Sunday, May 28, 2006

Sign-A-Ben? Maybe Not

First, Ben Wallace pouts because he doesn't feel like he's a part of the offense. Then, he passes up shots because he's afraid he might get fouled and will have to (gasp!) shoot free throws.

You can't have it both ways, Big Guy.

Wallace's inability to shoot free throws at even a 25% rate of success is beginning to officially kill the Pistons. And it's a large part of why the Pistons find themselves on the business end of a 2-1 series with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

For sure, there are other reasons. An over-reliance on the jump shot. Lack of ball movement. Weak offensive rebounding. Not enough contributions from the bench -- though it's hard to contribute when you are not allowed to snap off your warmups and enter the game.

But it's Ben Wallace who I'm focusing on, because Big Ben will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and it's time for the Pistons to make some hard decisions.

The knee-jerk reaction is, yes, the team should absolutely re-sign Wallace and give him the world while they're at it.

But should they, really?

Would a more offensive-minded center be more desirable? Surely there are others in the league who can block a shot here and there and grab some boards. Maybe not in Ben's class as far as overall defensive intimidation goes, but is that a sacrifice the Pistons should be willing to consider?

Wallace's non-factor on offense seems to be a conundrum for both player and coach. The Heat's Pat Riley used the "Hack-a-Ben" strategy with about 3:30 left in the fourth quarter last night -- and his team was leading by eight. But the percentages said it was a good move, and in two hacks, Wallace made but one free throw -- essentially robbing the Pistons of one-and-a-half possessions. Fouling Wallace and sending him to the line is tantamount to a Pistons turnover.

This nasty foul shooting isn't cute in the playoffs. It's not something to wink at and say, "Ohh, that Ben!" It's becoming a real boat anchor now.

The feeling here is that the Pistons are done. They have, for too long now in the playoffs, played below the level of their 64-18 regular season -- which tells me it isn't coming back. They've struggled since Game 3 of the Cleveland series to score -- with few exceptions. That's seven straight games, and counting. I expect them to return to Detroit down 3-1, gut out a Game 5 win, then lose the series in Miami in six games.

Am I the new Prince of Pessimism?

Nah -- just call me the of Rook of Realism.

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