Friday, February 27, 2009

Roll the Dice in Boston

The Pistons have lost eight games in a row and it could quickly become ten with road games at Orlando and Boston over the weekend. They haven’t been below .500 this late in a season in eight years. The on-court part of the Iverson experiment has officially failed. Fortunately, the off-court part is why Joe D made the deal. No amount of terrible basketball between now and April will change that. Amazingly, the Pistons are still in 7th position in the Eastern Conference and could play sub .500-basketball for the rest of the season and still possibly make the playoffs. That’s how pathetic the Eastern Conference has been this season. My personal fan-code requires me to root for the best possible draft pick if/when it becomes evident that any shot at a deep run in the playoffs has been extinguished. I feel comfortable switching to that mode at this point and I urge everyone else to do the same. This team isn’t going anywhere except hopefully up the draft board.

I’m not particularly concerned or discouraged by Detroit’s performance. If anything, it surely provides the nail in the proverbial coffin for this group. It was a painfully slow demise that arguably began the moment the clock reached double zeros in Game Five against the Lakers in 2004. It was likely at that moment that complacency first emerged. Fans were treated to an excruciatingly slow death with the dual misfortunes of rooting for a team that isn’t good enough to win a championship but isn’t bad enough to significantly improve the roster. Because of that, I am incredibly happy that this era is over.

Something that I am not happy about in the slightest is the fortune—or misfortune—of Antonio McDyess. Five years ago, the Pistons were coming off their amazing upset of the Lakers in the NBA Finals. The fact that they boasted five All-Star starters under-30 made them the “it” team in the NBA. McDyess signed on with the Pistons for one reason—and one reason only—and that was to win a championship. Clearly, things did not go as McDyess had hoped. The Pistons never won a championship with/for him. The complacency that crept in after 2004 became a full-fledged cancer in subsequent years. While Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and—for a time—Ben Wallace were able to rest on their laurels, McDyess had none such to rest on. He was never complacent. In fact, he was the player most negatively affected by the complacency of the starting five. Nobody took losses harder than McDyess. Nobody has been more visibly upset by the Pistons failures—including the loss in the finals to the Spurs in ’05 and the loss to the Cavs in ’07—than McDyess. Championships are never a guarantee but surely McDyess would’ve signed somewhere else had he known how complacent his teammates would become.

McDyess is from Quitman, Mississippi. I can’t help but note the irony. The last few years have been especially frustrating and disappointing. Joe Dumars gave Dice a chance to get out when he included him in the trade with Denver that brought Iverson to Detroit. What followed was a series of events that seems almost unfathomable to anyone not named “Antonio McDyess.” Dice asked for a release from Denver—giving up nearly $9 million in salary in the process. After his release he was free to sign with any team in the league. If he wanted to re-sign with Detroit, he would need to wait 30 days per NBA rules. McDyess sat out the 30 days and spurned the chance to play with a championship contender simply to return to a team that saw its best days end five years ago. Just to recap, McDyess gave up $9 million, 30 days of playing basketball, and a chance to win a championship just to be able to return to the same team that had just cost him $9 million. He said his return to Detroit was fueled, in large part, by goals that he had yet to accomplish with the franchise. If those “goals” are the goals that I think he’s talking about, then they are goals that are certainly not going to happen. That was clear when he made the decision to return to the team. It would’ve been more than reasonable—in fact, extremely advisable—for Dice to get away from Detroit. Stubbornly, the guy from Quitman, just doesn’t quit, man.

Dice’s commitment to the organization is worthy of high praise in my opinion. It has given hope to every fan who has punched a wall or thrown a remote in bouts of uncontrollable frustration that the players actually care as much as the fans. I always wondered whether or not players got as pissed as I did but the fact that Dice stayed on the bench long after the Pistons were eliminated in Game Five of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals and then left the arena without changing out of his jersey answered that question for me. Antonio McDyess deserves something extraordinary. The fact that he has battled back from devastating knee injury after devastating knee injury…the fact that he is one of the nicest and most humble athletes in the world…the fact that he gave up $9 million just to reach a clearly unattainable goal with a franchise that had caused him to lose that money…there isn’t a player in the NBA that I root harder for. The one thing Dice has going for him is that his buyout and consequential resigning with the Pistons makes him a free agent next season. I realize I run the risk of angering the local masses but, Antonio McDyess, I am imploring you to sign with the Boston Celtics over the summer. You deserve to win a championship but, more importantly, you deserve to play with teammates who want to win as badly as you do.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On the road again

Many people have many different opinions on what Michigan needs to do to make the NCAA Tournament. However, I’m pretty confident that a .500 record in conference paired with a first-round win in the Big Ten Tournament would be enough. A win over Iowa on Sunday would’ve given Michigan an excellent shot at a .500 record in-conference. As a result, the Iowa-game was to be quite possibly the most important game the Michigan basketball program has played in 11 years.

One of the factors that Michigan had going for it before Sunday was the absence of any “bad losses” on its resume. A loss to Iowa would’ve changed that. As much as I wanted to believe that Michigan’s obvious superiority over Iowa this season meant something, I knew that “at Carver-Hawkeye Arena” meant much more. Michigan does not win road games against Big Ten teams that are better than “really, really bad.” Iowa has struggled in Todd Lickliter’s second season but the Hawkeyes have been a different team at home having beaten Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Indiana, while losing to Minnesota and Purdue by three and four points, respectively. Michigan, on the other hand, had been atrocious on the road losing to Illinois, Penn St., Ohio St., and Purdue by an average of 16.5 points—not to mention trailing Indiana (1-13 in the Big Ten) by 20 at the half. To summarize…Iowa had been competitive against good teams at home all season. Michigan had been uncompetitive against non-Indiana teams on the road all season. Those trends should’ve been the “canary in the coal mine” for anyone expecting an ‘M’ win. They were for me. This was a game that I did not want to watch. My heart was clearly anticipating it but my brain knew what was coming. Thankfully—and believe me I knew how fortunate I was at the time—I was bailed out at the last minute by a prior commitment that I had forgotten about. I had never been so happy to miss a Michigan sporting event in my life. Nothing that transpired in that game shocked me in the slightest. Sometimes, when you know what’s going to happen—and it isn’t good—you’re better off not putting yourself through it. Sanity should always trump fandom.

Michigan lost in brutally typical fashion and a minor controversy ensued. A lot has been made of John Beilein’s decision to pull Manny Harris in overtime. Per usual, the interested crowds have largely diverged into two groups: 1). OMG Worst Coach Ever! and 2). OMG Worst Player Ever! I don’t get into that stuff. The extremes on either side of an argument are rarely the best answer. Losing to this Iowa-team in a must-win game is unacceptable. Going to overtime against this Iowa-team in a must-win game is unacceptable. Falling down by 12 points in the first 10 minutes of the game to this Iowa-team in a must-win game is unacceptable. This game was lost well before Beilein’s decision. In fact, this game was probably lost before Michigan even left for Iowa City. There is a statistic from this game that should blow the minds of every person who has ever played basketball. Due to injuries, Iowa basically used five players the entire game. Four Hawkeyes played the whole game. The other guy played 38 of 45 minutes. It is astounding that the Michigan basketball program is not to the point where it can easily win a game against a team in that sort of predicament. None of the stuff that went on at the end of the game or in overtime matters to me. Sure, Big Ten refs suck poopsicles. If you are the better team and you play like it, referees cannot impact the game with one or two calls no matter how horrendous they are. Michigan lost because it played like garbage for 45 minutes against a weaker team—not because of one bad shot or decision.

I’m not concerned with one or two plays in a game. I’m concerned with how and why Michigan continues to allow the venue to dictate how well it’s going to play. There is absolutely no excuse for Michigan’s massive discrepancy in level of play on the road compared to home. College basketball has historically seen a huge difference in home and road performance but Michigan has taken it to a new level. It has been six years since Michigan won on the road against a team that finished above .500 in the Big Ten. Every other team in the conference—including both Northwestern and Penn St. this year—have at least one such win in the last three years. Seven of those ten teams have done it in the last year. Iowa won’t finish above .500 in conference but losing to a clearly inferior team in a crucial game is a microcosm of what has kept Michigan out of the NCAA Tournament for 11 years. It’s tough to make the tournament when you continually and predictably fall apart in virtually every road game.

Believe it or not, the plan for this post was to simply explore Michigan’s remaining “dead as a doornail” chances at getting an NCAA Tournament bid. Sorry for that rather lengthy detour but, here you go…While the Iowa-loss changes the likelihood of achieving what is necessary to get a bid; it doesn’t change what is actually necessary, in my opinion. If Michigan can get to .500 in-conference and avoid an upset in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, then it is tourney-bound. The problem is that Michigan’s remaining conference games are home against Purdue and on the road at Wisconsin and at Minnesota. We’re more likely to see Heath Ledger in the next Batman installment than a Michigan-win at Wisconsin. That means ‘M’ must win at home against Purdue and at Minnesota. Earlier in the season, Michigan was up in the second half at Purdue when Manny Harris got ejected for teaching Chris Kramer a lesson in personal space. Purdue is a good team but provides Michigan with a much more favorable personnel matchup than teams like Michigan St, Wisconsin, and Ohio St. Purdue is clearly the better team but I would put that game at 50/50 considering it’s in Ann Arbor.

If Michigan beats Purdue, then it will likely be playing at Minnesota in the season finale in a de facto elimination game for both teams. That game will have all the intrigue and excitement of a tournament game. Except, Michigan will have absolutely no chance of winning. We’re more likely to see Tony Soprano walk out of Holsten’s Diner than see ‘M’ come away with a victory at Williams Arena.

Michigan does not win road games against good teams. Maybe that will change some year but Sunday’s ineptitude in Iowa is proof enough for me that this is most definitely not that year. Obviously, with Michigan needing to win two road games against good teams one week to make the tournament, I believe the chances are very close to nil. If Michigan is, in fact, NIT-bound, then fans will have the choice of deciding whether this season is simply another meaningless disappointment in a seemingly never ending series of letdowns or a replica of the ’84 season that laid the groundwork for the revitalization of the Michigan basketball program. I’m going with the latter not because it’s the most logical but because the alternative is too depressing to consider.

Friday, February 20, 2009

"The Steroid Era" is non-negotiable

I don’t feel this way too often about the media’s sensationalistic nature but I think it has rightfully made a big deal out of the “steroids” issue. I’m sure most of you are nauseas from the coverage—I know I am at times—but this topic deserves the Brittney Spears-level scrutiny that it has received. I realize there is a double-standard going on in professional sports. Few people, if any, seem to care when players from the NFL get caught taking steroids. Some of that might have to do with the physical nature of professional football. Anyone who has seen Any Given Sunday in all its gory glory has an idea of what it takes to last in the NFL. I get the impression that players don’t take steroids in the NFL to break records—rather they take steroids just to survive in the league. I’m not saying that makes it OK. I’m just making a guess as to why fans and the media might be more tolerant of steroid-use in the NFL all things being equal. The problem for MLB is that all things aren’t equal. The difference in outrage between steroid-use in football and baseball would be incredibly hypocritical if it weren’t for two minor details: massive amounts of perjury and tainted records.

Major leaguers—the dishonest ones—might not have created the double standard but they certainly brought it to the level that it’s at now by doing two unforgivable things in the sports world: 1). Cheated their way to hallowed records and 2). Lied to grand juries. If NFL players did those things, they would get reamed by the media, too. Luckily for the NFL, none of its marquee records were shattered by steroid-users. If Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Miguel Tejada had told the truth, nobody would be facing jail-time. If Bonds and Mark McGwire hadn’t juiced themselves to the top of the record books with fantasyland numbers, the legitimacy of their career statistics would probably not be in question. Baseball players took drug use to a whole new level and now they’re paying for it.

A-Rod, of course, is the latest to pay. In the aftermath of his press conference--you know the one where he rolls on his cousin--the media held its breath for Derek Jeter's reaction. What Jeter had to say made my ears perk up like Shag and Scoob at a drive-thru:

“I mean, yeah, what, a hundred and some people failed a test. How many people are in the major leagues? 1,200? You’ve got 1,100 people that haven’t done it. So, let’s get that straight because that’s sending the wrong message…”

Say, what? Jeter whips out the tried and true ad hominem by objecting to his era being labeled “the steroid era” because everyone didn’t do it. Does that mean Wisconsin shouldn’t be referred to as “the Dairy State” because not everyone from Wisconsin likes cheese? Large amounts of players cheated. Therefore, it should be remembered as the era in which large amounts of players cheated. Then Jeter tried to pass off the 103 players who tested positive in 2003 as the only players who took steroids in his era. Anyone who is well-versed in the steroid revelations of the past ten years knows that Jeter is partaking in quite a heavy dose of revisionist history. The vast majority of players who took steroids took them before 2003. Mark McGwire and Ken Caminiti—two of the most notable steroid-users in MLB—weren’t even in the league anymore. Most of the players named in the Mitchell Report were out of the league by 2003.

The other part that Jeter conveniently ignores is that according to the Mitchell Report (and common sense) “smarter players” shifted to Human Growth Hormone (HGH) when it became apparent that steroids were being sniffed out. There wasn’t a test for HGH in 2003 and there isn’t one now. There is no telling how many players took steroids or HGH in Jeter’s era but that total is significantly higher than the percentage that Jeter infers. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that most players would’ve stopped taking steroids if they knew they were going to be tested for steroids? The fact that 5-7% (Mitchell Report) of MLB was still using steroids in the face of testing should indicate that the number of players who were using before testing was considerably higher. It would be shocking to find that number below 20% and that’s just counting steroids. Who knows what the number rises to with the inclusion of HGH?

Everyone loves Derek Jeter so he can get away with saying things that don’t make sense but what he said, well, doesn’t make sense. The fact that hundreds of players cheated in one era is more than enough cause to label that era by the cheating that was done. The fact that the two greatest players of said era—Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds—were cheats makes it even more reasonable.

I understand the position that Jeter is in. Assuming he did not take steroids—the four people on my “probably did not take steroids list” are Ken Griffey Jr., Jamie Moyer, Derek Jeter, and David Wells—Jeter has the misfortune of being lumped in with the transgressors of his era. I’m sure it’s frustrating enough to know that many of the hitters that he’s being compared to cheated to get their statistics. It must be doubly frustrating to know that many of his legitimate statistics were put up against pitchers who were also cheating. While I understand Jeter’s personal frustration, I do not understand his defense of an era that has clearly been soiled by cheating. The statistical credibility of his era is shot. “Everyone” might not have been doing it but enough were; including the two best players in the league. I don’t know what his motivation was for attacking the “Steroid Era” moniker but it was a feeble attempt at best. He should know more than anyone how much of an impact steroids had on his era. Twenty-three of his former teammates were named in the Mitchell Report. Four of the five highest paid Yankees in 2007 allegedly used steroids. He was the one who didn’t.

The last 10-12 years have undoubtedly been “the steroid era.” Other acceptable names include; “lying era”, “perjury era”, "cheating era", “shrinkage era”, “Cro-Magnon head era” and “I did not intentionally take steroids era.” If Jeter prefers any of those monikers, then I’m willing to compromise. Otherwise, “the steroid era” is non-negotiable.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Common Sense Prevails

For the second consecutive year, it looks like Michigan will be forced to throw a freshman quarterback into an impossible situation. The difference, though, is that this year—good or bad—the results will be meaningful. The most frustrating aspect of last season’s debacle was its status as a lost season. Most programs featuring a system-change rely on “year one” to get the team acclimated to the new system. That year tends to be instrumental in the progress made over the next few years. “Year one” under Rodriguez was not only a disaster on the scoreboard but it did little to benefit the progress of the program moving forward. It didn’t matter how well or poorly Steve Threet played. Any amount of progress—and there wasn’t a whole lot—would be irrelevant beyond last season because the only way Michigan was going to dramatically improve was with a dual-threat QB—i.e. not Threet—running the show.

Threet came to Michigan to play in the old Michigan offense that featured tall, strong-armed signal callers. When Lloyd Carr stepped down and Rich Rodriguez came in to run the spread, Threet commendably stuck around to see how things went. What he ended up “seeing” was as inevitable as a Twinkie wrapper in Justin Boren’s dashboard. The spread does not work with slow, 6’5 quarterbacks. The whole point of the spread is the zone read. The QB reads the defensive end and based on that “read” either hands it off or keeps it. If your QB is too slow to do anything with it when he keeps it, then you’re not really running “the spread”; rather a sick and twisted version that features massive punt totals.

Threet’s performance was admirable last season but numbers tend not to lie. He was ineffective and that’s the kindest possible word I could’ve used. He was last among Big Ten starters in QB rating, completion percentage, passing yards, and yards per attempt. The only quarterback who was worse in the Big Ten was Nick Sheridan—his teammate. Rodriguez is smart enough to know that three more years of Threet would’ve spelled the end of his career at Michigan. Threet has always been lauded for his “smarts” and—thankfully—turned out to be smart enough to know that he wouldn’t have lasted another year as the starter at Michigan let alone three. His decision to transfer was the best decision for all parties involved.

Tate Forcier will more than likely be the starting QB in the fall. His competition—fellow true freshman Denard Robinson—is talented but won’t have the invaluable experience that Forcier will have picked up by enrolling early. Some suggest that losing Threet will have a huge negative impact on the 2009 season. Threet’s “experience” is often cited as the reason. I don’t buy it. There is a point at which “experience” means nothing. For instance, what if Michael Phelps was Michigan’s QB last season? The results would’ve been apocalyptically bad but—assuming he didn’t get injured and Michigan had no other options—he would be returning this season with “experience.” Obviously, Threet is a better quarterback than Michael Phelps. My point is that anyone can have “experience.” The people citing Threet’s “experience” as a detrimental loss need to figure out at what point “experience” becomes worthless. Don’t forget that Threet’s “experience” was that of the worst starting QB in the Big Ten playing in a system that couldn’t be more ill-fitted to his strengths if it required him to return punts.

Threet’s decision to leave wasn’t shocking or unexpected to me. Midway through 2008, I remarked in conversations that the best decision for him—not to mention Michigan—was for him to transfer at the end of the season to a system that fits his strengths. Surprisingly, that opinion was not universally held. Threet has received quite a bit of criticism for “quitting.” That’s about as assbackwards as the folks who are lamenting the loss of his “experience.” He was the victim of a coaching change. If anything, people should be feeling bad for him. I can only imagine the excitement that he must have felt when he first made the decision to transfer to Michigan. Unfortunately, scripts change and Threet found himself the proverbial “fish out of water.” The fact that he stayed amid the system-change and even considered staying for a second year of physical abuse should be extremely noteworthy in the minds of fans.

Before Threet’s transfer came to light, I had been working on a post where I was basically “going out on a limb” by predicting that Forcier would be the opening game starter in 2009. As recent as last weekend (before Threet’s transfer), that was not the popular opinion but I just could not fathom the idea that a quarterback as athletic, accurate, and fast as Forcier—true freshman or not—could not clearly distinguish himself from a slow-footed, accuracy-challenged sophomore. We’ll never know how that battle would’ve turned out but my opinion that Forcier would’ve been the starter anyway seriously softens the blow of Threet’s departure in my mind. Forcier is what RR was praying for when he arrived on campus last year. I would be willing to bet that Rodriguez feels it pivotal to get Forcier as many snaps as possible this season. Threet’s departure makes that a near certainty. It also gives Forcier all the snaps in both spring and fall practices.

I find it peculiar that Threet’s “experience” is being cited as a big loss yet nobody seems to be citing Nick Sheridan’s “experience” as a positive. Doesn’t Sheridan also have the “experience” that Threet has? Sheridan didn’t even come to Michigan to play football. He was an average high school quarterback. His performance in 2008 was historically bad. Yet, he not only held his own with Threet but won the quarterback competition coming out of fall practice. Threet eventually became the starter but was so indistinguishable that Sheridan stayed in the mix. As a result, Sheridan has “experience.” Is there anyone out there who feels that losing Sheridan’s “experience” would be detrimental to the team? Both Threet and Sheridan were atrocious in 2008. Neither have “experience” that Michigan needs right now and neither are better fits to the run the spread than Forcier. I realize that the idea of the 2009 season being in the hands of a true freshman quarterback is uncomfortable to most people. It’s uncomfortable to me. However, artificially inflating Threet’s prowess doesn’t change anything. Michigan doesn’t need bad experience at QB; it needs talent and play-making. If you want “experience”, then rest-assured that Nick Sheridan is still around.

There is no doubt that Forcier will make mistakes. He will be overwhelmed and he will frustrate fans. That is inevitable. However, Michigan’s offense was epically bad last season because its QBs were cement-footed and couldn’t hit an open receiver with consistency. Forcier is incredibly accurate and he’s fleet of foot. He doesn’t need to win games with his arm and he won’t be asked to. As a freshman in Rodriguez’s spread offense, Pat White only threw for 100+ yards three times. All Forcier needs to do is make the Michigan offense multi-dimensional. His physical skills should all but guarantee that. Michigan was never going to be a good team with Steve Threet at QB let alone beat Ohio State. His decision to leave only speeds up Michigan’s transformation to a well-functioning spread team. By 2010, Forcier will have an entire season of meaningful experience and the UM offense should be ready to roll. Anyone who expected marked improvement before 2010 under Threet was clearly unfamiliar with his mobility, accuracy, and 40-time.

With Threet out of the picture—and a true dual-threat QB in it—I would be surprised if the Michigan offense was not significantly better this season. Defenses were less than honest in 2008. They took advantage of Michigan’s obvious shortcomings. They keyed on running backs because they knew Threet could not beat them with his legs. Sam McGuffie’s inability to remember his name for parts of the season attest to that. They also knew that Threet did not have the accuracy or the pocket presence to attack downfield with his arm. If you’re running the spread and your QB can’t run or throw, you are going to lose to teams like Toledo. Conversely, if you’re running the spread and your QB can run and throw, then look no further than WVU ’05 for the possibilities. That’s the best case scenario. Worst case scenario should still be considerably better than what we saw in 2008. Forcier—mistakes and all—will immediately change everything; unless, of course, Denard Robinson does instead.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Free Amare!

The NBA Trade Deadline is in six days. If you doubted Steve Kerr’s ability to destroy the Phoenix Suns even more than he already has, then stay-tuned! Kerr’s insistence on moving Amare Stoudemire has garnered a lot of attention around the league. One of those teams reportedly interested is the Detroit Pistons. Last week I wrote about the peculiar situation that Joe D finds himself in with respect to the cap. He has millions to burn in a city that rarely, if ever, attracts basketball talent via free agency. Even with $35 million to spend, getting shut out in the “Summer of LeBron” is a possibility. With LeBron eyeing New York City and Dwyane Wade failing miserably at hiding his affinity for Chicago, the frenzy of teams going after the rest of the elite talent in 2010 will be fierce. Anything Joe D can do to avoid having to sell “playing basketball in Detroit” to players looking for sunnier destinations needs to be explored. The most obvious solution is to circumvent free agency all together and make a trade. Players don’t mind being traded to Detroit but nobody ever wants to sign (not re-sign) with Detroit. Stoudemire has already gone on record saying that he loves Detroit and its fans. That’s a start.

The problem with the whole “trade for Amare” thing is that we’re not talking about a run-of-the-mill player. We’re talking about Amare frickin’ Stoudemire. When “Amare” and “available” are used in the same sentence, NBA GMs gear up like sportswriters at a free buffet. Amare is an explosive, 26-year old, offensive juggernaut. He is virtually unguardable in the post and is extremely competitive. Simply having interest doesn’t differentiate the Pistons from any other team in the NBA. What might differentiate them is the ability to offer Rasheed Wallace or Allen Iverson’s expiring contract. Kerr has said that it would take the combination of an expiring contract and talented players to pry Amare from Phoenix. The problem the Pistons will have on closing a deal is that they might not be able to make the money work. Rip Hamilton or Tayshaun Prince are good enough players to get a deal done but they make too much money. If the Pistons combined either with Rasheed or Iverson, the Suns would be taking on too much money to make the trade work. A third team could be sought but that complicates an already complicated situation. Complicated or not, Joe D should be doing whatever it takes—short of giving up Rodney Stuckey—to bring Amare to Detroit.

The Pistons could offer Rasheed, Amir Johnson, and a first round draft pick but that falls below Kerr’s absolutely insane asking price of “every good player you have.” Kerr obviously doesn’t understand that nobody ever gets top dollar for a superstar in a trade. Case in point, he asked the Grizzlies for Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, and Hakim Warrick in exchange for Amare. Rumors that he also asked for Jesus to be included appear to be unfounded. Kerr might not understand how things work in the NBA—that could be the understatement of the century—but his insistence on getting top-dollar for Amare has probably helped the Pistons. The Grizz have no doubt been turned off. Kerr reportedly asked Portland for LaMarcus Aldridge, Jerryd Bayless, and Raef LaFrentz’s expiring contract which is, like, wow! That has apparently turned Portland off.

With two of the early leaders in the Amare sweepstakes turning down borderline offensive offers, Miami and Chicago have become the leading candidates to land him. The Heat reduced their bargaining power by trading Shawn Marion to the Raptors. The Bulls, on the other hand, could put together a dynamite trade offer. “Could” is the key word there. The Bulls are no strangers to trade talks. Their failure to land Kevin Garnett from the T-Wolves two years ago ranks up there with Green Bay’s refusal to trade a lousy 4th round draft pick for Randy Moss as one of the worst front office decisions in sports history. Over the last few years the Bulls have not been close to breaking through as an elite team in the Eastern Conference which is something that KG would’ve all but guaranteed. Two years after blowing a KG-deal, they are in nearly the identical situation. Hoping for another bout of stupidity is probably too much to ask for. The Bulls front office knows they’re terrible. One would think they wouldn’t miss out on a superstar for a second time. Any deal that the Bulls put together will likely include Tyrus Thomas, Drew Gooden’s expiring contract and a third player. That third player is going to determine whether a trade gets accomplished. If it’s Andreas Nocioni, then Chicago clearly hasn’t learned anything. If it’s Joakim Noah, then Amare might be headed to Chicago.

With Marion out of the picture, Miami is struggling to remain a player. Phoenix reportedly doesn’t have interest in the Heat’s main bargaining chip: Michael Beasley. However, Miami is clearly trying to get a deal done and seem to be the most persistent of all the teams that are after Amare. If the Pistons can get a third team involved, though, I think they can make the best offer. Rasheed isn’t just an expiring contract. He would be a perfect fit next to Shaq in the frontcourt. Tayshaun—the Suns already have Jason Richardson so they might not want/need Rip—would add a stout defensive presence and give the Suns a legitimate shot at winning this year. Hopefully, Joe D’s persistence is greater than Pat Riley’s.

If talks with Phoenix on the Amare front fall through, Joe should think about offering Allen Iverson for Shaq. Shaq has been playing outstanding basketball this year and would be a godsend for the Pistons in the paint. His contract expires next season just in time for the “Summer of LeBron.” Joe mentioned that he would not make a trade that compromised his cap security for the 2010 free agent class. An Iverson-for-Shaq trade would do no such thing. Shaq would be a much better fit in Detroit than Iverson and Phoenix could get Shaq’s $21 million contract off the payroll next season. This move would help the Pistons avoid having to sign mid-tier free agents this off-season just to get over the salary floor. Right now, the Pistons have roughly $38 million tied up in nine players next season. The floor this season was roughly $44 million. Joe’s going to have to figure out how to sign five players for at least $6 million without messing up his financial position for 2010. Either way, the Suns appear to be the team the Pistons need to be talking to. Lucky for Joe D, the All-Star game is this weekend—in Phoenix!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

MLB needs to discount steroid-stats

Since it “flew under the radar” over the weekend, I just wanted to start off by letting you know that Alex Rodriguez failed a drug test in 2003. Kidding, of course, but I applaud those of you who were able to stay sane in spite of ESPN’s obsessive-compulsive coverage. It wasn’t easy.

A-Rod has been a lighting rod for criticism ever since he signed a 10-year, $252 million contract with the Rangers in 2001 so it’s no wonder ESPN felt compelled to go overboard to the point that even the good people of Tanzania are now fully aware of his transgressions. I didn’t expect that A-Rod had taken steroids but I wasn’t shocked by the news, either. My first two thoughts were 1). people who leak things they aren’t supposed to should go to jail and 2). the odds of Albert Pujols being clean keep going down with every new revelation. I don’t mean to sound cynical but when Neifi Perez and Alex Sanchez get busted for steroids, you kind of lose the ability to “be surprised” on this front.

I don’t share the mass scale of hatred that the sports world seems to have for A-Rod. He’s not my favorite player by any means but few things irritate me more than seeing someone get abused far beyond what they deserve. A-Rod has unquestionably been one of those people. This revelation clearly changes my perception of him as a baseball player. His statistical-prowess immediately loses credibility. So, while other people are busy piling onto the already gargantuan A-Rod hate-mountain, my thoughts have been on “saving” baseball. If MLB doesn’t intervene—not just to deter drug-use in the future but to tangibly fix the mess it has caused in the record books—the steroid-era could destroy the statistical aspect of baseball. Most of you know that the majority of baseball’s attractiveness involves “statistics.” That’s what gives baseball the advantage over other sports and that’s, in large part, the reason it developed into “America’s Pastime”.

Do you remember what baseball was like before the steroid-era? Remember when Cecil Fielder hit 51 home runs in 1990? That story was bigger than Barry Bonds’s ego. Fielder was the first player to hit 50+ home runs since George Foster did it in 1977. Over 12 seasons, from 1977-1989, MLB saw one 50-HR season. In the steroid-era, Roger Maris’s record—one that he held for 37 years—was bested six times. Mark McGwire hit 70 in ’98 and Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001. Without steroids, all of that record breaking will be paralyzed—maybe forever. Fielder’s quest for 50 was huge in 1991 before the steroid-era. As drugs make their way out of baseball, "50" home runs will once again become a notable accomplishment but nobody will care. Cecil’s son—Prince—hit 50 in 2007 and it was barely newsworthy. Fans have gotten so used to seeing inflated numbers that a return to pre-steroid era production could end up being a buzzkill.

The idea that baseball will be plagued by unbreakable records is a legitimate one. Take a look at the all-time single-season home run leaders. The top six occurred between 1998-2001. Without drugs, the astronomical numbers that have been put up over the last ten years will never be approached again. A-Rod will likely break a number of records but now that he has been “outed”, those records will be tainted as well. MLB needs to take drastic action to keep “statistics” an intriguing part of the game. Right now, the “500” home run mark has become watered-down as have many other notable milestones. The next generation of hitters—a generation presumably without steroids—will undoubtedly be held to the steroid standards. When they predictably fail to live up to those numbers, baseball is going to have a problem keeping fans interested. Of course, there is a subsection of fans who love the game no matter what. The group that MLB needs to be concerned about is the one that showed interest when steroids entered the fray. Those fans aren’t going to enjoy watered-down numbers. Fans across the board aren’t going to enjoy a sport plagued by unbreakable records.

There are a few ways MLB can go about avoiding this fate. I don’t believe it’s enough to simply increase the punishment for drug-offenses. Severe consequences are necessary to deter future use but they do nothing to alleviate the statistical problem the steroid-era has created. MLB needs to protect its statistics by somehow labeling or altering the validity of steroid stats. One way is to simply remove statistics attained in the steroid-era from the record books. Pretend it never happened. I’m not a big fan of that approach because most people can agree that Ken Griffey Jr. probably did not take steroids. It’s not a certainty but he is the one power-hitter of his generation that most can agree did his damage cleanly. Griffey—and players like him—should not be punished because “most” were doing it. Additionally, most can also agree that Roger Clemens was already a HOF pitcher before he began taking steroids. This course of action probably goes a bit overboard and I doubt MLB would ever consider such a drastic action.

Another option is to remove statistics accumulated by players who took steroids. This is better than the first option. It’s not a blanket punishment handed out to offenders and non-offenders alike. The problem is deciding whose statistics to remove and what years to remove them from. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were two of the greatest baseball players of all-time before they ever laid a finger on steroids (assuming both did, of course). I doubt that players will cooperate enough—with the exception of A-Rod who deserves credit for doing what others haven’t—to admit the specific timeframes in which they used steroids. So, it becomes a guessing game. The other question is what to do with players who haven’t failed drug tests (i.e. Sammy Sosa) but are suspected to have used steroids. This option would require a lot of guessing and players like Sosa could certainly fall through the cracks.

The last option that I’ll discuss is the asterisk. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, and Rafael Palmeiro have all likely taken steroids. In the event that any of them hold a record, MLB could recognize multiple records. For instance, since only suspected steroid-users have broken Roger Maris’s single-season record, MLB could reinstate Maris’s single-season record as the non-steroid era record. Bonds could then have the distinction of being the single-season home run holder in the steroid-era. The problem here again involves Sosa. Since he has not failed a drug test, he cannot officially be lumped in with Bonds, Rodriguez, and Palmeiro. Where does MLB draw the line?

Some people don’t like the asterisk. I understand the arguments against it. Pitchers have been “scuffing” the ball for years to get an unfair advantage. Players have been taking methamphetamines or “greenies” for years to ward off fatigue. Cheating has been a part of baseball for years and it probably will always be in some form or another. Some suggest that it’s hypocritical to punish steroid-users and not do the same to ball-scuffers or methamphetamine-users. That’s the easy way out, in my opinion. Just because people cheated in the past doesn’t mean that people cheating now or in the future should be treated the same way. Plus, “greenies” and “ball-scuffing” never had anything close to the impact on baseball as steroids. The asterisk is not a popular notion. The one given to Roger Maris after breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record was incredibly controversial to the point that it was eventually removed. Despite the controversy, I think MLB had the right idea. Ruth’s home run record shouldn’t have been tossed aside because eight games were added to the schedule. That’s ridiculous. Ruth almost certainly would’ve hit more than 61 home runs had he been privy to the 162-game schedule. An asterisk was a reasonable thing to consider. Either that, or separate records should’ve been given. Maris should be the all-time single season record holder in the 162-game schedule and Ruth should be for the 154-game schedule. Neither should be considered the unequivocal single-season record holder. What if MLB reduced its schedule to 130 games? It’s unlikely that any record would ever be broken again. That’s a silly concept. Record books would be forced to adjust for the new schedule so that "new" records could be achieved. The asterisk gives baseball the opportunity to acknowledge the feats that were accomplished in an “apples to oranges” situation. MLB could just as easily opt for “multiple record holders” in lieu of the asterisk.

I don’t believe that any of the options that I’ve discussed are perfect. However, I don’t think that should stop MLB from doing something. Breaking records is what baseball is about. With steroid stats officially on the books combined with MLB’s big crackdown on drug-use, “breaking records” could be on the brink of extinction. No sport provides more statistical intrigue than baseball. Without that intrigue, baseball becomes just another sport.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Download #2 Complete

Transitioning a football program from a pro-style offense to a spread offense is tough enough regardless of the situation. When that transition takes place in the face of a relentless media storm at an elite program that has historically fought change, the job becomes a nightmare. Rich Rodriguez clearly enjoys being at Michigan. I know this because despite the heaping pile of garbage that he has had to deal with from bitter old men with deadlines to dimwitted fans, he keeps showing up with a smile on his face. He has received more criticism in the last year than most coaches receive in a lifetime. It has gotten so petty that most of it has taken on a life of its own. Here’s a recap of just some of the misconceptions and why you’re a tool if you believe them…

1). Rodriguez ruined Michigan’s season because he “put all his eggs” in the Terrell Pryor-basket.

That would be true, I suppose, if it were “Opposite Day.” Rodriguez didn’t get to hit the recruiting trail until the beginning of January—only one month before signing day. Most quarterbacks had long been signed by other programs. He told anyone who would listen that he was trying to sign two quarterbacks. He strongly pursued, B.J. Daniels and Chris Harper before being forced to go with Justin Feagin. Rumors at various internet-locations suggest Rodriguez stopped recruiting Daniels when he asked for money. The Pryor-saga went on for more than two months after signing day. By that time, Michigan had already come up empty in its quest to find a QB. Going after Pryor at that point was a no-brainer. Had Rodriguez not pursued Pryor, he would’ve been criticized for that, too. It must be great to be Rodriguez.

2). Rodriguez doesn’t care about tradition because he didn’t know that Michigan gives its #1 jersey to a wide receiver.

So, yeah. He cares so little about tradition that when he found out about the #1 jersey he apologized and rectified the situation. I’ve even heard the “tradition” angle used in conjunction with Rodriguez’s preference to name captains after the season rather than before. Yeah, that’s right. Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez to implement an entirely new system but be totally unoriginal in doing so. Since when are coaches criticized for how they select captains? The fact that people can say this with a straight face is concerning.

3). Rodriguez is a money-hungry, job-hopper for leaving WVU.

This is easily the most egregious of the misconceptions because it sounds the worst. Ready to hear how much of a money-chaser Rodriguez is? He was so concerned about money that he ditched West Virginia for a measly $750,000 per year raise. That’s a lot of money to you and me but it’s not enough to put him among the top ten paid coaches in college football. He makes $4 million less than Bob Stoops per year. He makes $500,000 less than Kirk Ferentz in his own conference. The “job-hopper” part would be compelling if virtually every coach in college football hasn’t left a job while under contract. Remember the outrage when—just four months after signing a contract extension with Cincinnati through 2010—Mark Dantonio left Cincinnati to go to Michigan St.? Oh, wait...there wasn’t any.

4). Rodriguez broke an unwritten “code” among Big Ten coaches by signing an in-conference decommitment.

Mark Dantonio broke the sacred “code” twice this year. Joe Paterno did it twice to Michigan this year. In fact, six of the eleven Big Ten teams did it this year alone. One who didn’t? Rich Rodriguez. You won’t hear that from the media, though. “Coaches doing normal things” doesn’t sell newspapers unless its Rodriguez doing them.

5). Rodriguez is a weasel for trying to duck the buy-out clause in his WVU contract.

Yep, it’s big, bad Rich Rodriguez’s fault because the Michigan Athletic Department—you know, the party responsible for paying the majority of RR’s buyout—wanted to negotiate to save itself some money. You might remember the exact same scenario sans the criticism when Michigan hired John Beilein from the same institution just a year earlier. The only difference was that without the bogus “outrage”, the Michigan Athletic Department was able to reduce the buyout in Beilein’s contract. Ripping the 'M' AD for trying to reduce a buyout doesn't sell. That's why it got pinned on Rodriguez.

6). Rodriguez ruined his first season at Michigan because he drove off Ryan Mallett.

I hear new ones all the time. This is one I heard recently. Yep, it was Rodriguez who drove Mallett off and not the other way around. Naturally, Mallett—a slow, 6’9, pro-style quarterback—was just dying to run the spread offense until mean, old Rich Rodriguez told him to get lost. Plus, Mallett was so good the year before—extreme sarcasm intended—that he certainly would’ve led Michigan to a bowl game despite being a Steve Threet-clone. You either have a dual-threat QB or you don't. Michigan didn't and won three games. Rodriguez didn't have one in his first year at WVU and also won three games. It's not rocket science.

Here’s an idea that someone can make money off of. Instead of picking and choosing what to blame RR for, let’s just blame him for everything. South Park made the phrase “Blame Canada” famous. Someone needs to make a shirt that reads, “Blame Rodriguez.” A guy who’s responsible for pretty much all of the ills in the universe at least deserves a shirt, wouldn’t you say?

Implementing the spread at a stubborn college football institution is hard enough. Doing it while undergoing one of the most misguided character assassinations in sports history ramps up the degree of difficulty just above a Bear Grylls journey to Patagonia and just below ripping a Krispy Kreme doughnut from Charlie Weiss’ hands. Rodriguez is smart enough to know the worst is likely over. That’s why you saw him grinning with glee on network after network discussing his latest recruiting class on signing day. The critics get uncharacteristically quiet when they are forced to look at the facts.

RR’s second recruiting class—and first full class—represents a symbolic move forward. The local media—the most unaccommodating media perhaps in America—couldn’t negatively spin RR’s second consecutive top-ten recruiting class even if it tried—and believe me it tried. The addition of Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson—two of the top dual threat QBs in the country—gives all of the bashers a very short window to get in last minute jabs. As long as Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan were RR’s only QBs, people were lining up to lob criticism. The Sparty-heavy local media—you know the one that ran the erroneous headline claiming that Michigan St. might have a better recruiting class than ‘M’ for the first time in 20 years—knows that those days are going to be over sooner than later. Mark Dantonio—whether he admits it or not—knows that beatdowns are coming his way. This isn’t the first time I’ve said this but the equation for success in college football is simply “elite talent plus elite coaching.” It is incredibly rare—in fact, I can’t think of a single instance of this unless you want to call Charlie Weiss an elite coach—for a football program to have an elite coach and elite football players and not be a powerhouse. Before Rodriguez turned heel and hated babies, he was universally considered among the top coaches in college football. It’s tough to argue that Michigan isn’t working its way to having one of the most talented groups of players in college football considering consecutive top ten recruiting classes and another one on the way next season. Barring an unforeseen tragedy, Michigan’s future under RR is inevitable. It is amazing to me that there are people out there who don’t realize this.

Before I dig into Michigan’s class, let’s get the ridiculous Michigan St.-comparison out of the way. If you think Michigan St. beat Michigan in recruiting this year, then your name is either Tom Lemming, Mark Dantonio, or you’re in your 8th year of undergrad at MSU. Although the discrepancy between the two classes was bigger in Scout’s rankings, I prefer Rivals so I will use Rivals to make the comparison. Another of the seemingly million examples of the media’s distortion of RR, is the claim that Michigan St. dominated Michigan on the in-state recruiting scene. That argument only works if everyone pretends that Rodriguez actually focused on the players Michigan St. signed. William Campbell was, by far, the #1 player in the state. In fact, the difference between Campbell and the #2 in-state prospect could be the greatest discrepancy between #1 and #2 in Michigan recruiting history. Rodriguez wanted Campbell and he got Campbell. After that, he largely ignored the state’s underwhelming 2009-talent. The 2010 in-state crop is considerably more talented and RR has responded with a bevy of offers. People usually look at what they own before they brag about owning it. Of the top 250 players in the country according to Rivals, Michigan scored 13. The #1 Rivals recruiting class in the country—Alabama—also came away with 13. Michigan St. came away with four. Woo hoo! MSU owns a brand new P.T. Cruiser. Brag away! Michigan came away with a Benz and boy are they jealous of State's pimpin' wheels. Why do I get the feeling that the spinsters are seriously considering the “opposite day” angle?

RR’s first full class at Michigan could be the best class the program has had since at least 2002 which is as far back as the Rivals database goes. Nobody is going to confuse this class with the 1998 haul that was possibly the greatest ‘M’ class of all-time. It’s pretty damn good, though--good enough to be ranked the 7th best class in the country by Rivals. Considering it was put together in the face of a 3-9 season and negative recruiting thaLinkt would make Coach Pete Bell proud, I think it’s safe to say that Rodriguez is entering the elite realm of recruiters. Over the last two years, Rodriguez has signed 31 four-star (including one five-star) recruits. That’s impressive for any school. Among the positions that were strengthened significantly by this recruiting class are offensive line, defensive line, and quarterback. Michigan signed three four-star linemen. With six true freshmen linemen redshirting last season, Michigan will have nine freshmen linemen entering 2009. The defensive line was probably the most impressive position group with the addition of Campbell, Craig Roh, and Anthony LaLota. Roh is a fierce pass-rusher who garnered considerable praise at the Under Armour AA game. Then, to the chagrin of Jim Tressell, Michigan landed Justin Turner who was the #1 player in the state of Ohio. Of the 22 signees, 10 played in either the Under Armour or U.S. Army High School All-American Game.

Michigan Stadium is undergoing a major facelift with an ETA of Fall 2010. If you drive back and forth across the intersection of Stadium and Main a few times, it is unlikely that you will find people ridiculing the scaffolding and construction equipment as eye soars and the workers for not being finished yet. That would look incredibly silly and would quite likely result in being admitted to the psychiatric ward of the University of Michigan Hospital. The Michigan football program is under construction. The only difference is that the ETA is unknown. So, laugh and ridicule at your own peril. Oh, and by the way, I thought about adding in advance “Rodriguez has no class because he runs up the score” to the misconception list above but that won't be a misconception. RR’s rebuttal is going to be fun.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Joe D needs to be extra frugal this summer

When Joe D shipped Chauncey Billups to Denver for Allen Iverson, the fact that the Pistons got A.I.’s services on the court for the rest of the season was just an added bonus. Whether A.I. actually meshed with the Pistons was irrelevant. The main reason—and likely only reason—Joe D made the trade was because of the insane amount of cap space it freed up for the Pistons. With the expiring contracts of Iverson and Rasheed Wallace alone, the Pistons will shed roughly $35.5 million at the end of this season which translates to roughly $22 million in spending money since teams can't go over the cap through free agency. That combined with the money that comes off the books next season could give the Pistons close to $30 million to burn during the “Summer of Lebron.” Trading Rip Hamilton and his incredibly reasonable contract would free up close to $40 million.

Joe D has put the Pistons in great shape cap-wise. However, it’s not going to be easy to turn that money into elite production. While the 2010 NBA free agent class has to be considered one of the greatest free agent classes in sports history, the 2009 class is putrid. It’s so bad that Jon Koncak could probably come out of retirement in July and sign a max contract. I’m not even going to try to put the available unrestricted free agents in order of importance but the list goes a little something like this: Ben Gordon, Jason Kidd, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Shawn Marion, Andre Miller, and Anthony Parker. None are worthy of a max contract. Clearly, these guys are quality players but the fact that they are the best available is what makes 2009 “The Year Before The Year of LeBron.” The ‘09 class will almost certainly be joined by Carlos Boozer who has made it clear that he’s considering a nasty ending to a second NBA marriage. Al Harrington also has a Player Option. Jamal Crawford, Hedo Turkoglu, Mehmet Okur, and Kobe Bryant all have ETOs (Early Termination Option). All but Kobe are set to make under $10 million next year and—by exercising their ETOs—they can avoid the headache that would come with being second-tier free agents in the "Summer of LeBron."

There is no doubt that there are a number of players listed above who could help the Pistons next season and beyond. However, I’m sure Joe D will tell you that he’d rather spend his money on the massive haul of elite players in the 2010 free agent class. Joe D finds himself in the unenviable position of having $35.5 million coming off the books a year early. He is too smart and savvy to blow his unique financial position on a long-term contract to someone like Lamar Odom or Andre Miller. He does face a few roadblocks, though. First, the NBA has a salary floor. This season, the floor is roughly $44 million. The Pistons only have $33 million attributed to next year’s cap. It the floor doesn’t change, Joe D will have to spend over $10 million to get above the floor. The second problem is that NBA players rarely, if ever, sign one-year contracts. To get over the floor he’ll have to sign a free agent. To sign a free agent he’ll likely have to sign someone for more than one year. Signing someone for more than one year would seriously hamper the “Summer of LeBron” from the Pistons perspective.

Before I delve further into this, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the possibility of signing Carlos Boozer this summer. Boozer will likely be the most sought after free agent in the ’09 class. Like Elton Brand last season, Boozer’s injury will not keep teams from throwing max contracts at him. When healthy, Boozer is a force in the paint. Over the last three years, he has averaged 21 points and 11 boards while shooting over 55% from the field. The problem is that Boozer is rarely healthy. He has only averaged 60 games per year throughout his career. There is no question that Boozer’s prowess in the paint would be a welcome change from Rasheed’s paint allergies. The inside/outside game of Rodney Stuckey and Carlos Boozer would be a potent combination to go along with the addition of a max player in 2010. The first thing Joe has to do is decide if Boozer’s injury history merits a max contract. Even if he thinks it does, convincing Boozer to come to Detroit will not be easy. I’m leery of Boozer’s injury history and attitude but I also realize that the best scenario for the Pistons is to add a max contract in 2009 and then another in 2010. That would be best for the cap and it would guarantee that the Pistons don’t come away with nothing if nobody wants to sign with Detroit in 2010. So, I’m OK with looking into Boozer.

If the Pistons can grab Boozer this summer, then great. However, if Joe D takes the risk on going after Boozer and then comes up empty, there could be some problems. Intentionally being under the salary cap floor to preserve the money for 2010 might be a consideration. The penalty for not reaching the salary cap floor is a surcharge that is given to the players. Asking Rasheed and Iverson to take one-year contract extensions might be a consideration. I realize nobody wants to watch this team for another year but it’s better than signing Lamar Odom for five years; also A.I. and Rasheed are unlikely to make more next year with another team than what they make this year so a one-year extenseion might interest them. The other option is a trade. Amare Stoudemire and Chris Bosh are both 2010 free agents and they are both unlikely to re-sign with their current teams. Joe might want to find out if Phoenix would trade Amare for Rasheed and some change. Rasheed would be the perfect big-man compliment to Shaq. Both Amare and the Suns are frustrated with the situation in Phoenix. The Suns are an aging franchise. Steve Kerr has to know that his team lacks chemistry. Obviously, Joe D would have to be convinced that he could get Amare to sign a long-term contract with the Pistons. I highly doubt this last scenario would happen. However, it is a way to avoid wasting money on second-tier players 2009 and the possibility of getting shutout in 2010. Getting someone like Amare now should still give the Pistons the opportunity to go shopping for a max contract in 2010.

I realize Joe D could simply go after Shawn Marion or Lamar Odom this summer and then try to bring in a max player next summer. He would probably even end up with a decent team; but “decent” isn’t good enough. His goal needs to be what Danny Ainge was able to accomplish with the Celtics. In the NBA, you need great—not good—players to win championships. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen are superstars because they can score inside and outside and play great defense. They score tough baskets and routinely make big shots. Shawn Marion and Lamar Odom are nowhere near that level. In fact, none of the 2009 free agents with the exception of Carlos Boozer fit that category. It is incredibly rare for a franchise to have as much cap space as the Pistons in a year with as much talent as the “Summer of LeBron.” Having the money to spend is the easy part. Making the right moves is where it gets difficult—especially in a market like Detroit. I just have two requests: 1) I hope Joe D maximizes the talent he chooses to spend his money on and 2) I hope Joe D has been thinking about this as much as me (preferably more).

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