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Time for the Pistons to Complete the Circle of Life

By Ron Marshall
Pistons Columnist
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It was fun while it lasted.

Looking at today's Pistons squad, admiring their tenacity and grit as they go into games missing as many as four of their top seven players, one is tempted to think, "It was a good run," all the time realizing that it'll never be the same. And it was. And it won't be.

Gone are the days of the Mr. Big Shot taking playoff games into overtime, of 'Sheed popping for three, dancing, and hoisting a belt in triumph। Gone are the 19-footers from Antonio McDyess, baffling big men trying to guard him. Gone is Darko, the Human Victory Cigar.

Gone should be Tayshaun Prince and Richard "Rip" Hamilton.

And that isn't because they aren't the players they once were; on the contrary, Tayshaun has many productive years ahead of him barring injury, and Rip is still an impact player when healthy. The truth, however, is that they no longer have places as Pistons. The world has moved on, and it's time for yesterday's gunslingers to do the same. In order for the Pistons to be renewed, they must start anew.

Of course, it all started with the 'fro. More accurately, it started with Ben Wallace (alternating between the braids and the afro that would come to symbolize his dominating defensive prowess) and Chucky Atkins coming to the Pistons in the sign-and-trade deal for Grant Hill. Through that trial by fire, second-year front office executive Joe Dumars oversaw the phoenix-like emergence of the a new Pistons team from the flames. Forged by the Hammertime Bad Boys ideal that defense wins championships, they evolved into a versatile, D-driven juggernaut, becoming the first NBA team to go to six consecutive conference finals since the Showtime Lakers of the '80s. Though often lauded for achieving so much (including an NBA championship) without a "superstar", they boasted several All-Stars and made their presence felt again and again against more heralded opponents. It was truly a golden age of teamwork and Goin' to Work.

Now, those days are done. The team that set records for consecutive sellouts now plays before thousands of empty Palace seats. Chauncey has gone home, Rasheed and McDyess have both gone to the enemy (Boston and San Antonio, respectively), and Darko ... well, Darko will likely spend next year in Europe. But, Tayshaun and Rip still linger, currently injured but practicing, largely non-participants in the evolution that the team now undergoes. When they do come back, and they show that they are still valuable, effective NBA players, the time for tough decisions arises. When they prove to the league their trade value still remains, it's time for them to go. It's time for Joe to cement the team's transition and not look back.

Why? Again, they can still be effective players, put the time for players who have already reached their potential has passed for this team, at least for players with those two multi-year, many-million-dollar contracts. Tayshaun and Rip will make more than $21 million this season combined. The combined salaries of the entire team total a bit less than $60 million this year. One-third of the salary cap is too much to pay for two players who won't be around for your team's next championship run. Better to cash in those two particular chips and continue the process begun by the signings of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. Get some draft picks and young players that can produce a bit now and more in a future that looks to be coming soon for this team.

After all, that's how we got here.

And where is "here" for today's Pistons? A combo guard that reminds some of a certain Miami Heat combo guard that Detroit passed over in the 2003 draft. A scrappy Swedish pro willing to take on whatever challenges, and positions, are put before him. Two young veteran players from division rivals able to contribute whether they start or come off the bench. A first-time head coach who learned lessons from Larry the last time Detroit fought for a Finals. A legacy to live up to, one that new players coming in must emulate and respect. And a rejuvenated Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins, helping these brave new Boys go to work.

Now, it's getting fun again.
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Ron Marshall is a freelance sports writer, blogger, entrepreneur, and fan of all things Detroit. He one day hopes to buy the Detroit Lions and guide them to their first Super Bowl. Until then, you can find him here and at fanchamp.net. You may contact him at ron@mythicgroup.com or www.facebook.com/ronmarshall.

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