Gotta Love 'Sheed
Drove up to Philadelphia yesterday to rap with a few of the Detroit Pistons for a couple of stories I'm working on and I thought I had just stepped into a major controversy. During the pre-game introductions, Jason Maxiell was announced as the starter instead of Rasheed Wallace, who got benched for skipping practice the day before.
The Pistons may have the best record in the Eastern Conference, but the environment appears to have gotten a bit more lax in Detroit since Flip Saunders replaced Larry Brown - and it has nothing to do with their less intense commitment on the defensive end. The blue-collar, chip-on-the-shoulder era officially ended last February when four Pistons were named the all-star team. Since then, Pistons have been a team of entitlement, almost. But I digress.
After Wallace's insubordination - arriving an hour late for practice without supplying much of an explanation - Saunders finally put his foot down and told Wallace that he wasn't going to start. When Wallace finally hit the floor, he spent most of his time chucking up wild three-pointers and cruising through the night, although he did have some pretty exciting dunks. Expecting to go into the locker room after and hear Wallace revert to his Trail Blazer days and rip Saunders, I was sort of surprised to that he accepted his punishment as some sort of present. I say somewhat, because apathy was second on my list of possible reactions.
"Oh, no, it was cool for me," Wallace said. "I ain't got no problem with it. I might even ask him to do it again, you know, just to try to give us a spark off the bench and some consistency off the bench. So, no, I didn't have no problem at all. . .I have been around too long to sit up here like, 'Aw man, I ain't starting, that's some (bull).' Nah, I am too old for that. I got no time for that."
"I'm straight. Like I said, I might even ask him for the next game, what, [today against Charlotte]? Maybe that's one of the things that we need, just try something different."
Gotta love 'Sheed. He gets benched and asks for more. Then for comic relief, Wallace -- perhaps inspired by Cal Ripken getting voted into the Hall of Fame - offered this: "Nah, I'm straight," he said. "It's not like I'm going for some record starts or something."
Saunders said the benching was a one-time punishment. When I asked him if he expected Wallace to be a problem again, Saunders turned and said, "No."
The Pistons might be able to laugh off this incident, but it will be interesting to keep an eye on Detroit. Saunders has done an excellent job keeping that team together, especially with Chauncey Billups out with a calf strain, but his team has been acting quite funny toward him in the past year. This latest incident might be symptomatic of some potential problems with that squad. Of course, I could be jumping the gun, but I happen to remember last season, when former Piston and current Chicago Bull Ben Wallace disrespected Saunders by refusing to enter a game against Orlando.
The Pistons brushed it under the rug, made it seem as if it were no big deal, that it was "Ben being Ben." But we know how that story ended. All the issues that had been brewing under the surface boiled over in the conference finals when Piston after Piston questioned Saunders, the same man who led them to 64 wins in the regular season, and Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat commenced to dismantling them. Two months later, Ben Wallace was a Bull. I'm not trying to make something out of nothing here, I'm just saying. . .
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