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Archive → April, 2012

Lawrence Frank wears headband in support of Ben Wallace

Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

If tonight’s season finale is really the 16-year veteran’s swan song, he’ll go out as a Pistons starter.

Over his mild objections.

“He wanted to come off the bench,” Frank said, a blue headband on in honor of Big Ben after the Pistons’ final shootaround of the season Thursday morning. “But that’s a non-discussion starter. He’s starting.”

Man, I hope photo evidence of Frank in a headband is online soon. Honestly, I’ve linked Lawrence Frank all year mainly because he’s not John Kuester. But both starting Wallace in what could be his final game and making himself (I assume) look silly by wearing a headband in support of one of the greatest defensive players in league just made me like him more. Add this to my coach of the year argument.

My advice to Ben Wallace

I’ve never played professional sports, and I’ve never retired. So though I might not be the best source, here’s my advice to Ben Wallace:

Take your time.

Often, athletes are peppered with questions about retirement and hear from fans who selfishly want to remember their stars only at their peaks. Eventually, those constant hints of retirement infiltrate players’ decision-making, and before many know it, the choice is no longer truly theirs.

That’s what I think happened to Michael Jordan in 1999. All season, the Bulls were told they were on a final run. His last shot over Bryon Russell perfectly fit the narrative, and Jordan became convinced and retired. But his competitive spirit wasn’t broken, and his physical skills hadn’t significantly diminished. He could still play, and that’s why he didn’t stay retired, coming back with the Wizards.

So, Ben, take your time. Don’t succumb to that outside pressure to prematurely make your decision. You know better than anyone else whether you’ll still have the physical ability and mental will to play next season.

If you do – so long as your family supports it, which is way too personal for me to have any advice on – play.

Law school can wait. Basketball can’t.

I think it’s tremendous that you want to pursue a second career as a lawyer. If that enriches your life, that would be great in itself. I also think you have the potential to inspire many that there are other avenues once basketball dries up.

But the window of being able to play basketball professionally is small, and if you step away now, there’s a very likely chance it closes. If your mental will to play returns in a year, who knows if your physical ability will remain?

Selfishly, I hope you return. I love watching you play, and getting another year to do that would be a treat. But don’t do it for me. I’ve seen enough. Your nine great years with the Pistons is more than anything I could’ve asked for.

You already decided to retire once  before, when the Cavaliers traded you to Phoenix. Even then, you admitted retiring had been on your mind for a while. I hope you don’t retire only because the thought of retirement has been stuck in your head for a while. If it’s the right time, that’s one thing. But don’t retire only because it seems like the logical and inevitable conclusion. That’s not an easy distinction to parse and will take a fair amount of introspection. So, I’ll reiterate my advice:

Take your time.

A very serious and elegant photo of Jason Maxiell and his dog

I’m a sucker for posting dog photos, so obviously this one was going up. Jason Maxiell provided the photo to help the Michigan Humane Society raise money.

Rodney Stuckey for Most Improved Player

Patrick has repeatedly complained about the Pistons not promoting their players – especially irritating considering how hard they sell their halftime acts. So, we’re doing something about it.

Though the Pistons are finishing a lousy season, they still have players who deserve at least consideration for post-season awards, and we’re going to tell you why. But because we don’t receive a paycheck from the Pistons, we’re not going to stop there like they would if they conducted this campaign themselves. We’re also going to evaluate whether the player actually deserves the honor.

Here’s our look at Rodney Stuckey for Most Improved Player.

Making the case

Patrick Hayes: There should be an element of surprise to the Most Improved Player award, right? Well, it’s not that surprising that a healthy Andrew Bynum has blossomed with a more central role in the Lakers’ offense. It’s not surprising that young players like James Harden or Greg Monroe have rapidly improved.

Stuckey, though? His overall numbers won’t look much different from what he did early in his career, but after his early-season injury and before his late-season injury, he was one of the best guards in the league. In February and March, he shot 48 percent, got to the line seven times per game and averaged nearly 20 points per game. He continued to take good care of the ball and he established a career-best in 3-point shooting this year at 33 percent. He looked like he was making the leap, and typically, guys in their fifth year in the league don’t do that.

Dan Feldman: Stuckey signed late, missed preseason practices and started the season slowly. As a result, his numbers this season don’t jump off the page compared to previous years. But, when it comes to this award, should Stuckey really be penalized for that?

Stuckey’s approach has improved tremendously. He’s getting to the free-throw line and shooting 3-pointers better than ever before – two marks of the league’s most efficient perimeter players. Plus, he’s become a better teammate. Not everything shows up in the numbers.

Honest assessment

Patrick Hayes: Unfortunately, Stuckey picked up another nagging injury late in the season that killed any momentum he had for this award. It’s unfortunate, because if he could’ve closed as strong as his previous two months, he would’ve had an intriguing case. Instead, we’ll just have to hope that he gets himself fully healthy in the offseason and picks up next year where he left off in March.

Dan Feldman: Especially as it relates to his improved relationship with coaches and teammates, Stuckey is, at best, an unconventional candidate for Most Improved Player. But his poor start and awful finish – 19 total points in his last five games – has eliminated him from even discussion of the award.

Stuckey probably won’t get any votes, and that’s fair, but I at least wanted to acknowledge that he’s better than last year.

Pistons don’t tank

I wrote about the Pistons and tanking for TrueHoop:

The 2004 Pistons are the only modern-era team to have won a title without a significant contribution from a player it picked in the lottery (or a lottery pick it traded for on draft night).
From Joe Dumars down, the Pistons evidently can’t stomach the thought of losing, and certainly not for a draft pick. In 2010, Dumars told Dave Pemberton of the Oakland Press:

“It is impossible to feel good about losing,” Dumars said. “I understand that maybe from a fan and media perspective, ‘Oh, just lose games.’ Your mind can’t even get around that. Even down the stretch when we were way out of it, you feel better leaving the arena after you won a game as opposed to losing a game because at that point you’re not looking at standings and trying to figure out where you are because you know what you have to go through a lottery anyway."

Dumars has brought in like-minded individuals: a coach and players who apparently hate losing just as much.

There’s certainly a reasonably case that he has made mistakes in assembling this the current roster. Refusing to tank might be another one of his strategic mistakes.

But it should be noted that the Pistons have denounced tanking — and backed it up with their actions. In playoff-less seasons, the Pistons finished with a 4-1 run last year and a 4-2 run the year before.

That takes us back to Wednesday. If the Pistons tanked in Atlantathey deny it — it was an aberration that was quickly rectified.

Detroit Pistons #DraftDreams: Royce White

Discuss Draft Dreams on Twitter using the #DraftDreams hashtag

Info

Why I’m intrigued by this guy

I loved this line from Chad Ford:

“White showed off his LeBron James-esque (if you love him) or Boris Diaw-esque (if you’re not sure) ability to play like a point guard despite being 6-foot-8.”

You know what? I’d be cool with getting Boris Diaw on the unlikely chance he fell to the second round. White is someone I expect to rise rather than fall, but still … it would be great for a talent like him to last until the Pistons pick in the early second round.

Pros for the Pistons

There’s no question that talent-wise, Royce White is a first rounder. But maturity questions during his college career hurt his stock some and he’s hovered in the mid-first/early second territory in most preliminary mocks. Personally, I feel like he’s going to play his way solidly into the first with workouts before the draft, but if he doesn’t? He’d be an intriguing fit for the Pistons.

He’s big enough to handle himself up front, but he also has a face-up game and, most importantly, he’s a great passer. He’s kind of a bigger, more athletic Draymond Green — he can facilitate, he can rebound and he can score in a variety of ways. He won’t shoot as well as Green from the perimeter, but he finishes better inside. I think Green stands a better chance at being on the board when the Pistons pick in the second round, but I’d love to see a player with the skillset of either Green or White on the Pistons’ bench next season. Since the Pistons have guards in Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight who aren’t pass-first players, adding another player in White who, like Greg Monroe, is a naturally instinctive passer, wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Cons for the Pistons

I think White’s alleged ‘off-court issues’ seem overblown. He had a good season for Iowa State, including a pair of great performances in the NCAA Tournament. Still though, the Pistons love to tout how every one of their draft picks are also great humanitarians, so drafting someone in White who has had an off-court incident in his past would be contrary to that messaging. White has an anxiety disorder that he’s worked hard to manage, but with the interview processes all potential draftees have to go through, he’ll definitely get asked about it a lot.

On the court, White is used to having the ball in his hands a lot. With Stuckey, Knight, Monroe and Tayshaun Prince, it’s a good bet the Pistons wouldn’t use him in that kind of role. They’d have to be convinced he can thrive without the ball too in order to be sold on him, I’d guess.

What others are saying

Chad Ford:

Off the court, White suffers from a well-documented anxiety disorder that’s triggered, in part, by a fear of flying. White actually had his grandfather drive him from Ames, Iowa, to Louisville, Ky., to avoid an incident. How that affects him at the next level is anyone’s guess … but it is an issue that will be addressed even before the draft. NBA teams will want to interview him and administer tests, as well as have him visit. Most draft prospects are on planes every other day flying from city to city.

White did a lot to improve his stock this week and will get a serious look from NBA teams in the mid to late first round. But he’s going to have to shine in the draft workout process. Given how far he’s come already, it’s hard not to root for him.

DraftExpress:

To go along with his perimeter skills, White is also very comfortable operating in the post, showing the same unselfishness and willingness to find his teammates for open looks, while also being able to create baskets for himself. He displays excellent footwork, with the ability to back his man down or face him up, utilizing spin moves and his quick feet to get to the basket, where he then uses his strong body, soft touch, and excellent body control to finish at the rim.

NBADraft.net:

White is a high risk/high reward prospect if there ever was one … His development will have to be handled very carefully by whichever team drafts him … If he’s selected by a team that is willing to both be patient and let him play to his strengths, then he very well could be the steal of the draft.

West Des Moines Patch:

Royce is not only a one-of-a-kind talent, but is also the most engaging and genuine young man I’ve worked with in my five years coaching in the league.

I’ve had the opportunity to coach some great players and people such as Wes Johnson (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Harrison Barnes (North Carolina), among many others. These players were impressive people in various ways but, other than Josh Young from Drake, Royce was the first person to truly engage with the fans in the stands and individual kids who looked up to him – not just in conversations about basketball but anything.

What is the best thing Royce White does for his team?

Jeremiah Davis (follow him on Twitter) is the sports editor for The Iowa State Daily, Iowa State’s student newspaper:

Royce White presents skills and abilities unlike almost any other college player in the country. His ability to affect the game from all parts of the floor are made evident by his leading the Cyclones in points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals during his one season at Iowa State. He excelled when distributing the ball as much as when he took it to the hoop, and seemed more excited and eager to have his teammates involved than himself. More than anything else, though, is White’s strength. What he lacks in height, he makes up for in both upper body and leg strength. He showed against the likes of Andre Drummond, Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis that he can overpower guys with greater size and length, which bodes well for him at the next level.

Previously

Lawrence Frank for Coach of the Year

Patrick has repeatedly complained about the Pistons not promoting their players – especially irritating considering how hard they sell their halftime acts. So, we’re doing something about it.

Though the Pistons are finishing a lousy season, they still have players who deserve at least consideration for post-season awards, and we’re going to tell you why. But because we don’t receive a paycheck from the Pistons, we’re not going to stop there like they would if they conducted this campaign themselves. We’re also going to evaluate whether the player actually deserves the honor.

Here’s our look at Lawrence Frank for Coach of the Year.

Making the case

Patrick Hayes:  Stop laughing. I’m serious, you – stop laughing.

No, we’re not writing this just because Dan Feldman’s ‘did they tank?’ post seemed to ruffle Frank’s feathers. Yes, I get that it’s somewhat ridiculous to suggest a coach of a 24-41 team deserves coach of the year consideration.

But think about what Frank was walking into here, arguably the worst locker room for a coach in the league, one where veteran players openly derided their previous coach behind closed doors and in the media and several players were involved in an alleged boycott of a shootaround. And all of that for a coach in John Kuester whom they supposedly respected. I’d hate to see what would’ve happened to a guy they didn’t respect.

Anyway, although Richard Hamilton was jettisoned post-lockout, Frank inherited some players who had issues with the coach last season. Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey both had disagreements with Kuester, and Austin Daye was one of the players benched after the Philly boycott.

After a disastrous start to the season, Frank has the Pistons just a game under .500 in their last 41 games, he’s established an ironclad rotation (something that was one of the players’ biggest complaints about Kuester) and, with a few exceptions, the team has played hard this season. As minimal as those things sound, they are all pretty big improvements over last year.

Dan Feldman: The award is called Coach of the Year, not the The NBA’s Best Coach. The question should be, who did the best coaching job this season? Spending previous years installing and perfecting a system shouldn’t count directly for this award. I’m not sure if that puts Frank ahead of the presumed front-runners, Gregg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau, but it gets him closer to the mix. Popovich, to a degree, is relying on his coaching and player development from years past, and Thibodeau did his heavy lifting last year.

After a 4-20 start, Frank has overseen a steadily improving defense and even had the Pistons on the verge of realistically contending for a playoff spot this season. Being on the verge of contending for the playoffs isn’t exactly a noteworthy accomplishment for most teams, but after their horrid start, it was pretty incredible for these Pistons.

Honest assessment

Patrick Hayes: OK, he has no chance.

There are things I’ve been unimpressed with – not finding out sooner what he has in Vernon Macklin, playing Prince too many minutes, not experimenting with Jonas Jerebko enough at small forward among them — but overall, Frank has done a reasonable job in his first year.

If the Pistons’ 4-20 start would’ve been even slightly less pathetic, and the Pistons would’ve challenged for a playoff spot this season. That’s not worth a big award or celebration, but it’s worthy of something I guess. A fist bump? A pat on the back? I don’t know. Give him something though.

Dan Feldman: No way.

Despite the Pistons’ aforementioned defensive improvement, they still rank 21st in the league in defensive rating. Frank shouldn’t get credit for Detroit being unprepared to start the season. Given the lockout, that wasn’t necessarily his fault, but he definitely doesn’t deserve credit. And the Pistons’ offense, surprisingly average last year, has completely fallen apart.

I tend to look at body of work over the whole season, and with a similar roster to last year, the Pistons will finish with a worse record if they lose their final game.

Frank hasn’t quite lived up to the standard I had for him when the Pistons hired him, but he’s done a satisfactory job this year. Satisfactory might be a big improvement from the John Kuester and Michael Curry eras, but that doesn’t mean Frank has stacked up with the NBA’s top coaches this year.

Greg Monroe for Most Improved Player

Patrick has repeatedly complained about the Pistons not promoting their players – especially irritating considering how hard they sell their halftime acts. So, we’re doing something about it.

Though the Pistons are finishing a lousy season, they still have players who deserve at least consideration for post-season awards, and we’re going to tell you why. But because we don’t receive a paycheck from the Pistons, we’re not going to stop there like they would if they conducted this campaign themselves. We’re also going to evaluate whether the player actually deserves the honor.

Here’s our look at Greg Monroe for Most Improved Player.

Making the case

Patrick Hayes: The Most Improved player race is a crowded one, with plenty of deserving candidates — Jeremy Lin may have saved the Knicks season, Nikola Pekovic may have made T-Wolves fans forget David Kahn also signed Darko Milicic, James Harden has emerged as a legit head on a three-headed monster in Oklahoma City, Andrew Bynum has turned into a superstar (complete with diva attitude, which should count for something) and Roy Hibbert’s improvement has been a big reason the Pacers made another jump forward this season.

Some of those guys probably improved more than Monroe did. But all of those players mentioned above have much better players around them than Monroe did.

Seriously, the guy can’t even get a proper entry pass into the post half the time. Imagine if Monroe played on a team committed to getting him 15 shots per game? He’d be an All-Star right now, even if his defense is still lagging.

Dan Feldman: Last year, Greg Monroe’s offense consisted of putbacks and getting set up by teammates. This year, the Pistons have asked him to shoulder a much larger burden, and he’s risen to the challenge.

Monroe’s points per game improved by 6.1 from last season – the 10th largest improvement in the league – and although his efficiency dropped slightly, his usage skyrocketed from 15.4 to 23.7. For a player to handle such a substantially increased role with such a small drop in true-shooting percentage (57.5 to 56.3) takes a real improvement.

Monroe unleashed parts of his game not seen last year, especially a one-on-one game that efficiently and methodically dismantled opponents. Whether using his mid-range jumper, strong first step or nifty post moves – skills not seen last season – Monroe scored like a crafty veteran.

And these numbers aren’t a product of selfishness. With the ball in hands more, Monroe showed off the passing ability that had scouts raving at Georgetown but didn’t appear last year. His assist percentage nearly doubled, going from 7.5 to 14.0.

All the while, Monroe’s calling card last season – rebounding – actually improved. His defensive-rebounding percentage climbed from 20.4 to 23.8, and his offensive-rebounding percentage increased from 13.0 to 13.3.

Honest assessment

Patrick Hayes: As a Pistons fan, I’m picking Monroe. If I were a voting member of the media who had to cover up my biases and pretend to be a passionless observer, it would be a tossup between Bynum and Harden for me.

Honestly, I’m just pumped that Monroe is getting consideration from the national media for awards this year. I’m not greedy, the Pistons are bad, Monroe’s defense is nowhere near his offense yet, I get that there are rational arguments as to why he probably shouldn’t win.

But like earlier in the season when I ranted that no one touted his All-Star credentials, it wasn’t that I necessarily wanted him to be considered over someone having a better season than him. I just want people to realize how close he is to getting awards and recognition, something he was undoubtedly shortchanged on last year.

Monroe won’t win, but him being a contender for the award is good enough for now.

Dan Feldman: Monroe won’t make my TrueHoop Network ballot for Most Improved Player, which goes three deep like the NBA’s.

There’s no doubt that Monroe made real gains and deserves a lot of credit for it, and in some years, he’d get my vote. But his advancement didn’t occur in a vacuum, and other players improved more this year.

Jeremy Lin’s advancement was historic. Nikola Pekovic went from far worse than Monroe to nearly as good. Kevin Durant, James Harden and Andrew Bynum were already at least very good and got significantly better – arguably a more difficult move. Ryan Anderson’s improvement has probably been overrated, but he still deserves credit.

Nearly every player listed above improved on both sides of the ball. Monroe, for the most part, didn’t. His defense still lags, and although that’s not as sexy as his offensive improvement, it should still count.

I expect Monroe to get some votes for the award. He certainly belongs in the discussion. But he’s not in my top three – though, he could be next year.

Pistons might not use amnesty this summer

Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

my best guess is that they will not be exercising the amnesty clause.

It seems unlikely to happen this summer, though.

As for the amnesty, I don’t anticipate the Pistons using it this off-season.

Before using the amnesty on any player, the Pistons will surely try to trade him. If the Pistons planned to amnesty a player, even without naming him yet, that will cripple his trade value. So, even if the Pistons planned to use the amnesty, I’m not sure Langlois, a team employee, could reveal it. Essentially, this could just be misinformation.

Then why did I pass it along? In case the Pistons aren’t bluffing, so you can brace yourself for the Pistons paying Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva $20 million next season. I figure that will take some time to process.

The amnesty can save teams money if they’re over the luxury-tax line. The Pistons aren’t.

If they use the amnesty, for it to have any value, they must replace the amnestied salary, paying around double for the roster spot.

From a pure on-court perspective, amnestying Gordon easily makes the most sense. To Tom Gores, no amnesty would be, directly, the most financially-sound route.* Amnestying Villanueva might be a decent compromise.

But remember, Gores has the final vote. Compromise isn’t necessarily in the cards.

*Of course, an improved team might generate enough revenue to offset the amnesty’s expense.

Pistons show how far they’ve come at site of season-opening loss

The agony is over.

The Pistons returned to Indianapolis tonight, 120 days after they opened this miserable season with a loss to the Pacers. Detroit took another loss tonight, but unlike Dec. 26, it wasn’t a licking.

It wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t inspiring. And it sure wasn’t meaningful. But the Pistons hung with the Pacers until the game’s final minute, when Indiana pulled away for a 103-97 victory.

Every year, a team surpasses all expectations. Its players improved during the offseason more than expected, or its coach ingrains a new plan quicker than expected, or something else just goes right that nobody saw coming.

One hundred and twenty days ago, I thought that might be the Pistons. Of course, I didn’t actually think it would be the Pistons. They had just essentially returned a team that went 30-52. But I thought it might be.

The Pacers crushed that hope in just a couple hours, and they, in fact, became the team that surpasses all expectations. One hundred and twenty days later, the Pacers are resting their top players as they’ve already clinched homecourt advantage in the first-round of the playoffs.

The Pistons, on the other hand, fell to 24-41 while using all their top players save Ben Wallace. The way they lost to Indiana in the opener, it was no surprise they started 4-20. Since, they’ve made moderate gains to a foundation that was invisible Dec. 26, and many of those improvements were on display tonight:

  • Greg Monroe (18 points and 12 rebounds tonight) became one of the league’s most improved players.
  • Brandon Knight (16 points, four assists and four rebounds) showed flashes of being a dynamic lead guard.
  • Jason Maxiell (10 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks) rekindled his energy.
  • Vernon Macklin (six points and six rebounds in 14 minutes) developed into a reasonable NBA big man.
  • Austin Daye (11 points) made a few shots.

Pessimistically, those aren’t the biggest marks of progress – especially when the production of Rodney Stuckey (zero points, two assists in 20 minutes) has regressed lately. But in the context of 120 days ago, they’re remarkable.

The Pistons’ big losses and small steps of 2011-12 will soon begin to fade from memory, and tonight was the last hurdle for the fans who’ve hung on for this entire ride. As Detroit transitions from its penultimate game into its season finale against the 76ers on Thursday, attention will turn to Ben Wallace and his remarkable career. With one game left, this season’s basketball is over. All that’s left is to celebrate Wallace.

Soon after that, we’ll look back on the basketball of this season and try to convince ourselves the 2012-13 Pistons could be the team that surpasses all expectations.

Most Valuable Player

Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger and George Hill sat out for the Pacers. Paul George most certainly did not. The active wing had 27 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Defining moment

Both teams offensively rebounded very well, but the Pacers got the biggest when Tyler Hansbrough corralled a miss, got fouled and made both free throws – giving Indiana a three-point lead with 26 seconds left.

X-Factor

Greg Monroe (18 points and 12 rebounds) helped keep the Pistons in the game, but his five turnovers and making just 1-of-4 late free throws ultimately sunk Detroit.