Back in the later part of the 1990s, TNT would market the NBA’s Western Conference Finals as being the de facto NBA finals. With Michael Jordan out of the league for a spell of time, the Spurs, Lakers, Rockets, Suns and Blazers frequently found themselves in some heated April and May battles. The Eastern Conference was simply an inferior conference, and the regular season became essentially meaningless.
Flash forward to this season, and the Eastern Conference has somehow become considerably worse. In a league facing a future swell of free agents, some teams have blatently placed it in the tank in search of top draft picks to go along with free agency money. Boston, Cleveland, Orlando, Atlanta, Miami and Toronto are in an atmosphere different from everyone else, being the only ones over .500. Detroit was once near that .500 mark 12 games and 12 losses ago.
How can you explain this recent swoon by a once proud franchise? The effort by the Pistons to spend in advance of the 2010 free agent class looks like a horrendous move now as long-term money is sealed up in struggling talent. For a team that seems to be on a full roster rotation, the ability to find the right talent to win on a given night has been depleted. Coach John Kuester must frequently look at his fellow assistants and bench mates and wonder why he took this job in the first place.
Much like their local hockey counterparts, the injuries have no doubt had a huge impact on this team. The fact that Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton have only played a quarter of the games so far is very alarming and not a good sign for a team still in the playoff hunt. Until this team gets the idea that they are not the same team of five years ago, they will then begin to relearn how to win.