John Eddie Long hooping it up around town every so often. At 57 years of age, he could shoot Josh Smith out of the gym.  Not a ringing endorsement for your franchise’s newest toy.

Brandon Jennings was imported from Milwaukee to try and bring some stability back to the point guard position.  Judging by his play, it appears that Jennings grew up idolizing the aforementioned Smith, borrowing the indifferent attitude and mangled shot selection that now seem to characterize this entire Pistons team.  

At this point, it’s beating a dead horse; but the fact that this team was desperate for an impact player at the point, fortunate enough to have NCAA star Trey Burke still sitting there at #8, and instead decided to select a dime-a-dozen off-guard from Georgia is something that cannot be explained rationally.

It matters not whether Burke turns out to be a legendary little man like Isiah or a lottery washout like Jonny Flynn -- he was the only pick in that spot, and somehow Joe Dumars bungled it.  There was a golden opportunity to get this franchise moving back in the direction of the early 2000s, building around young talent with a few heady veterans.  Instead, Dumars passed foolishly on a Player of the Year and opted for a pair of historically selfish left handed bricklayers.

Broken at the Top

The Pistons’ problems extend beyond the court.  They extend beyond the front office, too.  Tom Gores is the top dog of this woebegone franchise, and yet for all intents and purposes, he is “The Invisible Man.” 

A fascinating HBO piece on "Real Sports" Tuesday night profiled the new owner of the Sacramento Kings, Vivek Ranadivé.  He was born into great wealth in Bombay, but came to America for college and to forge his own path.  He built enough of a fortune to purchase his own NBA team. 

But this isn’t just some investment that he will sit on and sell in ten years for a juicy profit.  Ranadivé is all-in on this endeavor.  He sits courtside at games, shouting encouragement and leaping out of his seat after big plays. 

Never mind that the guy didn’t touch a basketball until he was in his late-40s; the Kings are his life now.  He brought on Shaquille O’Neal to be a minority owner, drumming up some healthy publicity while bringing aboard a proven winner at the highest level.  Everything about the bubbly Ranadivé screams passion; the Kings might be one of the worst teams in the league, but you truly believe this owner won’t let it stay that way for very long.

Tom Gores is Ranadivé’s polar opposite.  

He is almost never seen where the Pistons play, unless you count the two trips the Stones make to the Staples Center each season near Gores’ home in Beverly Hills. The one notable appearance he did make this year took place during the pre-season when, following a buzzer-beating game winner from Smith, Gores bizarrely stormed the court to join the celebration.  

The sheer magnitude of his jubilation had fans genuinely wondering if Gores knew the game was just an exhibition and did not actually count toward the standings.  When he finally made his way over to the fairly reserved group of Pistons congregating near mid-court, a few of them shot Gores a confused look, as if to say, “I know I should know who you are, but I just can’t seem to place it.”  

Mark Cuban gets fined multiple times every year while fighting every possible battle for his beloved Mavericks. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a similar outcry from Gores; you can’t berate the referees from your living room.  Plus, it takes a certain level of hoops acumen to even know what you’re complaining about. 

You can just picture Gores watching the game, Detroit down by seven, and saying: “A quick touchdown and we’re right back in this thing!” Jimmy Naismith he is not.

Calling for Change

This is not an angle I enjoy taking.  I get no satisfaction from the Pistons‘ struggles.  After all, I’ve followed this team from diapers to Dockers.  But there’s only one story to tell here, and even the world’s most accomplished cake maker couldn’t sugarcoat it.

This is the sixth straight year of miserable basketball.  And the problem isn’t just the losing.  It’s how they do it.  There have been countless teams in pro sports that struggled to post W’s due to a lack of talent, experience, or a combination of both.  That’s not unique.  But a number of those teams still fought like crazy. 

They were out to prove their worth and they competed with pride.  These Pistons, and basically all of the versions from 2009 until now, have exhibited none of that tenacity.  From Charlie Villanueva to “post-Chauncey” Rip Hamilton to Smith & Jennings, this has become a group of paycheck-collectors.  As long as the envelope hits their lockers on the 15th and 30th of each month, the results of the days in between are of little consequence.

Major changes are needed within the Pistons’ organization, and soon.  

Joe Dumars will always be a legend in this town.  He was a huge part of three championships and that will never change.  But his front-office decision-making has been laughably bad for a number of years now, and the Burke snub was the final straw.  Joe’s early teams had a true identity built on toughness, determination, togetherness. 

The “Every Night” mantra was a bit hokey, but it really did ring true.  That’s gone now.  Dumars now acquires players seemingly on a whim, not worrying about whether any of the pieces actually fit; just a very faint hope that if you throw enough weird ingredients in the pot, a delicious stew will emerge.  Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.  The good chefs actually put some thought into their recipes.

I’d say the owner needs to go too -- but in Detroit, we know better than to hope for that.  

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