A lot has happened since my last playoff diary blog back on Day 32. I’m a bit behind. But with five days of no NBA action I’ve got plenty of time to write stuff, and you’ve got plenty of time to read it. Where do I start…
We have the Finals everyone wanted. Right after the Gasol trade transpired in early February I said a Celtics vs Lakers Final was “probably going to happen”. As unlikely as it seemed back then (the Suns/Spurs still looked great, Boston weren’t convincing the doubters), the fairytale finish to the 07-08 season has come true. David Stern must be ecstatic right now. Seriously, he must be walking around with an erection 24 hours a day. This Finals series is a dream come true for so many reasons. Firstly, its the renaissance of the Celtics franchise, and the NBA needs Boston to be successful in this league. It’s amazing to think we haven’t seen Boston in the Finals for two decades. The legend of the Boston Celtics has almost became a fossil, a prehistoric artifact that you only see on ESPN flashbacks or read about in Bill Simmons articles. Having the league’s most successful franchise return to the biggest stage not only makes this Finals incredibly marketable, it officially stamps it with the title “historic”. This series has historic written all over it. It reeks of it. It’s almost making me sick already, and the first game is still five days away.
The Second reason is that we’re going to see at least one future Hall of Famer crown his legacy with a championship. Whether its KG finally shredding his tag as a loser and a choker, or Kobe proving the doubters he can lead his own team to a title. These are some of the biggest subplots that have been permeating the league for the last half decade. No matter who wins, we are going to get closure on this in the next two weeks. I don’t remember a Finals series recently where there was so much at stake for the best players on each team, as far as their place in history goes.
The Third reason this series is a veritable wet dream for Stern is that it confirms the best team in the league can be the most entertaining. For the last five years the NBA (and its fans) have secretly loathed the fact that teams like Detroit and San Antonio have shaped the mold for a successful franchise in this league. Never mind there’s ten other teams that are more entertaining, score more points, and attract more viewers – its things like defense, pick and rolls, and bank shots that win you rings. Apparently. But not any more. This year’s championship will most likely go to the league’s most entertaining team to watch (LA) with the most talented player in the league. A team where everyone can shoot threes, run, throw alley-oop passes, and hustle on defense. And if it’s Boston, you’re looking at a team with one of the most versatile power forwards of all time, the second best three-point shooter in history, and one of the most complete players the league has had this decade. Nothing about either of these teams screams “boring”, “fundamental”, or “slow”, and they are usually the three words fans have used to describe the Spurs or Pistons the last five years.
Ray Allen found his stroke. I knew it would surface at some point, and it couldn’t have come at a more crucial time for the Celtics. Ray Allen was on his way towards recording one of the most horrific post seasons in NBA history. I don’t care what he’s done the last decade – if the Celtics fell out of the Conference Finals without Ray shooting more than 12% from the field it would have defined his career. You don’t live that down. The good news is that Ray turned it around and rescued his legacy. The bad news is that I live with the world’s biggest Ray Allen fan and had to hear him hollering about it for days on end. When Ray’s clutch jumper won the Celtics game 5 my house mate was so overcome he “almost cried tears of joy”, in his words. When Ray light it up in the first half of game 6 my house mate was parading around our living room, arms proudly raised like he’d just nailed Jessica Alba.
I never realised how much my house mate loved Ray Allen until the Detroit series. It’s very worrying. Watching the Boston v Detroit games together, after every Ray brick or air ball (of which there were plenty) he’d place both his hands on his face, bury his head for twenty seconds or so while exhaling deeply, then peep over his hands while looking genuinely sick. So despite my beloved Pistons getting knocked out, I’m at least happy to see my friend avoid clinical depression and be able to watch his idol smoothing it up in the Finals. The last few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for all Ray Allen fans, as one writer so succinctly put. Perhaps no more symbolic of Ray’s turnaround was ESPNs headline story before and after game 5 against Detroit – this image landing in my inbox from none other than my house mate.
End of an era for the Pistons? I’ve already aired my dirty Pistons laundry after their post season exit in game 6. I’m over it now. Unsurprisingly, the “end of an era” headlines are starting to fly in:
Future uncertain for Wallace, Saunders and Detroit Pistons
Detroit Pistons’ Rasheed Wallace: “That’s the end, man”
Winds of change expected to sweep through Detroit
Pistons face uncertain future — and frustrating past
As a Detroit Pistons fan, I can tell you this is not a new phenomenon. After the shock loss to Miami in the ‘06 Conference Finals many people predicted Detroit’s dominance to be over: We couldn’t win with a centre that was a complete offensive liability, Chauncey Billups was past his prime, we had no bench, we were better than we thought we were, too many other teams out East were improving. That was proved wrong the next season as Detroit went on to finish top of the East, and looked headed to a certain Finals appearance if not for a Lebron miracle in game 5. After that shock exit, the doubter swarmed again, claiming it was all over for Detroit. After two miserable collapses in back-to-back Conference Finals, this team appeared spent. But surprise surprise, the Pistons bounced back this year, injected with some exciting rookies and a much more serviceable bench. Our weaknesses of the past two years had supposedly been addressed – this was the year Detroit got back to the Finals. Only it wasn’t, and the only team since Magic and the Lakers to make six straight Conference Finals found themselves bundling out of them for the fourth time. Surely, this is the end right? The window has to be closing, doesn’t it?
Time to say goodbye to Sheed and Dyess?
There are two ways to answer that question. One is the quick, frustrated response: “Yes. We did everything we were supposed to do this year. We rested the starters, used the bench, played the rookies, and gained momentum going into the playoffs. But it still didn’t work.” I’ll admit these thoughts have occupied my mind for most of the past couple of days, but it’s more of an emotional reaction than the truth. The other response is the one you have to think long and hard about. The Pistons could arguably be better next year. Next year not only do we have to start playing our bench more to build their experience and rest the starters – we need our bench to win us games. The bright spot for Detroit these playoffs was the play of Rodney Stuckey. I can’t say enough about this kid. I’ve been saying for a long time he’s going to be something special, and I saw glimpses of it these playoffs. As one Pistons blogger summed up perfectly:
“Rodney Stuckey played with poise that keeps surprising even though it no longer should. Stuckey scored the Pistons’ last eight points, including a 3-pointer under the most withering pressure from a kid who made three 3-pointers – three! – all season. I’ve maintained all along that Stuckey, as almost all young players do, will develop his perimeter game as he matures, adding a foot or two to his reliable shooting range for the next few seasons. But to drain the one he hit with 1:17 left and the Pistons down four says something else: It says Stuckey’s destined to be one of those players who has an answer for whatever the situation demands – and it says the Pistons have a real shot to maintain the franchise’s already remarkable consistency even as the core veterans slide into less significant roles.”
Stuckey getting big minutes next season (I’m talking “6th Man of the Year” kind of minutes) is only a good thing for the Pistons. Not only will he let Chauncey and Rip pick their spots a little more, but he fundamentally changes the Pistons game plan. Why? Because Rodney Stuckey is the best one-on-one player the Detroit Pistons have had since Jerry Stackhouse in 2000. Wait, he’s the only one-on-one player we’ve had since then. During the entire six-year reign this Pistons team has enjoyed, at no point did we have a player we could give the ball to on the perimeter, run isolation plays for and let him break his man down. Stuckey is lightning off the dribble, and his size (6′5) and athleticism means he can finish like most high-flying shooting guards in the league today. We only saw it a couple of times this season, but mark my words, next year there will be plenty of D-Wade-like Stuckey highlights where he crashes through the lane and throws it down on someone’s head. The Pistons have never had that, and its the kind of weapon you need in big games, big playoff games.
Jason Maxiell will also be playing a bigger role, and I’d go as far to say that he should be starting. I don’t know what’s going to happen to Sheed and McDyess – I’d like to have them both around next season, but Maxiell right now needs to be playing 30-35 minutes a night. If that means Dyess comes off the bench I’m all for it. Expect Amir Johnson to also see much more playing time – it’s a crime he was benched for practically this entire playoffs. Secretly, I can’t wait till both Johnson and Maxiell are starting together, but I know that’s probably another year away. Basically I’m happy with what we’ve got at the guard/power forward/centre position. There’s only one major change I’d like to see, and it might shock a few people…
The Pistons should trade Tayshaun Prince. That is not easy for me to say, because since his heroic rookie performances against Magic in the ‘03 playoffs, Prince has been loved by all Detroit fans. But right now, I’ve lost all patience with him. Since 2005 I’ve been saying he needs to be playing a bigger role for this team. While Billups, Rip, Sheed, Big Ben, and McDyess all started passing their primes, Tayshaun Prince was just starting to peak… or he was supposed to anyway. Every year for the past three years, before the season starts, I usually make a comment how Tayshaun has to step up and become the main scoring option for this team, how he’s our best all-round player, how he’s about to cement himself as a top 5 small forward in the league. But every year I watch him play within himself, sacrificing so much of his individual ability for the “good of the team”. I watch his scoring average stay around 15ppg. I don’t see any improvement in his game. His ability as a “defensive stopper” has arguably dwindled the past couple of years. It’s essentially the same Tayshaun we saw back in 2004, maybe even worse. How is this possible? Surrounded by all those classy veterans, on a team that is so successful, how has Tayshaun not stepped up and become the young gun leader? I don’t care if he’s an “unspoken leader”. We need him to be The Man.
It’s becoming apparent that won’t happen, and that’s why I think we need to trade him. Right now his trade value is pretty high – there aren’t too many other small forwards that play both ends as solidly as Tay. But watching him crumble in the Eastern Conf Finals has sapped me of all my confidence in him. If this Detroit team is going to go down the “youth” path, and if Stuckey, Maxiell and Johnson are going to become the cornerstones of our future, and if we have veterans like Rip, Billups and Sheed to guide them along, then what exactly do we need Tayshaun for? Sure, I’m probably still a little pissed about our playoff exit, but if Tay doesn’t show me something next season I’ll be calling for his head, you can count on that.
I need to go cool down… I’m sorry Tay, I’m just a little angry. More playoff blogging coming soon, as well as the Playoff MVP votes.
Comment posted by
at 6/5/2008 12:08:47 AM
I don’t know where to start — there is a lot of information/opinion in this post. I’ll break my response into three categories:
Stern’s dream: I loved the “veritable wet dream” line you threw in there. So true. Although I’m a little sick of the comparisons to the Magic vs. Bird rivalry – those comparisons are way premature – the fact of the matter remains that these are the two most storied franchises in NBA history squaring off. It can do nothing but good things for a league in desperate need of a revival.
Ray’s Return: I was glad to see that he got his confidence back – there aren’t many sights prettier than watching his jumper hit nylon. I will say that the Lakers may be a better matchup for him than the Pistons were. I think if the Lakers are smart they will use Radmanovich sparingly and play Vujacic big minutes. He showed he could pester Ginobili and I think he could do the same against a Ray Allen that doesn’t drive to the basket much anymore. Kobe could man up Pierce and Odom would slide to the four to guard Garnett. Whatever the case, it was good to see Ray’s revival and hopefully all of these guys have saved their best ball for June.
Pistons demise: I’ll be interested to see what happens. Although I agree with most of your points, I think it would be foolish to get rid of Prince as he is still young relative to the other guys on their roster. Maxiell and Stuckey are going to be excellent, and I think the other guys (less McDyess) still have a few good years left. One thing I think gets blown out of proportion is the Pistons’ “dominance” over the past 6 years. I’m not discounting the fact they made the Eastern Conference Finals 6 years in a row — that’s impressive. However, six trips to the East Finals only resulted in one championship. Further, all those trips came while playing in an East that is head and shoulders below the West in terms of competitiveness. Every year of their run, there were probably about 3 teams in the East who would have had legitimate chances of making the playoffs in the West. That makes it a far less daunting task to make the Conference Finals. I mean, last year they essentially got beat by ONE player. That one player is damn good, but the Cavs didn’t stand a fighting chance and got hammered 4-0 to the West champion. I’m not buying the Pistons would have had that kind of consistency had they been playing in the West. Okay, this is actually turning into a decent blog topic I might run with.
Sorry for the long reply — keep up the good work!