Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pay day for Big Ben

Ok, so you’ve sentenced your Pistons’ Ben Wallace jersey to a sad, dark, gloomy life in the back of your closet.

You might have even set it ablaze; cursing, screaming, kicking and crying, finally confirming the neighbor’s suspicions that you’re crazy.

And that afro wig you thought looked so hip, well, that’s finally been served up as dinner to your dog.

Two weeks ago, Wallace, who is now viewed by many Detroiters as a Benedict Arnold, decided to take the 4 hour trek west on I-94 to the Windy City and become an employee of the Chicago Bulls.

Check that.

Wallace is probably taking the sub-60 minute trek by plane. Possibly in a new private jet, which he can surely afford after accepting the Bulls 5 year/$60 million offer.

The Bulls offer was $12 million more than the Pistons offer of 4 years for $12 million per year.

And just like that, with one stroke of the pen, the chances of the Pistons winning a third straight Central Division championship became just a little bit slimmer.

Because not only did the Bulls get significantly better with the addition of Wallace, they also robbed the Pistons of their trademark stingy defensive ways and now force them to give in to the offensive dominant NBA.

The harsh reality is the Pistons run could be over with the Wallace’s departure.

The philosophy change that must come with losing the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year coupled with the emergence of the Eastern Conference will play huge roles in next year’s success.

As we saw first-hand this spring, LeBron James is ready to win now in Cleveland. In Miami, where the Larry O’Brien trophy resides, Dwyane Wade shows no signs of slowing down after an unbelievable postseason. And in Chicago, with the addition of Wallace, they have instantly become a team that can make a deep run in the playoffs.

The recent signing of Nazr Mohammed to replace Wallace is a huge question mark. Mohammed, who played on the 2004-05 Spurs championship team, has shown some signs of becoming a solid center, but couldn’t get off the bench in San Antonio as recently as last year.

Wallace was the cornerstone of this franchise for the past five seasons, and arguably the most popular athlete in Detroit during that time. He epitomized their “Goin’ to Work” slogan with his hard-working attitude and blue-collar play on the floor, transforming the Pistons defense into one of the best in NBA history.

He was a perfect fit for Detroit, and Detroit was a perfect fit for him.

So the question is, why?

My question is, why not?

Ben wasn’t himself this past season, his final, in Detroit. There were the obvious clashes between new head coach Flip Saunders and Wallace. The tension reached its peak on April 7, when, after being removed earlier in the game, Wallace refused to re-enter the game when his teammates needed him late in the 4th quarter. The Pistons lost, 89-87.

His displeasure continued to leak out during the Pistons’ struggles against the Cavaliers and Heat this past postseason, at one time criticizing the way Saunders ran practice.

It’s also not a secret that he wasn’t happy with the amount of touches he was getting on the offensive end.

So, naturally, that’s going to weigh on your decision to return, even with the four great seasons before 2006, which included a championship.

Even more natural is the wide-eyed look any one of us would get on our face if we were face to face with $12 million. Which Wallace was.

The decision probably wasn’t that hard for him anyways. Stay in Detroit, take $12 million less, play for a coach whom he doesn’t like, and count on playing only defense for 82 games.

Or, go to Chicago, swim in a pool of dollar bills, play for an upstart team with young coach Scott Skiles at the helm, and shoot the ball in the process.

It was Wallace’s last chance to cash in on a maximum contract. He took advantage of it. More power to him, and to the Bulls for making a wise choice.

Wallace can be more than just a defensive player if utilized the right way. Under Larry Brown, Wallace averaged just under 10 points a game. That declined last year, when he averaged only 7.3 points a game.

So while the popular opinion is that Chicago overpaid for a one-way player who’s past his prime, I’ll put a vote in for the minority. John Paxson knows what he’s doing with the Wallace signing.

He signed a veteran who will bring tons of experience to a talented young cast of players such as Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, and Luol Deng. He signed a center who could average a double-double.

And he robbed a rival of their identity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

amazing article bud