The Detroit Pistons haven’t played good basketball in a few seasons, and a big reason why may very well be due to a lack of leadership since Chauncey Billups left. This role was supposed to fall on Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and/or Allen Iverson when Billups was traded, but it became clear quite quickly how much Billups meant in the locker room after he was traded.
Iverson needs no explanation. Iverson’s final seasons in the NBA were a debacle, and sadly, he was probably the last man to get the memo. Hamilton showed why he wasn’t fit for the role almost as soon as Iverson arrived. He showed clear disappointment when Billups was traded, which was understandable, but refusing to come off the bench, share the spotlight with Iverson and going on an expletive laden tirade when receiving the news should have given the Pistons organization every sign it needed to know he was not cut out for the job. It appeared Prince might have been able to lead his team, but as time went on, frequently giving caustic comments to the media and helping stage a boycott of team events was a pretty clear indication that he was also not fit for the role. Yet Joe Dumars gave Hamilton and Prince significant extensions anyway and quite possibly let them continue to cast a shadow over the locker room until they were both eventually sent away.
How different might things have been if Dumars traded a package including Prince and Hamilton instead of Billups? It’s a question that will never be answered but still crosses every Pistons fan’s mind every now and again. Regardless, it’s in the past, and the Pistons are finally ready to move on.
The Pistons traded Prince last year and symbolically put an end to one era while beginning another. Much like the previous era that saw winning basketball, this new era will begin, once again, with Chauncey Billups – hmmm, interesting.
There is no doubt that Chauncey Billups will be the leader of this Pistons team. Apparently, Maurice Cheeks is ending each practice by naming a player to shoot a free throw. If that player makes his free throw, the team can hit the showers. If he misses, the team will have to run sprints. In a recent practice, Cheeks called out Billups. Instead of lining himself up at the charity stripe, Billups refused the shot and called out Andre Drummond who posted a free throw percentage in the 30s last season. Billups knows not only that Drummond needs to drastically improve that mark, but also that he will need to get used to hitting free throws in clutch situations. “Hack-a-Drummond” will certainly come into play late in close games this season. Furthermore, Drummond represents Detroit’s future. Having the kind of weight a clutch free throw puts on your shoulders is something Drummond will need to get used to.
By calling out Drummond, Billups asserted himself as the leader on the floor. It was certainly somewhat lighthearted, but now Drummond knows that if he doesn’t improve his shooting stroke at the line, Billups will take notice. It’s not just coach Cheeks that the rest of the team has to answer to.
This is the value of having a fierce leader on the roster. They will hold themselves and their teammates to a higher standard. They will reinforce the coaching staff’s philosophies even when the coaches aren’t around. They will instill the gritty attitude needed to win playoff games and set the tone that making par isn’t good enough in this league. Chauncey Billups brings these things to the table, and that is why he is back. However, the Pistons only have Billups on a two-year contract. It will be interesting to see who steps up to take his role. Hopefully Drummond, Brandon Jennings and Greg Monroe will be paying close attention these next two seasons.