Friday, February 27, 2009

Roll the Dice in Boston

The Pistons have lost eight games in a row and it could quickly become ten with road games at Orlando and Boston over the weekend. They haven’t been below .500 this late in a season in eight years. The on-court part of the Iverson experiment has officially failed. Fortunately, the off-court part is why Joe D made the deal. No amount of terrible basketball between now and April will change that. Amazingly, the Pistons are still in 7th position in the Eastern Conference and could play sub .500-basketball for the rest of the season and still possibly make the playoffs. That’s how pathetic the Eastern Conference has been this season. My personal fan-code requires me to root for the best possible draft pick if/when it becomes evident that any shot at a deep run in the playoffs has been extinguished. I feel comfortable switching to that mode at this point and I urge everyone else to do the same. This team isn’t going anywhere except hopefully up the draft board.

I’m not particularly concerned or discouraged by Detroit’s performance. If anything, it surely provides the nail in the proverbial coffin for this group. It was a painfully slow demise that arguably began the moment the clock reached double zeros in Game Five against the Lakers in 2004. It was likely at that moment that complacency first emerged. Fans were treated to an excruciatingly slow death with the dual misfortunes of rooting for a team that isn’t good enough to win a championship but isn’t bad enough to significantly improve the roster. Because of that, I am incredibly happy that this era is over.

Something that I am not happy about in the slightest is the fortune—or misfortune—of Antonio McDyess. Five years ago, the Pistons were coming off their amazing upset of the Lakers in the NBA Finals. The fact that they boasted five All-Star starters under-30 made them the “it” team in the NBA. McDyess signed on with the Pistons for one reason—and one reason only—and that was to win a championship. Clearly, things did not go as McDyess had hoped. The Pistons never won a championship with/for him. The complacency that crept in after 2004 became a full-fledged cancer in subsequent years. While Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and—for a time—Ben Wallace were able to rest on their laurels, McDyess had none such to rest on. He was never complacent. In fact, he was the player most negatively affected by the complacency of the starting five. Nobody took losses harder than McDyess. Nobody has been more visibly upset by the Pistons failures—including the loss in the finals to the Spurs in ’05 and the loss to the Cavs in ’07—than McDyess. Championships are never a guarantee but surely McDyess would’ve signed somewhere else had he known how complacent his teammates would become.

McDyess is from Quitman, Mississippi. I can’t help but note the irony. The last few years have been especially frustrating and disappointing. Joe Dumars gave Dice a chance to get out when he included him in the trade with Denver that brought Iverson to Detroit. What followed was a series of events that seems almost unfathomable to anyone not named “Antonio McDyess.” Dice asked for a release from Denver—giving up nearly $9 million in salary in the process. After his release he was free to sign with any team in the league. If he wanted to re-sign with Detroit, he would need to wait 30 days per NBA rules. McDyess sat out the 30 days and spurned the chance to play with a championship contender simply to return to a team that saw its best days end five years ago. Just to recap, McDyess gave up $9 million, 30 days of playing basketball, and a chance to win a championship just to be able to return to the same team that had just cost him $9 million. He said his return to Detroit was fueled, in large part, by goals that he had yet to accomplish with the franchise. If those “goals” are the goals that I think he’s talking about, then they are goals that are certainly not going to happen. That was clear when he made the decision to return to the team. It would’ve been more than reasonable—in fact, extremely advisable—for Dice to get away from Detroit. Stubbornly, the guy from Quitman, just doesn’t quit, man.

Dice’s commitment to the organization is worthy of high praise in my opinion. It has given hope to every fan who has punched a wall or thrown a remote in bouts of uncontrollable frustration that the players actually care as much as the fans. I always wondered whether or not players got as pissed as I did but the fact that Dice stayed on the bench long after the Pistons were eliminated in Game Five of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals and then left the arena without changing out of his jersey answered that question for me. Antonio McDyess deserves something extraordinary. The fact that he has battled back from devastating knee injury after devastating knee injury…the fact that he is one of the nicest and most humble athletes in the world…the fact that he gave up $9 million just to reach a clearly unattainable goal with a franchise that had caused him to lose that money…there isn’t a player in the NBA that I root harder for. The one thing Dice has going for him is that his buyout and consequential resigning with the Pistons makes him a free agent next season. I realize I run the risk of angering the local masses but, Antonio McDyess, I am imploring you to sign with the Boston Celtics over the summer. You deserve to win a championship but, more importantly, you deserve to play with teammates who want to win as badly as you do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen to that. Antonio single-handedly reinvented his game just to play for us and in the end it's evident that his teammates don't deserve him.

Having said that, maybe he could sign with the Suns or Hornets instead? (I'm trying to think of a non-Eastern Conference team that I don't hate).


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