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From Elite to Basement In Five Months: The Story Of The Detroit Pistons

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From Elite to Basement In Five Months: The Story Of The Detroit Pistons
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

June 3rd 2008.

The Detroit Pistons had done something had had not been done in over 20 years when they reached their 6th consecutive Eastern Conference Final. Although they only hoisted the Larry O'Brien trophy one time, in 2004 under Larry Brown, they were a perennial threat to make deep runs in the playoffs but when Flip Saunders was hired as the team's coach in 2006, he gave the Pistons more freedom offensively while maintaining their defensive intensity.

Or so we thought.

In his three season with Detroit Saunders was 176-70 in the regular season, and 30-21 in the playoffs, losing in the Conference finals each of his three years in Detroit. His first season there, the Pistons were the dominant team in the NBA winning 64 games, but were knocked off in 6 games by the Miami Heat, who went on to win the championship that season. When the Pistons blew a ten point lead in game 6 of the 2008 Conference Finals against the Celtics to lose the series, Dumars had seen enough.

Dumars said the last 10 minutes of game 6 were "a microcosm of the last three seasons." When he was leaving the Palace that night he said he "felt a sense of calm. I've seen enough." Dumars added that "this team became way to content and did not show up with a sense of urgency to get it done. After that game Dumars promised major changes would be made in the offseason saying that "everybody is in play. There are no sacred crows here." Many of us thought that he was talking about moving Rasheed Wallace for another big man.

The changes he decided to make would change everything that the Pistons had stood for the last six seasons.

Juts four days removed from their 3rd consecutive loss in the Conference Finals, Dumars decided to fire coach Flip Saunders. "Decisions like this are difficult to make. However, at this time, I feel it is necessary to make a change." Flip would be replaced by assistant coach Michael Curry who had been in Detroit for a few years and seemed like a suitable replacement.

The 2008-09 regular season started without a problem for the Pistons, and even though they made a coaching change, they did not seem to miss a beat and they got off to a 4-0 start. On November 4th, 2008, Dumars shocked Pistons fans everywhere and many of the NBA fans and players when he decided not to trade Rasheed Wallace, but the cornerstone of that team in Point Guard Chauncey Billups. Not only did he trade half of arguably the best backcourt in the NBA, he got rid of the Pistons team leader and send Billups along with Antonio McDyess and Cheikh Samb to the Denver Nuggets, for Allen Iverson.

Iverson? Really?

The guy who complains about having to go to practice. The guy who is always about getting his points before anybody else's and has always been an individual first, and team second. The Pistons were the example of what playing like a team truly meant, and now Dumars traded an elite Point Guard, for a guy who is more interested in scoring 30PPG. The Pistons never needed a 30PPG scorer because they played as one cohesive unit, and had a balanced attack with lockdown defense.

Little did we know how big of a blunder Dumars had really made.

Turns out that McDyess would end up rejoining the Pistons because he was placed on waivers by Denver and since nobody picked him up within 30 days, he could rejoin the Pistons if he chose to, and that was his decision. After the deal was official Dumars said "We just felt it was the right time to change our team. Iverson gives us a dimension that we haven't had here and we really think it's going to help us."

Joe, I have to ask who "we" is. It certainly wasn't the 20,000 fans that sell out the Palace every night to watch the championship contending Pistons. It certainly wasn't the players or coaches on the staff. Nobody would have blamed you if you decided not to trade anybody and keep the team intact and make another run at it. But you traded the wrong guy this time, and lately you've been making more mistakes than brilliant decisions.

Your reasoning for making the deal was "In this league, six or seven years is an eternity to have a core together. So when a situation like this presents itself where you can cover yourself on both sides -- the immediate impact player and the long term flexibility -- you have to push the button.

Joe, you meant to push the take off button, but slipped and slammed the eject button.

You abandoned a team that had perennially won 50 games for five or six years in a row, and I'm sure you did not believe that the result would be this bad, but producing this kind of quality basketball for a city used to being an elite team, not only in the East but the NBA, is unacceptable.

The Pistons lost their leader, their role player, Mr. Big Shot all because Dumars promised change. In February of 2009 the Pistons set two milestones that no team looks forward to, especially one of their stature in the league. For the first time since their championship season in 2004, they had a losing month, and for the first time in 14 seasons they had a losing streak that reached eight games.

Iverson was in and out of the lineup, Curry had no continuity between the starters because he always switched between Stuckey and Iverson at PG, and even went through a stretch where Richard Hamilton came off the bench so Curry could play Iverson and Stuckey together. Hamilton went to the bench and kept quiet because he was willing to do whatever the team felt would make them better. Curry tried this new lineup for 16 games, the Pistons went 4-12, then Curry decided to put Rip back where he had been for so many years, and he played like a man that had something to prove.

The Pistons never got in a rhythm as a team, and they finished four games under .500 at 39-43, it was the first time they finished the season with a losing record since they went 32-50 during the 2000-01 season. They are the only team in the playoffs this season to have a losing record, and as a reward for their lackluster effort they got matched up with the NBA leading Cleveland Cavaliers, to which they are already facing an 0-2 deficit.

This season is already written in the books as one of the worst in recent memory for the Pistons and it was all because of the removal of one player and one coach. If any GM's still remember that trade, which they all do, they should make a billboard of it in their office and write in big red marker....

Don't let that happen to our team.

 

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