LEBROOMED

When it’s over, it’s over. This is true of relationships and clunker cars, and it is true of sports eras. This Pistons era, to be honest, was over long before Sunday’s debacle, a humiliating sweep by the surging Cavaliers. But this was the good-bye day.

And, like the end for broken cars and relationships, it wasn’t pretty.

The team that owned the Eastern Conference finals was bounced in the first round. Rasheed Wallace was scoreless and useless. Rip Hamilton was unplugged. Tayshaun Prince was all but invisible. And those are the guys with championship rings.

Then again, when you’ve been there before, you know when it’s hopeless, and those guys could spot the glint in the eye that the Cavs now have and the Pistons do not.

It’s grabbing time for Cleveland.

It’s gasping time for Detroit.

“Changing of the guard,” Michael Curry confirmed. And at the very least, the Pistons lost to the inevitable Eastern Conference champ. But that was the very least. They didn’t win a game. They weren’t close in any of them. The scene at Sunday afternoon’s finale was a raucous mess. Half of the Palace crowd was for Cleveland, chants of “MVP” rang out for LeBron James, and the Pistons looked aimless, as if their game plan was to try to trade baskets with the Cavs – which is pointless when they have No. 23. The good (LeBron) and the bad (the Pistons)

“It was embarrassing,” Antonio McDyess said after the 99-78 defeat. “People yelling, ‘Go Cavs!’ and “MVP!’ I never expected that to happen in our arena during the playoffs.”

But then, nothing is the same. The moment Chauncey Billups was traded, this team turned in its identity. Would the Pistons have done better with Chauncey? Not really. They eventually would have played Cleveland and would have lost. Hey. They lost two years ago with Chauncey, and that was when LeBron’s teammates looked like kindergarteners.

Now the Cavs are deep, fast, confident and play hard defense. And LeBron is just insane.

How good was the King on Sunday? Not only were his numbers garish (36 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists), but he embarrassed every Pistons starter – personally – at least once. He juked in on Hamilton, pulled back and drilled a jumper. Did the same to McDyess. He slammed over Wallace, who didn’t even bother to defend him. He rejected a Rodney Stuckey lay-up into July of next year.

And Prince? He embarrassed him all series.

Prince scored two points Sunday. Wallace had zero. Rasheed left the locker room without comment, unless you count mumbled insults against the media as comment. Personally, I tired of Wallace a long time ago. It’s one thing when your game is great but your attitude stinks. It’s another when they both stink. Maybe he’s hurt. Maybe he’s old. But he’s not worth the trouble. And he didn’t exactly inflate his free-agent price with a goose egg in the finale. The future is unknown

The guy I feel most sorry for is McDyess, who just missed the 2004 title and has been waiting for another ever since. He played hard and furious Sunday, scored 26, and for a while kept the Pistons in it single-handedly. Afterward, he buttoned his shirt by his locker and sighed. “In the NBA,” he said, “the young guys move in, the old guys move out.”

The elephant in the room of course, was Allen Iverson. (OK, a small elephant.) The highest-paid player on the roster, the biggest star, and he isn’t even welcome. He was worse than a bust, he was an embarrassment. Complaining about playing time and hitting the casinos doesn’t make you a local hero.

His value comes when his salary disappears, and it is up to Joe Dumars to rebuild with it.

But that’s for the future. For now, tip your hat to LeBron. And stand up, one last time, for what’s left of the Pistons champions. Their first cut came with Ben Wallace leaving, and they were gutted with the Billups trade. But they’ll be the last group for a while, I believe, to win a crown as a superstar-less team – the opposite of what we saw Sunday.

By the end, the Palace didn’t look like the Palace, the Pistons didn’t look like the Pistons, and the whole thing only looked over. And it was.

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