It’s a Motown Meltdown as Pistons Break Record for Futility

A season that began with promise is now making records for all the wrong reasons.

AP/Duane Burleson
Detroit Pistons guard Alec Burks goes to the basket against Brooklyn Nets guard Dennis Smith Jr. during the first half of an NBA basketball game on December 26, 2023, at Detroit. AP/Duane Burleson

On the night the Detroit Pistons set a National Basketball Association record for futility, the head coach, Monty Williams, admitted the historic single-season losing streak is weighing heavily on his players.

“When you look at records, you think of coaches,” Mr. Williams said after the Pistons suffered their 27th straight loss, a 118-112 setback to the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night at Little Caesars Arena at Detroit. “I’m sure the players don’t want that attached to the name on the jersey. Is it weighing heavy? It’s been heavy for a while. That’s just the nature of this kind of losing streak.”

Detroit is a storied NBA franchise best known for its “Bad Boys” era that produced championships in 1989, 1990, and 2004. It’s the franchise of Dave Bing, Isiah Thomas, Bob Lanier, Joe Dumars, Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, and Richard “Rip” Hamilton. Those glory days and legendary players are gone, though, replaced by a long stretch of bad basketball. The Pistons haven’t made the playoffs or won more than 23 games in a season since 2019. 

Now their losing streak has reached historic proportions. The Pistons’ last win came before Halloween, a 118-102 triumph over the Chicago Bulls in the third game. Detroit was a respectable 2-1 at the time in what seemed to be a promising start for Mr. Williams, who signed a six-year deal for nearly $100 million to rebuild the team.  A young roster, though, combined with injuries to key players, has sent the club on a downward spiral that shows no sign of relenting.

Detroit (2-28) now faces matching the Philadelphia 76ers’ all-time losing streak of 28 games — spanning two seasons —  on Thursday when it plays the Boston Celtics at Boston. The Sixers set that record between the end of the 2014-15 season and the start of the 2015-16 season.

“You have to be real about where we are,” Mr. Williams said. “Nobody wants something like this attached to them. The bottom line is it’s my job, it’s my responsibility.”

Some fans on social media blame owner Tom Gores and are urging him to sell the team he purchased in 2011.  “We have a good core,” Mr. Gores said during a recent Zoom call with beat reporters. “We have a good foundation. We have good, young players and we have flexibility. We have to not panic and do the right thing, execute, and have urgency.” He adds that he doesn’t want to “ruin the boat here. It’s pretty good.”

The Pistons’ future centers on youth, especially Cade Cunningham, the first overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft, and Jaden Ivey, the no. 5 pick in the 2022 draft. Detroit also added  forward Ausar Thompson with the fifth pick in the 2023 draft and another guard,  Killian Haynes, the seventh pick from the 2020 draft. So far, though, wins have been scarcer than hen’s teeth. 

A roster loaded with inexperience also has been shorthanded due to injuries to key players like veteran Bojan Bogdanovic, who has averaged 19.9 points in 11 games, and Jalen Duren, who has played in just 15 games due to an ankle injury.

The good news is that Mr. Cunningham has played in all 30 games after appearing in just 12 last season due to a shin injury. The Oklahoma State product averages 23 points per game and displays the kind of leadership teams need in difficult times.

“We have to stay together,” Mr. Cunningham said after scoring 41 points Tuesday night, excelling despite the adverse outcome. “Right now is the easiest time to stand off and be on your own. But we need to continue to lean on each other and continue to push each other and hold each other accountable more than ever.”

Mr. Cunningham is one of 14 players age 25 or younger on a Detroit roster trying not to become flummoxed by its futility. “There’s nothing positive about this situation we put ourselves in,” Mr. Cunningham said. “We have to dig deep and get ourselves out of it. It weighs on us every day.”

Rip Hamilton, a member of Detroit’s 2004 championship team, told CBS Sports Network that the Pistons are a young team searching for an identity. “This is a situation that a lot of Pistons fans, people in the city in Detroit aren’t accustomed to,” Mr. Hamilton said. “This is a young team and they’re still trying to figure out how to win basketball games at the professional level.”

The Detroit Lions have long been the city’s lovable losers, but they are having a banner campaign. They claimed their first National Football League division title since 1993 with a 30-24 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Now, it’s the Pistons trying to claw back to respectability.

The Pistons need to beat the highly favored Celtics on Thursday to avoid tying Philadelphia’s record for consecutive losses. Mr. Williams, though, is staying optimistic. “I was brought in here to change this thing,” he said. “It’s probably the most on me than anybody. The players are playing their hearts out. I have to get them to a position where they’re not playing tight or heavy. That’s the reality of the situation.”

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