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PISTONS DIGEST: Mr. Big Shot on deck to be next Pistons great in hoop Hall of Fame

AUBURN HILLS, MI - JUNE 14: of the San Antonio Spurs against the Detroit Pistons in Game Three of the 2005 NBA Finals on June 14, 2005 at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Mr. Big Shot is getting his shot at basketball’s ultimate reward for those who made the sport their life’s work. When the Naismith Hall of Fame announced its finalists for the Class of 2024, the player at the heart of the Goin’ to Work Pistons that won the 2004 NBA title and came within a whisker of a repeat was among those named.

That team remains the most unique champion since the NBA spread its wings and became a true sporting giant in the 1980s, triggered by the arrival of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird off the captivating 1979 NCAA championship game that smashed viewing records.

The Goin’ to Work Pistons were most similar among NBA champions of the past 40 years to their predecessors, the Bad Boys, for the decentralized nature of their structure. But even to a greater degree than the Bad Boys – who, after all, had the NBA’s pre-eminent backcourt in Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars – the Goin’ to Work Pistons were a most atypically constructed championship group.

On any given night, it could be any one of their five starters – Billups, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince – who stepped into the starring role. To some degree, that’s worked against them when it comes to honoring them individually, though Wallace’s defensive prowess – a four-time Defensive Player of the Year winner, matched only by Dikembe Mutombo in NBA history – led to him becoming the first member of the Goin’ to Work gang to get to Springfield.

What else made the Goin’ to Work champions so unique was their back stories. Ben Wallace was barely a footnote to the larger story of Grant Hill signing to leave the Pistons in free agency in July 2000 as the Pistons were able to negotiate a sign-and-trade deal with Orlando. It seemed the darkest day in Pistons history at the time – Hill was an All-NBA player five straight seasons at the time of his exit when he was 27 and seemed destined to challenge Thomas as the greatest player in franchise history – but it turned into the first building block of an unlikely NBA champion.

Billups was a free-agent signing, but hardly one that stopped the presses. He signed for the mid-level exception and it’s still regarded as the greatest MLE signing of all time. He was the No. 3 pick of the 1997 draft but had cycled through five franchises in five seasons before signing in Detroit, where he would team with Hamilton, acquired a few months later in a stunning trade for Jerry Stackhouse, to become another All-Star backcourt pairing in Detroit.

Billups was a three-time All-NBA selection and became the consummate lead guard after finding common ground with the demanding Larry Brown on the art of running his team’s offense. Billups was also a two-time All-Defense selection and his toughness and poise under pressure made him the ideal quarterback of a team of strong-willed competitors. We’ll find out if Mr. Big Shot is about to join Big Ben in the Hall of Fame when the inductees are announced April 6 during the Final Four.

PISTONS TRIVIA

How many players who wore the Pistons uniform played college basketball at the University of Detroit?

A: 6

B: 4

C: 12

D: 8

THIS WEEK IN PISTONS HISTORY

On Feb. 19, 2004, the Pistons made a trade that would be hard to top for the greatest impact on what happened for the rest of that season, adding Rasheed Wallace in a three-team trade that barely beat the buzzer on trade-deadline day. Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, long an admirer of Wallace’s, tried to trade for him for two years and lost out to a bid from the Atlanta Hawks just days before the deadline. But the rebuilding Hawks had no real intention of keeping Wallace, so Dumars kept trying. But the Hawks wanted draft picks more than players, so Dumars had to reel in an old playing rival, Boston GM Danny Ainge, to satisfy Atlanta’s requirements. The Pistons wound up sending Bob Sura, Zeljko Rebraca and a first-round pick to Atlanta and Chucky Atkins, Lindsey Hunter and another first-round pick to Boston, which sent Mike James to the Pistons and Chris Mills to the Hawks. Boston immediately waived Hunter, who returned to the Pistons and teamed with James in a ball-hawking backcourt off Larry Brown’s bench. Wallace completed the Pistons and made them a dominant defensive team that would hold five straight opponents under 70 points that March. The Pistons went 20-6 to finish the regular season after adding Wallace. In the playoffs, the Pistons beat Milwaukee in five games, topped New Jersey in an epic seven-game second-round series, squeezed past Indiana in six slugfests in the conference finals and then cruised past the Lakers in the so-called “five-game sweep” to win the third NBA title in franchise history.

DID YOU SEE THIS?

With two steals in the last Pistons game, played Wednesday at Phoenix, Ausar Thompson kept alive his streak of consecutive games played while recording at least one steal, now sitting at 11. That’s the best mark for any Pistons rookie outside of the 15- and 13-game streaks Lindsey Hunter put together in his rookie year of 1993-94. Going into the Phoenix game, Thompson’s streak of 10 straight games with at least a steal put him in a three-way tie for third with Cade Cunningham and Grant Hill. Thompson leads the Pistons in steals with 53 in 54 games. Hunter ranks fourth in franchise history behind Isiah Thomas, Ben Wallace and Joe Dumars with 896 career steals. Thomas is one steal shy (1,861) of having twice as many steals as Wallace (931) atop the leader board. Thomas averaged 1.9 steals per game for his career. He ranks 18th on the NBA’s all-time steals list. John Stockton (3,265) of Utah has a nearly 600-steals lead over Jason Kidd. The leader among active players is Chris Paul at 2,580.

THE WEEK AHEAD

  • THURSDAY – The Pistons open the unofficial second “half” of the season – they’ll actually finish the night past the two-thirds mark – when they resume play out of the All-Star break at Indiana. The Pacers got to the break in the No. 6 spot, though tied in the loss column with both Miami and Orlando, the current seventh and eighth seeds. Indiana, a close second to Boston in offensive rating, has added Pascal Siakam via trade from Toronto since it last played the Pistons on Dec. 11. All-Star Tyrese Haliburton leads Indiana in scoring (21.8 per game) and the NBA in assists (11.7). In 15 games since joining Indiana, Siakam is averaging 21.4 points and 6.7 rebounds.

       7 p.m. on BALLY SPORTS DETROIT and WWJ-AM 950

  • SATURDAY – The Pistons host Orlando and will be looking to land their first win over the Magic in three tries this season. Orlando opens the second half fighting for a playoff berth, currently sporting a 30-25 record good for the No. 8 seed. Reigning Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero, the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, was named to the All-Star team and carries averages of 23.0 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.3 assists to lead the team in all three categories. Third-year forward Franz Wagner (21.1, 5.6, 4.1) scored a career-high 38 points to lead Orlando’s Feb. 4 win at Little Caesars Arena.

       8 p.m. on BALLY SPORTS DETROIT and 97.1 FM THE TICKET

TRIVIA ANSWER

A total of eight players who are Detroit Pistons alumni also played college basketball nearby at the University of Detroit, including Earl Cureton, who died unexpectedly at 66 on Feb. 4. The first of the eight was Bill Ebben, whose NBA career consisted of eight games with the Pistons in their inaugural season in Detroit, 1957-58. The next U of D Titan left a far bigger mark on the NBA: Dave DeBusschere, a local star at Detroit Austin Catholic High before an All-American career at U of D. DeBusschere, a Hall of Famer, spent the first 6½ years of his career with the Pistons starting in 1962. Terry Thomas, a ninth-round pick in 1975, played 28 games as a rookie and never played again in the NBA. Then came the dynamic duo of John Long and Terry Tyler, both second-round picks in 1978 after their decorated four-year careers under Dick Vitale at U of D. Long played 608 games over three separate stints with the Pistons, including playing a part in the 1988-89 NBA championship season, and retired at age 40 with the Toronto Raptors. Tyler, who still ranks second to Ben Wallace in franchise blocked shots, spent seven of his 10 NBA seasons with the Pistons and then played three more years in Italy. Terry Duerod, one year behind Long and Tyler at U of D and another local star from Highland Park, played one year for the Pistons as a rookie and became a fan favorite in Boston when he was with the Celtics from 1980-82. Larry Bird credited Duerod with teaching him the step-back jump shot and called Duerod the best shooter he’d ever had as a teammate. Point guard Dennis Boyd, a classmate of Duerod’s at U of D, played just five NBA games as a Pistons rookie in 1978-79. Cureton spent two years at U of D after spending his first two years at Robert Morris. He was a third-round pick of Philadelphia in 1980, won NBA titles with the 76ers and Rockets 11 years apart and in between played 234 games with the Pistons.

(Eddie Rivero, Pistons basketball information specialist, contributed to this report.)