The Kings are dead. Long live the Kings!
The reigns of the San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Pistons have come to end. Following turmoil-filled seasons, both teams capped off 2008-09 with embarrassing first round playoff exits.
The Pistons’ demise began back in the summer of 2005. Detroit had just suffered an agonizing defeat in Game 7 of the NBA Finals at the hands of San Antonio. Weeks later, head coach Larry Brown bolted for the New York Knicks. Team President Joe Dumars decided to hire Flip Saunders. The former Timberwolves coach had never reached the NBA Finals in his tenure with Minnesota.
In each of the next four years, the Pistons won more than 50 games and reached the Eastern Conference Finals. Each season, Detroit, with its nucleus of Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, and Rasheed Wallace, was bounced out off the NBA Playoffs. In 2008, the mighty Boston Celtics trounced the Pistons in six games. However, rookie guard Rodney Stuckey caught the attention of Dumars. He had become a consistent performer at the point guard position, and the possible successor to Chauncey Billups.
With the Pistons’ aging roster, Dumars sensed change needed to be brought to the organization. In desperation, he replaced Flip Saunders with assistant coach Michael Curry. As the 2008-09 campaign grew closer, Dumars decided to look to the future. Two games into the season, he traded Billups, the former NBA Finals MVP, to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson.
Dumars hoped Rodney Stuckey could succeed “Mr. Big Shot” in Detroit, while Iverson would contribute offensively. The trade, an effort to clear cap space, was a success… for the Nuggets. They went on to clinch the Number 2 seed in the Western Conference.
The Pistons, conversely, struggled. Detroit had three guards capable of logging big minutes in Iverson, Stuckey, and Hamilton. But no combination proved to be as successful as Billups and Hamilton. Detroit held on to the 8-seed in the Eastern Conference, but were swept out of the first round by the rival Cleveland Cavaliers.
For the past decade, the San Antonio Spurs have been the class of the NBA. At one point, they had won four titles in nine years behind the defense-first mentality of coach Gregg Popovich.
Going into 2008-09, experts predicted this could be the last hurrah for the Spurs. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are now in their 30s and have been constantly injured. This season, San Antonio struggled from the start. Duncan, Ginobili, and All-Star point guard Tony Parker were injured at different times early on. The “Big Three” were together again by mid-December, looking like their dominant selves. In April, San Antonio was battling for the Western Conference’s Number 2 seed.
But suddenly, devastating news broke in Texas. Ginobili would miss the playoffs with a broken ankle. The Spurs’ hopes for another NBA title were shot. They stumbled into the postseason, earning the 3-seed. The Dallas Mavericks eliminated them in five games.
So how do these two teams get back on track? Detroit and San Antonio need youth to compete with the NBA’s elite in the future. They both should look towards the accomplished Free Agent Class of 2010, which includes superstars such as LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh.