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.
PS: KEEP THIS MAN'S HEAD UP!!!!!!!!!!