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The All-Also Rans: The Pistons and hometown reunions

In case you haven’t noticed, although I’m sure you have, this has been a pretty quiet off-season for the Pistons since the draft. So, in the spirit of having something (anything) to write about, I’m going to spend the next two weeks profiling some of my favorite Pistons who never made much impact on the team despite the fact that I irrationally expected great things from them.

In one of the essays I wrote in my Pistons book (Hey, it’s been a while since I’ve plugged that … you can buy it either as a printed or Kindle book through Amazon here) last year, I wrote a bit about Mateen Cleaves and the fascination the team has always seemed to have with in-state players:

Drafting Cleaves, a point guard who famously played in the national title game on a badly sprained ankle, to his hometown team, a team in need of a savior, a team whose most famous player ever just happened to be a point guard who had a well-known performance while playing on a badly sprained ankle, was not the best move for either party.

The Pistons have strangely had a weird fascination from just before the teal era on with acquiring players who have ties to Michigan from their amateur days. Occasionally, that’s worked out OK — Romulus native Terry Mills had a very good career with the Pistons, Detroit native Chris Webber made decent contributions as a rental player one season during their most recent run as title contenders, Saginaw’s Darvin Ham was a Larry Brown favorite on a title team and Rochester’s Walker Russell Jr. was a nice story last season, finally getting to make his NBA debut in his hometown.

But there’s also a long list of players from Michigan the Pistons have brought in who have not had great success playing for their hometown team — Flint’s Cleaves was traded after one season, Detroit native Negele Knight was soon out of the league after a brief signing by the Pistons and draft pick Ricky Paulding, also a Detroit native, never made the roster.

There are plenty of reasons to route against hometown team reunions. Sure, when they work, they’re incredibly fun, but they also make players much more susceptible to hangers on or distractions that might not be as present if playing in another location. Still though, I’m a sucker for them, and three of my favorite hometown reunions happened in the 1990s.

Grant Long, a standout at Romulus and Eastern Michigan, was a natural fit as a Piston. His uncle, John Long, was a star with the team in the 1980s and his cousin, Mills, had become a key player on the team by the time the Pistons traded for Long and Stacey Augmon in the 1996 offseason, giving up a collection of draft picks that never amounted to much.

Long was seemingly the kind of tough, blue-collar frontcourt player the Pistons lacked, averaging 13.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in his final season with the Hawks. With the Pistons, however, his numbers and minutes plummeted. He went from 36 minutes per game in his final season as a Hawk to 17 per game in his first as a Piston. Then, in his second season with the Pistons, he had one of the worst shooting seasons of his career. He left as a free agent and re-signed with the Hawks after that season. I was sure a hard-working, goggle-wearing lunch pail type of player like Long would succeed in Detroit, but for whatever reason, both he and Augmon struggled to fit after that trade.

Those same qualities are why Grand Rapids native and Michigan great Loy Vaught should’ve been destined for success as a Piston. Vaught helped Michigan win a national title, then went on to an unappreciated career with the L.A. Clippers as a perennially underrated player because, well, he played for the Clippers. He averaged double-doubles in back-to-back seasons in 1996 and 1997.

Cruelly, though, Vaught suffered a knee injury just before he was set to hit free agency and escape Clipperdom. He never got the opportunity to show that he was an underrated player post-Clippers. He signed with the Pistons in 1999 and played parts of two seasons with the team, but was never close to the same type of player he’d been pre-injury.

Mark Macon, a Saginaw native and Temple great, came to the Pistons as a bit of a reclamation project. The Nuggets traded him to the Pistons for Alvin Robertson midway through Macon’s second season, strange considering the Nuggets had just used a lottery pick on him and Robertson was being shipped out of Detroit for fighting then-Director of Player Personnel Billy McKinney. Incidentally, I loved this quote from Robertson on that incident:

“It was a split second when I lost my cool,” Robertson said of the fight. “And that split second is going to get me more media attention than I have had for the last two years, so I certainly regret the incident.”

Macon came into the league well-schooled defensively, obviously, playing for John Chaney at Temple. He was also a big combo guard, something that the Pistons have always had an affection for. His offense — he was a big-time scorer at Temple — never really translated to the NBA, though. It’s a shame too, because the former Mr. Basketball winner really was an elite, tough high school and college player.

As someone who runs a site partially dedicated to celebrating the basketball legacy in the state of Michigan, I’m obviously a huge fan of in-state players. But I always worry a bit when they join my favorite pro team, just because it puts so much unnecessary, behind-the-scenes pressure on them that might not otherwise be there, although it’s obviously cool to see up-close what guys who starred here in high school or college grow into as pros too.

Previously

11 Comments

  • Aug 25, 201212:40 pm
    by ryan

    Reply

    Mark Macon is one of my all time favorite players. I loved Jon Chaney’s team’s and Macon was one of his greats then he was solid that first year in Denver… after that I don’t know what happened but I wanted so badly for him to succeed.
     

  • Aug 26, 20123:43 pm
    by Holy Crow

    Reply

    I don’t care what happens, Lance Armstrong is the greatest cyclist of our generation and he was the star of the Tour deFrance, and he passed every test administered to him. The sport of bicycle racing owes far more to Lance Arrmstrong than any doping scandal can ever take away from him.

    (All also rans?) 

  • Aug 26, 20125:45 pm
    by Max

    Reply

    Off Topic:  CBS BASKETBALL PODCAST has been devoting a podcast to giving each team an off-season review.  It’s a pretty good series but I haven’t listened to their Pistons one yet which they posted yesterday.  Here’s the link.
    http://podcasts.cstv.com/feeds/nba.xml

    • Aug 26, 20127:13 pm
      by Max

      Reply

      Oh, dip!  I listened to it and Pistonpowered’s own Dan Feldman was interviewed.  

      • Aug 26, 20128:08 pm
        by Holy Crow

        Reply

        Ugh, they might as well start taping interviews in mental institutions… I had a more informative conversation with the bagger at Kroger’s…

  • Aug 26, 20126:48 pm
    by Jacob

    Reply

    When you started doing the also-rans series I was really hoping you would mention Mark Macon. I seem to remember a time in the late 90s when the Pistons wanted to keep Jerry Stackhouse as the 6th man so they started Macon ahead of him. Stackhouse was none too pleased and didn’t hide it.

    • Aug 27, 20129:14 am
      by apa8ren9

      Reply

      Shakin bakin Mark Macon,  I remember that and I also remember 6 for 29 in an NCAA tournament loss when Temple was a favorite.  He was never the same to me after that game, even as a pro.  It was all downhill from there.  If I recall the Pistons cut him and he never played again.  I could be wrong but I thought there was something wrong but he just didnt work out.  And again that wasnt the greatest of era’s in Piston’s history – the Teal/Tom Wilson/Doug Collins era was just a nightmare.  Something that started off promising that just blew up and ended terribly.

  • Aug 27, 20127:02 am
    by Londoner

    Reply

    Do you know when we here in England will be able to buy the Piston Devotion book? It’s available as kindle only over here but I don’t have a kindle. Many thanks

  • [...] Over at PistonPowered, I wrote about a few of my favorite local players who eventually made their way to the Pistons, even if the results weren’t so great — Mark Macon, Loy Vaught and Grant Long: Long was seemingly the kind of tough, blue-collar frontcourt player the Pistons lacked, averaging 13.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in his final season with the Hawks. With the Pistons, however, his numbers and minutes plummeted. He went from 36 minutes per game in his final season as a Hawk to 17 per game in his first as a Piston. [...]

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