The writhing, half-dead zombie that was the Detroit Pistons 2009-2010 season mercifully was put out of its misery on Wednesday night. It ended like it began, with a victory. This part Pistons fans were used to seeing.
In between those wins, however, was a new low in recent Pistons memory.
Many Detroit fans can remember similar lean years in this team's past.
The end of the Grant Hill era brought a bitter pill to swallow, however, it was a relatively quick turnaround due to the brilliance of team president Joe Dumars.
Similarly, the end of the Bad Boys era brought a devastating level of pain to Detroit, but the basketball gods rewarded the fans with the third overall pick and a certain Duke star.
Some fans go back even further, and can still remember the basketball wilderness years in the 60s and 70s before a certain Isiah Lord Thomas III threw on the Pistons red, white, and blue.
Some could argue that even during the recent stretch of winning seasons there was some level of disappointment associated with this team in the fact that they only won one title despite having arguably the most complete team.
However disappointing it was to lose in the conference finals to teams that many fans viewed as inferior, most would agree that they would gladly take those years over this one in Detroit.
This season has been a whole new kind of disappointment for the Pistons.
This was a team that was supposed to compete but didn't.
This was a team that was supposed to be durable but wasn't.
This was a team that was supposed to get better but couldn't.
This was a bad team, something Detroit fans will never accept.
The sports gods can have the Lions as our penance; the Pistons are supposed to be one of our "yeah, but" teams (as in the response to "the Lions are lousy").
What makes this season so utterly hard to swallow was the fact that many of us thought that in a very weak conference, the playoffs should have been a foregone conclusion.
But the basketball sometimes bounces strangely, and this season saw some teams that probably should have been better take a step back, and some teams that probably should have been further away take a giant step forward.
This Pistons obviously were in the former group. Here's a quick look at what went right and what went wrong.
The spaghetti-western theme aside, we will start here because it is the shortest.
The Pistons drafted fairly well last year, and their rookies showed some real promise in their first year.
Jonas Jerebko was another in a line of excellent second round finds by Dumars and his scouts. He was a revelation, and endeared himself to Pistons fans with his hustle, determination, and smart play. To many, Jerebko appears to be a poor man's David Lee. It is not outside the realm of possibilities to assume that 14-16 points and 10 rebounds per game could be within his capabilities, which bodes well for a very small Pistons team.
Austin Daye did not receive as much fanfare as his fellow rookie Jerebko, but very few expected him to contribute right away. He needs to bulk up a bit, but he did show a strong basketball mind and an impressive shooting touch on occasion. The future could be bright for the former Gonzaga star, but he will definitely have to work hard on his game and his body.
DeJuan Summers saw spot duty for most of the season, but he played with a high motor and showed a willingness to mix it up. At the very least, he will be a strong backup swingman.
Ben Wallace showed that the fountain of youth appears to be in strength and conditioning coach Arnie Kander's office as he turned back the clocks and turned in one heck of a performance. Retirement speculation continues to fly, but I think he will probably return next year.
Rodney Stuckey continued to inch his way forward, turning in a very strong first half performance before a scare in Cleveland led to an uneven second half of the season. However, he does not appear to be the point guard of the future for this team. Therefore, he needs to develop his perimeter shot in order to become a solid combo guard.
Personally, I think that Dumars will probably shop his young guard in an effort to bring in some front court size.
Speaking of the front court, Jason Maxiell finally started getting some meaningful playing time this season, and responded with some solid numbers.
However, nobody believes that Maxiell at center is a recipe for victories. More than likely, he will return to the bench next season but he has earned the respect of his coaching staff.
Lastly, first year coach John Kuester showed some potential as well. While the first half of the season he appeared to be the second coming of Flip Saunders due to his laid back style (not to mention his lack of accountability), he closed out the season by finally holding players accountable for their lack of effort, and probably won some much needed respect in the locker room.
Sure it was an uneven performance, but he finished strong and his team never quit on him despite the record. That is a testament to the coach, as well as the professionalism of most of his players.
Rip Hamilton had the most miserable season of his career. He still got his points (18 ppg), but his shooting percentage was terrible (40 percent) and his three point shooting was atrocious (less than 30 percent).
Sure the injury bug bit him hard, but he struggled to co-exist with Ben Gordon and he also had difficulty playing alongside Stuckey.
Look for Hamilton to bounce back, but it might not be in a Pistons jersey.
Aside from a late season revival, Tayshaun Prince struggled mightily this season. For the first time in his career he spent time on the injury report, ending his impressive games played streak.
At the end of the year Prince showed some real scoring zeal, but it would be shocking if he finished next season with Detroit due to his expiring contract.
Where to begin?
The free agent signings of Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon, odd as they seemed at the time, were an unmitigated disaster.
Gordon struggled early and often with his shot, and battled injuries throughout the year. He was unable to play with Hamilton due to the fact that they are essentially the same type of player, and he also found it hard to play alongside Stuckey.
The only time he appeared to play well was when he was paired with Will Bynum, a luxury he will probably not have moving forward.
Most people agree that Gordon's season was a fluke and he should bounce back.
But Villanueva is a different story entirely. Charlie will never be given the nickname "hustle" around Detroit.
From day one he appeared to take on too much of former Piston Rasheed Wallace's game, preferring to camp out on the perimeter on offense. But while Wallace was generally considered a good defender, Villanueva decided to skip that part of the game, preferring instead to update his Twitter account.
Villanueva was a train wreck set to music...not jazz or hip hop, mind you. Instead, it was like the music Stewie makes on "Family Guy" when he follows a fat guy with a tuba. Quite simply, it was ugly to watch.
At the very end of the season Villanueva was finally held accountable for his nonchalant behavior, and responded with some good games.
While his contract appears to be an albatross hanging around Dumars' neck, he could still prove valuable if paired with the right talent around him.
The rest of the front court was equally bad, with Kwame Brown and Chris Wilcox battling for the title of "biggest lottery pick flop despite having impressive NBA physiques" with no clear winner.
If there is any justice in this world, Brown will not be re-signed. However, Wilcox has a player option that he would have to be high not to exercise.
The bottom line is that this team, due to injuries and unsteady play, underperformed this season in a drastic way. They are on the bottom of the NBA food chain.
How long they stay there will be up to Dumars.