Unfamiliar territory for Pistons
The old-young Pistons are trying to find their way in an unusual season
Detroit, a perennial contender this decade, has fallen behind three East powers
Rasheed Wallace on Detroit: "We're not giving up and we're not giving in"
We tune in and show up for the snapshots, the moments, the highs and sometimes even the lows. That thrill-of-victory and agony-of-defeat stuff is compelling and powerful, one drawing us to its warmth the way house plants bend toward the sun, the other slowing us to a crawl like gapers past a jackknifed rig. The sudden, the swift, the surprising and the searing are the things that grab our attention, holding it only long enough for us to scout out the next one.
That stuff is easy. It's the circle of life in sports that's hard, something the Detroit Pistons are facing lately.
The Pistons are caught in the switches right now, with Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess sent to the perimeter, Richard Hamilton on the bench, Allen Iverson off to the side, Chauncey Billups out in Denver and Rodney Stuckey with the basketball in his hands, eager to make something happen, on this possession, today and for a whole bunch of tomorrows.
Detroit is 24-19, 10 games back in the Central Division, five spots back in the Eastern Conference standings and 3-7 in its last 10 games. The Pistons are neither-nor, a mash-up of young and old, them that's done it and them that might. Some of the Pistons have portfolios, others mostly potential.
"Right now, with the transition they're going through with Allen Iverson, trying to figure out their identity, you never know which team is going to show up,'' Boston's Paul Pierce told reporters this week. "You have a team that plays well in spurts and then has a little inconsistency.''
As recently as a year ago, the Pistons' weekend schedule -- the Celtics on Friday, the Cavaliers on Sunday, both at home -- would have been must-see TV, the dates circled and highlighted on the NBA calendar. Now they're underdog vs. overdogs, Detroit sort of in the way and cluttering up the matchup that people would prefer to watch pre-Super Bowl. The Pistons are proud, familiar and not quite what they were, and that's when things can get clumsy.
"I thought about the Rolling Stones and how they said, Time Is On My Side. Y'know what, they were lying to you. Time goes by,'' Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale said.
McHale and the Celtics teams he played on went through this -- from dynasty to almost ordinary, from three championships and five Finals appearances in seven years to a 42-40 record in 1988-89. McHale has talked often of the swagger Boston had in the 1980s -- the Lakers had it, too -- and how he, Larry Bird and the rest would shake opponents' hands at tipoff and actually say, "We're going to kick your [expletive] tonight.''
Then came the nights when they didn't say anything of the sort.
"It just happens,'' McHale said. "The mind stays as active or better. The only reason that good players can play better is, your mind is sharper than it was when you were 22. The body's usually not willing as you get older. What kept you going, though, was, on any given night ...
"There were nights when you were warming up and you looked at each other and you could beat anybody. There were other nights you were warming up and you were like, Oooh, I can't hardly even jump off my foot."
Like those Celtics got caught and passed by the "Bad Boys'' Pistons, like the Pistons got caught and passed by Michael Jordan's Bulls, these Pistons -- who sustained their excellence across much of this decade, advancing to the conference finals the past six seasons, reaching the Finals twice and winning an NBA title in 2004 -- have been caught and passed by the Celtics, Cavaliers and Magic.
They do not like it, not one bit. But then, they're not supposed to. Circle of life, baby, NBA-style.