Why the Pistons’ Championship Blueprint Was So Different – And Better – Than Cleveland’s

by | Nov 4, 2014 | 3 comments

Lebron James Returns to Ohio

Author: Brad Monastiere

LeBron James made a celebrated return to Cleveland as his Cavs hosted the New York Knicks in a game ESPN has hyped to the extent that it has ignored a Major League Baseball team’s third World Series title in five years in order to lap up the maroon-and-gold flavored milk.

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I have heard and read very few items that offer my point of view on LeBron’s return to Cleveland. My point of view is one as a Pistons fan since my family first got PASS before the 1986-87 season, right when those Bad Boy teams were coming together. Those teams were not built by finishing last in the league, enduring 20-game losing streaks and lucking into lottery wins year after year and begging a hometown guy to come home. They were pieced together, bit by bit, such that the strength of the team was the team. Average draft position for Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars, Vinnie Johnson, John Salley Mark Aguirre and James Edwards? 26th overall. Isiah Thomas was the one outlier, drafted by a bad Pistons team #2 overall in 1981.

Those Bad Boy teams were an inspiration to teenage me. They taught me the value of self-sacrifice, that the team is more important than any individual. In 1989, the Pistons were 63-19, won the championship, and didn’t have a single player named to the First, Second or Third-Team All-NBA. That was the ultimate example of a team overcoming superstar individuals. No other franchise ever beat Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan in the playoffs. Those Pistons did it a total of seven times.

Then, a dozen years later, the Pistons managed to do it again. The 2004 Pistons were born by losing a superstar player, not by 60-lossing their way into one. Grant Hill left for Orlando in the summer of 2000, but instead of act like a bitter scored lover, the Pistons made moves. They acquired Ben Wallace in a sign-and-trade and he ended up becoming the cornerstone of those awesome teams we all remember and love.

Players like Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace were high draft picks, but were guys the Pistons picked up by developing and acquiring assets, then moving them for the biggest return. The 2004 Pistons were just like the Bad Boys in that the team concept trumped other teams’ singular superstar players.

I could feel good morally about the 1989-1990-2004 Pistons teams, because they were built and played the game the right way. Teamwork, unselfishness, work ethic and character defined those teams.

Contrast all this with how Cleveland became relevant, how it reacted to becoming irrelevant, and how it became relevant again.

The 2003 Cavs won 19 games, and lucked into the #1 pick in the best draft in 15 years before, and 10 years since. In LeBron’s seven seasons on that team, the Cavs didn’t acquire one player that had any discernible talent (sorry Mo Williams, your All-Star selection was a farce). The Cavs didn’t bother trying to build a championship team. They just said “hey, we have LeBron, we’re important!” The Cavs didn’t matter because it had a successful, sophisticated and balanced organization. It put all its eggs in the LeBron basket, and it blew up in their face in July 2010.

When LeBron came back to Cleveland on Dec. 2, 2010, Cavs fans told him how much Akron hated him and how much better off the Cavs would be without him. How did that work out? The Cavs lost 27 games in a row and returned to their rightful place in the NBA sewer.

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Yet somehow, fate kept smiling upon this bumbling, deserted and bottom-feeding organization, who gave Comic Sans its moment in the sun. The Cavs received three #1 overall picks in four years by the absolute luck of the draw, and by a winning percentage hovering around Prince Fielder’s weight. Yet, they still managed to screw up those #1 picks. Anthony Bennett is the worst #1 pick in 20 years. Kyrie Irving is made of glass, and Andrew Wiggins scored 4 points in his last college game. Were the Cavs stuck dealing with their awful decisions? Nope. In fact, they were rewarded for them. Wiggins and Bennett were what was necessary to get Kevin Love. On the shrewd scale, it comes nowhere close to the Pistons parlaying Aaron McKie and Theo Ratiff into a guy who averaged 19 points per game in 120 career playoff games in the D. Miss ya, Rip!

So in effect, the Cavs were rewarded with the exact kind of super-team people have rebelled against, and their method to building this super-team was sucking for four straight years. The Cavs teams of 2003-10 and 2014-beyond were built with luck, organizational incompetence, and the proximity of a young, pregnant woman to an Akron hospital in December 1984.

I respect LeBron James, and recognize he’s the finest player in the world today by a wide margin. I also appreciate how he has grown into his role of being a worldwide ambassador for the game of basketball, and the way he’s taken responsibility for his fellow players. Unlike everyone in the state of Ohio (some of whom are dear friends of mine), I can look past the color jersey he’s wearing. What I do not respect is the Cleveland Cavs organization. An organization that did everything wrong – seemingly intentionally at times – and was somehow rewarded with a team that is sure to win 60 or more games this year and will be a strong contender for the NBA championship. This is to say nothing of an owner who did everything in his power to criticize and kill super teams, until he lucked his way into putting one together himself.

Oh, and every single Cavs fan who cheers LeBron now either defines hypocrisy to the extreme, or has a serious memory problem.


  1. Kalvin Harris

    I feel exactly the same way. I know most think conspiracy theories are crazy but their is no way the NBA didn’t help Cleveland get LeBron back.

    Do it the right way!

    Go Pistons!

    • Denis Armelllini

      I agree with everything you said, except that i dont believe that the Cavs are a title contender… they have been a train wreck for years and even Lebron, Love and Irving are not enough to make a contender.

      Im a huge Lebron fan but i never understood all the hype from people saying that the Cavs are top 1 in the east now, maybe if Lebron takes the matter in his own hands and start playing like he did in the old Cavs days, but he said himself thats not gonna happen.

      It will be pretty good for the other players development, having a leader like Lebron that is willing to make the team better… but that takes time and the time is not now.

  2. Otis

    I get where you’re coming from, and I like a lot of the things you have to say. I’ll just add a few things:

    1) When the Cavs were “building around” Lebron the first time around (or, rather, failing to build around him) I do think they were trying to surround him with the best players they could. I just think they were doing a very bad job of it. So I don’t think it’s fair to say they just felt content to have Lebron and didn’t try to build a winner around him. But Cleveland can be a tough sell, Lebron or not, and I think they failed to add enough around him. That said, I loved the way they managed themselves once he left. Stockpiling draft picks (taking on bad short-term contracts in the process, knowing full well that they had no chance of competing in the short term*) and positioning themselves nicely for the future. Yes, they had a lot of lottery luck, but they put themselves in position to be so lucky by focusing on a draft-heavy rebuild. And Kevin Love doesn’t end up on that team if they didn’t have the assets to go out and get him. So I don’t think it’s fair to say that they just “lucked” into a super team. For the most part in life, you make your own luck.

    (*as opposed to the Pistons, who took on bad long-term contracts because they are perpetually too stupid and stubborn to understand that they have no chance of competing)

    2) Piggybacking on the “Cleveland did a terrible job building around Lebron” theme above, I don’t blame him for leaving. I don’t even blame him a little bit. He wasn’t going to get anywhere with that unit, and they painted themselves into a corner with the limited veterans they’d brought in. They were only going to go so far. I hate the way Lebron went about it, but leaving was the right choice. It’s like an ugly break-up. Things were said. But they had a child together, a child named Cleveland, so they made up.

    In short, I don’t begrudge Cleveland for any of this. They did exactly what the Pistons should have been doing all these years. They took full advantage of the fact that they were a bad team and they’re reaping the benefits. Meanwhile, Detroit acted like there was some dignity in winning as many games as possible in the here-and-now as opposed to actually building something worth reading/writing about.


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