By Patrick Hayes
The 2005-2006 Detroit Pistons jumped out to a 37-5 start to the regular season and we got a bit crazy, didn't we? I mean, they were on the exact pace halfway through the season as the 1996 Chicago Bulls ... it could happen to a team with no superstar and no bench, right?
And while we certainly were a tad optimistic, the Pistons had a pretty unbelievably good regular season. They won 64 games, they had four All-Stars and, for a while, it looked like Joe Dumars could bring in any coach, any style to this team of allegedly no egos and the transition would be seamless.
As we all know, some things went wrong at the end. It was weird ... the previous two seasons, the Pistons got very little respect nationally despite their one title and two Finals appearances. This year was when people finally realized this was an elite team (as the four All-Stars show), and when they were expected to win, they fell short.
A good discussion broke out in the comments here on the whole "if it ain't rough, it ain't right" mentality that drove so many fans crazy.
Everyone loved this team because of the no superstars culture. It was great. When the five starters were on together, no team in the league played more complete, better basketball. But there is a downside to not having a superstar: if they are all peers, then players challenging each other can only have so much impact. On Jordan's Bulls, the pecking order was obvious. If someone had a questionable effort, Jordan would not stand for it. Teammates were terrified of him (ask Kwame). Even Dennis Rodman was (relatively) disciplined on the Bulls.
LeBron and Wade are different extremes from Jordan, but the pecking order exists. Teammates give effort because, again, there is a pecking order, and they want LBJ and Wade to think they are pulling their own weight.
With the Pistons (purely speculation on my part, but that is what these posts are for, right?), if Rip thought Chauncey wasn't playing hard and he questioned him, the reaction would probably be the same as if a co-worker questioned my effort or your effort. There were no internal consequences for playing bad.
"Flipping a switch" for teams is a myth. The Bulls didn't flip a switch, Jordan did. The Lakers don't flip a switch, Kobe does. For the Pistons to "flip a switch," they needed all five guys to do it at once, and after 2004, that just never happened at the most crucial times in the playoffs, especially against Miami in the 2006 Conference Finals.
Remember Me? After the 2004 championship, the failure to develop a bench was a killer in the playoffs. It was such an issue that when the Atlanta Hawks released Tony Delk, there was a mad rush to get the career 40 percent shooter. And at the time, when the top bench player not named McDyess was scoring five points per game, Delk looked like a great option compared to the Arroyos, Delfinos and Evans that were being run out there a few minutes each night.
Delk actually played reasonably well, shooting 44 percent, including 42 percent from three and scoring 7.6 per game, although he didn't play in the NBA again after his stint in Detroit.
Best Moments: Since some commenters asked for it, here's Ben Wallace's block/jump ball that sent Shaq flying to the ground in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals:
Flip Saunders, who coached the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game, subbing all four Pistons into the game at the same time was also a pretty cool moment.
And, early in the season during the Pistons' great start, there was some chatter about Chauncey Billups for MVP. Maybe he was out of place in the discussion, but he certainly wouldn't have been a worse choice than Steve Nash.
Awards: Ben Wallace, Defensive Player of the Year, All-NBA Second Team, All-Defense First Team; Chauncey Billups, All-NBA Second Team, All-Defense Second Team; Tayshaun Prince, All-Defense Second Team; Billups, Rip Hamilton, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace were All-Stars.
The Drama: Wow, there was no lack of drama this season, was there? A highly successful regular season may have masked some frustrations that were going on behind the scenes, and all it took was a series against Miami to expose all of those.
Suddenly, reporters were writing about Rasheed Wallace walking away from Flip Saunders' huddles (even though he supposedly has always done that). Ben Wallace was angry he wasn't getting the occasional touch on offense under Flip Saunders they way he did in Larry Brown's offense. The entire team, it seemed, stop running Flip's offense consistently after game two of the Miami series, although it is not clear how much that had to do with them not believing in Flip or Miami actually learning to play defense once the playoffs started.
Ben Wallace, who most assumed was a sure thing to re-sign -- he was the face of the Pistons resurgence, after all -- bolted for bigger money in Chicago, but also hinting that the team's commitment to defense and playing hard was not the same under Saunders.
This was also the season Joe Dumars finally gave up on Darko, shipping him and Carlos Arroyo to Orlando for Kelvin Cato's expiring deal and a 2007 first round pick that became Rodney Stuckey. It would have been nice to have Wade or Anthony or Bosh, but this trade was another Joe Dumars tradition (along with firing good coaches), doing an adequate job of recovering from a pretty major mistake.
Results: The team finished 64-18, the best record in the NBA. They beat the Bucks in five in the first round, the Cavs in seven (LeBron only averaged 24 points, 8 boards and six assists in the series ... it would be the last time they ever contained him in a playoff game) in the second and lost to the Heat in six.
Best Boxscore: Against Memphis Jan. 27, 2006, the Pistons won 95-89 to move to 36-5 on the season. Nothing spectacular about the boxscore, but at the exact midpoint of the season, they were on pace to equal the Bulls' 72 win season. That's even more impressive when you consider they had only one player average more than 20 per game (Hamilton at 20.1), a bench that, let's be honest, gave them absolutely nothing all season and two starters, including their only low-post threat (Sheed), shoot 43 percent or less from the field. Now, they certainly did other things well (they were fourth in the league in offensive rating, fifth in defensive rating), but that is far from a roster people would expect to completely dominate the rest of the NBA as they did most of that season.
Lasting Memories: It's easy to say that because the Pistons had such a successful regular season, losing in the Conference Finals was a huge disappointment. It certainly left a bitter taste, although some would tell you the Heat winning a championship was slightly, um, predetermined that season.
But forget the postseason. When you think about this team, remember the beautiful offense we witnessed. This team could be so unbelievably fluid, it was a nightly clinic in how to run an efficient halfcourt offense during the regular season. As a team, they had a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
You could argue, even though they continued to be one of the best teams in the league, that as soon as Ben Wallace left, the era we are reminiscing about actually ended then (we won't make that argument though ... we have nothing else to do and like hanging out here, so we'll stretch this series out as long as we can). They obviously lost part of their identity, though, when Ben went corporate.
Up Next: Rasheed Wallace has a civil discussion with officials in the 2007 conference finals.