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Pistons put the team in teamwork

The Detroit Pistons have confounded the basketball geniuses for six years. They've been a great team, but with an elite collection of role players. They have no legends - unless you count some of the entertaining Rasheed Wallace temper tantrums.

The Pistons have been to five consecutive Eastern Conference finals - and seem headed for their sixth - and they've won one title. But they've had no Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan or Shaquille O'Neal. In the last 17 years, there has been only one champion without one of those players on the team, and it was the 2003-04 Pistons.

Individually, however, the Pistons have not received much recognition for awards that are voted on by media. The departed Ben Wallace was an exception. He was the defensive player of the year four times, made the All-NBA second team three times and the third team twice.

Of the current Pistons, however, Chauncey Billups has been selected to the All-NBA second and third teams one time each. And that's it.

I've decided this oversight has gone on long enough, and although only one person cannot correct it, I'll at least do my part. When I send in my ballot this year, I will use the individual category of the All-NBA third team as a team award - one to pay tribute to the Pistons' team success this season and, admittedly, to at least acknowledge their six years of consistency.

Four of my five members of the All-NBA third team will be:

G: Chauncey, Billups, Pistons

G: Rip Hamilton, Pistons

C: Rasheed Wallace, Pistons

F: Tayshaun Prince, Pistons

And if Wallace was still a member of the team, I would vote all five together on the third team.

I am ignoring a couple of tenets of award voting. Yes, there is a little bit of lifetime achievement award for the Pistons, which is contrary to the nature of the awards. They are supposed to reward individuals for play in a single year, not a period of years or a career. But it's been done before.

There is also no doubt that I will be leaving off players with better stats and players who have performed better as individuals.

But, again, I'm using this as a team award. And in its regular-season award structure, the NBA has only one major award that could be considered a team award, which is coach of the year. And usually, that is for the most improved team.

Billups and Hamilton, who both joined the Pistons before the 2002-03 season, have been the co-cornerstones of the Pistons franchise. Billups played for five teams in his first five years in the league, but came to the Pistons and developed remarkable consistency.

The 6-7 Hamilton arrived in a trade for Jerry Stackhouse and despite a lean frame that carries less than 200 pounds, he gave the Pistons toughness and outside shooting. He and Billups have been the leaders of teams that have won more games than any team except San Antonio and Dallas the last six years and, again, no one has remotely suggested they are franchise players like Duncan or Dirk Nowitzki.

Prince moved into the starting lineup in his second season (2003-04) and has performed so well that he is a member of Team USA. He may not make the final 12-man Olympic roster, but his all-around game is obviously respected. NBA coaches have named him to the All-Defensive second team three times.

Wallace is sometimes, shall we say, erratic, but there is no doubt that his arrival in a trade late in the 2003-04 season was the key to the Pistons' only title.

I do think that if the NBA is going to limit awards to regular season performances that it should consider adding team awards. There is no doubt a nice mix of individual awards - most valuable player, best defender, most improved player, best rookie, best coach, best sixth man and the top players at each of the starting five positions.

Like other leagues, however, there is a weakness in the system - and I'm not being overly critical because I only recently came to that conclusion.

Why not have team awards? Some possibilities are offensive team of the year, defensive team of the year, most improved team and best bench.

In a way, the MVP vote is partially about the team, but at a very high level. For example, LeBron James may be the best player in the NBA this year but still could finish as low as fourth in MVP voting because the Cavaliers do not have a record as good as Kobe Bryant's Lakers, Kevin Garnett's Celtics or Chris Paul's Hornets.

All leagues like to promote the value of teamwork. It would be nice if the NBA acknowledged those teams that accomplished it in the same way that it recognizes individual performances during the regular season.

For me, however, it doesn't matter this year. My team award has been decided.