|Future uncertain for Wallace, Saunders and Pistons|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 31 May 2008 10:27|
He is a unique talent, the only player in league history with 100 3-pointers and 100 blocks in multiple seasons, and the team defies NBA convention by having success without a superstar or two.
Wallace also appears to check out mentally at inopportune times, as do some of his Pistons teammates. That leads to lackluster performances that infuriate teammates and those who root for them.
``It's like we tease each other, tease our fans,'' Antonio McDyess said. ``Give them a good dose in the beginning, and let them down in the end.''
Detroit was good and composed enough to hand the Boston Celtics their first home loss in the playoffs in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.
But the Pistons were dysfunctional enough to waste an opportunity in Game 3 and to blow a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter Friday night as Boston ended Detroit's season with an 89-81 win.
``We just didn't go down the way we expected it to, and we gotta pay for it,'' McDyess said.
President of basketball operations Joe Dumars, who declined comment Saturday, will be the one to decide if the setback also signaled the end of an era.
The Pistons went to six straight conference finals, the first franchise to do so since the Los Angeles Lakers did in the 1980s. But they also became the second team in league history to lose in the round prior to the NBA finals three years in a row, joining the Celtics from 1953-55.
``I think we lost some focus on what won us that title,'' Richard Hamilton said. ``We got grimy. If we didn't score, they didn't score. Now we are giving up dunks and layups. We have to get back to what we did.''
Dumars decided a year ago to bring back key players who have been together since the 2004 championship season, and coach Flip Saunders, while infusing energy with rookies and young reserves.
It's difficult to imagine another offseason of the status quo.
Wallace might've played his last game for the Pistons and Saunders may have coached them for the last time.
Both have one year left on their contracts, making the volatile center more attractive on the trade market and seemingly forcing Dumars to fire Saunders or extend his contract so that he's not a lame-duck coach.
Wallace signed a $57 million, five-year contract in 2004. Saunders agreed to a four-year deal worth up to $26 million in 2005, less than a day after the Pistons completed a $7 million severance package with Larry Brown.
Saunders, who already has outlasted Brown and Rick Carlisle, might be replaced by assistants Michael Curry or Terry Porter or perhaps former Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson. Curry could also be a candidate for the opening in Chicago, while Porter is expected to be interviewed for a second time by the Phoenix Suns later this week.
Tayshaun Prince said Saunders shouldn't be a scapegoat.
``People will say it's pretty much his fault,'' Prince said. ``But the players have to take this one on the chin.''
The Pistons probably wouldn't have won their 2004 title without Wallace, who was acquired at the trading deadline. But their championship chances afterward appeared to have been hurt by his play and personality.
Wallace inexplicably left Robert Horry alone for a 3-pointer in Game 5 of the 2005 NBA finals. The gaffe helped the San Antonio Spurs beat Detroit by a point in overtime to take a 3-2 lead in the series before winning in Game 7.
Wallace and the Pistons couldn't recover when he injured his right ankle in the 2006 playoffs. In last year's season-ending loss, Wallace had to be restrained by teammates as he charged toward an official, who ejected him.
Wallace was at his worst when the Pistons needed him most this year. He had more fouls (five) than points (four) in 32 minutes in Game 6 against Boston.
Wallace provided subtle signs that he might have a game like that.
First, he was a little tardy for the game-day shootaround and missed stretching with his teammates. Several hours later, he didn't follow his routine before tipoff.
Wallace's teammates always circled around him before games while he danced wildly, getting himself and his team fired up. The Pistons created a circle for him Friday night, but he simply got in the middle and barely busted a move.
Wallace was known for whipping his adoring fans into a frenzy by pointing to each side of the arena and twirling his right index finger above his head. He left The Palace waiting for that pregame tradition in Game 6.
He then failed to score until the third quarter and had three turnovers after halftime, including a lackadaisical pass on Detroit's first possession after Boston went ahead for the last time with 5-plus minutes left.
To be fair, Wallace wasn't the only Piston who didn't play up to his potential in the playoffs.
Prince failed to average double digits after scoring about 16 points in the first two rounds. McDyess had playoff highs in points and rebounds in Game 4, then scored just 10 points combined and took a mere five shots in the next two losses.
Hamilton and Chauncey Billups closed the series strong, but both could share in some of the blame being passed around for lapses of judgment or jumper accuracy.
Hamilton has two years and about $22 million left on his contract. Prince is due to make about $31 million over the next three seasons. Billups signed a $60 million, five-year contract last summer with $46 million guaranteed over four years and McDyess is under contract for two more seasons at about $14 million.
The veteran nucleus of the team was complemented by fresh faces and legs this season.
Rodney Stuckey, drafted with a first-round pick acquired for Darko Milicic, was solid during the regular season and spectacular at times in the postseason. Jason Maxiell, in his third season, proved he could be productive with more playing time.
Another rookie, Arron Afflalo, and 21-year-old Amir Johnson showed flashes of promise during the regular season before being relegated to the bench for much of the playoffs.
Billups hopes he recognizes the team next fall.
``I'm not a quitter,'' he said. ``I want us to keep going at it, but those decisions aren't up to me. Everyone talks about our window closing, but I actually think our window opened up a little bit this year with the young guys like Stuckey and Max.''
McDyess, meanwhile, expects Dumars to make radical changes.
``There's no excuse why we didn't go back to the finals this year,'' McDyess said. ``He's not blind and the fans are not blind.''
As the only starter without an NBA title, McDyess appears to take season-ending losses the hardest.
``At one point I was just sitting here thinking, `Should I just retire?''' McDyess asked rhetorically. ``We play hard in the first and second round. Get to the third round, we don't give it like we normally give it. We step out there like zombies sometimes.''