Raptors slide while Pistons glide

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:49 AM ET

There were 10 seconds to play and only three points separating the Raptors and the Detroit Pistons when Chris Childs forgot the score.

Ten seconds to play on May 8, 2002. Four years -- or an entire basketball lifetime -- ago.

The Raptors haven't been in a playoff game since. The Pistons have played 70 of them, 14 rounds in all, including winning an NBA championship one year, losing one the next.

Chris Childs didn't know the score in the dying seconds of a best-of-five playoff series that separated two teams by little more than a layup and nothing has ever been quite the same for the Raptors or the Pistons.

One team has become legendary. The other team is fighting not to be laughable.

One errant shot acted as omen, one lapse launching a series of events that somehow altered the course of two franchises. How did it go so right for the Pistons, so wrong for the Raptors?

The days that followed Childs' final game as a Raptor begin to explain how one team would contend, the other pretend.

In June, just a month after the first-round series ended, the Raptors had the 20th pick in the NBA draft, the Pistons were selecting three picks later. That should have worked in Toronto's favour.

Detroit used its pick on Tayshaun Prince of Kentucky.

Toronto used its pick on Kareem Rush of Missouri only to turn around and trade him to Los Angeles in a deal for Chris Jefferies and Lindsey Hunter.

Prince starts for the Pistons at forward. Jefferies no longer plays in the NBA. Hunter was traded to the Pistons for a player now retired.

That was June. In July, each team made what it thought was a monumental free-agent signing. Detroit landed point guard Chauncey Billups, the former Raptor and some people's choice to be the most valuable player in the NBA this season.

On the very same day, the Raptors signed centre Nate Huffman. Six months later, they terminated his contract but were later found negligent for doing so.

In September, both the Raptors and Pistons made significant deals. Or so they thought. Detroit traded leading scorer Jerry Stackhouse to Washington along with others in a trade that brought the Pistons Richard Hamilton and spare parts.

In the same month, the Raptors sent a first-round pick and Yogi Stewart to Cleveland in exchange for Lamond Murray and a second-round draft pick.

In just four months after eliminating the Raptors, Pistons general manager Joe Dumars had picked up Prince, Billups and Hamilton -- three-fifths of what is now the starting lineup of a remarkable Detroit team that has a 51-12 record.

Glen Grunwald, now out of basketball, had added Jefferies, Hunter, Murray and Huffman, while letting Dell Curry, Childs and Keon Clark all leave for free agency. Toronto hasn't had a winning season since 2002.

Morris Peterson started for the Raptors in that last playoff game and is the only starter who remains, although he hasn't always held that post.

Ben Wallace is the only remaining starter for the Pistons from 2002. The fifth Detroit starter, Rasheed Wallace, was acquired in a trade in February 2004, ironically along with the current Raptor, Mike James, that propelled the Pistons to the NBA title that season.

That just happened to be the same season the Raptors hired and fired Kevin O'Neill, the same season Grunwald got fired, Jalen Rose was brought in and Rob Babcock was hired and Rafael Araujo was drafted.

The year before that, the Pistons even proved they could overcome their own slipup. Dumars had built such a strong team in such a short time it almost didn't matter that he wasted the second pick in the 2003 draft by taking Darko Milicic instead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade, the three picks that would follow.

And oddly none of this, the direction of the Pistons, the direction of the Raptors, angst aside, had much to do with Vince Carter. He wasn't healthy enough to play in the last playoff series in which the Raptors participated.

They made the playoffs without him, almost won a series without him in 2002. They might have had Chris Childs, who would go on to play just 12 more NBA games, not forgotten the score.


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