Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Tigers Enter the Wasteland

The MLB All Star game is over and games start again this Friday, so let's take a look at the Tigers going into the 2nd half (technically they've already played more than half a season, but traditionally the All Star Break is considered the halfway point). The Tigers' record is .500 at 44-44, which is viewed as a big disappointment, given the season expectations.

The Tigers opened the season with the 4th-highest payroll in baseball, which ideally should lead to some wins. Unfortunately, while they improved some areas on the team, the starting pitching and the bullpen didn't get as much help. The offense & fielding were bolstered by the additions of Yoenis Cespedes (trade) and Jose Iglesias (return from injury), but they lost Max Scherzer (free agency) and Rick Porcello (traded for Cespedes) and did not adequately replace them (Simon and Greene have stunk, stunk, STUNK). They also did nothing to bolster the bullpen, which has been this team's Achilles' Heel since the Tigers have been good enough to HAVE an Achilles' Heel.

Of all the issues holding this team back, the pitching gets the most attention, and rightfully so. The Tigers have the 4th-highest ERA in baseball and the 5th-lowest number of strikeouts. That's probably not good. If you break it up between starters and relievers, it makes it a bit clearer. The Tigers' starters rank 18th in the MLB right now, which is actually better than the Royals and Giants who both have better records than Detroit does, and just below the Twins & Angels. The bullpen is a different story. A team can overcome a mediocre starting rotation with a good bullpen, or a mediocre bullpen can be overcome with good offense & starters, but nothing can overcome a 'pen as bad as this one.

Dombrowski added Neftali Feliz a few days ago, which was a classic Dombrowski move. Pick up a mostly-washed up, former closer and hope to catch lightning in a bottle. This is Joe Nathan, Soria, and Jim Johnson all over again, and I expect it to be about as unsuccessful as those moves were. The big speculation is whether the Tigers will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline, likely adding an arm if they're buyers. The next 10 games are pretty crucial to determining which road the Tigers will take. If they're sellers, expect them to look to deal David Price and Yoenis Cespedes at the deadline. Neither player is under contract next year.

The Tigers' offense is actually pretty good, ranking 5th in Batting WAR and 3rd in runs scored. However, they could be a lot better. The Tigers are leading the league in GDP (that's "Grounded into Double-Play, not Gross Domestic Product) and times caught stealing, two stats that take potential runs off the board. UBR is a stat that takes into consideration all other aspects of baserunning, like getting thrown out, not tagging up, etc. The Tigers don't rank well there either. If they lead the league in grounding into double plays, caught stealing, and are towards the bottom in EVERY OTHER ASPECT OF BASERUNNING, we're not a good baserunning team. This is odd to me, because aside from two or three guys, we have good or even great speed across the board. So we either have some of the slowest fast guys in baseball, or our coaches aren't doing a good job of deciding when to send a guy and when to reign him in. I think it's probably the latter.

Based on the use of the bullpen, baserunning, and other decisions, I'd say coaching has already cost this team a couple of games. The real problem is the bullpen, and I don't think there's an easy fix for that. Unfortunately for this season, I think the Tigers' best move is to embrace a rebuild. I really like Cespedes and Price is by far their best starter, but this team is a mess right now and they're too top heavy in salary.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pistons muddle through free agency, Stanley Johnson shines in Summer League

This was a very frustrating Pistons offseason for me. They passed on Justise Winslow in the draft. Ok, I've heard compelling arguments from the other side and have come to believe this is less of an incredible screw up than I originally thought. Both players are close. Most experts favored Winslow. He was only 1/2 an inch shorter, more athletic, and an elite defender. Johnson's offensive game was a bit more polished, he was stronger (with an extra 20 lbs of muscle), and he looked slightly less good than Winslow in every other category. Personally, I'd take the defensive freak, but I see the argument for Johnson has some merit.


Then came the trades and free agency. SVG traded for Ersan Ilyasova prior to the draft. With Monroe certainly heading out of town, Van Gundy wanted to add depth to the PF position. Ilyasova is a stretch 4 (he shoots .370% from 3pt range for his career, although his seasonal averages waver from about .400% to about .300), which fits with Drummond and Van Gundy's offense much better than Monroe did. However, the move cost the Pistons some cap space. This becomes important a little later.

The Pistons had targeted a couple of SFs to go after in free agency. Danny Green, a SG/SF, was a restricted FA for the Spurs. Reportedly we called him at 12:01AM the instant free agency began. Here's my impression of how that conversation may have played out:



Stan Van Gundy: Hey Danny, happy free agency! This is Stan from the Pistons, just wanted to let you know that we really like you and will pay you a lot of money to come to Detroit.
Danny Green: Um, yeah, thanks Stan. I appreciate that. But you should know that I'm already with someone, I'm happy here, and I think I really have a chance to help build something special.

SVG: That's great Danny, but do they appreciate YOU? I've got a $60M contract here that proves how much I appreciate you. What have the Spurs done for you lately?
DG: Well, we won a national championship like a year ago. Money isn't everything, and I'm committed to this relationship and I want to make it work. If that means taking less money to stay, I can make that sacrifice.SVG: Relationships are a two-way street, Danny. Remember that. We'll be here if you need us.
DG: Yeah, okay.

SVG: By the way, do you have a friend?


DeMarre Carroll was next on the list. He had a breakout season last year as the starting SF for the Hawks. Carroll was on his first free agent visit with Toronto, heard the number he wanted to hear, and cancelled his other visits. I figured Draymond Green wouldn't see the light of day, that Golden State would lock him up before he had a chance to hear any offers. Their contract talks broke down, so for a few hours I had a slim hope that the Warriors were insincere in their desire to re-sign Green at any cost. Unfortunately, Golden State recovered and offered a max-type deal of 5 years, $85M which Green gladly accepted.


That left Tobias Harris - a young SF/PF combo-forward with 3pt range, Wes Matthews - a 3&D SG/SF coming off an Achilles tear, and Khris Middleton - a throw-in from the Brandon Jennings/Knight trade who turned into a 3&D monster. Both Harris and Middleton were RFAs, so the incumbent team could match any offer. The word on Harris was Orlando wasn't going to match a near-max deal, so he was supposedly more attainable than Middleton was. Matthews was less desirable, since he was coming off of a serious injury and was more of a 2 than a 3 or 4. Harris seemed like it was going to happen, and then... this.


Aron Baynes is basically a replacement-level player the Pistons signed for the type of money that goes to your best guy off the bench. Several equivalent or even better players went for far less money. And not only was it an overpay, it killed any cap space the Pistons had for signing Harris, Middleton, or Matthews. Van Gundy mitigated this terrible move and his failure to sign any of the names he had targeted by making a deal with Phoenix to help them clear cap space. The trade sent a 2020 2nd round pick to the Suns for Marcus Morris (who will either start at SF or come off the bench as a SF or PF), Danny Granger (who might get cut or might be a 2nd- or 3rd-string SF), and Reggie Bullock (who might get cut or might be the 3rd-string SG or SF).


By all accounts, both trades were considered favorable to Detroit. In both cases we lost little and gained more. The Baynes signing was pretty bad, probably overpaying him by 30-50%. Reggie Jackson signed a near-max deal to stay in Detroit, which I considered a solid move. But the object this offseason should have been to put the team in good position for next offseason. Detroit was one of a few teams with good cap space to sign free agents. Next season, everyone will have good cap space. They needed to sign their max guy this year and go for filler next year.

I'm reserving total judgment in the hopes that SVG is working on asset acquisition, hoping to pull off some One Red Paperclip type of swindle. Van Gundy could be looking for players who have a talent/value gap on the open market, but that wouldn't explain the Baynes signing. At this point they have to either hope that they're good enough to attract a quality FA, or that they're bad enough to land a top 3 draft pick. They've lived in the middle ground for the past 7 years.

***



Stanley Johnson has been really good in Summer League play. Through 3 games he's averaging 17 pts, 6.5 rebs, 2 assists, 2 steals, he had a monsterous block on Justise Winslow, and he's shooting .704/.500/.563. This is a ridiculously small sample size, and it's Summer League. Summer League success doesn't necessarily translate to the NBA regular season, just ask Austin Daye.






In the anticipated Winslow/Johnson matchup yesterday, Johnson acquitted himself very well. He only took 5 shots but managed 14 points, 7 boards, 2 dimes, 2 steals and dat block! Plus, he mentioned a couple of "hockey assists" (passes that lead to passes that lead to baskets) which don't show up in the stat sheet. He also racked up 5 fouls, all in the first half. Johnson's assessment was he wasn't playing strong, physical defense, causing him to lose Winslow and bump him when Johnson tried to recover. He adjusted in the 2nd half and was much better.

Stanley Johnson looks like he has the potential to be a very good player in the NBA. I don't think he'll ever be a STAR, but he might make an all star team or 2.

Monday, June 29, 2015

2015 NBA Draft: Did SVG Screw the Pooch?

The 2015 NBA Draft is over, and man was it an emotional rollercoaster. Heading into the draft there were some trade possibilities, some potentially Machiavellian maneuvering, and a list of potential draftees as long as my arm. I was hoping that either Mario Hezonja or Justise Winslow would slip past the Denver Nuggets at #7, but if not I was resigned to talking myself into Stanley Johnson. Well, we got Stanley Johnson, but not in the way that I expected.


In order for either Hezonja or Winslow to slip to the Pistons at 8, 3 different things needed to happen.
  1. Jahlil Okafor had to go in the top 3 picks
  2. Willie Cauley-Stein had to be drafted before the Pistons went on the clock
  3. Emmanuel Mudiay needed to be taken in the top 7 as well
Those were the 3 main things I was rooting for as we went pick by pick. Minnesota took Karl-Anthony Towns first overall, no big surprise there. The Lakers took D'Angelo Russell #2, which wasn't a surpise but it threw the first thing I needed to have happen in jeopardy. LA was a 50/50 shot to take Okafor, they didn't. Philly had the #3 pick and already had taken big guys in the last 2 drafts. I thought Mudiay might've been the pick there, or Porzingis, or... who knows. GM Sam Hinkie is pretty unpredictable. He took Okafor.

This screwed the Knicks at #4 big time. They desperately wanted Okafor or Russell. I thought Mudiay would've been a good consolation prize, but they went with Kristaps Porzingis. This drew a strong reaction from the New York crowd.



My favorite was the kid who was trying to boo while taking several selfies of his cryface. I can't take your anguish seriously if you're more concerned about posting pictures of it to social media. I felt bad for Porzingis. It's not really his fault Philly took Okafor. I thought he was one of the best 3 guys available at that point, and I hope he shoves it in the Knicks fans' collective face. Anyway, Porzingis going 4th meant Orlando was grabbing Hezonja (the guy I wanted most). That left Mudiay and WCS still in the wind, and Winslow as the top guy available on most draft boards.

The next two picks were pretty intense. WCS went 6th to Sacramento, knocking down my 2nd requirement to get Winslow. Mudiay then went 7th to Denver, filling requirement #3. Winslow was available. Then Adam Silver announced Detroit was drafting Stanley Johnson. I was pretty frustrated.



A lot of people have compared us taking Johnson over Winslow to how we took Kentavious Caldwell-Pope when Trey Burke was available. The fans really wanted Burke, KCP was a "meh" prospect, but Dumars went with KCP. I actually don't think that's the best example. A better hypothetical example would be if the Kings had taken someone else (say, Burke or someone like that) ahead of the Pistons, leaving Ben McLemore available, and the Pistons still had taken KCP. McLemore was a better prospect who played the same position as KCP, like Winslow and Johnson.

Comparing the two prospects, Johnson is slightly taller, not really longer, but more muscular than Winslow. On the other side, Winslow is more athletic, shot the ball better, and defended better than Johnson did last year. I saw a lot more of Winslow in the NCAA tournament than I did of Johnson, and Winslow impressed the hell out of me. Johnson did not. That doesn't necessarily mean that Winslow will become a better pro than Johnson, but he was certainly a better prospect.

***

Moving past what-might-have-been, what is the outlook for the Pistons going into the 2015-2016 NBA season? What did they actually get in the draft?


Pick #8, Stanley Johnson - SF Arizona
Age: 19 yrs old; Ht: 6'6.5"; Wt: 242 lbs
College Stats: 13.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.7 asts, 1.5 stls, .446/.371/.742 shooting %s



Look, he's not bad. He's pretty good on catch & shoot threes, he's a solid defender, and he has an ok handle. I'm a bit worried about the rest of his offensive game. If he wasn't shooting a 3 or scoring on a fast break, most of his other buckets came off of floaters in the lane. This wasn't a very high % shot for him in college, and it'll be worse in the pros. He needs to develop a better face up game, and probably work on his post game as well. He has the size & strength to guard LeBron and not get backed down. I'm not sure he's as quick as he needs to be. We'll have to wait and see. Detroit should be a much better defensive team next year, at any rate.

Pick #38, Darrun Hilliard - SF VillanovaAge: 22 yrs old; Ht: 6'6"; Wt: 220 lbs

College Stats: 14.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.1 asts, 1.8 stls, .440/.387/.796 shooting %s


Hilliard is a 4-yr college player, so he has less upside than does Johnson, but he should be a solid backup. He'll play either the 3 or the 2 off the bench, and he basically comes in as a somewhat unathletic 3 & D guy. Given the dearth of depth at the 3, I think he plays right away.

Free Agent Needs
Now that the draft is over, we can start thinking about filling the remaining holes in free agency. Monroe is gone, we'll probably re-sign Reggie Jackson, but it gets murky after that. They might explore trade options for Brandon Jennings, but more likely they'll keep him and hope he boosts his trade value when he comes back from his injury. That leaves 3 or 4 possible positions to fill: backup C, PF, SF, and SG.

There are a number of solid options at backup C. Robin Lopez, Omer Asik, Marreese Speights, and Brandan Wright could all be had for something in the $3M - $6M range. Alexis Ajinca is a very solid, low-budget option, or they could take a flyer on a guy like Jeff Withey.

At PF, the Pistons could throw their checkbook at LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, or even Millsap and hope they say yes, pushing newly acquired Ersan Ilyasova into a backup role. They could take a middle road and go for someone like Thad Young or Brandon Bass to compete for a starting role (Ilyasova probably keeps his job in that scenario), or they could go for depth and get a backup like Ed Davis or Amir Johnson.

SF is less of a need now, but I think the Pistons still need depth there. It's looking less and less like Detroit could even sign a 2nd tier option at this position, given that they really do need to spend at PF and they used the 8th pick to draft a SF. None of the 2nd tier guys would come here to either backup or caddy the starting SF spot for Stanley Johnson. I think Omri Cassipi or Jared Dudley could be had off the bargain bin and flourish in Van Gundy's system. Khris Middleton would be a slightly more expensive option, but I'd really like to get him back (not one of Dumars' better trades).

The Pistons have a glut of SGs, but none of them are very good. KCP took a nice step up last year, but his shooting numbers still weren't ideal. It doesn't really make sense to sign a SG, especially if Meeks' 3P% in the last 2 months of the season indicate he's worked out his shooting woes. However, based on the uncertainty at this position, SVG shouldn't rule anything out. That goes for PG as well, except that there aren't any good PGs available.


I'd like to see Detroit sign Alexis Ajinca for $1M/yr, at least make an offer for Aldridge (it won't happen though) and ultimately end up with Bass or Davis for about $5M/yr, and then sign Middleton for around $8M - $10M. Milwaukee can match for Middleton, so if we want to get him, it'd have to be an overpay. If we were able to pull that off, here's what the Pistons' depth chart would look like next year:

PG: Jackson/Jennings, Dinwiddie
SG: KCP, Meeks
SF: Johnson, Middleton
PF: Ilyasova, Tolliver, Davis
C: Drummond, Ajinca


All things considered, that team could make the playoffs in the East. No way they get home court, but they could be as high as a 6th seed. I tend to be overly optimistic though, and their floor is probably 30-ish wins again. I'd certainly like their odds better had they drafted Justise Winslow.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Catching up in to the lull in Detroit sports & recapping the canoe trip

I haven't posted since May 22, mainly because it's kind of dead around here. The Pistons aren't in the playoffs and the NBA Draft isn't for another week yet, the Wings got bounced in round 1 and predictably named Blashill their new HC. There is little going on with the Lions & U of M right now, and the Tigers are basically grinding until they get healthy. There's a little to talk about there, but I'd rather lump it into one post instead of trying to stretch it into something weekly or bimonthly.

First, los Tigres. Verlander finally got healthy(ish) and pitched ok on Saturday (5 inn, 5 walks+hits, 2 ER, 2 Ks, no decision). My expectation is that Verlander becomes Detroit's #2 starter and solidifies the rotation, not that he becomes a second ace. He's older, still kind of recovering, and the decreasing velocity on his fastball is well documented. He'll be an upgrade over Lobstein and the pu-pu platter of fill-ins that were spot starting in Verlander's spot. He'll stabilize the rotation and probably give the Tigers an extra 6 wins that they wouldn't have gotten with replacement-level starters.

At this point, they're waiting for Alex Avila and Victor Martinez to return, neither of whom is on a firm track to get back soon. Without Victor, there's not a lot of pop in the lineup. Only Cabrera, JD Martinez, and Cespedes have more than 4 HR on the season. Avila, for all of his offensive shortcomings, is SORELY missed for his game calling (ESPN recently rated Alex Avila as the 2nd best catcher in baseball for calling pitches). James McCann is a bit better on offense, but not nearly as good on defense. As infuriating as it is to watch Avila stand next to the plate and watch strikes pour by, I'd really like to see him behind the plate watching strikes pouring in.

Last Tigers thing - the MLB All Star Game. All Star voting has been a crock for a long time, especially in baseball. While fan voting has tipped the NBA from time to time (hello, Yao), there's a long history of undeserving candidates getting voted into the Mid-Summer Classic (hello, Jeter). Still, it comes as a bit of a surprise that Miguel Cabrera, best hitter in baseball, might not start in the All Star Game. This is the problem with fan voting - if one particular fan base (in this case, Kansas City) decides to vote for all of their players, regardless of merit, it skews the results. The Royals have a decent case for maybe 2 of the 9 players currently slotted to start in the game, catcher isn't one of them. So vote early, vote often, vote Cabrera. You can resubmit your vote up to 35 times total, and voting ends 7/2/15 at noon.



My AL Ballot
C - S. Vogt, OAK
1B - M. Cabrera, DET
2B - J. Kipnis, CLE

SS - X. Bogaerts, BOS
3B - J. Donaldson, TOR
DH - N. Cruz, SEA

OF1 - Mike Trout, LAA
OF2 - Yoenis Cespedes, DET
OF3 - J. Reddick, OAK



I could've voted a Royal for OF (Lorenzo Cain), but screw them for messing with the voting process. Omar Infante, really? This is a guy who his own team is looking to replace at 2B, he's that bad. I could've slotted JD Martinez at that 3rd OF spot, but I didn't want to be too much of a homer. My NL ballot was more cursory, but I had Posey at C, Goldschmidt at 1B, Panik at 2B, Tulo at SS, Frazier at 3B, and Harper, Stanton, and Pollock all in the OF spots.

***

The Pistons made a sort of under-the-radar move, acquiring Milwaukee Bucks PF Ersan Ilyasova for Caron Butler and Shawne Williams, 2 guys that Detroit was probably going to cut anyway. Ilyasova right now is a much better player than the other 2 guys in the deal, so this was a straight salary dump for Milwaukee. As far as Detroit is concerned, Ilyasova provides a MUCH better complement to Andre Drummond than Greg Monroe did, although Monroe is a better player. Ilyasova, shoots the three, and well, although his 3P% can fluctuate. Despite not being as good as Monroe, I expect the Pistons' offense to flow much better with him at the 4. Plus, he may be a backup or a 6th man, depending on how the draft and free agency go.







Speaking of free agency, you would think that taking on an $8M/yr would hurt Detroit's chances at landing a top FA, but not so. The actual impact of this move on the Pistons' salary cap is fairly minimal, giving them enough room to sign 2 or 3 quality FAs, their draft picks, and to match whatever Reggie Jackson is offered (if anything). I'd like to see Detroit get a couple of SFs, at least one of whom should be a pretty good player, another PF, and a backup C. This would be through a combination of free agency, the draft, and a possible sign & trade that sends Greg Monroe some place like NY.


There are some movings and shakings going on with the draft, but that deserves its own post, so I'll save that for next week some time.


For anyone who wishes the Pistons had taken the road to rebuilding that Philly is on (I'm not one of those people), apparently it's a bad strategy to draft dudes with injury troubles. Embiid might end up ok, but this is the risk they took. I'll feel bad for Embiid if he turns into Greg Oden, but I'd experience some serious schadenfreude for Philly.


***

My wife's brother is getting married, and this past weekend was his bachelor party. The bachelor party consisted of a camping & canoe trip up north, on the Pine River. It was all good times, with good food, a little bit of drinking, and some games like horseshoes, bocce, and a thing called Kan Jam, which was pretty cool. But let me get to the canoe trip.





This isn't me, but this is the stretch of river we canoed. Actually, we did about half of this stretch. Anyway, it was kind of chilly (I'm guessing mid-low 60's) and the water was COLD (we were told 57 degrees). Additionally, the river was a foot high due to rainfall during the week, and it was even faster than usual (the Pine is the fasted river in the LP). This made for a very interesting trip.
Side note: if you're canoeing a river with any kind of rapids, get a plastic or fiberglass canoe. Both my paddling partner & I were more familiar with aluminum canoes, so that's what we went with. This was a bad idea.
The people at the canoe livery strongly suggested water rafts for everyone. Half our group went that route, but not I. Three guys opted for kayaks, which I have no experience with, and four of us chose canoes, 1 plastic and 1 aluminum. The livery guy kind of shrugged at the aluminum canoe, which should've been a sign. 


Anytime we hit any kind of rapids (which was often), anytime either of us shifted in the canoe or dug deep with our paddles, or anytime somebody else (usually the guys in the other canoe) pushed our boat, we rocked like crazy. The body of the canoe was too stiff and we were sitting up too high. We ended up dumping in the river 3 times. Finally, we sat on our knees and managed to navigate some pretty rough water without much difficulty. I'm convinced we would've stayed out of the river had we either used a plastic canoe or paddled the whole river on our knees.


Regardless, we got soaking wet in freezing cold water, we got banged around by logs, rocks, and the canoe itself (I'm still sporting a bruise on my arm 4 inches long), and it was loads of fun. I'd have preferred to stay out of the river, but I still loved the experience. I wouldn't attempt this river in a canoe unless you had some experience (I can claim some canoe experience, not a TON) and you're paired with someone who has some experience. Otherwise, take a raft and enjoy yourself.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Babcock out, Blashill in?


The greatest hockey coach in the game has left Detroit. This flew under the radar almost everywhere outside of Detroit, Toronto, and Buffalo because hockey is probably less popular than golf right now. Mike Babcock, formerly with the Detroit Red Wings, signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs (shouldn't it be Maple Leaves? Just saying...) for 8 years, $50M ($6.25M/yr). That's a pretty massive deal, making Babcock deservedly the highest paid coach in the NHL.
 
The Wings extended a nice offer, not quite as high as Toronto's, but close. The general feeling leading up to Babcock's decision was that both the Wings and Babcock were ready to move on. Toronto, with Shanahan in the GM's chair and also being in Canada (I believe Babcock was at least slightly biased towards coaching a team based in Canada) was the frontrunner before negotiations even began. The extra money Babcock was getting to go to Toronto definitely edged the puck towards the Leafs, but I think he was probably going there anyway.

Normally a coveted coach leaving while still in his prime to coach your rival would generate more animosity, but a) this is hockey, where almost everyone is weirdly nice, and b) the Red Wings have a capable successor in-house with Jeff Blashill, who currently is coaching the Wings' minor league club in Grand Rapids. Ken Holland has been holding onto Blashill tightly for the past year, knowing that Babcock was potentially pulling stakes for Canada. Last year Holland offered Blashill double his salary if Blashill would not talk to any of the 5 NHL teams who had expressed interest in him (Blashill eagerly accepted Holland's offer). I'd say it's a safe bet that Blashill is your next coach.


The Red Wings are a team that prefers to promote from within. You can forget about Dan Bylsma or any of the other coaches with NHL experience, Blashill is the guy and he knows what he's doing. As far as playing cred goes, Blashill was a goalie at Ferris State before moving on to coaching. He bounced around the CCHA as an assistant for a few years before he got his first HC job in 2008 for a junior hockey club. Then in 2010 he got a HC job with Western Michigan. After 1 year with WMU (which went REALLY well), Mike Babcock had seen enough and brought him on as an assistant coach. After one year of that, Blashill took on the HC job with the Griffins, Detroit's minor league team. His first year with the team, they won the Calder Cup (the championship of minor league hockey). Last year they lost in the semis, and this year they are in the semi-finals again. All this despite regularly losing his star players to the Big League Club.

Should Blashill get promoted to the Big League Club himself, as most people expect, it would represent a rather swift start to his career. Babcock himself had to wait through 12 years of coaching junior and minor league hockey before getting his first NHL head coaching gig. But make no mistake, Blashill has earned it. He knows the players, having coached several of them already as they passed through Grand Rapids, and he's clearly got the chops with 3 straight 40-win seasons under his belt.

The biggest gripe fans had of Babcock was the supposition that his gruff demeanor and old-school style led to some of the big name free agents signing with other teams. I don't know if that's true or not, but if it was, then Blashill would represent a change in those respects. This NHL offseason will be very interesting.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Not A Lotto Help for the Pistons (yeah, bad, I know)


The NBA Draft Lottery was last night, and once again the Pistons got no love. The most that can be said is at least they didn't get bumped down in the draft, but once again the Pistons are picking in the 8th spot. Since they took Austin Daye with the 15th pick in the 2009 draft, the Pistons have picked between 7 - 9 every year since. Last year they would've picked 9th, had they not traded that pick to Charlotte for the priviledge of getting rid of Ben Gordon a year early. That's an incredible run of mediocrity. BAD mediocrity, not that close-but-no-cigar variety that makes the playoffs as an 8 seed once every 3 years.

Despite this frustrating run of crappiness, the Pistons have never bottomed out for a top 3 pick. They've lucked out twice in the draft, getting Monroe (arguably the 4th best player in his draft) at #7 in 2010, and then Drummond (easily the 3rd best player in HIS draft) at #9 in 2012. They also ran into some bad luck/bad evaluating when they took Brandon Knight with the 8th pick in 2011 (Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, et al, went later), with KCP in 2013 (Giannis, Dennis Schroder, et al.), and of course when they were leapfrogged last year by Cleveland, causing the Pistons to drop a spot in the draft and lose their pick. They're due for a bit of good luck this time around, and I have hopes that SVG will be a better drafter than Dumars was.

Chad Ford has a mock draft that I find both believable and encouraging, but before I get to that, I'd like to go over the Pistons' position and options. First, Detroit's most glaring need is at SF. They haven't had a decent one since Tayshaun Prince lost his legs, and they haven't had a GOOD one since... I guess Stackhouse, if you want to call him a SF (Grant Hill, if you don't). Second, the Pistons are likely going to need a PF, as I expect Greg Monroe will take his talents elsewhere next year. Put those 2 positions as needs 1a and 1b. With Brandon Jennings possibly out for a good chunk of the 2015-'16 season (I think he'll be back ahead of schedule, but not at 100%) and Reggie Jackson going into this summer as a restricted free agent, PG is possibly also a need. Put it as a DISTANT 2nd. They could also use depth at C, but that's something you do in round 2.

I kind of did this draft preview thing a month ago, but the NBA Combine happened, as did the lottery. Sorry if I go over some of the same material. I'll try to use different clips...


#1 on the Wish List
Justise Winslow, SF - Duke
Ht: 6'6", Wt: 222#, Reach: 8'9", Wingspan: 6'10"
College Stats: 12.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.1 apg, .485 FG% - .414 3P% - .641 FT%


Winslow is a tad undersized to play SF in the NBA, but his reach and athleticism make up for it. More than that, he plays like a beast on the court, which makes up for any size deficiencies he may have. He's a ferocious defender, he can make you pay from outside, and the rest of his offensive game is filling in. Most GMs consider him the #1 SF in the draft, so he'll probably be gone before the Pistons pick, but stranger things have happened.

#2 on the Wish List

Mario Hezonja, SF Barcelona
Ht: 6'8", Wt: 200#, Reach: N/A, Wingspan: N/A

ACB League Stats: 4.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.3 apg, .467 FG% - .392 3P% - .833 FT%per 36min stats: 11.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.2 apg


Hezonja might end up a better player than Winslow. He's bigger, also athletic, he's got a prettier looking shot, and he played in a MUCH tougher league (Spain's ACB is as close to NBA-level as any league gets). On the flip, he didn't get a lot of time on the court, he wasn't especially consistent in his production, and there are some concerns about his effort on defense and his selfishness/decision making. I think he could be a Manu Ginobili-type player, if he can take the coaching.

#3 on the Wish List

Kristaps Porzingis, PF Seville
Ht: 7'0", Wt: 220#, Reach: N/A, Wingspan: N/A
ACB League Stats: 10.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.1 bpg, .4717 FG% - .316 3P% - .780 FT%

Porzingis played in the same league Hezonja did, only he played on a worse team and got more burn. The automatic comparison to make is with Dirk Nowitzki. Both are 7 ft, European stretch-4s who can also put the ball on the deck and attack. While his ACB 3P% isn't especially great, he reigned terror from on high in the 16 Eurocup games he played in (.459 3P%) and his stroke looks efficient. The main concern with him is toughness. Porzingis needs to add some bulk, and he might take a minute to adjust to the speed and physicality of the NBA game.

Not Really on My Wish List, but...
Stanley Johnson, SF Arizona

Ht: 6'7", Wt: 242#, Reach: 8'6", Wingspan: 6'11"
College Stats: 13.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.7 apg, .446 FG% - .371 3P% - .742 FT%


Johnson would be the consolation prize if the 3 players above were all taken before the Pistons step to the podium on June 25th. He actually reminds me of a more muscular and tenacious version of KCP. While this wouldn't be a BAD thing, it doesn't really sizzle either. Johnson's rep coming out of HS was as an athletic beast without much of a jump shot. The jump shot showed up in college, the athleticism was more limited. I think Johnson's ceiling is that of an above-average NBA starter, and his floor is that of a quality role player.

That's basically it. I can almost guarantee the Pistons will take one of these guys, provided they don't trade their pick. Chad Ford thinks the Pistons will end up taking Mario Hezonja, under the following scenario:

1. Karl-Anthony Towns to Minnesota
2. Jahlil Okafor to LA Lakers
3. D'Angelo Russell to Philadelphia
4. Emanuel Mudiay to New York Knicks
5. Kristaps Porzingis to Orlando
6. Willie Cauley-Stein to Sacramento
7. Justise Winslow to Denver
8. Mario Hezonja to Detroit

The wild cards there are Orlando and Sacramento. Either team might take Winslow, or even the Knicks might take him (although most think Mudiay is a lock to go to NY). What I've seen of Hezonja looks pretty good, so I'm hoping both Prozingis and Cauley-Stein get picked up before the Pistons draft. That would all but ensure either Winslow or Hezonja. I'll check in as updates warrant, but this is probably the last Pistons post until June 25th. Peace!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Man Up


Jalen Rose has absolutely had it with Chris Webber, and to be honest, I'm there too. I was a nacent Michigan fan at the time the Fab Five debuted, having just converted from Spartanism that fall (I was 11 and only just starting to think for myself) and it was an exciting time. Webber got most of the love, and rightly so, being the best player on the team. Webber had the Hollywood smile, the jump out of the gym athleticism, and a flair to his game that had the student section falling over themselves.


Being 11, he was the first guy I noticed and easily my favorite. Webber's transgressions, at least as far as Jalen Rose is concerned, probably began with the timeout vs. UNC in the 1993 National Championship game. Michigan may have lost the game anyway (a 3 would've won the game, a 2 would've sent it to OT), but the technical foul assessed for calling a timeout he didn't have clinched it for North Carolina. In Webber's defense, Rose should've been bringing the ball up court and to this day I have no idea why he didn't.

After that game, Webber went pro and thus started his growing separation from his Fab Five bretheren. As Rose pointed out in his rebuttal to Webber's comments, Chris Webber was the only member of the Fab Five who didn't stay in contact with the rest of the group. I believe the real schism hit during the Ed Martin scandal. Of all the basketball players who testified, Webber was the only one who lied and said he didn't receive any money from Martin.

This wasn't the first time Chris Webber was in some kind of legal trouble - he had several marijuana incidents, one of which involved his girlfriend at the time, Tyra Banks, claiming that it was hers. So lying and lack of accountability weren't new to Webber, but this time he was throwing Ed Martin under the bus to protect Chris Webber's own image (which wasn't exactly sparkling in the first place). While Ed Martin wasn't exactly an altruistic figure in all of this (running an illegal gambling operation, etc.), the other members of the Fab Five remembered him fondly. Martin's money helped them get through some tough times and he gave plenty of gifts to people who weren't going to pay him back.


Again, every other basketball player involved told the truth - Robert Traylor, Louis Bullock, Maurice Taylor, Jalen Rose - except Webber. This Federal indictment cost Martin his life (he died of a pulmonary embolism prior to sentencing) and there was Webber, lying about Martin to make him seem worse than he was so maybe Chris's reputation could escape intact.


But that was years ago. Water under the bridge. Yes, the other Fab Five members probably still resented Webber for what went down with Ed Martin, but they were ready to bury the hatchet. ESPN did a 30-for-30 documentary on the Fab Five in 2011. It was a celebration of the team and the cultural impact of the Fab Five. Webber, the biggest member of the group, didn't participate.

In 2013, Michigan's disassociation with the members of the Fab Five ended, and coincidentally Michigan was in the NCAA Finals. There was a push, mainly led by Jalen Rose and Jimmy King, to get the Fab Five back together in the stands for the championship game. Four of them sat together (and I'm pretty sure that's Mayor Mike Duggan just behind Huwon Howard's shoulder) while Webber watched from a luxury suite somewhere else in the building.

I don't know what slights or resentments Webber is holding onto, but they all seem to be of his own creation. Some of what he told Dan Patrick on his radio show were flat-out lies to cover his own behind, some of his resentments (like his issue with the portrayal of his own role on the team in the 30-for-30 doc) can be traced directly back to his own poor decisions (namely, to abstain from participating in said doc).

Chris Webber remains my favorite player of the Fab Five, but my favorite person of that group is Jalen Rose. Rose, for all his faults, keeps it real. Webber has failed to keep it real his entire career and now into his post-career career. Like Jalen said, he needs to man up.