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Category → Pistons History

Grant Hill, one-time underappreciated Piston, retires

Grant Hill announced his retirement on TNT tonight, closing a playing career that was long ago robbed of its better days by injuries.

Hill was drafted by the Pistons, won Rookie of the Year with the Pistons and finished as high in MVP voting (third in 1997) as a Piston ever has.* But Detroit fans, myself definitely included, never appreciated him enough at the time.

*George Yardley (1958), Dave Bing (1971) and Bob Lanier (1974) also finished third.

Hill never won a playoff series, though in hindsight, it was unfair to blame him for a weak supporting cast. And he never seemed tough enough, but asking anyone to follow the Bad Boys in Detroit was probably just a setup to fail.

I didn’t have that perspective at the time, and when Hill signed with the Magic, I was mad. Very mad. I couldn’t wait until he returned to The Palace, just so I could go boo him.

But Hill didn’t play at Detroit until 2005, five years after he left. By then, the Pistons had won a championship – led by by Ben Wallace, whom the Pistons acquired in the sign-and-trade that sent Hill to Orlando – and the bitterness had subsided.

Eventually, I realized how classy Hill is, how tough a competitor he is, how hard he works. I wish I had known all that sooner.

ESPN’s Bad Boys documentary sounds awesome, judging by early details

When news broke ESPN would finally air a much-discussed documentary on the Bad Boys, I was mildly excited. I’m sure, like nearly every episode of the 30 for 30 series, it will be entertaining and informative.

But I, and I suspect many Pistons fans, have seen and read so much about the Bad Boys that new information on the topic is lacking. It’s basically repetitive at this point.

To be clear, I would enjoy watching an hour of repetitive about those teams, but it’s tough to get too excited about something like that.

Well, now I’m excited. Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated wrote about the documentary, and here the top three things he wrote that have me so excited:

Three

two-hour documentary

Two

Given the previous collaboration between ESPN Films and NBA Entertainment — they partnered on the brilliant "Once Brothers" and the terrific "The Announcement" — Bad Boys is likely to be one of the better "30 for 30" efforts. (NBA Entertainment also produced the last year’s sensational "Dream Team" documentary for NBA TV.)

One

Cocoros said he’s already discovered never-before-seen footage of the team inside the locker room before and after games, as well as compelling footage of Chuck Daly’s huddles. "The way this team went about their business kind of mirrored the city — the toughness and the blue-collar work ethic," Cocoros said. "We will look at what was going on in Detroit in the 1980s. There is a lot of parallel to the time period and this film will bring that story to life."

Professor Fennis Dembo?

To piggyback on Dan’s nostalgic post looking at what some possibly forgotten former Pistons are up to these days, Lost Lettermen also has a great slideshow that includes former Piston Fennis Dembo:

This surefire entry on college basketball’s All-Name Hall of Fame was more than just a memorable name. He was a star for the Cowboys, leading the No. 12 seed to the 1987 Sweet Sixteen — including a second round triumph over Reggie Miller and UCLA in which Dembo scored 41 points in an upset win — while averaging a tournament-leading 27.8 PPG.

Dembo’s appearance on the 1987–1988 college basketball preview issue of Sports Illustrated was the first ever by a Wyoming athlete and preceded a seven-year professional career (1988–1995). Dembo is now back in his native San Antonio with hopes of finishing his college degree, obtaining a master’s or Ph.D. in civil engineering and becoming a university professor.

 

Where are they now? Maurice Ager, Chucky Atkins, Maceo Baston, Dale Davis, Tremaine Fowlkes, Horace Jenkins, Allan Houston, Olden Polynice, Jerome Williams

Mark Deeks of ShamSports.com has an awesome “Where are they now?” feature that includes several former Pistons. Here are my favorites, but definitely check out Deeks’ post for even more fun.

Maurice Ager – Ager hasn’t played since a four game stint with the Timberwolves at the very start of the 2010/11 season. Instead, he’s turned to music, and is now a producer and occasional rapper. Ager’s first album, "Moe Town," was released last month; here’s a video clip of a bonus track, called "Pistons." You’ll recognise one sample.

Chucky Atkins – Atkins has taken up coaching. He first volunteered at USF, then worked with the NBA Player’s Association at high school camps, before starting his first season this year at Evans High School in Orlando, his alma mater.

Maceo Baston – Now owns and runs a cupcake shop in Michigan, Taste Love Cupcakes.

Dale Davis – Here’s an awkward if jauntily soundtracked video that explains Dale’s current business.

Tremaine Fowlkes – Tremaine Fowlkes was born in Los Angeles, California. A man named Tremaine Fowlkes founded a company called TRE Holdings LLC in Los Angeles in 2004. That company, according to this, lodged then redacted an appeal against a finding in the US Bankruptcy Court. Same guy? Hope not.

Allan Houston – Assistant general manager for the Knicks. Suffered an awkward moment at the 2012 Las Vegas Summer League when a heavily jet-lagged idiot tripped over a step, stumbled a few places and landed in his lap. That person was not me. (It was really.)

Horace Jenkins – Jenkins runs an AAU team in Lehigh and also offers private coaching.

Olden Polynice – Runs a personal training service, Next Star Basketball, and is a DJ.

Jerome Williams – Now the director of basketball operations at powerhouse high school side Findlay Prep, and has a terrible haircut.

Chris Paul overtaking Isiah Thomas

Two years ago, I wrote Isiah Thomas’ body of work was more impressive than Chris Paul’s, and I still believe that’s the case, though the gap is shrinking. But then and since, I’ve predicted Paul will retire as the best point guard since Magic Johnson.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN picked up where my argument left off and wrote an interesting piece comparing the two point guards:

It’s hard to find anything, anything at all, that Thomas did better than Paul on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t a matter of advanced stats preferring Paul, it’s a matter of nearly every statistic preferring Paul.

Isiah’s game had flaws, and we tend to forget them because he tended to forget them on the biggest of stages. When you deliver a 25-point NBA Finals quarter on a pretzel of an ankle, you blot out memories of a turnover-prone high dribble, and rim-prone floater. When your team takes out Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson in their prime years, you earn a lot of respect.

Those sepia-glitter Isiah Thomas memories matter, and nothing will take them away. If he’s overrated, then it’s for the best of reasons: The guy performed when the eyes of the world were upon him.

Thomas also benefitted historically from something that was less within his control, even if he contributed to it: He played with an elite defense. His Pistons teams were top-three in the league in each year of that three-season NBA Finals span. But few would say that he was a better defender than CP3.

I don’t wish to trash Isiah’s legacy, or insinuate that he was unimportant to that championship success. He was crucial. I merely wish to point out that a good player can receive a lot of extra praise for having played on a great team, especially if the team excels at defense, an aspect of the game that fewer focus on. If you’re a scorer on a great defense, chances are that a disproportionate amount of credit will bounce your way.

Strauss’ evaluation of Thomas is fair (unlike the time he wrote that Kevin Johnson was better than Isiah). It’s no insult to Thomas to claim Paul is better per-season, per-minute or any other metric that doesn’t sum career accomplishments. Paul is just that good.

Larry Bird still hates Bill Laimbeer

Easily the best thing about 1980s and early 1990s NBA basketball was the development of blood feuds. There are rivalries today, but the ones experienced back then are truly remarkable, to the point that the participants will never, ever move past them. The latest example, in the video above, is Larry Bird still discussing his dislike of Pistons legend Bill Laimbeer with Grantland’s Bill Simmons.

Former Piston Adrian Dantley is working as a crossing guard

Dave McKenna of Deadspin has a fantastic story on what former Piston and Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley is up to these days. It’s well worth a read:

The greatest 6-foot-5 post player in the history of the NBA now pulls morning and afternoon shifts at a busy intersection outside Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring, Md. The job, which he took at the beginning of this school year, earns him $14,685.50 a year, according to Montgomery County civil service records.

“He doesn’t need the money,” a Dantley associate tells me. The guard-forward was legendarily cheap during his long and fruitful NBA career, and he still lives nearby in a home he purchased in 1990 for $1.1 million, one that a former agent said “was virtually free and clear” of debt back in 1996.

“He’s not going to just sit around,” the associate continues, “and he just doesn’t want to pay health insurance.” Turns out that NBA veterans aren’t provided health insurance by the league, not even all-timers like Dantley. Crossing guards in Montgomery County, however, are.

Former Piston Cliff Robinson thinks the Pistons are on the right track

I wrote a piece for SB Nation about the evolution of the ‘stretch four’ position in the NBA, and in doing it, I had the opportunity to talk to two of my all-time favorite former Pistons, Cliff Robinson and Terry Mills. Definitely check out the piece if you’re interested in the history of big man shooters, but I also snuck in a couple Pistons-related questions that I’ll write about below.

Just trying to get a feel for how closely former NBA player Cliff Robinson follows the NBA these days, I asked him what teams or players he enjoys watching now that he’s retired. Unprompted, he had the Pistons near the top of his list, right after he mentioned Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat.

If the Pistons can keep Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond and Brandon Knight together, they have a chance to be very good,” Robinson said.

The response surprised me because, although he played two seasons in Detroit, that represented only a fraction of his 18 seasons in the league. Plus, the Pistons traded him the offseason before they won a championship and the team they shipped Robinson to, Golden State, was the only team Robinson played for in those 18 seasons in the league that did not make the NBA Playoffs. So, on the surface, there’s no particular reason for Robinson to have any special affinity for the Pistons that would cause him to seek them out and watch them regularly. But upon closer inspection, Robinson, like Drummond and Charlie Villanueva, played at UConn. He also played three seasons for the New Jersey Nets and Lawrence Frank, so connections do still exist even if Robinson doesn’t necessarily have roots in the Detroit area still.

Like many fans of the team, Robinson is intrigued by the diversity Monroe and Drummond can bring to a frontcourt, with Monroe’s craftiness, passing and high-post ability and Drummond’s natural gifts of moving without the basketball and finishing anything tossed in the general vicinity of the rim with a dunk. The key, though, is whether or not the Pistons can keep those players together long enough to see them reach their peaks together. Monroe could enter restricted free agency in 2014, and the market for skilled big men dictates that he’ll be expensive, as will Drummond if he continues to develop at such a torrid pace.

That’s the challenge in the NBA — keeping guys together long enough for them to develop trust and chemistry,” said Robinson, who currently works with the Pro Basketball Alumni Association and mentioned that he’d be interested in getting into coaching someday.

Terry Mills, a Robinson predecessor in the role of Pistons floor-stretching big man, is already involved in coaching. Mills is an assistant coach at Henry Ford Community College, one of many very good junior college programs in Michigan (Seriously … follow your local JUCO hoops team. Flint’s Mott Community College and Grand Rapids Community College are in the national tournament this month, and Henry Ford, Wayne County, Oakland, Glen Oaks and Lansing community colleges were all formidable teams who were ranked nationally at different points this season).

Unlike Robinson, who has had basketball success in stops all over the country, Mills’ is a Michigan man through and through. He was a local star at perennial high school power Romulus, a standout on a national championship team at the University of Michigan and, after a brief stop in New Jersey to start his career, played the best basketball of his NBA career as a Detroit Piston. He’s also part of a great basketball family in Detroit — his uncle is former Piston John Long and cousin is another former Piston, Grant Long.

Mills also talked about the evolution of the modern game, particularly how the Miami Heat often surround LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with shooters to keep the lane un-clogged for those guys to get inside and finish. Mills played a prominent role in an early version of that type of offense with the Pistons.

“I really started using that shot (more) when Doug Collins took over as coach of the Pistons, he wanted to use me as more of a specialist in pick and rolls with Grant Hill,” Mills said. “It was a win-win for us, because a big guy switching on Grant Hill was a big advantage (for Hill).”

Although Mills had a solid, long NBA career, now that he’s a coach, he says players are getting to the age where they weren’t old enough to have watched him play.

Guys on my team were just born when I was finishing HS or college,” he said.

Mills reinvented himself as a NBA player to find a niche and succeed, and he says he imparts that knowledge to players he coaches now

I tell kids that now, work on every aspect of your game,” Mills said. “Don’t limit yourself. To be of value to division I programs or to NBA or professional teams, they are looking for versatility, not just offensively but also being able to defend different positions too.”

(Also, check out the guest post on Mills/Robinson I did for Detroit Bad Boys today as well)

Dennis Rodman and diplomacy

I haven’t posted much on the whole Dennis Rodman singing the praises of North Korean dictators thing, because, well … I don’t really know what to say about it. But Matt Ufford of SB Nation has a fantastic piece on the whole thing, including the background on how and why Rodman got there in the first place:

“I’m not a diplomat,” Rodman told Stephanopoulos earlier, and it’s one more thing that he’s wrong about. Rodman certainly isn’t qualified as a diplomat, but that’s exactly what he is, and the fact that he’s America’s only diplomat to North Korea is only the latest indicator of just how massively screwed up that country is.

More than a diplomat, though, Dennis Rodman is Dennis Rodman, and we can’t ask him to be Henry Kissinger any more than we can ask a jellyfish to take over the space program. By virtue of his rebounding and defense two decades ago — and by the vices he’s indulged since — Rodman made history in North Korea. That’s enough to know, and anything more from him is too much.

UPDATE: Oh, Dennis.

Pistons again without an All-Star, doubling their previous longest drought

Unsurprisingly, no Pistons were selected to this year’s All-Star game. That means Detroit has gone four straight years with out an All-Star (and five since a deserving All-Star, because Allen Iverson made it in 2009 only because of fan vote).

Four years without an All-Star might not seem like an eternity, but for the Pistons, it’s twice as long as their previous longest drought.

Since the NBA played its first All-Star game in 1951, 54 of the 63 contests have included at least one Detroit Piston – meaning the Pistons have been shut out only nine times. They didn’t have one in 2002, 1999 or 1994. And prior to the current run, 1980 and 1981 were the Pistons’ only consecutive All-Star-less seasons.