At the beginning of the decade, the biggest threat to Pistons basketball was not from any of its Central Division rivals. The threat wasn’t coming from management or any unruly players. In fact, 1,200 miles down the road in Orlando a large banner on the side of the TD Waterhouse Centre showed images of Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill and Tim Duncan wearing Magic uniforms. It was at this moment that defined the Pistons throughout this past decade.
Grant Hill’s career in Detroit helped bridge an era of futility following the Bad Boys, where the product on the court was rather forgettable. While the team was far from being at the bottom of the league, a certain team on the other side of Lake Michigan had taken a stronghold of the 1990’s NBA. With Hill coming off a nearly 26 ppg season, and a contract expiring, Detroit knew that it couldn’t hang with a Magic team with money to spend.
Hill should have been nothing short than a superstar on the same level as a Tim Duncan or Reggie Miller for many years. In his final season in Detroit, he developed an ankle injury right before the playoffs that essentially caused him to lose a step on the court. While at the time many Pistons fans called him soft for not playing more minutes during the 2000 playoff run, his post injury numbers demonstrate that his effort was maximized.
While Hill’s career went in the wrong direction, heading north were two players that would make Joe Dumars come off as a basketball hero. Chucky Atkins and Ben Wallace are appropriately wearing the Pistons jersey this season, and it just feels right again. Atkins and Wallace were essentially journeymen at the losing end of another numbers game. In the years that followed, these two gentlemen became part of the defensive mettle that successful Pistons teams were known for.
For a deal that was originally signaled as being heavily favored towards the Orlando Magic, the only banner that mattered at the end was the one hanging from the Palace rafters.