The Pistons lost in the Conference Finals for the third consecutive year surprising nobody. It’s clearly time for a change. It was time for a change in 2006 when they were embarrassed by the Heat in the Conference Finals. It was time for a change in 2007 when they were embarrassed by the Cavs in the Conference Finals. Joe-D kept trying to “plug the square peg into the round hole” two years too long, in my opinion. I don’t necessarily blame him for milking the current roster as long as possible. It’s much easier to do nothing when you know you’re going to sell-out every game whether you make a move or not. Instead of opting for the always-dangerous overhaul, he simply tried to convince Pistons fans that his team was one attitude-adjustment away from winning another NBA Championship. The “attitude” excuse—albeit a legit one—was just a convenient way to hide the fact that the Pistons just weren’t good enough.
Demanding change is one thing. Anyone and everyone can demand change. Providing viable options for change is what people should be focusing on. The easiest way to do that is to identify why the Pistons failed. Everyone knows about the problem the Pistons have had with motivation. That certainly contributed to the playoff failures. It was always somewhat apparent but it became clear this season that Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups are the two biggest culprits in that regard. Their indifference on the court has cost the Pistons dearly over the last three years. However, the biggest problems have more to do with X’s and O’s than attitude. There are three fundamental problems that have relegated the Pistons to Eastern Conference Finals doormats…1). They have no offensive post-presence 2). They have nobody who can penetrate and 3). They are a jump-shooting team without good jump-shooters. For the Pistons to have any chance at an NBA Championship in the near future, those areas absolutely must be addressed.
A lot has been made lately of Rasheed Wallace’s temper and Detroit’s motivation-level. In fact, some of the local newspapers ran stories about how Wallace’s ability to keep his emotions in check was the key to beating Boston. It would be great if basketball were so simple. The key to beating Boston was Rasheed planting his butt in the paint every minute of every game and Billups creating off the dribble. Seeing how KG fueled Boston’s offense was torture because he showed us exactly what we weren’t getting from Rasheed. Three things happen as a result of having an offensive presence in the post. 1). You get easy buckets. 2). You get the other team in foul trouble and 3). You demand double teams which free up your shooters. Boston got the benefit of all three thanks to KG. The Pistons got none of it no thanks to Rasheed. That needs to change. Rasheed and Billups are cancers for the Pistons and it has nothing to do with their attitudes. Apathetic play from the point-guard and power-forward positions is devastating for a team. It’s bad enough that the Pistons are trying to be a jump-shooting team with poor shooters. It’s even worse when nobody draws a help defender to get your poor shooters an open shot. The Pistons are a tremendously flawed team. It’s amazing that they were able to make it to the Conference Finals with so much dysfunction in their game-plan. I’m not the biggest Rip Hamilton fan because he is a turnover machine but the Pistons would be lost without him. He is the only player who does anything to stretch the defense. Rip attracts so much attention from constantly running around screens that he is occasionally able to offset the fact that Rasheed and Chauncey are stationary. Rip has been the MVP of the Pistons for six years running and he deserves recognition for that.
Joe D Needs to be Proactive
Boston and LA have proven something that everyone already knew. You win NBA Championships with superstars who can score inside and outside. LA was nothing with just Kobe. They teamed him with Pau Gasol and now they are a juggernaut. Boston was nothing with just Paul Pierce. They teamed him with KG and Ray Allen and now they are a juggernaut. The best teams in the league are too talented for a team like Detroit to try to win solely with the “team” mentality. Joe D needs to infuse Detroit’s lineup with players who make things difficult for the opposition. He needs to bring in players who can be counted on to score. In the NBA, “the early bird gets the worm” when it comes to trades. That’s why there have been horribly lopsided trades over the last few years We saw it with Memphis and LA. The Lakers got Gasol for nothing. They were probably the only team sniffing around mid-season and were rewarded for their efforts. The Pistons got Rasheed for nothing in ’04. They were probably the only team making the effort and wound up with a Championship as a result. The Celtics didn’t exactly get KG for nothing but they clearly made the effort. They showed Minnesota they were interested and were the lead-suitors the whole time. Joe D needs to identify who he wants and then make it happen. The longer he waits, the more likely another team will make a move first. There are only so many impact players available around the league.
As I’ve discussed, the Pistons need two things badly...1). an offensive post-presence and 2). a proactive point guard. As recently as last year, there were a number of talented power-forwards stuck on bad teams. Bad teams, of course, are the most likely to trade good players. The Gasol and KG trades changed all that. Now, there is really only one option left and it’s a pretty good one: Elton Brand. The Clippers are terrible. There have been rumors of them shopping Brand for the last few years. He is a monster in the paint. He gets easy baskets and owns the boards. He would be the perfect antidote for the Pistons' paint-woes. The problem is that he has a player-option for next season at $16 million. I would expect him to take the option. So, the Pistons would have to trade for him. I would be more than willing to trade Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace for Brand. I’m not sure what the Clippers would think of that offer but Rasheed would provide them with a). a replacement for Brand and b). an expiring contract for next season. Billups would give them an All-Star point guard at a position that is desperately in need of an upgrade. I don’t see how the Clippers wouldn’t be interested in that trade. A Billups, Rasheed, Maggette, Al Thornton, Chris Kaman starting-lineup has to look pretty good to them. That team might even be better than this year's Pistons.
My next move would be to contact Gilbert Arenas. Arenas has stated that he will opt-out of his current contract this summer to pursue a more lucrative deal for 2008 and beyond. Joe D should hard-sell Arenas on the idea that the Pistons would have a legitimate chance (not like the “legitimate” chance they supposedly had this year) of winning an NBA Championship. Arenas wants to “break the bank” but his knee-issue will likely keep teams from giving him as much money as he is looking for. The Pistons should offer him something in the $14 or $15 million range and sell him on the idea that the Wizards will keep losing to Cleveland every year while the Pistons would have a dynamic line-up capable of beating anyone.
If Joe D can pull of both moves, that would leave the Pistons with a starting lineup of Arenas, RIP, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, and Elton Brand. Rip becomes the second scoring-option which would be great for everyone involved. They’d have one of the top scorers in the NBA at point guard. The Pistons might actually have the best backcourt in the NBA (not like the “best” backcourt that they supposedly had this year). They’d have rebounding machines in the post in Brand and Maxiell. They’d have an offensive-post force in Brand. It would also allow Prince to do what he’s supposed to do which is be a role player. Prince is one of the most valuable role-players in the NBA. He can be a great fourth scoring-option especially when he has a mismatch. At 6’9, with a 7’2 wingspan, Prince gives the Pistons a tremendous advantage defensively and on on the boards at small-forward. He has taken a lot of heat for not “stepping up” but he isn’t supposed to step up. He is the perfect complimentary player. This avenue would also allow Detroit to keep its talented core of young players in tact. The bench is already cheap and talented. Rodney Stuckey, Jarvis Hayes (assuming the Pistons choose to re-sign him), Amir Johnson, and Arron Afflalo are all young and making next to nothing. The Pistons have plenty of money to fit both Arenas and Brand under the cap with room to spare.
One idea that is being floated around is that Joe D might just be inclined to ride out the current contracts of his “stars” and simply be content with turning the future over to Stuckey, Maxiell, and Amir Johnson. If he opts for that route, the Pistons won’t sniff the Finals for years. To win in the NBA, you need superstars and you need an inside/outside game. You need proactive players. You need a post-presence. If you don't have those things, then you have to go out and get them. Joe D just has to realize he has nothing to lose.
Potential 2008-09 lineup:
PG Gilbert Arenas
SG Rip Hamilton
SF Tayshaun Prince
PF Jason Maxiell
C Elton Brand