Well, I personally didn’t see this one coming.
According to multiple media reports, the Detroit Pistons have re-signed free agent small forward Tayshaun Prince to a four-year, $27 million contract. The team also has re-signed free agent power forward Jonas Jerebko for four years and $16 million. I will talk about Jerebko in anothe post but the top story is obviously the return of the Palace prince. With the new deal, the nine-year veteran will hypothetically have an opportunity to end his career as a Piston. But as heartwarming as all that sounds, it doesn’t seem to be bringing much solace to the Pistons community. Just check Twitter, or some classic snark from Detroit Bad Boys writer Kevin Sawyer. As for me? It’s not the terms of the contract that both me, it’s that there was a contract extended at all. In order to rebuild one must first tear down, and Pistons GM Joe Dumars just doesn’t seem to be getting that memo. Maybe this a sign that the new front office is just giving Dumars enough rope to hang himself so they can make fire him and bring in a new GM next year. I think that is more conspiracy theory than fact but honestly it’s hard to defend this move.
Dumars obviously thinks he has a winning squad. Is he right? The evidence says no. But the simple fact of the matter is that the Pistons are a talent-deficient team. And when you are talent deficient you don’t let go of productive players and replace them with unproductive players. Perhaps Dumars and coach Lawrence Frank surveyed the roster, surveyed what was available in free agency, and decided that re-signing Prince was the best move going forward. The fact is, the Pistons are not a popular free agent destination (unless they overpay ala Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva). But with Prince they are not overpaying. $6+ million per year is fair market value for what Prince still provides and what he can expect to provide going forward. Heck, even with a new collective bargaining agreement, we are living in an NBA world where Caron Butler, who has been bad for a few years now and is coming off a major knee injury, gets $24 million over three years.
The signing obviously doesn’t speak well of the front office’s opinion on Austin Daye as it means they don’t yet think he can be counted on to be a starter, but that is a story for another day.
Back to Prince, I think what bothers me most about the move is that it shows a stunning lack of creativity. This roster needs a lot of work if it wants to be competitive again, and the easiest thing a GM can do is re-sign his own players. There is no boldness here. Trading Jerry Stackhouse for a young Richard Hamilton was bold. Signing a vagabond point guard like Chauncey Billups and giving him the keys to the offense was bold. Engineering one of the great in-season trades of the past decade in Rasheed Wallace was bold. Giving extensions to Richard Hamilton, Prince, Jerebko and the forthcoming and inevitable (just my speculation) Rodney Stuckey contract is not bold. It’s more of the same. And when the same wasn’t good enough before why should anyone think it will be good enough in the future?
The Pistons, and by extension Joe Dumars, are like a team caught in quicksand. They are stuck in place, slowly sinking deeper and deeper into mediocrity and irrelevance. And strangely, maybe that is the best defense of this deal. After all, when you are stuck in quicksand, what are your options? You can thrash around violently grasping at any solution you see possible and quicken your demise or you can keep a level head, be patient, and look for a way to slowly lift yourself out. From here it seems like the only ones doing the thrashing are the Pistons fans. Dumars, on the other hand, is doing anything but panicking. He’s playing the long game, but unfortunately I don’t feel confident it is a game he is going to win. After five years of more of the same, I think perhaps it’s time to do something other than standing in place and waiting for some outside force to rescue you. It’s time for some change we can believe in.