Redefining an era

You’ve certainly heard this is an end of an era for the Pistons and how this was an ugly end. There’s certainly truth to the ugly part:

  • The Pistons won’t reach the second round for the first time since the 2000-01 season.
  • Dating back to the final two games against the Celtics in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, the Pistons have lost six playoff games in a row for the first time since they dropped a combined six straight to the Philadelphia Warriors, St. Louis Hawks and Minneapolis Lakers.
  • The Pistons won just three of 16 quarters this series.
  • They lost to Cleveland by 18, 12, 11 and 21.
  • Tayshaun Prince scored  15 points on 7-of-27 shooting in the series.
  • Rasheed Wallace scored 13 points in the final three games, including none yesterday. And he didn’t shoot a free throw all series.
  • Detroit’s highest-paid player, Allen Iverson, didn’t play because everyone agreed he was better off staying away from the team.
  • LeBron James torched the Pistons for 32.0 points, 11.3 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. I understand no team can stop him, but better teams could hold him under 51-percent shooting.
  • And Cavalier fans took over the Palace, chanting MVP at James louder than any cheer for Detroit.

But this isn’t the end of an era. At least, not necessarily.

There are a lot of ways to define the end. And a lot of the reasons you read about why this is the end are certainly valid. But here are a few reasons this era could keep going.

Roster

If you think this is the end because the roster will completely change, you’ve already missed the boat.

In 2001-02, Detroit won 50 games with a starting lineup of Chucky Atkins, Jerry Stackhouse, Michael Curry, Ben Wallace and Clifford Robinson.

The Pistons won at least 50 games the next six years. Last year, the final season of the streak, Detroit started Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace. And the entire bench was different, too.

No other team has ever completely turned over its roster during a streak of 50-win seasons.

And in case you were wondering, a few had just one player last through a streak.

Los Angeles Lakers 1979-80 through 1990-91: Magic Johnson.

Milwaukee 1980-81 through 1986-87: Sidney Moncrief.

San Antonio 1997-98 through 2008-09: Tim Duncan.

The roster has almost turned around a second time, too. The Pistons have just four players left from the team that nearly beat the Spurs in 2005. And they might be gone by next season.

Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess are free agents. Tayshaun Prince fits the profile of players Dumars dumps. And this info from Chris Broussard of ESPN indicates Richard Hamilton’s future with team might be in doubt:

Michael Curry’s eventual benching of Hamilton in favor of Iverson only compounded the problems in the locker room. While Hamilton was professional enough to give it his all as a sixth man, he’s been upset ever since, even though he’s returned to the starting lineup, and multiple sources tell me that he and Curry haven’t been on speaking terms for months.

The Pistons have had four coaches in the last eight seasons, too. Turnover doesn’t mean a new era.

Style

Although the Pistons’ defense fell off this year, it’s still the hallmark of the team. That won’t change as long as Joe Dumars is in charge.

Michael Curry oversaw Detroit’s defensive problems this year. But this team lacked athleticism. And it had to overcome Allen Iverson’s shortcoming. There was nothing Curry could do about it.

Defense is a priority with Curry, and that’s Detroit’s identity. That will be true next year, too.

Success

So, the 50-wins-in-a-season streak is over.

The Pistons have made the playoffs eight straight seasons, the third-longest active streak in the league behind San Antonio (12) and Dallas (nine). If Detroit continues to make the playoffs, these years will blend together as one era.

The challenge for Detroit now is keeping that playoff level up. And compared to the other teams in similar situations, the Pistons are in an unbelievably better position.

Just teams five teams have at least four players who are in the top 50 among active players for minutes (a measure of being old) or playoff minutes (a measure of being overworked).

Detroit: Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton, Antonio McDyess and Tayshaun Prince (And the Pistons could easily have two more in Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace).

Dallas: Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, Jerry Stackhouse, Jason Terry, Eric Dampier and Josh Howard.

Los Angeles Clippers: Baron Davis, Cuttino Mobely, Marcus Camby and Ricky Davis.

Phoenix: Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Jason Richardson.

San Antonio: Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley, Kurt Thomas, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

Outside of San Antonio, the Pistons have been the most successful of this group. And Detroit, by far, has the most flexibility to get younger.

Here’s the amount of salary each team has committed for the next two years.

Team 09-10 10-11
Pistons $33,093,746 $11,148,760
Clippers $56,677,949 $43,392,111
Suns $62,272,538 $41,202,544
Spurs $65,989,918 $32,200,00
Mavericks $68,794,830 $49,538,524

Dumars has shown an ability go get and keep the Pistons on track. Turning around the entire roster during a streak of 50-win seasons might be one of the most underrated feats in the game.

He can do it again.

I’m not saying the Pistons will make the playoffs for the next few seasons. But if they do, that era should be connected to this one.

This might be the end. But we won’t know until next year.