Spin Cycle After point guard Chauncey Billups went down to a severe right calf strain, the Pistons have struggled. That is putting it nicely. Flip Murray, a combo guard whose best play is calling his own number has started in Chauncey’s stead, and Will Blalock, the last pick in the 2006 draft has been the backup point guard. With Lindsey Hunter out with a sore achilles tendon, depth at the point has been tested. The results of that test are in. Murray, fail. Blalock, fail. In Murray’s case, the Pistons have tried to fit a round peg into a square hole. Playing point guard in Flip Saunders’ system demands 3 attributes of a player. The ability to make long jumpers (stretch defenses) , the ability to dissect a defense and hit screen players as they come open (exploit defensive rotations) and the ability to be patient, limiting turnovers (ball control). None of these things are Flip Murray’s forte. Add in an aversion to playing any kind of physical determined defense and you have a guy lacking at the genetic level when it comes to Pistons DNA. Now Billups is an elite point guard who does not possess Murray’s dribble penetration game, but his talents and chemistry do mesh much better on a team which features 4 starters capable of scoring 20+ points on any given night. Will Blalock, the 60th pick in the NBA draft, is the anti-Murray. He is neither a veteran, nor a scorer. His ability to function in Coach Flip Saunders’ (too) structured offense is hindered by a lack of experience at this level. While his efforts defensively are more earnest than Murray’s, the combined negatives of his lack of NBA caliber footwork and familiarity with opponents has done him in as a viable backup this season. Which brings me to the last few days. We have seen the local media excited and confident that Chris Webber will be joining this reeling Detroit Pistons basketball team. We’ve seen mention of Bonzi Wells and Morris Peterson as potential Pistons [floatl]http://www.humanvictorycigar.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/01/spin-cycle-lo-792008.jpg[/floatl]Folks, we’ve officially entered another Spin Cycle. You might be familiar with this media blitz from only 6 months ago. With Ben Wallace making an 11th hour decision to join the Chicago Bulls, the Pistons quickly offered Joel Pryzbilla a contract, only to rescind it for Nazr Mohammed. Mohammed we were told was a championship caliber center, quite literally stolen from the Spurs in free agency. A man who could hit those crucial free throws that Ben Wallace had missed in the playoffs, and a capable post defender and rebounder. The first tip for a veteran fan of the Pistons and the NBA should be that Nazr was unable to hold down the starting position in San Antonio last season. At times, he was relegated to bench duty in favor of the less mobile, less talented Rasho Nesterovic, a former Flip Saunders player in Minnesota. The second tip should have been that no player escapes San Antonio and blossoms elsewhere in this league. From Devin Brown to Malik Rose, Antonio Daniels to Stephen Jackson, those players best days were with the Spurs and for all of them, that seems likely to continue. The Spurs don’t take the fine china to the roadside for refuse collection or put candidly, you aren’t going to find a star amongst the players they reject. Another rapid signing was the aging Lindsey Hunter. While Lindsey has the heart of a Piston and the personality of a tremendous teammate, his body cannot be expected to continue at a pace demanding major minutes backing up the starting guards. Certainly giving Hunter another title shot at the end of his career, with the promise of a front office apprenticeship makes for great publicity, however his achilles and shot making ability are what they are. In a decaying orbit. Enter the aforementioned Flip Murray. Lauded as a guard capable of backing up both Billups and Hamilton, the local newspapers sung his praises. The second coming of Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson. Someone who could help keep Billups’ minutes down and protect the team from a repeat of the flameout by fatigue we witnessed last post-season against the Cavs and Heat. This year, Billups is already playing more minutes per game than he did in the franchise record setting 2005/6 regular season. Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are also playing 2 more minutes per game than last season. Let’s not even mention that Flip Murray was unable to hold his own against our Pistons in the Cleveland series, or that no one else offered him more than the Bi-Annual Exception in free agency (a contract starting at one 3rd of the average NBA contract). In 7 games (5 starts) against the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Murray shot a whopping 12-55, with one double digit game (13 points). With feel good stories about the return of CWebb to face the music for his poor judgment (ironically, off the court) while at the University of Michigan, and the possible return of Michigan State NCAA champion Morris Peterson, the spin cycle is back in full effect. Glossed over are the issues between Flip Saunders and Rasheed Wallace. Forgotten for the moment are the loss of Ben Wallace in free agency and the Pistons absolute failure to compensate with a solid plan B. And of course, mere mention of Darko Milicic (a big man with upside) and Carlos Arroyo (likely the best backup point guard in the association) are enough to generate uncontrollable physical spasms amongst the faithful. Now of the three things the Pistons probably do not want us talking about, two stand out. The failure of Mohammed to compensate for the loss of Ben Wallace and Flip vs. Sheed. Mohammed is what he has always been. We may have paid a little too much for his long term services given that he is always a second slow on offense and a second and a half slower on defense. Can the acquisition of Webber improve this? Perhaps. Webber is a veteran and 5 time All-Star. He will get respect from the referees, and is capable of generating scoring, passing and rebounding. What Webber has not shown is an ability to be “clutch” when the games count, maintaining a reputation for choking going back to his days at the University of Michigan. Webber is also not a much better defender than Nazr. Clearly the Pistons are hoping that Flip Saunders’ zone defense will cover up for Webber’s lack of mobility (2003 microfracture surgery) and Webber can use his higher basketball IQ to play some solid team defense. The other issue is the disconnect between coach Flip Saunders and arguably the most talented Piston, Rasheed Wallace. It’s no secret that Sheed has not been happy of late. Unhappy enough to be late to practice and get benched for it. These sorts of things don’t happen in Detroit and they cannot happen to Sheed if the team expects to develop the cohesion necessary to compete for another NBA title. [floatr]http://www.humanvictorycigar.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/01/pistons_rasheed01.jpg[/floatr]Admittedly Saunders is often grasping at straws when the team needs in-game adjustment. They’ve gotten away from fundamental basketball even when Billups was healthy, relying almost exclusively on the talent of Wallace, Prince and Hamilton to get them through these tough times. With the ineffectiveness of Mohammed, and the bizarre disappearance of the Goon Squad (Jason Maxiell paired with Dale Davis) Wallace has been asked to stop shooting 3 pointers with reckless abandon as neither Flip Murray or Will Blalock can get him the ball in his familiar pick-and-pop position. Instead, Rasheed has been asked to be the primary shot blocker and rebounder for the Pistons as wave after wave of opposing players leak through the porous man and zone defenses to assail the hoop. If it is a matter of bringing in another player to compensate for Mohammed and create freedom for Wallace, that has to come from the existing roster. Webber is merely a short term band-aid solution. Rasheed’s former partner in Portland, Dale Davis has already shown that at the spry age of 37 he can be a force in significant minutes and that is perhaps why Wallace is so unhappy. Last season, Dale sat and this season, he goes stretches where he is either unused, or the Pistons seem to be showcasing him for a trade. Without Wallace, no number of local collegiate heroes can save the day. Yet the Pistons will try to make some moves that will increase the big-name factor with the hope that Wallace will not have to bear the burdens of leadership or production himself. This was never a problem under Larry Brown, and it isn’t a problem with coaches like Pat Riley or Phil Jackson. They have the ego, savoir-faire, and dominating presence to lead a group of strong willed players. The ability to convince their team that the job is not yet done until greatness is achieved. So when the Pistons talk about adding Webber, Wells and Peterson are they compensating for the lack of intangibles from their own head coach or insulating Rasheed Wallace from unhappiness? I’d say a little of both. But without addressing the root problems of chemistry and leadership on this team, no amount of talent will set things right. Tuesday we will know if Webber joins the Pistons and after that point, the spin cycle will be done for this regular season. Everything will come out in the wash.