|Dumars addresses holes, hopes to push Pistons back to NBA finals|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 26 October 2007 09:41|
``Too many jump shots. Not attacking the rim,'' he wrote. ``New blood. Fresh legs.''
Nearly five months have passed since the Detroit Pistons president of basketball operations typed in those notes on a Blackberry while sitting in the stands at Cleveland as his team collapsed in the conference finals.
Dumars set out to change what went wrong and believes he has done just that.
He is counting on an influx of new faces to help get the Pistons back over the hump, pushing them into the NBA finals for the first time in three seasons.
Dumars kept together his top five players - choosing to ignore calls to trade Rasheed Wallace - because he believes their championship window hasn't been slammed shut.
Antonio McDyess, who will move into Chris Webber's vacated spot in the lineup, hopes his boss is right.
``We won't have many opportunities to win it with this same team,'' McDyess said. ``It's been two years we've had about the same starters but haven't made it to the finals.''
The Pistons appeared to be tired toward the end of the Eastern Conference finals against the Cavaliers last season, and Miami in 2006.
Perhaps the cumulative effect of playing more games in a five-year stretch than all but one team over the last six decades took its toll. The Pistons were on the court 509 times counting the regular season and playoffs, trailing only Boston's 512 games played during its glory years in the mid-1980s.
Over the last two-plus decades, Detroit's run of five straight conference finals is behind only the Los Angeles Lakers' run of six in a row.
``It shows that we've been really good for a long time,'' shooting guard Richard Hamilton said. ``But it also shows you that we need some of our younger guys to bring energy off the bench like we did in our championship year.''
When Detroit easily eliminated Shaq, Kobe and the Lakers in 2004, reserves Mehmet Okur, Mike James, Corliss Williamson and Lindsey Hunter provided a spark.
The Pistons are hoping Jason Maxiell, Amir Johnson, Jarvis Hayes and rookies Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo can do the same this year.
They probably won't ever live down drafting Darko Milicic second overall in 2003 - passing on Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh - but they salvaged the 15th pick from Orlando for the bust and used it on Stuckey.
The 6-foot-5 guard was what Dumars was looking for, giving Detroit a young and energetic player that can attack the rim while keeping Chauncey Billups and Hamilton fresh for the end of games and the playoffs.
Stuckey broke his left hand in the last exhibition game and is expected to miss about the first five weeks of the season.
Afflalo lasted until the 27th pick in the draft, and the former UCLA star seems determined to make a lot of teams regret it.
Just several hours after arriving home from an exhibition game in Grand Rapids, the shooting guard was at the Pistons' practice facility working out on his own even though a practice wasn't scheduled.
``He was showing up before the janitor, so we had to give him the security code to get in the building,'' Dumars said, looking through the blinds in his office at Afflalo shooting. ``Any guy that works that hard gives himself a chance to be a player in this league.''
Billups is reaping the benefits of hard work and talent a decade after being drafted. He signed a $60 million, five-year contract, with $46 million and four years guaranteed, as a free agent last summer.
Detroit lost Ben Wallace a year ago and was not going to let Billups get away. The point guard is too valuable to a franchise clinging to hopes of staying among the NBA's elite.
``I definitely think we can contend for the championship,'' Billups said. ``A lot of things have to go right, like they do for everyone.''
A key for Detroit appears to be how well Rasheed Wallace and coach Flip Saunders coexist after they struggled to get along at times last season. Fans are left with the memory of Wallace having a meltdown, arguing with officials during the final game at Cleveland.
Both Saunders and Wallace downplayed any lingering issues between them, and Dumars is convinced they can work together and win.
Dumars is giving Saunders a third season on the sideline - something Larry Brown and Rick Carlisle didn't get - and is allowing Wallace a shot at proving he's more of an asset than a liability.
Saunders shrugged off any suggestion of feeling pressure this season, especially after his near-death experience last summer. He and his daughter were driving near the Minneapolis bridge when it collapsed.
``That put a lot of things in perspective,'' he said.
Wallace, meanwhile, looks and sounds as focused as he has been since joining the Pistons during the 2003-04 season and helping them win a championship. He dropped about 20 pounds and didn't lose a touch of his swagger after the Cavs rallied from a 2-0 deficit to eliminate Detroit.
``I look at it as another seven-game series we should have had last year,'' Wallace said. ``But it will happen this year - that's because it's personal.''