In the infancy of their ascendance to becoming perennial contenders, the ‘Goin’ to Work’ Pistons were looking for the edge that would put them over the top.
Chauncey Billups can point to the exact moment it happened.
It’s when the Pistons traded for Rasheed Wallace in 2004.
“It clicked for me the first practice we had after we traded for ’Sheed,” Billups said Monday during a conference call. “We’re scrimmaging and this dude was so vocal and called out every defensive play we had. He called help everywhere and saying where screens were and what coverage we were in.
“When we got in the huddle and walked off the floor that day, I said there’s nobody that could beat us — not with that added bonus on the team. Could somebody have beaten us? Yeah, but that’s how I felt. There was a feeling after that practice that we got exactly what we needed.”
Wallace was the final piece, as the other four starters — Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace — already had reached the Eastern Conference finals the year before.
They would reach six straight appearances in the conference finals and win one title — in 2004 over the Lakers.
“What we did, I don’t know if it will be ever done again, the way we did it,” Billups said. “I felt like we had stars, but what we didn’t have was one guy who had a superstar ego or superstar mentality.”
The players will reunite Wednesday night to celebrate the retirement of Billups’ No. 1 jersey at The Palace.
It’s the second such reunion in the past month, following Ben Wallace’s ceremony Jan. 16.
This time, though, it’s a fete for the unquestioned leader of the group, the captain in the locker room and “Mr. Big Shot” on the court. Four of the five starters were selected to the All-Star Game in 2006, and with such a talented crew, they needed one voice to guide them.
Billups fit the bill.
“The guys just respected me and trusted me and trusted whatever decision I felt was right at the time was the right decision,” Billups said. “That wasn’t easy to come by; that takes a while to get guys to trust you. There’s some blunder involved in that too.
“You make the wrong calls sometimes. When I did that, I would immediately raise my hand and say, ‘My bad.’ It’s a mutual respect.”
It’s a similar issue to what the young Pistons are facing as they’re blending a new roster, with Reggie Jackson at point guard and recent additions Marcus Morris and Ersan Ilyasova.
Coach Stan Van Gundy is trying to build the same synergy, and remarked on the excellence Billups showed pulling that group together.
“That team was always really organized and under control,” Van Gundy said. “He had control, directed traffic and they were always settled; they were never running crazy. He really did a good job of running the show and keeping everybody in line.
“What everybody talks about is, he hit big shots and was never afraid of taking them. He had a really good understanding of the balance of running the offense with that team, getting everybody involved and then picking his times where he needed to take over.”
Billups, a seven-time All-Star, played six-plus years with the Pistons and made his mark as one of the focal points of the championship team, but gives a lot of the credit to Brown.
In many ways, it was just a case of everything coming together at the right time — and the willingness to accept that no one was the complete center of it all.
“He was probably the toughest coach on point guards that I ever played for,” Billups said. “I’m thankful and happy that I was mature enough and ready for that kind of coaching. That being said, it wasn’t always easy. I would come home at night, sit in the mirror and talk to myself sometimes because I needed to hear it. It drove me crazy and I loved it and I love Larry Brown.
“If not for him and the way he coached and the way he demanded for us to play a certain way — and he held us accountable every single day — if not for that, we never become champions. We (would have been) one of those really good teams that never got over the hump.”
Chauncey Billups ceremony
When: 7:30 Wednesday, The Palace, Auburn Hills
Outlook: All five starters from the 2004 Pistons championship team, along with coach Larry Brown, are expected to be in attendance to celebrate the retirement of Billups’ No. 1.