By Brian Spencer
Tayshaun Prince is to the Detroit Pistons what the ewoks were to Return of the Jedi.
Prince is and always has been a very capable plus player who fit in exceedingly well for his perenially contending Detroit Pistons teams. At a long 6-9, he does a little bit of everything: brings the ball up the floor in a pinch, hassles bigger players with his freakish wingspan, knocks down open shots, takes it to the hole, finds open teammates with pretty passes, and comes up with big plays on either end of the floor when his team needs it most.
He’s a proven, durable NBA commodity who can likely help a team in the playoff hunt win games now. And with just 1 more year and $11.1 million left on his contract, there’s no long-term commitment concerns for anybody out there interested in buying.
Though he’s not exactly stormed back onto the scene since returning from a ruptured disc that sidelined him for much of the season, his trade value won’t get much higher than it is between now and the February trade deadline. Work those phones, Trader Joe, and sell to the highest bidder. There’s no other way.
We know this Pistons team will not compete this year; sure, they’ll probably battle for a low playoff seed in the top-heavy East until the bitter end in April, but there’s no reason to believe they’ll stand much of a chance against the Cavs, Celtics, Hawks, or Magic in the first round. The franchise would welcome the additional short-term revenue from two playoff games, but Pistons fans aren’t stupid, especially after last year’s humbling sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers.
They want to see momentum, movement, and hope for a brighter long-term future–not listen to hollow talk about making some noise in the playoffs. Trading Tayshaun Prince (or Rip Hamilton) won’t magically fix the flawed product we see today, but it’d be a solid investment in a franchise that could actually get back in the conversation earlier than some might think.
This was a great run for Prince in Detroit: he won a NBA title, flirted with All-Star status, was named to four consecutive NBA All-Defensive Second Teams, scored a cameo in Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror. But just like there comes a time for most coaches, successful or not, to move on to other endeavors, so do players once thought untouchable become necessarily expendable.
Prince is an above-average complimentary piece, and that’s just fine. He is what he is. What’s becoming increasingly evident is that he is not a cornerstone for a team in transition like Detroit is. After such a long absence, some rust on his game should be expected, but what I’ve seen since his return isn’t rust: it’s a man who’s lost his way on the court and in this system. He doesn’t seem to have much more of a role here other than to play and play well.
I don’t have the ideal trade partner in mind; I won’t guess about the compensation Dumars would command or the offers he’d receive. But when I see Austin Daye, the 15th overall pick of last summer’s draft, immediately fall out of John Kuester’s rotation, I think Prince has to go. Daye’s future in Detroit is longer than Prince’s, and with this team essentially using this season as on-the-job training for next year, Daye needs all the minutes he can get.
When I see Jonas Jerebko, who stepped into the starting lineup for Prince and has earned the right to stay there, also take a hit in his minutes, I think Prince has to go. Jerebko is still starting after sliding over to the power forward spot (while big free-agent signee Charlie Villanueva watches from the bench), but his court time will shrink with Prince in the mix.
The ewoks stole valuable screen time from Darth Vader, Han Solo, and others; Tayshaun Prince is stealing valuable minutes from Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko. The ewoks may have saved the day on the forest moon of Endor, but they also forever soured the final chapter of the Star Wars trilogy; Prince may have won a title for the Pistons, but his lingering presence is mucking up the youth movement in Detroit.
Here’s where the similarities end, however: George Lucas can’t (won’t?) go back and fix his mistakes–only add to them with his nightmarish CGI fascination–but there’s still time for Joe Dumars to do what must be done. Help us, Mr. Dumars… you’re the Pistons’ only hope.
Tayshaun Prince Photo Credit: Icon SMI