Thursday, June 10, 2010

All Things Not "Conference Expansion"

With only a few posts left before I start cashing my blog retirement checks, opportunities for post topics are scarce. So, I decided to hit on a few different topics in this post to maximize content. Reader Jim provided me with the perfect opportunity by sending along a few questions. Without further ado, a little Q&A courtesy of reader Jim.

Q: 1. The likelihood that the Pistons do something, anything of note this offseason: would you put money on it? A lot of money? I would give up something valuable (e.g. beer) for six months if they could finagle Bosh away from the Raptors in a sign-and-trade but would also be happy if they struck a deal for someone like Paul Millsap.

A: This is my least favorite of Jim’s questions. Having to answer it depressed me severely…

I would not bet money on Joe Dumars putting his shoes on the correct feet let alone wager that he’ll get something of note accomplished this summer. In fact, I think I’d put a considerable amount of money in the other direction. Joe has been nothing short of incompetent since he convinced Danny Ainge to facilitate the trade that brought Rasheed Wallace to Detroit in 2004. The second the Pistons lost to the Spurs in the 2005 Finals, they began to slowly but very visibly deteriorate. Of course, there were probably more than a few “yippy skippy” fans who thought the Pistons were going to win the next 10 NBA championships but it was very obvious to the basketball savvy fans that the team was going to decline in a hurry. Although the Pistons made it back to the Eastern Conference Finals in ’06 and ’07, they were easily dispatched by the Cavs and Celtics. That was the point at which Joe D needed to take quick action if he hoped to avoid the same fate that his “Bad Boy” Pistons suffered some 15 years earlier. The Bad Boys went from back-to-back NBA Champions to 20-62 in just four years. Pistons management had no transition plan in place to offset a rapidly aging roster which led to the expedited decline. Zeke’s career-ending Achilles injury at the incredibly ripe age of 32 surely didn’t help but considering how little there was in the name of youth on the roster, the Pistons were beyond the point of salvaging.

Of all people, Joe D should’ve recognized the same signs of rapid decline that ended his championship run as a player. Yet, what did he do to prevent the same horrific fate that met his Bad Boys from happening again? The answer is, “very close to nothing.” The only thing that can even remotely be described as constructive was the Chauncey Billups/Allen Iverson trade. At the time, it looked like a brilliant cap move. Billups was easily Detroit’s most valuable commodity. Joe used Billups to bank $20 million (in the form of A.I.’s expiring contract) that would seemingly be available this summer to spend on perhaps the greatest NBA free agent class of all-time. Of course, like an elderly woman watching QVC, Joe D could not resist the temptation to blow all his money on the first thing he saw. Meanwhile, Billups turned the Denver Nuggets into a rising force in the West. Even in the one instance when Joe appeared to have a plan, it ended in disaster because he blew the second—and most important—part of the plan.

No thanks to Joe, the Pistons are saddled with horrible contracts and an abundance of redundancy on an unimpressive roster. There is virtually nothing in the name of trade value to be seen. Rip’s contract is totally unreasonable for a player who can barely be described as one-dimensional. Ben Gordon’s contract is even worse. Rodney Stuckey’s value probably peaked before last season when it looked like he might break out as a bona fide star. Now that it’s obvious that he is stuck between positions and doesn’t have a reliable jumper, you can expect NBA GMs to take a pass on Joe D’s likely high asking price. Any worth that Charlie Villanueva had as a potential breakout player is long gone after his miserable effort in 2010.

The only move Joe has left is to parlay the expiring contracts of Tayshaun Prince and Kwame Brown for a star player. I have more faith in Jim Joyce preserving a perfect game than I do that Joe can or will pull this off. Unfortunately, many NBA superstars have control over where they are traded and nobody is going to sign off on being traded to a team as ill-equipped to compete for an NBA Championship as the present day Detroit Pistons. I suppose there is always the possibility that Al-Farouq Aminu—or whoever the Pistons draft—turns out to be the anti-Darko but judging from Joe’s unimpressive draft history (Tayshaun Prince, Rodney Stuckey, Mehmet Okur and Jason Maxiell over 10 years does nothing for me), the Pistons are surely poised to take home the rotten eggs of the NBA Draft Lottery yet again.

The future is bleak to say the least. The Pistons will suit up one of the worst frontcourts in recent memory in 2011 and have $25 million tied up through 2013 by just the shooting guard position alone. I like Paul Millsap but one guy won’t change anything. The entire roster needs to be overhauled. Remember when the Celtics reportedly offered the Pistons Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen for Prince, Hamilton, and Stuckey? It seemed like an insult at the time but, looking back, that might have been the only way out of this mess.

Q: 2. The Johnson/Burleson/Stafford/Best Quartet: I just relocated to Maryland, think I should pay for NFL TV to watch these guys work? Nate was running his mouth about how good they were going to be, in your opinion is Nate actually going to be any good?

A: Burleson’s bravado is simply a continuation of a Lions pastime that provides media fodder around this time every year. Unfortunately for Nate the Great, the joke’s on him. In the same way that nobody prepped Rich Rodriguez on the history of the #1 jersey at Michigan (which, of course, did not go over well), nobody ever informs Lions off season acquisitions how absolutely horrible the franchise is. I’ll use a real life example to better illustrate my point. There is a position at a member of my extended family’s place of business that is quite simply the most frustrating job in America. Just in the past four years, three people have left this position and a fourth is set to do the same. Nobody ever tells the people interviewing how miserable this job is because they’d never be able to hire anyone. This is, of course, quite unfortunate for the person who ends up with the job. I’m afraid Nate Burleson is about to find out what it’s like to unwittingly sign up for the NFL equivalent of the worst job in America.

I could probably count on five hands the number of players who have mouthed off about “this” being the Lions year over the last 10 years alone. Every new guy who comes in thinks he is the answer for 50 years of futility. The Mike Martz era was the worst. Every offensive player from the Martz era was convinced that the Lions were going to have the best offense in the NFL. I’d say they were delusional if they weren’t cashing million dollar paychecks. So, “no,” I don’t think Nate Burleson is going to be any good. By that, I mean he won’t be any better than Shaun McDonald, Mike Furrey, Az Hakim, or Bryant Johnson. However, I think the offense has a chance to be something better than nauseating. I think there is a pretty good chance that Matt Stafford is (or will be) the best quarterback the Lions have had in my lifetime. I think there’s a pretty good chance that Javid Best is (or will be) the best running back the Lions have had since Barry retired. I also think that Calvin Johnson is the best wide receiver the Lions have had in my lifetime. This is a team with talent. The mediocrity on the offensive line will prevent it from breaking out too much but I fully expect this to be the most diverse and effective Lions offense since the Barry era. Plus, I think Ndamukong Suh is going to be such an influential addition that we might even see the best defense the Lions have had since the Barry era. The sad thing is that all of these “best since” accolades I’m throwing around are still not good enough to make this team worth getting excited over. That’s a sad indication of how bad things have been.

If I lived outside of Metro Detroit, I would not buy the Sunday Ticket just to watch the Lions. The Lions have been dead to me for a few years now. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped paying attention. It doesn’t mean that I don’t think it’s possible that they will become undead and reacclimate themselves into my emotional spectrum again at some point. It just means that I don’t get excited or frustrated by them. I’m in “show me” mode until further notice. I’ve invested—and lost—way too many minutes of my life hoping that the Lions are going to get things turned around. However, if I were the kind of person who would do such a thing in the event that I reasonably expected the Lions to be a little more exciting and a little more competitive than usual, this might be the year I’d consider it.

Q: 3. THE University of Michigan vs. THE Ohio State University: Last season I briefly entertained the thought that Michigan could upset OSU, this year I feel very strongly about it. The chip on Michigan's shoulder must feel like a cinder block by now and I can only assume that despite the controversy, they have another years' worth of experience and recruits. We need the Maize 'n Blue to play like the SEC teams Tressell so fears, what kind of shot do you give us?

A: I love the enthusiasm but Michigan is not coming back from Columbus with a victory this year. Rich Rodriguez is still suiting up a roster extremely light on experience. There is a very good chance that he’ll be starting his 3rd different quarterback in three years. His stable of running backs is young and, for the most part, unproven. His downfield receivers are quite possibly the least talented the school has had in decades. And as you know, offense is supposed to be the strength of this team.

The worst defense in school history is virtually intact from last season except for the departure of one of the top five defensive players in school history. The defense could be considerably better this season and still be below average. That’s how bad things were last year. Assuming Ohio State is healthy (read; Terrelle Pryor), there is a 0% chance that Michigan will beat Ohio State in Columbus this year. There is a 25% chance that the final score will be closer than the 21-10 defeat in Ann Arbor last season.

That said, I still think Rich Rodriguez can win at Michigan if given the administrative support that he deserves. It is pretty obvious by now that he won’t get that support (see; Demar Dorsey). I fully expect that he’ll either be fired at the end of the season or he’ll hop the first train to SEC-ville the minute an opportunity arises. However, if by some miracle his employment status has improved following the 2010 season, I think it becomes quite reasonable to start thinking about a win over Ohio State in 2011. If Denard Robinson masters the Pat White-role, this team will be deep, experienced, and explosive next season. As far as this season, I am much more focused on how Michigan fares against UCONN, Notre Dame, and Michigan State. Winning those three games would significantly change things for Rodriguez. I know fans are anxious to beat (or even compete with) the Buckeyes but I don’t think this is the season to be concerned with Ohio State. In the event that Michigan heads into Columbus with a 5-6 record needing a victory to earn a bowl bid and—more importantly—preserve Rodriguez’s job, then he is in a whole lot of trouble.

P.S. I would’ve written a conference expansion post but—judging from the warp speed rate at which information is flowing—whatever I wrote would’ve been totally out of date two seconds after posting it.


Jim said...

Thanks for the thorough, if depressing feedback...would the sports gods favor us if we all gave up something we liked for, say eight months?

In all seriousness, your last response brought a follow-up question to my mind regarding Denard: can he really be Michigan's quarterback? I didn't follow every game last season, but when I did I literally cringed when I realized that Denard was about to air it out. On the plays where he looked to throw downfield, I could have sworn he was playing a game of 500, where he just chucked it up for grabs and usually the tallest kid from either team comes away with it.

Rich-Rod has a proven history of turning relative unknowns at QB into studs with his system, in your opinion does Denard truly have the tools to succeed or should I (continue to) pin my hopes on Devin Gardner assuming the reins at quarterback?

Jake said...

I don't think giving up Bud or Miller Lite will appease the sports gods. If you're willing to give up premium beer like a German Hefe Weizen (perhaps Hacker Pschorr) or take it even a step further and swear off Sam Adams Oktoberfest in the fall, then you might be able to work something out.

On to Denard...I'm going to assume that since you didn't watch every game last year that you didn't get to see Michigan's Spring Game two months ago. Denard looked like a totally different player which was to be expected considering how little time he had to prepare last season. Don't get me wrong, he looked dreadful last year. He was a walking disaster and if you based your opinion totally on what he did last season, there is no reason to ever expect him to even become a mediocre QB.

However, he proved in the spring that just like every other true freshman QB, it takes quite a while to get comfortable with the speed of D1-A defenses and its intricate college playbooks.

Just in case you're skeptical that all QBs look awesome in Spring Games, Tate Forcier looked exactly like he did last year. He made a lot of mistakes and looked pretty average. RR's job security rests entirely on Denard Robinson. RR knows this and I expect Robinson to be Michigan's starting QB by mid-season if not earlier.

Gardner is going to be amazing but hopefully he can spend his mistake-prone underclassmen years learning behind DG and TF.

ESPN named Denard the Big Ten's player of the spring. Here is the article...

Also, here is a YouTube clip of every snap Denard took in the Spring Game if you haven't seen it already. I think you'll be surprised.


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