The best decision Joe Dumars has made since the Rasheed Wallace trade was letting Ben Wallace go. In fact, it can be argued that the only good decision Dumars has made since the Rasheed Wallace trade was letting Big Ben go. I know there’s a large contingent of Pistons fans that are horrified by the fact that Big Ben will be in a Chicago Bulls uniform next season. Do not count me as one of those fans.
Big Ben was good for what he was. He brought energy and tenacity to the Pistons for six seasons. He won numerous Defensive Player of the Year awards while making a number of All-Star appearances. There is no question that Ben helped the Pistons win the NBA Championship in 2004 and remain a title contender ever since his arrival. On the other hand, he limited the Pistons offense as much as any player on any team in the NBA. He had zero impact as an offensive post player with the exception of kicking back offensive rebounds to the top of the key. The Pistons often played four on five when they had the ball because of Ben’s below average offensive skills. His free throw shooting also relegated the Pistons to four on five status at the end of games because it was almost a guarantee that Ben would miss his free throws. As a result, Ben could not be trusted with the ball late in games.
Ben’s offensive woes have been well documented. Because Ben had been so good on the defensive end, Pistons fans seemed willing to forgive his shortcomings with the ball in his hands. However, Ben’s defensive impact was far less impressive than his awards and accolades may otherwise indicate. He was the best “help” defender in the NBA over the last few years. He was also a slightly above average on the ball defender against the games best players. Obviously, it’s harder to guard the better players in the league but Ben was dominated by Shaq in every match-up. Few people aren’t dominated by Shaq but the fact is that Ben was the Pistons center. He is undersized to say the least. He is listed at 6’9 but that must have included his ‘fro because he was hardly 6’8. Few college teams have a center as short as 6’8.
I don’t want to take away from what Ben provided to the Pistons. He worked hard and Pistons fans (me included) loved him for it. However, Ben let the accolades get to his head during the short negotiations with the Pistons after the season. There is no way that a player as one-dimensional as Ben Wallace should be making anything close to $15 million per season. It was an insult to the Pistons that Ben would even entertain the thought of making that much money. I applaud Joe Dumars for doing the hard thing and the right thing by letting Ben break the bank with another team. Ironically, Ben made the right decision as well. He banked $15 million per year and leaves a situation that had a bleak future in terms of winning an NBA Championship. There was no reason for him to stay.
I think the Bulls were equally trying to lure Ben to Chicago and force the Pistons to overspend on him. I think they were surprised that the Pistons let Ben go and also surprised that they ended up with him. It’s entirely possible that the Bulls tried to call the Pistons bluff. If that’s the case, they made a grave mistake because Ben now takes up $15 million of their salary cap which will haunt them for years to come in the form of no post-presence and limited cap space. Ben relies solely on his athleticism. His “basketball” skills are virtually non-existent. He can’t drive. He can’t post up. He can’t shoot. He can’t make free throws. He has made his mark by using his superior athleticism. What’s the first thing an aging player loses in the NBA? Yep, you guessed it--his athleticism. What is Ben Wallace without athleticism? Possibly the worst NBA player of all time.
I am definitely looking forward to next season sans Ben Wallace. Despite Ben’s tenacity on defense, I was never comfortable/happy with him in the game. He was a one man offensive quagmire. If you ever wondered what it would look like if one NBA team played another team four on five, look no further than the Pistons the last few years. It was ugly and frustrating. Even worse is the fact that the Pistons tried to force Ben to get involved in the game by throwing it in to him which often ended in disaster. Ben Wallace is nothing more than a role player that landed at the right place at the right time when the Pistons traded for him. Few teams in the league would allow their offense to become so predictable just to accommodate the one-dimensional talents of one player. The Chicago Bulls are in for a rude awakening. I know there are a lot of people out there in the media that think the Bulls are going to be the team to beat and the Pistons are going to drop off significantly.
That kind of talk is ridiculous at best. The Pistons often won in spite of Ben Wallace. There is no way they could ever win a series against a team like the Miami Heat again. Pat Riley would employ the “hack a Ben” strategy just like he did this year. Shaq would dominate Ben just like he did this year. And, the Pistons would have no post presence just like they did this year. The only way the Pistons could ever have a chance of beating the Heat was to let Ben go. Sure, it would’ve been nice to keep Ben around for the right price but how would that have made the Pistons better equipped to beat the Heat? Miami dominated the Pistons. They figured out that a team as one-dimensional on offense as the Pistons with no post presence and a 6’8 center was easy to beat.
The goal for the Pistons is still to win Championships. They still have a strong nucleus with Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton and Antonio McDyess. Coming back next season with the exact same team would have been the ultimate buzz-kill for any Pistons fan. I would have been perpetually sick to my stomach if I had to watch a full season knowing that the inevitable beat down by Miami was waiting at seasons’ end. As it is, the Pistons probably won’t be able to beat the Heat but there was a 99.9% chance (assuming no major injuries) that the Pistons would face the same fate next season with Ben.
I don’t know if the Pistons will be better or worse next season with Nazr Mohammed and Flip Murray in place of Ben. Like I said above, I can almost guarantee that the Pistons would lose to the Heat with Ben so letting Ben go to another team for $15 million doesn’t ruin expectations. We go from pretty much knowing the outcome to having no idea what’s going to happen. I would take that any day of the week.
I am not necessarily happy with the Pistons’ off-season. Granted, there wasn’t much out there for Dumars to bring in via free agency. He did make the right move with Ben. However, I am a big proponent of trading Rip Hamilton and our first round draft picks for someone like Kevin Garnett. Rip is the offensive version of Ben Wallace. He’s so one-dimensional that he also bogs down the Pistons offense. On the rare occasion that Rip is hitting his shot, the Pistons are fairly efficient. However, more times than not, Rip struggles with his shot while having no ability to create off the dribble or lead/finish the break. Rip’s value around the league is still high. Unfortunately for me and whoever else feels the same way as I do, I feel that Joe Dumars is enamored with Rip and would never trade him. The additions of Nazr Mohammed and Flip Murray are average at best. The Pistons should be better in the post on offense. A possible byproduct of getting rid of Ben could be that Rasheed Wallace actually plays in the post which is what he gets paid to do. Ben’s departure could have a domino effect on the team.
I look at this as a new lease on life as a Pistons fan. The Pistons were compelled to try to resign Ben because he was such a good defender and a fan favorite. They were going down the road of tying up $11 million to an aging one-dimensional player. Instead, they are now able to use that money on providing depth and more of a post presence. Thankfully, the Pistons won’t be stuck with an aging Wallace. I am a huge fan of the Chicago Bulls right now. They indirectly made life better for the Pistons. They handcuffed themselves by significantly overpaying Ben and at the same time allowed us to part with one of our biggest problems.
There might be skeptics out there but the proof will be in the pudding next year. I am inclined to think that the Pistons will be a top two seed in the East next season and get as far in the playoffs as they did this year but lose to Miami in six rather than five. That’s not a whole lot to look forward to but at least we have the element of the unknown on our side rather than the forgone conclusion that would be the Pistons with Ben Wallace.