Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince has been working through rumors regarding his role in Detroit since his rookie season in the NBA. Though it’s true they dimmed for a while after his second-year ascension and Detroit’s run as championship contenders from 2004 to 2008, in the years since the well-meaning wing has been brought up in scores of trade rumors, even if few had much validity to them. Because of a stretched-out transfer of ownership and GM Joe Dumars’ love for his first great draft choice, the talk was best left to barrooms and message boards, and not front office chatfests.
In 2012-13, with the Pistons stuck in another miserable year — five and a half games out of the final playoff spot in the East, on pace for a 31-win season — questions have once again arisen about the usefulness of Prince’s veteran presence on a rebuilding team. Prince, who turns 33 just one week after this year’s Feb. 21 trade deadline, spoke to the Detroit News’ Vincent Goodwill about his permanence in Detroit:
"The reason why I'm always positive and upbeat is because around the same time all the time, people always ask me and expect the answer to change and it's not," Prince said. "The first time I was on the trading block it was my sixth or seventh year, and you asked me that, my answer might be different. I was a younger player, I would've been like 'trade me, you can't come tell me?' I didn't know the nature of the business about rumors."
"One day it might hit me. I might get in a position where it's time for me to win one more [championship]," Prince said. "To go to a contender-type team. I might go to Joe that day and say 'it's time for me to move on' and play that route but now is not the time."
Except that … it might be time.
Problem is … that time may have passed.
Goodwill went on to refer to Prince’s contract as “cap friendly,” but we respectfully disagree. In NBA terms, the three years and nearly $22 million that Prince will be paid counting this season and the next two aren’t a bank-breaker, but paying Tayshaun that much guaranteed money until he’s 35 will probably put off most potential trading partners. And that’s entirely the fault of Dumars, who bid against nobody to offer Prince four years and $28 million after the lockout in Dec. 2011, bringing Tayshaun back to a rebuilding team that was years away from needing someone like Tayshaun Prince.
If “tradeable” is Goodwill’s definition of “cap friendly,” then we agree. Because so many players make just above or below what Prince makes in a year he can be shipped off in a one-on-one deal, but such a move would no doubt bring back another veteran. The Pistons don’t need veterans; they need to fully commit to rebuilding after years of attempting to sustain the same with Allen Iverson, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, and extending Richard Hamilton’s deal.
Who is in desperate need for a Tayshaun Prince, though? Who wants to pay him $7.7 million in 2015? That’s a hard sell to ownership, as the deadline approaches.
This is on Dumars, frankly. The same guy that resisted and chose Prince over Rick Carlisle (though having Larry Brown in the tree helped him in that regard) in 2003, and took Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony in that year’s draft because Prince ably filled Anthony’s position. That’s not a shot at Joe, everyone was leaning toward Darko in June of 2003, we’re just explaining his loyalties.
And it’s not a dig at Prince, either, who has been fantastic at times as a go-to offensive player in Detroit’s system this year. It’s no fun to watch, slow-down basketball rarely is, but his post-ups have been on point and he rarely raises a hackle when Detroit’s offense goes elsewhere. Though he doesn’t shoot a ton of them, Prince has raised his 3-point mark to 41.9 percent on the year. He remains a stout defender, one you would assume to do great things (even at his age) once again if he were paired with more defensive-minded front court partners.
Because Prince never relied on jumping through the roof, despite his most famous accomplishment, he figures to age quite nicely as his contract finishes off, and into his next deal. It’s just that paying Tayshaun Prince nearly $15 million over the next two seasons is a lot to sell to an owner. And it’s barely even bringing in the Detroit fans, who have watched Prince play a pivotal role on some classic Pistons teams, as they rank second to last in NBA attendance this year.
A deal would have helped in 2010, when it became obvious that the new Pistons additions weren’t working out. Or in 2011, with Prince’s contract set to expire. And it makes sense now, if cap frustrations weren’t involved.
Cap frustrations are in place, though, and it’s nobody’s fault but Detroit’s if they can’t find a taker for a potentially significant addition in Tayshaun Prince.