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Archive → September, 2011

Fred Zollner, former Pistons owner, explains the NBA’s financial losses

Via Gerald Astor of Sports Illustrated. In 1955.

Sportsman Fred Zollner views the situation this way. “I’m a teetotaler by choice. For me basketball also takes the place of golf or bridge. If we lose money I regard it as a normal deficit for value received—spreading an odd name like Zollner around.”

What Zollner, the Pistons’ former owner who died in 1982, said then is just as true today. Some owners lose money, in the most simplistic level of scrutiny, on their basketball teams, but they gain fortune in related realms because they own a team. If they’d admit and account for that, the lock out would be over. Instead, they want the players to sacrifice enough salary that their teams become profitable – on top of their ancillary gains.

The Pistons are getting serious about advanced stats

The hiring of former Orlando Magic ‘statistical guru’ Charles Klask showed that the Pistons were interested in using advanced stats more than they have in the past. SI.com’s Zack Lowe reports even more seriousness from the team on that front:

It was not surprising to find representatives from the Thunder, Mavericks, Celtics and Rockets over the weekend the New England Symposium on Statistics and Sports, a delightfully geeky conference held every two years at Harvard. Those clubs have long been ahead of the curve in using advanced statistics to inform decisions across their organizations. They have all purchased fancy camera equipment that tracks every player’s movement in every game they host, and they could tell you all about (among many other things) adjusted plus/minus formulas that get at what player combinations actually work.

But there was some legitimate buzz among the NBA folks in attendance when they realized the Pistons, not exactly known as a stat-savvy bunch, had a representative attending a conference known mostly for the sophisticated math involved in the presentations.

Lowe talked to that representative, Robert Wentworth of Platinum Equity, who was also involved in interviewing coaching candidates. Wentworth told Lowe that the aim is to combine the use of stats with the basketball operations acumen Joe Dumars brings to the table:

The advanced stats just ought to be a part of your tool kit. It’s equally important to have really solid basketball people, and Joe Dumars has obviously been in this league for 25-plus years now. He has tremendous basketball intellect. But we’re just trying to make sure we use every tool in that took box, even if it means you just do a better job at finding that 8th, 9th or 10th guy.

I think that’s all most stats-inclined fans have asked for. In fact, I’ve read Ben Gulker of Detroit Bad Boys articulate basically that very thought several times: keep Dumars empowered as the face of your organization, but infuse the old methods of scouting with new, better metrics in the decision-making process. Then, hopefully, you don’t end up spending $20 million a year on limited shooting guards. Checks and balances are and evaluating decisions from different perspectives are always a good thing.

Is John Hammond following a Pistons blueprint in Milwaukee?

I’ve made no secrets in the past about my intrigue with the Milwaukee Bucks. I loved the way the toughness they played with in surprisingly making the playoffs a couple seasons ago. Andrew Bogut, when healthy, is truly one of the best defensive players in the game. Brandon Jennings showing up in the middle of the draft and surprising David Stern on-stage will forever be one of the greatest moments in NBA Draft history. Former Piston Carlos Delfino (always a favorite of mine when he was in Detroit) finally started realizing his potential that season and the Bucks even had a Flint guy, Charlie Bell in the fold. Most importantly, though, John Hammond really seemed to be putting together a team the way Joe Dumars did in the early 2000s — finding value where others couldn’t see any, not over-spending and building around a defensive-minded big man.

Then things got a bit off course last season. Hammond over-spent on the overrated John Salmons and Drew Gooden. He acquired noted ball-stopper Corey Maggette. Jennings didn’t improve from his promising rookie season, Bogut wasn’t healthy and the Bucks regressed.

But after the moves the Bucks made around this year’s draft? I’m firmly back on the bandwagon. They’re not a championship caliber team, but I still once again see some parallels between the Bucks and those early 2000s Pistons teams. I wrote about this in a guest post for new NBA blog The Crossover Dribble:

Although Bogut and Jennings are clearly the keys to any success the Bucks will have, the team also has a supporting cast in place that is built for the postseason. Newly acquired guard Stephen Jackson is the type of big, strong, defensive-minded perimeter defender the Bucks need to bother the league’s best wing players. Jackson isn’t the only versatile swingman either — Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Carlos Delfino and first round pick Tobias Harris all bring different and distinctive skills to the table. Beno Udrih is one of the better backup point guards in the league (albeit an expensive one). Shot blocking forward/center Larry Sanders could turn into another defensive minded presence next to Bogut.

We’ve talked some about the Pistons’ dim postseason prospects this season, but what about the rest of the East? Is age going to catch up to Boston? Is Dwight Howard’s impending free agency going to be a distraction to the Magic? Miami and Chicago are givens, but who are your picks to perhaps surprise and move to the cusp of the East’s elite this season? I definitely think the Bucks will be a top five team, but I could make cases for the Pacers, Philly or New York to move way up as well. What do you think?

New Jersey Nets ‘won the coaching lottery’ when they hired Chuck Daly

Mark Ginocchio at Nets are Scorching is doing a cool series looking at the top 44 New Jersey Nets of all-time. No. 22 on his list is legendary Pistons coach Chuck Daly:

In 1992, head coach Chuck Daly was every bit of a game-changer for the reputation and culture of the Nets organization as Prokhorov, Avery, and D-Will were for the 2010-11 version of the franchise. Except Daly had come to the Nets after accomplishing something significant – winning multiple NBA titles as head coach of the Detroit Pistons, and leading the first-ever Olympic “Dream Team” to a Gold Medal in 1992.

Prior to 1992, the Nets didn’t have anyone – coaches, players or front office staff – of Daly’s stature. He was the epitome of a living legend. A guy people wanted to play for.

As Ginocchio points out, Daly only lasted two seasons after being fed up with the organization and some of the maturity issues the Nets had at the time. The Nets had incredible young talent though, led by Derrick Coleman, Kenny Anderson and Drazen Petrovic, so it’s easy to see why Daly was intrigued by coaching that team. Petrovic was tragically killed in a car accident after Daly’s first season, though, and Coleman and Anderson, although they had some moments, never fully realized the immense potential both had as young players.

Chevette to Corvette No. 55: The 1994-95 Detroit Pistons


  • Actual record: 28-54
  • Pythagorean record: 22-60
  • Offensive Rating: 105.1 (24th of 27)
  • Defensive Rating: 112.9 (27th of 27)
  • Arena: Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coaches: Don Chaney


  • Points per game: Grant Hill (19.9)
  • Rebounds per game: Terry Mills (7.8)
  • Assists per game: Joe Dumars (5.5)
  • Steals per game: Grant Hill (1.8)
  • Blocks per game: Oliver Miller (1.8)

Top player

Grant Hill

Not since Isiah Thomas had a rookie been so prized as Grant Hill. Hill was a major gift for the Pistons. He played four years of college basketball at Duke, arguably the top program in the country over that span. He was a ready-made superstar by the time he reached the NBA. He quickly became one of the league’s most popular players, he was voted into the All-Star Game as a rookie and he shared the Rookie of the Year award with Jason Kidd. The Bad Boys era was clearly over in Hill’s first season as Joe Dumars was the only remaining player from those teams. The Pistons were not good, and Hill had the maturity and talent to not shy away from an undoubtedly difficult situation, trying to follow the act of Detroit’s most successful run of pro basketball ever and be the centerpiece of a group that the franchise hoped would once again reach those heights.

Key transaction

Drafted Grant Hill

This is a no-brainer for the reasons listed above, so we’ll go with a runner-up:

Signed Oliver Miller as a free agent

In the offseason prior to the 1994-95 season, the Pistons picked up Mark West in a trade with Phoenix. But the real heist, I thought, was signing young center Oliver Miller away from the Suns as a free agent.

When the Suns made the Finals in 1993, I became a huge fan first and foremost because I always rooted for the Bulls to lose. But I also liked two Suns rookies, Oliver Miller and Richard Dumas. Both guys gave great energy when they played. Dumas was an explosive athlete and really fun to watch running the floor and finishing. Miller, the portly center, certainly looked out of place on the basketball court, but he had such long arms and seemed to contest every shot when he was on the floor. I was really excited when the Pistons signed him and I thought it was strange that the Suns let two centers get away in the same offseason.

But the reason they both got away was pretty clear in Detroit. West simply was old. He was fine surrounded by better talent in Phoenix, but he was 34 in Detroit and journeyman, role-playing centers are pretty pointless on non-contending teams. Taking charges, toughness and rebounding in spurts are things that can help push a contender to another level for a few minutes a game. But when you’re playing with Rafael Addison and Johnny Dawkins instead of Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson, it’s harder to make that impact felt.

Miller simply just could never get in good enough shape. His numbers were good in Detroit — 8.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 55 percent shooting in about 24 minutes a game. But the Pistons needed Miller on the court more than that and they just couldn’t rely on him to play starter’s minutes, a problem that would plague the undeniably talented Miller his entire career.

Trend watch

Hill’s domination

The 1994-95 season would be the only time in Hills first three seasons that someone else led the Pistons in assists or rebounding. Hill didn’t cede the team rebounding title until Bison Dele’s arrival in 1997-98 and no one ever took the team assist title from him during the rest of his Pistons career.

Why this season ranks No. 55

I was pretty excited when the Pistons hired Don Chaney as coach in 1993. The reason I was excited is pretty stupid, but hey, I’m all about disclosure. I was 12-years-old at the time and when it was announced Chaney would coach the team, I remembered having a NBA Hoops basketball card with Chaney on it along with a ‘Coach of the Year’ emblem from when he was coaching the Rockets. If this guy was good enough to get coach of the year just a couple years prior, he must be a great coach, right?

Well, I certainly miscalculated. The 1994-95 season would be Chaney’s last. And although things were looking up because of Hill’s arrival, Chaney didn’t find much else that worked. He had no success getting Miller to buy into a conditioning program and consequently, Miller was exposed and selected in the expansion draft following the season. Veterans like West and Dawkins didn’t fit in. And young players Lindsey Hunter and Allan Houston didn’t take the desired steps forward, Hunter due to injuries and Houston due to the fact that Chaney buried him on the bench at times before a strong run by Houston to close the season exposed that he probably should’ve been playing all along.

Faulty reasoning or not, I think the organization thought it had the beginnings of a young nucleus in Hill, Houston, Hunter and Miller. When Chaney didn’t have much success developing three of those four players, his fate was probably sealed.


Will Tayshaun Prince get a chance to defend his Olympic Gold Medal in 2012?

In the 2008 Olympics, USA Basketball made a conscious decision to add a few role players to its roster. The thought was that past U.S. teams, particularly in 2004, were too loaded with alpha dogs and not balanced enough with guys satisfied being spot-up shooter or situational defenders. Tayshaun Prince was a beneficiary. He was selected for the final roster and, although he played very limited minutes, got the opportunity to win a gold medal.

Prince is still listed on the USA Basketball roster along with 34 other players, so there’s a chance that he could make the team once again. Veteran NBA writer Chris Sheridan, however, believes the roster is already virtually set because of the emergence of several new stars who will almost assuredly be included if they want to play. Sheridan points to the need for more big men as a result of Spain’s loaded frontcourt (Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka) as a motivating factor for changing up the roster some:

Dwight Howard is the first name on that list, because like most of the 2008 Redeem Team, he has earned the right to defend the gold medal he won in Beijing.

Ditto Chris Bosh.

The same goes for Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant, and maybe to a slightly lesser degree to Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

You can also set aside a spot for Blake Griffin, who has been described to SheridanHoops.com by people in the know as a shoo-in for the London 2012 roster.

And another will go to Kevin Durant, the MVP of the 2010 World Championship team. The spot is his for the taking if he wants it.

That right there gives you 10 guys, leaving only two spots up for grabs from the current 35-man roster listed on USA Basketball’s Website from which Griffin is conspicuously absent.

It was definitely cool seeing Prince get to represent the Pistons in the Olympics, but I think the time of seeing role players rub elbows with superstars on the U.S. team is probably over, unless big stars begin bowing out again. The need seems to be greatly reduced, frankly, because a lot of today’s young stars play pretty unselfishly. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and even Kobe Bryant (in international play anyway) have shown that they don’t mind being facilitators and deferring to others. And Durant and Griffin certainly don’t strike me as the types of stars who will let ego get in the way of team goals, which was supposedly part of the problem in 2004.

I will be interested to see how many of the star players who won in 2008 stay committed to playing in 2012 though. In the past, several players have chosen not to go back and play again in the Olympics after winning a gold once. If that repeats itself, it could open the door just a crack for Prince since he is still part of the USA Basketball program.

Rip Hamilton finishes at 126, Greg Monroe at 132 in ESPN #NBARank

Well, this one is bound to spark some debate in the comments, so I’ll just present these rankings and allow you guys to take it away. Rip Hamilton ranked 126 and Greg Monroe ranked 132 in ESPN’s rankings of the top 500 players/incoming rookies in the league.

As for Hamilton, I think it’s pretty clear what happened. People either gave him credit for his career body of work or chalked his statistical decline up to poor coaching/misuse over the last three seasons. It’s a pretty common debate that has occurred here for a long time now — some feel Hamilton’s production has declined because he hasn’t been used in the right role, some believe he’s declined simply because he’s hitting an age when many guards begin to naturally decline. So feel free to debate that one away again.

As for Monroe, all I will say is that there is not a single Piston who should rank ahead of him on this list. He was their best player last year, although a case can be made for Rodney Stuckey (I still give the edge to Monroe). But ranking at No. 132 isn’t bad at all and many expect Monroe to climb more than 100 spots on these types of lists over the next few seasons.

Other Pistons unveiled in the rankings are: Tracy McGrady (178), Will Bynum (188), Charlie Villanueva (191), Jonas Jerebko (206), Austin Daye (217), Ben Wallace (227), Jason Maxiell (239), Brandon Knight (267), Chris Wilcox (330), Kyle Singler (446), Terrico White (472) and Vernon Macklin (498).

If you’re on Twitter, feel free to follow along. The @NBAonESPN account is unveiling the names and picking the best comments that use the #NBARank hashtag for retweets and also featuring some on ESPN.com.


Chevette to Corvette No. 56: The 2009-10 Detroit Pistons


  • Actual record: 27-55
  • Pythagorean record: 26-56
  • Offensive rating: 105.6 (21st of 30)
  • Opponent points per game: 111.4 (26th of 30)
  • Arena: The Palace of Auburn Hills
  • Head coaches: John Kuester


Top player

Ben Wallace

Wallace, who turned 35 before the season, nearly retired after the Phoenix Suns waived him, but he accepted a one-year contract with the Pistons. For sentimental reasons, I was on board. For practical reasons, I never jumped off the bandwagon.

Excellent defensively and dependable offensively, Wallace stood out on an otherwise dismal team. He didn’t post the best numbers, but the Pistons always played better with him on the court. It even got to the point I graded players on a curve based on how often they got to play with Wallace.

Key transaction

Signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva

OK, that’s technically two transactions, but they both signed on the same day, both went to Connecticut and both received huge contracts. The $95.7 million men have flopped in Detroit and cripple the Pistons’ cap flexibility (and likely will for years to come).

Other moves – signing Ben Wallace, drafting Jonas Jerebko in the second round – were better. None were more significant.

Trend watch

Eight-season playoff streak snapped

Between 2001-02 and 2007-08, the Pistons won 50 game each season and qualified for the postseason each of those years. Even the dysfunctional 2008-09 team made the playoffs.

But the 2009-10 bunch took Detroit’s decline into first gear, leaving Pistons fans longing to be at the losing end of a first-round sweep like the year before.

Why this season ranks No. 57

I was confident the Pistons – with newly acquired Gordon and Villanueva, led by Kuester instead of Michael Curry and minus Allen Iverson – would improve from their 39-win season the year before:

Besides center, the Pistons will be better or the same across the board from last year.

Point guard: Rodney Stuckey is a year older, and hopefully a year better. He improved last year from his rookie season. At worst, he’s the same.

Shooting guard: Richard Hamilton will regain his starting role, and there’s no doubt he’s better than Allen Iverson.

Small forward: Tayshaun Prince is back. No reason to expect much difference.

Power forward: Antonio McDyess played admirably last year. But Charlie Villanueva is also good.

Although he’s not as good defensively, his PER (18.6) was higher than McDyess’s (16.6).

Center: However the minutes shake out between Chris Wilcox, Kwame Brown and Ben Wallace, they won’t be as good as Rasheed Wallace. But Sheed wasn’t that great last year. He looked old and disinterested, so the drop here won’t be too steep.

Bench: Ben Gordon will be a strong contender for sixth man of the year. He’s easily makes the bench better – especially given Richard Hamilton played better as a starter.

Coaching: Michael Curry was terrible. John Kuester will also be in his first year as a head coach. But he spent 13 years as an NBA assistant – 12 more than Curry. Odds are strong Kuester is better than Curry, who set the bar very low.

It didn’t exactly work out that way. Kuester was pretty awful (perhaps not as bad as Curry, though), and Gordon and Villanueva didn’t come close to earning their contracts. Richard Hamilton played just 46 games and Tayshaun Prince played just 49 due to injury, and several other players were hurt throughout the year.

At least the injuries gave Jonas Jerebko a chance to shine. Otherwise, they caused dire effects.

At a certain point, it appeared the Pistons began feeling sorry for themselves, and that crushed their energy. The Pistons repeatedly embarrassed themselves throughout the year, and as much as I wanted to believe they were a better team than they appeared to be, they weren’t.

The on-court problems exasperated some other issues that had been lingering beneath the surface. Their locker room was divided. Villanueva and Austin Daye missed a team flight. Prince clashed with Kuester. At least those issues paled to what would come next.


Over/under: 20 starts for Brandon Knight

I participated in ESPN’s 5-on-5 on the Central Division, and one of the questions was about Brandon Knight:

Over/Under: 20 starts for Brandon Knight in 2011-12.

I was the only participant to take the under:

Brandon Knight isn’t better than Rodney Stuckey right now, and he might not be better than Will Bynum yet. The Detroit Pistons drafted Knight for good reasons, but many of them involve Knight’s potential, not his ability to contribute as a rookie. A lengthy lockout could give him time to catch up, but fewer games would mean fewer potential starts.

Here are the other four questions:

  • Over/Under: Eastern Conference finals for the Bulls.
  • Over/Under: 42 wins for the Pacers next season.
  • Over/Under: One Bucks player in the 2012 All-Star Game.
  • Over/Under: Eight assists per game for Kyrie Irving as a rookie.

Austin Daye focused on improving his field goal percentage at Impact

Brendan Bowers of SLAM has been covering the Impact Basketball Competitive Training Series and he recently caught up with Austin Daye. Daye gave some insight into specific areas he’s trying to improve:

“My Rookie year I shot a better percentage from two than I did my sophomore year, so I didn’t like that at all,” Daye told SLAMonline. “I’ve been focused in on that this summer, and that’s one of my main things I’m working on out here right now. I moved my three point percentage up in my second year, which is great, but to be an elite scorer, or good scorer in the League, you need to shoot a good percentage, so my in-between game and post-game are a couple things I’m trying to work on out here.”

Daye did indeed back-slide shooting the ball, falling from 46 percent as a rookie to 41 percent last season. But the positive is his 3-point percentage jumped from 30 percent as a rookie to 40 percent last season. If Daye is able to get his overall field goal percentage back around 45 percent while maintaining the elite 3-point shooting, he could see a big jump in his scoring numbers next season.