The Pistons could make a run for Kobe Bryant if it turns out he is available. I don’t think Kobe even knows if he wants to be traded or not so this is 99/100th speculation. Let’s assume, though, that he does want out. Let’s also assume that the Pistons either lose to the Cavs (which they might) or to the Spurs (which they most definitely will). Joe Dumars cannot be happy with the consistently overconfident disposition of his basketball team. There hasn’t been a more underachieving or disinterested team in the NBA in perhaps the last 30 years. The Pistons are the only team that I have ever seen in professional sports that takes pride in not playing hard all the time. They have even developed a phrase for it: “that’s what we do.” The “doing” involves playing down to the level of competition and playing uninspired basketball for large chunks at a time. It’s the same story every series, every year. Despite the Pistons’ assurances otherwise, it didn’t take much to realize that the whole talk about everyone having a renewed hunger this season was garbage. The Pistons have been “fat cats” ever since they won the NBA Championship in ’04. Fans have started to grow tired of the act and I’m guessing Dumars has had enough of it as well.
I have long felt that Dumars has been too attached to his starting five. Those five players allow the Pistons to compete and survive economically, but they also represent to Dumars his craftsmanship as a GM. Giving up the “best starting five” in the NBA brings a level of uncertainty that probably makes Dumars uncomfortable. I have been a big proponent of trading Rip Hamilton in the past if it means bringing in a superstar. In all likelihood, Hamilton is the only player the Pistons could trade that would allow them to get fair value and remain competitive. No team would ever give up fair value for Rasheed Wallace. He is a problem that teams don’t want to deal with. Tayshaun Prince is grossly undervalued around the league. With his multi-dimensional attributes and favorable salary, trading Prince would be a bad move. He will never be a superstar but he is the perfect complimentary player. Trading Chauncey Billups would be a difficult loss to overcome in terms of remaining competitive. While he might be one of the biggest culprits in the Pistons lackadaisical approach, he is one of the top five point guards in the NBA—and these days, finding a championship-caliber point guard is almost as rare as finding a franchise-center. So, Hamilton is the guy that would need to get traded if the Pistons wanted to make a move. I actually think that Hamilton might be overvalued around the league which should help Dumars’ cause.
If the Pistons had Kobe Bryant right now instead of RIP, I think they would be dismantling Cleveland. Kobe’s disposition is the inverse of the Pistons’. He has been desperate to prove that he can win a championship without Shaq. He is as competitive as any player that I have ever seen. A Kobe/Pistons marriage would be a godsend for both. The Pistons would finally have a player that can create his own shot and Kobe would have a realistic shot at winning that coveted Shaq-less championship. For any of this to work Dumars would have to be willing to part with RIP, Antonio McDyess, Nazr Mohammed and two first-round picks in the ’07 draft at a minimum. I doubt that would get the deal done but it would at least get the Pistons in the same ballpark. Nazr will be tough to move with his lengthy contract but he may need to be thrown in to make the salaries work. It’s important to remember that NBA teams are at a tremendous disadvantage when they are forced to trade a discontent player. The Lakers got .15 cents on the dollar for Shaq because teams knew the Lakers needed to trade him. If Kobe continues to publicly demand a trade, the Lakers will once again be in the same position. There is no doubt in my mind that RIP, Nazr, Carlos Delfino and two first-round draft picks is every bit as good as the Caron Butler (before he was good), Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and a first-round pick-deal that the Lakers got for Shaq. Don’t be surprised if Kobe gets traded for less than you might think. Likewise, don’t be surprised if the Lakers ask for the world.
Adding Kobe would be fantastic. The problem would be the void that a $33 million backcourt would leave on the front court. Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber, and McDyess will all be gone within two years at the most (unless Rasheed resigns for cheap). If you devote $20 million per year to Kobe and give $13 million per year to resign Billups, then where is the money going to come from for anything more than a weak front court? In three years, the Pistons would look like the current version of the Lakers. They would have Kobe Bryant, Tayshaun Prince, and an aged Billups to go along with a roster full of youngsters. The Lakers don’t even want to be the Lakers right now so the Pistons becoming the Lakers is not appealing in the slightest.
Trading for Kobe isn’t guaranteed to be the correct move even if the Lakers are willing to deal him. If the Pistons have to give up both RIP and Prince—along with two first round draft picks—then I think that has to be a deal-breaker. I’m not concerned about RIP. Kobe would be a huge upgrade over him. The problem is giving up Prince. Prince’s value is difficult to define. He is an above-average offensive player in the post. He is an average three-point shooter. He is one of the best defenders in the league. He has the wingspan of a 7-footer at small forward which gives tremendous advantages for your defense. Most importantly, all of that comes at a resonable price. RIP and Prince are the two youngest members of an aging team. Giving up Prince would be a huge setback for the organization. He is not recognized as a superstar so his worth in a trade would be severely undervalued. I would not give up Amir Johnson in a package either. The only thing keeping the Pistons frontcourt in ’09 from looking hopeless is the fact that Amir Johnson is in the fold. Tying up $33 million per year in your starting backcourt without any bona fide frontcourt talent on the horizon will leave the Pistons in a bad way.
If the Lakers don’t want any part of the aforementioned deal (RIP, McDyess, Nazr, and two firsts) and it becomes apparent that Prince and/or Amir Johnson have to be included, the Pistons need to move on. Kobe or no Kobe, the Pistons need to make a big-time move in the off-season. This team has run its course. Bringing it back in tact for ’07-08 would be a waste of everyone’s time. The Pistons have the right package to lure a big-time player. It’s a matter of finding a team willing to take that package. A Rashard Lewis/Tayshaun Prince/Amir Johnson/Jason Maxiell foursome looks awfully appealing two years down the road. I think Lewis gives the Pistons a better chance of winning a Championship in the short-term (over RIP) as well.
There are plenty of deals out there. I suspect this year’s malaise may finally push Dumars over the edge. It’s easy to fall in love with the job that you’ve done but it’s getting to the point where the team’s attitude has to be too much for even Dumars. It has gotten to the point where a Tigers regular season game is my first option and a Pistons playoff game is a distant second just to avoid the frustration. Three years ago, I would have called that an act of a crazy man. Now, it is the only thing keeping me from going crazy.