I must admit, I was watching last night’s Detroit Pistons vs. Washington Wizards game with a pang of remorse. And as the seconds ticked off and Washington came away with a 107-105 victory, I realized that I was cheering for the wrong team.
Throughout the season I’ve eagerly watched the growth of Greg Monroe, anxiously waited for the growth of Rodney Stuckey, marveled at the sweet stroke of Austin Daye and sleeplessly waited for trades involving any number of overpriced veterans.
For nearly the whole season one thing has been clear to me: This season is about the young guys. Sure I wanted Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon to start living up to their paychecks, but really I wanted Monroe to be a big man the Pistons could build around (success beyond my wildest dreams), Stuckey to turn into a team leader and competent point guard (still waiting) and Daye to show off his offensive skills and allow people to start forgetting about Ty Lawson (success, but his defense has no right to be as poor as it is).
But last night, I just couldn’t help finding myself rooting for the Wizards to pull ahead. I still wanted the Pistons to play well, specifically the young guys, but I was rooting for a loss. That is something I’d never experienced before. I grew up in the dregs of Tigers history and saw nearly every game of Matt Millen’s incompetent rein as head of the Lions. And i had never, EVER, rooted for a loss.
I was a late-comer to my basketball love. I was cognizant of the great Bad Boys teams, but I didn’t really know what made them great. In my defense, I was only 8 years old at the time. I didn’t start paying attention to the Pistons again until the tail end of the Jerry Stackhouse days. The Pistons were already on the rise, culminating in an NBA title and as a mainstay atop the Eastern Conference for years. The post-Chauncey Billups era is the first one in my devout fanhood where the Pistons truly stink. And I can’t help but wish they stunk a little more.
I had always railed against those who rooted for Lions failure, but couldn’t talk myself into rooting for a Pistons win. Why? Perhaps there is no justification, and it’s just the thoughts of a desperate fan. But in my head and in my heart, I’ve come to think that, frankly, basketball is just different.
One player can make all the difference. Imagine the Oklahoma City Thunder without Kevin Durant, the Atlanta Hawks without Al Horford or Josh Smith, the Cleveland Cavaliers without LeBron James, oh, wait … Even if you draft Peyton Manning you still need to protect him, run the ball, have a good defense, etc. Basketball players can just will their teams to wins. The reality is that once you have that once piece, everything else can start to just fall into place.
And as a Pistons fan it should make me ill to admit such a thing. This is the team that won a championship with no superstars. It was supposed to usher in a new era in the NBA around a team concept and “playing the right way.” But in truth the “no superstars” meme is actually a terrible sleight at the always underrated Chauncey Billups and the defensive prowess of Ben Wallace. They were bigger stars than the NBA, and even a lot of Pistons fans, ever realized.
And now the NBA conversation has shifted. It’s all about building a “big three” to put supplemental pieces around, and before you can build a big three, you need to have a big one. Monroe might be that player, but he sure could use either a high-flying front court sidekick that could block shots, rebound the ball and be a top-tier defender. Or perhaps a true, pass-first point guard that could help him utilize his high basketball IQ and soft hands.
Yes, I wanted the Pistons to lose last night. And yes, I want them to lose tonight at New Jersey. A loss would put them only one ahead of the Nets in the loss column and two ahead of the Sacremento Kings. True, the lottery doesn’t guarantee a thing, there are flops in the top five selections every draft (with the Pistons owning a most famous example), and you can always find a difference maker outside the top three.
But in my head and in my heart, I was glad that the Pistons didn’t get back on defense and gave up the lead to the awful Wizards. Monroe and Daye had played well. The game was as entertaining as a game featuring two bottom feeders could be and, most importantly the Pistons lost.
There is nothing I love more the Pistons basketball. But am I a bad fan? Have I forfeited the right to call myself a lover of Dee-troit basketball? Have a violated a sacred pact between franchise and fan? Or am I just rooting for the quickest route to returned success and glory days at the Palace once again?