Tayshaun Prince says goodbye to the Detroit Pistons

It turns out that Tayshaun Prince will make his debut as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night. The Grizz won’t have to suffer through a Prince-less back-to-back in the wake of trading Rudy Gay, a move that hamstrung an already thin roster via deals that the team’s coaching staff didn’t seem too pleased about. Of course, not being pleased about things has been Tayshaun Prince’s hallmark, even when things for his former Detroit Pistons teams were going exceedingly well. The longtime Pistons forward is leaving Michigan with his appropriately grouchy and respected aura well in place.

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The Detroit News’ Vince Ellis, after detailing how Prince once greeted him at a practice with a foul-mouthed rant that Ellis completely understood, was the first to touch on such:

"So many bonds and friendships that I call brothers, especially dating back to when I first got here," Prince said. "I've been here 10 1/2 years, and I don't know how many different people I've played with. The court memories are obviously the championship and the battles with the Pacers and the Heat and the Cavs.

"More than anything, the friendships with the guys that I've played with throughout my career, the bond that I've had with people in management. Stuff like that goes a long ways. Those are things that obviously will be missed, too. It's mixed emotions."

That’s the reflective Prince. The guy was never a locker room problem in Detroit, home of some of the nastiest locker rooms in recent NBA history. The Pistons haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, and they haven’t been relevant since trading Chauncey Billups in 2008. Through the good days and bad, though, Prince remained a stalwart. He leaves Detroit after having played the fifth-most games of any Piston, a remarkable accomplishment for a lower-rung first round draft pick, taken in an era (2002) that saw the NBA attempting to draft any 18 or 19-year old it could.

Pistons GM Joe Dumars had been burned with both approaches (in opposites Mateen Cleaves, and Rodney White) in the previous two seasons. Prince was his first home run, and it led to Dumars’ biggest blunder: Passing up other future All-Stars in favor of drafting Darko Milicic. Piston Powered’s Patrick Hayes nails it in his breakdown of Tayshaun’s time in Detroit:

We will always remember Prince for his famous block of Reggie Miller in the 2004 playoffs, but his 2003 performance was more impressive. Being tossed into the rotation in an impossible situation, an untested scrawny rookie became both a defensive stopper and a reliable offensive option on a team that was severely limited offensively. He saved Detroit’s season, helped the Pistons get to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first of six straight appearances there and laid claim to a starting spot for the foreseeable future, so much so that the Pistons passed on taking Carmelo Anthony in the 2003 NBA Draft simply because Prince’s playoff performance had the team sure they were set at small forward.

Prince took a small, desperation opportunity on a team full of veterans and busted through the door, earning minutes in an impossible situation and never looking back. He’s been a model of consistency ever since. When you contrast that with how some of the young players the Pistons have had in recent years have played, it’s easy to see how frustration could mount. The Pistons have featured several young players who have had opportunities to earn spots and they’ve responded with inconsistent play, on-court mistakes and occasional sulking.

NBAniks like myself love to obsess over body language, because after a few spins around the League Pass dial we feel as if we’ve seen it all before. Prince really does have bad body language, in the typical sense. He slumps his shoulders, and he continually looks perturbed. As Hayes noted, though, who among us wouldn’t look quizzically on the sorts of players that replaced the Billups, Ben Wallace, and Rasheed Wallace lineup? Prince was the youngest on that 2004 NBA champion, but he watched as his athletic prime was wasted on a team that never admitted that it needed to rebuild.

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There’s a lot of blame to go around. Dumars swung and missed on the Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva signings. Overhyped finds like Rodney Stuckey didn’t work out. Ownership issues got in the way of progress. John Kuester, despite his fine work developing a less-awful offense in Cleveland, was not the answer as a lead coach. None of the band-aids that Dumars brought in to keep things respectable helped.

Prince stuck it out. The above-market contract that Joe D gave him a few years ago helped, but you rarely heard rumblings about Tayshaun demanding to be the final piece on a championship contending team. He hung in there, and did his best with a team that wasn’t anywhere near the standard that Prince was introduced to back in his first two seasons. The guy reflected what his city has long represented.

A jersey retirement may not be in order, but it shouldn’t be out of the question.

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