I could talk about how opposing starting point guards have shot 17-for-23 against the Pistons in consecutive nights. I could talk about how the Pistons blew a 25-point lead in the second half. I could talk about how the Pistons scored 43 points in a quarter tonight and still ended up losing. I could talk about how they’ve lost consecutive games to two teams that everyone knew would be laughingstocks of the league heading into the season.
But everything that went wrong in the Pistons’ 120-116 loss to the Raptors has been covered before. Over-reliance on jumpshots. Poor perimeter defense. A questionable rotation. There’s several different things that could be delved into. But it’s Saturday, I’m tired and I’d much rather just talk about Ben Wallace.
Frequently, as the Pistons lose more games and more and more fans hop off the bandwagon for the season to do whatever it is fans do when they hop off a bandwagon, this question comes up: what reason is there to watch this team?
Admittedly, it’s a hard question to answer. Veterans like Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince could clearly use a change of scenery to finish their careers helping better teams make playoff pushes. Young players Greg Monroe and Austin Daye, who are vital to any future success the team may have, are glued to the bench in favor of veterans who don’t seem to figure into long-term plans (Prince and Tracy McGrady in Daye’s case, Jason Maxiell in Monroe’s case). The team often plays careless basketball where it appears that many of the guys who step onto the court would rather be doing anything else but playing for this team. If the players don’t look happy to be here, how can fans be expected to grin and bear things?
The answer, for me at least, is Wallace. One of my favorite Pistons teams of all-time was the group of mismatched guys who played for George Irvine in the 2000-2001 season. They were bad. They didn’t play particularly hard all the time. They had guys who, obviously, were not going to be Pistons for the long haul. They’d just lost a face of the franchise player in Grant Hill, much like this version of the Pistons is still reeling from losing face of the franchise Chauncey Billups. But I watched that team, which finished 32-50, for one reason: Ben Wallace. I couldn’t look away, no matter how many times Jud Buechler got into a game or how badly the three-headed-point-guard of Chucky Atkins, Mateen Cleaves and Dana Barros shot the ball. Hell, even power forward Joe Smith shot 40 percent that year. It was brutal, brutal basketball.
And yet, right there, usually hanging out on the court with guys like Ced Ceballos and Billy Owens, collecting some of their many, many errant shots, was Wallace, busting his ass, playing with pride and just plain being fun to watch.
A decade later, the Pistons are terrible once again, without an identity once again, and yet there’s still Wallace, one game after getting benched for no particular reason (sorry John Kuester, but Wallace does not need a full game off to “rest”), at 36-years-old, going out and scoring a career-high 23 points, grabbing 15 rebounds, collecting five steals and four assists and making a mid-December game against another team that is already all but a guarantee to be out of the playoffs, enjoyable to watch.
The Pistons are in bad shape, and I don’t know if anything can be done this season to make the roster more balanced or shake the team out of the malaise it has been in since the first preseason game. But I do know that as long as Ben Wallace is on the team, I have a reason to continue watching the Pistons, to continue hoping that just a bit of his pride rubs off on his more listless teammates and hoping that the team can string together some wins, not because I think they’re good enough to contend, but anyone who plays the way Ben Wallace plays deserves to have a team around him that cares just as much as he does.
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