- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2008

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) - Rasheed Wallace seems to symbolize the Detroit Pistons.

He is a unique talent, the only player in league history with 100 3-pointers and 100 blocks in multiple seasons, and the team defies NBA convention by having success without a superstar or two.

Wallace also appears to check out mentally at inopportune times, as do some of his Pistons teammates. That leads to lackluster performances that infuriate teammates and fans.

“It’s like we tease each other, tease our fans,” Antonio McDyess said. “Give them a good dose in the beginning, and let them down.”

Detroit was good and composed enough to hand the Boston Celtics their first home loss in the playoffs in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.

But the Pistons were dysfunctional enough to waste an opportunity in Game 3 and to blow a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter Friday night as Boston ended Detroit’s season with an 89-81 win.

President of basketball operations Joe Dumars, who declined comment yesterday, will be the one to decide if the setback also signaled the end of an era.

The Pistons went to six straight conference finals, the first franchise to do so since the Los Angeles Lakers did in the 1980s. But they also became the second team in league history to lose in the round prior to the NBA Finals three years in a row, joining the 1953-55 Celtics.

“I think we lost some focus on what won us that title,” Richard Hamilton said. “We got grimy. If we didn’t score, they didn’t score. Now we are giving up dunks and layups. We have to get back to what we did.”

Dumars decided a year ago to bring back key players who have been together since the 2004 championship season, and coach Flip Saunders, while infusing energy with rookies and young reserves.

It’s difficult to imagine another offseason of the status quo.

Wallace might have played his last game for the Pistons, and Saunders may have coached them for the last time.

Both have one year left on their contracts, making the volatile center more attractive on the trade market and seemingly forcing Dumars to fire Saunders or extend his contract so that he’s not a lame-duck coach.

Saunders, who already has outlasted Brown and Rick Carlisle, might be replaced by assistants Michael Curry or Terry Porter or perhaps former Dallas coach Avery Johnson.

The Pistons probably wouldn’t have won their 2004 title without Wallace, whom they acquired at the trading deadline. But their title chances afterward appeared to have been hurt by his play and personality.

Wallace inexplicably left Robert Horry alone for a 3-pointer in Game 5 of the 2005 NBA Finals - a series Detroit lost to San Antonio in seven games.

The Pistons couldn’t recover when Wallace injured his right ankle in the 2006 playoffs. In last year’s season-ending loss, Wallace had to be restrained by teammates after being ejected.

Wallace was at his worst when the Pistons needed him most this year. He had more fouls (five) than points (four) in 32 minutes in Game 6 against Boston.

To be fair, Wallace wasn’t the only Pistons player who didn’t play up to his potential in the playoffs.

Tayshaun Prince failed to average double digits after scoring about 16 points in the first two rounds. McDyess had playoff highs in points and rebounds in Game 4, then scored just 10 points combined in the next two losses.

Hamilton and Chauncey Billups closed the series strong, but both could share in some of the blame for lapses of judgment or jumper accuracy.

Hamilton has two years and about $22 million left on his deal. Prince is due to make about $31 million over the next three seasons. Billups signed a five-year, $60 million contract last summer and McDyess is wrapped up for two more seasons at about $14 million.

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