Of way more interest to me is how they got here in the first place. Joe Dumars, once thought to be among the smartest GM’s in the league after leading the Pistons to six straight Eastern Confrence Finals appearances, tried to make a relatively smooth transition from perennial contendership to young upstart and somewhere along the way ended up with a horribly disfigured roster that resembles a Mr. potato head doll with all the body parts stuck in the wrong places.
Simply put, somebody should be held accountable for putting together such and ill-concieved, incompetent team, right?
Here is the answer, in somewhat gruesome detail.
THE DARKO THEORY
Yeah, it happened when things were still good, and yeah, any Piston fan will defend this move with any number of ill-conceived rationalizations (we already had Prince, we still won the Title in ’05, we turned Darko into Rodney Stuckey, etc.) but all the reasoning in the world doesn’t obscure the fact that this was a gross miscalculation that did significant damage to the Pistons future.
Say what you will, but Carmelo Anthony and Dwayne Wade are franchise players, and if you can end up with a guy like that you don’t concern yourself with whether they can co-exist with the guys you have-you draft them NOW and figure it out later.
Needless to say, this might have had karmic repercussions beyong what anyone can fathom.
On a completely unrelated note, the Palace Brawl happened the following year.
THE NIGHT LEBRON TOOK THEIR MANHOOD
Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, otherwise known as the beginning of the end for the Pistons’ pseudo-daynasty.
On the strength of Lebron’s 48 points (including Cleveland’s last 25), the Cavaliers took control of the series and finished convincly in game 6, effectively ending the Pistons run of excellence.
Almost as important were the cracks that had begun to show in the foundation, including the rumor surrounding the teams’ apathy toward coach Flip Saunders had played a major role in game 5, with Rasheed Wallace calling separate, un-official huddles during the game in order to instruct them to ignore Saunders’ defensive game plan, a regrettable decision to say the least given the eventual outcome.
In the wake of this defeat, it became evident to Dumars that the end of an era was at hand at it was now time to make moves with an eye toward the future, thus attempting to re-load more than re-build.
THEY TRADED THE WRONG GUY
The concept of replacing older players with younger ones is a sound and logical strategy, but it will take both luck and skill to pull it off properly. Suffice to say the Pistons ended up failing on both fronts, as the first player they decided to ship out ended up having a far longer shelf life than they imagined, so much so that he is still counted on as a valuable contributor to a upstart team with an increasingly bright future almost three years later.
The fact they surrendered a still-in-his-prime Chauncey Billups for an over-the-hill Allen Iverson is merely salt in the wound. Of course, the good news is they made this move with an eye toward freeing up significant salary cap space.
The bad news?
Well, let’s just say Joe D. would probably take a do-over if he could.
A YEAR EARLY
Even though Dumars had successfully hoarded millions in cap space, he took a somewhat calculated gamble that Detroit would not be high on the list of destinations for the big targets of the summer of 2010, a list that included LeBron, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire, among others.
Secure in this knowledge, Joe’s plan was simple: Spend it a year early and have your pick of the 2009 Free-Agent class. And spend it he did.
On Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.
Needless to say, giving up all of your cap room for two complimentary players was a colossal blunder, and the Pistons’ 49-96 record over the least two years tends to lend credence to such a theory.
Sure, there’s no assurance they could have done any better had they waited a year, but it’s hard to argue they could have done any worse.
BUCKETS OF FUN FOR EVERYONE
Honestly, it’s hard to figure out what Joe was trying to do here, aside from drawing the obvious conslusion that he must really love perimeter scorers. I mean, he’s had Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince as mainstays on his team for years, and for good reason.
From there he also added Rodney Stuckey in the draft, who turned out to be a pretty decent find, if not perhaps the star Dumars envisioned when he dealt Billups to make room for Stuckey as the starter at point guard. Will Bynum is a tough little scrapper, the kind of guy you’d go to war with, which is why Joe singed him off the scrap heap three years ago.
Fair to say that Hamilton-Prince-Stuckey-Bynum is a pretty damn good backcourt rotation for the 1-3 spots, right?
What if I told you there was more?
What if I told you joe also Drafted Austin Daye, who is basically a 6’11 shooting guard two years ago? What about then spending all that money on Ben Gordon, another shoot-first, shoot-second guard? Hows about the signing of Villanueva, yet another 6-11 outside shooter who is averaging an anemic four rebounds per game?
Kind of insane, no?
And because Dumars must have felt they were short-handed or something, he signed the once mighty Tracy McGrady, who proceeded to earn a starting guard spot less than halfway through the season.
As far as the big men go, well let’s just say say the only guys worth getting excited about are either five years past their prime (Ben Wallace), a few years away from it (Greg Monroe) or aren’t good enough to even have one (the rest of ’em), and to the shock of absolutely nobody, the 2011 Pistons are dead last in the NBA in rebounding.
At the end of the day, the Pistons’ best five players all play the same positions and excel at the same things, more or less, meaning you have a locker room full of guys with no defined roles and an unhealthy competitive atmosphere. Worse, most of these talented guys ended up sitting the bench will the Pistons collection of shitty big men are pressed into action by nothing more than absolute desperation.
To top it all off, they’re forced to deal with the erratic, almost nonsensical substitution patterns of a coach in fear of losing his job. Say what you will, but no professional athlete is going to be happy starting one day and not playing at all the next, especially if said athlete is a former champion and All-Star like, say, Richard Hamilton.
At it all up and it sounds like a group of guys who might rebel aginst the system. In this era of guaranteed contracts, whether or not they were way out of line is as irrelevant as the 2011 Pistons are themselves.
John Hathwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org