Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wallace Undecided On Retirement As Pistons Miss Postseason

Wallace Undecided On Retirement As Pistons Miss Postseason
By Steve St-Pierre | @Steve_Courtside

For a third straight season, the Pistons have missed the NBA Playoffs, finishing this year with a record of 25-41. Yet, the organization is filled with optimism that it’s finally headed in the right direction.

“After an extremely slow start at 4-20, to the group’s credit, they stayed together, kept on fighting for each other, and really the beginning of February…was the beginning of the turnaround,” says Lawrence Frank, Pistons Head Coach. “We had a bunch of non-competitive games. Then, we came back home and started to play at a higher level.”

“This is a great group of guys,” adds forward Tayshaun Prince. At the beginning of the season, we didn’t have the opportunity to get as much practice time as we would like, but things happen. We all wish we could change something that we did…I think we’ve learned from it, and hopefully we can move on to next season in the right frame of mind and get off to a better start than we did this season.”

Even the organization’s new head boss was pleased with what he saw in his first season at the helm.

“I’m proud of the fact they came back, and they did their thing,” says Tom Gores, Pistons Owner. “They worked hard. They did all the things that Detroit stands for…the culture was reset this year. I am very proud of the folks, and we made a lot of progress.”

The Pistons did a tremendous job of establishing a young nucleus of center Greg Monroe and guards Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey. They also got solid play from longtime veterans Prince, Jason Maxiell and Ben Wallace, who has likely played his last game but has yet to officially call it quits.

“It’s one of those things, I’ll have to think about it a little bit,” Wallace says. “It’s tough to walk away from the game when you’ve got so many people in the game who keep asking you to come back. Do I think it’s time for me to retire? Yeah, but people are asking me to come back obviously because they see something in me that I really don’t see in myself right now. We all feel good to be wanted.”

“Look, we’ve talked about it throughout the year,” says Frank. “Ben Wallace – it’s been an honor just to watch him every single day. One of the great competitors who have played this game. From White Hall, Alabama, undrafted, initially diagnosed as a two-guard to then come down and be one of the great defensive players that have played the game, bring a championship to this city, and to be able to still play at a high level at his age and to impact the game every single time he steps on the court. To be the ultimate professional in terms of how he approaches his job.”

Wallace’s teammates insist there’s still a place for him on the Pistons’ roster.

“It’s just been a pleasure,” Prince says. “Hopefully, this is not the end of the road. But if it is the end of the road basketball-wise, it definitely won’t be end of the road as far as the friendship and the family experience. We’re all hoping he will return.”

“He’s a Hall-of-Famer,” adds Stuckey. “He comes in each and every day, acts professional. He’s a hard worker. The crazy thing is he still could play a couple more years if he wanted to…we always tell him that we want him here. Ben’s a phenomenal teammate. He does anything for anybody, so of course we’d love him back.”

Besides Wallace, the Pistons’ only other unrestricted free agent this summer is veteran reserve Damien Wilkins, who will also likely be invited back next season. Additionally, Maxiell has the option to opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent. Vernon Macklin and Walker Russell, Jr. are restricted free agents.

The 2012 NBA Draft Lottery will be held May 30, when the Pistons will find out which pick they’ll have in next month’s draft. The team could also look to improve its roster in free agency this summer, where they’ll be armed with the mid-level exception as well as the ability to use the amnesty clause on either veterans Ben Gordon or Charlie Villanueva.

“Anything’s possible,” Gordon admits. “That’s always in the back of your mind, but until you’re told something or until you hear something, you just always assume you’re gonna be here.”

“I can’t worry about things I can’t control,” adds Villanueva. Whatever happens, happens. (I just have to) stay healthy. That’s one of my goals. Stay healthy and keep working. Keep staying in the routine that I’ve been staying on with Arnie (Kander, Pistons Strength and Conditioning Coach).”

“I’ve been here through the tough years, so hopefully I can be here when things turn around,” Gordon says. “That’s my commitment from when I signed my contract, and that’s where I stand on that.”

Many in the organization believe the majority of the team’s improvement will come from within.

“We’re open to everything, but I don’t want to discount or take away anything from how good our players were this year,” Gores says. “We started 4-20. We were a pretty good team. There (were) a few games we didn’t finish because we were just jelling and coming together, and we did have a short season to deal with. I’m not saying we shouldn’t look at the possibility of making changes, but I’m also saying that we have great players on this team.”

“We know we have a lot of work to do,” adds Frank. “Hopefully, it just gives us an opportunity to reflect in terms of getting off to a better start and building some momentum going into the offseason.”

Surely, the Pistons will be preparing for what should be a relatively active offseason, one way or another. But for now, they’re just focusing on the positives that came from this condensed campaign, including the overall atmosphere that ownership has created in Auburn Hills.

“We have made a lot of changes,” Gores says. “Hopefully, we’ve reenergized The Palace this year…part of our job is - even when we're having tough times - to make it right for the fans. You can't always guarantee wins, but you can guarantee the experience, the moment that you walk in the door, that it's a good experience for the fans.

“Hopefully, we’ve done that.”