Then it was Chauncey Billups.
Then it was Rasheed Wallace.
Next, it looks like Richard Hamilton.
Key players from Detroit's glory years of the past decade slowly have been departing (OK, so Ben Wallace did return this season with less hair and less game). It certainly is showing as Billups calls it "sad'' when he looks at the standings, which show the Pistons through Wednesday at 15-29.
Look for Hamilton to be the next to go. A source close to the situation told FanHouse the Pistons are committed to trading the three-time All-Star guard by next summer. He could be moved by the Feb. 18 trade deadline, but if no suitable deal surfaces it would be a priority during the offseason.
"It's sad,'' said Billups, now Denver's star guard after a November 2008 trade. "I'm always going to have a huge place in my heart for the Pistons and Detroit. I hate to see them in trouble like that, especially guys who are still like my brothers and what they're going through.''
Billups still keeps in touch with the three members now in Detroit from the team that won the 2004 title and in 2005 lost the NBA Finals in seven games to San Antonio. They are Hamilton, forward Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace, the center who bolted as a free agent to Chicago in the summer of 2006 before returning this season at age 35.
Ben Wallace's departure, coming after the Pistons had the NBA's best record at 64-18, pretty much ended Detroit's time as a title favorite. Still, the Pistons were 59-23 just two years ago, winning the Central Division by a staggering 14 games over Cleveland and falling to Boston 4-2 in the Eastern Conference finals.
But the move that sent the Pistons spiraling downward was the Billups trade, which landed Allen Iverson in Detroit. Billups, 33, hasn't lost a millimeter off his step since the deal while Iverson's problems with the Pistons were well-documented.
Detroit executive Joe Dumars, who then watched last summer as Rasheed Wallace left as a free agent to Boston, made the Billups trade to clear playing time for point guard Rodney Stuckey and to get salary-cap room. Stuckey is playing well, but the Pistons didn't exactly hit triple 7s with the cap room after hastily signing guard Ben Gordon and forward Charlie Villanueva last summer.
"They've had some injuries,'' said Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo, who played for Detroit the previous two seasons. "They've got some young players. I'm pretty sure the way Joe is building, he wants to win, but it isn't always necessary to win immediately.''
Injuries have been a factor, but don't go overboard in blaming Detroit's lousy record on that. The Pistons are 1-11 this season when Prince plays, 7-18 when Gordon does and 6-11 with Hamilton.
Dumars has lost some luster in Detroit, but he's sure loved in Denver. If the Nuggets win a title, he ought to be voted a playoff share.
In 2003, Dumars passed over Carmelo Anthony, now a Nuggets star forward, with the No. 2 pick to take Darko Milicic. There was the gift of Billups, which got Denver's Mark Warkentien an Executive of the Year trophy. Then Warkentien had another Detroit heist last summer, getting Afflalo, who entered Wednesday averaging 21.5 points and shooting 11-of-16 on three-pointers in his last two games, for next to nothing.
Dumars, though, remains a class act. He consulted with Billups before trading him to his hometown of Denver. It wouldn't be surprising if Dumars works with Hamilton in moving him and doesn't just send him to any team willing to take his contract.
Hamilton's contract will be very hard to move. Hamilton, who turns 32 next month, has three more years left after this one at a total of $34 million.
Just in case you're wondering, the Nuggets aren't interested in acquiring Hamilton.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson