Tonight, the Detroit Pistons season comes to a merciful end.
This season has been a train wreck. That much is clear.
But this is not about this season. For most fans, this season was basically over before it began. Starting with the weak address by Ben Wallace to an ambivalent Palace crowd back in the fall, Pistons fans knew what this season would bring.
Not even the most optimistic fans had any illusions about this year. The only hope was that the young guys would improve and the team would do their best to compete.
Well, even those meager expectations were thwarted, and the team that stands at the end of the season is busted and beaten with nothing to show for the year except another birthday and a hefty paycheck.
The only good thing to come from this year was the development of rookie Greg Monroe. Everything else was a mess.
But again, this is not about this season. This is about next season and beyond. This is about how to bring back a beaten franchise. This is how we rebuild our Detroit Pistons.
There have been rumblings that new team owner Tom Gores is planning on sticking with team president Joe Dumars.
All season, Dumars has seen most of his supporters question his decisions and eventually jump ship. The Dumars fan club is a lonely bunch these days and with good reason.
For months, I have been talking about how the Dumars administration should be broken into two semesters: the first five years, and the last five years.
In the first five years, he built a champ out of nowhere by striking gold in free agency, cultivating studs through trades and mining character guys out of the late picks in the draft. Sure, he blew his lottery picks, but we didn't need them with the winner he put on the court.
In the last five years, he has made terrible trades, drafted some disappointing players and has signed questionable, at best, free agents.
Whether or not you believe Dumars should return depends on how much you weigh each of these semesters and which of those terms is more representative of Dumars.
Personally, I think Detroit would be better off cutting bait and moving on with a new general manager. Kevin Pritchard built a very good young team in Portland and should garner some serious attention this off season. Steve Kerr is another good, young general manager that should find a new gig this year.
But I can also see why Gores would give Dumars another chance, and I am not dead set against it. If he meets with Dumars and he buys his vision for the future, that's fine by me.
Regardless, a decision needs to be made immediately following the season. Gores needs to send a message to the fans that this team has a vision for the future and a plan to get there.
Fans have known all season that Dumars has had his hands tied. That's fine. Now we need to untie him and let the man do his job, if that's the direction Gores decides to head in.
John Kuester, by all accounts, is a good guy. He also is a smart guy with a high basketball acumen. But he is not a head coach.
He was overmatched from his start in Detroit, and his behavior and decisions became more bizarre as the season wore on and the losses piled up.
A lot of it was not his fault. He inherited a team that was not built to succeed. They were composed of too many perimeter players, too few big men and too many perceived sacred cows. Sure, the veteran players were for the most part winners, but they also were no longer sure of how to win, or perhaps, they no longer had what it took to win.
Either way, the players never bought into Kuester's system, and he never gained their trust or respect.
Sure, the players need to accept much of the blame, but at the end of the day, Kuester failed to achieve any of his objectives and he needs to go.
Prospective coaches are cut from either one of two types of cloth. Either they are veteran coaches that have been fired and are now making a living as television analysts, or they are assistant coaches that are looking for their first big shot.
There are advantages and disadvantages for both groups. Detroit has had coaches from both camps since they sent Larry Brown packing in 2005. Flip Saunders was a retread and did fairly well. Michael Curry and Kuester were first-time head coaches that failed miserably.
This would point to Detroit going with a retread, right? Not quite.
The potential veteran coaches that are out there are an underwhelming bunch. Jeff Van Gundy will be available, but he likely will be too expensive and has not coached in quite a while. Jerry Sloan is unemployed, but he is likely retired for good. There could still be a big name coach that gets fired, but Detroit is no longer a desired location.
Besides, none of those coaches induces any excitement.
And when we look at the hot shot assistant coaches out there, only one name brings excitement to Detroit fans: William Laimbeer Jr.
Laimbeer has a very thin coaching resume, but it is impressive.
In the WNBA, he won it all on three occasions.
Now he is an assistant coach with Minnesota, and while they haven't won very often, he has had a profound effect on their stud big man Kevin Love. Love is a slightly more athletic version of Laimbeer, and he is telling anyone that will listen that Bill has helped him in a multitude of ways.
Critics will yap about how the WNBA is no NBA, and he needs more seasoning as an assistant. They will point to Curry and say that Laimbeer is destined for a similar fate.
First, Curry had a disastrous run as Pistons coach, but he also was in a terrible situation.
Team president Joe Dumars dealt Chauncey Billups and brought in the volatile and declining Allen Iverson who was cancerous to team chemistry. Add to that Rasheed Wallace's antics and an old roster, and you get the picture.
Second, Curry is no Laimbeer. Laimbeer is a champion.
Sure, Curry was a very professional former player and a man to be respected, but he was a bench player that got by on hustle.
Laimbeer was a four-time All Star, a rebounding champion and above all, a two-time champion. He knew how to win, and he knows how to coach a winner.
Third, Laimbeer is tougher than Curry.
Today's players may be too young to remember Laimbeer as a player, but they all know the name. The all have heard the stories about the fights with Charles Barkley, the shoving matches with Larry Bird and the hard fouls on Michael Jordan. He also is huge, with a booming baritone voice and arms the size of tree trunks. A player may want to sock him in the mouth, but they might doubt whether or not they would win the fight.
The bottom line is that naming Laimbeer head coach sends a message to everyone from the fans to the players that Detroit is going back to their old ways.
In a lot of ways, this would be the most significant message of recommitment by management since they ditched the teal jerseys and brought back the old red, white and blue.
The following message needs to be sent to Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace:
Thank you so much for your years of service. Your contributions have been amazing and you were a major part of arguably the greatest decade of Detroit Pistons history. You won it all, and your toughness and verve served as an inspiration to the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan.
But we have decided to move in another direction, and your services will no longer be needed. You are always welcome at the Palace of Auburn Hills and we look forward to hanging all of your jerseys in the rafters some day. There are no hard feelings, only good memories.
All is forgiven.
Tom Gores as dictated to Joe Dumars
Prince is a free agent, so he is easy to part with. Wallace is thinking about retirement and could be bought out for peanuts and brought back as a coach.
Hamilton will be a little trickier. He still has a hefty contract, but he is eager to move on. If Dumars can deal him for anything (I mean anything...I would seriously take two chicken wings and a biscuit for him), he should do it. More likely, however, Detroit will have to buy him out. Sure, Hamilton rejected a buyout last year, but that was because it would have sent him to the woeful Cleveland Cavaliers.
If we buy him out with no caveats and allow him to be a free agent, I'm sure he will acquiesce.
It is time to turn the page on the past and move on.
In addition to Hamilton, Prince and Wallace, there are a lot of players that need to be let go.
Tracy McGrady, Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye need to go. The first three are team killers whose behavior can not be excused, and the last may have been too corrupted to save.
McGrady is a free agent and will be easy to cut ties with. Stuckey is a restricted free agent, but the only way the Pistons should match his prospective new suitor would be to deal him, which would be a curious move.
Daye has a few years left on his rookie deal, but he has potential and is young, so he should be easy to deal.
Villanueva is a bit trickier. He has two more guaranteed years, at an average of $7.7 million per season, left on his deal with a player option for $8.5 million in 2013-14.
This is a big deal, but not unmovable. He still is young, big and can shoot. Sure, he can't play defense or play consistently in the post and he is a subpar rebounder for his size (actually, he is a subpar defender for a guy a half-foot shorter, but I digress).
There are plenty of teams that want to get rid of players on their roster with similar deals. For example, the Clippers probably wouldn't mind getting rid of Mo Williams and allow Eric Bledsoe run the show. Perhaps Dallas may want to get rid of Shawn Marion or maybe Atlanta might want to give up on Marvin Williams.
Each of those deals are bad, but they would return players with better attitudes than Villanueva, and more importantly, they would bring back players that play positions that are of need to Detroit.
That would leave Greg Monroe, Jonas Jerebko, Ben Gordon, Terrico White, Jason Maxiell and Will Bynum. Detroit can then resign DaJuan Summers and Chris Wilcox.
Sure, this is not a great team, but it is a team with roster flexibility and high-character players. Most importantly, it purges the sacred cows and it deals the players that were part of the mutiny in Philadelphia.
The Pistons will have a good pick this year. Based on their record and their odds in the draft lottery, they likely will have a pick between seven and 10.
Based on the players that have declared, the best fit for the Pistons would be Connecticut's Kemba Walker.
Walker is a winner, he is tough and he is a leader. He is the type of player that Pistons fans can respect and root for, and he plays a position of need for the Pistons.
A back court of Walker and Ben Gordon would be very small and a defensive liability, but it would be a tough matchup for opponents on the offensive end and would provide instant firepower.
This is a weak draft in a lot of ways. Players that would help Detroit like Derrick Williams and Kyrie Irving will be off the board by the time the Pistons draft, and Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones might not be a good fit. Detroit could roll the dice on a Euro import, but given the Darko Milicic debacle, Dumars will probably be apprehensive to take that type of risk.
Walker's biggest contribution to Detroit will be his character, and he will be a nice preliminary piece for a future winner.
Detroit will likely have plenty of holes to fill through free agency.
If they follow my initial plan, their starting lineup heading into the summer will be Kemba Walker, Ben Gordon, Jonas Jerebko, Shawn Marion and Greg Monroe.
This is not exactly an awe-inspiring group. Walker and Gordon have the potential to provide serious firepower and Monroe is an up-and-coming big man. Marion, however, is probably better suited coming off the bench and Jerebko may also be a sixth man at heart.
This is why Detroit needs to be very aggressive with free agency and target character guys that above all else can play serious defense.
Tyson Chandler should be the first player targeted. With Monroe, you have a future stud post player on offense and a good rebounder and passer. What you don't have is a shot blocker that can play serious minutes against a top-notch offensive big man.
Chandler provides defense, shot blocking, rebounding and is a high-character player. He would be a non-factor on offense but would be active on the offensive boards. This would allow Monroe to concentrate on what he is good at.
The rest of the free agent crop is meager, but there are some gems: Nick Young (Washington), Andrei Kirilenko (Utah), Leandro Barbosa (Toronto), Samuel Dalembert (Sacramento), Thaddeus Young (Philadelphia), Earl Clark (Orlando), Carl Landry (New Orleans), Kris Humphries (New Jersey), Zach Randolph (Memphis), Shannon Brown (Lakers), T.J. Ford (Indiana), Chuck Hayes (Houston), J.R. Smith (Denver) and Arron Afflalo (Denver).
Some of those players are restricted, but most are unrestricted.
A few names jump out at me. If you strike out on Chandler, you can take a serious run at Randolph. He has already stated that he would be open to playing in Detroit (he played in nearby East Lansing in college and has midwest roots) and would immediately improve the Pistons. He is arguably the best offensive rebounder in the game today and can score at will in the post.
His character has been a question mark in the past, but he has gained rave reviews in the past few years in Memphis. Paired with Monroe, Detroit would have a great rebounding squad and two proven low-post scorers. They wouldn't, however, have a shot blocker.
The next position they will need to address is the small forward spot. Detroit needs athletic swing men, making Brown, both Youngs and Kirilenko all strong options. The Youngs and Brown are restricted free agents, but are not unattainable.
Also keep an eye on Smith and Afflalo in Denver. Dumars loves Afflalo and Smith would provide scary athleticism and shooting touch.
If Detroit can land a few of these guys, they would immediately turn into a dark horse playoff contender. More importantly, they would be a fun team to watch, and a team composed of players that fans can support.
Times have been tough on Detroit residents, as well as people all over the state of Michigan. Everyone knows of at least someone that is in trouble financially, as well as scores of people with homes in foreclosure.
It is a tough sell to get people to shell out cash for seats at the Palace.
This is why the Pistons need to get very creative to make the Palace a home-court advantage again.
The first steps have been outlined, and they will bring some excitement. But Laimbeer and the boys will need a packed house in order to make their presence truly felt.
The Palace needs to run some aggressive ad campaigns, and more importantly, some serious promotions. Heck, take a page from Jackie Moon in Semi-Pro and have Dumars wrestle a bear.
But all joking aside, they need to be more aggressive. There needs to be new fan sections composed of winners of "rowdy fan" sweepstakes that have their seats paid for. Head to Eastern Michigan, Detroit Mercy and other local colleges and give away tickets. College kids are cheap but more importantly they are loud.
Return the Palace to it's rightful place as the crown jewel of the NBA. Trust me, it will be an investment that will pay dividends.