I almost titled this article:  Why Are The Detroit Pistons Still Playing Hard?

Because had the team just decided to go through the motions for the rest of the season or just outright quit, their chances of getting a top 4 draft choice would increase greatly.  In other words, they have no reason to keep playing hard.  Just mail in the season and get to the golf course this summer.

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But the team is still playing hard.  And they're actually playing better in the second half of the season and have won a few more games than expected.  And that has surprised a lot of people.

As you know, it looked for most of this season that the team would break the all-time record for worst regular season record ever (which is still held by the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who went 9-73).  The Pistons are 11-53 entering Wednesday night's game against the Toronto Raptors, so they won't break the record.

What normally takes the preseason and the first 10 games of the regular season to figure out.  It took first-year head coach Monty Williams (pictured above) 3/4ths of the season to figure out...A playing rotation that works.

The Pistons starting five is actually credible.  Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Isaiah Stewart, Jalen Duren, and recent acquisition Simone Fontecchio have played solidly since being put together.

And the bench is better than it was, too.  James Wiseman is playing better since being relegated to the bench.  Rookies Marcus Sasser and Ausar Thompson (although he's hurt right now) have joined the rotation.  And they have veterans like Evan Fournier to help out, too.

The main reason they're still playing hard is that a number of players are on the last year of their contracts.  So they are playing for contracts next season.  According to hoopshype.com, James Wiseman is a restricted free agent after the season, although he could return for the $15.8 million fifth-year option on his rookie deal.  Evan Fournier has a team option worth $19 million for next season.  He's going to want that money!  Cade Cunningham is eligible for a big contract extension this summer.  And bench guys like Malachi Flynn and Troy Brown can be free agents as well.

Now, don't get me wrong.  The Pistons still suck out loud.  Their defense is terrible (although it's a little better now) and they are still the worst 4th quarter team I've ever seen in the NBA.  But their recent play has given some fans cause for optimism this summer.  And they'll have gobs of salary cap room, too.

Team executive Troy Weaver can save his job with big off-season improvements this year.  And he better do it.  Because judging by the recent verbal assault that Weaver got last week during a home game, the fans' patience (which is already thin) is getting thinner.

Brock's All-Time MLB Starting Line-up

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