You can see the possibility. Just as quickly, you can see it vanish, too.
For a night – or at least for a few quarters – the Pistons fly around with purpose. Before their lack of talent dooms them. Or their lack of resolve.
You saw it again Wednesday night at Little Caesars Arena, when the Pistons jumped a weary Toronto squad in the first half, then throttled back as the Raptors throttled forward, and hung a 40-point third quarter on Detroit.
Stan Van Gundy, who shuffled into the post-game news conference in a foul mood, said he'd warned his team about a potential second-half onslaught.
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"Everybody nodded their heads," he said. And, still, "we weren't ready."
You can find the dilemma of this franchise right there in that sentence.
It's the dilemma the owner faces, too: To keep Van Gundy for the last year of his contract or to sweep everyone out and start anew. Either way, this mess of a season falls to Van Gundy.
He's either not getting through to his players. Or he hasn't collected enough of them who will listen. (Not to mention enough of them who can play.)
That's the trouble when you're the coach and the general manager. Every decision leads back to you.
Clearly, it's not working, and Pistons owner Tom Gores needs to make a change. The question is: What?
This is where it gets sticky. It would help to know if there is a plan. Because right now, as this team tumbles from playoff contention – it has lost 10 of 12 games – it doesn't look like there is one.
There only appears to be a prayer – that point guard Reggie Jackson gets healthy.
It can feel like that in the NBA, where every year a few teams are good enough to win a title, a handful of teams are bad enough to win the lottery, and everyone else gets stuck on a hamster wheel.
This is where your Pistons reside.
Even so, a single draft pick can change how you feel about the future. And that brings us back to Van Gundy and his tenure in Detroit.
Because he had the chance to do this. Then blew it.
Van Gundy could've built for the future last summer by taking guard Donovan Mitchell in the NBA draft. Instead, he took Luke Kennard.
Mitchell is pushing Utah toward a playoff spot and is a favorite to win NBA Rookie of the Year. Add him to the Pistons' roster, and the discussion we are having is different.
One player can do that in this league. Look at Utah. The Jazz had built a solid playoff team around Gordon Hayward, then lost him to free agency, then got lucky when Mitchell fell into their lap.
Missing on Mitchell isn't reason enough to move on from the Van Gundy regime; at least a half-dozen other teams missed on him, too. Besides, Van Gundy is operating within a framework set by his owner.
And his owner wants to make the playoffs. So, Van Gundy passed on Mitchell because Kennard looked like a better fit.
He thought he was building a team, when he should've been building a franchise. There is a difference.
How much of this pressure comes from Gores, a man who clearly wants a team capable of making the playoffs?
Enter Blake Griffin, in a trade that cost the Pistons a first-round pick this summer and significant future salary-cap flexibility.
This isn't a trade an owner agrees to if he's planning on sweeping out the front office and coaching staff. But, again, that doesn't mean Gores can't see some things need to change.
Van Gundy needs more help on his coaching staff. He is tough on his players and he could use a different kind of voice to teach and manage an NBA locker room.
Beyond that, he could use another set of eyes in the front office. For while Van Gundy and his general manager, Jeff Bower, have upped the overall talent level and made some astute trades, they've struggled in the draft.
Whether Van Gundy is willing to adapt should determine whether he gets the chance to finish his contract and see what this team can do if it ever gets healthy.
Griffin, for one, still likes the potential.
"There are definitely glimpses," he said Wednesday night, after scoring 31 points including the basket that sent the game to overtime.
We've "put together quarters, halves, (even) three quarters, but not 48 minutes," he said.
"We have a lot of guys that can go. Once we put everything together, once we get healthy, I like our team."
And he should. It's a playoff team when healthy.
Gores surely knows this. He knows, too, that if Reggie Jackson can stay healthy, he'll give this region a lot more games like Wednesday night – and maybe some that end in victories.
If that's enough for Gores, then here's betting he brings Van Gundy back ... with a few caveats. If not, if Gores wants to scrap everything and launch a complete rebuild, then Van Gundy will be gone.
Either way, it's time for the Pistons to make some sort of change. Because irrelevancy is a drag.