Yesterday, I said to my wife, "Well honey, Pistons season is over. They missed the playoffs..."
That's the kind of season it's been.
I bother her day after day with minute information about sports, every signing the Lions make and every run the Tigers score and even golf and hockey sometimes. And every day she pretends to be interested, at least for a little while. But I haven't had a single interesting thing to say about the Pistons since the season tipped off, and she forgot all about them.
Sadly, so did I.
I used to be obsessed with the Pistons. They were my favorite team, or at least tied with the Lions. I talked incessantly about Darvin Ham and Carlos Delfino and how McDyess should be starting over Rasheed. I bemoaned Corliss Williamson and Elden "Marshmellow-Head" Campbell and lamented the loss of Mehmet Okur. I deeply LOVED Chauncey Billups and his smooth, graceful game. I loved the hard-work and never-say-die attitude of undersized Ben Wallace and hated the Nets, Pacers and Cavs with a passion.
Those years seem like a hundred years ago.
This year, I focused more time and energy on my fantasy team than my real team. Led by Kevin Durant and his unlikely scoring title, as well as emergent performances by Rondo, Bogut and Gerald Wallace, I won my fantasy league by a landslide. I drafted the three best rookies - Evans, Curry, and Jennings - and had a brilliant Miles-Austin-esque moment when I picked up Andre Miller the day before he scored 51 points, and then dropped him a few days later. I was a machine. I dominated.
The Pistons, on the other hand, were dominated. By everyone. A home game against the Nets meant we had a decent chance. A road game against Memphis meant we were screwed.
What the hell happened?
Well, I'd like to blame Darko, but I think the unraveling really began when Ben Wallace took the extra money and went to Chicago. At that point, the Pistons began to lose their defensive identity, and between Rasheed's laziness and Rip's whinyness, things spiraled out of control.
The Billups-Iverson trade was the nail in the coffin, and Michael Curry was our gravedigger. Losing John Hammond to the Bucks was particularly devestating, because it soon became apparent that Hammond was actually the mastermind behind building the great '03-'06 teams, and Joe D was simply the figurehead. (Don't believe me? Look at what Hammond has done with the Bucks.) Without his right-hand man, Joe D has showed a complete ineptitude in scouting, trading, signing free agents, and hiring coaches. Kuester was even worse than Curry.
With 27 wins, the 2010 Pistons are the worst team since 1993 (Isaiah's last year), and a streak of eight straight playoff appearances comes to a faltering, sputtering, pathetic end.
What's worse, the team is in no shape to improve. We are tied down by HORRIBLE contracts to Gordon and Charlie V, and our 'building blocks' are Stuckey, Daye and Jerebko. Good luck making the playoffs with that team.
Our big men include Maxiell (who is maybe 6'5'') and Ben Wallace (probably about 6'7'') and neither of them have any offensive game whatsoever. We've also got Wilcox and Kwame and neither of them should be on an NBA roster at this point in their lives.
Most of the height on Detroit comes from Prince, Daye and Jerebko, who average maybe 150 lbs. each. Not going to get a lot of rebounds from those guys. And then there's Villanueva, probably the only player in the NBA who is lazier than Rasheed.
So problem #1, our big guys suck.
Then there's the guards. Stuckey is an okay bench player, but not an adequate replacement for Billups like we thought he might be. Not even close. Bynum is cute for a 5'9'' sparkplug but he's exactly the kind of guy who will help you win 27 games. Rip is finished; he's leaving town ASAP. And there's Ben Gordon, who's getting $50 million to come off the bench and jack up ugly 3s and have one or two good games a week while battling injuries with the toughness of an NFL kicker. And then there's Chucky Atkins, who has no business being on the floor, ever.
So problem #2, the guards suck.
Those are two pretty bad problems to have. Compound to that, we have the worst coach in the NBA, a GM who's ego has led him to believe that he can do no wrong even though he's done nothing but wrong for 5 years, a depleted and exhausted fan base, and little to no financial flexibility, not to mention the team is for sale.
And worst of all, we lack the grittiness and chemistry and toughness to grind out tough games and win against bigger and faster opponents. It's part coaching, part old-age, and part apathy. There's no desire to win like there used to be. No hustle; no defensive intensity; no pride.
To sum up the 2010 season in two words: No Heart.
Where do we go from here?
Should Kuester be fired after just one year? (Yeah)
Does Dumars deserve to be fired? (Yes)
But neither guy will lose his job, because the team is in a state of stalemate. There is no accountability, no executive decision-making. Dumars can do whatever he wants and he answers to no one. The buck stops no where.
Bill Davidson's wife clearly doesn't want to own the team anymore. There are even rumors that the team could move out of Detroit, but I highly, highly doubt it. Dumars won't lose his job, and he won't fire Kuester because he can't afford to fire another coach. At this point the coach doesn't matter; it's a talent issue. And the fans know that.
What the Pistons need is some luck in the NBA lottery. Landing the #1 or #2 pick would be great, because either John Wall or Evan Turner gives us a potential star and a point guard to build around. But the Pistons will most likely be picking in the 5-8 range, and they can't afford to whiff the pick completely on just a mediocre player.
They'll want to play it safe and get a good-character guy with dependability and a good record of health. But what they need is to also get an explosive talent and a leader to build the team around. I don't have any suggestions because I know squat about college basketball. But I know that in last year's draft, everyone wanted Rubio and Harden when the guys they should have wanted in the top 10 were Jennings and Evans. And I know that big guys are better to acquire through free agency than through the draft, because young centers are slower, less coordinated, more prone to injuries, and take longer to develop (see Griffin, Oden, Thabeet, Darko, Yao, Bogut - all #2 picks or higher who have either got hurt, sucked, or both).
So the draft is huge. We need to either pick in the top 2 or find a steal. We also need a second rounder who can actually play. The days of drafting guys just as a formality and then sending them to the D-League for a few years are over; we need impact guys. Joe D has only drafted two guys - Stuckey and Tayshaun - who have actually become significant parts of the team, in the past 10 years.
He completely wasted picks on Austin Daye, Walter Sharpe, Deron Washington, Sammy Meija, Will Blalock, Rodney White, and even Mateen Cleaves back in 2000 (14th overall, just two picks ahead of Turkoglu).
Scouts in the NBA have no idea what they're doing. Darko went ahead of Carmelo and Wade, but that's not the only example. Seven guards got picked ahead of Rajon Rondo in 2006, and only 1 is still in the league. Paul Milsap fell to 47th in that draft and he should have been picked in the top 5.
Have you ever heard of Nikoloz Tskitishvilli, Marcus Fizer, or Shaun Livingston? All are top 5 picks from the last 6 drafts. Oden was picked #1 instead of Durant; Bargani went #1 and Adam Morrison went #3 while Brandon Roy waited; Marvin Williams went ahead of Deron Williams, and Chris Paul; Fran Vazquez and Yaroslav Korolev were picked ahead of Danny Granger.
They combined for less than 50 points in their illustrious NBA careers, while Granger has scored just about 6,500.
This is all from recent drafts, not ancient history. Joe Dumars isn't the only one who screws up picks, in his defense, but there are certain teams who consistently make great picks, even in the second round.
Utah. Houston. Cleveland.
The point of this long diatribe is that Joe D needs to learn to pick guys to rebuild around, rather than thinking he already has the pieces to build with. Because he doesn't.
And the sooner he learns that, the better we'll all be.
For now, I don't want to give any more thought to the stupid Pistons and have just one more thought: their .329 winning percentage this year means all the Lions have to do is win 5 games this year and they'll no longer be the worst team in Detroit.
At least some good came from this ...