It's a Rough Time for Detroit Sports
Updated: Mar 1
Oof. The Red Wings' three-game skid has doused that last bit of hope for the city's first playoff appearance since 2019. While there are plenty of encouraging signs with the Wings and Lions in particular, there is still a long way to go before returning to relevancy.
All four teams are young and in the process of a rebuild. In 2019, the Pistons made the playoffs and were embarrassed by the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. The Lions and Red Wings last made the playoffs in 2016 (along with the Pistons). The Wings hold the city's last playoff win in 2016; however, the city's last advanced in the playoffs in 2013 (Red Wings and Tigers). The Pistons' last playoff and series win came in 2008. The Lions' last playoff victory came in 1991. That's right. If the Lions' last playoff win was a baby, it could be a doctor by now.
In that 2011-2016 era, I would never have guessed what was coming for Detroit Sports. The Tigers had Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. They were going deep into the playoffs every year. The Lions had broken the playoff drought with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. The Red Wings still held the longest playoff streak in professional sports. Things didn't look great, but they were still competitive. The Pistons had finally made the playoffs after years of attempted rebuilds.
I would have enjoyed that time more if I had known how bad it would get. The Tigers made some of the worst trades in recent history. The Verlander trade might be the worst in the history of professional sports. If not that, then indeed the worst trade in the last twenty years.
The Pistons have made more awful trades and signings than I remember. Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Josh Smith, Blake Griffin? We sent out Spencer Dinwiddie and Kris Middleton. Trading Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson is the second-worst trade in recent Detroit sports history. What about the "New England Patriots of Detroit?"
The front office personnel is the main culprit for the city's slide into sports irrelevancy. Al Avila might be the worst general manager in Detroit over this span. Stan Van Gundy could give him a run for his money. What about Bob Quinn? Geez, plenty of candidates for the most incompetent.
The Tigers' decision to fire Dave Dombrowski has been catastrophic. Since leaving Detroit, he's led two teams to the World Series (Red Sox, Phillies). Moving on from Jim Leyland was also a mistake. Brad Ausmus was not ready for the big leagues.
While the Pistons' decision to let Joe Dumars go was the right one, they've yet to find a replacement (we'll see with Troy Weaver). The Pistons' last plus 500 season came in 2016. I fear the Pistons may be becoming the city's new Lions. They seem similar to the Pistons in the late 90s. I hope that isn't their trajectory: consistent first-round knockouts. Maybe their coach, Dwane Casey, can repeat his success in Toronto and lead the team to multiple second-round knockouts.
The Lions, I think (fingers crossed, spitting over my shoulder and spinning, knocking on wood, setting fire to an effigy, blowing on the dice) finally have a solid front office and coaching combo (Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell). The Lions finished strong with their first plus 500 season since 2017. Shedding the "Same Old Lions" moniker will take some time, though. We need to see it next season. When you haven't won a playoff game in over 30 years, you must earn the fans' trust.
I think Steve Yzerman has the Wings in the right direction as well. The Red Wings will likely have their first plus 500 season since 2016. They have a long way to go, though. They've looked overmatched by playoff teams/contenders. They'll have to get bigger and more physical to take the next step. Starting by beating mediocre teams is a natural part of the process. We'll have to see if they can evolve to compete with the big boys.
A lot remains to be seen with Scott Harris and the Tigers, but the early signs are positive. He has changed the emphasis to building a competitive team through plate discipline and building the farm system. The Tigers haven't finished over 500 since 2016. Baseball is tough to predict. I'm not saying the Tigers will be great this season, but I don't think they'll be awful. Some adjustments towards plate discipline and speed on the base pads may improve the team in the short term.
It's fair to say that the drought began in 2016. Having four teams over 500 isn't that bad. I'd take that in a heartbeat now.
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