Once again, the Detroit Pistons are starting their off-season sooner than preferred. For the second straight year, the team that spent the regular season building the best record in the National Basketball Association's Eastern Conference has been bounced from the conference finals by the #2 seed. Last year it was Miami. This year it's Cleveland. In both years, the ouster comes in Game 6 after Detroit gave up home court advantage in Game 5.
First, let me say congratulations to the Cavaliers and their fans. LeBron James and crew are young, energetic, scrappy, and smart. They outplayed Detroit in all six games and effectively should have ended it in four games. While they missed out on the front-end sweep, they did get the back-end sweep by winning four straight games after dropping the first two. And, that Game 5 performance from James was nothing short of phenomenal. Very Jordanesque.
Now, back to the Pistons, who looked old, lethargic, panicky, and mentally drained throughout the series. At times, I would describe their play as just plain dumb. I'm not going to break down the entire series, game-by-game. Too depressing. But, I will breakdown what I think needs to change as Joe Dumars and his management team work to keep Detroit as a contender next year.
1. Chauncey Billups: He's a free agent. Do we re-sign him or move in a different direction? This is tough because we don't have another point-guard who can take on the starter role and truly shine. Flip Murray has proven to be good off the bench and did a good job of filling in for Billups through an injury spell. But I'm not sure he's a starter. Billups was disappointing in the Cleveland series. He hit a nasty scoring slump, started missing more free throws than usual, and committed uncharacteristic turnovers at very inopportune times. Which, during the nip and tuck series, was whenever the turnover occurred. Billups also didn't seem to be too phased by his poor play or that of his teammates, which troubles me. All that said, I think Detroit should sign him and keep the Billups-Hamilton back court tandem in tact. It's still among the best in the league.
2. Rasheed Wallace: He really needs to get his emotions in check on the court. I appreciate his intensity, but I don't appreciate the way he's always losing control to the point of picking up technical fouls in numbers that get him ejected from games or eventually suspended from games. Grow up, Rasheed. Word is Wallace doesn't respect head coach Flip Saunders and the two really don't coexist very well. That could spell curtains for Flip. (More on him later.)
3. Chris Webber: He joined his hometown team mid-season in hopes of winning a ring. It didn't happen. Webber proved to be a good addition to the team, but his age is a big factor in his long-term effectiveness. I don't think he returns. If he does, it will not be as a starter.
4. Man In The Middle: Detroit MUST find an imposing big man who can defend like Ben Wallace and score like Tim Duncan or Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Whether through the draft or free agency, this is an absolute need.
5. Head Coach: Detroit has had three coaches in six years, changing every other season. If the trend continues, Flip Saunders coached his final Pistons game last night and if that is the case, it won't phase me. Saunders was brought in because the players felt offensively stifled by the defensively focused Larry Brown. The Pistons may need to find a fresh face to place at the head of the bench. Someone similar to Cleveland's Mike Brown or Toronto's Sam Mitchell. We'll see what happens. I do hope Joe Dumars doesn't make another coaching change based on what the players want. Though, I do think Rasheed is more valuable to the team than Flip, so if one has to go, I say start searching for a new coach.
6. Joe Dumars: I love Joe D. He has been the true heart and soul of the Detroit Pistons since Isiah Thomas left. But I hope he's kicking himself in the butt over his draft choice in 2003. We passed on the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade-- all superstars-- for Darko Milicic, who rode the bench his entire stay in Detroit and was traded away for next to nothing after last season.
I'm done with basketball until next season. I wish Cleveland well in The Finals but I'll be pulling for San Antonio. I've always had a problem cheering for the team that puts mine out.
Oh, Good Evening!