Amar'e Stoudemire, at age 26, is just coming into his prime and could bring a low-post presence to the Pistons. (Ned Dishman/Getty Images)
AUBURN HILLS -- The Pistons are a puzzle right now, teetering between nowhere and somewhere, not sure which path to take or when to take it.
Well, there's one fascinating path that makes sense, if they can pull it off. Phoenix All-Star forward Amar'e Stoudemire is available, even readily available, and Joe Dumars should chase that option right up until the Feb. 19 trade deadline.
If the Pistons could get Stoudemire for Rasheed Wallace (and his $13.6 million expiring contract), young Amir Johnson and a draft pick, I'd do it now. So would Dumars, I bet.
The problem is, the market for Stoudemire, 26, is ever-expanding, or at least the rumor market is. There's also some risk, with Stoudemire's contract up after next season. But hey, if it doesn't work out here and he bolts in 2010, no harm done, the Pistons are back where they figured they'd be, with salary-cap space to pursue others.
And I'm sorry, there's no risk in dealing Wallace, Johnson and a pick, if that's what it would take. I'd be surprised if Phoenix GM Steve Kerr settled for that, especially with many suitors -- Golden State, Chicago, Miami, Portland, among others. But because Phoenix is shamelessly trying to shed Stoudemire to avoid the luxury tax and save money, anything is possible.
If the Suns demanded Rodney Stuckey instead of Johnson, forget it. If they wanted Jason Maxiell instead of Johnson, fine. If they wanted some combination, the Pistons should talk, because at 27-22, it's painfully obvious they're in limbo. Stoudemire, a dynamic, 6-foot-10 inside presence, wouldn't necessarily save the Pistons, but he sure would redefine them.
Heck, let's be more blunt. If the Pistons were able to add a prime low-post guy to a decent core, they'd be contenders again.
I still endorse the team's plan to clear cap space -- contracts for Wallace and Allen Iverson expire after this season -- and pursue a free agent such as Toronto's Chris Bosh in 2010. But there's no guarantee Dumars would land him, so he'll explore all possibilities.
New Orleans might unload center Tyson Chandler, who could be swapped for Wallace. Or what about this nugget: A three-way deal involving Phoenix and Toronto that nets the Pistons their targeted prize, Bosh.
Any trade now that doesn't involve Stoudemire or Bosh doesn't make sense for the Pistons. There's no reason to plug pieces just hoping to salvage this season. If Dumars can swipe Stoudemire, go for it. If not, this riddle will continue, unless Iverson somehow rediscovers his Hall of Fame game.
For years, we knew what the Pistons were about -- defense and toughness. Now it's impossible to figure out what they really are, and easier to determine what they aren't.
They're not a good offensive team or a great defensive team. They're not a running team or a half-court team or a big team or a small team or a quick team or a young team. They're certainly not a bad team but they're also not a contending team.
The Pistons are a bunch of disparate pieces scattered on a board, with a rookie coach in Michael Curry who isn't sure what to do with them. I appreciate Dumars' long-term vision, but in the short term, the Pistons can be hard to watch.
"It's definitely confusing right now," Tayshaun Prince said after Detroit's 107-97 loss to Phoenix Sunday. "We haven't figured it out. Every game is something different."
Some nights, the Pistons try to be the Iverson Show, and it can be scintillating. At other times, Iverson looks like a 33-year-old fading superstar shooting 42 percent.
Some nights, especially the past two games when he scored 38 and 27, feisty Richard Hamilton returns. Give the guy credit -- he's adjusting nicely to a reserve role.
Occasionally, it's Stuckey's team, although the second-year point guard has worn down and needs the upcoming All-Star break to rejuvenate.
Team needs a jolt
Iverson has not replaced what Chauncey Billups gave the Pistons: A calming sense of self, with a whiff of swagger. From six straight Eastern Conference finals, the Pistons are headed toward mediocrity, which isn't totally unexpected, but with a Stoudemire steal, could be avoided.
It should be noted, as good as Stoudemire can be, he doesn't play much defense, and we already know how difficult it is to fit a big-time scorer (Iverson) onto a team. Stoudemire also underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee three years ago but appears fully healed, averaging 20.9 points and 8.2 rebounds. He sounds like a guy ready to move, calling Detroit fans "phenomenal."
The Pistons are confused, even dispirited at times, and Curry doesn't have the experience to change it. So either they accept they're just not good enough, or they try to do something about it.
Iverson still could recapture something, but that possibility dims. So Dumars should go hard after Stoudemire, the Pistons' best immediate shot to turn a shaky transition into something much more interesting.
You can reach Bob Wojnowski at bob.wojnowski @detnews.com.