“…it’s almost certain that they will go into the playoffs in a way that they haven’t since 2002: as nothing more than a middle seed that doesn’t figure to make any noise.”

This is all Joe Dumars’s fault, you know.

The Pistons are 24-19. If you take a look at the NBA standings today, you’ll see that such a record is a dime a dozen. The league is filled with teams bobbing over .500 in unspectacular fashion.

So it’s not overdoing it to say that the Pistons, under a rookie head coach, are just another team in the NBA at this moment. I wouldn’t give you more than a few bucks for their chances to last even two rounds in the playoffs this spring.

Of course, that’s just me. In January. Last I checked, the Larry O’Brien Trophy is handed out in June, not in the dead of winter.

But despite the time remaining in the season — almost 40 games — nothing that’s happened in the first 43 has really hinted at the Pistons being anything more than a pretender come playoff time.

Again, blame Dumars, the Pistons president.

It was Dumars, after all, who brought in Michael Curry, with just one year of coaching under his belt (as an assistant), to coach this odd and sometimes maddening bunch. And it was Dumars who upset Curry’s apple cart by trading Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson, barely a week into the season. And it was Dumars who let ball-hawking defender Lindsey Hunter walk away, when on-ball defense has been a problem at times.

But mainly it was Dumars’s decision to cast a rookie coach into the drama that might prove to be the fatalistic move of the season.

Now, before I get accused of talking out of both sides of my mouth — it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been judged in that manner — let me admit that I thought Curry’s lack of being a big-name player and being relatively fresh on the coaching scene would be a positive.

That was back in July. Now I’d like two minutes for rebuttal.

Curry is falling into the same trap that doomed Flip Saunders (a veteran coach, so there you go): a lack of a consistent rotation. Not to mention the sometimes-we’re small-sometimes-we’re not shuffling of the starting lineup.

Dumars has put Curry in a tough situation, made even tougher by the seemingly endless period of getting used to Iverson, and the emergence of Rodney Stuckey as a bonafide starting point guard.

This might be that season that befells a lot of consistent contenders: the proverbial step back to take that giant leap forward.

Except that, in most of those instances, those teams’ rosters aren’t in flux.

The Pistons could look drastically different within the next 12-18 months. So could a lot of teams. The free agent classes of 2009 and 2010 are game changers. Hell, they’re league changers. Dumars has his eyes on these basketball magicians, some of whom could become Pistons and then ALL bets are off.

Hey, there’s not even any assurances that Iverson, whose contract expires this summer, will be a Piston next season. And after all this getting acclimated time, to boot. Some cynics think that Iverson may not even survive next month’s trading deadline. I wouldn’t bet against them at this point.

This isn’t a throwaway season for the Pistons, even though it looks that way. But it’s almost certain that they will go into the playoffs in a way that they haven’t since 2002: as nothing more than a middle seed that doesn’t figure to make any noise. And maybe that’s not a bad thing; there’s sometimes something to be said for being off everyone’s radar.

The Pistons are a fair-to-middling basketball team grinding it out in the dead of winter, often with so-so results. They are a whopping 10-1/2 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Central Division. If the playoffs began today, the Pistons would play Game 1 in Atlanta. With a second round date with the Celtics, should they somehow survive the Hawks. It’s not a terribly confidence-inspiring road map back to the Conference Finals.

But like I said, blame Joe Dumars. He can take it. He’s taken an awful lot of credit, after all. He can handle a little dead-of-winter haterade.