Eloquence, emancipation, egalitarianism. This is the new Pistons. Your opening preview is by Corn.
Perhaps there is no other team looking simultaneously at the extreme present and the none-too-distant future than the Pistons. The team that has contended for 5 straight Eastern Conference titles and won a championship is doing a great Dumars–ian (yeah, its an adjective) job of looking inward and outward at the same time. Now, with that being said, the Pistons are not winning the East this year. They will still be a top 4 seed and give younger, less experienced teams headaches in the playoffs, but Michael Curry is NOT leading this team to a title. And that is the sad thing about the Pistons: they have been consistently better over the past 6 years than any team that isn’t the Spurs, but they will always be slightly skewed as failures, because of only taking home 1 title, for imploding against the Cavs (2 years ago) and their futile resistance against the Celtic Empire last year. But yet, they are still the NBA’s version of Peter O’Toole, a good looking, polite star (with a taste for bourbon) but a perpetual loser in the biggest stakes of their profession. But oh, those blue eyes.
With all due respect to the elder statesmen of the Palace, the real story for the Pistons this year will be the emergence (or hopes thereof) of Rodney Stuckey, sudden starter Amir Johnson, Jason “but wait, didn’t I emerge like a year and a half ago” Maxiell and Aaron Afflalo. These guys, most of whom will comprise the second unit in Detroit will ultimately be the key to the season. If they can play enough effective minutes, dominate some clock, play great D and score effectively, they can leave the starters, most of whom are in the twilight of their careers, fresher and more well rested for one last playoff run. Without them, if could be another solid regular season and dubious playoff appearance for Motown.
I know I said earlier that new coach Curry couldn’t get these guys to the promised land. It’s not that he is a bad coach or that the team is untalented, I’m just stating the fact that the chemistry and the superior drive is not there. Perhaps by injecting a young, green, motivated coach onto a team that has enough leadership and guidance from the elders in the jerseys could inject some passion and pride (sorry to steal the Sixers blog reference) into these guys. But, in reality, you can’t teach an old Rasheed new tricks. Speaking of Sheed, this is his last chance to earn a good payday before he bows out of the league. Will he revert to his old “me first” offensive ways to secure a few extra Benjamins, or will he focus on cementing his legacy as a great, multi-talented center who won multiple rings? I tend to favor the former. Also, Walter Hermann is up for a contract too, so watch out for his ball hogging!
There is not much that will differ from the rest of the mainstays. Billups is locked in long term and can continue to guide and play alongside Stuckey. Rip will still be Rip. McDyess is gladly stepping back and giving Amir a chance to shine, in hopes that fewer minutes and a more senior lead on the second unit will make him more effective and less winded by season’s end. Tayshaun Prince was the most oft cited as being on the trading block (being the youngest and most versatile of the mainstays), so how will that effect his playing time/visibility within the Pistons offense. And really, what kind of decent trade could be made for someone who is the lynchpin of this tough, versatile defense. Will he actually be looking for a more visible role on a lesser team as Dumars and the Pistons brass looks for even more, minute upgrades to a team that truly needs a massive overhaul. The Pistons are the worst of both worlds – not bad enough for a hatchet, not close enough for a scalpel.
Stuckey and Johnson are the bellweathers. If Stuckey shows that the is the heir apparent to Billups and Johnson can take those moments of sheer nova-ness and eliminate more of his wayward, confused disappearances, this team could be more fearsome and deeper than it ever has. Afflalo could really be the 3 point threat this team has craved off the bench and has never had. Maxiell still eats babies. No contender in either Conference will rely so much on its second unit. For those on the brighter end of Auburn Hills, that has to make them feel good – at least in the way that you find out that milk that was supposed to go bad over the weekend is still alright for your Cornflakes on Monday. The haters will beg Dumars to get rid of the status quo and take a chance on the potential of something better. And if Michael Curry is any indication, the haters may be running the asylum even sooner than you think.
VISIONS By Rob Mahoney
Honorable Mention: The much more handsome version of 50 cent, Rodney Stuckey. Stucks is quickly becoming one of my favorite second year guys in the League.
This is the year of change, you smog-choked greasemonkeys. You know what that means? It means it’s time to see something other than Sheed’s bald spot haranguing a referee in the Eastern Conference Finals during their inevitable meltdown. It means it’s time to no longer watch Chauncey Billups fail to deliver a big game winning shot and have to deal with the incessant “Is He No Longer Mr. Big Shot?” stories we read every. single. year. It’s time we have a break from Tayshaun Prince making a ridiculous block only to get torched in the halfcourt set. It’s time for something other than the freaking Pistons in the ECF.
Look, I respect Dumars. I do. Hell, I respect this whole team. Rip Hamilton never gets talked about and the guy’s smoother than Van Wilder. The team toppled an obnoxious Lakers team in 2004 that had me buying shots for people I’ve never met in New Orleans. But that was four freaking years ago. It’s time to move on! Go do something else! Get involved in the arts! Start an air band!
But if you’re looking fora reason to hate this team, hate them because they’re just filling in the same guys they’ve had with weird clone models. Sure, Amir’s exciting, but how long will that last with the Piston rehabilitation seminars he has to go? This team is more played out than Linkin Park’s first album. Move on!
A MUSICAL INTERLUDE
If you’re not a fan of the Pistons, Spurs, Lakers, or Hornets, don’t you just hate Joe Dumars? I mean, in the same way that Cleveland fans hated Jordan or Utah fans hated Jordan or how I hate Ziller? It’s just infuriating to watch a guy just do something so profoundly well on a consistent basis. Dumars‘ organizational mastery is absolutely stunning. He somehow managed to build a core of succesful players, bring in a guy who was a troublemaker everywhere else and yet became a championship rock for this team, win championships, compete consistently, and yet somehow also build effectively through the draft and utilizing the D-League to develop young talent while taking advantage of veteran free agents to fill in the gap as to not pressure them too much. It’s insane.
Rip Hamilton’s jab step scares monsters.
I’m still curious about managing both Stuckey and Billups‘ minutes, but enough Pistons commenters have launched themselves at me at FanHouse to convince me they’ll make it happen. I do see Billups taking a major step back as the season goes on, though.
Do you ever imagine this conversation goes on in Sheed’s head?
Sheed: Man, this is boring. We’re up by 12. These guys suck. Bobcats? More like Weavecats. Heh.
Evil Sheed: You know…
Sheed: Oh, no you don’t. We’ve been over this. I’m not losing any more money over your ideas.
Evil Sheed: Just hear me out.
Sheed: No! There’s nothing good that comes out of it! Just stay quiet.
Evil Sheed: There’s a new special at Cheesecake Factory…
Evil Sheed: And it closes at 11…
Sheed: I’m listening.
Evil Sheed: You don’t even have to call him an (expletive deleted).
Sheed: Why would I call him an expletive deleted? That doesn’t even make sense?
Evil Sheed: I’m just saying. Just go up to the refereee, and ask him how his day is going. He’ll whistle you. He hates you. Then just throw up your hands and open your eyes and mouth. He’ll eject you.
Sheed: I don’t want to pay the fine!
Evil Sheed: Do you want to stay here or do you want artichoke dip? Huh? Which is it?
Sheed: You always win.
No? No? Just checking.