If a butterfly dies in a chasis. . .

Knifing the Pistons doesn’t appeal to me all that much, and I doubt any of us want to go back our assessment of them at mid-season. But as the narrowly averted Wallace-gate has shown us, this team has in one shrinking moment gone from “dynasty” to “window to win closing fast.” And you are lucky enough to be sharing a table with the one man who thinks this all goes back to our traumatic knave and namesake, Darko Milicic.

When the Pistons changed the way we thought about the All-Star Game, the assumption was that we were witnessing one of the great cohesive units of all time, five bonafide stars who happened to feed off of each other and complement each others’ skills in a thoroughly congenial manner. Yet while it’s been no stretch of the imagination to suggest that any and all Phoenix Suns mean nothing with their Nash, their singular hub of activity, it’s been far more difficult to convince people that the Pistons kind of such without all parts intact. They are, then, not stars working together (that would be the Mavs), but a bunch of highly respectable codependents.

I'm fairly sure that I suggested this back when and got laughed out of the valley; look what happens to them in this Playoffs, though, when key cog Wallace shows the slightest bit of discontent and disrupts the construct. The worst thing that can happen on such a thorough-going team is to introduce the possibility of one being a player. Even Chauncey, the possible MVP, could be easily thwarted when the overall rhythm was off. Say what you will about Kobe, but he doesn’t need his teammates approving glances to get his manhood on; it’s either telling or a sign of how fucked up things got over there that Tayshaun, the lone non-All-Star, was the one Pistons who looked willing to assert himself amidst the floundering.

What this does, though, is not merely cast question marks at the superlatives thrown at Billups et al. during season (as opposed to “at the Pistons”). As seen in the utter need for Wallace’s return, there is absolutely no fluidity to the Pistons as they currently exist. It’s not just that the pieces fit together well; take away any of them and chaos reigns. I am continually perplexed as to why the Ben Wallace of now, as opposed to the utterly dominant beast he was earlier in the decade, is cast as the key to this team’s long-term prospects. It seems like, were everyone as sick as advertised and Dumars as much of a master of the cap game as we’ve been led to believe, the organization could forego the max deal and pull off some cross-conference swindle to land another big man capable of filling his role. Granted, you can’t really expect to instantly replace the man who gets handed the DPOY each year by default, even if by now it’s more a function of reputation, lifetime achievement, and lack of serious competition. But couldn’t the other great, great men step up to fill the remaining void, or the team shift slightly to compensate?

The answer is a resounding “NO!” Just as the Kings had to be blown up once Webber departed, the Pistons have no choice but to ride out this unit and then head back to the speculative slate. The Spurs are a real dynasty; no matter how much we deride them, you can’t take away from their ability to tweak a roster in ways major and minor, all the while keeping it a Duncan/Pop joint. That, though, is the difference between a dynasty and a championship caliber team and while it may not be a black/white distinction, the Pistons are looking more and more like they’ve made major skids in the wrong direction.

All along, we’ve assumed that Darko’s role in this was at best one of personal tragedy. Historically, he’s not even the moody parable that Kwame’s become—this is comedy or irony of the most light-hearted order, with the Pistons getting a little knock on the arm and the eternally absurd Euro movement getting its just desserts. I come to you this morning, however, to announce that his antecdent is far darker and less giggle-worthy: the tear-jerking Len Bias, who might’ve extended the Celtics’ competitiveness and had one of the great sneaker-worthy careers of his day had it not been for that white (interestingly, this blog points toward a real book that insists that Bias’s heart failure was not drug-related, making the case even stronger that God hates the Celtics). It’s widely understood that, had Bias jumped on board as planned and found his way into a starring role, that team could’ve gradually transitioned into a new era without missing a step. Had Darko gone as planned, the Pistons could’ve preserved their door-splitting nucleus while easing their precocious project into the headlines; Wade or Anthony wouldn’t have worked for the simple fact that they would have needed to start from day one, and probably command a traditional star’s role in the offense by Year Two. Darko, though, could spend a year learning, come off the bench the following season, and then step up to emerge as the future just as Dumars had to start making some tough decisions.

So Pistons fans, feel secure in the fact that Dumars made the pick he did. But until the end of time, rue the callous, sallow man whose hubris and indigence prevented himself—and the team he engineered—from admitting their limits and making real plans for the world after their demise.



At 6/05/2006 1:17 PM, Blogger japaja said...

Dear Bethlehem could I please think of the cat as Tayshaun. The non-all-star (all screwed up) who was asserting himself (gun).

Was that close to your intent?

The cat's the best!

At 6/05/2006 2:05 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i don't think i'm allowed to ever explain what i mean with these photos. but yeah, that's the basic premise, give or take a source or two.

At 6/05/2006 2:51 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

umm. . how about that clint dempsey/hawk video?

At 6/05/2006 5:42 PM, Blogger japaja said...

yeah. thanks.

i do enjoy this site, i must say despite your attempts to confuse me with the english you use. for a relative non-english speaker to understand what the fuck you are talking about is often impossible. or at least very tedious.

but all of you have more often then not good and interesting points of view and willingness to re-evalute them.

of course often i think you are full of it as well. even then, it is fun to read.

anyway, thanks for the blog.

and finally, perhaps the best part of the site is the 'community' or all the commentetors. of which this no-value-adding comment is not a part.

At 6/05/2006 6:09 PM, Blogger bobduck said...

I would liken the Pistons to Oasis.

Supposedly the greatest band in the land, the Pistons collapsed under their own largesse and very well may spend years wandering the wilderness, infighting while high on coke.

I agree that Joe D is overrated for some of the same reasons that Larry Brown was and is. It reamins to be seen whether or not he can extend the Pistons' reign atop the East, but until Bron gets some serious help, that seems unlikely.

Also: would it be totally retarded to try to flip Ben for Tyson Chandler? They seem like they add a lot of the same things.

At 6/05/2006 6:14 PM, Anonymous Captain Caveman said...

Japaja, if it's any consolation, I'm a native English speaker, and I find Free Darko just as delightfully incomprehensible as you do. I like to think that reading FD staves off Alzheimer's.

WV: fyvebn -- fava bean? Or "for your veritable enjoyment, Bron-Nash"?

At 6/05/2006 6:25 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

chandler's contract is colossal. and don't underestimate ben's ability to man up.

another thought. . . wouldn't some other team love to throw a max contract at wallace in hopes that he'll be the OBVIOUSLY dominant and active defensive force he was pre-Sheed and Tayshaun? he could turn an above-average defensive club into an elite one just by inserting him into the starting line-up, scheme or no scheme.

At 6/05/2006 6:34 PM, Anonymous trade_maggs said...

You can't give the max to a player who just plays defense. You just can't. Not in the past and certainly not after this season.

At 6/05/2006 7:06 PM, Blogger ForEvers Burns said...

I know Dumars is a good GM, and maybe this sounds like I’m overreacting but, picking up Sheed for the likes of Chucky Atkins et al. two years ago was a kind of gift from God. Like so many teams, the Pistons were one excellent big man away from making the leap from perpetual above-average-ness to championship contender and the perfect deal fell in Joe’s lap. Dumars knew he had one of the only coaches in the league that could tap Rasheed’s potential. Under the same conditions, who wouldn’t have made that trade?

If Dumars knew that Larry Brown would be able to handle Rasheed, he should have known that he wouldn’t have ever played a totally unschooled foreigner. Any other player taken in the top 7 that year would have worked out better for the Pistons. Also, signing Okur to a longer rookie contract would have enabled the Pistons to keep him for another year and possibly work out a trade rather than lose him for nothing.

But Dumars’ biggest mistake seems to have been picking up Flip Saunders. The fact that he couldn’t control emotionally volatile players like Spree and Cassell are what ultimately got him fired in Minnesota. The Pistons’ coach, above all else, needs the respect of its players, to keep them focused and devoted to team goals, especially when things get difficult in the playoffs. Even Ben Wallace, the supposedly consummate team player, blew up publicly a few times at Saunders.

Yet Dumars can’t fire a coach that won 64 games, and so as the Pistons’ relationship with their coach deteriorates further next year, so will the team itself. The taint of the playoff implosion (which was in regards to their collective mentality, not their play) will not wash off easily. Like Shoals said, the Pistons have to remain as presently constructed; Wallace will be re-signed, eliminating any future change and roster flexibility. Even though the Pistons are fairly young, I can’t possibly imagine them getting any better, only incrementally losing sooner and sooner each year in the playoffs. Dumars may have made some great (and lucky moves), but a handful of mistakes seem to have doomed his team. The Pistons’ ship is sinking, and Dumars will probably be forced to go down with it.

At 6/05/2006 7:21 PM, Blogger ~CW~ said...

This from YaySports, which the Dumars questioner in me loved, in reference to the Pistons:

Good luck to them - hopefully they can find a go-to scorer who can create his own shot (like a Dwyane Wade or a Carmelo Anthony), or a true low post threat (perhaps a Chris Bosh), or even a decent big man off the bench (someone like a Darko Milicic). Luckily they have the best GM in basketball, who would surely snatch up players like those if they came along.

That Rasheed trade, in which they got back Lindsey Hunter in a gift from a delusional brain-scanning Danny Ainge, was really a luck more than skill then. Was he smart to draft Tayshaun and trade Stack for Rip? Absolutely, but with the Bulls, Cavs, Wizards and Magic all seemingly on a meteoric rise, and the Nets having perhaps a more talented base, the current Pistons are certainly in trouble, and I'm not sure, as Burns put it, if Joe D really has a lot of moves in the matter.

Also, just because we're discussing the offseason, don't the Suns have the Hawks pick next year per the Joe Johnson trade, and wouldn't this be extremely valuable if they wanted to trade for another swingman/big man?

At 6/05/2006 8:31 PM, Anonymous Ed said...

What if the Pistons had drafted Bosh? Same idea as Darko, except he worked out. Would drafting Bosh have put them in line for a three peat this month?

At 6/05/2006 10:26 PM, Anonymous Torgo said...

Honestly, I haven't had much to respond to in the last couple of weeks, but now that armageddon has arrived, I figure I should strap on my placard and wander the streets while mothers tell their children to stay away from "crazies like that".

It's over. It's done. And I say that as a diehard Pistons fan. I was, in the few games I was able to see, screaming at the TV. A game I taped, and saved for later, I turned it off, without knowing the final score, because it was obvious, even though they were down by three, the game was over (that was the McDyess failed dunk, Wade blocked shot game).
These are not the Pistons of last year, or even November. They've bought their own hype. They've gone from playing "the right way" to bitching at their coach in the middle of games, refusing to go back into the game. Coach killing bullshit.

Is Saunders the right coach? Hell no. Is he the coach? Yes. So don't pull that shit.

Cato for Darko and Arroyo. That was it. That was the end of everything. Darko is becoming a 7 foot shot blocking specialist. He still makes mistakes, but he's on his way up. Ben Wallace is on his way down, and he's about to demand a max contract. If they give it to him, he's finished. Productivity will decline, year after year, and they're done. If they let him get away (please tell me there's a sign and trade out there for a gullible GM) he has a monster year, to prove everyone wrong. It is inevitable.

Here goes: Trade both Wallaces. Sheed is done. The ankle was a problem, but he's maddeningly inconsistent. A third of his shots this year were threes. If the man would stand in the post, he's unstoppable. He doesn't want to. Find someone who does. At 6'11" they need more than 6 boards a game from him. He stays, and next year, he's Cassell, and Saunders is, well, Saunders.

Sign and trade Ben. It kills me to say it. It's hard to say "Trade the player who wears the first jersey I ever bought." We're looking at diminishing returns from a player who feels he's better than he is. He wants to be involved in the offense? Spend some time working on offense. He wants to stay? Give him a contract with incentives based on *team* offensive production.

I don't know about Chauncey yet. I do know that they stopped moving. He's the man with the ball. Listen to offers.

Keep Prince, but tell him that he's got to drop the "here one game, gone the next" bullshit.

Hamilton was the only one doing anything in Game 6. Realize that he needs help to get his shot, but give him that help. He is Reggie Miller revisited (without the range, really), and Reggie needed, and got, the help.

Keep McDyess, but be ready for his decline.

They need a solid backup PG. A power foward who can shoot from midrange, but will post up. And they could really use a shot blocking center from Serbia, but they screwed that one up...

Is any of this going to happen? No. And next year, they'll make it to the second round. Maybe. The year after, out in the first round. The window has closed on this team. And, I'd argue, the Spurs as well.

At 6/05/2006 11:13 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

I can't tell if Dempsey is a decent rapper or not.

The first verse seems weak and the third verse seems strong. Having the whole video be so Nike-focused was also disconcerting.

I hope Duece gets some play in Germany. For a team that's been lacking in a right-sided midfielder since Stewart retired, he could really fill a need.

At 6/05/2006 11:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i really don't agree with all the negative doomsday talk here or in the media in general, or on detroit talk radio in particular. i'd look at detroit not as a dynasty exactly but as a powerful strain in the basketball zeitgeist that has ebbed and flowed, fully surfacing once under particular circumstances in 2004.

in that sense, Dumars is plumbing a spirit that he's gotten involved in -- a collection of archetypes and potentials flowering (tayshaun of last year, for instance, who went on a scoring spree) and finding it's footing and perhaps slipping (tayshaun of february this year, approaching but not reaching a rebirth as a kirilenko-esque 5x5 demi-star) and falling (delfino, darko), and maybe also shedding or shunning incorrectly oriented diversions of the spirit (okur, the possible draft picks of wade or anthony) and also screwing up (not picking bosh).

and if this is the case then Dumars seems like the kind of guy who is going to locate sneaky, genius little permutations in trades and the draft and in dealing with his players. for sure, detroit is not made of explosive freedarko star freaks, it's made of much more mild slow-burning material, and i think that in the same way dallas has selected and cultivated its collections of stars hogging the ball in turn, so detroit will continue to select mild tayshauns and mcdyesses and activate them toward detroit's brand of strategic chess-match-ball.

i don't understand why people think dumars and flip et al can't learn from the past, that they're locked into a free-fall here somehow. flip already did sam and spree, what makes you think this team is turning into that team or that flip hasn't decided to change his ways and work on how he interacts with his players? why can't we say that, okay, dumars didn't win with the darko draft, but next time around he'll be smarter? why can't we say that, okay, Flip didn't play his bench enough, but this next season he'll realize his mistake and do things differently? as an aside, who would be KG if the pistons became the t-wolves? Rip? come on, that's a dynamic that would be hard to instigate again. as a further aside, i say KG for ben and rasheed.

so... the pistons run in history doesn't seem like it's such a delicate phenomenon to me, it seems like it is durable and flexible and maleable and that it leans toward growth, subtle permutation, and momentum rather than stagnation and rotting and dissolution. there's a lot of wiggle room over the next few years for the pistons to continue impressing their particular philosophy on the NBA, and even for them to perfect it through time. my sense is really that Flip, after Brown and Carlisle, is a long-term coach that will be able to adapt as his team grows, he wasn't hired to ply a particular variety of coaching philosophy as per the previous two coaches but, i'd say, perhaps to reevaluate the players and the team's undercurrents and come up with a better fit for the players, this pistons material that has a certain flavor of potential and is feeling out the best way to expend it. i think evidence for this is flip's unlocking of the high-scoring, perimeter-oriented offence through chauncey: a reorganization of given elements that resulted in a startling new material expression. but that's merely a step, maybe a side-step, toward the ultimate realization of "the pistons".

so that's kind of my thought on this. i think flip stands to have a superb run with the pistons, maybe five years or more with one more ring, hopefully (for hegelian-historical purposes) near the end. i think, however, that a lot of the hand-wringing over the pistons is due to a misconception about their place in history: maybe they aren't here to collect rings like the Bulls or the Lakers or the Celtics of yore, they're perhaps here to provide a particular spark -- or maybe just to fill in space in league history -- between the successive influxes of ego-expressive basketball a la jordan, shaq, kobe and friends, and in that sense they represent an undying, necessary, but also often latent trend in the NBA or in sports in general.

At 6/06/2006 3:37 AM, Anonymous jack said...

Can anyone else see Dumars firing Flip and rehiring Larry Brown?

At 6/13/2007 1:45 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Wow Jack...what a distressing thought, if just because it doesn't seem as reviling as it should. Larry Brown has already profited off of mediocrity more than anyone except Haliburton and McDonalds at this point.

I can't believe Shoals thinks Wallace to Bulls might have been a good move. Wallace out of Piston's system took a big dip, and Chandler out of Skiles' grasp took a big leap. Only the Hornets won.


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