There is no shame in not winning an NBA championship. A cynic — and I’ve been that — would tell you that the way pro sports works is this: There’s a first place winner, and all the other teams in the league are tied for last. The only thing that changes is the length of everyone’s off-season vacations. But the truth is, you can not be crowned the king and still consider yourself having had a successful season. Some of the time, anyway.

The Pistons are on the verge of being tied for last in the NBA. They’re down, 3-2, heading into tonight’s Game 6 of the Final Four. If they lose this series — and they probably will — they’ll have all summer to beat themselves up for letting the Boston Celtics off the mat in Game 3 after working so hard to wrest home court advantage away in Game 2. Game 3 was a mind-numbing, MIA performance that should haunt this team all the way until they manage to win another title. It was a disgraceful, absolutely baffling display — more befitting a cold January night in New Jersey than at home in the Final Four. Whatever.

Joe Dumars was asked by ESPN.com in an interview played on their website recently about coaches and job security.

Is it fair, Joe D was asked, to issue an edict to a coach that goes something like this: Win the whole enchilada or pack your bags?

Dumars didn’t think so. He pointed out how only one team can win, and that no coach should be working under that kind of pressure. Fine. Agreed. But the more apt question would have been, Is it fair to place a coach under such an edict — or something close to it — when he’s seemingly had the talent to pull it off yet has been toppled three straight years in the Final Four?

Read: is Flip Saunders on the hot seat? Should he be?

In 2005-06, the Pistons went 64-18, including a crazy 35-5, 1984 Tigers-like start. Yet they were extended to seven games by the inferior Cleveland Cavaliers in the Elite Eight and ran out of gas against the Miami Heat. Last season, another inferior Cavs bunch toppled them, despite the Pistons putting them in an 0-2 hole (which they did in ’06, too) in the Final Four. This season, a shaky start against the 76ers had the Pistons scrambling right out of the gate. Then, a corrected series against the Orlando Magic and a gutsy Game 2 win in Boston preceded Game 3’s nastiness, and the Pistons have been playing catch-up with the Celts ever since.

So: after reading the above paragraph, what do YOU think about Flip’s impending return to the Pistons’ sidelines?

This isn’t just about Flip, though — despite his head-scratching rotation that doesn’t seem to have any pattern or rhythm. It must be terribly frustrating to play for Saunders if you’re not on the floor when the game begins, for you may play five minutes, 25 minutes, or none. Jarvis Hayes and even Jason Maxiell, at times, have been ignored with mystifying regularity.

No, it’s not all Flip. It’s the players, stupid. Time to let go of nostalgia and take a long look at the roster — the starting five portion. The Pistons rightly let Ben Wallace walk two summers ago, and now it’s time to move others — and yes, I mean for the sake of change. Sometimes that’s the last bullet left in the chamber.


Saunders cannot be judged an innocent, but neither can the players — some of whom should be gone if the Pistons bow to the Celtics, as expected (starters included)


Keeping a quintet together is great if you’re the San Antonio Spurs of today (yes, I know they lost to the Lakers but they’re still the closest thing to a dynasty the NBA has had since the Chicago Jordannaires), or the Celtics or Lakers of the 1960s or 1980s — because those teams consistently won championships. The Pistons are almost certainly on the verge of dropping to 2-4 in the Final Four, and where’s the fun in that? Where’s the warm-and-fuzzy appeal there?

Trades.

Dumars has built his reputation as one of the NBA’s best GMs because of his almost spooky and uncanny ability to properly blend aggressiveness with restlessness and intuition. He’s done it with his coaching firings and hirings, and with trades. He has, more than once, upset the apple cart and fixed what none of us saw as being broken in the first place. Then, six months later, we see that there needed to be repair, after all. And that’s why Dumars is one of the best in the business.

It’s time now for that to show through again.

No one — no one — should be an untouchable this summer. Everyone should be in play. A wire should be sent throughout the NBA from Auburn Hills that reads something like, “If there’s any interest in anyone on our roster — anyone — give us a shout. Let’s talk.”

What is there to lose, at this point? To have this burdensome streak of six consecutive Final Four appearances end? Is that what we’re striving for now? To play through Memorial Day and then break for the summer?

I’m telling you, I’d be a whole lot happier with Dumars if the Pistons made a blockbuster trade and be eliminated earlier in the playoffs next season, if there was greater payoff down the line. Better that than to stand pat and lose in another Final Four. But that’s just me.

Only one team can win it all. But that doesn’t mean that the others should ever stop trying — even if it means breaking up the gang in order to do it.

The best starting five in the NBA? And where exactly has that gotten the Pistons lately?

Tied for last, that’s where.

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