Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bleachers' Brew #156 Detroit Rocked City

This appears in my column in the Monday May 4, 2009 edition of the Business Mirror.

Detroit Pistons' Richard Hamilton, right, and Will Bynum walk off the court late in the fourth quarter of their 99-78 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a first-round NBA playoff sweep. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Detroit Rocked City
Troubleshooting the Pistons? Detroit overlooked one man and history and that is their fatal flaw.
by rick olivares

The ride is over.

Even if you turned the key it still wouldn’t start.

Detroit General Manager Joe Dumars attempted to jumpstart the Pistons by trading Mr. Big Shot for Mr. Big Problem. And you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out how that affects your starter, wiring, distributor, fuel pump ... could be a lot of things, but let at the end of the day, it all adds up to a dead battery from Motown.

One of the most feared and consistent franchises of the new millennium has gone the way of Tracy McGrady – out the first round with and questions that will haunt them for a long summer (and it still is spring time so that’s even longer).

And like McGrady, who will eat humble pie knowing that the Houston Rockets beat the talented Portland Trailblazers to move to the Western semis without him, Dumars will wonder if he should have started the rebuilding last year as everyone expected him to do.

It would be tempting to say that the end of this current team of Pistons began when Ben Wallace departed for Chicago except that this team remained an Eastern power for another year or two.

One can point to the early season trade of Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson as a huge breakdown for this team. Mr. Big Shot turned out to be the Real Answer for the Denver Nuggets that was immediately buoyed by the trade. Iverson threw a monkey wrench into the team’s cylinders and left Detroit with even more questions about its ability to compete with the likes of Boston, Cleveland, and Orlando.

The truth is it’s the aforementioned two and the merry-go-round of head coaches since 2004 – Larry Brown, Flip Saunders, and Michael Curry.

Those precise half-court sets – screen and roll or kick outs for three -- are long gone and with them went the effectiveness of team.

Dumars threats to blow up the team didn’t help any.

(Rodney Stuckey, from left, Tayshaun Prince and Walter Herrmann sit on the bench in the fourth quarter of a 99-78 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of a first-round NBA playoff basketball game Sunday, April 26, 2009, in Auburn Hills, Mich. Prince, a starter, was held to just two points. The Cavaliers swept the best-of-seven series.)

Jason Maxiell wasn’t as energetic and explosive and Rodney Stuckey, who was supposed to make up for Billups was stuck on neutral. Rip Hamilton shot the daylights out on some days and shot blanks on others. Tayshaun Prince took his benchwarmer status in the Redeem Team in Beijing back to Detroit. Even Rasheed Wallace, able to attract “T” with a simple pained look in his face didn’t have that fire in him anymore.

Whatever happened to “Deee-troit baaasketball?

They went from second gen Bad Boys to baaad boys.

As much as all of that can be gleaned from troubleshooting these Pistons, most everyone has overlooked one glaring fact.

Their reign as Kings of the Eastern Conference interstate highways was carpet-bombed from up above.

The one thing that has greatly changed since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were playing in Converse Weapons is how much the game is played in the air right now. And when you talk about air supremacy there’s no foremost practitioner of the art than the soon to be crowned NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James.

Dumars should have learned from Pistons history. Back when his team of Bad Boys made the NBA Finals for three consecutive years they were holding back the Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan from taking off. But when #23, His Airness, unshackled himself from the Jordan Rules that inspired the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat, there was no turning back.

And in the last couple of years, there was another #23 blocking the path of the Pistons… LeBron James.

Just like the Bulls did in 1991, the Cavaliers swept the Pistons except not in what they believe is their annual birthright that is the Eastern Conference Finals but in the first round which is reserved for the McGradys of this world.

When Jordan led the Bulls past the Pistons to a sweep after averaging 29.75ppg, 5.25 rpg, 7 apg, 2.25 spg, their fallen foes left the court without so much congratulating the new Eastern Champs.

When James dismantled the Pistons for the only first round sweep this NBA post-season, he averaged 32.0 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 7.5 apg, and 1.5 spg and gave Dumars the impetus to finally rebuild the team after he declared so over a year ago.

That’s what the airpower of one man can do (although it can be argued that the Bulls of yesteryear and these Cavs have seen the supporting casts get better). And it recalls to mind of what Bobby Jones said about Julius Erving, the granddaddy of all high-flyers: "He destroys the adage I've always been taught -- that one man cannot do it alone.”

These guys did everything humanly possible to affect the game in all its aspects from offense to defense. Ditto for the intangibles and that greatly inspired their teammates to get over the hump.

So where does that leave the proud Detroit Pistons? In case they aren’t aware, General Motors has laid off a large number of employees in the wake of the current recession.

In the 90’s, Detroit figured that if they couldn’t beat Jordan then maybe they could draft their own high flyer -- and they did in the person of Grant Hill -- who could lead them to another plane; another plateau. Instead, after some initial success in the Palace of Auburn Hills, Hill took the high road for Orlando.

So will history repeat itself?

At this point, troubleshooting is over. It’s time to build from scratch.

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