Tuesday, September 4, 2007
NBA Preview: Flipping Off Depth
I think for a lot of fans the Pistons have held a continuous fascination since they won the title in 2004. Not for me. I was enthralled when they kicked the shit out of the Lakers and became the first team to win the Finals without a supernova since Seattle in 1979. That was a hard team not to like, their upstart camaraderie was a welcome change from the continual Lakers/Spurs dominance of the early 2000's. But I was already tired of Detroit by the next year, and didn't admire them again until they gave the Spurs all they could handle in the Finals. I figured with Larry Brown's bitching, and against that dynamic of a Spurs team, the Pistons didn't have a chance. When they took it to seven I realized how together Billups, Hamilton, Prince, and the Wallaces were. Still, I didn't really like watching them all that much anymore.
Brown's departure was inevitable after the end of '05. With the burden of an overbearing coach off their shoulders, the Pistons starting five proceeded to just destroy the league the first half of '05-06, going 37-5. Fans were transfixed, as the Pistons played some truly awesome basketball during that historical stretch. Suddenly they were the most efficient offensive team in the league, as well as one of the most fearsome defensively. It all seemed too easy, always a bad sign.
And then the problems began appearing. As bitchy as Brown had been, he was the perfect coach for Detroit, because he stressed fundamentals and defense above anything else. New coach Flip Saunders stressed offense instead. And while the Pistons looked stunning during much of the regular season, they did not have a coach like Brown to bring them back down to earth come playoff time. These flaws were exposed by Miami during the Conference Finals, when Detroit lost in six.
That series two years ago revealed one main point: Flip Saunders was a lousy coach. Miami was probably not the better team in that series, but they had a better coach, and a superstar in Dwyane Wade. With a team as tough and supple as Detroit was that year, to lose in such a way was embarrassing. Ben Wallace was right in wanting to get the fuck out. The greatness of the Pistons after Larry Brown left was just a honeymoon period. It was like when Parcells left the Patriots and Pete Carroll took over. Once everybody stops foolishly lauding each other, reality hits.
Last year was predictable for the Pistons, the only shocker being that Mike Brown outcoached Saunders in the Cleveland series, which is about as low as you can go on the pro coaching totem pole, unless your name is Glenn Rivers. Detroit has become insufferably boring under Saunders. It's basically the same players as always, playing at a level below the peak years under Larry Brown, which wasn't always the most pleasing basketball to watch in the first place. While with Brown you felt like Detroit always had a chance, with Flip you know they don't have any chance at all.
And the whole point of this historically-based rant is that it does not have to be this way for the Pistons. GM Joe Dumars has made his share of mistakes during his tenure, but there is a reason he is still so highly regarded. He knows talent, and brings it in at a reasonable price. The 2007-08 Detroit Pistons should not resemble the 2003-04 Pistons. While Billups, Hamilton and Prince all deserve huge minutes as usual, there are plenty of other pieces available that could help carry this team back to the Finals.
First let's briefly discuss Rasheed. At this point his psychotic shtick is getting old. I don't know how you handle him, but he needs to be handled. If that means just dumping him and not getting fair value in return then maybe you have to do that. If there is a way to positively harness his energy in a productive manner, even better. But the point is that the team cannot be subject to his negative imprint.
And Detroit does not need to acquiesce to Sheed because they have quality bigs. Without counting Webber, who could definitely resign, they are still loaded at 4 and 5. Antonio McDyess is as solid as they come, and his PER was a stellar 18.2 last year. Jason Maxiell was good in the limited minutes he played, and surely deserves longer burn this season. Nazr Mohammad signed a five year, $30 million contract a year ago, and Flip proceeded not to play him. That was shocking, more so given the fact that Nazr played fine when he was in there, posting a 16.5 PER. Mohammad has always been an estimable player, and Flip's negligence of him was ridiculous. Finally there is Amir Johnson, who is getting an absurd amount of hype. If he lives up to half of it, I'm not sure if the Pistons need Sheed at all.
Dumars also drafted Rodney Stuckey this past draft, who I have high hopes for, even though I have never seen him play. Anybody who is consistently compared to Dwyane Wade is okay in my book, and on top of that Hollinger had him rated in his top ten. So Stuckey should be able to help Billups and Hamilton immediately. He will be joined by the always pesky Lindsey Hunter, as well as Flip Murray and Arron Affalo. Dumars also signed Jarvis Hayes from Washington to play on the wing, which could be an excellent signing if Hayes can stay healthy.
So Detroit is deep, and the only reason I write them off is Flip, whose atrocity will surely ruin this team. All Dumars has to do is look down the bench at Terry Porter or Dave Cowens to see two much more capable candidates to fill the lead coaching role. For his sake he should pull the trigger. But it will probably take a team mutiny to have that happen. As long as Sheed is around, that is a fully possible occurrence.
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