COFFEE AT PALACE WAS ONLY THING EASY TO SWALLOW

Well, now. That was a first. The Pistons gave a news conference and forgot to bring the news.

Instead, most of the Detroit press corps sat there, in a banquet room, and listened to Isiah Thomas say how “this is one of the happiest days of my life” — and then not tell us why.

Oh, he did say he’ll be a Piston for the rest of his career. But once the Knicks deal fell apart, did anyone doubt that?

He did say he’ll be a Piston “for the rest of my life.”

In what capacity, Isiah?

“That’s between me and Mr. Davidson.”

What kind of authority will you have?

“That’s between me and Mr. Davidson.”

When will this change come about?

Between him and Mr. Davidson.

Hey, Zeke. The questions don’t get any easier.

“It’s my personal business,” Thomas said.

Well. Thanks for the soda. Gotta go.

The fact is, this was a press conference called more to quiet rumors than to reveal facts. But when you tell people something happened but you don’t tell them what, you only get more rumors. That’s human nature.

And this is Pistons nature: Whatever Isiah and Bill Davidson choose to do together, they do, and everyone else falls in line. Isiah referred to the
“arrangement” — whatever it is — as a product of “my unique relationship with Mr. Davidson.”

I’ll say it’s unique. Chuck Daly used to lament that he could never truly criticize Isiah because “he vacations with the owner!” And inside Davidson’s house is a huge portrait of Isiah hanging on the wall. This kind of affection has always made Thomas as confident as a king’s son in the royal palace; any power struggle, he’s going to win.

You can’t say the same for the other guys at the table Friday. Who’ll stay? Who’ll go? Who knows?

These included Tom Wilson, the team’s president; Billy McKinney, director of player personnel; and Don Chaney, the coach.

Wilson, who has helped make Davidson a very rich man, will not be usurped. Davidson may love Isiah, but he’s not a stupid businessman. Tom is safe.

McKinney? Who knows? He didn’t exactly sound like a man looking to refinance his mortgage.

“As a player I learned to live with trade rumors, so I’m prepared for this,” McKinney said. “I’m comfortable, because I live in the present.”

Hmmm. Wasn’t this a news conference about the future?

Meanwhile, Chaney, who has eight wins and 21 losses with the team (anybody remember the team?). Well, Chaney must be saying to himself, “What did I get myself into?” The poor guy doesn’t know any details except that Isiah is coming back to play and Chaney may now be coaching a guy who could become his boss.

Have fun, Don.

Meanwhile, what about the other Pistons? They cannot look at Isiah the same way again, either.

“They want to know if they are playing with the future owner, future GM or what,” Chaney admitted.

Say you’re Olden Polynice, whose contract is up this year. You see Isiah on the court, you know he might retire soon, and you’re thinking: “This guy might

be the new GM.” What do you do?

I’ll tell you this much: when Isiah wants the ball, you’re gonna deliver that sucker.

Which is what’s wrong with all this secrecy. Forget the press. Forget, even, the public. The Pistons are supposed to be a team. If Isiah has been promised some position of authority, he and Davidson should say what it is, so people in the organization know where they stand.

And if Thomas hasn’t been promised anything, then what have he and Davidson been talking about in all these private meetings? Modern art? Deal was too sweet to believe

Now, I know some people love Isiah. And he is truly one of the great clutch guards in history. But even his fans should have doubted the rumors of a $55-million deal — with a vice- presidency and 10 percent of the Pistons thrown in. Come on. Magic Johnson won five championships for the Lakers and did more for that franchise than Thomas did for Detroit — and he didn’t get any $55-million retirement package.

Neither did Michael Jordan or Larry Bird, both of whom won more championships and arguably did more in their NBA careers than Thomas.

So common sense said $55 million was inflated.

But the idea of those numbers raised a question: How about the other guys who won titles for Detroit?

How come Bill Laimbeer didn’t leave with any sweet financial farewell? How come Vinnie Johnson left town via the waiver wire? How come John Salley, Dennis Rodman, Mark Aguirre or James Edwards were all either let go or traded
— without so much as a handshake from Davidson, let alone a multimillion- dollar gratitude package?

How come Chuck Daly, who coached this team from gutter to mountaintop, asked for some more money and some player- personnel control and was told to take a hike?

How come? Because Isiah is the apple of his owner’s eye. So much so, that they can discuss a deal, call the media, and not tell anyone what that deal is about.

Personally, I’d like to say thanks for the coffee at the press conference.

That was all I got out of it.

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