The Cleveland Cavaliers convincingly defeated the Detroit Pistons Saturday night in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals, 98-82, eliminating the Pistons and earning a birth in the NBA Finals. And while we can debate the officiating and the Pistons play all off-season, the bottom line is, and amazing as this is to say, the Cavs were the better team throughout the series. The Pistons may pride themselves on being the consummate "team", no superstars allowed, and Cleveland may have been considered poster-child for the "one superstar and 11 other guys" way of building a basketball team, but LeBron James was not the sole reason the Detroit Pistons are playing golf right now. Yes, he dominated and single-handily won Game Five in Detroit, but in Game Six, it was Daniel Gibson, a previously anonymous second-round draft pick who stung the once impenetrable Pistons defense for over 30 points. At other points in the series it was Zydrunas Ilgauskas or Drew Gooden hitting shots, and even Anderson Varejao was getting rebounds and getting into the heads of the Piston players, taking them out of the game mentally and with fouls they picked up playing against him. It was the Cavs, not the Pistons, who were playing an unselfish, defensive, all-hustle style of basketball, and it's why they not only won the series, but were the better team throughout.
So the question that is now facing Detroit Pistons President Joe Dumars is what to do now? The Pistons are at a crossroads. The core group of players that has led them to five straight conference titles, 2 NBA finals births, and 1 NBA title (maybe not your classic Bulls, Celtics, or Lakers "dynasty", but pretty damn good in today's NBA) may be nearing the end of their lifespan as a team. There are questions about whether coach Flip Saunders should or will return next season. Chancey Billups can (and will) opt-out of his contract. Antinio McDyess and Flip Murray have the same opportunity to opt-out of their deals. Dale Davis, Lindsey Hunter, and Chris Webber may all retire, and only Hunter has a contract for next season anyway. And the Pistons will undoubtedly try to trade Nazr Mohammed, though, I don't know why any team would want him or his salary. Joe has a very interesting decision to make. He can try to re-sign Billups and McDyess, and make another run at a title with this current team. But with the Bulls and Cavs a year more experienced, and only getting better, and the Pistons sliding backwards, it may be time to admit that while the Pistons have had a great run, it's time to rebuild. And I would start that process by trading Rasheed Wallace.
The easy thing to do would be to hold on to this core as long as possible. And undoubtedly the Pistons would win more games that way next season. But in the best interest of the future of the franchise, it is best to trade Wallace, no matter what the decision is regarding Billups' future. Rasheed Wallace gave up on his team when he picked up two technical fouls early in the 4th quarter Saturday night. The Pistons were down double digits and Rasheed, figuring the Pistons could not come back, surrendered, and decided he was going to fight somebody, even if that meant sabotaging any chance the Pistons had at winning the series against the Cavs. Not only did 'Sheed pick up two technical fouls, giving the Cavs an easy chance to extend their lead, but he eliminated himself from the most important game of the year, a potential Game Seven against Cleveland. Had the Pistons come back in Game Six, which was unlikely but not impossible (though, once Rasheed was thrown it, it became close to impossible), Rasheed Wallace would have been suspended from Game Seven because of the amount of technical fouls he had accumulated throughout the playoffs. To lose your cool on that stage and to such a degree that you would take yourself out of a Game Seven, is simply inexcusable. And it can't and shouldn't be tolerated by Joe Dumars or the Pistons.
There's a reason why Rasheed Wallace wears out his welcome everywhere. Because eventually he gets bored or upset with the world and he costs his team games. The Pistons may have lost Game Six anyway, but Rasheed took any chance of a fourth quarter comeback, and any chance of a Game Seven victory, away when he decided to get thrown out of Saturday's game. He should be done as a Piston.
Joe Dumars should try to trade Rasheed Wallace and use Wallace and the team's two first round draft picks (in a very deep draft) to try to rebuild on the fly. Jason Maxiell is ready to contribute on a regular basis, and he should get significant playing time next season. If the Pistons want to re-sign Chauncey Billups, I don't have a problem with that, if only because there are no point guards readily available to replace him. And I would hold onto Flip Saunders, at least for another season. But, this Pistons team needs an overhaul to keep up with Cleveland and Chicago (not to mention Miami, who likely won't be as down and out as they were this season) and after the way Rasheed Wallace ended his Pistons season, it should also be the end of his Pistons career.