It's easy to find scapegoats for what went wrong -- Joe Dumars, for trading Chauncey Billups; Allen Iverson, for not being Billups; Rip Hamilton, for not swallowing his pride; Michael Curry, for being in over his head -- but the most glaring problem was one for which everyone was responsible: a complete and utter lack of leadership, both on the court and the sidelines.
The Pistons always seemed to get by with leadership-by-committee -- they won the title in 2004 and achieved a streak of six conference finals appearances as a team of equals, lacking a true superstar but boasting one of the deepest starting lineups in the game.
By the time they backed into the playoffs last season, though, it was clear they were a rudderless ship. Many of the veterans alternated between cranky and disinterested, while the younger players weren't empowered enough to take charge.
In the midst of Detroit's doomed first-round matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers, I asked one of the young players who the team's leader was, whom the the rest of the team took direction from when things got tough.
Not surprisingly, he couldn't offer a single name, simply saying, "The older guys, I guess."
And from whom did the older guys take direction? "Your guess is as good as mine, man."
As things played out, the notion of Detroit as a rudderless ship was reinforced, not only in how the Pistons were swept out of the first round, losing every game by double-digits, but also how things played out behind the scenes after Game 4.
Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace -- the only remaining members of the 2004 championship team -- all dodged the media, either sneaking out of the locker room early, waiting in the shower area until reporters on deadline gave up or blatantly ignoring questions while walking through a throng of reporters.
With no one else taking responsibility, young players like Arron Afflalo, Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum were hung out to dry, unfairly fed to the media and forced to answer for the team's most disappointing season in nearly a decade.
Now that the team is firmly entrenched in rebuilding -- despite the reported return of Ben Wallace, as many as four rookies (Austin Daye, DaJuan Summers, Jonas Jerebko and Deron Washington) could make the roster, and free agent additions Charlie Villanueva (24 years old), Ben Gordon (26) and Chris Wilcox (26) are just entering their prime years -- at least one young player is determined not to let a leadership void disrupt the team yet again.
Stuckey, the team's 23-year-old point guard, recently told Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press that he thinks the team's new, younger makeup will make it easier for him to assert himself.
"We can get on each other and get on each other's butts," Stuckey said recently after throwing out the first pitch at a Tigers game. "When you have those vets on the team, they kind of ... you really can't say the things you want to say to them because they've been in the league 10, 12 years. So having the same age group is going to be good."Here's to hoping he's up for the challenge, because Detroit faces an uphill journey back to relevancy even without chemistry issues clouding the way.
As a point guard, Stuckey will be expected to lead by new coach John Kuester and president of basketball operations Joe Dumars.
"I know that I'm going to have to step up this year and be more vocal," Stuckey said. "Me and Joe D, me and my new coach, we done already talked about that.
"I'm ready to step up and take the challenge."