I hesitate to even go into it at this point because it’s too easy. This post is probably a few years late. Of course I hate Rip now. We’re 20 games under .500 and headed straight for the lottery. He’s old and overpaid and well past the modest prime he achieved following the Pistons’ lone championship in 2004. So let the record show I have always hated Rip. From the moment the Pistons traded Stackhouse for Hamilton I have always given him the full Silky Johnson treatment. Mostly because he’s soft as pudding and completely out of wack with the tough, defensive mindset of the franchise. But also because of his one-dimensional game, malcontent attitude and inability to keep his mouth shut at the most crucial moments.
Not that I haven’t written extensively on this subject before. Starting on the Pistons official message board during the early part of this decade (The same board that would produce several notable national sports bloggers like those behind Need4Sheed & Ball Don’t Lie), I have consistently beaten the anti-Rip drum. Indeed, it has bordered on an obsession at times. I blame Rip for almost everything bad that’s happened to the city of Detroit in the past eight years. The loss to the Spurs in the 2005 finals? Rip’s fourth quarter disappearing act. The collapse of the Big Three? Somehow related to the stupid fucking mask he wears. Kwame Kilpatrick? Definitely caused by Rip’s aptitude for ill-timed technical fouls and turnovers.
Rip unfortunately falls into that category of players that just don’t possess the internal fortitude to produce when the game is on the line. For the first three quarters he’s a relatively productive scorer from 15-20 feet, provided you design your offense around him and let him shoot incessantly. His passing and handle have improved over the years and he’s even picked up his man-to-man defense. But at the end of the day he’s a shooting guard without much shooting range. He can’t create his own shot and he folds like a house of cards in the fourth quarter. That’s how Chauncey Billups became Mr. Big Shot. Somehow had to step up when Rip pulled his nightly disappearing act.
But I’ve got Chris Webber‘s jersey hanging on my wall, so it’s not like the only thing I care about how clutch a player is. I’ve just never thought Rip was any better than a marginal player at a position where it’s easy to find a star. When the Pistons traded for him, Rip was rail-thin swingman without 3-point range who shot less than 45% from the field. Over the years he upped his percentages and expanded his game while the Pistons enjoyed an extended run of success in both the regular season and playoffs. At this point I’ve grudgingly come to respect his approach to the game, conditioning and willingness to put in the work necessary to score 20 points a night in the NBA, which is no easy feat. But I will never back down from my claim that an upgrade at shooting guard was the only thing that stood between the Pistons and multiple championships this decade.
Inevitably our loses in the playoffs could be traced to a deficiency at the two-guard when opposing teams locked in on Chauncey Billups. The Spurs switched Bruce Bowen over to cover Chauncey in the key closing moments but Rip was unable to take advantage of his six-inch height advantage over Tony Parker. Dwayne Wade and LeBron destroyed him in successive Eastern Conference finals (though to be fair, the entire team bears responsibility for the latter). [That LeBron thing was just the Pistons on the wrong side of history. Absolutely bestial. — Ed.] Ray Allen and Paul Pierce provided just enough to propel the Celtics past the Pistons in the crucial moments of their 2008 showdown. After every playoff disappointment I would gaze longingly at the Finals tickets sitting unused in the back of my playoff package and would write thousands of words imploring Joe Dumars to make a move and trade Rip for Allen, for Vince Carter, even for Jason Richardson. But year after year Rip returned, his position seemingly more secure with every disappointing playoff performance.
Eventually when the trade came it was Billups and not Hamilton who left, taking whatever magic there was left in Motown with him. The vastly divergent paths the two have taken since their highly effective backcourt combination was split should be some indication of who was most responsible for the success the Stones enjoyed during the past nine years. Whatever value Rip had for this team is now greatly diminished; had we traded him instead and allowed Rodney Stuckey to start at the two I have no doubt we would still be a playoff team. Instead we find ourselves lost in the wilderness, lacking both leadership and a vision for the future. Much of this is due to Dumars’ mistakes, starting with his decision to draft Darko over Wade and Carmelo Anthony. But somehow even that feels like it must have been Rip’s fault.