It very common these days to hear that you need a superstar to win in the NBA. In 2004, the Detroit Pistons went against the grain and won without a superstar. Everyone believed that it was chemistry that was the catalyst for their improbable championship run.
Chemistry was also the supposed reason that they had such a great run through the early 2000s. You could practically pencil them into the Eastern Conference Finals each year since 2003 before the season began.
This year the Pistons made a move towards reloading, utilizing some of the current roster while making room to add some expensive free agents in the offseason.
To do this they essentially moved All-Star Point Guard Chauncey "Mr. Big Shot" Billups and his long term contract to Denver in exchange for perennial All-Star Allen Iverson and his contract that expires at the end of the year.
This meant that at the end of the 2008-09 season, the Pistons would have Iverson, Sheed, and now Billups off the books.
The move added a prolific scorer to the roster that many people felt Detroit lacked. It was believed by many that offense would improve and the Pistons could be competitive in the Eastern Conference this year. Instead, the opposite has happened.
Most would say that the lack of chemistry is a problem. Others feel that the rookie head coach, Michael Curry, is to blame. But is either really the problem?
What did Detroit give up when they moved Billups to Denver?
Denver, with its acquisition of Billups, has had the best season on record in Nuggets' history so far. They are sitting in fourth place in the Conference standings and show no signs of fading.
You can't point to chemistry, they have only been together a few months. The coaching staff hasn't changed. They actually sent away a player, in Iverson, which has out produced Billups for much of his career. Somehow, however, they have improved, dramatically.
So, what is the big difference between Billups and Iverson?
It's one word. Leadership.
Chauncey brought leadership to the game which is the one thing that Detroit now lacks and Denver used to be without.
Detroit looks sporadic on the floor—they go in spurts and play at the tempo of the other team. They are relying on Rodney Stuckey, who is a very talented young player, to control the game. He is simply not able to do that yet.
The Pistons, despite any move or trade that they may make in the coming days, will not get past mediocrity until they replace the leader that they lost.
In order for the Boston Celtics to have succeeded last year, they needed Kevin Garnett to be the leader of the team. Even with all of the other talent, they would not have won. It was Garnett who showed guys like Paul Pierce and Ray Allen that defense was what would win.
If you look at many superstars that have not won, particularly in the postseason, it's because they are not the leaders of their team. They may have all the physical tools and the numbers to match, but a leader does more than score baskets. A leader causes the players around them to elevate their game.
A leader can be a superstar—Michael Jordan being the ultimate example, but it can also be a Billups, who didn't become an All-Star until after the championship season in 2004.
A look back into recent Detroit Pistons' history reveals this simple truth as well. When the Pistons made their back-to-back championship run in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Isiah Thomas was the leader on the floor.
After that era, Grant Hill became the new leader for the Pistons. Grant, however, was not the leader Detroit needed.
Grant was amazing at elevating his own play and was a great talent. However, he did not get the players around him to elevate their game, and thus they never could become more than mediocre.
Players like Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter fall into this category as well. They are talented and make plays. They can elevate their games when needed.
The truth is that unless they have a leader on their team, someone who can get the team working together, playing harder, and can control the game for them, they will never make it through the playoffs.
With all the rumors about trades and all the interest in a big offseason free agent signing coming to Detroit, remember this: Detroit needs a leader, someone who can command respect and raise the level of play from his teammates.
It's not Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess, Iverson, or Rasheed Wallace. The player is not on the roster right now.
Perhaps Stuckey can develop into that player, Chauncey had to develop into the leader, but it's more likely the Pistons will have to go find that guy.
If Joe Dumars does not, then there will be more years like this year in Detroit.