Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pride and Prejudice

Michigan’s season from hell came to an end on Saturday with a predictable drubbing at the hands of the team down south. Going into “The Game”, I was certain that my only post-game—and thus postseason—thought would be, “Hallelujah!” Don’t get me wrong. The “Hallelujah!” was definitely there along with 500 of its closest synonyms. What I didn’t anticipate being there was an increased affinity towards this Michigan team. Nobody believes more than I do that Rich Rodriguez will succeed smashingly once he gets his program running. Let’s be serious, though, this team was atrocious. Pick a position group and it’s likely that “brutal” would accurately describe that group. Still, when I least expected it and when I was least prepared to accept it, one of the the worst teams in the storied history of Michigan football grew on me.

The coaches and players have put up with an insane amount of criticism this season. Yeah, Michigan was bad but most bad teams get to be bad teams. This bad team—a team with countless legitimate excuses for not winning right away—was mocked, criticized, and ridiculed and that was before the season even started. I have no problem with anyone who wants to talk about how bad Michigan was on the field. I do have a problem with the blissfully ignorant crowd who chose to criticize anything and everything with or without merit. I cannot remember more slanted media coverage in my lifetime. There were a number of factors that surely led to that. The Detroit print media is so desperate to sell newspapers that its figureheads likely gave some sort of directive imploring columnists to squeeze every last ounce of intrigue out of the Rich Rodriguez-hire. That story was one of the biggest sports stories in the state of Michigan’s history and beating it to death sold papers. It also didn’t help that the Michigan print media is saturated with Michigan State alums who think that only nine of the last 38 years actually happened.

The national media was no less sensationalistic. However, it at least had an excuse. National columnists don’t know any better. They are notoriously ignorant when it comes to covering individual markets. The Detroit media is employed to be experts on the Detroit area. They are the ones who are supposed to be defending Detroit when the national media has it wrong. Unfortunately, money too often trumps integrity and controversy—not honesty—sells newspapers. Here is just a sample-list of the stories that were erroneously portrayed by the media:

1).The moment Rodriguez took the Michigan-job, he was portrayed as a money-hungry, opportunist by the national media and the vulchers in Detroit gladly jumped aboard without scrutinizing that angle for even a nanosecond. Never mind the fact that he turned down a highly lucrative job at Alabama the year before or that anyone in their right mind would leave West Virginia for an opportunity like Michigan.

2). The media then condemned Rodriguez for prolonging the buyout negotiations with West Virginia. Never mind the fact that the Michigan administration was likely behind it since it agreed to pay a significant portion of Rodriguez’s buyout (where was the outrage when John Beilein did the same?).

3). Rodriguez was then criticized for failing to land the #1 high school recruit in the country. Never mind the fact that he was two years behind Ohio State in the recruiting process. When Rodriguez signed on to coach Michigan, he had just over a month to convince existing commitments to stay and convince uncommitted recruits to come.

4). Instead of celebrating the fact that Michigan’s new coach had pulled in a top ten recruiting class securing a number of highly-touted players in the few weeks he had before Signing Day, Rodriguez was blasted by Joe Tiller—with the media wholeheartedly obliging—for being a “Snake Oil Saleman.” Apparently, there was an unwritten code among Big Ten coaches that said all committed recruits within the conference were off-limits. From what I understand, the rule states that only Rich Rodriguez is to follow that rule. Virtually every coach in the Big Ten has recruited committed players within the conference. Instead of pointing out the blatant hypocrisy, the media let the story go without doing its due diligence. It took various bloggers—including Brian at Mgoblog—to do the reporting for the media by identifying seven other current Big Ten coaches who had done the same.

5). Every sports media outlet in the country splattered the words “get a life” across its pages as it reported that Rodriguez stupidly went off on Michigan fans. Never mind the fact that Rodriguez specifically addressed his comments to the fans who yelled obscenities to his coaches and players.

The coverage of Rodriguez’s first year at Michigan has been the most slanted news story since the media sold the war in Iraq to the American people. The truth has been stretched and skewed beyond recognition. Every columnist in the country thinks Rodriguez is a bum. It’s incredible that so many people from a “fair and balanced” profession could be so wrong and so willing to make so many assumptions.

It would at least be tolerable if the idiocy was relegated to the media. Unfortunately, we live in a society that blindly gives in to the “mob effect.” People hear things so many times—whether it’s right or not—that they eventually buy into it as fact. ESPN and some of Detroit’s finest bonehead-columnists have said so many times that Rodriguez put himself ahead of the university by not agreeing to pay his buyout from the beginning that people actually believe that. I would be shocked if more than 10% of American sports fans knew that Rodriguez was only doing what Michigan wanted him to do. Even local columnists believe that. Michigan successfully fought John Beilein’s buyout and it had every reason to believe it could do the same with Rodriguez’s. The vast majority of the criticism that Rodriguez has received has been unwarranted and undeserved. Perhaps no coach in the history of college football received more criticism than Rodriguez in his first year at Michigan. It’s amazing how much negative publicity came his way after his colleague at West Virginia went through nearly an identical transition the year before without even a shed of criticism except, of course, from Jay Bilas who couldn’t recognize an unbiased argument if it was disguised as a Dukie flopping for an offensive foul.

I don’t personally know anyone who could’ve even done an “adequate” job of handling such an inaccurate portrayal of their personality. I think about how I would respond to a situation similar to what Rodriguez had to deal with and I don’t like what I come up with. It would drive me to the brink of insanity. To his credit, Rodriguez never got caught up in the garbage. He remained focused on preparing his team week to week and generously answered virtually every question that came his way from the same media-types that were hell-bent on ruining his reputation. I am absolutely blown away by the class that Rodriguez showed this season. I’ve watched and read the transcripts for every interview he has given. His honesty has been refreshing and his humility has been unexpected. I am positive that his first year at Michigan was more difficult for him and his family than anyone could imagine. I have more respect for him now—after coaching Michigan to its worst season ever—than I ever did when he was at West Virginia and that’s saying something considering I lobbied hard for Michigan to hire him. When Rodriguez was hired to replace Lloyd Carr, a lot was made about the degrading morals within the football program. Never in the history of the world has one jaded teenager’s words been given so much credence. Justin Boren tried to damage Rodriguez on his way out by taking a shot at his integrity and followed that up by engaging in borderline traitorous conduct. Yet, the media took his words as gospel with no second guessing. If that doesn’t highlight what Rodriguez faced from the press, then I don’t know what does. Ten months into Rodriguez’s tenure and he has actually come off as a better person than a football coach. This from a guy who was one win from putting West Virginia in the National Championship game last year.

I’ve been behind Rodriguez since day one. My support has never wavered. However, my interest in watching the team hit an all-time low this season. It’s not easy to eat, drink, and breathe Michigan football and go through a season like this one. In the interest of myself and my family, I gradually tuned out. I still watched. I still knew who did what. I simply tuned out emotionally. While that may have been the defense mechanism that I needed to avoid a meltdown, it also kept me from seeing what was going on besides the fumbles and defensive breakdowns. I knew I was going to watch a bloodbath on Saturday but what I didn’t know is that I was going to be proud of watching it. It was inspiring to see a 3-8 team go out and play Ohio State like it was the National Championship game. It’s easy to lazily adapt the views of the media and a few disgruntled fans by calling this team a bunch of underachievers and quitters. If you tried to look for the truth on your own this season, you would know how incredibly wrong that was. Rodriguez got a raw deal but the players got an even worse deal. Yet, there they were, butting heads with the biggest, baddest dudes on the block like they were something special. Brandon Minor ran hard on a bum shoulder that would’ve kept him out against any other team. Sam McGuffie ran with the same reckless abandonment that lead to two concussions during the season. Not surprisingly, he ended up with a third against Ohio State. Nick Sheridan came to Michigan to be a student but was thrust into a position that would’ve been difficult for any first-year starter let alone a walk-on who never intended to play college football. Yet, there he was on Saturday facing one of the best defenses in the country on the road giving it everything he had. The efforts from these players last Saturday in the Horseshoe epitomize the effort that the team gave all season. This team deserves to be remembered if not for its record, then for its virtues. It’s easy to show up and give it your best when you’re winning. It’s courageous to show up and give it your best when you know you’re going to get bludgeoned.

The players didn’t give up and they didn’t make excuses. In fact, Michigan had the arduous task of playing three teams that are currently in the top ten of the BCS standings. Michigan lost by two to #6 Utah. Michigan was up by three at halftime on the road against #8 Penn State. Michigan was down by seven with the ball in the second half against #10 Ohio State. Does that sound like a team that quit? Michigan lost to Toledo in quite possibly the worst loss in the history of the program and it came back three weeks later and destroyed nationally ranked Minnesota on the road. Does that sound like a team that quit? Michigan also led Michigan State and Northwestern in the second half. Both are in the top 25 in the BCS Standings. Quitters don’t accidentally hang for a half or more with every nationally ranked team on their schedule. Historically, I’ve admired watching Michigan for its ability. My barometer for each season has always been wins. This season—without the wins—the admiration didn’t go anywhere. The barometer for this season has been integrity. Looking back on how everyone from the coaches and players handled the transition, I wouldn’t change a thing. This team deserves to be remembered.

Considering the way this team was treated throughout the season by media and fans alike, it’s highly unlikely that it will. Student-athletes might get applauded for simply giving it their best at Eastern Michigan but that doesn’t happen at the University of Michigan. At Michigan, you get applauded for winning. It’s likely that this team will continue to be criticized for its failures. It’s likely that players who played poorly and/or opt to transfer will undoubtedly be ridiculed for doing so. The players on this team were dealt a raw deal by fate. They came to Michigan under totally different pretenses. They deserved better. The Michigan football program will be fine. Rodriguez is building CrazySexyCool recruiting classes. Under Rodriguez, Michigan will reach a level of winning that it hasn’t seen since the 70’s. At that time, everyone will pretend that this team never existed. That’s not fair to the players who busted their butts for the university. For totally different reasons, these players deserve to be remembered with the same reverence as every other Michigan team. That’s how I will remember them.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Kurt Warner distances himself from Curt Warner

By now, you have undoubtedly realized that I have a fondness for older athletes who continue to play at a high level. You probably remember my posts on Jamie Moyer, Julio Franco, and Mike Mussina. The most recent was on Mussina who repaid the time I spent building his case for the Hall of Fame—just two more seasons with the Yankees would’ve done it—by retiring. That left a sour taste in my mouth so I’m back for another round. NFL fans may be too immersed in their fantasy football leagues to notice, but Kurt Warner is running away with the NFL MVP award. He is on pace to throw for 5,000 yards—a feat that has only been accomplished once in NFL history. He has the Arizona Cardinals four games over .500 for the first time ever. He leads the NFL in passer rating and it’s not even close. Through ten games, he has the highest single-season completion percentage in NFL history (71.9).

The “other” MVP candidates include Drew Brees, Clinton Portis and Adrian Peterson. No offense to those players but that list might as well read, “Larry, Moe, and Curly.” Warner’s season is so statistically superior to every other QB in the NFL that he is in a class of his own with respect to the MVP. Portis and Peterson have been the best runners in the league but their statistics aren’t historically significant. Plus, it’s unlikely that the Saints, Redskins, and Vikings will even make the playoffs. Not only are the Cardinals in line to make the playoffs, they will probably be the first team in the NFL to clinch a playoff spot.

Just a few years ago, few thought Warner even had a career left. It would have been difficult for anyone to predict that Warner would even be in the league five seasons after his miserable 2004 campaign with the Giants in which he was sacked 39 times and coughed-up 12 fumbles. He wasn’t even supposed to be the starting QB in Arizona this season. Matt Leinart—Arizona’s first round draft pick in 2006—was set to take over the “keys” to the franchise. Warner shocked everyone by winning the starting job and now he’s the best player in the NFL.

While Warner’s second “out-of-nowhere” act has been compelling, what’s even more fascinating is what this means for his legacy. If Warner wins the MVP this season, it will be his third. No player in the history of the four major sports has won three MVP awards and not been elected to the Hall of Fame. Warner won’t even come close to having the gaudy statistics that are usually a perquisite for the ‘Hall’. Entering 2008, Warner had only five seasons in which he threw for more than ten touchdowns tying him with Joey Harrington. That’s generally not even good enough for the “Hall of Average.” However, Warner has the second best QB rating (min. 1,500 attempts) and completion percentage in NFL history. He’s also first all-time in passing yards per game. Those feats would not have been good enough to offset Warner’s underwhelming career totals without the third MVP but they will nicely complement the MVPs on his Hall of Fame plaque.

It’s important to emphasize the dramatic impact that Warner’s lingering thumb issues have had on his productivity. By almost any measure, he was the best QB in the league from 1999-2001. While his thumb problem didn’t end his career, there is no question that it robbed him of the bulk of his “prime.” There is precedent for such a situation resulting in selection to the Hall of Fame. Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax, and Kirby Puckett were denied full careers. All three are MLB Hall of Famers. Bill Walton’s career actually clobbers Warner’s in brevity and yet he is a member of the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame. And, of course, I can’t forget Gale Sayers who is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite playing only 68 games. Warner has started 85.

Warner’s first time around the NFL block had all of the makings of a Hollywood movie. He went from a 25-year-old grocery store employee to an NFL MVP and a Super Bowl winner. His encore performance is good enough for an equally brilliant sequel. He will likely win the MVP—becoming the oldest NFL MVP in 50 years—and put the Cardinals in the playoffs cementing an improbable place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If someone had told you that four months ago, you probably would’ve said, “It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Warner!” I’m just hoping Warner doesn’t pull a Mussina and retire before the end of the season. If that happens, be prepared for another one of these on Chris Chelios or Randy Couture.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Emotions at Odds

There is no question that we are in the midst of a peculiar football season. Sunday night, I was watching the end of the Steelers-Chargers game. I mentioned to my step-dad that I had never seen an 11-10 final score in a football game. Seconds later, a bulletin popped up at the bottom of the screen that read, “There has never been an 11-10 score in NFL history (12,837 games).” Naturally, I started to root for that elusive outcome. The Steelers had made the score 11-10 with just a few seconds remaining. Only an absolute disaster of misfortune could’ve prevented it from happening. Enter one of the worst laterals you’ll ever see combined with Troy Polamalu picking up that “worst ever” lateral and racing into the end-zone. Dream over. Or was it? After an on-field, post-game review the officiating crew correctly ruled the play a touchdown. When CBS ended its coverage in lieu of “60 Minutes”, the scoreboard still read “17-10.” Seconds later on ESPN, the scroll at the bottom of the screen read “Pittsburgh 11 San Diego 10”. I was confused. I found myself rooting so badly for that outcome that my emotions felt like they got caught up in a tug-of-war. Sad but true. I’m pretty sure that the referee’s final explanation was so confusing that the scoreboard operator did not initially know whether the score counted or not.

Minutes after the game had ended, the officiating crew was informed by the NFL that it made the right call (illegal forward lateral by San Diego) but erroneously applied it to the legal backwards lateral that Polamalu ended up taking in for a score. Alas, the final “official” score was 11-10. It took a brain-lapse by the officiating crew to make it happen. They made the right call. They just forgot who it was supposed to go against which is perplexing considering they had the aid of replay. I’m guessing that has probably only happened a handful of times in NFL history as well. Then, for only the fourth time in the last 18 years, there was a tie in the NFL (Eagles-Bengals). On the same day, we had the rare fortune of seeing something that had not happened in 12,837 games, and something that had only happened three times in the previous 8,640 games. I’m pretty sure that means that when we all woke up on Sunday morning, the odds of both a tie and an “11-10” outcome were roughly 1 in 19,717,632. I don’t even want to get into the odds of an NFL quarterback not knowing that there were “ties” in the NFL. Does Donovan McNabb commute to Eagles games from Mars? How could he not know there were ties? The last NFL game to end in a tie was between the Broncos and Falcons in 2002. Ironically, McNabb and the Eagles beat the Falcons that year in the playoffs. I hope I’m not the only one that gets excited about this stuff.

The peculiarity on the national level is at least intriguing. Our local brand of football related peculiarity? Not so much. Michigan is having its worst football season in its 130-year history. The school with the most wins and best winning percentage in college football history has just laid claim to its first eight-loss season—ever. The Lions—not to be outdone—are trying to lay claim to the worst NFL football season—ever. Nobody has gone 0-16. For dual Lions/Michigan fans, it doesn’t get any worse. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only reason I got so excited about that first paragraph is because it was a welcome escape from the wretched excuse for a football season that we’ve got going on in Michigan. Maybe an “11-10” final doesn’t excite a fan in say, Texas where Texas, Texas Tech, and the Cowboys are rollin’. Maybe an NFL tie doesn’t fire-up a fan in Florida where the Gators are blow torchin’ teams by 40 points and Jeff Garcia is reviving his career for the 38th time. Maybe those people don’t care about that stuff. I deeply care about that stuff.

Strangely, I’m not that upset about the whole thing. Sure, I would have preferred a Lions revival and a seamless transition for Michigan but it’s not as bad as I would’ve thought. I’m rooting as hard for 0-16 as I ever did for a Lions victory. William Clay Ford has been able to coast for far too long. He had this coming to him. I didn’t expect back in the spring that Michigan might go 3-8 but it didn’t take too long before that became a possibility. I take solace in the fact that Rich Rodriguez has struggled mightily in his first year at virtually every stop. He’s holding on to a top-ten recruiting class this year and will have his Pat White next year. He’s building a monster recruiting haul for 2010. Plus, the excitement that will accompany National Signing Day and the NFL Draft will more than make up for these clunkers of a season. Or, at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Part of me wants to break every man-law in the book by citing the old proverb “This, too, shall pass.” It’s weird, though. I’m kind of enjoying it. Every fall, I get frustrated beyond reason because someone isn’t playing to their potential or a coach is doing something lame. I overanalyze play calls and game decisions like we’re in the midst of a nuclear conflict. It’s been kind of nice to go without that curse for a while. I wouldn’t want this fate every year. It’s just nice to take a mental vacation every once in a while. And, for those wondering, the odds of Michigan losing eight games and the Lions going 0-16 in the same season are roughly 1 in 113,000. That’s something to get excited about.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Lions Fever is going National

All I have for you today is an article. I think you’ll enjoy reading it for the subtle and not-so-subtle reasons. On the surface, it looks like every other Lions article. It talks about the ineptitude that has plagued Detroit’s football franchise since the first Beatles album was released in the United States. It references Matt Millen’s laughable tenure and the cruelty that Barry Sanders had to endure. None of that stuff is new. However, what is new is that this is from a national columnist. I’m not sure how William Clay Ford has guided an NFL franchise to a 277-383-13 over 44 years and done so under the radar. Maybe, just maybe, the rest of the NFL world is starting to catch on. It almost seems like Ford is running the franchise into the ground on purpose just to see how inept he has to be before anyone outside of Michigan notices. Maybe he really enjoyed Peter’s disposition in Office Space. Is it a coincidence that since its release, the Lions are an unfathomable 48-105? Maybe not. Enjoy and have a good weekend!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Annual BCS Chaos Guide

Before I get started, I want to quickly bring to light a comment made by Rece Davis the other night on ESPN seemingly in defense of the BCS. To paraphrase, Davis said: Penn St. is just another example of why everyone needs to wait until the end of the season before complaining about the BCS. Why do we have to wait? The BCS needs to work under all—or most—scenarios for it to be the best option. If Penn St. would’ve gone undefeated and Alabama and Texas Tech also went undefeated, then Penn St. would’ve been left out. It doesn’t matter what actually happens. If the BCS fails under most scenarios then it fails.

Ten years ago when the BCS was created in a lab full of guys that love money, it became second nature for fans of a college football playoff to root against the BCS’s master plan of having two undefeated teams at the end of each season. Since the BCS almost never works, there really isn’t that much rooting necessary. We don’t root for the sun to come up in the morning because we know it’s coming. Still, I don’t think I’m alone when I root for apocalyptic failure instead of just normal failure. The BCS rarely disappoints in that regard. This year has a chance to be the biggest disaster of them all.

Here is a checklist of events that need to happen to make 2008 the biggest BCS failure in its relatively short and sad history…

1). Alabama and Texas Tech need to lose once. Chaos would ensue even if just one loses but things start getting crazy-awesome if both drop a game. Most fans—not saying everyone—think that Florida will probably beat Alabama in the SEC Championship game. Texas Tech has been killing fools but I still think the Red Raiders will lose at Oklahoma this week. I think the chances of both Alabama and Texas Tech losing are pretty good.

2). Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, USC, and Penn St. need to win out. If Florida beats Alabama then the Gators will almost certainly win out. Even if Oklahoma beats Texas Tech this weekend, it still has to play at Oklahoma St. The Sooners will be favored but that game will be no gimme. Texas will likely hammer Kansas and Texas A&M. USC will almost certainly smoke Stanford, Notre Dame and UCLA. Penn St. should handle Indiana and Michigan St. at home. It is not unlikely that all five win-out.

3). Utah, Boise St., and Ball St. win-out. This is less likely than #1 and #2. Utah still has a tough game against BYU. Ball St. has to play Western Michigan and at Central Michigan. Winning both will be a chore. Boise St. will probably stay undefeated. Utah probably should beat BYU at home. Two of these three teams are likely to finish undefeated.

I realize that the odds of all of these things happening aren’t great. However, the good news is that they all don’t need to happen for there to be chaos. As long as half of #1 happens, chaos is guaranteed. If 1-3 happen, then get ready for the biggest BCS hate-fest you could ever hope for. The BCS would be left with the following scenario…

>>>There would be seven one-loss teams, two of which would be playing in the Championship game.

>>>There would be three undefeated teams, none of which would be playing in the Championship game.

>>>Texas would likely be in the Championship game which would be curious since Texas Tech would have one loss (like Texas) and a victory over Texas.

>>>That argument can be taken a step further since Oklahoma would have one loss with a victory over Texas Tech. Oklahoma and Texas Tech would be left out of the Championship game despite having the exact same resumes as Texas.

>>>Florida would likely be in the Championship game despite having the worst loss of the one-loss teams.

>>>Alabama will likely be left out even though it was the only unbeaten team in the SEC regular season. Even if Alabama loses to Florida, it will still have a better resume than Florida by virtue of its advantage in “quality of loss” (Florida lost at home to Mississippi; Alabama would be losing in the SEC Championship game to a top five team).

>>>USC will have wins over Ohio St. and Oregon by a combined score of 79-13. The Trojans will also have the distinction of being labeled “the team that nobody wants to play” which will undoubtedly infuriate Pete Carroll even more.

This sort of mess is what needs to happen for the heat to be turned up on BCS officials and college presidents. Fewer and fewer folks that matter support the BCS with each passing year. The more teams that get screwed, the more support it loses. Last year, it was Georgia’s President who reversed his stance and spoke out against a playoff. Only time will tell who it will be this year.

Unfortunately, random fan’s opinion makes no difference. Non random, powerful, fan, however, might get things moving in the right direction. Say, this guy…

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Will Bynum Show

Monday was a pretty exciting day to be a Pistons fan. Word leaked early in the day that the player with the third highest scoring average in NBA history was a Piston. The ramifications not only for this season but the next two off-seasons are sure to be profound. The move will certainly go down as one of Joe D’s greatest. However, nothing on Monday got me more excited than Will Bynum’s fourth quarter show against the Bobcats. I was calling everyone I knew to see if they were watching. I may have gotten a little too excited but it wasn’t by much. Bynum was simply unguardable.

(Bynum highlights at the 8:55 mark of the video)

Let me take you through the seven possession sequence in the fourth quarter:

Possession #1 Bynum hits an open 20 ft. jumper
Possession #2 Tayshaun Prince misses jumper
Possession #3 Bynum hits hanging jumper in the lane over S. Brown and E. Okafor.
Possession #4 Bynum blows by Brown for a lefty lay in
Possession #5 Bynum drives left and scores
Possession #6 Bynum draws a foul on a drive; hits A. Afflalo for a made jumper
Possession #7 Bynum takes Okafor off the dribble and finishes with his left hand

Bynum’s numbers for the game were pretty respectable for a guy who hardly plays.
He scored 12 points on 6 for 9 shooting and picked up four assists in just 22 minutes. However, those numbers do not do justice to what he accomplished on those seven consecutive possessions. The most impressive aspect of the run was that nobody else was involved. It was just Bynum isolating at the top of the key and breaking down his man off the dribble. Charlotte knew what was coming and still could do nothing about it. Bynum’s fourth quarter dominance against the Bobcats is one of the most impressive basketball displays I’ve seen this season. He’ll be relegated to the bench behind Allen Iverson and Rodney Stuckey once the trade goes through but don’t think Michael Curry—and the rest of the NBA—didn’t notice. I was jacked-up about watching Iverson’s Pistons-debut against Toronto. When I found out that the trade hadn’t gone through yet, I was briefly disappointed until I realized that meant more Bynum!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Joe the Dealer

Before I get started, I want to say "thank you" and "so long" to Chauncey Billups. He came to Detroit when the Pistons were struggling to find an identity. He gave Pistons fans six seasons of all-star level play and one of the most enjoyable and unexpected championships in Detroit sports history. He handled himself with class and was a great role model for the city and state. It was time to part ways but I will always root for him and he will always be a Piston in my book.

Moving along... Joe Dumars is a bad man. He just pulled off what amounts to Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson straight-up. Antonio McDyess tried his best to Geiger the trade but Denver apparently wanted to make the deal so badly that it didn’t even care if McDyess actually ended up on the team. McDyess will likely re-sign with the Pistons once he clears waivers and waits the requisite 30 days required to rejoin the Pistons.

Iverson is a better player than Billups. He’ll bring crunch-time scoring. He won’t be as big of a downgrade defensively as most people believe (Iverson will likely finish his career in the top five all-time in steals). In fact, you’ll see fewer PGs blowing by Iverson than you saw with Billups. Iverson will get his teammates better looks by getting to the rim. There is no doubt in my mind that I’d rather have Iverson than Billups right now. However, that’s not the best part of the trade. Joe D was able to rid himself of Mr. Big Shot’s contract. Billups wasn’t exorbitantly overpaid but his presence on the payroll through 2011 would’ve made it difficult for Detroit to make a splash in free agency. Iverson comes off the books after this season potentially giving the Pistons enough money to sign two max contract players over the next two seasons.

Pistons fans should get excited about what this could mean for the “Summer of LeBron.” Henry Abbott has already opined with the suggestion that the Pistons could sign both LeBron and Chris Bosh. Adrian Wojnarowski says the Pistons are now the frontrunners for LeBron’s services. Theoretically, they may have a point. Realistically, LeBron is not going to agree to play in Detroit. He has bigger cities to fry. Bosh, however, might be a possibility. There are so many superstars who will be free agents in 2010 that the Pistons are bound to run into someone who likes what they have to offer. Plus, there are only going to be so many teams that can offer a max contract. Amare Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, and Yao Ming will also be available among many others.

Still, it’s never a good idea to assume that a superstar player will sign a contract with a Detroit team not named the Red Wings. It doesn’t happen very often. In fact, I can’t think of a single example when a superstar free agent chose to play in Detroit. There have been players who were traded here (i.e. Miguel Cabrera and Rasheed Wallace) and then chose to re-sign. There have been over-the-hill superstars who agreed to take more money (i.e. Pudge Rodriguez) to play in Detroit. There just isn’t an example of a top-flight player who could’ve played anywhere and chose Detroit. I don’t think this is news to Joe-D. His best option is to make the Pistons as healthy for long term success as possible. He took a step in the right direction by signing RIP to an extremely reasonable extension. He has a talented young roster that would compliment a superstar or two. It won’t be easy to sell Detroit but it might not be as hard to sell Auburn Hills and a championship-caliber team. The Pistons haven’t gone superstar shopping for a while. Maybe Joe D has turned Detroit into a viable destination for NBA superstars since then.

Even though this trade was made mostly to help the Pistons when Iverson will be long gone, I think the addition of Iverson gives the Pistons a better chance of winning this year. The Pistons were not going to the NBA Finals with Billups let alone win a Championship. That will still likely be the case with Iverson but at least the Pistons will be able to counter the Eastern Conference superstars with a superstar of their own. The Pistons couldn’t score when it mattered in the playoffs. They couldn’t combat LeBron or KG. Their “team” philosophy was good enough to beat bad teams but wasn’t good enough to beat good teams or great players. Iverson improves their chances. Iverson has gotten a reputation of being a selfish, ball-hog. Some of that is warranted but it’s not nearly as bad as most think. Iverson has not been on good teams. He certainly has never played for a team as talented as the Pistons. He has been at his best in All-Star games where he could be a distributor first and a scorer second. That’s what he’ll get a chance to be for the Pistons. I would not be surprised if the Pistons finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference. Boston still gets the edge come playoff time—and probably in the regular season as well—but the gap has closed enough to make things interesting.

If nothing else, Iverson will make the Pistons watchable for the rest of the season. Nothing was more discouraging than turning it to FSN Detroit and—for a brief second before senses could be gathered—not knowing if it was 2006 or 2008. Now, I’ll know the Answer.

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