Thursday, January 18, 2007

Forget "The Young & the Restless" The best soap opera going plays at the Palace

A year ago at this time, the Detroit Pistons were the talk of the basketball world. They had the best record in the NBA, were thought to have a legitimate shot at winning 70 games, and were considered the odds on favorite to win the NBA championship.

We fans thought all was well. The Pistons would be the team to beat in the East, if not the entire NBA, for the foreseeable future. Well, we all know how that blew up in our faces...

But this year? As the the days of the 2007 season slowly plodded along, the Detroit Pistons have become the NBA's "Team Turmoil." There's been an ongoing soap opera at the Palace since the 2006 season ended. "The Young & the Restless" hasn't had as many plot twists as our own team full of drama queens.

Lets take a look at the Pistons' seemingly never ending dramatic story lines, player by player.

Rasheed Wallace: 'Sheed has been the straw that stirs the dramatic drink. The ankle injury suffered during the 2006 playoffs lingered, causing 'Sheed to come to training camp out of shape. He still does not look to be 100% healthy. The NBA crackdown on player outbursts put a bullseye on Wallace's back, giving officials free reign to T him up. They have done so repeatedly, and with malice. There has been continuing speculation, at this point on a daily basis, that the relationship between 'Sheed and Flip Saunders is, at best, strained, and at worst, contemptuous.

Chauncey Billups: His calf injury sent the team into a tailspin from which they have yet to pull out. Billups' upcoming free agency and shot at a max (Or close to it) contract at end of season will determines the Pistons future. If he stays, they remain a threat as Eastern conference contenders. If he leaves, odds are the Pistons, as we know them, are done.

Tayshaun Prince: The quietest Piston voiced to the media his concerns that there are "Chemistry" issues on the team. His concern was a red flag to both the media and fans.

Rip Hamilton: Cut off his braids!

Nazr Mohammed: The playing time for Ben Wallace's replacement has decreased as season has worn on, and has all but asked for a trade if the trend continues. The Pistons appear to be happy to comply with their $30 million mistake.

Flip Murray: The Pistons other big free agent signing has been disappointing on the court, to be generous. Both Murray and Pistons seem to think that this is a marriage of convenience, a one year only signing. Now that Billups is healthy, Murray is widely assumed to be on the trading block.

Dale Davis: Was tasered by Miami police in a highly publicized off season altercation, but was recently found innocent of all charges. Reportedly missed a practice, which is widely assumed to be one of the reasons for Prince's speaking out to the media. Davis has an expiring contract, so has been mentioned in almost every type of trade scenario.

Chris Webber: While the city of Detroit's prodigal son was being bought out of his contract by the 76'ers, rumors ran rampant that the Pistons were going to be where he landed. After Webber did sign, and it was reported that he would replace Mohammed in the lineup, the local media hysteria reached a fever pitch. Columnists and sports talk hosts demanded Webber say something, anything about his role in the Wolverines' Ed Martin scandal. All the media turmoil led to Webber clamming up, as he always has, about Michigan. While this was going on, the fans just want to know if Webber can provide the Pistons a 2004 'Sheed-like shot in the arm.

Carlos Delfino: We read reports every off-season about Delfino's disenchantment with his role, and this year was no different. Before the season started, reports out of Argentina had Delfino once again voicing his displeasure over his role, or lack thereof, with the Pistons. Delfino, when questioned about the reports, claimed, as he always has, that he was happy as a Piston, and that the tone of what he said was lost in the translation.

Lindsey Hunter: Had his annual injury that kept him out for much of the season.

Antonio McDyess: The player who appears happiest to actually be a Piston got off to a slower than normal start, giving concerns that McDyess' chronically bad knees may finally be catching up with him. As his play began to improve, he also been mentioned in many a trade rumor.

Flip Saunders: Reportedly, Ben Wallace's continual beefing with Saunders over his rol in the offensive and Flip's defensive schemes was one of the main reasons Ben Wallace left for Chicago. Saunders has been rumored to be the number one choice for the Minnesota Gophers coaching job. Appears to be at odds with Rasheed Wallace, as his comments to the media saying the Pistons have to become more focused and play hard every night, along with yesterday's that they need to play "Smarter," appear to be thinly veiled verbal shots at 'Sheed.

It appears that Saunders coaching style is generating unrest with the roster. There are still concerns that the veterans will play too many minutes, while the bench, which has some young talent, withers. Jason Maxiel and Delfino bounce in and out of the rotation, even when they play well. He still hasn't come up with a set rotation, and the addition of Webber leaves it even more in flux. The Pistons vaunted shutdown D is little more than a memory, but Saunders' supposed offensive genius has yet to show itself.

Then there is the Rasheed Wallace issue, which is rapidly becoming a "Situation." 'Sheed's recent on-court actions are the most glaring example of a coach that doesn't have the respect of some of his players. You have to wonder if Saunders is lacking front office respect as well, if you go by the silence coming out of the Palace.

Still, the season hasn't yet reached the All-Star break. There is a ton of basketball left to be played. I'm not yet saying that the Pistons are finished. Far from it. It's obvious that Joe Dumars is not going to leave the cantankerous roster as is, a trade or 2 will be made.

In a perfect world, the Pistons would unload their free agent mistakes, Mohammed and Murray, in a deal(s) for some kind of backcourt help. Or for a shiny new ball rack and a bag of microfiber balls. Unfortunately, that's a dream trade that only the most clueless sports talk radio caller would come up with.

Considering Davis is still a serviceable big man, and has that worth it's weight in gold expiring contract, he's likely gone. As may be one of the 2 first round draft picks, which personally, considering the depth of the '07 draft, I'd be loath to unload. As for who else would be dealt, be it McDyess, Delfino, Mohammed, or Murray, your guess is as good as mine.

So as you can see, there will be plenty more turmoil with the tumultuous Pistons. I'd stay tuned for the next shocking twist.

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