It's not rocket science, Joe: Sign Wallace

6/7/2006

Ben Wallace is worth the money.

The most important goal for the Detroit Pistons in the offseason is to re-sign Wallace, the face of the franchise.

That's the only recourse for president of basketball operations Joe Dumars, who told reporters he wants to bring back Detroit's top six players.

Wallace's value exceeds the basketball court. The Pistons need Wallace's winning credibility, blue-collar work ethic, and no-nonsense approach.

"The continuity of who we are and what we've been able to do over the last five years has been spearheaded by him and what he brings to us as a team,'' Dumars said at his annual end-of-the-year press conference.

Wallace, an unrestricted free agent who turns 32 in September, has all the leverage. The Pistons don't have anyone to replace Wallace if he signs with another team, unless you count ancient Dale Davis.

Dumars can't allow Wallace to walk away in his prime, not after promising to keep the starting lineup intact. Chop off the head, and the body will die.

By failing to retain Wallace, Dumars would be forced to take an unexpected detour.

Losing Wallace would result in the Pistons bidding adieu to their defensive identity.

Trouble is, Wallace will be a highly sought free agent who recently signed with an aggressive new agent, Arn Tellum. He won't come cheap.

Dumars, who doesn't believe in awarding maximum contracts, may have to make an exception with Big Ben.

Wallace has stated publicly that he'd like to remain in Detroit. The Pistons would love to keep him. But business is business. Could anyone blame Wallace if he followed his head instead of his heart?

Maximum contracts start at the $14million to $17 million yearly range. The Pistons aren't in the habit of awarding max contracts, and they aren't going to start now, especially for a defensive specialist who can't make free throws. However, Dumars will have to dig a little deeper and offer Wallace a contract worthy of the top free agent on the market.

Wallace has all the power. If he doesn't re-sign with Detroit, he could force the Pistons to do a sign-and-trade deal with another team.

There are other factors for Dumars to consider before entering into serious negotiations with Wallace when the free- agency period begins July 1.

Wallace has publicly buried each of Detroit's last three coaches. Wallace dissed Coach Flip Saunders during this year's playoffs for not devoting enough practice time to the defense. Late in the regular season, Wallace refused to re-enter a game in Orlando, ignoring Saunders in a brazen display of disrespect.

Dumars must be convinced that Wallace trusts and respects Saunders, who is under contract for three more years. There can be no doubt that Wallace and Saunders are on the same page.

Dumars is trying to win now. That's why he traded Darko Milicic, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2003 draft, to Orlando in February.

Dumars admitted Monday for the first time that drafting Milicic was a mistake. He could have added that not playing Milicic was a mistake, and that he compounded those first two mistakes when he traded Darko.

Dumars, however, traded Milicic along with backup point guard Carlos Arroyo so he could create enough salary-cap room to re-sign Wallace without having to pay a luxury tax, so sign him he must.