Webber signs with Pistons

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) – The Detroit Pistons hope Chris Webber can do for them what Rasheed Wallace did in 2004, come on board midseason and spark a run to an NBA championship.

Webber does, too, because winning a title would fill the biggest void on his resume.

“I’m excited to be home in Detroit, but I’m more excited about being on this team,” Webber said Tuesday.

after signing with his hometown team. “If this was not a good team, it would not be that much fun.

“This team was already great before I got here, so in no way am I acting like I’m doing this team a big service. I’m part of a great machine.”

Webber will make about $650,000 with a prorated contract for the veteran’s minimum to play the rest of the season. The Pistons have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and are the first team since the early 1990s to advance to four straight conference championships. But they appear to need some help.

“I honestly feel like he can energize us and add an element the same way Rasheed did a few years ago,” Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said. “I’m hoping the results will be the same.

“What we were missing, Rasheed brought. What we’re missing right now, I think he can bring that. We don’t need a high-flying guy, who’s just trying to get 20 points every night.”

Detroit coach Flip Saunders said Webber would play as a reserve Wednesday against Utah.

Webber, who grew up in Detroit and played at Michigan, became a free agent after Philadelphia bought out the final 11/2 years of his contract last week.

The five-time All-Star agreed to give the 76ers $2 million this season and $2 million next season when he was due to make about $43 million over the two years. Sacramento gave him a $123 million, seven-year contract in the summer of 2001.

Webber strongly considered joining the Miami Heat or the Los Angeles Lakers, but he couldn’t pass up the chance to play in Detroit. He will start at center for a contending team at home, where he can improve his image with disgruntled fans.

After announcing Monday he would join the Pistons, Webber watched them play Minnesota in a front-row seat at The Palace. He was greeted by a rousing, standing ovation.

It was a much warmer welcome than Webber had received previously because of his involvement with deceased Michigan booster Ed Martin that led to NCAA sanctions. He plead guilty to a federal criminal contempt charge.

“I think the reaction in the past was different for a lot of reasons, things I’ve gone through, but yesterday was significant because they welcomed me back home,” Webber said.

When given a chance to tell his side of the booster scandal, Webber declined.

“Today, I’m talking about being a Detroit Piston,” he said. “I don’t think this is the forum to talk about something that happened 15 years ago.”

The 33-year-old Webber did acknowledge that he cares what people in Michigan think about him.

“I would like to reconnect with any fans that may not be supportive,” he said.

If Webber helps push the Pistons from contender to champion, he’ll likely make more critics forget his past.

Dumars said the team plans to trade one of its frontcourt players, perhaps unhappy center Nazr Mohammed, to make room for Webber.

Mohammed started the first 33 games of the season before being benched last week. He was signed last summer after Detroit lost Ben Wallace to Chicago, and he might be replaced by Webber.

“The starting five that we’ll put out there eventually, with him, it’s going to be right up there with the best in the league,” Dumars said.

Detroit kept Webber away from the rival Heat and the Lakers without paying him much or giving anything away.

“Best-case scenario,” Dumars said.

Webber has scored 21.4 points and grabbed 10 rebounds a game since he was the No. 1 overall pick in 1993, making him one of five active players averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Last season, he averaged 20.2 points and 9.9 rebounds in 75 games for the Sixers.

Slowed by knee, foot and ankle injuries, he averaged 11 points and 8.3 rebounds in 18 games in Philadelphia – a place he didn’t want to play after Allen Iverson was traded earlier this season.

“If somebody would have told me in my career I was going to play with, on one team, Rasheed Wallace, (Antonio) McDyess, Chris Webber, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, I’d say, ‘Maybe so – on an All-Star team,”‘ All-Star point guard Chauncey Billups said. “It’s unbelievable.”

AP-ES-01-16-07 1916EST

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