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As free agency awaits, future uncertain for Pistons Maxiell & Bynum

George Blaha reflects on Jason Maxiell and Will Bynum's tenures with the Pistons.
Scott Cunningham/Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
I always feel a bit sentimental and nostalgic at this time of year because I know that not everybody on the team will be back next season. Almost without exception, somebody who’s been an important part of the Pistons, not just on the court but off of it, leaves for one reason or another. We have two players this season who’ll be free agents who are going to draw some interest around the league in Jason Maxiell and Will Bynum. I hope they don’t end up elsewhere, but they very well could.

I want what’s best for the Pistons and what’s best for the guys and usually that works itself out. But in looking at what Max and Will have done for our team, you’ve got to look at some flat-out competitors who both give you all they have every time they’re on the court.

If you watch the games from where I watch them, that becomes even more obvious.

Let’s start with Jason. Here’s a guy who’s undersized for a power forward but more often than not holds his own against some of the strongest players in the NBA. You can’t do that without staying in shape and without busting it every night you’re out there. His willingness to stick his nose in there at all times endeared him to Lawrence Frank when Lawrence first got here and what he has done, I’m sure, makes former teammates like Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace proud.

He’s carried on the tradition of physical play in Detroit. You’ve got to love how improved at the free-throw line and how consistent he became with his jump shot and all those dynamite dunks. This is a player I hope the fans appreciate as much as I do. I’ve always said he gives you a day’s work for a day’s pay.

I know this about Jason Maxiell. He came to us right after the Pistons had been in the Finals twice and won in ’04 and he fit right in. Often, that’s not the easiest thing to do on a team that has developed its own persona, but he was a perfect complement to that Goin’ to Work group because he was one of them from the first day he put on a Pistons uniform. Everybody on the squad trusted him to work his tail off and do the right thing and to do what those guys had done – protect each other on the court. He doesn’t say much, but he really is a solid guy who would do anything for you.

I feel bad he won’t get to finish the season on the court if this turns out to be his last season in Detroit. The eye injury that he suffered will rob him of the last few games and the Pistons, because of everybody’s hard work including Jason’s, are finally starting to play the kind of basketball that I think they always felt they were capable of playing. But these things don’t happen overnight and without a lot of effort from a lot of people and Jason was a big part of that effort. He’s a quality guy, and wherever he goes, if it turns out that way, he’ll be a great get for any GM and coach.

Just like Jason Maxiell, Will Bynum will go on my list of all-time favorite Pistons. This guy is such a competitor and so determined and he’s paid the physical price to get here. Heck, even in high school he was undersized in many ways and he had a great career at Crane Tech in the tough Chicago Public League. Then he went on to a great college career at Arizona and Georgia Tech, where he carried Tech into the 2004 NCAA title game with the game-winner to beat Oklahoma State.

When he didn’t get drafted, Will went on to become a star in Europe, but his dream was always to play in the NBA. I think until you have Will Bynum on your team, you don’t realize everything he brings to the table. Because he was undersized, he had to come to the league for the NBA minimum, but that wasn’t going to deter him from his NBA dream and I respect him for that. He could have just continued to make big money in Europe, but instead he pursued the NBA because he believed he could play basketball at the highest level.

This is the greatest league in the world and there have been nights when Will Bynum has been the best player on the floor for 48 minutes. He can take over a game. We all know that. Look at his Pistons record for points in a quarter, 26, and what he does when he’s unleashed and he’s rolling. He can get hoops for himself and for his teammates like almost nobody else in the league when he gets on a roll.

Will’s always been able to score. He was a legendary Chicago high school player and always had that scorer’s mentality. But he says he learned to become a point guard when he was playing for the Euroleague power, Maccabi Tel Aviv, and he knew when he came to the NBA he was going to have to defend and be a pest on the ball and he was going to have to set up his teammates.

I think he’s proven beyond all doubt that he can do both of those things and he can still score. Last night in Cleveland, still playing with a strained hand, he scored 12 important points for the Pistons in the fourth quarter. Without his explosion, they don’t win the game despite all of Andre Drummond’s heroics, and yet he’s the guy who really unleashed Andre earlier this season, setting him up with his driving and the lobs to Andre for easy dunks.

Those two had unbelievable chemistry and the other Pistons guards have kind of followed suit. But Will was the first guy to unleash Andre and I’m sure he will always remember that. Will’s idea now when he goes to the basket is to get somebody a dunk or a layup, but if he can’t do that he knows he can probably finish himself. He’s not your average bear. This guy is multitalented and if he’s not playing in a Pistons uniform in the future, I’m going to be looking in that box score and the highlight reels every night to see what Will’s doing. He’ll always be exciting to watch and you’ll always be proud of his effort if he wears your uniform.