It would have been easy for Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace to have pulled a Richard Hamilton and wanted out of Detroit.
But that didn't happen. Prince signed a four-year, 27 million contract as a free agent before the season to stay with the Pistons and Wallace hasn't done any complaining about not finishing out the two-year, 4 million deal he signed in 2010 to remain with the team.
That's unlike Hamilton, who, like Prince and Wallace, was a member of the Pistons' 2004 championship team. He was unhappy being in a rebuilding situation in Detroit, and the final two years of his contract were bought out last December before he signed with contending Chicago.
"To turn it around," Prince said about one of the reasons he re-signed after having played his first nine years with the Pistons. "Plus, the teams that were interested in me, there was only one (the forward wouldn't name it) that I really felt like would have been a good position for me. Other than that, the decision was made to try to get thing going back in the right direction."
That's slowly starting to happen for the Pistons, who have not made the playoffs since 2008-09 and have not had a winning record since 2007-08. The latter was the final season in an impressive run that included seven straight 50-win seasons, the 2004 title, a 2005 Finals appearance and six total Eastern Conference finals appearances.
Not long ago, it looked as if it would be another gloomy season for the Pistons, who play host Friday to Miami. They got off to a dismal 4-20 start.
Since then, though, new coach Lawrence Frank's system has begun to take hold and some of Detroit's young players have stepped up. The Pistons (16-30) have won 12 of their past 22 games, a stretch that would have been even better had they not lost 87-83 in overtime Sunday at the Los Angeles Clippers and kicked away a four-point lead in the final minute of a 116-115 loss Wednesday at Denver.
"With some new guys and a new coaching staff, we had to go through those growing pains," Wallace said.
Wallace, 37, actually did leave Detroit once, bolting in the summer of 2006 to sign an impossible-to-turn-down four-year, 60 million deal with Chicago. But the center returned to the Pistons in 2009 and re-signed in 2010 even though it was quite evident their days of deep playoff runs weren't coming back anytime soon.
Wallace, who has announced he will retire at the end of the season, hasn't complained since then. He's doing what he can to get the Pistons, who once regularly led the NBA in attendance but are now a dismal 28th, back to their glory days.
"We've got some young guys here, some good guys, that need some guiding," Wallace said. "I'm willing to do that and Tayshaun is willing to do that. So, if that's what it takes for us to get it back to where it was, I embraced that role and Tayshaun's embraced that role."
Detroit's young stable of players includes second-year big man Greg Monroe, averaging 16.5 points and 10.0 rebounds, and rookie guard Brandon Knight, a native of Miami who is averaging 12.5 points. Heat star LeBron James calls Monroe "one of the best players no one talks about."
When he was with Cleveland from 2003-10, James had some great battles with the rugged Pistons. Now, James sees them doing the right things to get back on track.
"They got some really young pieces," said James, naming Knight in addition to Monroe. "They have some really good guys and coach Frank is just trying to keep them playing at a high level."
It wasn't easy at the start of the season. Playing what Frank called the NBA's toughest schedule at the time, the Pistons were 4-20. And that had put Frank, who had lost 16 straight games with New Jersey in the fall of 2009 before being fired and spent last season as a Boston assistant, in the midst of a disastrous 4-36 run as an NBA head coach.
But the Pistons then won four straight. And they've overall been playing well since.
"We've improved in a bunch of different areas on both ends," Frank said. "I think our guys are now competing every night. In the past, if we got down 16, we'd lose by 25, and that was a big part of that 4-20 start. Then we started to compete and we started to show fight and we stopped waving the white flag an stopped feeling sorry for ourselves and dropping our heads.'
That was quite evident Wednesday, when the Pistons trailed 45-20 to Denver in the second quarter. But they stormed back to lead by as many as six points before faltering down the stretch for their third straight loss.
Guard Ben Gordon scored 45 points against the Nuggets, his 9-of-9 performance tying an NBA record for most three-pointers in a game without a miss. In his third season with the Pistons, Gordon is feeling a lot better now about the team.
"It's been frustrating," said Gordon, who signed a five-year, 55 million contract when he left Chicago in the summer of 2009. "Obviously, you kind of want to pick up where you left off with your old team. But that hasn't been the case here. I'm still optimistic that things can change.
"I think we've got talent. When we were a 4-20 team, we were way underachieving. If you look at it now, I still feel like we're not playing to our full potential."
Not long ago, it looked as if the Pistons had a realistic spot at the No. 8 playoff spot in the East. But while they've slipped a bit, New York and Milwaukee have won five and six straight, respectively. Detroit is now 6 games behind the No. 8 Knicks (23-24) and 5 in back of the No. 9 Bucks (21-24).
"We made the playoffs my first (four) years in a row," said forward Jason Maxiell, a seven-year veteran. "One of the things you can't get out of your mouth is being in the palyoffs. So (Maxiell is helping) teach the young guys to get your head right, focus and understand this is a long season It, of course, would be great (to make the playoffs this season), but it's a building process We're going to make it sooner or later."
Maxiell joined the Pistons the season after their two straight trips to the Finals and was around for their NBA-best 64-18 mark in 2005-06. But it's been a steady decline since then.
It started when Wallace bolted in the summer of 2006 and really intensified after guard Chauncey Billups was dispatched in an ill-fated November 2008 deal with Denver that landed troubled Allen Iverson. But some quality drafts, which have included taking Monroe with the No. 7 pick in 2010, Knight at No. 8 in 2011 and the 2009 second-round steal of forward Jonas Jerebko, have helped matters.
"If I didn't feel we had the abilty to get this thing back, I wouldn't have signed for four years back," said Prince, 32. "I would probably just have moved on to have a chance to win another title sooner and less money. But the one thing is I thought I had a lot more basketball left in me. If I go to a good team that was a contender, I'd be playing less minutes. I just wasn't ready to take that role as opposed to this role, and I can do this at my home."
If Detroit remains Prince's home throughout the life of his contract, he just might be around for the Pistons to make another title run.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on christomasson @twitter.com