After 6 straight appearances in the eastern conference finals with two trips to the finals the Detroit Pistons are no longer the elite contenders that they have been. Last night also marked he end of the San Antonio Spurs reign in the west as they made their first round one playoff exit in almost a decade.
The Detroit Pistons resurrected the eastern conference during the 2003-2004 season, when they were considered the junior varsity of the NBA. Prior to that year the eastern conference was sending teams with losing records to the playoffs, and teams with no chance to the finals. The undersized New Jersey Nets led by Jason Kidd went to the finals two years in a row just to be eliminated in four games by the Lakers and six games by the Spurs.
Then in 2003 the Pistons acquired Rasheed Wallace and never looked back on their way to defeating the fully loaded Lakers in 5 games to win the NBA world title. That move forced the rest of the eastern conference to step up and get serious about their rosters if they had any hope of competing for a chance at the title. In the 2004-2005 season the Pistons were the favorites in the east to get back to the finals and they lived up to the hype only to lose to the Spurs in game 7.
The following season the power started to shift with the emergence of Lebron James with the Cavs, as well as Dwayne Wade teaming up with Shaq to bring Miami it’s first world title defeating the Mavs in six games. Along the way they went through Detroit in one of the best conference final series seen in a while. The power was starting to shift, but Detroit was still a top tier team, which was proof that the east had indeed become stronger.
That year we saw James begin to develop as a playoff superstar, which carried over into the next season as he led the Cavaliers through Detroit on their way to their first NBA finals appearance. Again, even though they beat Detroit, the Pistons were still considered one of the elite teams in the league, and this showed the western conference that they now had to worry about Miami, Cleveland, as well as Detroit. The east was definitely on the rise. But the Spurs were not ready to let the east take the title 2 years in a row and swept the Cavs 4-0.
The next year the Pistons were once again the team to beat in the east as they made it back to the conference finals. Knowing that Cleveland had stepped up, and that Detroit had not lost a step, Boston beefed up adding Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to their rosters, and like Detroit a few years before, they never looked back. They defeated the Pistons in the conference finals on their way to winning the world title against the L.A. Lakers.
This year we witnessed the end of a dynasty, as the Pistons in an effort to rebuild their team fell in the first round to the new power in the east, the Cavaliers. A round one sweep that many credit to the trade of Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson. A few years before they lost the heart and soul of their defense in Ben Wallace and so began the decline of the Pistons. Now the entire eastern conference has become competitive again with eyes on Orlando, Miami, Cleveland and Boston. Next year we may have to add the Bulls to the discussion.
Let’s talk San Antonio now. They’ve never consistently been to the finals but each year they have been consistent favorites to win the west. They’ve won 4 titles since 1999, and appeared in 5 conference championships in that same time frame. Even in the games that they didn’t make it to the conference finals they were still highly competitive.
Last night, however, the Spurs showed signs of slowing down. True they were without Manu Ginobli, but the rest of the team, outside of Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker did not show up. They had no answers for the Mavericks offense, and not enough offense to compete with Dallas either. The result a first round exit to the tune of 4 games to 1, and that was with home court advantage.
The crazy thing is Dallas is only one of seven other teams that could have done that to the Spurs. Right now, the Spurs better think about retooling because the rest of the west has gotten stronger, while they have gotten older. The return of Ginobli next year will be an improvement but they better get some younger pieces otherwise history’s bound to repeat itself.