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Archive → August, 2011

The Palace of Auburn Hills still among the NBA’s best facilities

Jim Eichenhofer of Hornets.com recently talked to a panel of league employees to get their thoughts on the 10 best arenas in the NBA. The Palace of Auburn Hills didn’t make the top 10, but it was an honorable mention:

Detroit (Palace of Auburn Hills)
(Arthur) Triche: “The Palace started the new wave of facilities in the 1990s and it remains a quality building. While the visiting team locker room leaves a lot to be desired, the arena remains state-of-the-art.”

Austin Daye, Tayshaun Prince among players who could participate in Las Vegas Summer Impact League

Hoopsworld is reporting that a new summer pro league is forming in Las Vegas and could include several established NBA players and stars, including Austin Daye and Tayshaun Prince of the Pistons:

Impact Basketball, one of the premier basketball training sites in the world, will launch their own league in September. Unlike this summer’s popular pro-am leagues that featured a few NBA players on each roster, the teams competing in Impact’s league will be made up solely of professionals. Nearly 70 NBA players will compete in the league and plenty of stars will participate.

Rosters are still being assembled, but Impact has relationships with many notable players, which means this league has the potential to be very entertaining.

Chauncey Billups, John Wall, Paul Pierce, Al Harrington, Corey Maggette, Kyle Lowry, Paul George, J.J. Hickson, Austin Daye, Jared Dudley, Dahntay Jones, Jermaine O’Neal, Craig Brackins, Marreese Speights, Eric Bledsoe, Matt Barnes and Manny Harris are among the players that have worked out at Impact’s two locations in Las Vegas and Los Angeles this summer.

They might play in the league, along with other veterans that have been training at Impact for years such as Kevin Garnett, Rudy Gay, Baron Davis, Rajon Rondo, Tayshaun Prince, Monta Ellis, Tyreke Evans, Mo Williams, Josh Smith, Ron Artest, Yi Jianlian, Glen Davis, Sebastian Telfair, Al Thornton and many others.

Tracy McGrady currently on a humanitarian tour in China

Pistons free agent Tracy McGrady just arrived in China this week for a 10-day tour that will “promote goodwill and address a number of important concerns affecting China and the world.” From China.org:

“I am honored to be back in China with my friends and those who love the great game of basketball,” McGrady said Tuesday at a Beijing press conference. “I want to express to all of you how much I love China,” he told fans.

“We may be two countries, but we are one in our goals to further develop this wonderful sport, and to help those who suffer from cancer,” he said. “Let’s join hands together and take care of our beautiful green earth, so that we all can have a healthier and better life.”

Greg Monroe, Ben Gordon among top 100 NBA players

Another day, another top 100 list. Honestly, I’ve actually enjoyed the numerous national sites evaluating players and coming up with their own variations of the NBA’s top 100 players, mainly because they vary so wildly.

CBS Sports’ Eye on Basketball blog recently unveiled their complete list and two Pistons made the cut, Greg Monroe and Ben Gordon. Here was what was said about Monroe:

94. Greg Monroe, C, Age 21, Detroit Pistons
2011 Stats: 9.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg, .551 FG%, 18.0 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 94, 96, 83

That Monroe cracked this list in his first year speaks extremely well of him, comparing the train wreck of a locker room he operated in, the depth in the Detroit frontcourt, and his coach’s slow spiral of disaster. Monroe’s young, so his 20.5 PER allowed can be overlooked, considering his efficiency minute-by-minute.

Monroe showed himself to be the best young player for the Pistons to build around and Lawrence Frank would do well to make him the focal point. With the right defensive system, Monroe could skyrocket up this list in the next two years.

And on Gordon:

84. Ben Gordon, SG, age 28, Detroit Pistons
2011 stats: 11.2 ppg, 2.1 apg, 2.4 rpg, 44 FG%, 40.2 3P%, 12.46 PER
Composite rankings (random order): 93, 78, 83

So evidently Ben Gordon wasn’t really worth that massive contract the Pistons tossed at him. Hard to know that though, especially with the way he torched the Celtics in the 2009-10 playoffs. There was a time where Gordon, a 6-3 shooting guard, was maybe one of the toughest covers at that spot in the league. And really, he probably still is if he can just get his act together.

He shoots too much and often goes tunnel vision with the ball in his hands. But when he’s cooking, there might not be a better short scorer in the league. His 2010-11 was very down, but this is a guy that averaged more than 15 points a game every year before he landed in Detroit, including two years over 20.

Rodney Stuckey was an honorable mention on the list. The biggest name missing is Tayshaun Prince. I assume most feel he is better than Gordon. I think it’s interesting that on Zach Lowe’s rankings for Sports Illustrated, he had Prince and Stuckey firmly in the top 100 and Monroe and Gordon outside of it.

Personally, I think Monroe was Detroit’s best player last season and I think Prince’s stats were a bit hollow — he dominated the ball, so of course he’s going to put up decent numbers.

Regardless, Detroit doesn’t deserve more than one or two players in any top 100, and they are fighting for spots at the bottom of any list regardless. I’d probably pick Monroe and Stuckey as the top two players on the team last season if pressed on the issue, though.

Kyle Singler signs with Spanish team

Via Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski:

Detroit Pistons’ draft pick Kyle Singler has reached agreement on a contract with Alicante of Spain’s top professional league, Singler’s agent told Yahoo! Sports.

Singler’s deal with Alicante contains an out clause that will allow him to return to the NBA if the league-imposed lockout ends, said Singler’s agent, Greg Lawrence.

This is a good thing for Singler. With no Summer League and most likely a shortened camp, it’s going to be hard for him or any second round pick to expect to contribute much their rookie season. I hope Vernon Macklin takes the cue and lands a deal for himself overseas as well.

Richard Hamilton, Chicago Bulls’ missing piece

I participated in today’s ESPN 5-on-5 roundtable, which talks about the Chicago Bulls’ prospects next season. I expressed my belief that if Rip Hamilton somehow becomes free, either via buyout or trade, Chicago would be well-served by acquiring him:

4. Fact or Fiction: Chicago can win a title with Bogans as the starting SG.

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: Fact, if they acquire a more capable backup, someone like Rip Hamilton if he’s ever freed by the Pistons via buyout or trade. Keith Bogans starts because he’s a tone-setting defensive player. That’s fine. Just bring in a more capable offensive player like Hamilton, who isn’t a slouch defensively, to play the bulk of the minutes. Then plan the championship parade.

In reality, I think it’s very likely Hamilton at least starts next season with the Pistons. He’s hard to trade and expensive to buyout. But I do firmly believe that he’d make an impact with the Bulls. Hamilton and Luol Deng, another wing noted for his without-the-ball movement, would be a nice, active tandem for Derrick Rose to pass to and make the Bulls tougher to match up with on the perimeter.

Chicago isn’t as talented as the Heat, but I believe in their defense. Taking a low-risk flyer on a player like Hamilton if he can be had might be enough to sneak them past Miami, as long as Rose continues to grow.

Could an overseas stint help Ben Gordon return to form?

Yahoo!’s Kelly Dwyer includes Ben Gordon in a list of five current NBA players whose games could benefit by playing overseas:

He managed just 32 percent from long range in 2009-10, and while he rebounded to above 40 percent in 2010-11, my League Pass-heavy and first-hand accounts left him looking as dispassionate in Detroit as he did potent in Chicago. Ben, in front of those 10,000 (announced, at least) at night, just didn’t seem to care.

With that Pistons roster, we couldn’t blame him.

Which is why a bit of international burn could do him good. As is the case with Crawford, Ben’s screen/roll and/or isolation/or game could be a disservice in international play, but a new jersey and shooting guards his size (Gordon is a relatively diminutive 6-3) could do wonders for our man’s wonderfully arching jump shot.

Looking back at Tracy McGrady’s amazing 2002-03 season

Scott Leedy of Hardwood Paroxysm has a look back at Tracy McGrady‘s MVP-caliber 2002-03 season with the Orlando Magic. McGrady was phenomenal that season, willing a team that didn’t have Grant Hill and was essentially a collection of spare parts into the playoffs.

Unfortunately, what happened in the playoffs against the Pistons, fair or not, went a long way in cementing McGrady’s well-documented legacy of postseason shortcomings:

After game 4, McGrady would unknowingly utter the words that would come to define him. A sentence that would live on in infamy, forever haunting his place in history. “It feels good  to finally be in the second round.” What happened next is well-documented. The Pistons, with the help of some incredible defense by their unheralded rookie Tayshaun Prince, would lock down both McGrady and the Magic; winning the next three games by an average of more than 20 points. Instead of the Pistons, it was McGrady who had “choked”. His momentary slip-up, a brief display of arrogance, had invited an avalanche of criticism. Suddenly, we were blaming McGrady for failing to achieve the impossible.

I’ve always wondered whether criticism of McGrady would’ve had a different trajectory had he never given that quote. After all, as Leedy points out, it’s not like the Magic should’ve been all that competitive in that series anyway. McGrady is painted as the ‘choker,’ but the reality is it was the Pistons who were in danger of losing to the eighth seed in the first round, which would’ve put them in rare company. They would’ve been the first No. 1 seed to lose to an eight seed in the first round in a seven game series, sparing the 2007 Dallas Mavericks of claiming that title.

Is Lawrence Frank the 21st best coach in the NBA?

Mike Prada of SB Nation released his annual NBA coach rankings and here’s what he had to say about Lawrence Frank:

21. Lawrence Frank, Detroit Pistons (NR): The onetime New Jersey Nets coach is back with the Detroit Pistons, and I’m curious to see what he learned from serving as Doc Rivers’ lead assistant in Boston. Prior to that stint, Frank was a tireless worker and innovative thinker, but maybe didn’t have the motivational skills of some of his colleagues. He will need to brush up on those in Detroit, a team with some veterans who are difficult to prod.

I think 21 is about right for Frank. He’s ahead of the other new head coaches in the rankings and ahead of Vinny Del Negro, Larry Drew, Paul Westphal and Byron Scott among established coaches. There’s not really anyone in front of Frank, other than maybe Avery Johnson, who I could make a legit case for deserving to be ranked lower.

Hat tip, Detroit Bad Boys

PistonPowered Book Club: ‘The Last Shot’ by Darcy Frey

PistonPowered reader Jacob Tucker provides this week’s Book Club post. If you’d like to contribute, e-mail patrickhayes13(at)gmail(dot)com.

For many boys who grow up on Coney Island in southern Brooklyn the possibility of going to college, choosing their own career path, and finding success is remote. In neglected neighborhoods where the majority of the population lives in 20 story public housing projects, there is but one glimmer of hope for some: basketball.

In The Last Shot, Darcy Frey gives his firsthand account of following four players from Abraham Lincoln High School (alma mater of current NBA players Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson) for close to a year beginning in the spring of 1991. Frey closely chronicles the lives of seniors Tchaka Shipp, Corey Johnson and Darryl Flicking (named Russell Thomas in the book for legal reasons), as well as an up-and-coming freshman named Stephon Marbury.

Shipp is the most physically gifted and perhaps the most “privileged” of the group. As the book begins he has just been invited to the Nike camp – an invitation-only summer camp designed to showcase the nation’s top high school players to college coaches. Johnson has no dearth of talent but his interests are wide and include poetry and fashion as he writes one-liners about as often as he dunks.

Flicking is a student of the game, ceaselessly practicing his fundamentals in unwavering heat. He also has the highest GPA on the team and always keeps vocabulary flash cards nearby in preparation for the SAT.

Frey’s first observation of the 14-year-old Marbury goes like this:

Caught somewhere between puberty and superstardom, he walks around with his sneakers untied, the ends of his belt drooping suggestively from his pants, and half a Snickers bar extruding from his mouth…..Dribbling by himself in a corner of the court, Stephon has raised a ball with one hand directly over his head and threaded it through his legs. From back to front. Without interrupting his dribble. Now he’s doing it with two balls!

Through the experiences of these four players, Frey addresses such topics as the social decline of Coney Island, the mixed messages players receive from corporate sponsors, the shady recruiting tactics of big-time college coaches, the NCAA’s Proposition 48, and other obstacles that stand in the way of that ever elusive hope of “making it.” To be clear, “making it” does not necessarily mean playing in the NBA. Flicking wants to become a nurse. Johnson wants to become a writer. But each player knows that the vehicle to get him where he wants to go is basketball.

Frey paints Coney Island as a desolate community where drugs and violence rule the day. The once proud Lincoln High that boasts such alumni as Joseph Heller and Arthur Miller has succumbed to gang wars and frequent student arrests. Despite the efforts of some dedicated faculty members, socioeconomic conditions have put academics down the priority list. As one local freelance coach notes, “Lincoln didn’t make Coney Island. Coney Island made Lincoln.”

When Shipp attends the Nike summer camp, Frey goes with him. The players are constantly told by Nike staff members that when it comes to basketball, “just go out there and have fun.” Moments later every aspect of a player’s game is analyzed by the top college coaches in the nation. Frey notes that from where they are sitting the coaches can’t even see the scoreboard during team scrimmages, putting the onus on individual play. The players notice this as one remarks, “…you got to be a ball hog at this camp…” and another says, “I’m…shooting every time I touch the ball.” With scholarship money on the line, these players’ futures are dependent on just ‘going out there and having fun.’

Frey witnesses a myriad of recruiting practices by Division I coaches. He hears Jim Boehiem’s constant reassurance as the Syracuse coach steadily backpedals because of recent NCAA allegations of improper benefits. He notes Rollie Massimino’s emphasis on being a family and doing everything together. Within the year Massimino would move three thousand miles away leaving Villanova for UNLV. Frey is entertained by Rick Barnes’ magic card tricks, three cups and a disappearing ball, and the old quarter behind the player’s ear. Barnes tells Shipp that he is the only player they’re recruiting at his position before listing two more and then saying, “…that’s it.” As Barnes gets up to conclude the recruiting meeting he drops his deck of cards revealing a two of spades stamped on every trick card. Rod Baker tells Flicking that they need another guard and he was the first person they thought of. His end of the conversation with Flicking is as follows:

Frankly, I think you could be a pioneer at Cal-Irvine, an impact player, a franchise player. A year from now, when you’re a freshman and we’re playing for a conference championship, it won’t take a brain surgeon to figure out it was [Darryl Flicking] who got us there. And five years from now, I wouldn’t be surprised if people are saying, “Remember when [Darryl Flicking] came in and completely changed the fortunes of Cal-Irvine?”

As soon as Flicking makes up his mind to sign with Cal-Irvine, Baker calls the Lincoln coach to say he’s no longer interested because a guard he thought was leaving decided to come back.

In 1986 the NCAA instituted Proposition 48 which requires student-athletes to score a minimum of 700 on the SAT to obtain a Division I athletic scholarship. Frey is critical of Prop 48 and provides compelling arguments. He points out that the NCAA does not consider any other indications of scholastic potential besides the standardized tests. Educationally disadvantaged and poorly schooled players like the ones at Lincoln have much intellectual ground to cover to meet this minimum requirement. In his pursuit of this Flicking sits at the front of his classes, asks stimulating questions, and even goes to study hall during lunch time. Regardless, he struggles in his attempts to reach the 700 threshold throughout the book.

Frey encountered his share of challenges when writing The Last Shot. He was banned from recruiting visits to all Big East campuses by the NCAA. Flicking’s mother ordered her son not to speak to Frey at one point. He is denied several requests for an interview by Marbury’s father. Having already seen three of his sons fail to “make it” Don Marbury won’t speak unless he is compensated. In the face of these challenges, Frey writes a timeless book. At times triumphant and at times sobering, it’s a case study of the burdens of four high school basketball players in less than fortunate circumstances with the game as their only alleviation. At one point the brash and surprisingly astute Marbury utters, “Man, I’m tired of all this … somebody’s got to make it, somebody’s got to go all the way…”

The concern for these young men is palpable as their actions lead to continual speculation about their outcomes, vacillating from potential NBA star to Coney Island casualty.

On a personal level, The Last Shot shook my naïve perception. The first time I read this book I was young and did not yet realize that having the skills, talent, and tenacity to play basketball at the highest level was merely half the battle. As NBA fans (particularly those of us Pistons fans over the last three years) we often experience emotions of frustration even anger as we bemoan the shortcomings of the players we follow. This book gave me a fresh appreciation for the fact that these players have reached the point where they can even put on jersey and step out onto an NBA floor.  In 2004 Darcy Frey released an edition of The Last Shot with a new afterword, updating the lives of Tchaka Shipp, Corey Johnson, Darryl Flicking, and Stephon Marbury. I won’t give it away, but I will say that it is at the same time victorious and demoralizing.

Next up: When March Went Mad by Seth Davis