They were supposed to be different. Not the same old Fab Four. Either Chauncey or Tayshaun, maybe Rasheed, maybe Rip. Someone was going. That’s what fans figured this summer. Joe Dumars, the team president, said it publicly and loudly – after the Pistons fell short of the NBA Finals yet again – he would trade one or more of his Mt. Rushmore faces if the right deal came along.
“It didn’t come along,” he says.
Dumars tried. He fielded calls. But his instincts told him he was not being offered an improvement. And as he puts it: “Trying something different for the sake of trying something different is not an option. That’s a feel-good moment for 24 or 48 hours. It’s not how you build a championship team.”
So Dumars did the next best thing. If he couldn’t remodel the house, he could re-do the ducts and the wiring. He fired the coach, Flip Saunders, who was thought not to be getting the most out of his guys, in favor of Michael Curry, who is hoping to get it all.
Dumars also wants more contributions from the younger players – Rodney Stuckey, Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson.
And now he waits to see.
“Would you have made a big trade if it made the team better?” I ask.
“Absolutely,” he says.
“Are you open to a trade during the season if things aren’t working?”
“Yes, as usual,” he says. No excuses this time around
Meanwhile tonight at the Palace, the Pistons begin the season with the same four starters who won a title four years ago and have been trying to get it back ever since. Now, don’t get me wrong. These guys are terrific. They’ve made at least the conference finals every year since they’ve been together.
But they will be the first to tell you they’re in it for the trophy. Other teams with perennially high expectations – the Lakers, the Yankees, the Red Wings – don’t sit still for long. They make changes. The price for these Pistons staying together one more year is a sword hanging over their heads.
It is called Responsibility.
No one gets a pass this season. There are no fingers left to be pointed. In 2005, it was Larry Brown’s fault; his distractions led to a missed chance in the NBA Finals. In 2006, there was the overuse of the veterans, who tired in the playoffs. In 2007, there was no Ben Wallace, and they underestimated LeBron James’ determination. In 2008, the Celtics were too good, and Chauncey Billups was fighting an injury
Forget all that. It’s on the players now.
“Myself, I felt we should have stayed intact,” Tayshaun Prince says. “And we are. If a trade did happen, who knows if would have been worse or better?
“What we do know is in the six years we’ve been here we’ve had the opportunity to reach the NBA Finals every year. Obviously, we’ve only done it twice, and people probably expected to see (a trade) happen. But I believe in our team. We can give it another run with the guys that we have and the young talent we have now.” Mixing in the missing ingredients
That’s the thing about the Pistons, isn’t it? Their confidence is infectious, and every fall, you kind of believe that they will return to the 2004 glory. On paper, they have a great backcourt, a versatile frontcourt and experience.
But what we forget every October, we are reminded of every May. The fact is the Pistons have been surpassed by the hungrier (Miami), the younger (Cleveland) and the better-coached (Boston). And it’s up to them to find the something extra they’ve been lacking each spring.
Dumars thinks they will. He sees a new coach “who will hold guys responsible for their actions day in and day out. That is what this team needed more than anything else.”
He also sees young players who “are so important,” especially new starter Johnson, who is “young, energetic, athletic, can go all day.”
If it works, Dumars will once again look like the smartest guy in the room, the one who didn’t panic and sell his stock, then saw it rise to even higher levels.
Of course, using a financial metaphor is pretty risky these days. So is standing pat. It might have worked for Mt. Rushmore. But Teddy, Abe, George and Thomas never had to play the Celtics.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).