Monday, April 27, 2009

Pistons' wasted season comes to an ugly conclusion


If you're a Pistons fan and you thought the end of the past four seasons since the 2004 championship were frustrating, you were spoiled.


Because the end of this Pistons campaign had to be the epitome of frustrating for anyone associated with the franchise. Detroit had it string of six straight Eastern Conference finals appearances snapped in ugly fashion, getting swept by the Cavaliers in a completely one-sided series.

All the games were decided by double figures. None of them, really, were ever in doubt. Even when the Pistons were in a game, it was usually because likely NBA MVP LeBron James was on Cleveland's bench getting a nice, long rest before coming back in to finish the job.

Detroit was the first team eliminated from the playoffs, which technically makes sense. After all, it had the worst regular-season record of the 16 teams and was playing against the team with the league's best mark.

If anything, the nine-day series -- which probably could have taken place in about six days and saved everyone a few wasted ones -- proved that as long as the 82-game regular season is, it shouldn't be taken for granted.

Throughout the season, we kept hearing the Pistons say that they didn't think they were far from becoming a good team, from developing a strong chemistry. I guess talk is cheap (I think I've heard that before).

What actually happened -- what actually matters -- is that the group of players led by rookie coach Michael Curry and second-year point guard Rodney Stuckey, who is more of a hybrid, never clicked. Never. Sure, there were a couple minor winning streaks, but no groove was ever found.

And that's what is needed to be a good playoff team. That's what is needed in playoff games, when things aren't necessarily going well, to turn momentum in your favor.

These Pistons never found that.

That's what has to be frustrating to everybody associated with the team.

And they underachived, plain and simple.

It's easy to point to the trade of Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson as the main reason the Pistons fell apart, and that certainly hurt the team -- especially considering Iverson never fit in the rotation and then was lost for the season to a purported back injury.

But even sans Billups, this team should have been better than the eighth seed in the East. This team should have been a middle seed that at least got close to making the second round.

Consider the players on the Pistons who were a part of many, if not all, of those conference finals runs -- Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Antonio McDyess in the starting lineup.

Those four, plus Stuckey and an improved bench, should have been enough for the Pistons.

But Curry struggled mightily to develop the team sans Billups, and the veterans simply didn't play up to their capabilities.

Hamilton had a hot streak after Iverson went out, but he didn't maintain it down the stretch. And Wallace and Prince simply often didn't show up to do what they were supposed to.

Curry deserves a lot of blame, but the Pistons veterans should have known what they had to do to make the team successful. Heck, they're almost as old as Curry.

What it boils down to is a lost season, a season that needs to be forgotten by the organization as quickly as possible and moved on from.

And now, really, it is clear that changes are needed.

That was the rhetoric after each of the last couple years ended in the conference finals, and that talk probably helped fuel the Billups-Iverson deal. And look how that worked out.

This season proved that when you have something pretty good -- not perfect, but very solid -- you need to really think before breaking off a big piece of it.

Now Joe Dumars needs to break off some more pieces -- mainly Wallace and Iverson -- and try to build up a consistent winner again. It's almost akin to the job he originally inherited.

Is Prince unmovable? I wouldn't think so. What about Stuckey? Can he run the point for an NBA championship team? That's another question to consider.

A long, busy offseason looms for Dumars and his aides.

And it must be welcoming, considering the way this lost season went.

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