The Detroit Pistons are like.......
a dysfunctional classroom.
Most new teachers only last three to six years in the classroom. Some, who have an authoritarian streak and could not quite hack it in corporate America, become administrators. Others, who have a better network, leave and enter corporate America or become "consultants." A few, who have a heart and a soul, veer slightly off path and become counselors. A few others act like they care and leave to run political campaigns, join the media, or hide out in higher education. (see, Gruwel, Erin and Perry, Steve, but not the guy from Journey) As a beginning teacher, you will be assigned a crappy classroom with the worst students in your school along with a few functional students, just to mask how screwed up your classroom really is.
Before we get to the Detroit Pistons and their cast of characters, allow me to describe what my first teaching job looked like. My first teaching job was located off the 710/105 freeways in the community next to Compton. I worked for an angry principal, who was in the field of education to gain recognition, find a husband, and make money in that order. As the newest addition to the school, I was handed a 4th/5th grade combination class. The class was entertaining in hindsight but excruciating to work with back in the early millennium. Besides the usual hypochrondria and the usual smart asses, my class had more character (or characters) than a 12 pack of Tecate. There was a knuckle head named Juan Pablo, who wore a T-Shirt that said, "Jesus es la verdad en su vida," but would cuss incessantly at no one in particular, favoring the f-bomb and the other word that starts with "mother." Juan Pablo also loved the song, "Pass the Courvoisier," so much that he sang the hook out loud every 20 minutes for about two weeks. I had crack babies who would walk around hitting other students for no reason. I also had very intelligent girls in my class such as Fernanda, who once said, "Mr. Tee, Diana's mom got hooker shoes on," and Faith, who read Hype Hair Magazine in class. To paraphrase Frank Ocean, at least she's reading. The average and "good" students would follow Juan Pablo and Fernanda's lead, because it is always more interesting and entertaining to talk, b.s., and learn nothing than to actually put in the work and improve academically. The average and good students showed mixed results. They met standards when interested. At other times, they approached school with a shrug and simply did the bare minimum.
Remember that trilogy of The Substitute movies at the end of the 1990s, Stan Van Gundy is Tom Berenger/Treat Williams. And watching the Pistons is probably like watching these horrific action movies from the late 1990s. (I mean, they couldn't have made The Substitute 4? Michael Dudikoff wasn't available?). In the real world of inner city public education, there is the "long term substitute," this is the place holder substitute that holds together the classroom because no teacher, young, old, Black, White, Asian, Latino, male, female, lesbian, or bisexual, wants to take over a makeshift classroom in the middle of the school year. Luckily, Van Gundy is the permanent teacher now, as coach, GM, and President of Basketball Operations -- this is his team, and he will be able to do what he needs to correct the mess that Joe Dumars, the old tenure teacher who resigned and left the inner city to chill in Montana somewhere, made during his years of tenured post-Championship ineptitude.
The dysfunctional classroom that is the Detroit Pistons is led by the knucklehead duo of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. Smith is the lazy, smart kid, who is a smart ass/idiotic genius. At times, he makes very salient points, but most of the time, the smart ass is simply detrimental to the classroom. If you have ever watch Josh Smith play basketball, there will be moments where you wonder why this guy is not a perennial all-star. Then reality sets in, and you realize he has not improved on anything since his second season. Most fans know about his terrible shot selection. Additionally, there is the inconsistent effort on defense, and increasingly awful free throw shooting. Smith is very gifted, and he should be a player who can get 18 to 20 points with 8 rebounds and 6 assists consistently in a way that helps his team, but instead you get some amazing highlights mixed in with indifferent play.
Jennings is the cool class clown. He is a combination of Juan Carlos and this kid I had in my class at a charter school on Vermont Avenue, let's call this kid, Fats. Fats had a tattoo of a crown on his wrist. He was a 9th grader. What has he accomplished or achieved to have a tattoo of a crown on his wrist? He ate a lot and lied well; and his mom treated him like royalty. Jennings is a combination of Fats and Juan Carlos. He is a clown who is feeling himself too much. Jennings like to view himself as a star, when in reality, he is actually a back up point guard. His post-high school hype and his early success, especially that 55 point game against Golden State as a rookie, gave him an irrational view of himself as a star. He takes bad shots and acquire assists, but does not make his teammates better. Jennings is at best an inconsistent defender and at worse a consistent turnstile. He is a career 39 percent shooter who insist on shooting 15 times a game. For his career, he is about 35 percent from three point range. He has been playing better this season. Perhaps, the threat of Van Gundy benching him forced him to get his act together. However, I guess the team does not practice shooting, so expect the bricklaying to return.
The Detroit dysfunctional classroom also consists of a couple of shooters who can't shoot in Luigi Datome and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. One of them does not even belong in this grade level (Datome), and the other is an unproven student. Caron Butler is the guy that is repeating a grade because he has to, but knows that with social promotion, next year, he will move on no matter what. Jonas Jerebko and Kyle Singler are average students who are trying not to get disinterested due to all the nonsense around them. Both would probably be better in another classroom setting. Singler is that end of the Spurs' bench decent shooter, and Jerebko has underrated athleticism and a decent all around game. He would be a good 8th/9th man on a contender, like the Swedish Matt Barnes without tattoos and technicals. Van Gundy brought in two normal hard working diligent students, Jodie Meeks and D.J. Augustin, to the dysfunctional classroom. However, Meeks suffered an injury, and is unable to contribute much needed normalcy and consistent three point shooting. Augustin is a good citizen. He is an average guard that will give Van Gundy some piece of mind in classroom management, but won't bring up test scores.
In every classroom, no matter the dysfunction, there is always at least two very smart or brilliant students. The Detroit Pistons have Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Monroe is a smart, some what efficient big man with a legitimate post game and passing skills. He is sick of the dysfunction and is just playing out this season, while waiting for a team to throw gobs of money at him this summer so he can move on to a normal classroom. Monroe could be a good second option on a fringe Eastern Conference Playoff team, and an excellent third option for a contender. Drummond is the nice goofy kid with potential in the class. In simple terms, he is a bulky right handed DeAndre Jordan. His offensive skills need improvement but he is a defensive presence and has an NBA built that you can't teach. Van Gundy is hoping that the dysfunction in the Piston's classroom will not affect Drummond's attitude, progress, or work ethnic.
Former Clipper Tremaine Fowlkes won a ring with the Pistons in the 2003-2004 season. More importantly, Fowlkes was immortalized by one of my favorite artists, Phonte, in Little Brother's "Sincerely Yours," from the Minstrel Show album. Phonte said, "This is no hoax. Back to the bench. Scrubs like Tremaine Fowlkes." Damn Tigallo, Tremaine Fowlkes? really?, come on, man. On the other hand, it is brilliant, not even die hard NBA nerds know who Tremaine Fowlkes is.
Besides the great defense of their front line, the 2003-2004 Detroit Pistons Championship team had an underrated bench which included Corliss Williamson, a former 6th man of the year, and good scorer off the bench. Corliss could get to the line and put points on the board, even if his field goal percentage left a lot to be desired. Mehmet Okur was the protypical floor stretching big man, who could actually shoot and rebound. Mike James was a good combo guard who could never start for a Playoff team but was a great third guard off the bench. Darvin Ham was the perfect low-skill but very athletic energy guy who was an intelligent player and knew his role. Ham would make a key defensive or hustle play that could sustain or swing momentum. Elden Campbell was the veteran on his last legs that one can plug in for 5 to 10 minutes a game. And lastly Lindsey Hunter was the best 39 percent shooter in league history, a forgettable player made better by the fact that he lucked his way to two rings. Their playoff statistics were not great, but these bench guys did contribute to the Championship that most people don't remember, but importantly saved us from a Lakers Championship and kept Karl Malone ringless.
Pistons' Watchability Essay
Stan Van's Orlando Magic teams at their peak were quite an entertaining watch. Van Gundy surrounded Dwight Howard with shooters, and the offense was complimented by two playmakers, Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson. The Magic also had an above average wing defender in Mikael Pietrus for two seasons. This is the Piston's destination and they have the defensive minded behemoth in Andre Drummond, but obviously, they are not there yet. Watching the Pistons is like watching the aforementioned bad 1990s action movies alluded to above. Watch them for Brandon Jennings' awful shot selection, and his pull up 20 footers that look good until he releases the shot. Watch Josh Smith infuriate all your common sense about basketball and basketball fandom. Watch Andre Drummond try to figure it out, and watch to see if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can become a good NBA starter, or to see if he belongs as an 8th man on a bad team or an 11th man on a good one. It is kind of like watching NASCAR as a non fan. I tune in, and then I probably fall asleep. Then I wake up, and wonder why I am watching, but I cannot quite turn away, in case an interesting wreck happen.
Paul Tee's Prognosis
Positively three or more years away. I believe in Stan Van, and now that he is the all encompassing, coach/GM/President of Basketball Operations -- this is his team. He won't have to worry about Pat Riley pulling some b.s. coup to boost Riles' ego and hair. He won't have to worry about some slightly overrated superstar hi-jacking the team. Van Gundy has a young budding star that is not full of himself yet in Drummond. He has a near elite shooter in Meeks and a nice asset or third option in Monroe. It will just take him three or more years to arrange the parts to fit his vision. I am positive that the Pistons will contend for the Eastern Conference title during Van Gundy's tenure. It just won't happen in the near future.