agents all around the National Basketball Association were counting
down the minutes until midnight Wednesday morning when they could
officially discuss deals with new teams.
We've heard about Hedo Turkoglu probably not returning to the Magic; Jason Kidd likely deciding between the Knicks and a return to the Mavericks; and the Celtics reportedly coveting longtime Piston Rasheed Wallace.
But on the first day of 2009 free agency, it was Sheed's current
squad making big news on the free agent tip. On Wednesday, the Pistons
agreed to terms with free agents — and former UConn teammates — Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. According to ESPN.com,
Gordon, a former Bulls guard, will receive a five-year, $55 million
deal, while former Bucks forward Villanueva will ink a five-year deal
for $40 million. Free agents can't officially sign new deals until July
These apparent signings are further major steps in Detroit president Joe Dumars'
obvious plans to change things around after a disappointing 39-43
season in 2008-09 that ended with the Pistons getting swept out of the
playoffs in the first round by the Cavaliers.
On Tuesday, Dumars fired coach Michael Curry
after just one season at the helm. Joe D. has yet to name a successor
but expects to have a new coach in place in the next two weeks. ESPN
reported that former Spurs coach Avery Johnson met with the team about the vacancy on Wednesday. Longtime analyst Doug Collins has also been widely rumored to be a candidate for the job.
But whoever gets the head gig in Motown, he's likely to have a
vastly different group of players because Dumars is hoping to visibly
transform what was an aging roster this past season.
Opinions differ on where Wallace, 34, is most likely to end up (Celtics, anyone?), but chances are excellent he won't be back in Detroit.
The addition of Gordon also seemingly makes veteran guard Richard Hamilton, 31, (another former UConn Husky) expendable via trade, possibly for a young post player a la Utah's Paul Milsap or David Lee of the Knicks.
Longtime Piston Tayshaun Prince, 29, has also been the subject of repeated trade rumors (like heading to Toronto for Chris Bosh or getting sent to Boston in a deal for Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen).
Allen Iverson, 34, seems unlikely to return after the Pistons sent him home on April 4 after AI said he'd be reluctant to come off the bench.
"We're definitely in the mode of reshaping our roster," Dumars said
last week. "We need to add about three or four talented players by
drafting them, signing them or trading for them."
But it's not all just picking and choosing for Dumars.
"The hardest thing is to convince people that fantasy basketball and running a team are two different things," he told Yahoo Sports recently. "You can?t just write down names that look good on paper."
Of course, that's what it seems like Dumars has done on Day 1 of free agency.
In similar fashion, last week, the Cavs added Shaquille O'Neal to LeBron's already deadly arsenal. The Eastern Conference champion Magic added another big tool in veteran high-flier Vince Carter. But at what cost?
In other words, are moves of this stature — you know, really
revamping a roster in a serious way — a recipe for winning immediately
in the modern NBA?
Yes, the Celtics won it all in 2007-08 after bringing in Kevin Garnett and Allen to join Paul Pierce. But many Pistons fans seem to think it won't work for them. One is already feeling deflated.
It seems like so much of the wheeling and dealing in the NBA is done
haphazardly. Change for the sake of change. One would have to assume
that there's more to it than the arbitrary "fantasy basketball" Dumars
is talking about.
The fact is, some teams and GMs will be cautious, some will be a bit
more reckless. Do you stick with what you have or shift gears and take
off in another direction? It's all about finding good fits, building
chemistry, creating a winning group.
Of course, success in the Pistons' case will take days, weeks,
possibly months to gauge, but give Dumars credit for doing what he can
to turn around a proud but struggling franchise. In the up-for-grabs Eastern Conference — seriously, can anyone predict what will happen? — it could very well make the difference between the lottery and a title.