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Uncork the forks; Pistons will be alright

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You'll have to forgive me if it takes a moment to catch up after being out of the internet's reach for the last two weeks. I only found out about Ben Wallace's departure late last night, and perhaps I haven't gleaned the full story from ESPN and internet reports yet. Based upon the reports I have read, the Pistons might as well sit out the upcoming season, since -- without Ben -- they apparently stand no chance. And that's ridiculous.

Now, I'll admit, the news is shocking, even to a Ben critic like me.

Yes. Ben Wallace was an icon for the team and played a large role in the team's success over the past five seasons.

Yes. The Pistons are cap-strapped and overly reliant upon the development of younger players going into '06-07.

But don't be fooled into thinking the schedule was going to be much easier with Ben in the mix for '06. The Pistons' days of dominating the Eastern Conference were put to a quick end this past season. And the current cast with starting 5 intact was sporting a suddenly aging frontcourt and a questionable bench. And they barely escaped Cleveland before being humbled by Miami. Cleveland?

Would signing an aging and offensively inept center to a ridiculous $15 million per deal have allowed the Pistons in '07 to become anything more than what they were last season, #2 or 3 in the conference? And if forced to choose between a) an entertaining '06-07 run with the ol' Boys in Blue, or b) a contract extension for Chauncey Billups, the team's best player and the best hope for a return to championship form, are you telling me that you'd choose the Conference Finals and Ben for one more year and then possibly...nothing?

Face it, Ben was an icon in Detroit, and as such, his loss will tend to be overstated. Just as Steve Yzerman's offensive contributions to the Red Wings paled in comparison to his sentimental value, Ben was the face (or...fro) that inspired the Palace faithful. Those replacing his contributions will not have nearly the recognition,I doubt seriously that Nazr Mohammad will inspire thousands of fans to copy his hair. but replacing 7.3 ppg, 11.3 rpg, and 2.2 bpg (or 4.7, 10.5, and 1.2 in the playoffs) should be the focus, not the hype. And those numbers shouldn't be too difficult to replicate for a revamped front line regardless of whether it's Antonio McDyess or Nazr that gets the bump in minutes.

Oh, and before you start preaching to me about intangibles, let's remember that Ben's mood wasn't exactly stellar this season either; his actions in Orlando and beyond couldn't have done much good for the lockerroom. Look, you can call it wishful thinking; call it revisionist history; call it damage control. But even the strongest of Ben Wallace fans cannot deny that his on-court measureables were dwindling. And if his leadership was waning as well, then his value to the Pistons was in steep decline.

Now don't get me wrong; I'm not at all happy with the way things have played out. While I don't mind Ben (@ $60M/4) moving on, his moving to a Central Division rival will hurt more in the short term while he's still a serviceable starter. Unfortunately for the Pistons, Chicago was in a much better position to carry Ben's bloated contract for the foreseeable future, since several of their young up-in-comers are still playing on first or second contracts (well below their open-market value). The Pistons, a team based mostly upon veterans rather than young talent, are far too top-heavy in salary to overpay for Ben's golden years.

Who will step it up? Definitely these guys...And there is the aforementioned matter of resigning Chauncey after this season. Chauncey, after his '05-06 breakout, will be one of the hottest commodities going into the '07 offseason provided nothing drastic happens to affect his stock. Should the Pistons show signs of further decline this season, just how much will Chauncey want to return, especially if his hometown Nuggets are making a push? It is one thing to have the right money to sign your star; it is quite another to have the right situation to entice them, and Joe D will have to do his best yet in order to keep the Pistons as an attractive locale for free agents.

No doubt, this is an offseason of flux, but it is not the end. All is not lost. The team's most recognizeable face was arguably it's third or fourth most valuable player. And while the Pistons will not be title favorites next season after this past postseason debacle, they should still have enough to finish significantly higher than many expect.Greg Anthony, on ESPN this morning, had them pegged as the 5-seed in the East behind Miami, Chicago, Cleveland, and New Jersey...in that order. And, bonus, there's now plenty of room on the Blue bandwagon. Hop on now to reserve the prime "I told you so"-seats come next season.

But leave those silly-ass fake 'fros and inflatable Bens behind.

That's all Bull-shit now.