Downward Spiral: Are the Pistons and Spurs unintentionally tanking?

Cade Cunningham
Cade Cunningham / Elsa/GettyImages

For the second year in a row, it looks as though the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs are going to be the worst teams in the NBA. While no one expected them to be contenders, each team had reason to be optimistic.

The Pistons were getting 2021 number one pick Cade Cunningham back after he missed most of last season, while the Spurs won the number one pick and the rights to draft a once-in-a-generation player. Despite that, the Pistons went winless in November, going 0–17 and calling into question their extended rebuild.

Meanwhile, the Spurs haven't fared much better, losing 14 straight games and boasting one of the worst point differentials in NBA history. This is despite having a potential superstar in Victor Wembanyama.

The Pistons and Spurs have been less than the sum of their parts thus far.

The Pistons have been without last season's leading scorer, Bojan Bogdanovic, for the first 19 games of the season, and his return will help their 27th-ranked offense, but they have bigger problems. Their bench has been a problem all year and coach Monty Williams has shuffled players in and out of the starting lineup, including 2022 fifth overall pick Jaden Ivey.

That decision, or his lack of an explanation to Ivey, has drawn some criticism, though he's recently started Cunningham, Ivey, and Killian Haynes over their past three games with promising results. Unfortunately, it seems that he plans to go away from the lineup to the Pistons detriment.

Meanwhile, the Spurs have experimented with having power forward Jeremy Sochan start at point guard, which has negatively impacted both his development and Wembanyama's. Although San Antonio is far worse with him at point guard than backup Tre Jones, coach Gregg Popovich appears to have made his decision.

Interestingly enough, he's had Devin Vassell, the Spurs' second-best player, come off the bench recently while players such as Julian Champagnie or Malaki Branham start. It's an odd decision meant to boost the confidence of two young role players but Popovich could use the opportunity to start both Jones and Sochan. That would give San Antonio an actual playmaker who can set up Wembanyama while allowing Sochan to play his natural position.

Are the Pistons and Spurs tanking?

With questionable calls from Williams and Popovich and the Pistons and Spurs in the middle of ugly losing streaks, it begs the question of whether each team is tanking. Despite the on-court results, it is unlikely that that is the case. Detroit was the worst team in the NBA last season and still ended up with the fifth pick. As a result, they are unlikely to try to replicate that after failing to land the number one pick.

Of course, at 2-18, they are well on their way to having the worst record again. The Spurs also don't appear to be tanking but they are just that bad. They too don't have much incentive to tank with Wembanyama and the Spurs have not one but possibly two lottery picks, with Toronto's pick just top six protected.

Spurs fans are clamoring for them to use one of those picks on a point guard, with Isaiah Collier at the top of the list and they may be in a position to do so. With high draft picks all but assured and each team expected to have serious cap space, expect both teams to look much different soon.

Detroit could look to move on from Hayes due to a cluttered perimeter rotation, Bogdanovic, and James Wiseman, while San Antonio could move vets Doug McDermott, Cedi Osman, and Devonte Graham. That would be a start but far from the end of much-needed roster overhauls.