- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Thomas told SI that he would be "totally shocked" if Denha is involved in a gambling investigation. "I'm really mad, because none of this has anything to do with fact," Thomas said. "I'm sure it will blow over—at least my part in it—and will not affect the team."
The Thomas affair wasn't the only unsettled matter bedeviling the Pistons. Other unfinished business included the status of coach Chuck Daly. Starting about midseason, when reports began circulating that Daly would take a job as an NBC analyst next season, the Piston players did an excellent job of blocking out thoughts concerning Daly's possible departure. But now the time may be nearing for the team to adjust to a new man. "We definitely got used to Chuck's way of doing things, and he got used to us," said reserve forward John Salley. "It wouldn't be easy for a different coach."
Daly, who returned to Detroit on Saturday evening from Natchitoches, La., where he attended the funeral of Dumars's father, Joe II, said on Sunday that he was considering several possibilities. The first was remaining as the Piston coach. "Financially, believe it or not, that is by far the best thing," he said. The other possibilities included signing on with NBC or TBS, talking to the Philadelphia 76ers about their vacant general manager's job, or exploring with several unnamed groups the possibility of applying for an NBA franchise. "I never thought it would be this hard to make up my mind," said Daly.
Another bit of uncertainty for the Pistons is the unrestricted-free-agent status of Vinnie Johnson, whose return to shooting form in Portland coincided with Detroit's mastery in the series. As Johnson and Thomas cavorted during the team's postgame victory party at the Benson Hotel in Portland, Thomas shouted into a microphone, "Give Vinnie a new contract!" It was said in jest and was taken as such by Piston general manager Jack McCloskey, who was standing nearby, but that doesn't mean Thomas was kidding. Johnson has said that he would like to return, and McCloskey has said that he wants him back. But money talks, and Johnson, who will be 34 in September, will almost certainly get some other offers. "I'll be listening," he said.
If not for all this turmoil, post-title discussions about the Pistons would be centering on their place in NBA history. "We never talked about it all season, but for the past four to five years we felt we were one of the best teams in the history of basketball," said Thomas in the happy Piston locker room last Thursday.
A little strong? Perhaps. But remember that Detroit could easily have been doing a "Three-peat" chant in that locker room had Thomas not sprained his ankle in Game 6 of the 1988 Finals, severely limiting his effectiveness in Game 7, which the Los Angeles Lakers won 108-105. As it is, the record shows that the Pistons are now one of only three franchises (Boston and the Lakers, in both Minneapolis and L.A. are the other two) to win back-to-back titles, and they are also one of only three teams to win three games on the road in a seven-game championship series. (The 1953 Minneapolis Lakers and the 1974 Celtics are the other two.) If one accepts the dual premise that the NBA is stronger than ever, and that it is tougher than ever to win on the road, then surely these Pistons deserve particular recognition.
"I can't put the Pistons with the Lakers and the old Celtic teams simply because they haven't done it as often," said Bernie Bickerstaff, ex-coach of the Seattle SuperSonics and now the team's vice-president and director of player personnel. "But what we're all sleeping on now is the magnitude of that sweep in Portland. It was truly unbelievable. It is very hard to win one game in Portland, much less three in a row."
Certainly the three-guard combination of Thomas, Dumars and Johnson is the most compelling aspect of these Pistons. "Conventional wisdom says you can't win from the perimeter," said Trail Blazer broadcaster Geoff Petrie, a former NBA All-Star. "I guess the Piston guards don't know that."
By the time the series ended, the Piston backcourt trio was being hailed as the greatest ever. But let's step back a minute. Magic Johnson, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper weren't exactly a bad trio for the Lakers in the '80s. The 1959 and '60 Celtic champions boasted Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman and Sam Jones, and K.C. Jones got substantial minutes at guard for the '60 team, too. And the Sonic 1979 championship backcourt featured Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson and "Downtown" Freddy Brown, the threesome with which the Pistons' group can most closely be compared. But one thing is for sure—the Detroit trio is by far the best in the NBA right now.
What sets them apart is their ability to do it all at the offensive end. Thomas is more point guard than shooter, of course, just as Johnson is more shooter than point man. But each can play the other position when called upon, and Dumars handles either with the same smoothness with which he handles everything.