On lacking leadership

From Dana Gauruder's blog:

I remember watching Ben Wallace in his final year with the Pistons, thinking 'He's lost it. He doesn't have the same explosion anymore.'
Same thing this year with Sheed, though Sheed's at an age where you expect that. He just doesn't have the mobility to be a special defensive player anymore, as he was during his first 3 or 4 seasons in Detroit.

Prince is a more maddening case. He seems to be full of excuses every postseason. Before, he'd decline in the conference finals. This year, he's gone into the tank from the start. He's averaging 6 points in his last six postseason games.

I have to believe Joe D. is thinking the same thing. To somehow challenge the Cavs and LeBron in future years, he needs someone who's at least willing to stand up to LeBron and also make him work at the defensive end. Prince appears mentally defeated against Cleveland before the game starts.

Don't be surprised if one of the moves that Joe makes this offseason is a change at small forward. The restructuring of this team is going to take more than an inside scoring option and a shooter off the bench.

Granted, both of these players are dinged up, but this late in the season, everybody is. Just a few weeks ago, I was of the mind that re-signing Wallace to a modest two-year deal would be a smart decision, especially if he understood he was going to be phased out of the starting lineup. Now, I'm not so sure. As for Prince, we've been waiting for years for him to take the next step. Realistically, it's just not going to happen -- time flies, but he turns 30 next year.

What's even more frustrating than the lack of on-court production is the apparent lack of fire. For all the talk about how the Celtics would have been a better matchup, Kevin Garnett actually seems to instill more fire and confidence in his teammates than any of Detroit's starters -- and he's yet to even done a uniform.

I'm reluctant to post this because I hate to pile on the negativity, but as someone who's watched as many Pistons games as anybody the last several years, this team just doesn't have the same fire.

There's a serious leadership vacuum on this roster, and until it's filled, it won't matter who's traded or signed. I don't subscribe to the theory that you need a superstar to win, but an alpha dog in the locker room to keep everybody accountable is almost always a prerequisite for success. Ben Wallace used to fill that role, and no one's taken the torch since. That's not necessarily Wallace or Prince's fault, just like it's not necessarily Rip or McDyess or Stuckey's fault. But that's the reality this team faces.

I'm not saying the players don't care -- I think they do -- but it's one thing to take responsibility for yourself and another to demand it from your teammates. The issue of "accountability" isn't new -- it was the most frequently used talking point by the players in the locker room after being eliminated last year -- but in the past it's been dressed up as a coach's responsibility, which was the biggest reason Flip Saunders got chased out of town. But as we should have learned by now, it's not.

Everything begins with the players. Garnett (who, incidentally, got along famously with Saunders) knows this, as do the best players on every other legitimate contender. Until a voice in Detroit's locker room either emerges or is acquired who accepts the responsibility as task master (and until the rest of the roster respects that player's place), nothing will change.

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