The return for Prince and Austin Daye was Jose Calderon, whose playmaking has given Lawrence Frank’s offense a jolt. The Pistons are 3-3 since Calderon was cleared to play as visa issues were resolved two weeks ago. Frank says he’s up to speed with what he’s been handed, but that the offense will continue to evolve as new wrinkles designed to take advantage of Calderon’s strengths are added.
“You continue to grow – getting him defensively on the same page with what we’re doing and then offensively it’s continue to cater to him,” Frank said. “There are things he does real well we want to be able to take advantage of, so we’ll continue to add those things as we move forward.”
Frank sees the trade as a win all the way around. Toronto got the go-to scorer it was seeking in Rudy Gay, Memphis accomplished its financial goals of unloading a major salary to avoid luxury tax consequences without mortally wounding its chances to chase a title, and the Pistons added a playmaker to better balance the roster while giving themselves the opportunity for even greater cap space heading into the off-season.
“I think it’s a win for everyone – I really do,” he said. “Ideally, that’s how trades are supposed to be. That’s being a good general manager and understanding the needs of a team. Tay and Austin have been very good fits there, Jose has been a great fit here and Rudy Gay has done a tremendous job in Toronto.”
With Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol as centerpieces of the offense, Prince has assumed a role not unlike what he held with the Pistons in the days when Billups, Hamilton and the Wallaces were making routine All-Star appearances.
“Tay is used to playing off the ball,” Frank said. “You think about how he basically played for the better part of his career here. Occasionally, they’ll throw him a postup here or there. When he’s in there with (Jerryd) Bayless, he’ll handle the ball a little bit more. Tay will get his stuff out of transition, he’ll get it out of flow, an occasional drop. Austin’s gotten some really good spot-up opportunities off pick-and-roll play.”
Prince slid into Memphis’ vacancy at small forward created by the inclusion of Gay in the three-team trade. In six games, the last five as the starter, Memphis is 4-2 with three straight wins while Prince has averaged 10.3 points, 3 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 32 minutes. Daye is averaging 6.5 points in 13 minutes a game as the backup to Prince, who came to the Pistons in the 2002 draft and spent his entire career in Detroit, an increasing rarity in the age of free agency.
Ben Wallace was the first to leave among the championship group’s starters, who logged ironman minutes through the middle part of the previous decade. With the Pistons facing a cap crunch, they simply couldn’t match the $60 million, four-year contract Chicago offered Wallace in July 2006. But Big Ben’s Palace return didn’t come until seven months after the departure.
Billups, Rasheed Wallace and Hamilton left in 2008, ’09 and ’11, leaving Prince as the last man standing from the group that advanced to six straight Eastern Conference championship runs and nearly repeated as 2005 champions, losing to San Antonio in a seven-game Finals.
“It’s great to have Tay and Austin back,” Frank said. “The longevity of his service and the success that he was a part of with the championship and six Eastern Conference championship runs, what he did here, his growth in a leadership role.”
The Pistons won’t have time for any sentimental reunions after the game. They’ll head immediately to Charlotte and wind up playing four games in five nights coming out of the All-Star break.
The schedule picks up for the home stretch. Just as the Pistons led the NBA in games played for the first two months of the season, they’ll stay busy over the final two months with 28 games in the final 59 days.