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Redefining an era

You’ve certainly heard this is an end of an era for the Pistons and how this was an ugly end. There’s certainly truth to the ugly part:

  • The Pistons won’t reach the second round for the first time since the 2000-01 season.
  • Dating back to the final two games against the Celtics in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, the Pistons have lost six playoff games in a row for the first time since they dropped a combined six straight to the Philadelphia Warriors, St. Louis Hawks and Minneapolis Lakers.
  • The Pistons won just three of 16 quarters this series.
  • They lost to Cleveland by 18, 12, 11 and 21.
  • Tayshaun Prince scored  15 points on 7-of-27 shooting in the series.
  • Rasheed Wallace scored 13 points in the final three games, including none yesterday. And he didn’t shoot a free throw all series.
  • Detroit’s highest-paid player, Allen Iverson, didn’t play because everyone agreed he was better off staying away from the team.
  • LeBron James torched the Pistons for 32.0 points, 11.3 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. I understand no team can stop him, but better teams could hold him under 51-percent shooting.
  • And Cavalier fans took over the Palace, chanting MVP at James louder than any cheer for Detroit.

But this isn’t the end of an era. At least, not necessarily.

There are a lot of ways to define the end. And a lot of the reasons you read about why this is the end are certainly valid. But here are a few reasons this era could keep going.

Roster

If you think this is the end because the roster will completely change, you’ve already missed the boat.

In 2001-02, Detroit won 50 games with a starting lineup of Chucky Atkins, Jerry Stackhouse, Michael Curry, Ben Wallace and Clifford Robinson.

The Pistons won at least 50 games the next six years. Last year, the final season of the streak, Detroit started Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace. And the entire bench was different, too.

No other team has ever completely turned over its roster during a streak of 50-win seasons.

And in case you were wondering, a few had just one player last through a streak.

Los Angeles Lakers 1979-80 through 1990-91: Magic Johnson.

Milwaukee 1980-81 through 1986-87: Sidney Moncrief.

San Antonio 1997-98 through 2008-09: Tim Duncan.

The roster has almost turned around a second time, too. The Pistons have just four players left from the team that nearly beat the Spurs in 2005. And they might be gone by next season.

Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess are free agents. Tayshaun Prince fits the profile of players Dumars dumps. And this info from Chris Broussard of ESPN indicates Richard Hamilton’s future with team might be in doubt:

Michael Curry’s eventual benching of Hamilton in favor of Iverson only compounded the problems in the locker room. While Hamilton was professional enough to give it his all as a sixth man, he’s been upset ever since, even though he’s returned to the starting lineup, and multiple sources tell me that he and Curry haven’t been on speaking terms for months.

The Pistons have had four coaches in the last eight seasons, too. Turnover doesn’t mean a new era.

Style

Although the Pistons’ defense fell off this year, it’s still the hallmark of the team. That won’t change as long as Joe Dumars is in charge.

Michael Curry oversaw Detroit’s defensive problems this year. But this team lacked athleticism. And it had to overcome Allen Iverson’s shortcoming. There was nothing Curry could do about it.

Defense is a priority with Curry, and that’s Detroit’s identity. That will be true next year, too.

Success

So, the 50-wins-in-a-season streak is over.

The Pistons have made the playoffs eight straight seasons, the third-longest active streak in the league behind San Antonio (12) and Dallas (nine). If Detroit continues to make the playoffs, these years will blend together as one era.

The challenge for Detroit now is keeping that playoff level up. And compared to the other teams in similar situations, the Pistons are in an unbelievably better position.

Just teams five teams have at least four players who are in the top 50 among active players for minutes (a measure of being old) or playoff minutes (a measure of being overworked).

Detroit: Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton, Antonio McDyess and Tayshaun Prince (And the Pistons could easily have two more in Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace).

Dallas: Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, Jerry Stackhouse, Jason Terry, Eric Dampier and Josh Howard.

Los Angeles Clippers: Baron Davis, Cuttino Mobely, Marcus Camby and Ricky Davis.

Phoenix: Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Jason Richardson.

San Antonio: Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley, Kurt Thomas, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

Outside of San Antonio, the Pistons have been the most successful of this group. And Detroit, by far, has the most flexibility to get younger.

Here’s the amount of salary each team has committed for the next two years.

Team 09-10 10-11
Pistons $33,093,746 $11,148,760
Clippers $56,677,949 $43,392,111
Suns $62,272,538 $41,202,544
Spurs $65,989,918 $32,200,00
Mavericks $68,794,830 $49,538,524

Dumars has shown an ability go get and keep the Pistons on track. Turning around the entire roster during a streak of 50-win seasons might be one of the most underrated feats in the game.

He can do it again.

I’m not saying the Pistons will make the playoffs for the next few seasons. But if they do, that era should be connected to this one.

This might be the end. But we won’t know until next year.

5 Comments

  • Apr 27, 20099:50 am
    by brgulker

    Reply

    I appreciate your informed hopefulness, to be sure. You’ve made a good argument for our future — and the part about turnover is especially interesting.

    The only bit of minor disagreement I would have is that, ultimately, I do think the era is over, and here’s why.

    1) Sell-out streak ended. Our fans at the Palace defined this era as much as anything. As LBJ put it yesterday, it was always a “hostile building.” Look at yesterday’s MVP chants for LBJ and tell me that era isn’t over.

    Not that it can’t be reborn or reincarnated — but the current era died yesterday.

    2) 39 wins. The 50-win season era died yesterday. Could it be reborn next season or two years from now? Yes, but the current era died when we won our 39th game.

    3) First-round sweep. This one’s pretty self-explanatory, I think. 6 consecutive trips to the ECF vs. a first-round manhandling and sweep by the Cavs.

    Not that we can’t get back in a couple years (or maybe even next year if Joe works a small miracle), but for all intents and purposes, this era has ended.

    To your closing point about next year’s potential success blending in with the past 6:

    I see where you’re coming from, and like I said, I appreciate your informed hopefulness.

    But let’s play the what-if game:

    What if Sheed doesn’t resign (which seems far more likely than not)? What if Dice doesn’t resign (which for his sake, I hope he goes to chase a ring)?

    Along with Ben Wallace, they have been the face of the Detroit frontcourt. Is it fair to say the era continues after their departure? I don’t know, to me that seems like a stretch.

    Obviously, CB is already gone. And what if Rip and/or Tay get moved this summer (which seems very possible)?

    With Dice, Sheed, CB, and Rip/Tay gone, and this year’s disappointing performance, it’s difficult to find any continuity between the past success and any future success we may have, isn’t it?

    Like you, I hope Joe brings in players that will play “Detroit Basketball” (and we all know what that means, efficient, team-oriented offense and suffocating D), and if he does, then at least that type of continuity exists.

    But I think the overwhelming sentiment will be — among fans and players alike — is that after almost no one from the championship roster remains, then the era is over.

    And maybe that’s a good thing.

    I think guys like Max, Amir, and Stuck have all struggled under the pressure that’s been put upon them.

    Amir and Max have been expected to be the Wallace Bros. They’re not. Maybe they could be, who knows? But they’re not now, and they’re expected to be. So, when they “underperform” relative to expectations, they get yanked and benched. It’s stunted their growth.

    And Stuckey — yeah, he’s improved, and that’s great. But he’s not CB, and he may never be. But he’s had to live in that shadow.

    A clean break with the past might be the only way to let this team become who it needs to be collectively and individually — as hard as it is to let go of what has been before.

  • Apr 27, 200911:27 am
    by Brian

    Reply

    Dan,

    This piece is very well played. I think it’s brilliant in terms of labeling it as an era of “Pistons success,” but I have to agree with Brgulker in labeling it an era as a whole. It wouldn’t be fair to label it all one big ‘era’ if we have a completely different roster. That 50 win season you spoke of in 2001-2002 I think served more as a bridge between two eras since that was Joe’s first 50-win season as Pistons GM and the roster was completely different. I think the continuity argument is another good way of putting it. However, for this group of guys, this era is over if they’re moved this offseason. Like you said, though; we won’t know until next year. Great work as always.

    • Apr 27, 200911:29 am
      by Brian

      Reply

      “they’re moved” meaning if the corps group of guys are gone (Tayshaun, Rip, Sheed, Dyess)

  • Apr 27, 20093:43 pm
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    BRGulker, you make a lot of good points. And they’re why the conventional wisdom is this is the end of an era. But I still think you have to wait for next year to know for sure.

    How many people thought the end was when the Pistons lost to Miami or Boston. How many thought it was when Ben Wallace left? I think there’s a decent chance this is the end, but I’m not ready to say for sure.

    And to address your specific points:

    1. Sell-out streak. I never really bought the legitimacy of the streak. There were too many weekday games, even before this year, that the Palace was pretty empty.

    2. 39 wins. Think about what defines the Kevin Garnett era in Minnesota. It’s first-round exits. But the Timberwolves made the conference finals one year. That was an aberration. It didn’t change how people look at that era.

    If the Pistons get back on track next year, this year could be viewed as a little blip on the radar. Again, I’m not saying this quick fix will happen. But it certainly could.

    3. First-round sweep. OK, this could be a bit of a stretch. But in middle of the Larry Bird era, the Celtics once lost 40 games and were swept in the first round (by the Pistons in 1989). Larry Bird played just six games that year.

    The Pistons were counting on Allen Iverson to be their best player, and he didn’t play (mental problmes more than physical ones, but he was till out).

    I think this is probably the end of an era. I think there’s a good chance the Pistons either don’t make the playoffs next year or have a completely different style than the last eight years.

    But it’s too early to say for sure — even if I’m pretty convinced there will be a lot of roster change.

  • Apr 27, 20093:44 pm
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    Brian, I’d definitely include 2001-02 in this era. That team had a strong resemblance to the next six, even if the roster changed. The style didn’t.

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