Posted Mar 2 2011 3:45PM
Bill Davidson was one of the great owners in professional sports, and when he died, a generous piece of the Pistons went with him.
The team you see today -- fractured, mismanaged, troubled and embarrassing, a Charlie Sheen interview, basically -- isn't the one you once knew. The Pistons under Mr. D were a model in every which way, a rousing success financially and a rock on the floor. That's why the current mess is so alarming, and Detroit can only hope Tom Gores can change the stale atmosphere of a team suddenly viewed as a cruel joke.
When the sale of the Pistons to Gores becomes final, the new owner must bring down the sledgehammer, Rick Mahorn-style, because enough is enough. The Palace, once filled to the rim, is soulless and defiantly silent. The general manager, Joe Dumars, is reeling from a series of franchise-crippling mistakes. The coach, John Kuester, is clueless and vulnerable. And two remaining players from the good old days, Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, are suddenly sour and bitter and worst of all, poisonous.
Once the team shifts from Mr. D to Mr. G, there must also be a drastic shift in philosophy and some accountability, or else the Pistons run the risk of becoming just another blight in Detroit, abandoned and neglected.
Where did it go wrong? How did a franchise that owes its three championships to the team concept suddenly crumble into what we saw last weekend, when several players stiffed their coach? Well, yes, it can be traced back to the loss of a great owner. But there are the ripple effects, too.
Karen Davidson didn't want to own the team or the Palace; she would rather have cashed out and moved on. Which was fine, except the potential sale of her late husband's assets hit too many recession-placed roadblocks and dragged on longer than anyone previously thought. And in the interim, leadership suffered.
Tom Wilson, the long-time team president and loyal lieutenant to Mr. D, resigned. The team's public relations director for nearly three decades was fired and days later was found dead in his home. He was 51. Financial handcuffs placed on Dumars made him powerless to clean up the oversights he made in trades, or to fire Kuester, who was a bad/cheap hire in the first place.
What's left is a shell of a former powerhouse franchise that routinely went deep into the postseason, printed money at the Palace and saw its value soar high enough to be placed with the Lakers, Knicks and Celtics, teams in larger markets with more financial advantages. That's why Davidson was such a genius. He hired the right people, the Pistons were stable and they made many millions.
Now, the first order of business for Gores is to decide what to do with Dumars. The odds are against the general manager. Dumars' biggest mistake, aside from the Darko Milicic disaster, was holding onto Hamilton and Prince at least two seasons too long. Both players, spoiled by the good times, have undermined Kuester and torpedoed the Pistons with their high salaries and fading reputations. They've set a bad example for Austin Daye, Rodney Stuckey and Greg Monroe, three young players who are worth keeping. Hamilton, especially, bit the hand that fed him a $12 million-a-year contract by refusing to accept a trade and buyout from the Cavs.
One big reason Dumars didn't trade Hamilton and Prince is because he signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva two years ago and figured the Pistons still had a shelf life. Well, in hindsight, those signings were money poorly spent. One mistake led to another.
And for the second straight time, Dumars chose the wrong coach, with Kuester following Michael Curry, who quickly lost the locker room and lasted only one year.
Kuester probably has his bags packed, knowing he won't be back. As for cleaning up the roster, that's at least a two-year project, depending on Gores' willingness to spend and the new labor agreement. Detroit isn't exactly a choice destination for A-list free agents, so smart drafting is a must for a team that took Milicic over Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.
Strangely enough, despite the turmoil, the Pistons still have a shot at making the playoffs. Kuester and Hamilton put a smiley face on their relationship the other day, pretending to respect one another. Any late surge by this so-called newly-united team will be fool's gold, however, because the issues affecting them can't be swept aside easily. Too many important decisions await new ownership, and the immediate future of the franchise is at stake.
Bill Davidson never would've stood for this. But then, this would've never happened on his Rolex, either.
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