Changes in store for Pistons Age, injuries cripple once-powerful team

May 29, 1991|By Bob Ford | Bob Ford,Knight-Ridder News Service

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The Chicago Bulls did a pretty good job of dismantling the Detroit Pistons in their four-game sweep of the National Basketball Association's Eastern Conference finals, and now the remainder of the task is left to Detroit general manager Jack McCloskey and his coaching staff.

McCloskey cried when the Pistons left the court Monday afternoon. He cried for the end of a powerful, if not critically acclaimed, reign by the Detroit team and because he, more than anyone, knows the extent of the changes to come.

"I've got a five-step plan for the off-season," McCloskey said the other day when asked if he knew exactly how the Pistons would be rebuilt. He said it with the level confidence of a man who has listed his intentions on a legal pad somewhere and made a pact with himself to carry them out.

Nine of the 12 Pistons who finished the season are 30 or older. Only three Detroit players -- Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman -- would bring significant value in trade. One key player, John Salley, is a restricted free agent and he is seeking a salary that would throw the Detroit pay structure completely out of whack. The two main front-court players, Bill Laimbeer and James Edwards, reached the end of this season looking like stegosauri left over from a forgotten epoch.

"That's the nature of the business," Thomas said of the coming changes. "We understand that coming in. I'm just thankful we got to do what we did together the last few years. Now, we have to make the team better. We've maxed out as a team."

Age got them, and injuries, and, in the end, a better Chicago team. For all their infirmities, however, the Pistons still had enough to push past an athletic Atlanta team and a warhorse Boston outfit that must be scratching its collective cranium right now.

As interesting as the permutations that will affect the roster is the future of coach Chuck Daly. He's been guiding the Pistons for eight seasons now, the longest tenure of any NBA coach, and when the next season ends, he will be thrust into the draining role of U.S. Olympic coach.

Daly has a 15-day window in his contract; it took effect yesterday. If he wishes to step away from the Pistons with one year left to be served and $700,000 yet to be collected, he must tell McCloskey in that interval.

Although the money is a big factor and Daly does not like the idea of leaving the Pistons when they are down, it is more than possible that he will take a break.

"I'm going to be 61 in July and I always like to sit down and think about what I want to do," Daly said. "Can I handle another season? Can I go through all of this again?

"I just have to decide how long I want to go on with coaching. I'm not 15 years old any more."

His players are no longer young, either.

"The run is not over," Dumars said on Monday. "It just stopped a little early this year."

When the Pistons return for another try, however, score cards will be required.

The Bulls celebrated their victory quietly, like a team that has not yet achieved its purpose.

"We haven't won this year," said Michael Jordan. "We've just won the Eastern Conference championship. We didn't feel we could sweep this team, but we knew we could beat them. We surprised ourselves."

Chicago continued its excellent defense in this series, holding the Pistons to an average of 95.3 points in the four games. In their 12 postseason games, of which they've won 11, the Bulls have given up an average of 92.5 points.

It will be interesting to see the Bulls play against a team with a strong front court, including a center presence. The Knicks had Patrick Ewing and nothing else up front. The Sixers and Pistons offered no resistance at the center position.

Still, it would be wrong to cheapen what Chicago has accomplished. The Bulls beat the teams before them, which is all you can ask. Jordan and Pippen combined to average 51.8 points against Detroit, but Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright also remained important parts of the Bulls' attack.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.