In a league with so many teams either contending or rebuilding, the Detroit Pistons haven’t been doing much of either.

What they did do last season was make a playoff appearance, a rarity in recent years. Now the challenge is to build on that.

“Not saying we’re ready for a championship, but we’re taking some big steps,” coach Dwane Casey said. “This is a bridge. We’re going across it, to continue to improve offensively, defensively, to get to our ultimate goal, which is to win a championship.”

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – OCTOBER 16: Head coach Dwane Casey of the Detroit Pistons watches on against the Charlotte Hornets during their game at Spectrum Center on October 16, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The Pistons have resisted the win big-or-tank model that seems to be all the rage in the NBA. Two seasons ago, they gave up a first-round draft pick in a trade for Blake Griffin. That wasn’t enough to put them in the playoffs in 2018, but they made it a season ago and were immediately swept by Milwaukee. There’s still a clear gap between Detroit and the top teams in the league, but there’s also enough talent on hand that the Pistons could rise a bit in the Eastern Conference.

Last season was only the second playoff appearance in 10 seasons for this franchise. Winning a round would be another step forward.

“We’re not here just to get by, or just to get into the playoffs,” said Casey, who is entering his second season at the helm. “We want to do big things, and we’re building that foundation.”

DETROIT, MI – APRIL 22: Head coach Dwane Casey of the Detroit Pistons shouts at an official during the second half of Game Four of the first round of the 2019 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks at Little Caesars Arena on April 22, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. The Bucks defeated the Pistons in four straight games, 127-104. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

With Griffin and center Andre Drummond under big contracts, the Pistons haven’t had much roster flexibility, and Detroit hasn’t been a prime destination for free agents. If the Pistons are going to make anything more than mild improvement, they’ll probably need some unexpected contributions, perhaps from a recent draft pick like Sekou Doumbouya, a first-rounder this year who doesn’t turn 19 until December.

Detroit also brought in Derrick Rose, the former MVP who has battled injury problems but may still have some upside at age 31.

“Just to be completely candid, there are teams on paper who are more talented or have more guys that are regarded as more talented, I guess,” Griffin said. “But I think we have the mindset to come in and compete every night, and if we do that — I said this last year — I think the fans, the city of Detroit, the state of Michigan, will get behind us.”

HEALTH

Griffin managed to play in 75 games last season, a good number given his spotty injury history, but he began having knee problems at the very end and missed two playoff games. That obviously wasn’t ideal, so keep an eye on his minutes this season as the Pistons try to keep him as fresh as possible.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – OCTOBER 09: Blake Griffin #23 of the Detroit Pistons looks to make a move against Maxi Kleber #42 of the Dallas Mavericks during the second half at Little Caesars Arena on October 09, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 124-117. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

POINT GUARD

Reggie Jackson has had an erratic tenure with the Pistons. He averaged 18.8 points per game in 2015-16 but hasn’t reached that level since. His assist and turnover rates both dropped slightly last season, with Detroit able to run its offense through Griffin if need be. Now Rose has arrived, and although his minutes will probably need to be managed, it will be interesting to see who Casey trusts in crunch time.

YOUNG PLAYERS

Luke Kennard is the only one of Detroit’s recent first-round picks, still making a significant contribution for the team. He can give the Pistons 3-point shooting and some offensive punch off the bench. Bruce Brown, a second-round pick in 2018, played 20 minutes a game last season, averaging 4.3 points.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – OCTOBER 11: Luke Kennard #5 of the Detroit Pistons tries to drive around Brandon Knight #20 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half at Little Caesars Arena on October 11, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

OTHER ADDITIONS

Aside from Rose, the Pistons also added a potential contributor in Tony Snell, who averaged 6.0 points for Milwaukee a season ago. Joe Johnson is also with Detroit now, but after not playing in the NBA at all last season, he’d likely be at the end of the roster if he makes the team.

TEAR IT DOWN?

The Pistons have been loath to give up on their current path, sticking with the trio of Griffin, Drummond, and Jackson, but a poor start this season could bring about a tipping point. Owner Tom Gores indicated he wants to keep Drummond, but there’s been no agreement yet on an extension. It may now be a bit easier for the Pistons to move on from Drummond and/or Jackson if things are clearly going south.

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