- Ric Bucher, NBA Reporter, ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer
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If it's any consolation, they shouldn't have to worry about 'Sheed being fitted for a championship ring anytime soon.
The Detroit Pistons have the goods to make it to this year's Finals and, depending upon who they meet there, a chance to win it all. Granted, I'd put the Pacers, Nets, Kings, Lakers, Spurs and Timberwolves in that same category, but Detroit is the hot flavor because no one put them in that category before the Pistons acquired Rasheed in a three-way trade with Atlanta and Boston two weeks ago. That gave the Pistons the one piece they were missing -- a bona fide low-post presence at both ends of the floor. Wallace can defend far better than Mehmet Okur and draw double-teams that no right-thinking coach would send at Ben Wallace.
Key word in the preceding paragraph: goods. As in a package you might find in a store that doesn't really have any value until you take it down off the shelf and unwrap it. Which, based on preliminary reports out of Detroit, Rasheed doesn't plan to do with his marvelous low-post game.
I'll be honest -- I haven't seen a lot of the Pistons since they acquired 'Sheed. I figured I'd give them a little bit of time to gel before dissecting the success of general manager Joe Dumars' latest gambit. But having been asked to write about them to preview Sheed's first appearance in Portland as a visitor since being shipped out Feb. 9, I've done what I can to assess if switching from two teams headed for the lottery to one looking to go deep in the playoffs has had an impact on Wallace's predilection with launching jumpers, a task far less taxing than grinding for points around the basket.
Conclusion: Coach Larry Brown has indeed coaxed Wallace into spending more time around the rim, in part by making him the starting center. 'Sheed, so far, is getting to the free-throw line more and blocking a few more shots. Yeah, he's still the only center outside of Dallas who would hoist 11 3-pointers in the span of two games on back-to-back nights, but 'Sheed is not the type you want going cold turkey with anything.
Let me say I never had a problem with 'Sheed working from the perimeter for the Blazers when they had Arvydas Sabonis and Dale Davis and Shawn Kemp. While 'Sheed was better down low than all three as a scorer, Sabonis is a far better passer on the block, Kemp left no room for anyone else on the block and I watched Davis lose a 15-foot jump shot contest to coach Maurice Cheeks just the other day.
But in Detroit, Wallace's low-post ability is exactly what would put the Pistons over the top and it appears all that time jacking it from outside has taken its toll. Wallace struggled to get shots off inside against both Andrei Kirilenko and Elton Brand, which presumably prompted the drift beyond the arc.
Over the top, subsequently, has turned into Brown going over the edge. Aside from openly mocking No. 2 pick Darko Milicic all season, he's also picked fights with Chauncey Billups, Okur and now Tayshaun Prince. I'm not saying it's some sort of misdirected anger fueled by Wallace denying him the sugar; I'm just saying Brown has been a season-long grouch and it'll be a miracle if he doesn't add Rasheed to his list before it's all over.
Or maybe I'm the knucklehead for even thinking 'Sheed could shift gears at this point of the season. Dominating the paint requires time in the weight room and unbridled hunger and 'Sheed hasn't expended either in a while. After all, word remains that he's bound via free agency for the Knicks next season. So why should he get in shape or do the dirty work for a franchise that isn't in his long-term plans? I guess maybe I thought that rousing welcome the Motor City fans gave him might change all that, igniting a desire to repay such unconditional love.
Then again, he got that for quite some time in Portland, and Blazers fans are sure to let the world -- and 'Sheed -- know how they feel about what they got in return.
8dEthan Sherwood Strauss