Deadline Rewards

Deals in ’89, ’04 for Aguirre, Wallace led to 3 Pistons titles

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There is always risk involved when you’re a team maybe good enough to win the NBA title and you make a deal at the trade deadline in February, just a few short months before the playoffs begin. The Rasheed Wallace trade the Pistons made in 2004 probably wasn’t a very risky move – but it took an incredible amount of work and persuading on Joe Dumars’ behalf to get it done.

But the 1989 trade that sent Adrian Dantley to Dallas for Mark Aguirre – that was a risky move.

If the Pistons would have hung on in the face of that late call in Game 7 of the 1988 NBA Finals and Isiah’s ankle and all of that to beat the Lakers, Adrian Dantley would have been the MVP of the Finals. We’re talking about an NBA Hall of Famer, and yet Mark Aguirre was a great scorer and one of the game’s elite small forwards, just as Adrian was.

I really believe that trade was as much about Dennis Rodman as it was about Adrian Dantley and Mark Aguirre.

Adrian Dantley had the ultimate crunch-time mental toughness on his side. He wanted to be in the game at the end and felt like if he was fouled, he could go to the free-throw line and win it. That’s what he worked all his life to do.

And Chuck Daly, when he realized what he had in Dennis Rodman – who I think is a future Hall of Famer and, in fact, is on the ballot this year – wanted him to be a finisher because of his great defense. So he had a problem on his hands. No question, AD didn’t want to come out of games and you can’t blame him. He was a winner and a guy who could win the game for you down the stretch. Then you had Dennis Rodman, who could defend all five positions.

If your main goal was to shut down the other guy’s small forward – and that was an era where there great small forwards, especially players like Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins and Larry Nance and Scottie Pippen in the East, and of course in the West the Pistons had to have somebody who could guard James Worthy if they were going to win it all – and make somebody else beat you, you put Dennis Rodman in the game.

It seemed like a situation where Mark Aguirre might be better suited to that role of sitting out down the stretch. I think that was why the trade was made as much as anything else. If you look at Jack McCloskey’s record, he wasn’t afraid to trade small forwards. He traded Greg Kelser for Vinnie Johnson, then traded Kelly Tripucka for AD and AD for Mark Aguirre. And I think you could have probably won the championship with any one of them.

Gregory eventually injured his knee, but at the beginning he had tremendous ability and potential. We all know Kelly Tripucka was a guy who once averaged 25 a game in this league. And AD – what can you say about AD, except that he was a pro’s pro and a great, great scorer. And Mark Aguirre did win a championship in combination with Dennis Rodman. So it all worked out for the Pistons, though I’m sure there is certainly disappointment and always will be for Kelly Tripucka and Adrian Dantley.

Then there’s the Rasheed deal. Rasheed had his naysayers – among people who really didn’t know anything about him except that the media perhaps didn’t like him. But I had a connection in Portland with Harry Hutt, who had been an executive with the Pistons, and I had heard nothing but good things about Rasheed from his teammates and Harry.

When I heard that Joe D had pulled off that trade for Rasheed, I felt like if you get a player with that kind of ability who is a great teammate, you might have just punched your ticket to a championship. Yes, the Pistons won a title without a superstar, but they had guys with superstar ability and Rasheed was certainly right there at the top of that list.

Good for Joe for making that deal. When you’ve won a title or two yourself, as Joe did, I think you have a feel for what it might take to finish off a world championship team. Certainly, Rasheed was a perfect piece to fit in that puzzle. I think he was the kind of guy Detroit fans grew to love. He was really one of us and that made it an even better idea.

I don’t think the numbers tell the story when it comes to Rasheed Wallace – they never have. He had some great years statistically in Portland, but his numbers could have been better. Some say, then why weren’t they? What I say is what really mattered to Rasheed – back to his days at Simon Gratz High in Philly – was winning basketball games.

That’s what mattered to him at North Carolina and certainly what mattered to him as a pro. I thought he could have been, in the twilight of his career, the guy who put the Boston Celtics over the top. And I believe if Kendrick Perkins hadn’t gone down in Game 6, the Celtics would have won and Rasheed would have two championships. That’s what really mattered to Rasheed.

His teammates felt better when he was on the floor. They felt better even when he was just sitting on the bench. Just to have Rasheed Wallace there made a difference. There’s a certain swagger, a certain basketball IQ, a certain winning spirit that comes with Rasheed being on your team. Anybody who won a title with the Pistons in 2004 would tell you the exact same thing.

There’s a school of thought that says if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Pistons weren’t broken teams in either 1989 or 2004 but they had general managers who went for it to try to make their teams just a little bit better. If you feel you’re within reach of a championship, go ahead and do it. It worked out beautifully for the Pistons with Rasheed Wallace in 2004. It worked in 1989, too, and I understand the thinking behind it, but I also feel the Pistons could have won it all with Adrian Dantley – but they did win it all with Mark Aguirre and that’s the bottom line.