Back to the Future

With transition to ownership complete, Pistons eager to get to work

While LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal commanded most media attention, the Pistons quietly ushered in a new era.
Larry Busacca/Brian Babineau/Getty
News that the NBA unanimously approved the transfer of Pistons ownership to Tom Gores doesn’t generate the headlines of LeBron James taking his talents to South Beach or cause the same stir as Shaquille O’Neal calling it quits.

But don’t assume that the amount of newsprint or cyberspace devoted to those stories relative to this one defines their impact. Any pro sports team caught in the transition of ownership faces unique challenges, not the least of them the perception that their business grinds to a halt. Even when that doesn’t match the reality, the effects can be significant.

Whatever the effects were for the Pistons – and even Joe Dumars can’t know what deals other GMs didn’t bother to propose because of the inherent perceptions of a team in ownership transition – those days are behind the Pistons now.

It doesn’t mean the franchise will transform itself overnight, just as a race car fresh out of the repair shop isn’t guaranteed to sit on the pole. But all things are again possible starting now for the Pistons, battered the past two seasons by bad luck and bad timing.

Gores said in early April, when the agreement in principle to purchase the Pistons was reached with Karen Davidson, that he and his team were not yet in decision-making mode but a learning phase. If he’s proven anything since the mid-’90s launch of Platinum Equity, the Los Angeles-based private equity firm that rose from infancy to industry giant in less than a decade, it’s that he’s a fast learner.

Pistons fans will be fascinated to find out what he’s learned in the intervening weeks. He’s not apt to take a bulldozer to the Pistons – he’s made that much clear already, calling it “an unbelievable organization” in April. But he’s been equally emphatic that “we’re ready for change.”

There was a sense surrounding last year’s team of being trapped in the present. With David Stern’s simple pronouncement before Game 1 of the NBA Finals tipped on Tuesday night – “The Board of Governors has approved the sale of the Detroit Pistons to a group led by Tom Gores” – the Pistons stepped eagerly into their future.

  • About Shaq: There’s room for honest debate about his place in history. Pick his best two or three years, though, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone have greater impact. The cherry atop the sundae with Shaq was his intellect, humor and frankness. His opinions were sometimes a little loopy, but he was larger than life and rarely dull. Unique is a dreadfully overused word, but Shaq was one of a kind.

  • Game 1 of the Finals was something less than an aesthetic success, but a reminder of what an engaged team of special athletes can do to make half of an NBA-sized basketball court look like a really small space. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh signed for a combined $300 million-plus last July primarily because they can all consistently drop 25 points a night if required to, but the Heat are three wins from an NBA title because they also can and do apply rare athletic gifts to the defensive end.

  • But I’d hold off on engraving the Larry O’Brien Trophy just yet. (Seriously, the Heat win a home game and the ESPN buzz Wednesday morning was how many titles in a row they could capture.) The one thing that can beat suffocating half-court defense is extraordinary shooting, and no team is better equipped to stage four extraordinary shooting performances than Dallas.

  • When the Mavs overspent to retain Brendan Haywood last summer and then took on Tyson Chandler’s outsized contract from Charlotte, giving them 14-plus feet of rebounding and shot-blocking in the middle, it seemed apparent Mark Cuban was committing huge payroll tax dollars to construct a team specifically equipped to topple the Lakers and Celtics with their own enormous frontcourts. But all that size doesn’t mean as much against Miami. The guy they really need to help combat James and Wade is Caron Butler.

  • Found this amusing, from an Associated Press story out of Charlotte: “(Charlotte coach Paul) Silas was looking forward to what he called an intense two-week session he has planned with (Kwame) Brown. Silas remains hopeful the impending free-agent center stays in Charlotte.

    “Kwame is going to be unbelievable this year because we’re going to have a chance to work on some of his deficiencies,” Silas said. “When he comes back people are going to marvel at him at the way he’s going to be playing.”

    Silas isn’t the first to gush about Brown’s gifts or to predict a career rebirth. Dave Cowens, when he was on Michael Curry’s staff with the Pistons prior to the 2008-09 season, gave similarly glowing accounts of Brown’s future, saying his feet were as good as any big man he could recall.

    He’s a 10-year vet. He’s been coached by some really good ones. He’s a good guy and he puts in the effort. But he is what he is at this point.

  • Interesting speculation out of Golden State: Jerry West’s influence is likely to lead to the Warriors being more aggressive in trying to trade Monta Ellis. As much fun as he is to watch, I don’t know that the market for him will come close to overheating. He’s not someone you can plug into any offense and expect smooth sailing.