By Brian Spencer
Anybody who’s tuned into these early weeks of the NBA season knows that the Detroit Pistons are a ticking time bomb, and that things could get a lot worse before they get a lot better. Players are feuding with coaches, coaches are feuding with players, and judging by all the empty seats at the Palace of Auburn Hills, the fans want nothing to do with the mess.
In the standings reality, however, at 4-8 they fall squarely into the also-ran column and are not yet a true cellar dweller a la the Clippers, Raptors, 76ers, etc… but they’re getting close to joining that rarified sewer air. With a little more luck–and talent–they could easily be 6-6, even 7-5, after dropping their first two games by a total of four points, then blowing a 21-point second-half lead in their third loss. Oh, sure, they’ve looked dreadfully listless and are clearly lacking in chemistry, but don’t believe everything you’re reading: despite all the turmoil, this team has actually been competitive most nights, and in the weak Eastern Conference they probably have enough talent to squeeze into the playoffs.
That said, it’s time to light this bomb’s fuse and blow this feeble version of the Pistons to bits. It should start with Tayshaun Prince, who seems to be doing everything in his power to force his way out. His body language has been embarassing for a guy raking in $11 million on the season and who’s asked to do very little besides hustle and set a good example; so far he’s done neither. There’s no place for Richard Hamilton anymore, either, not with Ben Gordon starting to heat up and be the lights-out scorer we know he can be. He has enough depth behind him.
Hamilton and Prince played starring roles in Detroit’s six straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, winning is all they know, and now that they’re losing on a team that’s rebuilding and trying to find its way, their hearts simply don’t seem to be in it. Understandable, to a degree, until you remember, again, that both are being paid handsomely to play a game they love. (Hamilton is guaranteed $12.6 million this season and the next two.) And don’t give me this “money isn’t everything” garbage: of course it’s not. But are we so used to athletes annually being paid more than the GDP of hundreds of small countries that salary, and return on that salary, should no longer be a consideration?
I’ve rooted for both these guys for such a long time, and I want to see them both succeed again–but elsewhere. No, this franchise cannot fully move into the future until it fully lets go of the past. (It’s worth noting, however, that Ben Wallace, the other holdover from the franchise’s most recent golden era, is still doing his best to be the hustling, banging, rebounding, defending warrior he’s always been in Detroit; his impact on the game, however, just isn’t the same at 36 years old. Don’t worry, though, it looks like he’s interested in playing defense even after his playing days are over.)
Of course, jettisoning their longtime stars is just the beginning.
More on the state of the Detroit Pistons after the break….
What’s the Plan?
What’s Rodney Stuckey worth as he heads into restricted free agency next summer? Can youngsters like Austin Daye and Greg Monroe be counted on as significant building blocks, or are they complimentary pieces? Will Jonas Jerebko, out for the season with a torn Achilles, come back as the same player? Does Charlie Villanueva, one of the most inconsistent talents in the league, have more value here in Detroit or as a possible trade chip?
Most teams have their fair share of problems, but the Pistons seem to have more. Unfortunately, with the team’s sale still pending, they’re all going to have to learn to live with each other. Once the franchise changes hands, however, it’ll clearly be time to clean house… and that might include moving on from the Joe Dumars Era. After all, as much as fans and NBA observers want to point the finger at Prince, or Hamilton, or head coach John Kuester, or Darko Milicic, Dumars is the puppetmaster who’s pulling the strings on this charade. Dumars is the one who’s overvalued his veterans and refused to budge on trade overtures he felt didn’t make sense. Dumars is the one who’s cycled through head coaches like dirty loads of laundry.
At some point, the lingering goodwill he’s earned and deserves for building a powerhouse has to run out. When you look at the roster he’s assembled–coaches and players–it’s hard to see a concrete plan in place. There’s certainly no identity to this team whatsoever, and it’s hard to imagine that there’ll be one next year. What exactly is Dumars building towards? And why oh why did he waste $1 million plus on Tracy McGrady?
Did he owe “T-Mac’s” agent a favor? Why hand out $1.3 million to a guy who’s only taking minutes–and a roster spot–away from youngsters that may (or may not, as it were) actually have a future with this franchise? Surely McGrady wasn’t signed to sell tickets: Pistons fans were spoiled rotten in the ’00s watching their team storm their way through the NBA and go deep into the playoffs. They’re going to pay to see a winning team, not a middling team with a depressing former All-Star who’s a shell of his former self. Didn’t Dumars learn his lesson with the Iverson debacle?
Take a look at this roster: I count Gordon, Daye, Monroe, Jerebko, Stuckey (I feel he should be resigned to a three- or four-year deal), and Villanueva (maybe) as keepers; I’ll throw Will Bynum in, too, as a backup PG. Six or seven players, half of which may not even be starter-quality, worth hanging onto for the next few seasons does not constitute vision, planning, or direction: it’s a recipe for disaster. Playoff-bound or not, something’s gotta give in Detroit.