It’s now been close to a decade since an under-appreciated and underdog Detroit Pistons team went into the 2004 NBA Finals and took out the heavily-favored Los Angeles Lakers, claiming the franchise’s third NBA title.
Time have changed, and so has the Pistons’ roster. Gone are Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton and now Tayshaun Prince. The core five from the teams that captured a championship, lost in seven games the next year and reached six-consecutive Eastern Conference Finals is finally caput.
But what about when those franchise greats returned to the Palace of Auburn Hills for the first time with their new teams? Was the fan reaction full of joy and admiration or frustration and genuine disdain? We’ve seen four cases so far, and the final chapter comes tonight.
Tayshaun Prince — February 19, 2013
That brings us to tonight’s game. Not only is it the team’s first game back from the All Star break, but it’s also the return of a Pistons’ greats in Austin Daye.
Just kidding, Tayshaun Prince makes his triumphant return to the Palace tonight with his new team, the Memphis Grizzlies. Prince was the final piece of that 2004 title team to depart from the Motor City, and while he’s only been in Memphis for six games, you’d have to expect a pretty warm welcome for the man they call the Palace Prince.
Really, outside his taking shots at some of the franchise’s recent coaches, Prince has been the only stable aspect of this organization over the past five years. Not only has he been relatively consistent on the court, but his demeanor and attitude has never really changed. For as important as the other four starters on that title team were, Prince was always a constant. You could always rely on him to do what he needed to do — defend, make good decisions and make some timely shots — and that’s admirable.
Ben Wallace — February 25, 2007
The first of the five championship starters to leave, the post-Pistons tour for Ben Wallace wasn’t quite as great as he probably would have hoped. After leaving in the summer of 2006 to sign a 4-year, $52 million contract with the Chicago Bulls, Ben returned to the Palace early the next season to a, well, mixed bag of cheers, jeers and boos from the crowd.
He did leave the Pistons for more money and a division rival, but part of that was the fact that Joe Dumars didn’t want to pay Wallace $10-plus million a season — a decision that worked out well for the Pistons as Ben’s regression really kicked in during those Chicago years. Of course, he also has a unique situation because he returned to the team in 2009.
When Ben and the Bulls did come to Detroit that following year, it wasn’t just Ben’s welcome that didn’t go quite as planned. The Pistons defeated the Bulls, 95-93 in a midseason matchup. Ben did have a solid game, scoring six points to go with eight rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks, but late in the game, it was his replacement, Chris Webber, who tipped in a missed shot with 2.2 seconds left to give the Pistons the win.
Chauncey Billups — March 3, 2009
Maybe the most beloved Piston of the group, Chauncey Billups was in the center of the much-maligned trade that brought Allen Iverson to Detroit in 2009. His return came just months after being traded and the Palace welcome was arguably one of the warmest any visiting player has ever received. I bet that video gives you the chills, too. However, despite Billups eventual success with the Nuggets, for one night, his former team got the best of him.
Despite scoring a game-high 34 points, Billups and the Carmelo-less Nuggets were actually out-dueled by the very average Pistons, in particular the remaining starters. Billups was fantastic in his return, but all five Pistons’ starters — the remaining core of Prince, Hamilton, Rasheed, McDyess and Rodney Stuckey — scored at least 15 points en-route to the victory.
There are still fans in Detroit who cringe when the words “Chauncey and Iverson” are brought up. Part of the warm welcome he received was basically the fact that Billups didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t leave for more money or because things weren’t working for him in Detroit — he was moved as a part of a rebuilding-on-the-fly plan that didn’t quite work out.
Hell, Chauncey Billups is the kind of guy that, if somehow the Basketball Gods played some sick joke on the NBA and created a Pistons-Clippers NBA Finals this year, fans here would still cheer for him no matter what.
Rasheed Wallace — January 20, 2010
The most intriguing player, and person, of the core group, Rasheed has an interesting return scenario. He was the final piece to that championship puzzle, and he was still played solid when things began to go downhill in 2009. Then, the following season, he left to sign with the defending champion Boston Celtics and, though it was another key cog from those beloved teams, it felt sort of right for both sides.
Rasheed had a unique personality and in many ways, that was something that the Pistons were going to have to part from whenever they fully began the rebuild/failed reload. That happened in 2009, and with Rasheed’s departure came the return of Ben Wallace and the introduction of Greg Monroe — the face of the franchise today.
His return, like those before him, didn’t go quite as well. The raucous crowd of 6,000 or so fans did provide a good share of cheers, “SHEEEED” bellowed through the air and Rasheed didn’t disappoint on the court. He finished with 16 points and seven rebounds, but that wasn’t enough as a strange being posing as a dynamic NBA player named Rodney Stuckey, put togehter a 27 point, 11 rebound and six assist effort in the Pistons’ 92-86 victory.
Rip Hamilton — January 4, 2012
There’s actually no quality video of Hamilton’s return to the Palace, but there was also no real quality anything with the way he and the Pistons broke up. While Ben Wallace was booed by fans based on how he departed, Hamilton’s situation may be the worst. He was one of the great constants during that stretch of success, but as times got rough, he wasn’t quite the best solider and teammate.
Oh, and there was the whole Berating John Kuester In Front Of The Whole Team rumor along with the practice boycott in Philly and the problems he had with coming off the bench and co-existing with Iverson.
That’s just kind of the way things went down during a time when absolutely nothing could go right for the franchise. Hamilton ended up being waived by Detroit and signed by the Bulls. Like Ben Wallace, Hamilton returned to the Place to a mixed bag of cheers and boos. Unlike his former teammates in their returns, Hamilton and the Bulls got the best of a bad Pistons’ team. Hamilton tallied 14 points and five assists and along with Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer, drilled the Pistons, 99-83.
As you saw in some of those previous video clips, only Billups really got a truly warm welcome back, but Tayshaun should be welcomed back in a comparably warm way to Billups tonight.
Interesting enough, the Pistons are actually 3-1 in these homecoming games, with their only loss coming last season when Hamilton made his return. Obviously, that doesn’t mean much tonight, but outside the Pistons’ team that beat Ben Wallace in 2009, these games have actually been something of upsets.
I’m sure the Pistons would love to see Tayshaun receive a warm welcome tonight, but once the introductions end, I’m sure they’d love to get another win, too.