Let's take a trip down memory lane a bit.
Way before the Pistons' five-game "sweep" of the Lakers to win their third championship.
Farther back - even before Bison Dele and The Teal Years.
Now settle up at June of 1994: the day the Pistons (to the ire of the Fab Five) drafted Duke standout Grant Hill third overall. Because that's really where the "Goin' to Work" Pistons' nearly decade-long run as the Eastern Conference's best team began.
Most casual Pistons fans remember that Ben Wallace came to the Pistons in the "Grant Hill trade" on Aug. 3, 2000. But what exactly was the Grant Hill deal? What led to getting rid of the face of the franchise? And why was a seldom-used big man the Pistons' big haul after trading a 25 ppg scorer?
Time can make you forget just how good Hill was. He averaged 20-6-5 as rookie, and the following year, led the NBA in triple doubles, averaging 21-9-7 -- the only player to this day besides Larry Bird to put up those numbers in a season.
Hill was kind of the precursor to LeBron James, playing "point forward" for his team and running the offense through him. But while his numbers and contributions to his team were always incredible, for whatever reason it never led to playoff success.
It's kind of hard to believe that a guy that talented and versatile, with multiple top-three MVP finishes, never won a single playoff series with the Pistons.
Now, you can blame it on the lack of supporting cast. The only all-stars Hill ever played with were an aging Joe Dumars and only one full season (Hill's final in Detroit) with Jerry Stackhouse.
And that's what Hill seemed to do, even if he never publicly admitted it. He basically had nothing to show for seven full seasons with the Pistons, so in 2000 as Hill was set to become a free agent, he was prepared to join Tracy McGrady in Orlando to start fresh. And coming full circle, Dumars was now the Pistons new GM, so he was scrambling to get something in return for Hill, cobbling together a sign-and-trade that would send Hill to Orlando, where he was going anyway, for two bench players.
So why didn't Hill just sign with the Magic outright? A couple reasons. Apparently, Hill was a pretty loyal guy and felt a little guilty spurning the Pistons. But way more importantly, he stood to make more money this way, allowing him to earn an annual raise of 12.5% during the duration of his contract. See, originally Hill wanted to sign a four-year deal directly with Orlando so that he'd have the ability to renegotiate for more money while he was still in the prime of his career. But by doing the seven-year sign-and-trade, it opened up more cap space to make a run at another free agent - just a guy by the name of Tim Duncan.
This was the really the beta version of what the Miami Heat did with LeBron, Wade and Bosh in 2010. Although it was ultimately unsuccessful, it was a pretty unique and shrewd attempt at building a Big-3 at the time.
If you think about it, really, the seven-year deal worked out much better for Hill. His injury history is well-documented. There's no way he could have re-signed for big bucks after four years, considering he only played a grand total of 47 total games during that time. And by agreeing to the sign-and-trade, Hill unknowingly helped the Pistons get the player that would turn everything around for the franchise -- Ben Wallace.
At the time, it was kind of a "wait, who?"
The undrafted, under-sized center who averaged 4 and 8 for the Magic? That was going to fill the 26-5-6 void in the roster?
The Pistons were in a precarious situation going into the offseason. It was clear Hill was going to Orlando, so there's no way they could have traded him for a big name, much to the fans' dismay. So incoming GM Dumars decided he was going to get some guys to create an identity - an identity that he knows from first-hand experience wins championships: defense, hard work, teamwork.
And Big Ben was going to be the first - and sturdiest - brick of that foundation.
Wallace was a no-name, undrafted, 6-foot-9 center out of Division II Virginia Union in 1996. After bouncing around Europe, he eventually landed in Washington, and then traded to Orlando. His minutes were low, but in '99 and '00, but he was quietly in the top-six in the NBA in per-minute production and nearing the top-10 in wins produced per 48.
Advanced metrics weren't what they are now back in 2000 (obviously), but you have to give the Pistons credit for being heady enough to see that given the opportunity, this guy could absolutely be a force to build around. Once Wallace got starters minutes in Detroit, he promptly led the NBA in WP48 in 2002, 2003 and was second to Kevin Garnett in their 2004 championship year.
Everyone remembers getting Big Ben from Orlando, but the "other guy" in that trade, second-year player Chucky Atkins, also turned out to be a huge asset for Detroit. He was a very solid point guard who ran the team effectively until the Pistons eventually signed Chauncey Billups. But what you may not remember was that Atkins was a key piece in the deal that brought Rasheed Wallace (and Mike James!) over in 2004. Ball didn't lie in that trade, and Rasheed proved to be the missing ingredient to the Pistons' championship formula.
Looking back at those "Goin' to Work" years -- the Tayshaun block, Mr. Big Shot, Rasheed's Game 4 takeover, The Masked Man -- it's funny to think that none of it could have happened if not for Grant Hill's desire to join a super team.
Maybe the Pistons should think about putting number 33 in those rafters right next to that 3.