And Piston fans lament. This is very bad for the Pistons and very good for the Bulls. I can’t blame Ben for taking the deal. The Bulls were offering an additional $12 million over what the Pistons were willing to pay him. In the long run, that may end up being a wise move for Dumars to make, but for next year at least it moves the Pistons from a serious contender to a playoff team that no one thinks can win it all. Losing Big Ben means losing more than just his 12 rebounds and 3 blocks a game; it means losing his locker room presence, his leadership, his attitude and his work ethic. The rest of the Pistons will still have plenty of those things, of course, but what Ben brings to the Bulls is far beyond his ability on the court.
The Bulls become immediate contenders. Their one weakness has been at center, especially on defense. Wallace certainly cures that problem, being a multiple time defensive player of the year. He brings immense toughness and attitude to a team that sorely needs it. The Bulls have great young players on the perimeter in Heinrich, Duhon, Gordon, Deng and Nocioni. And it looks like they’re about to add PJ Brown and JR Smith in a trade with the Hornets; Smith is another exciting young perimeter player with enormous potential, while Brown is a veteran power forward who can bring energy off the bench. And Wallace gives them the veteran leadership they need.
The Pistons quickly signed Nazr Mohammed from the Spurs to replace Ben in the lineup, but he can’t possibly replace what Ben can do. This is a guy who couldn’t even beat out Rasho Nesterovich for the starting job for the Spurs next to Duncan, for crying out loud. The good news is that Flip Saunders knows how to coach a team like this. Look for him to crank up the offense next year and turn the Pistons into a team of gunners, which they have the ability to do. The Pistons are still a playoff team. But unless and until they replace Ben’s defensive presence and attitude, the Pistons just won’t be the same. And I don’t know how you replace a guy like that. There haven’t been many like him in the whole history of the NBA.