Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Pistons are broken. The question is, are they fixable?

Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of the Pistons ongoing implosion. I'm not just talking about the on court issues, but in the locker room. Something is desperately wrong, and no one can seem to put their finger on exactly what is broken. It's appearent that in the minds of the players, Flip Saunders is the cause of their problems. The majority of the roster is more than happy to throw their coach under the proverbial bus.

From the tone of comments from the players, you'd think we were talking about the cluster that was the Tigers locker room of the past few seasons, rather than the defending eastern confrence champions. Player quotes have been thrown about from all directions in the media, sniping in regard to scheme, strategy, substitution patterns, and pretty much anything that deflects blame from themselves.

Am I pining for the days of Larry Brown and his steamer trunk full of neuroses? No. Far from it. Becuase Flip Saunders isn't the root of all evil, and there is plenty of blame go around. Has he made all the right moves? Of course not. But is Flip to blame for the dissapearance of Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince for long stretches? The sudden teamwide aversion to making free throws? The absymally low shooting percentage? How about the lack of effort on defense? Or the shift from a motion offense to one on one isolation basketball? Again, is Flip to blame? Some, but not in total. If the players are looking for a scapegoat, maybe they should take a look in the mirror. If they are honest with themselves, they won't like what they see.

Ben Wallace sounds like a man that has already made his mind up as to whom the blame should fall upon. And it isn't himself. From his comments about the lack of defensive practice and dislike of Saunders' strategy, to his season long complaints about the lack of touches on offense, and his willingness to bring all this up in the media, Big Ben is laying the groundwork, in my mind anyway, for an offseason ultimatum. His outspokeness in regard to Flip and his coaching accumen says, "You want to sign me to a new contract? Then either Flip goes or I go." That, and the thought that Wallace may be looking for max money, the Pistons' front office may just be willing to say "Thanks for the memories."

But Wallace and his contract demands are something that is simmering on the backburner. Ben's simmering anger in regard to defensive effort and the sacrifice of defense for offense is what may be stirring the pot of dissention in the locker room.

Joe Dumars has been Matt Millen-esque in his silence since the start of the Miami series. The locker room sniping has to be eating him up. Dumars built this team in his image. To see that team seemingly self destruct has to have him wondering if the time has come to make changes in his vaunted starting 5. Ben Wallace's contract demands may do that for him.

But we may be getting ahead of ourselves. To totally write the Pistons off is hard to do. Many of us thought the Pistons were going into the tank during the Cavs series, and were happily proved wrong. Considering past history of the Pistons abilty to rebound from adversity, and the fact that the series is not yet over, can we hope of a Lazarus-like ressurection of the Pistons? Despite the current disarray, I wouldn't put it past the Pistons to win the next two games. As they like to say, "It's what we do." But is the confidence tank empty?

The playoff difficulties has raised questions that we thought wouldn't have to be brought up for a year or two. The Pistons may win the next game, this series, or even the championship. But it's still obvious that there are cracks in the foundation, and there are important decisions to be made in regard to the Pistons' future.

The Pistons have played more games than anyone over the past four seasons, and they are not getting any younger. There is a current chasm between players and coach that needs to be closed. There are some touchy contract situations coming up with Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups. You have the blown Darko pick, which makes the decision of allowing Wallace to walk or not an even harder one. There's no first round pick this year, and with the bench thin as it is, where is the needed depth going to come from? How long do you ride out a championship level team, before age, complacency, and ennui take over? There may be a player or two joining Flip Saunders under that bus.

No matter when this playoff run ends, be it tomorrow, or 2 weeks from now, fans and media alike have to be concerned about the future. Have the Pistons, as we currently know them, arrived at the crossroads?

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