In June the Detroit Pistons will celebrate the seventh anniversary of their 2004 NBA championship. It’s been three years since the Pistons lost to Boston in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals, their sixth straight (and last to date) appearance in said conference finals.
Boy, how things have changed in Auburn Hills.
It was clear then that the Pistons were on the decline, evidenced by their lethargic 39-43 campaign in 2009 that just barely earned them the East’s eighth and final playoff spot.
Since the death of owner William Davidson in March of 2009 the Pistons have never been the same.
When Detroit made it back to the NBA Finals in 2005 it looked like it might be the start of a dynasty, much like their opponent, the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have been perhaps the least famous dynasty of all time, winning all four of the franchise’s NBA titles from 1999-2007. This season the Spurs are on top again with the league’s best record. Shockingly, they’ve done it with the same basic cast of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli filling the major roles on the team.
The Pistons looked like they could be the next Spurs. Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace were entrenched in Motown as the Pistons' starters. The 2004 squad embodied the teamwork ideology in a league dominated by superstars.
But then it fell apart, starting with Ben Wallace’s departure after the 2006 season. While his career was starting to decline, Wallace was the heart of the Pistons defense and the team never found a suitable replacement. Then at the start of the 2008-09 season, team president Joe Dumars dealt Billups to Denver in exchange for Allen Iverson’s expiring contract. Iverson's presence and attitude destroyed what was left of the Pistons' chemistry as Detroit couldn't cope with the loss of their unquestioned leader.
Detroit hasn’t found a leader since.
When news broke that Tigers and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch was given a 30-day window to buy the team in October, it looked like the Pistons were finally going to get that leader. Ilitch is no slouch when it comes to his teams and he has a reputation of disliking diva players, particularly in the NBA. He was exactly what the Pistons needed.
But the deal never materialized. Details are sketchy, but from the reports it appeared Ilitch got upset about projected revenues and lowered his bid, killing the deal. Once again, the Pistons were in disarray.
And it’s not just the ownership that’s a mess. The team itself has been plagued by infighting all season, starting with Prince and head coach John Kuester’s bout at the beginning of the season. People wondered whether Kuester had “lost” the team in just his second season.
After the Prince-Kuester saga ended, the Kuester-Hamilton saga began. Hamilton, one of the most beloved Pistons of the decade, has been benched the last ten games as trade rumors swirl around him. Kuester claimed the deal that would have sent Hamilton, Billups and Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey had nothing to do with Hamilton's benching--even though they happened to occur at the same time.
That deal has now fallen through, and Hamilton is still riding the pine. What gives? Making $12 million a year, Hamilton has apparently outlived his welcome in Detroit, which is a shame considering all he’s done for the team and city.
Even the new guys that Detroit just brought in a few years ago aren’t buying what Dumars is selling. Tracy McGrady says that Hamilton is being mistreated, comparing this to when Jerry Krause broke up Michael Jordan's Bulls in 1998. Guard Ben Gordon told Hoopsworld.com this isn’t what he signed up for.
None of us signed up for this, Ben.
What’s worse, the Pistons are actually in the playoff hunt and the team doesn’t even realize it. They’re too busy fighting amongst each other to notice.
Detroit is being helped by a putrid Eastern Conference that only goes five-deep in talented teams. As of Jan. 29, the Pistons are just 3.5 games out of eighth place, despite the fact they’ve only won 17 of their first 47 games. Philadelphia, which holds the last playoff spot currently at 20-26, at least has realized they’re in the hunt by going a respectable 7-6 during the month of January to slightly cushion their lead on Detroit.
Now that billionaire financier Tom Gores’ bidding window is closing, speculation is again running rampant on whether the team will actually be sold. Gores was given an exclusive 30-day window as a preferred buyer the first week of January, but now we are one day from February and nothing has been announced. The Detroit Free Press reported that Gores is still actively pursuing the sale, stating that Gores’ staff has simply been doing their due diligence the past two weeks on crunching the numbers.
But at this point would you really be surprised if it all fell apart again?
Karen Davidson has made no secret of her desire to sell the franchise. But one has to wonder if Davidson is delaying things by trying to squeeze every penny out of the deal, hampering the negotiations even further. The Pistons value' is falling; this week Forbes reported that the team’s value had fallen from $479 million to $360 million, dropping them from a top five NBA franchise to barely top 15. Attendance is declining and the team is flailing as no one seems to know what to do. The longer Davidson waits, the less anyone will be willing to pay.
Gores might still end up buying the team, but will he bring the leadership that is required to turn the ship around? The Pistons are a disaster right now and it’s going to take more than a few million bucks to keep this thing from capsizing. Gores seems like a nice enough guy, but Detroit doesn’t need a nice guy right now. They need someone who can give them direction and make tough decisions (starting with what the hell to do with Hamilton).
And if Gores decides it isn’t worth it, is there anyone left that would pick up the slack? The Free Press mentioned University of Michigan graduate and Groupon board member Eric Lefkofsky as a potential bidder, but nothing concrete. After that, the potential prospects are mostly with groups that don’t have local ties, including a group based in Dubai.
The Dubai Pistons doesn’t have the same ring, does it?
This once proud NBA franchise is in serious trouble. William Davidson made this team one of the most respected clubs in the league; he can’t be happy right now with what is going on.