Pistons Preview

By: AP
By: AP

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) -- The Detroit Pistons are getting one more chance to return to the NBA finals for the first time since 2005 despite threats that the familiar cast was going to get broken up.
Rasheed Wallace insisted he wasn't worried about the possibility of getting traded, but he's thankful to have another shot to make a run with Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince.
The quartet helped the Pistons win a championship in 2004 and with Antonio McDyess the next season, they fell just short of repeating.
Since then, Detroit has been eliminated in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals each year.
"We've been together for so long," Wallace said. "We've been to the mountaintop. Sipped the juice. Fell off the mountaintop."
Wallace and Co. will start what they hope will be a climb back to the top Wednesday night at home against the Indiana Pacers in the opener for both teams.
When the Pistons fired coach Flip Saunders in June following his third straight exit in the conference finals, Joe Dumars publicly put everyone on the roster -- other than Rodney Stuckey -- on the trading block.
Even though the team president of basketball operations didn't end up finding a deal that made sense to him, he insists these won't be the same-old Pistons.
"Our core guys are back, but we'll be different," Dumars said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We're going to incorporate young talent, and we've added a new, young coach."
The Pistons promoted one of Saunders' assistants, 40-year-old Michael Curry.
Curry played with Dumars a decade ago, and Billups, Hamilton and Prince were teammates during the 2002-03 season. Toward the end of Curry's playing career, he led the NBA players' association and later had leadership roles within the NBA and its developmental league.
"Patience is always going to be my toughest thing to do," Curry said. "Being able to lead, communicate and knowing the game are things I've always been real comfortable with."
The Pistons are trying to plan for the future while still trying to win now by putting 21-year-old Amir Johnson in the starting lineup, taking 34-year-old Antonio McDyess' spot in the frontcourt. They're also counting on 25-year-old Jason Maxiell and second-year pros Stuckey and Arron Afflalo to play key roles in a nine-man rotation.
Kwame Brown, the No. 1 pick in 2001, is getting a chance to revive his career as an occasionally used reserve instead of a go-to player.
"He needs to be a player that's coming more into the mix as opposed to being the main cake," Wallace said.
It seems wise for the Pistons to avoid banking on much from Brown -- who will make $4 million next season -- because he averaged just 4.8 points a game last season with the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies and was lackluster this preseason.
"I can't make any excuses," Brown said. "I just know what I can do moving forward."
The Pistons are trying to avoid a look-back, but they do regret losing the past three seasons to the eventual champion Boston Celtics, runner-up Cleveland Cavaliers and title-bound Miami Heat in the conference finals.
"We've gotten too loose and lax over the course of the season and then when we tried to tighten things up. Things had slipped too far because we got too comfortable," Billups said. "I hope the difference this year will be that things won't slip because we'll hold people accountable all season."
Curry insists he simply will sit players who don't play hard consistently. He also will try to keep them in check on and off the court with a list of rules, starting with one that doesn't allow excuses.
"We think Michael will bring discipline and accountability to this group of guys," Dumars said. "That's something we feel like we needed going forward."
Detroit has won the Central Division title the past four years and in six of the last seven seasons -- winning at least 50 games since the 2001-02 season -- under Saunders, Larry Brown and Rick Carlisle.
The Pistons have advanced to six straight conference finals, the first franchise to do that since the Los Angeles Lakers went to eight in a row in the 1980s.
But the franchise also is just the first in more than a half-century to lose in the round just before the NBA finals three years in a row.
"The expectation is to make it to the NBA finals," McDyess said.


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