Category → Pistons History
Two years ago, I wrote Isiah Thomas’ body of work was more impressive than Chris Paul’s, and I still believe that’s the case, though the gap is shrinking. But then and since, I’ve predicted Paul will retire as the best point guard since Magic Johnson.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN picked up where my argument left off and wrote an interesting piece comparing the two point guards:
It’s hard to find anything, anything at all, that Thomas did better than Paul on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t a matter of advanced stats preferring Paul, it’s a matter of nearly every statistic preferring Paul.
Isiah’s game had flaws, and we tend to forget them because he tended to forget them on the biggest of stages. When you deliver a 25-point NBA Finals quarter on a pretzel of an ankle, you blot out memories of a turnover-prone high dribble, and rim-prone floater. When your team takes out Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson in their prime years, you earn a lot of respect.
Those sepia-glitter Isiah Thomas memories matter, and nothing will take them away. If he’s overrated, then it’s for the best of reasons: The guy performed when the eyes of the world were upon him.
Thomas also benefitted historically from something that was less within his control, even if he contributed to it: He played with an elite defense. His Pistons teams were top-three in the league in each year of that three-season NBA Finals span. But few would say that he was a better defender than CP3.
I don’t wish to trash Isiah’s legacy, or insinuate that he was unimportant to that championship success. He was crucial. I merely wish to point out that a good player can receive a lot of extra praise for having played on a great team, especially if the team excels at defense, an aspect of the game that fewer focus on. If you’re a scorer on a great defense, chances are that a disproportionate amount of credit will bounce your way.
Strauss’ evaluation of Thomas is fair (unlike the time he wrote that Kevin Johnson was better than Isiah). It’s no insult to Thomas to claim Paul is better per-season, per-minute or any other metric that doesn’t sum career accomplishments. Paul is just that good.
Easily the best thing about 1980s and early 1990s NBA basketball was the development of blood feuds. There are rivalries today, but the ones experienced back then are truly remarkable, to the point that the participants will never, ever move past them. The latest example, in the video above, is Larry Bird still discussing his dislike of Pistons legend Bill Laimbeer with Grantland’s Bill Simmons.
Dave McKenna of Deadspin has a fantastic story on what former Piston and Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley is up to these days. It’s well worth a read:
The greatest 6-foot-5 post player in the history of the NBA now pulls morning and afternoon shifts at a busy intersection outside Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring, Md. The job, which he took at the beginning of this school year, earns him $14,685.50 a year, according to Montgomery County civil service records.
“He doesn’t need the money,” a Dantley associate tells me. The guard-forward was legendarily cheap during his long and fruitful NBA career, and he still lives nearby in a home he purchased in 1990 for $1.1 million, one that a former agent said “was virtually free and clear” of debt back in 1996.
“He’s not going to just sit around,” the associate continues, “and he just doesn’t want to pay health insurance.” Turns out that NBA veterans aren’t provided health insurance by the league, not even all-timers like Dantley. Crossing guards in Montgomery County, however, are.
I wrote a piece for SB Nation about the evolution of the ‘stretch four’ position in the NBA, and in doing it, I had the opportunity to talk to two of my all-time favorite former Pistons, Cliff Robinson and Terry Mills. Definitely check out the piece if you’re interested in the history of big man shooters, but I also snuck in a couple Pistons-related questions that I’ll write about below.
Just trying to get a feel for how closely former NBA player Cliff Robinson follows the NBA these days, I asked him what teams or players he enjoys watching now that he’s retired. Unprompted, he had the Pistons near the top of his list, right after he mentioned Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat.
The response surprised me because, although he played two seasons in Detroit, that represented only a fraction of his 18 seasons in the league. Plus, the Pistons traded him the offseason before they won a championship and the team they shipped Robinson to, Golden State, was the only team Robinson played for in those 18 seasons in the league that did not make the NBA Playoffs. So, on the surface, there’s no particular reason for Robinson to have any special affinity for the Pistons that would cause him to seek them out and watch them regularly. But upon closer inspection, Robinson, like Drummond and Charlie Villanueva, played at UConn. He also played three seasons for the New Jersey Nets and Lawrence Frank, so connections do still exist even if Robinson doesn’t necessarily have roots in the Detroit area still.
Like many fans of the team, Robinson is intrigued by the diversity Monroe and Drummond can bring to a frontcourt, with Monroe’s craftiness, passing and high-post ability and Drummond’s natural gifts of moving without the basketball and finishing anything tossed in the general vicinity of the rim with a dunk. The key, though, is whether or not the Pistons can keep those players together long enough to see them reach their peaks together. Monroe could enter restricted free agency in 2014, and the market for skilled big men dictates that he’ll be expensive, as will Drummond if he continues to develop at such a torrid pace.
“That’s the challenge in the NBA — keeping guys together long enough for them to develop trust and chemistry,” said Robinson, who currently works with the Pro Basketball Alumni Association and mentioned that he’d be interested in getting into coaching someday.
Terry Mills, a Robinson predecessor in the role of Pistons floor-stretching big man, is already involved in coaching. Mills is an assistant coach at Henry Ford Community College, one of many very good junior college programs in Michigan (Seriously … follow your local JUCO hoops team. Flint’s Mott Community College and Grand Rapids Community College are in the national tournament this month, and Henry Ford, Wayne County, Oakland, Glen Oaks and Lansing community colleges were all formidable teams who were ranked nationally at different points this season).
Unlike Robinson, who has had basketball success in stops all over the country, Mills’ is a Michigan man through and through. He was a local star at perennial high school power Romulus, a standout on a national championship team at the University of Michigan and, after a brief stop in New Jersey to start his career, played the best basketball of his NBA career as a Detroit Piston. He’s also part of a great basketball family in Detroit — his uncle is former Piston John Long and cousin is another former Piston, Grant Long.
Mills also talked about the evolution of the modern game, particularly how the Miami Heat often surround LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with shooters to keep the lane un-clogged for those guys to get inside and finish. Mills played a prominent role in an early version of that type of offense with the Pistons.
“I really started using that shot (more) when Doug Collins took over as coach of the Pistons, he wanted to use me as more of a specialist in pick and rolls with Grant Hill,” Mills said. “It was a win-win for us, because a big guy switching on Grant Hill was a big advantage (for Hill).”
Although Mills had a solid, long NBA career, now that he’s a coach, he says players are getting to the age where they weren’t old enough to have watched him play.
“Guys on my team were just born when I was finishing HS or college,” he said.
Mills reinvented himself as a NBA player to find a niche and succeed, and he says he imparts that knowledge to players he coaches now
“I tell kids that now, work on every aspect of your game,” Mills said. “Don’t limit yourself. To be of value to division I programs or to NBA or professional teams, they are looking for versatility, not just offensively but also being able to defend different positions too.”
I haven’t posted much on the whole Dennis Rodman singing the praises of North Korean dictators thing, because, well … I don’t really know what to say about it. But Matt Ufford of SB Nation has a fantastic piece on the whole thing, including the background on how and why Rodman got there in the first place:
“I’m not a diplomat,” Rodman told Stephanopoulos earlier, and it’s one more thing that he’s wrong about. Rodman certainly isn’t qualified as a diplomat, but that’s exactly what he is, and the fact that he’s America’s only diplomat to North Korea is only the latest indicator of just how massively screwed up that country is.
More than a diplomat, though, Dennis Rodman is Dennis Rodman, and we can’t ask him to be Henry Kissinger any more than we can ask a jellyfish to take over the space program. By virtue of his rebounding and defense two decades ago — and by the vices he’s indulged since — Rodman made history in North Korea. That’s enough to know, and anything more from him is too much.
UPDATE: Oh, Dennis.
Unsurprisingly, no Pistons were selected to this year’s All-Star game. That means Detroit has gone four straight years with out an All-Star (and five since a deserving All-Star, because Allen Iverson made it in 2009 only because of fan vote).
Four years without an All-Star might not seem like an eternity, but for the Pistons, it’s twice as long as their previous longest drought.
Since the NBA played its first All-Star game in 1951, 54 of the 63 contests have included at least one Detroit Piston – meaning the Pistons have been shut out only nine times. They didn’t have one in 2002, 1999 or 1994. And prior to the current run, 1980 and 1981 were the Pistons’ only consecutive All-Star-less seasons.
Larry Brown walked down the aisle of the bus transporting his Pistons, looking even more solemn than usual. Hours earlier, Detroit led Game 2 of the 2004 NBA Finals by three points with 10.9 seconds remaining. Brown instructed his team to foul, but the veterans in the huddle — Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton, and Chauncey Billups — resisted his order. Brown relented, but only on the condition that should Shaquille O’Neal catch the ball, they foul him immediately. O’Neal did receive the ball on the ensuing possession, but he quickly passed to Luke Walton, who found Kobe Bryant for an acrobatic 3-pointer that sent Staples Center into a frenzy. The Lakers prevailed easily in overtime, evening the series and leaving the Pistons reeling. "We’re crushed," Brown told reporters after the game. "We had a winnable game. And everybody in that locker room’s down."
These were the Lakers, a dream team recalibrated: Bryant and O’Neal in their primes, Gary Payton and Karl Malone in the twilight of their careers, heavy favorites to win the franchise’s fourth title in five years. With the series headed back to Detroit for three games, the Pistons had just handed them a second life. Brown sauntered to the back of the bus and thought about apologizing to his team, knowing he should have been more adamant about the foul.
"I remember in Philly … " Brown started.
Ben Wallace cut him off: "This ain’t Philly."
Brown kept going, his voice rising. Chauncey Billups listened until he’d heard enough.
"Go back to the front of the bus," Billups told his coach. "We’re not coming back to L.A."
Those Pistons starters were really something. They fiercely believed in themselves – even calling the unit “Best Five Alive – and we know they were right in this situation, because, of course, the Pistons won three straight at The Palace and didn’t go back to L.A.
But that story also illustrates the stubbornness of the Pistons’ veterans that would eventually undo them when they didn’t have a coach like Brown, who had the résumé to push back at times and provide a much-needed other voice.
As cool as that story is for 2004, it’s easy to see how the mutiny under John Kuester happened a few years later.
We had a bit of discussion here last week about whether the Pistons should consider a new arena in downtown Detroit, and I reiterated my belief that, as cool as playing in the city would be, there is absolutely no justification for leaving the Palace.
NBA writer Curtis Harris, who writes for Hardwood Paroxysm, Pro Hoops History and curates the fantastic @ProHoopsHistory twitter feed, among other ventures, has a great post for Bleacher Report today, ranking all of the NBA facilities based on their historical significance. The Palace came in at No. 5 on his list:
This arena likely doesn’t immediately come to mind for historic NBA stadiums, but it truly is one of the jewels of the league. The Detroit Pistons have won three titles while in residence and Hall of Famers like Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Dennis Rodman have played in its confines, while Grant Hill, Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace brought in more exciting moments.
When your stadium can say that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Edwards battled it out at center in a Finals game, no way are you sinking below the top 5. Also, the shocking upset of the 2004 Pistons upending the favored Lakers was a treat for all to see in the Finals that year.
I’ll spare you the excerpt where Harris mentions one of the biggest recent moments in the arena (hint: it has something to do with an out-of-nowhere performance by Robert Horry in a fairly significant game). The four arenas that rank in ahead of the Palace are The Staples Center, The United Center, Oracle Arena and (obviously) Madison Square Garden.
I assume there are few strange requests made to Pistons Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman that he hasn’t heard before at this point in his life, but at an event in Chicago over the weekend where fans could play to hang out with him in a bar and watch basketball, an enterprising fan may have surprised even Rodman. Via Matt Lindner of Chicago Red Eye, a fan drove all the way from Oklahoma to have Rodman sign his arm so that he could go get a tattoo of the signature. Rodman happily obliged.
Now that certainly sounds crazy, and despite the fan’s insistence that he’s not crazy, it’s still a little bit crazy. But there’s a sentimentality behind his action that I can appreciate:
For him, this tattoo in particular carries a deeper meaning.
Glenn’s father Gary died three years ago. Watching Rodman bang the boards helped bring father and son closer together over the years. Glenn says that for as crazy as it may sound, having Dennis Rodman’s name permanently etched on his arm helps him feel even closer to his old man.
“When my dad saw Rodman play basketball at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and was drafted by the Pistons, he pointed to Rodman and said ‘son, that’s the way the game is played,’” Glenn said. “If my dad was alive, he probably would’ve gotten the same tattoo. We’re a Rodman family, we just are.”
I’m definitely not going to get Rodman’s name tattooed on me, but I definitely relate to the gesture. Part of the reason I’m so attached to Rodman is similar — he was always one of my dad’s favorite players too, and I can remember my dad saying similar things about the way Rodman played when I was younger.
Former Piston Rasheed Wallace was ejected in less than two minutes in yesterday’s game between the Knicks and Phoenix Suns. After picking up his first technical, his second T-inducing crime was shouting the familiar ‘Ball Don’t Lie!’ after a missed free throw. ‘Sheed also picked up a technical for shouting that during the Knicks-Pistons game earlier this season. As all Pistons fans know, ‘Ball Don’t Lie!’ never used to be worth of a technical in the eyes of officials. Perhaps with the return of ‘Sheed a certain non-Sheed fan who happens to be commissioner sent a memo to officials?
First Popovich, now ‘Sheed. It has been a good week for Stern sticking it to his enemies. If ‘Ball Don’t Lie!’ is indeed dead, that might be Stern’s worst atrocity as commissioner.