On July 10, the Detroit Pistons signed former Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith to a four-year contract worth $54 million. Experts have generally been critical of the deal, some even evoking the Pistons’ disastrous free agent ventures of 2009, when the team gave a combined $90 million to Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.
Though signing Smith was probably not an optimal use of the team’s resources, it is nowhere near catastrophic. It certainly does not merit comparisons to the 2009 deals.
Villanueva has been overpaid for the duration of his contract, but he was a somewhat valuable player for its first two seasons. Since injuring his ankle during the 2011-12 season, he has fallen off a cliff, averaging less than 16 minutes a game last year and shooting a career-low 37.7 percent. A drop-off offensively is not something the defensively inept Villanueva can afford.
Signing Gordon was even worse. The Pistons already had an overpaid shooting guard in Richard Hamilton. Overspending on another player at the same position made no sense whatsoever. Even after Hamilton’s departure, Gordon failed to play up to his contract. Last season, the Pistons gave Charlotte a first-round draft pick to take Gordon off their hands.
It was because of that deal that Detroit had money to spend this offseason. And while the Pistons probably won’t be hoisting any banners during Josh Smith’s tenure, they also will not be the laughingstock that they were for the Gordon/Villanueva years.
There were two superstar-free agents this summer in Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. The Pistons had no realistic chance of signing either. After them, Smith was simply the best player available. While similar logic perhaps informed the Gordon/Villanueva signings, it’s important to note that Smith is dramatically better than both of them, a borderline All-Star who is in the middle of his prime.
Smith has some holes in his game, and he is not an ideal fit on this team. His jump shot is unreliable (and yet he’s a bit too keen on taking it), and he fares best in an open-floor game, which does not figure to be the Pistons style.
However, he does a lot of things well. He’s an excellent and versatile defender, capable of guarding both perimeter players and big men. He’s extremely athletic and provides shot-blocking at the rim. He handles the ball well and passes exceptionally for a big man. He’s a player who could contribute on literally any team.
The early scuttle is that Detroit plans to start him at small forward. This, I think, will prove unwise, and I hope that the Pistons abandon it quickly. A starting frontcourt of Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond just doesn’t have enough shooting to keep the floor spaced, limiting the value of each player.
What’s intriguing about Smith is how he potentially gives Detroit the ability to form a three-man rotation with their bigs, like the Los Angeles Lakers in recent years with Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. Monroe lacks Gasol’s size and length, but Smith should be able to cover up these shortcomings to some degree with his talent as a weak-side shot-blocker.
The upside to this is that it would allow Detroit to reduce the minutes of their other big men, all of whom are well below average.
The Eastern Conference figures to be very top-heavy this season. Miami, Indiana, Brooklyn and Chicago are extremely potent teams, and the Knicks should be a near-lock for the playoffs. But after that, it’s pretty wide open. The Pistons should be in the scrum with Atlanta, Washington, Milwaukee, Cleveland and maybe Toronto for the final three playoff spots.
And that’s a fine place for this team to be right now. Their best players, Monroe and Drummond, aren’t yet ready for primetime. By the time they are, Smith will likely be gone. So while he may be a bit overpaid and a bit out of place, I don’t think we’ll remember Josh Smith’s time in Detroit as being all that bad.
By Matt Durr
Have you ever known people who are in a relationship that just isn’t good, but they refuse to get out of it? That’s how I feel about my liaison with the National Hockey League.
I have become that guy whose girlfriend constantly cheats on him and devalues him, while the girlfriend does what she pleases.
Well, I’m here to say: Enough is enough and it’s time for a change!
The next time the NHL calls me up sobbing in the middle of the night to tell me it didn’t know how good I was, I won’t pick up the phone.
For the fourth time in the last 20 years, the NHL has failed to come to a collective bargaining agreement with its players, and so the owners of the teams have locked the players out from competing.
And the ones who are truly paying the price are, once again, the fans.
Fans like me — who grew up in a house where hockey was not only the most beloved sport, but if I spoke too much during games, I had to leave the room. I still remember my father taking me to my first game when I was 7 years old. Steve Yzerman scored on a penalty shot and the Detroit Red Wings tied the Buffalo Sabres.
Sadly, many fathers won’t be able to create a memory like this for their children because millionaires and billionaires are fighting over who should get a bigger chunk of an $18 billion pie.
Since the last lockout in 2005, the game has struggled to bring fans back and keep them interested. Unless you live in a country where English is not the only official language, no one cares about hockey.
And it’s because of people like NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who refuse to accept the fact that they are a dying league and the bad publicity is going to continue the downfall of hockey.
Star players like Pavel Datsyuk are going to go play in Russia and other international leagues, and if they were smart they would stay there.
The NHL used to be a way for international players to escape the dictator-like states they lived in. Now, the NHL has become a ruthless dictator who cares not for the people who make it strong, but only for what keeps him happy at night.
It’s barely the same game that I fell in love with. The physicality of the game has all but evaporated unless someone takes a cheap shot at another player. Everything is a penalty, and the referees never have to own up to doing a sub-standard job.
So this is my way of telling the NHL that I think we should start seeing other people. Sure, we had some great times, and I’ll never forget how special you made me feel in the summer of 2002.
But you’ve changed, and because of that I know I mean it when I say that we’re done -— and it’s because of you, not me.
In the heat of the summer, there’s sports
As summer approaches, the sports world is on the verge of several dramatic events. The National Hockey League and National Basketball Association crown champions after two months of playoffs, while Major League Baseball nears the thick of pennant race baseball, and the suits gather in courtrooms to determine whether the National Football League will operate this season.
is taking a publishing hiatus until August, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any sporting events worth watching. Here’s a list of some of the more important sport dates for fans to watch over summer.
NBA Finals (May 31 or June 2):
This will undoubtedly be the biggest event of the summer, especially if the star-studded Miami Heat make the Finals.
Stanley Cup Finals (TBD, June):
The dates haven’t been determined yet, but regardless of who makes the championship, the seven-game series should be worthwhile.
(July-September): Perhaps the most important stint of the MLB season. The end of July marks the MLB trading deadline and the beginning of September allows for MLB teams to expand rosters to 40 players instead of 25. In addition, championship contenders and pretenders really start to come to light.
NBA Draft (June 23):
The Detroit Pistons will once again have a high selection in the NBA Draft, after finishing the season with just 30 victories. While the draft lottery has to occur first, look for the Pistons to be picking somewhere around No. 7 overall, and have a shot at drafting Connecticut point guard Kemba Walker.
Michigan Wolverines vs. Western Michigan University (Sept. 3):
Brady Hoke will coach his first game at Michigan Stadium against the Broncos of Western Michigan. Michigan will look to get to a good start under the Hoke era, but a strong WMU team will stand in the way.
NASCAR at Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 21):
The 2011 MIS racing season will conclude with the big stars coming to Michigan. Last year, Kevin Harwick won the race and will look to repeat as MIS champion. The race starts at 1 p.m. on ESPN.
MLB All-Star weekend (July 10-12):
The midsummer classic will be played at Chase Field in Phoenix this season, with the winning league earning home-field advantage in the World Series. The annual home run derby will take place on July 11, with a celebrity softball game the day before.
Wimbledon Finals (July 2-3):
The world’s biggest tennis players gather in London for tennis’ most prestigious event. Defending gentlemen’s champion Rafael Nadal hopes to defend his title. Ladies’ champion Serena Williams will attempt to win her fifth Wimbledon title.
Champions League final (May 28):
Soccer’s version of the Super Bowl. Fans from all over the globe will be focused on Wembley Stadium in London. Spanish powers Barcelona square off against England’s Manchester United in the biggest match of the year. Many of the world’s top players play for these two squads and for the players the finale is a chance to be a part of the grandest stage in club soccer. 10.
U.S. Open (June 16-19):
One of golf’s four majors, the U.S. Open is routinely one of the best tournaments of the year in terms of competition and skill. The best golfers in the world will descend on The Congressional golf course in Maryland. Defending champion Graeme McDowell returns to defend his title. Ernie Els won the last time the Congressional held the tournament in 1997.
A message to UM alumni: Welcome back, but where have you been?
University of Michigan defensive end Ryan Van Bergen deserves a big pat on the back right about now.
See, Van Bergen openly voiced his opinion about UM alumni all of a sudden paying tribute to the football program under coach Brady Hoke, who’s been publicly declared a “Michigan man.”
To be exact, Van Bergen had these words to say a bout alumni on April 17:
“It’s just kind of unsettling,” said Van Bergen. “It’s great that they’re back. But it’s kinda like, ‘Where have they been the past two or three years?’ Because we’ve still been wearing the same helmets we have been since they were here. You know what I mean?”
I know exactly what you mean.
When Rich Rodriguez was the head man at UM, alumni and former coaches created a faction inside the program. Most alumni remained out of the public spotlight and didn’t speak up, good or bad about Rodriguez’s UM program. Now that Rodriguez has been relieved of his duties, the former players again want to reclaim the program.
I believe in the sports world the correct term for that is called “bandwagon-ing.”
To make matters worse, former UM standout wide receiver Braylon Edwards commented on the differences between Rodriguez’ UM program and Hoke’s:
“It’s just different,” Edwards said. “You feel welcome. That right there is enough. You can feel that warmth. That sense of, ‘I played here, I deserve to be able to come back and walk around.’ That wasn’t there. He’s bringing that back.”
In the three short years that Rodriguez was given to bring the UM program to new heights, you didn’t feel welcome? Edwards didn’t feel like he played at UM anymore? Or could it possibly have been the fact that Edwards has never taken too kindly to being a loser?
He didn’t stick behind the program when Rodriguez was around, but all of a sudden he’s back — and the UM faithful are expected to embrace his return like he’s a knight in shining armor.
Now that’s not to say that all alumni of the program have been unsupportive of the UM program the last three years. Former UM running back Mike Hart has stated that he felt no animosity from Rodriguez or his staff.
Hart was one of the few alumni who didn’t just dump the program once it got a little mud on its cleats.
However, Edwards simply couldn’t accept being a UM fan and supportive alumni while the program was facing some adversity.
Seriously, imagine if the fans gave the UM program the same treatment that Edwards gave. UM wouldn’t have the great game-day environment and certainly wouldn’t continuously lead all of college football in ticket sales — even while losing nine games in a season.
If fans of the UM football program are offended by the alumni taking the program for granted, imagine how fifth-year seniors like Van Bergen feel.
I’ll tell you — disrespected. And who could blame them?
Tigers should contend for playoffs this year
To try and figure out what exactly is going to happen in the American League is an exercise in insanity. Since 2004, only one team — the Boston Red Sox — has made more than one World Series appearance. While the traditional favorites will certainly contend for a title, others will not.
Boston Red Sox
— Easily the favorites to make it deep into October, the Red Sox added two all stars to an already stacked lineup. After signing Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the depth on their roster makes them a tough team to bet against. The only thing that can hold them back is a questionable pitching staff.
New York Yankees
— Their offense cannot be denied, but when Freddy Garcia is the fifth starter, the pinstripes have to be worried. After missing out on free agent pitcher Cliff Lee, the Yankees will be looking for a top pitcher via trade. Questions about Derek Jeter and his ability to rebound from his worst season and Alex Rodriguez and his ability to play a full season surround the everyday lineup.
Chicago White Sox —Adding Adam Dunn improves a deadly offense that plays in a hitter-friendly park. The Sox pitching staff has shown the signs of being great, but needs its defense to help out. The Sox lost their closer, Bobby Jenks, so Matt Thornton steps into that role.
— The big question surrounding the reigning Central Division champs is: Can former MVP Justin Morneau overcome his post-concussion symptoms? If Morneau is on the field, the Twins are the favorites to win their division. If not, the pitching staff led by Cy Young candidate Fransisco Liriano will need to be stellar to support an average offense.
— If the lineup stays healthy, they should contend for a playoff spot. Miguel Cabrera seems to have already worked past his off-field issues, and leads a potentially potent offense. Starting pitching will once again be the telling issue. Ace pitcher Justin Verlander leads a starting rotation, while Phil Coke and Brad Penny will be counted on to stabilize the back end of the rotation, which has been a mess in years past.
— The defending American League champions lost a couple key players in pitcher Cliff Lee and outfielder Vladimir Guerrero. However, they still have a talented young pitching staff and plenty of pop in their bats. Reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton leads a group on offense that gives even the elite pitchers nightmares.
Los Angeles Angels
— On paper, the Angels look like a playoff contender every year. Last year, a host of injuries and a struggling pitching staff ended their streak of playoff berths. Vernon Wells joins the lineup and first baseman Kendrys Morales returns from a broken leg that cost him most of last season. The pitching staff is tough at the top, but loses its steam toward the back end.
If things really go their way, Oakland, or Tampa Bay may compete for a playoff spot. But fans of Kansas City, Seattle, Baltimore, Cleveland or Toronto shouldn’t plan for much excitement this season.
More than just a number
April 15 is a day that is all about numbers. Tax day in our country, and whether you’re paying in or getting back, it’s all about the numbers. But for me, April 15 is about one number: 42.
That’s the number that Jackie Robinson wore on April 15, 1947 when he famously broke baseball’s color barrier as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
As a child learning the history of baseball, Robinson’s feat, to me, felt like it happened ages ago. And even though it was 64 years ago, looking back at old black-and-white footage of the historic day, it feels as if it were shot in 1847.
In sports, 64 years can seem like an eternity, but in reality, it is not as long as we think.
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland is just one of a handful of managers older than 64. Imagine when he was first being introduced to baseball: Black athletes were not allowed to play in the majors. That is a shocking and very disturbing thought to me.
42 is the only number officially retired from every Major League Baseball team.
On the 50th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier, the MLB announced that no one will ever wear Robinson’s number again. Those who wore the number at the time were allowed to finish their careers with that number if they chose. Only Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera still wears it.
It can be safely assumed that if not Robinson, another black player would have broken the barrier, but no one would have done so with Robinson’s poise and dignity, courage and strength.
From the death threats he and his wife faced to not being able to sleep in the same hotels as his teammates, Robinson never let the struggles get to him. In a time when athletes like Adrian Peterson make millions of dollars and complain they’re treated like slaves, Robinson’s strength is even more impressive.
42 is the number that every player, in every game played, wears each year on April 15, as a tribute to Robinson.
Not only was Robinson a part of the team, he was a key component in leading the Dodgers to the World Series in 1947. That same year he won the National League rookie of the Year award. And in 1955, Robinson led the Brooklyn Dodgers to their only World Series championship.
How good was Jackie Robinson? In his 10 seasons with the Dodgers, the team made six World Series appearances. Robinson was a six-time All-Star and won the 1949 NL MVP award. Before baseball, he lettered in four varsity sports at UCLA. Oh, and he spent two years in the military before giving baseball a try.
In 1962, Robinson was the first African-American player elected into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
42 is a number that was worn during a game, but still inspires people more than six decades later.
As a white male who has never dealt with racism or discrimination, I cannot even imagine how it feels to deal with those issues. But Robinson inspires me and many others to not let people hold us down for things that don’t matter. Things like skin color, social status, sexual orientation or any other pointless reason to dislike someone.
42 is a number that is exactly that — a number.
But for those of us who know the story, it doesn’t matter if the number was 42 or 24 or 84. The meaning and legacy behind it is what matters. And even though April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day, whenever I see the number 42, I think of courage, strength and determination.
And it makes my day.
Can anyone stop the Phillies? Marlins, Reds, anyone?
Just how competitive is the National League? Even though the San Francisco Giants won the World Series last year and had no major departures, many “experts” feel they won’t even make the playoffs this season. One team does stand out on paper, but as any sports fan can tell you “that’s why they make them play the game.”
— The Phillies just may have the best starting pitching staff in the last 20 years. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee have both won Cy Young awards. Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt could easily be the ace of most Major League Baseball staffs, but in this group they are third and fourth options. The offense will be supplied by slugger Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and all-around threat Jimmy Rollins. If there is one weakness, it’s the inconsistency of closer Brad Lidge.
— Can they do it again? With a payroll that is a fraction of division rivals New York and Philadelphia, the Marlins could once again make a run into October with a team of young, hungry players. Josh Johnson is a bona fide stud as a starting pitcher and Hanley Ramirez is one of the top five players in baseball. Coupled with a roster that is only getting better, the Marlins are a sleeper pick to win it all.
— The defending NL Central champions are back and hoping to take last season’s lessons and put them to use. MVP Joey Votto leads a potent offense that includes second baseman Brandon Phillips and outfielder Jay Bruce. The pitching staff needs to continue to make strides in order to hold off the competition in the division. A quick exit from last year’s playoffs should be the catalyst to keep this team hungry.
St. Louis Cardinals
— Questions about superstar first baseman Albert Pujols will surround this team all year. Pujols may test the free-agent market next year and that could be a big distraction this season. Coupled with the loss of ace pitcher Adam Wainwright for the season, the Cardinals may be in for a long season. However, the talent is there and manager Tony La Russa gets the best out of his players. Look for this team to at least contend for the playoffs into September, and possibly a deeper run.
— Former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke joined the Brewers via trade in the offseason and bolstered their pitching staff immediately. Unfortunately Greinke starts the season on the disabled list. Still the Brewers are a sleeper pick to win their division or the wild card. Slugger Prince Fielder is in the last year of his contract and should be motivated to lead this team to the postseason. Outfielders Ryan Braun and Cory Hart are coming off all-star seasons, while Yovani Gallardo will help stabilize the pitching staff.
San Francisco Giants
— The defending world champs return to defend their title with the majority of their roster returning. If not for the Phillies, this pitching staff would be the best in baseball. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain lead the staff that is young and very, very talented. Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell will drive in a majority of the runs, which will come at a premium for this offense. Odds of repeating are not great, but the pitching is good enough to get it done again.
— This is another young team that can get it done in a variety of ways. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez are two of baseball’s most exciting players and play in a ballpark made for offense. That stadium can work against them at times, as pitching at home can be a challenge. Ubaldo Jimenez is a Cy Young candidate who may have the best stuff in the league.
The Atlanta Braves and New York Mets both have lineups that can compete for a playoff spot, but their division might be too tough. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres are capable of winning, but have struggled to be consistent. The Chicago Cubs have more than 100 years of history working against them, and that history is likely to repeat itself. Washington, Houston, Arizona, and Pittsburgh are all rebuilding and will not contend.
Mistakes hurt the Big Ten’s overrated reputation
For as long as I can remember, the Big Ten has been the top conference in college athletics. Its teams have had national success in a variety of sports, including the two majors, men’s basketball and football. But in the last few years, a worrisome range of issues have severely hurt the conference’s reputation.
I firmly believe that none of the mistakes have been intentional, but regardless, someone should have stepped up to address these issues. And in most cases, that person should have been Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, who has held the job since 1989.
Until recently, Delany has done a fine job as commissioner. But recent events and a lack of action on some controversies have damaged both the image of the conference and his reputation.
Ohio State University head football coach Jim Tressel’s recent issues with the NCAA have become national news. And his explanation has become something of a national laughingstock.
In December of last year, Delany sat at a podium and defended Tressel to the NCAA and the world. Now the football world has found out that Tressel was lying about his knowledge of the transgressions made by his players.
Delany, in an act that reeks of defective leadership, simply refuses to comment on the situation. The man whose job it is to enforce the rules doesn’t want to talk about the man he defended for breaking them.
Could it be he really wants to wait and see what the NCAA thinks? Or was Delany simply trying to make sure that OSU had the best players available for the Bowl Championship Series Sugar Bowl game the Buckeyes were scheduled to play on Jan. 4 against the Arkansas Razorbacks?
Perhaps Delany simply doesn’t care. Did I mention Delany is a power player in the BCS?
And who can forget the ridiculous naming of the realigned divisions. In December of last year Delany revealed the names of the two divisions comprising the Big Ten’s 12 schools when Nebraska joins later this year: The Legends and the Leaders
Panned by fans and critics, Delany stood by the decision to use these unoriginal, comical names. And he insisted they would be used for at least one season before any discussion on changing the names would reconvene.
Earlier this month, Big East basketball official Earl Walton was part of a team of referees who resigned from working the rest of the conference basketball tournament after they acknowledged blowing a crucial call at the end of a game. The Big Ten brought Walton in to referee a Big Ten tournament game the day after he announced his resignation.
I’m not saying Walton shouldn’t be able to work again, but he just admitted he wasn’t fit to work! And the Big Ten embraced him, saying they saw no issue in letting Walton work a mere 24 hours after confessing his incompetence.
In the last few years, the Big Ten has made no secret about its intention to expand the conference to either 14 or 16 schools. Delany has tried feverishly to recruit one school: Notre Dame. Yet the Fighting Irish have resisted all attempts by Delany and the Big Ten and insulted them in the process. That hasn’t stopped Notre Dame from flirting with the Big Ten to the point of making the conference look silly.
Delany, however, refuses to take a stand with Notre Dame by asking simply: “Are you in or out?” This shows signs of a lack of leadership, ability and judgment. If Notre Dame doesn’t want to play ball, forbid your conference teams from playing them in their stadiums. Send a message that it is a privilege to have schools like Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Indiana on the Fighting Irish’s schedule.
Whether Delany continues down this path to nowhere is up in the air. But one thing can be certain: if things don’t change in the Big Ten soon, Notre Dame won’t be the only school unwilling to play ball in the Big Ten.
Pick your poison: A few tips for a successful ‘March Madness’ bracket
The NCAA tournament might look a little bit different this year, but that doesn’t mean fans won’t be able to participate in America’s favorite bracket challenge.
March Madness is just around the corner, and fans are studying teams in hopes of winning their local pool or cashing in big on Yahoo.com’s annual $1 million challenge for a perfect bracket and $10,000 for the best bracket.
But while competing with millions of others for the coveted perfect bracket, there are a few rules that everyone should follow — especially for this year.
Don’t pick any ‘mid-major’ colleges beyond the “elite eight.” Generally, there is at least one powerhouse mid-major in college basketball (think Butler, Gonzaga of the past), but this year has been a bit of a slump for these teams. Brigham Young University has been a force from the Mountain West Conference, but the loss of forward Brandon Davies will have a huge impact on the team.
Don’t pick too many upsets that others aren’t. Sounds crazy, but having a small team like Indiana State going to the “sweet 16” probably won’t benefit you. If they lose in the first round, you automatically lose the game they were going to play in for the third round. In years past, if several experts are picking a reasonable upset in the first round, it may be safe to take that pick.
Rely on teams with good defense. Think Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Duke. One common component of all five of the last championship teams is that when the NCAA tournament came around, they defended. Florida won back-to-back championships largely due to its ability to defend against anyone in college basketball.
Teams with good backcourt play usually make it further. Remember Davidson with Stephen Curry? While good big men definitely don’t hurt, guard play is pivotal to NCAA tournament success. Teams with good assist-to-turnover ratios usually succeed in the tournament. Think teams like Duke, Pittsburgh, Texas. Also look for St. John’s University to be a surprise team in the tournament.
In contrast to having a good backcourt, don’t pick teams who rely on shooting three-pointers. While these teams usually pull a few upsets in the tournament, one bad shooting performance and they’re eliminated from the tournament. Louisville expects to be a high seed in the NCAA tournament, but ranks in the top 10 for three-pointers attempted.
Lastly, put your head in front of your heart. While you want your favorite team to make a deep run in the tournament, make sure you’re picking smart. The second round always seems tempting to pick a number-one seed getting upset, but it almost never happens. All No. 1 seeds should be picked to make the sweet sixteen, at least.
Unanswered questions are the highlight Pistons’ season
Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press courtesy photo
Detroit Pistons players watch the game action against the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 14 at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Entering this season, the Detroit Pistons had numerous questions to answer about where the future of the franchise was headed.
How would rookie Greg Monroe perform? Will Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva live up to the big contracts they signed last off-season? Would management trade Tayshaun Prince or Rip Hamilton? Could this team make the playoffs? And many more.
At the unofficial halfway point of the season, some of those questions have been answered, but a few more have surfaced too.
The biggest story throughout this year has been the saga of shooting guard Richard “Rip” Hamilton. He has been the subject of trade talks since the middle of January. These talks were coupled with head coach John Kuester’s decision to bench Hamilton. While neither side has made it clear why Hamilton has been shelved, speculation is that Hamilton and Kuester simply do not get along.
Hamilton is the team captain and the longest-tenured player on the team, along with Prince. However, Hamilton has only seen action in one game since Jan. 21. In that lone appearance, he scored 15 points in 20 minutes off the bench.
Whether or not Hamilton ends the season with the Pistons remains to be seen, but the drama has clearly become the defining story of the season.
On the court, things haven’t been much better out at The Palace. A lack of scoring has been the leading factor in a subpar start to the year. The team ranks in the bottom five for scoring average, assists, free throws made and free-throw percentage.
The guard rotation has been a cluster of players that have yet to find any sort of chemistry this season. Five guards are fighting for minutes: Hamilton, Gordon, Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum and Tracy McGrady have all seen playing time, but none have been able to stand out in the crowd.
If there has been one bright spot, it has been rookie power forward Monroe. The seventh overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, Monroe started a bit slow, but has set himself apart from the other big men on the roster in the last month. He has improved in the post and his defense has progressed with the more playing time he has received.
In the background of all the on-court woes, management is still unsure who the next owner of the team will be. Detroit Tigers and Red Wings owner Mike Illitch reportedly made an offer to buy the Pistons, but couldn’t close the deal. California billionaire Tom Gores, a Flint native, has been seen at Pistons games and was rumored to have been in talks with owner Karen Davidson about purchasing the team.
With the trade deadline looming and a playoff berth unlikely, changes may soon be made both on and off the court. How and when those changes take shape will affect the future of the franchise for years to come.