The Detroit Pistons didn't have the money to pursue LeBron James. And even if they did, they would not have had a shot.
That's not news. Just reality for NBA teams in markets like ours. Or Indiana's. Or Milwaukee's. Or Cleveland's, a franchise that must get lucky in the lottery to ever land a player like LeBron.
This is how it is for most of the league.
Still, just because the Pistons can't compete for the NBA's top-shelf talent when it hits the open market doesn't mean it can't benefit — at least a little — when a megastar switches teams.
So, yes, the L.A. Lakers will be contenders again soon thanks to LeBron choosing them. And, yes, they seem to acquire a generational talent every half generation or so. Is that fair? No. Not if you live in Charlotte or New Orleans or Minneapolis.
But if you live in Detroit, and you've just hired a respected and accomplished coach, and you've got a roster with enough talent to make some noise in the playoffs, then you're grateful LeBron just bolted for the other side of the country …
… to the Western Conference.
Because James has had a stranglehold on the East. Think about it this way: for nine of the past 12 seasons, James has played in the Finals — the Boston Celtics got there twice; the Orlando Magic got there once.
Now that he's gone, the teams in the next tier will get their chance. Teams like the Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers, which means teams in the tier after that should have more wiggle room, too.
Teams like your Pistons.
No, they aren't Finals contenders just because James is gone — the Celtics and 76ers have too much talent. But with a little health luck and some development of its youngsters, a second-round playoff series isn't crazy to think about.
Consider the math: four teams won 50 or more games last season in the Eastern Conference: Toronto (59), Boston (55), Philadelphia (52), and Cleveland (50).
The Cavaliers won't sniff 50 with James gone. And while the other three should win at least 50 again — Boston has a chance to win more than 60 — the Pistons could be good enough to compete for that last slot.
That's a big if, yes. But it's not an outlandish if, either. And there is a difference.
If you look at the standings from a year ago and consider the moves the playoff teams seeded 4-8 have made so far — both in coaching and in free agents — it's not outrageous to think the Pistons can compete with them.
Let's start with the Pacers, who earned the No. 5 slot on the strength of a breakout year by shooting guard Victor Oladipo. Indiana is relatively young, well coached, signed shooter Doug McDermott, and will push to win 48 games again.
Though the Pacers may not be the Pistons' toughest challenge for that No. 4 seed. That should come from Milwaukee, a team with arguably the best player in the conference — Giannis Antetokounmpo — lots of size, shooters, and a new coach in Mike Budenholzer who should improve the team's spacing and overall offensive attack.
The Bucks might be the breakout team in the East this winter. And yet, when healthy, the Pistons have enough to stay within range.
After the Bucks and the Pacers come the Washington Wizards and the Miami Heat. The Wizards won 43 games last season but struggled to stay healthy. They won 49 games the year before and are good enough to push that number again.
The Heat tied Milwaukee with 44 wins — five better than the Pistons — and should battle for a playoff spot again. They are not talented enough, however, to vault to the No. 4 seed.
No other team has the pieces — yet — to fight for that last upper echelon spot in the East. The New York Knicks, with a healthy Kristaps Porzingis, will be better. The Chicago Bulls might win a few more games. And the Atlanta Hawks will be more entertaining if nothing else — they landed Oklahoma's Trae Young in the draft, and it should be fun watching him uncork 30-footers.
Meanwhile, the Pistons drafted a couple of tough-minded guards who like to defend. Signed former Michigan small forward Glenn Robinson III to a reasonable two-year, $8.3 million deal in the hopes that head coach, Dwane Casey, can work some of his developmental magic.
And will roll out a starting five with three, all-star level talents — Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson — some shooting, and the kind of bench that Casey molded in Toronto.
Again, this all hinges on health, and how much Casey can coax from Stanley Johnson, Luke Kennard and possibly even Henry Ellenson. If he can, and the team avoids serious injuries, the Pistons will have a legitimate shot at grabbing the Cavaliers' spot from a year ago.
They'll have to beat out the rising Bucks and Pacers, along with the re-energized Wizards, to get there. But that's not the same as beating out LeBron James.
So while there is rejoicing in places like Boston and Philadelphia, and relief in places like Toronto, where James can no longer torment the poor Raptors, there is reason for a bit of hope in places like Detroit.
The King is finally gone.
Now we'll get to see who wants to step into his wake.