MILWAUKEE – All around him, Tayshaun Prince is the lasting player for remembrance. The Detroit Pistons’ young core players ask him every so often about that 2004 championship, and Prince doesn’t boast about the winning, but rather tells them the process needed before the glory.
Only in Prince’s moments of calm and privacy, the phone calls run back and forth between him and Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton or Ben Wallace, reminiscing about the championship days. There’s still a strong brotherhood among players from that title team – whether some have dispersed around the NBA or have retired.
For his part, Prince is still the consistent, durable player coaches love. He and the Pistons have a comfort level together, too. When Prince signed a four-year deal with the Pistons before last season, he knew Joe Dumars gave him a generous contract that would maintain a relationship and reward him within the organization past his playing career.
Prince understands there are contending teams that he can bolster, organizations that have inquired about him. He remains a savvy defender and a versatile playmaker offensively, averaging 12.1 points and 4.7 rebounds this season. Some across the league believe Prince, at 32 years old, and the Pistons would be smart to move on from each other. Nevertheless, Prince is assured the Pistons won’t field trade offers for him, and the two sides have “never” discussed dealing Prince, agent Bill Duffy told RealGM.
“I know there are a lot of contending teams that I can help,” Prince told RealGM. “But right now, this is the team I have to help. Everybody wants to be in the position where they have a chance of winning a championship every year, but obviously it doesn’t work that way.”
After a brilliant run of seven straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals or beyond from 2002-08, these past four seasons have been a rebuilding period for the Pistons. Prince is the lone holdover to play throughout both eras, and there is a Piston-for-life feel with this mutual loyalty. And yet for Prince, all the losing in recent years has been difficult.
“It’s tough,” Prince said. “Nobody wants to be in this rebuild position. Everybody wants to be a winner … and be in a position to win a championship.
“It’s tough, but we’re trying to work our way back.”
The Pistons got off to a rough start, losing their first eight games, and a long road trip one contest into the season pushed them back. They’ve had flashes of terrific collective play since then and have won seven of their last 10 games. Still, winning consistently is a process the Pistons are continuing to grasp: A night after putting together an all-around effort in a 103-87 win on the road here against the Bucks on Friday, Detroit stumbled to a 90-87 loss to the Utah Jazz at home.
Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight are steadily developing, but Andre Drummond has been so impressive in a reserve role. His line on Friday night – eight points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and one steal in 17 minutes – perfectly encapsulated a season where he has averaged 7.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and nearly two blocks in 19.7 minutes. Lawrence Frank continues to bring Drummond off the bench, but privately Pistons management believes the tantalizing rookie is ready for an increased role and it is itching for him to start.
As of Sunday, the Pistons stood six games out of the playoffs. Even so, when asked about the Pistons’ postseason chances, Prince insisted: “Anything is legitimate in the East. Anything is legitimate. We have a lot of young guys that are working hard, grinding. I try to give them feedback on what it takes to win consistently, not just every once in a while.”
Prince has two more seasons on his contract, and he is beginning to reflect on everything. He’s lived two eras in Detroit, a glorious contending ride and a retooling process that he believes has now turned a corner. He still takes pleasure in the relationships formed with players on that title squad, but now he wants to share the same bond with this group. In Prince’s mind, there’s an even longer journey – stretching past his playing career – left with the Pistons.
“You look at Kobe [Bryant’s] situation right now where he’s been successful in this league every single year and now the [Lakers] are having a tough time,” Prince said. “That’s why you’ve got to cherish every moment, because you just never know when it’s going to end – or when it’s going to begin.”