As we Pistons fans endure our first truly fruitless season since the 2000-2001 campaign, we find ourselves in a position we haven't been in for some time: Rooting for another team.
Oh, we've always done it to some extent, mostly with Western Conference teams during the regular season, tuning in to watch the Suns run and gun or the Rockets get their plucky on, but those teams are like the waitress whose tank top shrank in the wash.
We may admire a particular asset or two, but at the end of the day/season, we happily go home to the old lady, because she's had our hearts too long for anyone else to make a dent.
But now, as we approach the evening of "the lost season," we face a playoffs without our team. Come playoff time, we're on the prowl. Now, I'm not saying we love this new team, but I think any fan would agree that playoff basketball is more enjoyable when you have a rooting interest.
So, who to root for? How do I put it?
Married White Male seeks attractive younger team to devote time and interest to, but not heart (it belongs to another). Would like success to come from chemistry, coaching, and a nice balance of shrewd trades, savvy drafting, and the occasional free-agency role-player. Would ask that franchise player not be a jerk, egomaniac, or accused criminal.
Turn-offs include signing desperate veterans, overblown payrolls, and no more than five championships in the last thirty years. Would like a shot at the title, though reaching the conference finals is a must. Current or former homes of Stephen Jackson and Ron Artest need not apply.
Obviously, that means the Bobcats and Lakers are out. The Celtics, Mavericks, and and Magic have either bought their success, and there's a hundred reasons why we won't root for the Cavs. Of the so-called "contenders," that leaves the Hawks, Nuggets, and Jazz for us lonely Pistonians to give our passing interest to.
Even if they were contenders, I think that after the Cleveland-screw job and constant trade-demands, Carlos Boozer means the Jazz remain in casual fan-hood purgatory until he resigns with the Jazz for the mid-level exception. Or with the Pistons. Or they remove the baby blue from their uniforms. Whatever, it's not going to happen, and I can't root for a team whose success depends on a Dukie. See how college ruins sports?
The Hawks. Why can't I get enthusiastic about the Hawks? Is it all the times I've been stuck in Hartsfield-Jackson airport? The knowledge that Johnson is gone after this year?
The fact that I have so many of them on my underachieving fantasy team?
Maybe all of those, but I think as a rule of thumb, when you're being unfaithful to your team, it's better not to do it with one of the neighbors. Which means as long as there is a Western Conference team still available to support, the Hawks are out.
Which brings me to the Nuggets. A hardworking bunch of bruisers with a slim(ish) payroll, likable star, and, hey! Who's that? Why, it's the most productive member of the Piston's championship core, the guy we traded for the cap space to create a logjam at Guard, and a PF we can't figure out how to play!
Seeing Chauncey Billups in anything but a Pistons uniform still gouges us, but I have to say, he looks happy. He's like that really great ex that you dumped for that hot girl, but then you see your ex with a really super dude, and you say "Wow, she looks happy. That's really great," and then you say, "Man, I was an a-hole to dump her, wasn't I?"
And yes, it hurts, because the new guy she's with is that guy who was gonna be your best friend forever, but you blew him off to hang out with Darko Milicic, but still, you think to yourself, you could root for that. For now, for a month, until my true love returns to me.
Except they fall short in that one, most important criteria. They'll never beat the Lakers, because plucky groups of bruisers only beat the superteams in fairy tales, movies, and our slowly fading memories of 2004.