Ready … or Not?
Pistons home finale: Big Ben’s last hurrah?
This one could hold more intrigue than usual: Ben Wallace could be playing his final game and Lawrence Frank could be considering starting him – Mason: “Buh-buh-buh Ben … Wallace! – to commemorate the occasion.
Frank, for his part, is playing coy: “That is going to be one of the to-be-determined, surprise elements of this season,” he said. “I’ve got to have something in my pocket.”
It’s Big Ben, of course, who holds the biggest unknown in his pocket: Will this really be his final game?
He’s not saying, but he’s gone from being stone-cold adamant early in the season that this was to be his final year – “I’m going to go home and play with my kids” – to leaving the door cracked in recent weeks. In the past few seasons, Wallace has given himself a little recovery time – and in his case, that usually means days, not weeks – at season’s end before getting back in the gym to see what his body tells him about playing another year.
Frank has been careful not to insert himself into the decision-making process, but the way Wallace won him over this year leaves little room to doubt he would welcome him back.
“Ben can still contribute in a winning way,” he said. “I can’t speak for him, but I would imagine you would want to keep your options open. What he decides to do, ultimately, is totally on him. The impact he’s had on our team is well documented and he’s done a phenomenal job of contributing every single day.”
Frank has admitted one topic he felt he needed to address with Wallace before the season was how he would adapt to a minor role. Frank laughs about it now. “I was way off,” he said. “Waaaay off.”
“I can respect the fact he was honest about it,” Wallace said, “but like he said, it was way off. He said, ‘An aging superstar, I know how hard that can be to deal with sometimes, but I expect you to be a player that plays as needed. If I need you to go out there because somebody’s in foul trouble, I might ask you to do that. If I need you to sit on the sideline in a blazer and cheer for your teammates, I might ask you to do that.’
“I told him, ‘Look, I don’t expect to come in here and play 30, 35 minutes a night. What you all ask me to do, I’m going to do to the best of my ability. If we come to camp, you throw the ball up and there’s an opportunity to earn some minutes, then I’m all for that. But if we come to camp and you’re just hellbent on not playing me, just let me know and I’ll do whatever I can do to help the team.’ ”
It wasn’t the first time Wallace has had that conversation. It went something like that in the summer of 2009 when he made contact with Joe Dumars to explore the possibility of returning to the Pistons once he completed buyout negotiations with Phoenix.
“You never know how a great player is going to deal with the last years of his career,” Dumars said. “That can go either way. Ben has been a model for how you want to do it toward the end of your career. Not only what he does on the court, but the way he’s handled things, that’s why Lawrence has gained so much respect for Ben. He knew what Ben did on the court in his younger days and to see him now, as a veteran guy, accept his role, embrace it, to be a great professional, Lawrence, like many other coaches, has to appreciate that.”
About that conversation Joe D and Big Ben had three years ago: The idea was that after some frustrating seasons since leaving Detroit in 2006 as a free agent, Wallace wanted to come back to retire as a Piston. He intended it to be a one-year farewell tour. As that season wound down, his body let him know he wasn’t ready to retire.
It might be whispering similar sentiments to him again.