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NBA : MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Pistons won't be the same

November 14, 2008|MARK HEISLER | Heisler is a Times staff writer.

They're not Bad Boys anymore.

They're not even the Sons of the Bad Boys. Whatever the Detroit Pistons are or will be, it's nothing like the '80s with Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn, whom Celtics announcer Johnny Most called "McFilthy and McNasty," or their more gentlemanly but no less attitudinal incarnation in recent seasons.

It's a brave, new Pistons world. If they're Allen Iverson's team -- he has been the leading scorer in two of his four games with Detroit -- no one is sure what that means.

"We feel like this deal gives us the best of both worlds," Detroit President Joe Dumars said in an e-mail of his trade sending Chauncey Billups to Denver for Iverson.

"We continue to compete at the highest level and we put ourselves in a great position going forward."

In 2010, the Pistons will be younger and more athletic with enough cap space to be players for the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh free-agent class.

At the moment, however, at 6-2, they're still finding out at what level they can compete.

Iverson's attitude is exemplary, having announced he would make any sacrifice, even to practice ("I've tried it my way plenty of times and it hasn't been done.")

OK, try keeping some offensive player in front of you.

"I'm not taking anything away from AI, he's a great player," said Kevin Garnett after the Celtics beat the Pistons, 88-76, in Auburn Hills, "but when a team's cohesive, man, and they are joined as one, it's different. It's very different."

Said Boston Coach Doc Rivers, speaking for the entire East: "I was just hoping that they would trade all five of their starters."

This wasn't just a trade for the Pistons, but the end of a way of life.

From 2004 when Rasheed Wallace arrived to 2006 when Ben Wallace left, they started the same five players. If they weren't great, they were special, but the pinball machine that is today's world doesn't pay off on sustained excellence.

The Piston have made the last six Eastern Conference finals but won one only one title, in 2004 when they rocked the Lakers' world.

The one time they seemed on the verge of greatness, starting 37-5 in the 2005-06 season, they finished 64-18 and were upended by Miami in the East finals.

In the three seasons from Rasheed's arrival to Ben's departure, they had one 20-point scorer, Richard Hamilton, who hit 20.1 once.

They ran on the respect they didn't get, challenging every official's call from opening tip to final buzzer, bonded on the floor and off.

They had a term for it: "the championship bond." When four of them became All-Stars in 2006, they wrote the name of Tayshaun Prince, the only starter not to make it, on their sneakers in protest.

When Ben Wallace left as a free agent, teammates text messaged him daily. When Billups went in last week's trade, some of his teammates were devastated.

"Me and Chaunce, we came in as nothing when we first got to Detroit and then we pretty much played ourselves into stars here and won a championship together," Hamilton told the Detroit press corps.

"It's so tough. You always think you're going to play together forever but in life, nothing is ever forever. I miss him like I would miss a brother."

The Pistons now do as much grief counseling as coaching. Dumars told Hamilton that when Isiah Thomas retired, Dumars felt so lost, he came home after the first practice and called him.

"I told him, 'Man, I had the weirdest feeling today,' " Dumars said.

"Isiah was like, 'What happened?'

"I told him, 'I stepped out on that court today and you weren't there.' "

With Iverson, Hamilton, Prince, Rasheed Wallace and their young players (Rodney Stuckey, Jason Maxiell, UCLA's Arron Afflalo, Westchester High's Amir Johnson), it remains to be seen what these Pistons are.

Whatever it will be, it won't be the Pistons everyone knew all these years, starting with the Pistons.

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mark.heisler@latimes.com

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