January 17, 2009
I’ve seen enough.
The time for chalking up the Detroit Pistons’ lack of consistent success against teams good, decent, and bad to growing pains has passed. It’s not about the question of starting a “small ball” or a “big ball” lineup, or of deciding who between Allen Iverson and Rip Hamilton should come off the bench, or of whether or not head coach Michael Curry is actually holding players accountable as promised ad nauseum in the preseason (which he isn’t).
It’s about a mismatched roster with absolutely no chemistry, nothing to hang their hat on at either end of the court, and no on-court leadership. These team-wide character flaws become more and more apparent with each listless effort and ensuing loss, and now seem increasingly likely to sink the Pistons’ chances of making any sort of noise in the postseason for the first time in over 6 years.
The team hit rock bottom on Friday night in Oklahoma City, putting in an embarassingly meek effort against the NBA’s worst team record-wise in dropping their fourth game in a row, 89-79 to the Thunder. Led by an inspired Kevin Durant (32 points on 66% FG, 6 boards, 2 assists, and 2 steals), the Thunder outhustled, outrebounded (52-35)… out-everythinged the Pistons, staking a 17-point lead midway through the fourth quarter and doing it with moxy, confidence, and boundless energy. All attributes the Pistons have become known for over the better part of the last decade, all of them now lost in a sea of confusion. (Don’t forget it was this same Thunder team [now 8-33] who only 3 weeks ago waltzed into the Palace of Auburn Hills and gave the Pistons all they could handle before falling short by two points.)
After rattling off seven straight wins a few weeks ago as Hamilton sat out with a sore groin, the Pistons have lost five in a row and six of their last seven. Now a mediocre 22-17, they’ve been beaten by the four worst teams in the Eastern Conference (Washington, Charlotte, New York, and Indiana) and two of the worst in the West (Oklahoma City and Minnesota), needing a last-second Iverson jumper to avoid what would have been an embarassing loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Young teams looking to build on rare wins now see the Pistons on their schedule and lick their lips with hunger knowing a win could be there for the taking, instead of marking it down in pen as a sure loss.
Despite enlisting dynamic scorers like Iverson, Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Rodney Stuckey, and Tayshaun Prince, the Pistons are averaging an atrocious 93.6 points per, better than only the Grizzlies, Clippers, and Bobcats (barely). They’re one of the NBA’s worst free-throwing shooting teams (74%, 27th overall) and near the bottom of the league in three-point shooting, assists, and steals per game. They can’t finish games or hold onto big leads, they’re undisciplined, and they’re running out of time.
More on the slumping Detroit Pistons after the break…
This is the last season in which any sort of semblence of the Pistons team that’s gone to six straight Conference Finals will remain intact. Wallace and Antonio McDyess will be free agents, and Iverson’s stint in Detroit seems likely to end this summer too. The front line will need to be drastically retooled, especially since Amir Johnson’s development on both offense and defense continues to progress at a snail’s pace; Jason Maxiell has flat disappeared.
Yes, with Iverson in the fold and McDyess returning after being traded to Denver, this team has one shot and one shot only, and right now they’re firing nothing but harmless, laughable cap-gun blanks. And the more you watch this team of misfit toys try in vein to figure out who they are, the more it becomes painfully obvious that if these eggs are truly all in one basket, Richard Hamilton needs to be swapped for a legitimate post player.
There’s simply no other answer. Having Iverson and Hamilton on the floor together, along with Stuckey at the point, is not proving successful now and certainly won’t come playoff time. GM Joe Dumars needs to pick up the phone and call the Jazz about Carlos Boozer, the Raptors about Jermaine O’Neal, the Knicks about David Lee, maybe even (cringe) the Clippers about Zach Randolph, Marcus Camby, or Chris Kaman. Hell, even one of those fill-in parts like Drew Gooden or Joakim Noah over in Chicago might be more valuable at this point.
However Dumars does it, though, he needs to do it now because time is running out on his team’s season and, indeed, it’s legacy.