Detroit Pistons: An Unwelcome New Era

Harrison MooreAnalyst IIFebruary 27, 2009

It’s no secret that dominance isn’t meant to last forever, but if you remove the San Antonio Spurs from the picture, season in and season out Detroit is easily the most solid, consistent team in the NBA.

Or at least they were until the 2008-09 season.

It’s not secret why the Pistons aren’t pushing for one of the top seeds along with Boston, Cleveland, and Orlando: They panicked.

This year, Detroit may or may not even make the playoffs, but regardless you can pretty much call it. Their commendable six straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances will come to an end.

Trading Chauncey Billups, the leader of their team and the catalyst for their offense for the more offensively talented Allen Iverson, seemed like a good idea at the time.

However, particularly for a team of this setup, offensive talent comes a distant second to ability to run (with) a team.

Iverson just looks out of place playing for a team that has been known to take games over with their defense first and offense second. Now, it seems the Pistons themselves are searching for their identity. Sure, they have two or three true scorers on their roster, but they aren’t an offensive team, and as of late their offense is what they’ve been relying on.

Detroit still hustles on defense and can maintain solid defensive play for a game or two, but their intensity is gone and, as a result, their transition offense doesn’t compare to what it was even a year ago.

In short, the Allen Iverson trade was a bad idea. That isn’t breaking news, but hindsight is always 20-20.

Management will soon need to make a decision. Will they scrap what’s left of their once-dominant team entirely and begin anew, or make the most of it and throw up one more shot at a championship title next season? 

Detroit needs to be certain that they cannot be content with getting their toes wet this off-season. Either they stand firm in exactly the same spot, or they jump in with both feet and give this team a make-over of “Nip Tuck” proportions.

They can’t do both.

On the bright side, if anyone has the bargaining pieces to make these drastic moves, it’s Detroit. Allen Iverson may not command the market value he once had, but there are plenty of teams that are one more dynamic scorer away from at least Eastern Conference Finals contention (*cough* Miami).

And didn’t a certain Western Conference contender show interest in Rasheed? Oh yeah, don’t look now, but it’s the team that stopped Detroit from becoming the first champion to defend its title since Los Angeles all the way back in '05.

Hi, San Antonio!

Why not trade Rasheed to a team that has been known to contend with a corps of veterans as their nucleus and get the offensively potent Roger Mason and a fairly decent draft pick in return? That wouldn’t be a bad first step.

Now before you go off on a tangent about how Detroit’s “too many guards” dilemma has been one of their biggest causes for concern, realize this: If they’re going to rebuild this team, Iverson has to go. He just hasn’t fit into their system, and it just wouldn’t make sense to wait until his value decreases to at least try trade him for someone that does.

On the other hand, we’re still left with Detroit’s alternative: going forward with this squad. Remember this unit isn’t completely without potential. The Los Angeles Lakers opened up this season with flashy 7-0 start and were beating their opponents by an average of 20 points.

Detroit not only managed to end L.A.’s undefeated streak, but did so in dominating fashion.

Only an inconsequential Laker run at the end of the fourth quarter prevented the Pistons from winning by nearly 20 themselves.

Sure, it was one game. But I guarantee you that one game showed management the kind of team they had in mind after the Iverson/Billups trade.

Detroit can do a lot of things. They can defy the analysts and experts and at least try to give this unit another shot at a title run.

After all, Detroit was a team that benefited mainly from its chemistry. They were devoid of any one star, but they were in essence a full house, and that kind of chemistry isn’t developed overnight.

Each player had been trained to compliment the others. They were almost reminiscent of the “300” Spartan shield formation, each building upon and backing up the other, forming a nearly impenetrable force. They played tightly on the defensive end and played within themselves offensively.

They had also consistently been one of the best transition teams in the game and, think about it, what great fast breaking/transition team either doesn’t have a concrete leader or hasn’t been running with a lot of the same players for at least a couple of years?

Whatever decision Detroit decides to run with will be scrutinized and second-guessed and cross-examined again. There is no one plan that’s going to encompass both the potential of this unit and capitalize on their opportunity to rebuild.

Keep in mind that even if they decide to hold this unit together another season, one year can mean a world of difference in the trade market, particularly with aging players. One bad break injury-wise or a stretch of underperforming can easily cut a player’s value in less than half.

This season isn’t over yet, and if basketball has taught us anything, it’s that a team can get red hot in an instant. But when this season is over, and the Pistons likely find themselves on the outside looking in, it’ll be decision time.

Whatever they decide at that point will determine whether the Pistons can once again become contenders, or whether their sudden descent into mediocrity is a sign of things to come.