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Archive → August, 2012

Five rookies give Pistons chance for season NBA hasn’t seen in six years

Update: As astutely pointed out by Peter in the comments, I failed to account properly for rookies who played for multiple teams. I fixed the excerpt with correct stats.

Me at the Detroit Free Press:

With Khris Middleton’s recent signing, the Pistons have five rookies under contract for next season: Middleton, Andre Drummond, Kim English, Kyle Singler and Slava Kravtsov.

A team that plays five rookies isn’t unique, but it’s rare. In the last 20 years, 33 45 teams have played five rookies, including the San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Hornets and Golden State Warriors [and Cleveland Cavaliers] last season.

Starting the season with five rookies who play is considerably rarer. The last team to do that: the 2006-07 Milwaukee Bucks.

For the Pistons, playing five rookies is uncommon. They’ve done it just nine 11 times in franchise history, including their first season in the NBA, when nearly their entire roster was comprised of league rookies.

The Pistons haven’t played at least five rookies since 1980-81 (Edmund Lawrence, Lee Johnson, Tony Fuller, Larry Drew, Wayne Robinson and Norman Black) 1982-83 (Ricky Pierce, Walker Russell, Cliff Levingston, Jim Zoet and Jim Johnstone), and they haven’t begun the season with five rookies who played since 1979-80 (Greg Kelser, Roy Hamilton, Phil Hubbard, Earl Evans and Terry Duerod).

Survey says: Pistons struggling

Remember that Detroit sports survey? Well, the results are in, and the Pistons finished last among Detroit’s four professional teams in several categories:

  • Follow regularly (17.1 percent)*
  • Favorite team (12.8 percent)
  • Venue with best overall experience (4.1 percent)
  • Best front office (1.6 percent)
  • Best head coach (1.9 percent)
  • Win Detroit’s next championship (0.8 percent)

*Respondents could check multiple teams.

The Pistons “won” a couple categories, though:

  • Worst front office (80.8 percent)
  • Worst head coach (69.3 percent)

A few Pistons players also finished near the top of the individual categories:

  • Most disliked Detroit player: Charlie Villanueva, second (behind Ryan Raburn)
  • Most overrated Detroit player: Tayshaun Prince, third, Rodney Stuckey, fourth (behind Ndamukong Suh and Johan Franzen)
  • Detroit sports figure who doesn’t get enough credit: Greg Monroe, fourth (behind Martin Mayhew, Jim Leyland and Matt Stafford)

Pistons climb ESPN future power rankings

Chad Ford and John Hollinger of ESPN released their future power rankings, which they describe as:

The Future Power Rankings are ESPN Insider’s projection of the on-court success expected for each team in the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

The Pistons ranked 22nd:

The Pistons moved up six spots with their strongest summer in recent memory. The team was able to jettison Ben Gordon’s ugly contract, land a potential star in Andre Drummond in the draft and, for the first time in a while, is looking at some potential cap room starting in the summer of 2013.

Getting the Bobcats to take back Gordon’s contract was the big reason the Pistons moved up, as it affords Detroit the type of cap flexibility it hasn’t had since 2009. We expect them to use it more wisely than they did last time.

Essentially every other category remains the same. Greg Monroe remains a bright spot. Rodney Stuckey is solid. Brandon Knight, Austin Daye, Jonas Jerebko and Drummond all show promise. But overall, the Pistons are stuck with the 26th-best roster in a 30-team league.

If Monroe, Knight and Drummond show progress next season and if the Pistons can make a savvy move or two next summer, they have a chance to make a much bigger leap next year. As for now, patience is still the word in Detroit.

(Previous rank: 28)

Only the Hornets and Lakers – teams that acquired big men with elite value – jumped more than the Pistons since the last rankings, which came out in February. The Pistons have made steady steps in the right direction over the last couple years – mostly by drafting well – and it’s exciting to see their progress recognized.

I think Ford and Hollinger didn’t ding the Pistons enough for giving up a draft pick to dump Ben Gordon, though. But that pick is most likely to be transferred in 2014, so it won’t have much effect on the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

Khris Middleton signs with Pistons, filling roster with Ben Wallace still semi-retired

Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

Pistons sign Khris Middleton to bring the roster to 15 .. He’s in Auburn Hills and working out.

Khris Middleton’s signing doesn’t mean Ben Wallacewho, at last report, had a “good chance” of returning – won’t be a Piston next year, but this move makes it at least somewhat less likely.

Perhaps, though, Middleton’s contract is fully or partially unguaranteed. There’s also still plenty of time to move another player before Oct. 1. Just because the Pistons’ roster stands at 15 now doesn’t mean it’s stuck that way. (A reminder: A player sent to the D-League still counts against the roster-size limit.)

Pistons want Kyle Singler to rest, Kyle Singler doesn’t care

Kyle Singler:

Because my season in Spain didn’t end until just before Summer League, I know management was concerned about overdoing it. But I have been working out. I didn’t plan on taking too much time off, just because there isn’t a need. I’ve been doing a combination of shooting and conditioning type of stuff and working on my body, stretching, a little bit of yoga. I’m not really working on too much full-court stuff, just half-court shooting and ballhandling.

Greg Monroe preparing to play power forward, good sign for Andre Drummond and Vyacheslav Kravtsov

Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

“They basically said I need to be prepared to play power forward,” Monroe told me after a lengthy workout Monday at the team’s practice facility. “They’re looking for at least one of those guys to be ready, so I’ve started to prepare myself to be ready to play the four. We’ve been working on stuff to have me in those positions.”

“It’s very OK with me,” he said. “With us there’s not that much of a difference, anyway. I’m not really worried about the transition. I’ve been playing power forward and center all my life, so I’m comfortable with playing either. I’m comfortable with the ball in the mid-post and at the elbow. Defensively, maybe that would be the only thing – guarding different types of players. I would have to scout more, learn the guys’ tendencies. It would be different footwork, moving your feet more.

“But I’m ready for the challenge. Like I’ve always said, I’m here to do whatever my team needs me to do. Defense is the staple of this organization. It’s what coach L is trying to do, so I’m just here to work as hard as I can to get better at that, too.”

There are basically three positions in the NBA now: bigs, wings and point guards. So, it doesn’t matter too much whether Greg Monroe plays either of the big positions, center or power forward. He’s probably the Pistons’ best power forward right now and their best center.

When he plays with Andre Drummond or Vyacheslav Kravtsov, Monroe is probably better suited to play power forward. So, if the “they” in Monroe’s quote above is the Pistons, that’s a good sign the organization believes Drummond and/or Kravtsov will be ready to contribute this season.

Clyde Drexler perfectly explains why Isiah Thomas’ Dream Team snub still resonates

I’ll have a few posts up this weekend about “Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever,” Jack McCallum’s new book. Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book for review.

Jack McCallum’s “Dream Team”:

So why does he think Isiah wasn’t on the team?

“I don’t think Jordan wanted to play with Isiah,” Drexler answers. “Two championships in a row, always an All-Star. And Isiah can’t make it?

“I didn’t like that. It’s not the players’ choice. It’s who’s supposed to be there. If you don’t like me, I don’t give a fuck. We’re competitors. You’re not supposed to like me. But when one player has the ability to leave another player off, we’ve lost control of the system.

“The one thing in sports that’s been important to me is integrity. If someone is good, no matter what, I am never going to say he’s not. If you’re good, you’re good.

Sports are not a perfect meritocracy, but at least in appearance – and maybe even reality – they come closer than any other area of our society. It doesn’t matter if you’re white or black, rich or poor. If you’re better than your opponent, you’ll have a chance to prove it. At least, that’s the idea.

Maybe Isiah Thomas was better than John Stockton in 1992. Maybe he wasn’t. More than I believe Stockton deserved to make the team ahead of Isiah, I believe it’s debatable.

But that debate never occurred because Michael Jordan didn’t want to play with Thomas.

Somebody had to be the best player left off the Dream Team, and that was Thomas. Alone, that doesn’t warrant outrage and controversy that has lasted two decades and will burn much longer.

But because it wasn’t a fair fight, our sense of right and wrong, especially in the realm of sports, feels violated. Drexler’s explanation is on point.

Isiah’s snub wasn’t that he didn’t make the Dream Team. His snub was that he didn’t have a fair chance.

Isiah Thomas didn’t blame John Stockton for Dream Team snub

I’ll have a few posts up this weekend about “Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever,” Jack McCallum’s new book. Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book for review.

When his Dream Team controversy resurfaced this year, Isiah Thomas took the high road when discussing his exclusion from the squad. He did the same thing 20 years ago, too. Jack McCallum’s “Dream Team”:

Perhaps because Stockton was so sensitive to the Isiah issue, and because he also respected him as a player, Stockton never said anything remotely negative about Thomas. (Then again, Mostly Silent John never said that much anyway. And Thomas, for his part, never hung Stockton out to dry. There is no doubt that Isiah considered himself the superior player, but he never denigrated the Jazz point guard, and after the Dream Team business had finished, Isiah placed a phone call to Jack and Dan’s Bar and Grill in Spokane and asked to speak to the owner.

“I just want to let you know, Mr. Stockton,” Isiah said to John’s father, Jack, “that anything I had to say about the Dram Team had nothing to do with your son. he’s a great player.”

Neither Stockton nor his father ever forgot that call.

Pistons’ Pete Skorich provided view into ‘The Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw’

I’ll have a few posts up this weekend about “Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever,” Jack McCallum’s new book. Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book for review.

In “Dream Team,” Jack McCallum provides a lengthy rundown of what he dubbed “The Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw,” a pre-Olympic scrimmage between the American players:

By breakfast this morning Daly had decided that his team had better beat itself up a little bit. The Dream Team had scrimmaged several times before this fateful day, a couple of the games ending in a diplomatic tie as Daly refused to allow overtime. He normally tried to divvy up the teams by conference, but on this day Drexler was nursing a minor injury and Stockton was still recovering from a fractured right fibula he had suffered in the Olympic qualifying tournament.

So with two fewer Western players than Eastern players, and only two true guards (Magic and Jordan), Daly went with Magic, Barkley, Robinson, Chris Mullin and Laettner on the Blue Team against Jordan, Malone, Ewing, Pippen and Bird on the White.

Whatever the result, there would be few to bear witness. The gym was all but locked down. The media were allowed in for only the last part of practice. Officials from USA Basketball even kicked out the NBA PR people and videographers from NBA Entertainment.

Play by play, McCallum analyzes the scrimmage. So how did he get the details?

A single cameraman, Pete Skorich, who was Chuck Daly’s guy with the Pistons, recorded the day. It was a closed universe, a secret little world, when ten of the best basketball players in the world began going at each other.

Isiah Thomas’ intelligence underrated, but Larry Bird was probably smarter

I’ll have a few posts up this weekend about “Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever,” Jack McCallum’s new book. Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book for review.

My opinion that John Stockton deserved to make the Dream Team ahead of Isiah Thomas has nothing to do with either player’s intelligence. Both rank among the smartest players of all-time, though most would probably give the edge to Stockton.

That’s unfortunate.

It’s certainly justifiable to give the advantage in intelligence to either player. They’re close. But I suspect Stockton would garner more support because he’s white and Thomas is black. Race certainly appeared to be a factor when Jack McCallum conducted a poll for Sports Illustrated during the 1991-92 season:

Coaches and general managers were asked a difficult question in this week’s poll: Who is the league’s smartest player? In an extremely close race Larry Bird of the Celtics collected 10 votes and Jazz point guard John Stockton got 8.5. (Rocket coach Don Chaney split his ballot between Stockton and point guard Isiah Thomas of the Pistons.) Forward Chris Mullin of the Warriors and guard Jeff Hornacek of the Suns got two votes each, Thomas got 1.5, and Cav point guard Mark Price got one.

In “Dream Team,” McCallum elaborates on the fact that four white players led the voting:

Racist? I can’t say that. But I never saw any evidence that Thomas was not as smart a player as, say, Stockton, and that’s a compliment to both of them. One caveat: several GMs and coaches say that they would’ve voted for Magic, an African-American, had he been active during the season. But then, I never saw any evidence that Thomas was not as smart a player as Magic, either.

The most conclusive case that I can offer that Bird may stand alone at the top of the list of heady players comes from former Pistons player Laimbeer. Laimbeer does not like Bird and the feeling is mutual. But not long ago Laimbeer told me: Let’s face it, it would be hard to find a smarter player than Bird.”

Thomas has a legitimate grievance about falling behind Stockton in the poll, but if Bill Laimbeer said Bird was the smartest player, Bird was probably the smartest player.