Tayshaun Prince is not ready to unlace his sneakers
The former Detroit Pistons star is ready and waiting for a team to snatch him up
Perhaps in one of the coolest text message group chats around, former Detroit Pistons stars Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince talk regularly. And one of the biggest topics of discussions as of late is about when Prince — the only one still playing — will sign with an NBA team.
“We have a group text,” Prince told The Undefeated. “Every time something happens or someone has something brewing or whatever, or someone does something, we always text … They check in and say, ‘Hey what’s going on?’ to me. ‘Have you talked to anybody? … Know where you stand as far as what you are trying to do.’
“Obviously, Rip, Rasheed, Ben and Chauncey at this point in their career, they were in a situation where they were trying to go to a contender or at least be in a playoff-type atmosphere, so at least when you go out there you have something to play for. They have an idea of what I am going through right now.”
Prince has earned a very respectful resume during his 14 NBA seasons, most notably with some storied Pistons teams that won a 2004 NBA championship, played in two NBA Finals and also played in six straight Eastern Conference finals.
Detroit selected the former University of Kentucky star with the 23rd overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft. The Pistons were so enamored with the slender 6-foot-9, 215-pounder that the small forward they passed on drafting in 2003 was Carmelo Anthony. Prince averaged 12.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 12 seasons with Detroit, including 23 games during the 2014-15 season. He also won a 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medal with USA Basketball while a member of the Pistons.
Prince said the highlight of his days with Detroit was the success and fun he had playing with Billups, Hamilton and both Wallaces.
“When I came in, we were trying to win a championship because of the type of team we had,” Prince, 36, said. “To be able to achieve that so early in my career was remarkable. Not a lot of people get a chance to do that. But when I came into the league, we had so many vets, so many older guys who just knew what to do. I just kind of learned from those guys …
“Just the camaraderie I had with those guys was something special. It’s something I never had when I was not playing with them [in Detroit] or I was playing with different teams.”
After so much stability, Prince became an NBA journeyman since the day the Pistons traded him “out of nowhere” to the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 30, 2013. He’s played for the Boston Celtics, Detroit again and the Minnesota Timberwolves. The change and instability were tough on Prince after so much stability during his first lengthy stint with the Pistons.
“It was different because for so many years you were going to the same team, the same practice facility, and I had a routine I was accustomed to,” Prince said. “I wouldn’t say I was lost because I was experienced. But there was something that was different.”
Prince signed to play for his former Pistons coach, Flip Saunders, with the Timberwolves on a one-year veteran’s minimum deal on Aug. 20, 2015. Saunders, then the Wolves’ head coach and team president, told Prince that if he wasn’t happy with his veteran mentor and defensive role on the young team, he would allow him to get a buyout before the trade deadline. Saunders, however, died of Hodgkin lymphoma on Oct. 25, 2015.
Prince averaged career lows of 5.4 points and 3.6 rebounds while being used primarily in a defensive and mentoring role with the Timberwolves last season. The young Timberwolves squad had a 29-53 record despite having the NBA Rookie of the Year for two straight seasons in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, respectively. The death of Saunders really hurt him, as well.
“With all due respect, it was an organization that was really trying to turn things around, and then all of a sudden with what happened to Flip, [interim head coach] Sam [Mitchell] had to take over,” Prince said. “We had a tough situation. Everything was kind of doomed from the start. The hardest part with that situation was playing with so many young guys, so many supertalented young guys, who just didn’t know how to play together.”
Prince told his longtime agent Bill Duffy that he would like to sign as a free agent this past offseason with a team that was at least competing for a playoff spot. While Prince said there has been interest, there have been no contract offers from any NBA teams. He’s not interested in playing overseas and is patiently waiting for an NBA offer to come soon.
Prince is now on the outside looking in during training camp and the preseason for the first time since entering the NBA in 2002. He said it’s odd not being in training camp enjoying “camaraderie and building the chemistry.” The good news is he has more time at the moment to spend with his wife and son.
“The hardest part about the wait is that there are a lot of teams out there that know what I bring to the game,” Prince said. “I know I have good leadership, and they know I’m a great locker room guy. Obviously, some of the assistant coaches that you’ve played for are dispersed around the league. A lot of them are accustomed to what I do and what I bring to teams …
“Now is the time where teams are checking out their roster with 18 or 19 guys. They are trying to see if some of these guys can make the roster. After all that settles, I hope to hopefully hear something.”
Prince has been working out in West Palm Beach, Florida, Lexington, Kentucky, and Las Vegas, and said he’s in good shape and has been playing lots of pickup ball with guys preparing to play overseas. The Los Angeles native has never had any serious injury woes in his NBA career. Well-known basketball trainer Joe Abunassar said his client is physically ready to help a team now.
“Tayshaun is always in amazing shape and ready to continue to play at a high level,” Abunassar told The Undefeated. “What he does on the court and did all summer puts him at a different level than most guys we work with. He continues to amaze me with just how good of a basketball player he is. And his body looks great, and he’s already ready to go.”
Outside of the group chat, Billups and Hamilton have been sending Prince text messages regularly, offering words of encouragement and asking for free agency updates.
“‘Tay will be a real asset to a team that wants to win now,” Billups, now an ESPN NBA analyst, told The Undefeated. “He’s a veteran that has won a championship, great in the locker room with young guys and, more importantly, can still get on the floor and give you meaningful minutes, similar to what Richard Jefferson did last season with Cleveland.”
Prince has “never thought about retiring” like his old Pistons teammates have. He’s hopeful that the NBA won’t force his hand to unlace his sneakers. But if so, he’s proud of what he’s accomplished.
“My whole vision was to get to the NBA and have a long career,” Prince said. “But I would have never imagined coming into the league and shortly after winning a championship, being with great guys and one organization for so many years before I got moved. I ended up being a part of a special Olympic team that brought a gold medal back to the States.
“But I did have my mind set on making it to the NBA, having a great career and chasing that dream. At the end of the day, I’d love to keep playing. But if this is the end of the road, I definitely wouldn’t be upset at all. Trust me about that.”