Two weeks, the Pistons did something important and something attention-grabbing.
These were two distinct moves.
Their trade for Ersan Ilyasova excited fans – deservedly so. Ilyasova is better than any free agent power forward the Pistons likely could have signed, and they surrendered just a couple veterans on unguaranteed contracts in line to be waived (Caron Butler and Shawne Williams). And Ilyasova’s contract won’t prevent them from being major players in free agency.
It’s a moderate win all-around, which, adds up to a pretty impressive deal.
The Pistons’ other move carries much more weight.
They affirmed their commitment to play in The Palace of Auburn Hills, sparing Detroit taxpayers the burden of subsidizing a billionaire’s business.
The Pistons are one of the country’s few professional sports team to play in a privately built stadium. Bill Davidson never got enough credit for constructing The Palace on his own dime. Tom Gores doesn’t get enough credit for using private money to keep the arena viable.
Too many call on the Pistons to move downtown because they like the idea of the professional basketball team playing in the city it represents. They talk about the money that would flow, the good it would do for Detroit’s development.
But they ignore the most important question: Who would actually pay for the new arena?
The answer, city after city – including Detroit – has shown, would be taxpayers. And nearly just as often, it has proven to be a losing deal for the community.
I expect the Red Wings’ new arena to follow the well-established pattern.
The Ilitches are sure to come out ahead. But at every turn, they’ve resisted making their pledges for Detroit legally binding. This will be mutually beneficial only if they want it to be – and the long history of public funding is littered with broken promises.
Gores could probably get a similar deal if he pushed for Detroit to build him an arena. Or more likely, he could join the Red Wings in theirs.
But that would only harm Detroit.
Even though the Red Wings arena – which the teams could share – is already being built, the money taxpayers are kicking in could go to better use. Schools, police, roads. These are things nearly everyone uses. The Pistons are enjoyed by only their fans, which is a much smaller group than the bubble that supports the team realizes.
Also consider that The Palace remains a fine place to watch a game, and it’d be even more irresponsible for Detroit to funnel money to Gores.
Thankfully, Gores hasn’t asked for it – because as the Red Wings showed, he could probably get it.
Gores has had his share of missteps since buying the Pistons in 2011.
He demanded a playoff berth before the team was ready to set such short-term goals. He oversaw the disastrous Ben Gordon trade rather than spending a little more to just amnesty the guard. He kept Joe Dumars past the point it should have become clear the two couldn’t share a healthy working relationship.
But as long as he’s keeping the private Palace functional and not shifting his burden onto the taxpayers, he has my overall support.
After all, you have to prioritize what’s really important.