Well, look on the bright side Pistons fans: There is no where to go but up.
You've hit bottom when you lose twice in a week, including a 15 point loss at home, to the team that has dominated the bottom of your division. To top it off, it made a season sweep for the Pacers over the Pistons for the first time EVER. And they are not the only ones, the Pistons were also swept by their arch-rival Cleveland Cavaliers: yes, they are two teams currently heading in different directions--but a sweep!? Yes, the Pistons have sunk so far as to have a solid hold on the bottom of the division and have worked their way to having nice odds in the lottery. There is only once chance to even sink lower, and that comes Friday night when they visit NJ: lose a team that is fighting to be the worst ever and you've been knocked down like you were hit by Mike Tyson before the facial tattoos.
But swimming in this season of sewage I can still faintly smell roses. How, you ask? I am one of the few remaining who still think that Joe Dumars has a plan that he is executing. There have been a lot of articles written and people talking that Joe has lost it and his time has past. They didn't like moving Chauncey Billups and they don't like the signing of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. And looking through the lens of this season it is easy to understand. But clearly this is not the finished product, but a work in progress. Let's step back and look at where we were, what was done to get us where we are, and where I think we are going to be so optimistic.
Flashback, 2008: After being knocked out of the ECF last year by the up and coming Cavaliers the Pistons finish 2nd in the division and on the opposite side of the draw of th e4th seeded Cavaliers. They have a surprisingly hard time in the first round with the 76ers and then get to face a team they have owned for some reason in the Magic to make the ECF. Rodney Stuckey has a coming out party, playing a huge roll filling in for an injured Billups in the Magic series. Here they are handled easily by the Celtics on their way to the Finals. It becomes clear that while this team can be solid in the East still that development and moves by other teams have moved them past the Pistons. The lineup has hit a point people are talking about the 'old' Pistons.
2009: Pistons get off to a fast start to the season, but in an early season shocker Joe Dumars starts his rebuilding by trading away Billups for the expiring deal of Allen Iverson. Feelings are mixed on this move as Billups is a big part of the Pistons, but Iverson is also an undeniable talent and is saying the right things about being a team player and even coming off the bench. It starts off okay, but soon the wheels come off as Iverson and a mopey RIP can't coexist, Rasheed forgets he's 6'11" and camps at the 3 line, and in the abscence of the solid menotring of Billups and Lindsey Hunter (now a Bull) Rodney Stuckey does not even look the point guard he did in last years playoffs.
Somehow the Pistons manage to have won enough games early in the season to limp into the playoffs as the #8 seed to be thouroughly embarrassed by the Cavaliers. Clearly the Iverson move didn't pan out as hoped, and not only did he not work but losing Chauncey dissolved any bond the team had. The only bright spots of the season were the play of Antonio McDyess, the hustle and hair of Walter Herrmann, both of who are free agents, and the late emergence of Will Bynum.
The 2009 offseason found the influx of a lot of money with the departure of Iverson and Wallace. The question was what to do. There were not that many big name free agents this year, but 2010 was only a one year wait with all the big names to be had. This is where the fanbase gets really unsettled with Joe Dumars. He decides not to wait and play the 2010 bidding game, but to spend his money now. On the opening day of free agency he shoots his wad on Ben Gordon, who is coming off an amazing playoff series against the Celtics, and Charlie Villanueva, who put up solid number when he could get on the floor for the Bucks. Here were the concerns: 1)neither brings defense, soemthing that the Pistons pride themselves on, 2)Is RIP-Gordon going to be RIP-Iverson II, 3)We got no money left and no real big man to play the post.
Here is why I think Joe did it and what I think his plan was. There are those who wanted to target David Lee. Let's face it, the Knicks were not going to let him go, they would have matched any offer Joe D. put out there. Even if the Pistons did manage to land him the Pistons would have spent all their money on him and I don't think he would have been as good as advertised: don't get me wrong, Lee is a solid player, but if you look at his numbers the big ones come after D'Antoni arive and that is not the style of ball played in Detroit. Yes, we would have a post prescence that is missing now,but I don't think it would be as strong as people think it would be. Next, if the had not made a move in 2009 free agency what would the team have looked like? Like it does now, but without the scoring of CV and Ben and holding a big bank roll: not any better, likely worse. And what was the chance if Joe held the money with a bad team he would be able to land a big name 2010 guy? About the same as if he had no money to spend. I believe what Joe saw in these guys was range and ability to get their own shot. The Pistons roster had slashers in Stuckey and Bynum and jump shooters in RIP and Tayshaun Prince, but none of these guys htis the 3 with regularity, and RIP and Prince aren't really adept at getting their own shot. Both Ben and CV can shoot from anywhere and manage to get it away when you think they can't. Also, Chalie is 6'11" and, though not a post guy usually, does add size for some boards. Joe D. drafted a team's worth of small forwards in the off season which was a pretty clear indication that he had at least one more move in the plans for this season, moving Tayshaun Prince. Likely he planned on moving both Price and Hamilton to try and get some size down low. I, for one, thought there was going to much more movement of the 2010 free agents with sign and trades because I didn't think that teams would risk them walking for nothing and the guys becoming free agents wouldn't want to risk getting less money if FA with the salary cap likely to fall due to the economy. Turned out I was wrong, but it didn't matter anyways because unfortunately, with the extended injuries that Prince and Hamilton sustained neither could be moved for a bag of turds. But I think this was a solid plan on Joe D's part that got seriously derailed by injuries. The Pistons might not be back to their glory days with one big man, but they would certainly be respectable: look at how much better they are with Ben Wallace healthy to defend the center, no imagine if he could score some points too.
So on to now-yes, the Detroit Pistons are in a world of hurt. But I don't think they are as far gone as their record indicates and I don't think they are rudderless. The Pistons will have a high draft pick and there are a number of good big men coming out this year that can fill the Pistons clear need. Hopefully Joe can convince Big Ben to come back another year to help in the center and teach the young guy some NBA-caliber D. They still have RIP and Tayshaun as piece that they could move, though their value is way down, there may be a steal out there (like the Mav's picking up Haywood). An idea that I've sent out there on a Pistons thread is to try and work a deal with the cash conscious Hornets. Taysahun will only have a year left on his contract and the Hornets could use a solid SF. Trade Prince for Okafor, who has 3 more years on his deal, and swap picks. This gives the Hornets a top 5 pick where they can get a young cheaper big man than Okafor and a SF. It gives the Pistons as stable big man and a pick around 12 where they could take a chance on someone like either Artsiom Parakhouski at Radford or Omar Samhan from St. Mary's. I think with a good draft, or better yet a nice solid trade and draft the Piston will be back to respectabilty, and hopefully truely competitive sooner than people think. I'm not going to blindly say I Joe I trust, but I think people are too quick to dismiss what he has done by simply looking at the results mid-process. Yes, it is a world of manure right now, but used correctly that manure can be good fertilizer for the future and Joe has shown an ability to work the land before- just have a little patience until harvest time.