Monday, June 30, 2008

His name is Walter Sharpe

I am amazed at the number of people who have grilled Joe Dumars for selecting Walter Sharpe with the 32nd pick in the NBA Draft. Granted, most of them are of the ignorant variety. I have yet to see a scathing review of the Sharpe-pick from a journalist, local or national. Still, the recriminations were so loud that you’d think Bill Davidson just announced he was moving the team to Tennessee. Apparently, Joe Dumars hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt from the locals despite successful pick after successful pick.

I have to admit it I was initially pulling for the Pistons to take Bill Walker at #29. When the name, “DJ White” popped up, I was left in a stunned silence. There was only one player who I didn’t want the Pistons to take and that was D.J. White. Five picks later when the Pistons traded for the 34th pick, hope was renewed. I was standing in front of my TV begging for Bill Walker. When the name, “Walter Sharpe” came up on the screen, I felt like I had my spine ripped out by Sub-Zero. I watch enough college basketball to know at least a little about most American draft prospects. I had never even heard of Walter Sharpe. As far as I knew, the only player from UAB worth knowing was Robert Vaden.

While my initial hopes were dashed, my affinity towards Joe’s actions during the draft has grown considerably. I think he made a great decision to trade out of the First Round where money isn’t guaranteed. He admitted after the draft that he liked Bill Walker a lot but explained that Walker was not drafted because he said he wouldn’t be willing to play overseas next season. The Pistons don’t have roster-room for two draft picks to make the team. I would think Walker had a high enough ceiling that Joe would’ve made room fro him (i.e. the Celtics) but I can understand his reasoning. Plus, how bad would you want a guy who wasn’t willing to do what was necessary to play for your organization? Walker has a lot of talent but answering “no” would be a bit of a turnoff and I’m sure it was for Joe. Those who were clamoring for Chris Douglas-Roberts probably had a little too much of the hometown bias going on. CDR is an awkward player without a position. He does one thing well and that’s “play in transition.” Joe D didn’t miss out on anything by passing on him. However, none of that really matters. Douglas-Roberts refused to work out for the Pistons which ended up being a terrible decision on his part and potentially a great decision for the Pistons since it may have led them to Sharpe.

Since, the “Walter Sharpe” pick has been blasted by virtually everyone with a pulse in Metro Detroit, I think it’s time to dispel the notion that Sharpe is a bum. As I mentioned before, I watch quite a bit of college basketball. I’ve seen D.J. White play for four years. I’ve seen him play enough to know that he is too slow and lacks the athleticism necessary to be a force in the NBA. He will probably bounce around the league as a bench player but it’s unlikely he’ll amount to anything more than Malik Rose. When the Pistons initially drafted White, I felt I had enough background information to be unsatisfied with the pick. However, I don’t think there are 50 people in the entire state of Michigan who had enough background information on Walter Sharpe to justify the unilateral lambasting that has spread across the state. Nobody knows anything about Sharpe. All anyone knows it that they don’t know anything. Personally, in the event that I don’t know anything about something, my first inclination is to find out everything I can. That’s what everyone in Detroit should be doing.

Joe D talked glowingly about Sharpe after the draft. He sounded like he just pulled a fast one on the rest of the league. He clearly did his due diligence. Sharpe is a legitimate prospect. In fact, I’m convinced that he was the best possible pick at #32 in terms of “ceiling”. According to RealGM, “Sharpe is a great athlete who has the skills to play the game like a much smaller player. He can shoot the outside shot, has a good handle, and possesses great agility in the post. He is decidedly quick-footed and is an awesome finisher at the rim. Sharpe has a nice set of skills at the mid-post and could excel here especially well.” After reading that, my only question is, what can’t he do? The Pistons got a player in the same mold—and with as much upside—as Amir Johnson. Nobody knew who Amir Johnson was when Joe D picked him and that didn’t stop him from developing into a high-potential player. Sharpe has always been rated highly as a basketball player. When he came out of high school in 2004, he was rated in the top 45 in the country.

Sharpe initially committed to Mississippi St. before off-court problems ended his Bulldog-career. He transferred to UAB and managed to play just 12 games in 2007-08. Sharpe is a big dude. He’s 6’9 and 245 lbs. When he did play, he was dominating at times. In a game last December against Rhode Island—a team that was ranked for a good portion of the year—Sharpe went for 26 points and 17 rebounds. He also scored 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting in a win at Kentucky. He is #42 (in green) in the video below.



I’m not sure how anyone could ask for more skill out of the 32nd pick. Maybe people irrationally—and possibly subconsciously—thought Joe D was going to fix all of Detroit’s ills with this one pick. That’s the only reason I can come up with that would explain all of the venom that has been directed at Joe. The more I learn about Sharpe, the better I feel about the pick.

Plus, Joe has earned the benefit of the doubt by making very good selections in the draft (outside of the lottery anyways). Here is a brief recap of what he has accomplished in the draft with the Pistons:

2000 1. 14 Mateen Cleaves
2000 2. 44 Brian Cardinal

2001 1. 9 Rodney White
2001 2. 37 Mehmet Okur

2002 1. 23 Tayshaun Prince

2003 1. 2 Darko Milicic
2003 1. 25 Carlos Delfino
2003 2. 58 Andreas Gliniadakis

2004 2. 54 Rickey Paulding

2005 1. 26 Jason Maxiell
2005 2. 56 Amir Johnson
2005 2. 60 Alex Acker

2006 1. 60 Will Blalock

2007 1. 15 Rodney Stuckey
2007 1. 27 Arron Afflalo
2007 1. 57 Sammy Mejia

2008 2. 34 Walter Sharpe
2008 2. 46 Trent Plaisted
2008 2. 59 Deron Washington

He drafted Okur, Delfino, Prince, Maxiell, Amir Johnson, Stuckey, and Afflalo with an average draft position of 30. That is incredible. He has made seven good picks (the players mentioned above) to three bad picks (Darko, White, and Cleaves). The three “bad” picks all happened at least five years ago. Granted, Joe D has made two of the worst lottery picks in NBA history with the Rodney White and Darko Milicic selections. However, his success-rate has been extraordinary when you consider where he has been drafting from.

Anyone who thought the Pistons were going to shock the world with the 29th pick needs to brush up on their draft history. It’s not like Joe picked, say, Darko Milicic when he could’ve picked, I don’t know, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, or Dwyane Wade. There should’ve been no expectations going into the draft from a fan’s perspective. Anything more than that would’ve been unfair. Even if the Pistons had a much higher selection, it’s not as if there were superstars right and left. Seattle took Russell Westbrook with the 4th overall pick! Can you imagine being a Sonics fan right now? People can say, “OMG Darko” for as long as they want but Joe has a proven record of success in the draft and I’m willing to bet that Sharpe eventually adds to his track record. And if he doesn’t, does it really matter if the Pistons blew the 34th pick in the draft? The last four players who went 32nd overall were Gabe Pruitt, Steve Novak, Daniel Ewing, and Peter John Ramos.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Schilling is unquestionably a Hall of Famer

With the initial revelation that Curt Schilling might have thrown his last pitch, the inevitable discussion of his Hall of Fame chances followed. Schilling’s shoulder surgery went well and he has intimated that he will begin a rehabilitation program which one can only assume means he will attempt to pitch again. Nonetheless, the discussion of Schilling’s Hall of Fame status is very much in play. Hall of Fame discussions are great when they involve objectivity, facts, and due diligence. They aren’t great when they occur on Baseball Tonight for all of two minutes. It’s impossible to adequately portray an intelligent stance on Schilling’s Hall of Fame chances in just two minutes. Trying to shove everything into the debate in such a short amount of time leads to things like Orestes Destrade saying that if Curt Schilling is a Hall of Famer, then Orel Hershiser should be one, too.

First of all, Destrade never answered the question. Second, he does Schilling a disservice by turning a question about Schilling into a question about Hershiser. Comparing Schilling’s resume to Hershiser’s is ridiculous. If Destrade wants to make a case for Hershiser, then so be it. But, it should certainly not be in the form of piggy-backing on Schilling’s candidacy. Even Buster Olney’s answer was brief and not very convincing and I agreed with him. It takes a decent amount of research to come to the proper conclusion on Schilling’s case for the Hall of Fame. It’s certainly not something that can be argued in less than two minutes. Destrade and Olney never even had a chance to put forth a convincing argument either way to no fault of their own. So, I’ll attempt to finish where they barely started. Schilling’s case for the Hall of Fame is being presented as borderline at best by most. I actually don’t think there’s anything “borderline” about it. In fact, I think Schilling is easily one of the top 25 starting pitchers in MLB history.

Regular Season

Most baseball fans know that Schilling has had big moments in the post-season. I’m not sure everyone knows just how dominating he has been in the playoffs (I’ll get to that later), but people know he has been great in October. What people apparently don’t realize—or remember—is that Schilling has been a great regular season pitcher, too. In fact, his regular season credentials alone are Hall of Fame worthy. The only blemish on his regular season resume is his win-total (216) which is relatively low for two reasons: 1). He has suffered a number of debilitating injuries, and 2). He didn’t peak until he was 29 years old. Dizzy Dean, Addie Joss, Sandy Koufax, Lefty Gomez, Rube Waddell, Ed Walsh, Dazzy Vance, Rube Marquard, Hal Newhouser, Bob Lemon, and Don Drysdale all had fewer wins than Schilling. In fact, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz have fewer wins than Schilling and they would both be Hall of Famers if their careers ended today. When Tom Glavine reached 300 wins, it became chic to suggest that he was the last 300-game winner. If Glavine is the last 300-game winner, does that mean that there will never be another pitcher to make the Hall of Fame? The 300-win mark has never been a requirement to make the Hall of Fame just like the 3,000-hit mark has never been one for hitters. Anyone who makes a decision based solely on Schilling’s win total is missing out on one of the best starting pitchers in MLB history without even knowing it.

Schilling is the all-time leader in SO:BB Ratio since 1885. He is the only pitcher in MLB history with more than 3,000 strikeouts and fewer than 800 walks. He is one of only four pitchers in MLB history to have three seasons of 300+ strikeouts (Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan, and Sandy Koufax are the others). Schilling is one of only three pitchers in MLB history to record a season with 23+ wins, 75%+ winning percentage, 300+ strikeouts, and a WHIP under 1.00 (Pedro Martinez and Sandy Koufax are the others). He has three seasons of at least 21 wins. Nobody in the last 25 years has had more and only Roger Clemens has equaled Schilling’s three. Schilling led the league in complete games four times including a remarkable 15 complete games in 1998 which is the highest total of the last 20 years. He also led the league in wins, innings, WHIP and strikeouts twice each.

It’s easy to dismiss Schilling’s prominence—or lack thereof—on the all-time lists since those lists are littered with a). relievers, b). pitchers who played before 1900, and c). pitchers who had short careers. When you compare Schilling’s numbers to starting pitchers who pitched 3,000 innings (most Hall of Fame starters pitch at least 3,000 innings), his numbers become incredibly impressive. Among pitchers who pitched at least 3,000 innings after 1900, Schilling is 4th in K/9, 9th in WHIP, and 12th in ERA+. How can a pitcher with that kind of presence on the all-time lists not be a Hall of Famer?

Schilling never won a Cy Young award but he finished second three times and fourth another time. He was named the TSN Pitcher of the Year in 2000 and 2001. Schilling also finished in the top 15 of the MVP voting four times which is remarkable for a pitcher. As I mentioned above, Schilling’s post-season prowess is well-known but getting his teams to the post-season is another notch on his regular-season resume. As a full-time starter, he led every franchise that he pitched for to the playoffs and to the World Series.

Hall of Fame Tests

Schilling is a Hall of Famer on the Black Ink, Gray Ink, and HOF Monitor tests. Since 1900, every eligible pitcher above 32 on the Black Ink Test is in the Hall of Fame. Schilling has a 42. The Black Ink Test measures how often a player led the league in various categories. Post-season success does not factor into this test. Since 1900, every eligible pitcher above 135 on the HOF Monitor Test is in the Hall of Fame. In fact, a score of 130 is considered “a lock.” Schilling has a 171. Since 1900, Bert Blyleven is the only pitcher above 200 on the Gray Ink Test who is not in the Hall of Fame and he is generally regarded as one of the biggest Hall of Fame snubs of all-time. Schilling has a 205. The Gray Ink Test measures how often a player finished in the top ten of various categories. Post-season success is not factored in this test, either. Those who suggest that Schilling’s resume is heavily slanted towards post-season success might want to reconsider. By virtually all “tests” that measure regular season success only, Schilling is a Hall of Famer. Now it’s time for the…

Postseason

Along with Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson, a good case can be made that Schilling is the greatest post-season pitcher in MLB history. He won the World Series MVP in 2001 and the NLCS MVP in 1993. He has led his teams to four World Series appearances and three World Series Championships. In 21 career post-season starts, Schilling is 12-2 with a 2.45 ERA. Among starting pitchers who pitched at least 60 innings, Schilling has the best post-season winning percentage in MLB history. In eight World Series starts, Schilling is 4-1 with a 2.03 ERA.

It's easy to dismiss Schilling in an era dominated by Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez. I'm not going to suggest Schilling deserves to be in their class since they are four of the ten greatest pitchers in MLB history but he deserves to be recognized as one of the greats.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Beasley or Rose?

The NBA Draft is on Thursday and the Pistons probably won’t have much going on. I suppose a trade is possible but I’m guessing Joe D will attempt to do his damage via a trade in July. There won’t be too many options at pick #29 but Joe D has snagged Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, and Rodney Stuckey with mid-to-late first round picks so hopefully he’ll come up with another guy who can contribute. Maybe Kosta Koufos or DeAndre Jordan will slide? Or, maybe I need to keep dreaming. In the meantime, the battle for first overall is going down to the wire.

Pat Riley has the #2 pick in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory and he’s acting as if he’s cursed—or so it seemed. Initially, reports surfaced that Riley was not enamored with Michael Beasley. Miami appeared to be so turned off by Beasley that it sparked one of the worst trade rumors in sports history. A Chicago columnist suggested that the Heat might be willing to trade the #2 pick and Dwyane Wade for the #1 pick giving Miami the chance to take Derrick Rose. Maybe the Pistons could trade Walter Herrmann for Dwight Howard? Now, reports are circulating that Riley doesn’t want Rose and really covets Beasley. I’ve never been a fan of “showing your cards” before the draft. For instance, it is widely believed that the Nets are locked in to picking Danilo Gallinari’s with the 10th pick. Why would the Nets want everyone to know that? Even if it was a leak, the front office needs to be tight-lipped about stuff like that. When I first heard the reports that Riley didn’t care for Beasley, I thought he was being careless. However, now that the same reports have surfaced about his disinterest in Rose, Riley has everyone guessing. That’s what a good GM should strive to accomplish.

If I had to guess, I’d say Riley covets Beasley. Sure, there is a big question mark surrounding his attitude. It might not end up being an issue but the uncertainty around it calls for caution. There’s also the fact that Beasley is not 6’10—his listed height in college—rather 6’8. Still anyone who watched him play at Kansas St. knows that he is a special player. In fact, he is probably the most offensively gifted power-forward I have ever seen come out of college. His numbers as an 18 year-old at KSU were astonishing. He led the NCAA in rebounding and finished third in scoring. He even shot 40% from 3-point range. There is also an underrated aspect of his game that makes him even more difficult to defend: he is a lefty. Anyone who has defended against a left-handed basketball player knows the problems that presents. Manu Ginobili is just one example. He finishes with the same move to the left, over and over again, leaving defenders shaking their heads. Right-handed players have difficulty defending left-handed players and vice versa. Beasley uses this advantage to get easy looks in the lane.

The player who Beasley compares most favorably to in the NBA right now—at least offensively—is David West. If you saw West in the playoffs, you know he is close to unstoppable. He has the inside/outside game that causes havoc. Beasley has more range and is a better rebounder. Any team looking to win an NBA Championship needs to have not only a low-post presence, but a dominating one at that. Eight of the last ten NBA Championships were won by either Shaquille O’Neal or Tim Duncan. The Pistons won in ’04 with the Wallaces. Boston won this year with Kevin Garnett. Check the resumes of the big-men in the NBA. Dominating big-men win championships. Teams with dominating point-guards lose in the second round of the playoffs. As good as Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Jason Kidd, and Steve Nash are, they’ve never won anything. They don’t have the same impact on the game as Duncan, Shaq, and KG.

The Bulls should be coveting Beasley, too. They have been looking for low-post scoring since I was born. The Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, Ben Wallace, Joakim Noah lineage has to be growing old. Their predecessors—Dave Corzine, Bill Cartwright, and the three-headed monster (Will Perdue, Bill Wennington, and Luc Longley)—weren’t any better. Chicago already has a decent nucleus. A Deng/Beasley/Noah front court with Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich in the backcourt is pretty damn formidable. Drafting Rose leaves the frontcourt weak and the backcourt overcrowded.

Then again, maybe all of this “Pat Riley doesn’t want Michael Beasley/Derrick Rose” is just a cover for a bigger plan. Rumors have circulated over the past few days that Miami might be interested in obtaining the #1 overall pick for Dwyane Wade giving the Heat the opportunity to draft Rose and Beasley. That would be a genius moving considering a). Wade’s propensity for injuries, and b). the affordability of rookie salaries.

Friday, June 20, 2008

He's certified!

“The Boston Three Party” hasn’t been around long enough to merit an 80s level of Celtics-hatred around these parts. In fact, I kind of enjoyed seeing them win a championship. It didn’t hurt that it prevented a Kobe/Phil Jackson media love-fest. It also didn’t hurt that KG has always been one of my favorite players dating back to his days at Farragut Academy in Chicago. He considered going to Michigan before making the jump straight to the NBA. After he was drafted in ’95, I asked for a KG jersey for my birthday. Since rookie jerseys weren’t being sold yet, my mom called the Minnesota Timberwolves and they put her straight through to Jack McCloskey. He fired off a KG jersey and I was soon wearing it every other day. So, I was happy with the outcome of the Finals and that was before KG delivered one of the all-time great post-game interviews. In fact, it may be the greatest post-game championship interview of all-time. I don’t know how many of you watched Game Six or the celebration but if you didn’t, you are about to see a man experiencing euphoria. Since I had the volume turned down, I had subtitles on and KG’s comments caused chaos in the world of closed captioning. “Anything’s possibbbbbbbbbbbbbbble!”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

An Open Letter to Ted Bauer

If you look hard enough, you can find something incredibly ridiculous in the sports media just about everyday. You provided us with just that on June 9th when you typed An Open Letter to the City of Detroit. I’m not familiar with your other material so you might be an otherwise fine writer but this particular column was one of the worst I’ve read in any forum ever. If you’re going to pick a sports city to rip on, why not start with New York (or Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Los Angeles etc.)? What cities are Detroiters supposed to be envious of in the sports world? I have no idea how someone could get something so wrong. Only you can answer how you came to such an erroneous conclusion. In the meantime, I’ll quickly rundown what Detroit fans have to look forward to because there is plenty of it.

The Red Wings

This is a great place to start. You said, “Enjoy this Cup. It may be a rocky road for a while.” If by “a while” you mean “not a while” then you might be on to something. If you hadn’t noticed, the Wings will return every major contributor from their Cup-winning team next season. That means more Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Lidstrom and all of the other players who just finished waltzing through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Maybe the idea of a repeat slipped your mind but the Wings will likely top 100 points for the 9th straight season and be the odds-on favorite to win the Cup again.

The Tigers

If you polled the GMs in baseball asking them which roster they would choose for the next ten years, who do you think they’d pick? If you don’t think the Tigers would be one of the top five teams mentioned, then you’re crazy. Curtis Granderson, Miguel Cabrera, and Justin Verlander are three of the brightest young stars in MLB. The Tigers will shed $50 million in payroll over the next two years. They are two years removed from going to the World Series with a roster nowhere near as talented as the one they have today. Do you really think Detroit baseball fans should envy the Yankees and their $207,000,000 payroll? They’re barely playing .500-baseball. In fact, the Yankees have spent $1.4 billion on payroll over the last eight years and have no World Series Titles to show for it. The Yankees and Mets have a combined $347 million payroll this year and have a combined 71-68 record. The Tigers are on the cusp of becoming one of the annual powers in MLB. Maybe you have a short-term memory issue but the Tigers lost 300 games from 2003-2005. Are we really supposed to be depressed about a team that has underperformed for 70 games? The season isn’t half over and you’re ready to throw the Tigers into the same underachieving-boat as the Yankees? Sorry Bauer, but by my calculations, the Tigers still have roughly $1 billion to go before they are that pathetic. To suggest that the future isn’t bright for the Tigers regardless of their poor start is to declare your ignorance. Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to manipulate short-term statistics to “prove” my point as you did. You said, “The Tigers are currently 24-35, losers of three straight and 3-7 in their last ten.” Well, the Tigers are currently 32-38, winners of six of seven, and 8-2 in their last ten. Also, the Tigers have been playing above .500 since April 8 (yes, that would be the second week of the season). Does that mean they’re going to win the World Series?

The Pistons

The Pistons are in line for a fire sale? If by “fire sale” you mean they’re “exploring trade options to improve the team”, then you’re correct. Do you really think Joe Dumars is going to cash-in his best players for nothing? An outsider like you might look at the fact that Joe D is looking to make a trade as a bad sign. For Detroit fans, it’s a godsend. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to root for a team that may or may not show up on any given night? Detroit might not make the Eastern Conference Finals next season but if you don’t think the Pistons are in excellent shape for the future with a bounty of young talent and cap-room to burn, then you aren’t paying attention. Have you heard of Rodney Stuckey, Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson? I guess we should wish the Pistons were more like the Knicks. Parlaying $90 million—$30 million over the salary cap mind you—into 23 wins is not easy to do. Although, I must give the Knicks credit for improving on their 2006-effort that saw them turn $130 million–$80 million over the cap—into 23 wins.

The Lions

Nobody in Detroit is going to spend more than 10 seconds defending the Lions on any front but you’d have to be awfully na├»ve not to see that Rod Marinelli is slowly but surely putting together a defense that might actually be able to stop people. That’s more than I can say for any other Lions team of my lifetime. The Lions are certainly in no worse shape now than they’ve been in a decade.

Michigan Football

Do you have any idea how excited people around here are about Rich Rodriguez? There is more excitement surrounding the Michigan football program right now than at any point in the last 20 years. I love how you focused on the fact that Michigan “lost” Pryor but failed to acknowledge that Rodriguez secured a top-ten recruiting class in just two months on the job and already has another one lined up for next year. Rodriguez has also secured commitments from two of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country for 2009. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that they are immediately the mostly highly-touted QB recruits Rodriguez has ever signed. So yeah, things are just absolutely dire in Ann Arbor because Rodriguez wasn’t able to sign the #1 recruit in the country. I guess that makes every other program in the country—with the exception of Ohio St.—a disappointment. There is this thing called “the spread”. Rodriguez nearly won a National Championship at West Virginia with it. Michigan > West Virginia.

Michigan St. Football

Heck, people are even excited about Michigan St. football. You do realize that Mark Dantonio coaches MSU now, right? You may have also wanted to mention in your letter that Michigan St. went to a bowl game for the first time in four years last season. Or, that MSU lost its six games (all against teams .500 or better) in ’07 by a grand total of 31 points. Rutgers—is that the team New Yorkers claim now days?—lost to Louisville by 30 points. If you don’t think Spartan-fans are excited about the future of the program, then you did absolutely no research before typing your letter.

I’m amazed that you were permitted to publish an opinion that reflects such a skewed view of reality. You probably couldn’t find two or three sports cities with more promise for the next 5-10 years than Detroit. Detroit has the best front-office personnel in sports. If you want to know what the future looks like, look no further than its coaches and GMs. The list is impressive. Ken Holland, Dave Dombrowski, Joe Dumars, Rich Rodriguez, Mark Dantonio, Tom Izzo, and John Beilein are all universally considered among the best at their respective positions. Do you honestly think that all of these established winners are just going to start losing at the same time? Other than the Lions, there isn’t a single major sports team in the area that people aren’t excited about. Your letter was an overreaction to a poor start by the Tigers. How you made the leap from that to “Detroit sports=doomed” is a mystery. Then again, you get paid for overreactions, right?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Making a trade won't be easy for Joe D

Joe Dumars apparently wasn’t kidding when he said that he was going to make every attempt to make a trade. He indicated this week that he has already talked to at least 10 teams and—in all discussions—he was talking about the best player on those teams. It shouldn’t be too hard to narrow down the list of teams he might have talked to. Some teams won’t trade their best player. Other teams don’t have anything the Pistons want. There is also another group of teams that can be eliminated. I have an inclination that Joe D isn’t going to move Rip; and if he does move Rip, it’s not going to be for another shooting guard. Rip isn’t flawless but there are too many flaws in the frontcourt and at point guard to focus on adding a shooting guard. This is just a hunch but I'm going to go with it. So, that also rules out teams whose best player is a shooting guard. If we eliminate the teams from those groups, we should have a pretty good idea of who Dumars talked to.

“Untouchables”

L.A. Lakers (Kobe)
Cleveland (LeBron)
San Antonio (Tim Duncan)
Boston (KG)
Orlando (Dwight Howard)
Miami (Dwyane Wade)
Portland (Greg Oden)

Not worth talking to and/or best player is SG

Seattle (Kevin Durant is probably untouchable and plays SG)
Chicago (No true stars)
New York (worst roster ever)
Milwaukee (Redd plays SG)
Philadelphia (Igoudala plays SG)
Indiana (Jermaine O’Neal makes too much)
Sacramento (Kevin Martin plays SG)
Washington (Gilbert Arenas opted-out and Jamison is a free agent)


That leaves…


The Likely Candidates

Toronto
Atlanta
New Orleans (obviously not Chris Paul who is untouchable)
Utah
Phoenix
Dallas
Denver
Golden St.
LA Clippers
Minnesota
Memphis
Houston
New Jersey
Charlotte

It would not surprise me if the above teams make up the majority of teams that Joe D has talked to. However, just because he may have talked to a team doesn’t mean that a deal is realistic. Most of these fourteen teams are unlikely trade partners for a variety of reasons.

Toronto

Chris Bosh would be an ideal addition to give the Pistons a frontcourt presence but I don’t see Toronto being interested in what the Pistons can offer. They might be interested in a Billups/Wallace/Amir Johnson deal but Toronto is close to the cap which means Detroit would have to take T.J. Ford or Rasho Nesterovic. That would give Detroit zero cap room to go after a high-level free agent. The Pistons could boast a starting lineup of Rodney Stuckey, Rip, Tayshaun, Chris Bosh, and Antonio McDyess or Jason Maxiell. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I don’t think Toronto would be happy with Rasheed Wallace and Andrea Bargnani in the post. They are both allergic to the paint. So, a deal with Toronto is doubtful.

Minnesota

I doubt Joe D could put together an enticing-enough package to get Al Jefferson from Minnesota. Jefferson is turning into a dominating big-man and has a fairly reasonable contract. The Pistons would have to give up Rip, Rasheed Wallace, and Maxiell/Amir Johnson just to get into the discussion and—even then—I’m not sure Minnesota would have any interest in that. Even worse, the Pistons would have to take Antoine Walker’s awful contract to offset the $26 going to Minnesota. A deal here is highly unlikely.

Memphis

Rudy Gay is turning into a star and still has three years remaining on his rookie contract. Memphis has a gazillion dollars in cap-room and could afford to take on one or two of Detroit’s bigger contracts. However, I’m not sure Rudy Gay is the answer. The Pistons would have to give up Tayshaun since they play the same position. They’d also have to give up Rasheed Wallace. Is that worth Gay? If the Pistons could sign Elton Brand, then maybe it is. Would Memphis want Tayshaun and Rasheed for Gay? Probably not.

Dallas

Mark Cuban has a man-crush on Dirk Nowitzki. He wouldn’t trade him for Shaq straight-up back in ’04. Remember, Shaq was coming off four consecutive Finals appearances and three championships. I’m not saying it was the wrong move. I’m just saying Cuban values Dirk highly. So, I doubt Dirk is available. Plus, Dallas has Jason Kidd and Josh Howard which makes Chauncey and Tayshuan undesirable for the Mavs. The pieces really don’t match up well with Dallas.

Utah

Jerry Sloan would probably commit himself to a mental ward before agreeing to add Rasheed Wallace to his team. Carlos Boozer would be a good fit but I don’t think Utah has any interest in what the Pistons have to offer. Plus, they already have the equivalent of Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, and Rasheed Wallace in Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, and Carlos Boozer. I’m sure they like their threesome better.

Phoenix

Phoenix would have to be the dumbest franchise of all-time to trade Amare Stoudemire at this point. He is the only superstar-caliber player the Suns have who will be around in three years. Plus, he’s Amare-frickin’-Stoudemire. There were trade rumors last year involving Amare but that was when he and Shawn Marion weren’t getting along and—more importantly—before be bounced back from a knee injury with a 6th place finish in the MVP voting. The only hope here is that Steve Kerr continues to “go for it.” The problem from the Pistons’ end is that they would have to give up both Rasheed and Rip. This is one of the few scenarios in which Joe D might be willing to part with Rip. I suppose it’s possible that Phoenix would want Rasheed, Tayshaun, and Amir Johnson but that's wishful thinking. Any reasonable deal with Phoenix might be wishful thinking especially considering the way Phoenix tried to rip-off Detroit last year when they offered Shawn Marion for two starters and two First Round draft picks. Phoenix is way over the cap and isn’t interested in adding to the payroll. So, the Pistons would have to be willing to take Boris Diaw. That would eliminate any possibility of bringing in a big-name via free agency. The Pistons would be left with a starting lineup of Billups, Stuckey, Prince, Diaw, and Stoudemire. The Suns would be left with a starting lineup of Nash, Rip, Raja Bell, Rasheed, and Shaq. Who gets the better end of that deal? The Pistons would certainly look better long-term. Phoenix would look better short-term. A deal here is possible but unlikely.

LA Clippers

The Clippers have one player the Pistons could badly use and that’s Elton Brand. Brand can opt-out of his contract this summer but I would be shocked if he did. He is in line to make $16 million next season which is probably more than teams are going to offer a guy just returning from a torn Achilles tendon. If he stays with the Clippers and has a productive ’08-’09, he will have a huge payday coming next year. So, the only way I see Brand in a Pistons uniform next season is via a sign-and-trade. Last week, I laid out a scenario in which the Pistons could send Billups and Rasheed to the Clippers for Brand and Brevin Knight. The only way I would make this trade is if the Pistons could sign someone like Gilbert Arenas via free agency.

Golden St.

Golden St’s best player is either Baron Davis or Monta Ellis. I like Baron Davis. He would be a much-needed upgrade over Billups. However, he makes too much money. Ellis is a free agent that Golden St. will likely re-sign and keep. He is a star-in-the-making. Golden St. has always needed a big-man and Rasheed might fit their style but without getting a competent big-man in return (since GS doesn’t have one), I don’t see how the Pistons could fill the void left in the frontcourt. Joe D might have made a call here but it becomes obvious pretty quickly that there isn’t much that can be done with the Warriors.

Denver

On one hand, the Carmelo-to-Detroit trade rumors make some sense. Carmelo is a young superstar who would provide the Pistons much-needed scoring. On the other hand, trading for Carmelo makes absolutely no sense. The Pistons would have to trade Rasheed and Chauncey at a minimum. Second, Carmelo and Prince play the same position. I wouldn’t be against trying a lineup with them alternating at the three and four-spots but I’m not sure it’s a gamble that Joe D would be willing to take. Both would clearly be overmatched by the better 4s in the league. So, Detroit would have to give up Rasheed, Chauncey, and Tayshuan which is too much for Carmelo. The trade proposed by Woody Paige of the Denver columnist of Carmelo, Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin, and Chucky Atkins for Rasheed, Chauncey, Tayshaun and a First-Round draft pick probably sounds good to him but, to me, it sounds like the Pistons would just become the Denver Nuggets. Ask the people of Denver how that worked out for them this year. Carmelo wouldn’t be a bad fit but I don’t see how he gets to Detroit. There are too many obstacles. Plus, he’s not easy to root for.

New Orleans

If I were Joe D, I would be calling New Orleans everyday. I would offer Rasheed, Tayshaun, Amir Johnson, and a First-Round draft pick for David West and Peja Stojakovic (Peja would be need to off-set salary-differences plus he’s good). I’m not sure if New Orleans would have any interest in that deal but it’s worth a try. West is a beast. He is probably the best inside/outside post-player in the NBA right now. Plus, his salary is a joke. The Pistons would be left with a starting lineup of Billups, Rip, Peja, West, and mid-level player like Antonio McDyess. New Orleans would be left with a starting lineup of Chris Paul, Morris Peterson, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, and Tyson Chandler. New Orleans would be the best defensive team in the NBA. Plus, it would allow them to shed Peja’s hefty contract. My guess is New Orleans is more than happy with their current roster and they would rebuff this sort of offer from the Pistons.

Atlanta

The Hawks have a number of valuable pieces but I’m not sure the Pistons have anything the Hawks are looking for. Josh Smith is a superstar in the making but, again, I’m not sure the Pistons could offer something the Hawks would be interested in. In the next year or two, I expect the Hawks to package two or three of their assets for a superstar. They can put together some of the best trade offers in the league.

Houston

You’re first inclination when you see “Houston” is probably Tracy McGrady. He makes way too much money for the Pistons to take on his contract. I’m thinking more about Yao Ming. I realize there are a number of factors that need to be considered. Yao is constantly injured. He hasn’t played more than 57 games in each of the last three seasons. Houston probably puts a premium on Yao’s value because he’s one of the most marketable players in the NBA. So, I’m not even sure Houston would deal him. However, when healthy, Yao is a very formidable player. His sheer size makes it difficult for the opposition to have success in the post. He is a good shooter and a very good free-throw shooter. Most importantly, Yao lives in the post. He doesn’t coast like Rasheed. The numbers for a Yao trade would match-up pretty well. The Pistons could offer Rasheed, Billups, and a First Round draft pick for Yao and Bobby Jackson. I’m not sure how happy Houston would be with that deal but I’m pretty sure that would make the Rockets a better basketball team. Billups, McGrady, Battier, Luis Scola, and Rasheed Wallace would be a pretty formidable lineup. The Pistons would be left with Stuckey, Rip, Tayshaun, McDyess/Amir Johnson and Yao. They’d also have a ton of cap room to pursue a free agent in ’09. The Pistons would all of a sudden be an up-and-coming team.

New Jersey

A trade proposed by ESPN's Chad Ford would be somewhat interesting. He suggests the Pistons should trade Rasheed and Tayshuan for Richard Jefferson, Nenad Krstic, and the #10 pick in the draft. The Pistons would be left with Billups, Rip, Jefferson, Krstic, and McDyess/Maxiell. The Pistons would be able to hold on to Stuckey, Maxiell, and Amir Johnson. They would also be in great shape cap-wise. The Nets would sure-up substantial cap-room for next year when Rasheed would come off the books. Ford suggests that the Nets would like to make a deal like this to get into the Lebron sweepstakes in 2010. There is no way LeBron is going to sign with the Nets no matter how much money they have. The Pistons would get the better end of this deal. I don't see New Jersey being interested.

Charlotte

Ford proposes another trade with Charlotte that doesn't sound as good as the New Jersey-trade. He suggests the Pistons should ship Rasheed and Tayshaun for Gerald Wallace, Adam Morrison, Sean May, and the #9 pick in the draft. Morrison and May would come off the books after this season. They are essentially throw-ins. Would you rather have Gerald Wallace and the #9 pick or Richard Jefferson, Nenad Krstic (who is a formidable frontcourt player) and the #10 pick? The NJ deal would be my preference but--if NJ rebuffs that offer as I expect--this deal does have some appeal. The Pistons would be barren in the frontcourt for next season but would be in pretty good shape talent-wise and cap-wise for the long-term. The only thing that makes me worry about a deal with NJ or Charlotte is that the Pistons would be giving up their two best defensive players in Tayshaun and Rasheed. Gerald Wallace and Richard Jefferson are decent defenders but the Pistons would initially see a huge dropoff in their post-defense. It's worth a shot, though, since what they had before wasn't working.

Monday, June 09, 2008

.380 is the new .400

Last week’s post about Chipper Jones got me thinking about “reasonable expectations.” Chances are Chipper won’t hit .400. If he doesn’t, his season will be appreciated but—in the long run—won’t be considered "truly significant" by milestone-standards. I’m not so sure that should be the case.

Every once in a while, we’re treated to a “run” at .400. People start to get excited if a player is above .400 in June but I’m going to classify a “run” as being around .400 in August. The most recent “runs” were by John Olerud in 1993 who was hitting .400 as of August 2nd, Tony Gwynn in 1994 who was hitting .394 on August 11th when the work stoppage hit, and Todd Helton in 2000 who was hitting .399 on August 18th. None were hitting .400 within 55 games of a full season. Getting excited about .400 in June, July or even August, is akin to the requisite—yet futile—excitement that occurs whenever a player gets halfway to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Nobody is going to break DiMaggio’s record and nobody is going to hit .400. There is no question in my mind that we need to ditch .400 as the milestone.

I’m sure most sabermetricians will have no problem with this since they don’t care much about batting average to begin with. I agree that batting average is a flawed measure but I think it becomes less flawed at the extremes. Most batting averages fall between .250 and .300. Having a batting average in that range does little to indicate the caliber of a season in terms of run production. For instance, a .300 batting average has historically been considered a good season, but it can be misleading (see; Pudge Rodriguez ’06). On the other hand, a .250 batting average has usually been considered a below-average mark but, in some cases, a player who hits .250 can have a very good season (see; Mike Schmidt ’79). However, at the extremes, there is less ambiguity. A player who hits .200 will have a truly horrible season 99.9% of the time. A player who hits .350 will have a great season 99.9% of the time. While “batting average” might be a dividing line between new school and old school statisticians, the significance of hitting .400—or the modern-day equivalent—should be intriguing to everyone.

If it were up to me, the novelty of “.400” would be a thing of the past. Unless we’re all married to the idea of seeing people fail over and over again, a new benchmark needs to be established. There has been an obvious shift in what is an attainable batting average. Ted Williams was the last player to hit .400 and that was 67 years ago. Only two players have hit .380+ in a full season over the last 50 years. Yet, there were 13 players who hit over .400 from 1900-1957. Nobody hits .400 anymore. Heck, nobody even hits .380 anymore. Interestingly, a number of players have hit .370 which seems to make .380 an ideal milestone. Below are the highest single-season batting averages in MLB since 1980 (this does not include strike-shortened seasons).

Larry Walker--------’99 .379
Ichiro-----------------‘04 .372
Todd Helton---------’00 .372
Nomar Garciaparra-’00 .372
Tony Gwynn---------’97 .372
Andres Galaragga---’93 .370
Tony Gwynn---------‘87 .370
Barry Bonds----------‘02 .370

It seems to me that .380 is the new .400. Assigning a new “bench mark” batting average for a single-season makes a lot of sense to me. Heck, it probably makes a lot of sense to you. However, the chances of .380 becoming the new historically significant milestone for batting average hover around 0%. It won’t happen for the same reason that nobody cared that Curtis Granderson was the first player in MLB history to reach 23 stolen bases, 23 home runs, 23 triples, and 23 doubles in the same season. All anyone wanted to talk about was that he was the fourth player to reach 20 in all four categories. People love round numbers. 20 and .400 are nice, round numbers. 23 and .380 are not. So, the next time someone gets into August with a .400 batting average and the nation grips for a run at .400, consider it mission accomplished if said player reaches .380. In fact, hitting .380 now would be an even more impressive feat than hitting .400 ever was back in the first half of the 20th century. There were six times as many players who hit .400 from 1900-1957 as have been players who hit .380 from 1958 to 2008.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Wings are present and future of NHL

With the Tigers tanking worse than Speed Racer, it’s refreshing that we can almost always count on the Wings to give us something to celebrate. No franchise in professional sports has won more championships over the last 15 years. For all of the post-season disappointment the Wings have provided in recent years, there is no question that they have more than made up for it by winning four Stanley Cups. Those who were watching the Wings closely through the first three rounds of the playoffs could tell that there was something different about this team. Whatever wasn’t there to get them past Anaheim last season was certainly there this year. I’m inclined to believe it was simply a little more experience and maturity. Nonetheless, this Wings-team was really good. The Salary Cap-era means there are fewer stars per team. So, it’s a dicey proposition to compare this team to its $100 million brethren of the 90’s. All I know is that the Wings were better than the average Cup-winning team. They are the first team to win the Cup by winning the first two games of every series and never trailing in any series since the ’88 Edmonton Oilers.

As good as the Wing were this year, they wouldn’t have won the Cup without Henrik Zetterberg. Chris Osgood did a good job in the playoffs but the Wings had the best defense in the NHL and I’m not sure it was close. That certainly decreased Ozzie’s degree of difficulty. Zetterberg, on the other hand, is playing at an all-time level. He won’t have an all-time resume but there is a good chance that he’s the best player in the NHL right now (more on this in a little bit).Watching him reminds me of a really good hockey player in a video game. You know the kind that; are faster and stronger than all of the other players, destroy the other players with vicious checks but can never be checked themselves, and get off impossible shots with a d-man in perfect position? Well, that’s Zets. He was the best player on the ice at all-times throughout the playoffs and in the finals.

What makes that interesting is that Sydney Crosby—the reigning Hart Trophy winner—was also in the finals. There is no doubt that Crosby is great but Zetterberg was the superior player offensively and defensively. Zetterberg led the playoffs in shots, goals, points, short-handed points, and plus/minus all while providing suffocating defense. That’s the most telling comparison between the two. Pittsburgh tried to do all it could to keep Crosby off the ice when Zetterberg was on it. Detroit? The exact opposite. Zetterberg is probably the best defensive forward in the NHL. He proved his worth throughout the playoffs helping Detroit to a fantastic 86% penalty-kill percentage and the fewest shots and goals allowed per game. He was especially effective on two crucial 5-on-3 penalty kills against Pittsburgh. Crosby is only 20. He has a point and award-laden career ahead of him. There is no question that when his career is over, it’ll be vastly more spectacular than Zetterberg’s. However, if Crosby was considered the “best player in the NHL” before this season, then I think there needs to be an amendment. There is no question in my mind that, right now, Zetterberg is a more complete player. If there’s a more complete player in the NHL, I haven’t seen him. There might be one or two players who are better offensively (and I mean might) but none of the best offensive players can touch Zetterberg’s skill on the defensive end. Hopefully winning the Conn Smythe Trophy will get him the recognition that he deserves moving forward. It has been a long, long time since the city of Detroit could boast that it has the best player in a sport. Barry Sanders might have been at one time or another but the last player that you could say was unequivocally the best was probably Gordie Howe. It certainly won’t be unanimous but a more complete player does not exist in the NHL.

Amazingly, Pavel Datsyuk isn’t far behind. In fact, Zetterberg and Datsyuk are easily the best 1-2 combination in the NHL. They were the highest scoring teammates in the regular season and they’re both up for the Selke Trophy given to the top defensive forward. It’s amazing that one team can claim two players as complete as Zets and Dats. The Crosby/Malkin combo is really the only other duo that comes close and we just saw how big of a difference there is between the two. Zetterberg and Datsyuk were a combined +29 in the playoffs. Crosby and Malkin were a +10.

The rest of the Wings are certainly worth talking about in detail but in the interest of time, I’ll close with Nicklas Lidstrom who became the first European Captain to lead his team to a Stanley Cup. That might sound trivial—it did to me at first—but it’s important. Even after the Wings won the Cup, Don Cherry insinuated that European Captains are inferior by nature. Lidstrom’s win should become a stereotype-busting accomplishment. Lidstrom now claims four Stanley Cups, soon-to-be six Norris Trophies, soon-to-be nine 1st Team NHL All-Star selections, and a Conn Smythe Trophy. No player in NHL history can boast that resume. He is the most decorated defenseman of the last 30 years and probably the second best defenseman in NHL history. If Lidstrom is selected to the 1st Team again next season—and there’s no reason to think he won’t—he will only trail Ray Bourque and Gordie Howe for most selections all-time. Lidstrom is the second greatest Red Wing of all-time, the second best defenseman of all-time, and among the 15 greatest hockey players in NHL history. The question is: does anyone realize it?

As if this hasn’t all been exciting enough, there is no reason to think this was a one-time deal. The Wings became the first team to win the Cup before and after the Salary Cap-era. Ken Holland proved his worth as the best GM in the NHL and has the Wings in excellent position cap-wise. Virtually the entire team will be back next season with few exceptions. Dominik Hasek’s future is up in the air. Regardless of whether he re-signs for significantly less (which isn’t likely), or retires, the Wings won’t have to carry around a $4.1 million-hit to the cap like they did this year. That money, along with the cap room that they already had, will allow them to pursue a player in a pretty good Unrestricted Free Agent-class. Brad Stuart, Chris Chelios, and Andreas Lilja are the only other significant UFAs. It won’t take much to re-sign those players even if Stuart re-signs at $3.5 million annually. However, the same cannot be said for next season. With Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, and Mikael Samuelson becoming UFA’s next season, Holland will need a stockpile of money to keep them in Detroit. Hopefully, he signs them to extensions before next summer thus bypassing all of the breath-holding. Who knows, maybe they’ll be willing to give the Wings a Lidstrom-inspired home-team discount. While it’s always exciting to see the Wings upgrade in the off-season, I can honestly say I’d be more than happy if things were unchanged going into 2009. The Wings will be the best team in the NHL heading into next season. In fact, the Wings might be the best team in the NHL heading into the next five seasons.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Blow 'em up

The Pistons lost in the Conference Finals for the third consecutive year surprising nobody. It’s clearly time for a change. It was time for a change in 2006 when they were embarrassed by the Heat in the Conference Finals. It was time for a change in 2007 when they were embarrassed by the Cavs in the Conference Finals. Joe-D kept trying to “plug the square peg into the round hole” two years too long, in my opinion. I don’t necessarily blame him for milking the current roster as long as possible. It’s much easier to do nothing when you know you’re going to sell-out every game whether you make a move or not. Instead of opting for the always-dangerous overhaul, he simply tried to convince Pistons fans that his team was one attitude-adjustment away from winning another NBA Championship. The “attitude” excuse—albeit a legit one—was just a convenient way to hide the fact that the Pistons just weren’t good enough.

The Problems

Demanding change is one thing. Anyone and everyone can demand change. Providing viable options for change is what people should be focusing on. The easiest way to do that is to identify why the Pistons failed. Everyone knows about the problem the Pistons have had with motivation. That certainly contributed to the playoff failures. It was always somewhat apparent but it became clear this season that Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups are the two biggest culprits in that regard. Their indifference on the court has cost the Pistons dearly over the last three years. However, the biggest problems have more to do with X’s and O’s than attitude. There are three fundamental problems that have relegated the Pistons to Eastern Conference Finals doormats…1). They have no offensive post-presence 2). They have nobody who can penetrate and 3). They are a jump-shooting team without good jump-shooters. For the Pistons to have any chance at an NBA Championship in the near future, those areas absolutely must be addressed.

The Culprits

A lot has been made lately of Rasheed Wallace’s temper and Detroit’s motivation-level. In fact, some of the local newspapers ran stories about how Wallace’s ability to keep his emotions in check was the key to beating Boston. It would be great if basketball were so simple. The key to beating Boston was Rasheed planting his butt in the paint every minute of every game and Billups creating off the dribble. Seeing how KG fueled Boston’s offense was torture because he showed us exactly what we weren’t getting from Rasheed. Three things happen as a result of having an offensive presence in the post. 1). You get easy buckets. 2). You get the other team in foul trouble and 3). You demand double teams which free up your shooters. Boston got the benefit of all three thanks to KG. The Pistons got none of it no thanks to Rasheed. That needs to change. Rasheed and Billups are cancers for the Pistons and it has nothing to do with their attitudes. Apathetic play from the point-guard and power-forward positions is devastating for a team. It’s bad enough that the Pistons are trying to be a jump-shooting team with poor shooters. It’s even worse when nobody draws a help defender to get your poor shooters an open shot. The Pistons are a tremendously flawed team. It’s amazing that they were able to make it to the Conference Finals with so much dysfunction in their game-plan. I’m not the biggest Rip Hamilton fan because he is a turnover machine but the Pistons would be lost without him. He is the only player who does anything to stretch the defense. Rip attracts so much attention from constantly running around screens that he is occasionally able to offset the fact that Rasheed and Chauncey are stationary. Rip has been the MVP of the Pistons for six years running and he deserves recognition for that.

Joe D Needs to be Proactive

Boston and LA have proven something that everyone already knew. You win NBA Championships with superstars who can score inside and outside. LA was nothing with just Kobe. They teamed him with Pau Gasol and now they are a juggernaut. Boston was nothing with just Paul Pierce. They teamed him with KG and Ray Allen and now they are a juggernaut. The best teams in the league are too talented for a team like Detroit to try to win solely with the “team” mentality. Joe D needs to infuse Detroit’s lineup with players who make things difficult for the opposition. He needs to bring in players who can be counted on to score. In the NBA, “the early bird gets the worm” when it comes to trades. That’s why there have been horribly lopsided trades over the last few years We saw it with Memphis and LA. The Lakers got Gasol for nothing. They were probably the only team sniffing around mid-season and were rewarded for their efforts. The Pistons got Rasheed for nothing in ’04. They were probably the only team making the effort and wound up with a Championship as a result. The Celtics didn’t exactly get KG for nothing but they clearly made the effort. They showed Minnesota they were interested and were the lead-suitors the whole time. Joe D needs to identify who he wants and then make it happen. The longer he waits, the more likely another team will make a move first. There are only so many impact players available around the league.

The Fix

As I’ve discussed, the Pistons need two things badly...1). an offensive post-presence and 2). a proactive point guard. As recently as last year, there were a number of talented power-forwards stuck on bad teams. Bad teams, of course, are the most likely to trade good players. The Gasol and KG trades changed all that. Now, there is really only one option left and it’s a pretty good one: Elton Brand. The Clippers are terrible. There have been rumors of them shopping Brand for the last few years. He is a monster in the paint. He gets easy baskets and owns the boards. He would be the perfect antidote for the Pistons' paint-woes. The problem is that he has a player-option for next season at $16 million. I would expect him to take the option. So, the Pistons would have to trade for him. I would be more than willing to trade Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace for Brand. I’m not sure what the Clippers would think of that offer but Rasheed would provide them with a). a replacement for Brand and b). an expiring contract for next season. Billups would give them an All-Star point guard at a position that is desperately in need of an upgrade. I don’t see how the Clippers wouldn’t be interested in that trade. A Billups, Rasheed, Maggette, Al Thornton, Chris Kaman starting-lineup has to look pretty good to them. That team might even be better than this year's Pistons.

My next move would be to contact Gilbert Arenas. Arenas has stated that he will opt-out of his current contract this summer to pursue a more lucrative deal for 2008 and beyond. Joe D should hard-sell Arenas on the idea that the Pistons would have a legitimate chance (not like the “legitimate” chance they supposedly had this year) of winning an NBA Championship. Arenas wants to “break the bank” but his knee-issue will likely keep teams from giving him as much money as he is looking for. The Pistons should offer him something in the $14 or $15 million range and sell him on the idea that the Wizards will keep losing to Cleveland every year while the Pistons would have a dynamic line-up capable of beating anyone.

If Joe D can pull of both moves, that would leave the Pistons with a starting lineup of Arenas, RIP, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, and Elton Brand. Rip becomes the second scoring-option which would be great for everyone involved. They’d have one of the top scorers in the NBA at point guard. The Pistons might actually have the best backcourt in the NBA (not like the “best” backcourt that they supposedly had this year). They’d have rebounding machines in the post in Brand and Maxiell. They’d have an offensive-post force in Brand. It would also allow Prince to do what he’s supposed to do which is be a role player. Prince is one of the most valuable role-players in the NBA. He can be a great fourth scoring-option especially when he has a mismatch. At 6’9, with a 7’2 wingspan, Prince gives the Pistons a tremendous advantage defensively and on on the boards at small-forward. He has taken a lot of heat for not “stepping up” but he isn’t supposed to step up. He is the perfect complimentary player. This avenue would also allow Detroit to keep its talented core of young players in tact. The bench is already cheap and talented. Rodney Stuckey, Jarvis Hayes (assuming the Pistons choose to re-sign him), Amir Johnson, and Arron Afflalo are all young and making next to nothing. The Pistons have plenty of money to fit both Arenas and Brand under the cap with room to spare.

One idea that is being floated around is that Joe D might just be inclined to ride out the current contracts of his “stars” and simply be content with turning the future over to Stuckey, Maxiell, and Amir Johnson. If he opts for that route, the Pistons won’t sniff the Finals for years. To win in the NBA, you need superstars and you need an inside/outside game. You need proactive players. You need a post-presence. If you don't have those things, then you have to go out and get them. Joe D just has to realize he has nothing to lose.

Potential 2008-09 lineup:

PG Gilbert Arenas
SG Rip Hamilton
SF Tayshaun Prince
PF Jason Maxiell
C Elton Brand

Bench:

Rodney Stuckey
Arron Afflalo
Jarvis Hayes
Amir Johnson
Cheikh Samb
Lindsey Hunter
 

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