It’s become widely accepted: trading Chauncey Billups was a mistake. Joe Dumars should’ve traded one of Detroit’s other core players. They’re useless at best, in the way of rebuilding at worst.
But Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are playing like they’re on a mission to disprove those beliefs.
Hamilton has seemed genuinely happy to be with the Pistons since they fired Michael Curry. I questioned whether Prince was playing hard just to get a trade, but he has continued to play well since the deadline.
Both their numbers have been stellar the last four games.
- Hamilton: 30.5 points per game on 54.5-percent shooting.
- Prince: 15.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.3 blocks per game.
They might even be proving Dumars made the right call by keeping them around instead of Billups.
Before we go further, I want make clear that I’m not dealing with Dumars’ execution with the Billups trade and the subsequent cap space it created. I’m just talking about his decision to trade Billups instead of one of Detroit’s other core players.
The season before the trade, the Pistons lost in the Eastern Conference Finals for the third straight year. It seemed like a bit of a stretch they even made it that far again. The team was getting older, complacent and disinterested.
By this point, the Pistons had four key players: Billups, Hamilton, Prince and Rasheed Wallace. It made sense to break up that core, at minimum, to create a spark.
Let’s look at each of them to see why Billups was the one to go.
With his reputation and hard-headedness, Rasheed Wallace is virtually untradeable – at least for any real value. That’s why the Pistons got him so cheaply, and it’s why they had to hang onto him last year.
I have to believe Dumars thought Wallace would continue to decline. But what’s the point of trading him for pennies on the dollar? You trade for a Rasheed Wallace. You don’t trade a Rasheed Wallace.
So, the Pistons were stuck. They couldn’t trade him to improve their team. And if they kept him, he would likely struggle.
Stuck in that conundrum, I think the best option was to hold onto him and pray for the best. If a miracle happened and a light clicked in his head, you had an excellent player.
And if it didn’t, you ccould let him walk in the summer – which ended up happening.
Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton
Of the core group, Prince and Hamilton are the youngest. So, there’s a simple reason it made sense to keep them.
It’s easy to point to their production since Billups was traded and say they weren’t worth keeping around. But they’ve been faced with a slew of challenges:
- They played all of last year under Michael Curry, a failure as a head coach.
- They spent last year with a point guard, who was not only in his first season as a starter, is still working to be more than a shooting guard who brings the ball up the court.
- Last year, they shared the court with Allen Iverson, who completely disrupted the team’s chemistry.
- And they’ve been hampered with injuries this year.
So, I don’t think we’ve had a great look at Hamilton and Prince post-Billups. Yes, their last four games have been awesome. But I don’t think that’s a large enough sample size. So, I’m going to try to use a bigger sample, but still remove some of those mitigating factors.
So how have Prince and Hamilton done in:
- The two games after Billups was traded but before Iverson arrived
- The games last year after Richard Hamilton permanently returned to the starting lineup (excluding the final game of the season for Prince because he played just nine minutes in an effort to continue his streak of games played)
- The first game this season, when both were healthy
- The games since they returned from injury Dec. 27
Hamilton: 20.1 points, 5.4 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game.
Prince: 14 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.
Keep in mind that still includes games with Curry, Iverson, a young Stuckey and when they were getting acclimated after injuries. Those stats could improve.
Evidenced by the last four games, they are.
That just leaves Billups.
Billups is two years older than Hamilton and four years older than Prince. His numbers had been dipping, and as a post-up player who thrive on getting to the free throw line, you had to wonder if his body was breaking down.
And, interestingly enough, he might have had the highest trade value on the Pistons. I have no idea what Detroit could’ve gotten for Hamilton or Prince, but the expiring contract of a high-end player is quite the get.
Allen Iverson averaged 22.8 points, 6.2 assists and 1.7 steals per game the season before the trade. Although there were signs his body was wearing down, too, there was a chance the Pistons were acquiring a heck of a player. And if they weren’t, they’d get a ton of cap space. Basically, Iverson represented two tries to make it work.
Another reason trading Billups made most sense: his replacement.
In Rodney Stuckey, the Pistons had a good, young alternative for Billups. What young player was going to replace Hamilton or Prince?
Don’t say Arron Afflalo. I wish the Pistons still had him, too. But he’s not nearly the player Stuckey is and likely won’t come close.
Afflalo’s PER this season is 11.3. His defensive rating (110) is ninth on the Nuggets. And J.R. Smith still plays more minutes per game than him.
If Hamilton and Prince continue to play well, especially if that’s due to Stuckey becoming a better point guard, you have to give Dumars more of a break on the Billups trade.