Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Monday, June 04, 2007

This Run Is Officially Over

I don't know how other Pistons fans felt, but while watching the final game of the Pistons-Cavaliers series, this thought slowly trickled into my forehead. It had grown into a full-blown roar by the time Rasheed Wallace decided he'd had enough and got himself kicked out of a game in which his team still had a chance (on the scoreboard, at least):

I'm not sure I've ever come to dislike a team I root for more than these Detroit Pistons.

It's not because they ceded the Eastern Conference to Team LeBron, thus giving the NBA (or perhaps more specifically, ABC) a true superstar to promote in its signature series. Teams lose, torches are passed. Before the season, we were already wondering if the Pistons' time had passed, if that sweet championship window had already closed. And Cleveland was one of the teams that looked like it could push Detroit off the top of the hill.

So I'm not surprised the Cavs won on Saturday night. Hell, I think most everyone expected the series was over after Game 5. But I never thought I'd see this Detroit Pistons team flat-out quit on the court. And from my armchair, that's exactly what it looked like in that fourth quarter. It's like they just decided the outcome was inevitable. Maybe it was. Nothing the Pistons were doing was working. Put two or three guys on LeBron, and he dished off to the open guy. And Daniel Gibson wasn't missing. The home crowd was surging with excitement, the kind of excitement you feel when you know you're about to experience something you've never experienced before. It's a great feeling, maybe the best you'll ever have as a sports fan.

The Pistons must have sensed that too, because they seemed like they just wanted to get the whole exercise over with and go home. I thought they'd at least go down swinging. The fact that they didn't might be one of the most disappointing things I've ever seen as a Detroit sports fan.

Even worse was Wallace bailing out on the season - and his teammates - with almost eight minutes left in the game. The Pistons were only down by 12 points. But rather than stay in the game and help his team - and maybe for once play in the post and dominate Gooden, Varejao, and Ilgauskas like everyone knows he can, instead of jacking up three-pointers - he decided to stomp and pout back to the locker room.

I'm sorry - his act is totally played out. It's old and tired, like someone repeating a joke long after it stopped being funny. Stop complaining about the referees. Stop acting like you're entitled to every call. Stop acting like everyone is out to get you. Stop making your teammates waste energy trying to hold you back from doing something stupid.

But he won't stop. And I think even his teammates and coaches are sick of it. Terry Porter looked as if he wanted to punch 'Sheed. Lindsey Hunter just stared at him blankly. What was that outburst going to accomplish, other than making Wallace look like a giant baby who wasn't getting his way so he wasn't going to play anymore. They're tired of having to deal with this $#!+.

Rasheed Wallace probably is the most important player to the Detroit Pistons. And thus, they've taken on his persona. These guys don't just play basketball anymore. Remember this team back in 2004? "Going to work" and all that? This was a team Detroit fell absolutely in love with because it was the type of basketball team we wanted to see: No egos, no superstars, no divas. Any flash was provided by unselfish, hard-working basketball. Everyone played a role and worked toward a collective goal.

Somewhere along the line, this team forgot about all that. Their championship emboldened them to an almost comical level of arrogance. They complained about nearly every call, as if the referees should just let them do whatever the hell they want on offense and defense.

How could you call that foul on me? How did you miss that call on them?

Instead of asserting themselves and showing they were a better team, it's like the Pistons expected the game to just unfold for them, as if they were entitled to victory every time. And if they weren't my team, representing my community, I'd find it very difficult to root for these guys.

But maybe I shouldn't paint with such a broad brush. There's one guy on the Pistons who truly seemed to feel this loss, because he hadn't experienced the success his teammates had. If only Antonio McDyess had been able to pass that desire onto those who lost it. When someone needed to set a rugged defensive tone, who stepped up to try and establish it? McDyess, and it cost him (and maybe the team) virtually all of Game 5. But someone needed to show the Cavs that they couldn't drive so easily to the basket. It's just too bad that those who won a championship couldn't set an example for him, instead of the other way around.

So what now? The rest of this week in the Detroit sports blogosphere will surely be filled with eulogies and fix-it solutions. I'll probably chime in with some ideas, too, though I think it's pretty clear based on the previous 850 words who I think needs to go. Actually, the Pistons are in kind of a tough spot right now, because though its core might be aging, it's not yet old. This isn't like the 1990-1991 team that had clearly gone past its prime. Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, and Tayshaun Prince have quite a few good years left in them. Joe Dumars might still be able to build around those three.

Changing the coach is probably an easy call to make, but can Dumars find another voice that can get through to these guys? Is Terry Porter that guy? He could be a head coach for another NBA team, which makes him an immediately on-hand candicate, but maybe the players are already too familiar with him. Or, after sitting in the assistant's chair, was he able to see what Flip Saunders did wrong, and have an idea of what changes should be made?

Would that even be enough? Or does Joe D have to do something bolder to shake out the complacency and change the culture? If so, is there enough flexibility in the rest of the roster to follow through on such ambitions? He might not, which means he'd have to touch one of the core trio. And if another team decides to throw a maximum dollar contract at Billups (the value of which might be questionable after his performance in the Eastern Conference Finals), Dumars is going to have quite a dilemma. If Billups opts to move on while cashing in perhaps the biggest paycheck he'll ever receive, Joe D might have no other choice than to set him free. Or he might have to consider sacrificing one of the other two for the greater good of keeping Billups and his leadership in Detroit.

Maybe that's the consolation prize for Pistons fans. At least the off-season shouldn't be boring.

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  • At June 05, 2007 9:16 AM, Anonymous Kurt said…

    We agree again, Ian! I have found myself having a hard time getting excited about the Pistons and, as well, rather annoyed with them at times.

    I want to see changes and that work ethic to come back.

  • At June 07, 2007 8:22 PM, Anonymous susannah said…

    Hey, I realize this is like 4 days after the fact, but I completely agree with every word you wrote. As much as it pains me to both recognize the reality of the situation and employ an overused cliche, it is the end of an era. The Pistons need to give serious thought to the future, and for me that means no one is sacred save Billups, Prince, and Hamilton. And the job of particularly Rip and Chauncey needs to now be cultivating the future and training bench guys to play at their level.

    Otherwise, I hope you're doin well. :)


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