Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Friday, June 29, 2007

Okay, So Detroit Didn't Get Acie Law...

Thinkin' and linkin' about the NBA Draft...

▪▪ I can't act like I know much about Rodney Stuckey (so I'll refer you to Need4Sheed and Full Court Press), but I love the idea of Detroit having a bigger, stronger, athletic scorer on the perimeter who can not only shoot, but take the ball to the basket (something you absolutely have to do in today's NBA). And if he can develop into an occasional back-up for Chauncey Billups at point guard, I like this pick even more.

▪▪ At the time, I preferred Glen "Big Baby" Davis to Aaron Afflalo for the Pistons' second first-round pick. But maybe the Pistons are concerned that Davis could be the next Mel Turpin or John "Hot Plate" Williams (curiously, another LSU product). Plus, Joe Dumars already played with Oliver Miller and knows how that can go. Besides, Detroit already has another "Big Baby" to deal with.

▪▪ Based on Afflalo's record of playing defense, however, he could be a pretty good pick for the Pistons and should fit right in. Having another outside shooter doesn't hurt, either. (MLive.com's A. Sherrod Blakely doesn't dig the selection, though. And many people seem to be knocking Afflalo's athleticism.)

▪▪ Of course, now the Pistons have a bunch of guards. Like, a lot of 'em. Eight, if you count Alex Acker, who's currently in Greece. That could thin out pretty fast if Lindsey Hunter retires, Will Blalock is let go, and Acker stays overseas. But a trade has to be in the works, right? A. Sherrod thinks Flip Murray is gone. I wonder if Rip Hamilton should be nervous, too.

▪▪ As it turns out, the Pistons had no shot at drafting Acie Law with Atlanta picking him at #11. The Pistons fan in me was disappointed, but as a basketball fan, I thought that was a damn good pick by the Hawks. How many good point guards was Billy Knight going to pass up? He's got all this frontcourt talent (potentially), yet had no one to get them the ball and provide some on-court leadership.

But did the Hawks really pass on a chance to get Amare Stoudamire? C'mon...

▪▪ And what the hell are the Celtics doing? Ray Allen? I wonder if people forget just how good he's been, since he was practically in the witness protection program with the Sonics. He's still a very good player, of course, and an amazing shooter, but does he really help the Celtics? If Danny Ainge was going to trade the #5 pick (Jeff Green), how does he not get a big man in return? What about a point guard?

I grew up hating the Celtics, but I'm beginning to think their fanbase is the only other community that might possibly understand what it's like to be a Detroit Lions fan. Except Lions fans don't have to deal with the added hell of being screwed over in the draft lottery.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

I Want Acie Law!

That is all.

Actually, I have a little more to say on this. I know it's not that easy. From all accounts, the Texas A&M point guard won't be on the board by the time the Detroit Pistons' selection comes up at #15. ESPN.com's Chad Ford has Law going to Atlanta at #11 now.

Up until this week, however, it appeared that the Pistons might have a chance. Virtually every mock draft you looked at speculated that Law would be available around the 15th pick, yet likely wouldn't make it past the L.A. Clippers' selection at #14. (Detroit Bad Boys says that's virtually a certainty, and it's the reason Law cancelled his workout for the Pistons.)

I'd love to see Joe Dumars do everything in his power to move up the draft order and ensure the Pistons are set at point guard for the next 8-12 seasons between Chauncey Billups and Law. The idea of Billups playing out the rest of his prime in Detroit, while Law is groomed to be his successor is a vision that's given me pleasant dreams since January.

Law would give the Pistons a consistent ballhandler and perimeter scorer off the bench, something they've needed since... well, the Bad Boys years. A legitimate point guard would also allow the Pistons to play more "small ball," with Billups possibly moving over to shooting guard, Rip Hamilton to the wing, and Tayshaun Prince playing more of a Shawn Marion type of power forward.

Alas, it's very likely not going to happen. If Detroit is planning to give Billups a maximum value free agent contract, which assures he'll be the Pistons' starter for at least another five seasons, and/or they're still high on Alex Acker's potential at point guard, then it's probably in the team's best interests to seek help for a position of more immediate need. And given the depth that this draft reportedly provides, it looks like that's exactly what Joe Dumars and crew have in mind.

Every one of the names currently associated with the Pistons' pick - whether it's Rodney Stuckey, Nick Young, Al Thornton, or Thaddeus Young - are of the shooting guard/small forward variety. I'll have to plead ignorance on these guys, as I haven't seen any of them play (which is admittedly a reason I probably favor Law), but they certainly seem to fit that LeBron James/Dwyane Wade profile of a big, athletic perimeter scorer who can shoot, dribble drive, and defend. And that sort of athleticism is something the Pistons need to infuse their team with.

At the risk of ending with some hyperbole, does anyone else feel like this is Joe D's most important draft since he had the #2 pick in 2003? The Pistons need this guy to be a player.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Detroit is Representin' For the All-Star Game

As I type this, there are roughly 30 hours before balloting closes for the 2007 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. And though it looks like the Detroit Tigers will be represented well in the starting lineup (and Jim Leyland - who happens to be managing the American League squad - will likely add a few more of his guys to the reserve roster), one last push certainly wouldn't hurt.

Surging support for Magglio Ordonez has rocketed him to second place among AL outfielders, and if the current vote totals hold steady, he'll join teammates Ivan Rodriguez and Placido Polanco in the starting lineup. Ichiro has a lot of fans, however, and could still move him back ahead of Maggs. He could even fall back to fourth, if Manny fans are Manny fans and vote for their guy.

What's most impressive to me, however, is the support that all of the Detroit Tigers have generated in the All-Star voting. Carlos Guillen is in second place for shortstop, and Gary Sheffield is 6th among outfielders. And both of them would be worthy selections.

But at other positions, voting totals for the Tigers have gotten a little bit embarrassing. Sean Casey is in third place for first base? He has one home run, and just hit that last week. Craig Monroe is 15th among outfielders. C-Mo is starting to look as if he's lucky to be holding a major league job. (And as Big Al points out, he's blown any trade value the Tigers could've hoped for. Keep swingin' and missin', C-Money! You're on notice, dude.)

So maybe I don't need to shill for my hometown baseball team, because Tigers fans are clearly already sending in bushels of votes for their guys. Nonetheless, that's what this post was supposed to be about, so it'll be nice if the final voting totals reflect the baseball resurgence that's taken place in Detroit over the past year-and-a-half. Vote with your heart. Vote for a Detroit Tiger.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Giving a Michigan Man Some Appreciation

After getting excited over Michigan baseball's post-season run and finally bringing that joy to this blog, I scurried away and hid once the Wolverines lost to Oregon State in the NCAA Super Regionals. (For those of you who have been checking back here regularly, I seem to have gone into hibernation for the summer. That Tigers baseball, she's a demanding mistress.)

But those same Beavers went on to repeat as national champions, after beating North Carolina for the second straight year last night, which I thought was worth noting as a consolation. It doesn't always take the sting away, but losing to the team that eventually won the championship often seems to redeem the loss. (I don't imagine many Red Wings fans were celebrating that Anaheim Ducks Stanley Cup, however.)

Michigan baseball had already moved on, but perhaps somewhat unwillingly, after news broke last week that Coach Rich Maloney was not only being pursued by Tennessee, but had already gone down to Knoxville for an interview. I got the news from Mr. Big Ten Hardball, who called to see if I'd heard anything more. Shortly thereafter, I made a call to my future brother-in-law Vols fan, checking if he'd heard anything, and warning him to back off Maloney. (He never did return that call, which probably means I'll soon be getting a lecture from my sister about leaving threatening messages on her fiancee's voice mail.)

Of course, the baseball team won't ever be as high on the radar around here as the football, basketball, and hockey programs, but the recent post-season run made it pretty clear that something good has been going on at Fisher Stadium over the past couple of years. That success would likely be short-lived, however, if the man in charge suddenly decided to seek the surer thing of a school in warmer climates, in a part of the country where college baseball is a larger part of the sports culture. And did I mention he'd be paid a lot more?

It got pretty scary there for a couple of days, because I think the general consensus was, "Who could blame Maloney for leaving?" BTH expected him to take the Tennessee job. So did the Michigan Daily. And if that had happened, all of the excitement and progress that had been generated over the baseball program would've felt pretty empty. I don't know the situation well enough to say it would've been devastating. But I don't think that's an overreaction, either.

Beating Vanderbilt and advancing in the tournament got people (and media) to take notice (locally and nationally). Virtually the same roster was eligible to return next season. Fisher Stadium is undergoing a huge renovation to make the facility competitive with the rest of the Big Ten and suitable to host tournament regionals. Michigan is poised to become a player in college baseball, which is really saying something for a northern school. Maloney leaving for Tennessee probably would've cut that off right at the knees.

That's the sort of thing we expect to see happen to mid-major basketball programs who expect to eventually lose their coach to a bigger program in a more prominent conference. And maybe that provided the proverbial wake-up call (or dose of humility) to the Michigan athletic department and fanbase at-large. This isn't football or basketball (or hockey). Achieving annual prominence in this part of the country isn't a given for baseball. You have to work at it. And no one's worked harder at it than Maloney.

Fortunately, Michigan recognized that and did what was necessary to retain Maloney, signing him to a five-year contract extension. That should effectively stamp down any future rumors of defection (which seem to have been swirling around ever since the Big Ten Tournament, depending on who you talk to). No more year-to-year agreements. No more underappreciation. No more whispers of seduction from southern schools (although I suppose there's nothing to stop those schools from continuing to inquire).

It's not often you get to follow a program on the rise around here, to see something built from the ground up. It's worth some appreciation. This is a commitment. This is establishing something. And hopefully, it's the start (or continuation) of some really good baseball in Ann Arbor.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Warning To the Seagulls

If any of those seagulls are still flying around Comerica Park, munching on moths in the outfield grass, consider this a warning:

We know the animals are planning a revolt to take back the planet. (We noticed more of your seagull brethren terrorizing the Mariners-Indians game in Cleveland yesterday.) But we are not afraid of you. We have baseballs and can throw them very hard. Back off. Let us play baseball.

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Go to the Polls for Placido!

This weekend, Quo Vadimus' Scott Warheit (also familiar to Tigers fans as The Cutoff Man for MLive.com) decided to focus his outrage over the Yankees' Robinson Cano leading Placido Polanco in All-Star balloting for the American League's starting spot at second base into an organized campaign.

Despite being one of Major League Baseball's biggest disappointments so far this season, the New York Yankees continue to do well in fan voting for the 2007 Major League Baseball Star Game, with three players (Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano) leading the voting at their positions. Detroit Tigers fans and fans of baseball need to do something about that, because while Jeter and A-Rod may deserve a trip to San Francisco to start for the American League, certainly, Robinson Cano does not. And Placido Polanco of the Detroit Tigers certainly does. Polanco, as of last count was some 8,000 votes behind Cano (381,051 to Cano's 389,265 votes) which is why we need to start the "Go to the Polls for Placido!" All Star Voting Campaign [...]

I don't need much convincing to get behind that. Polanco starting at second base for the AL All-Star team might not be the definitive home run call that it may have been early in the season. I think you could make cases for Brian Roberts, Aaron Hill, or Ian Kinsler. But Polanco has been Steady Eddie (or should that be Eddie Constante) throughout the entire season, even back in April when seemingly no one on the Tigers was hitting.

The same was true last season. You can argue that the Tigers showed little statistical evidence of suffering greatly when Polanco was lost to a shoulder injury. But I think there are some things in baseball that just transcend statistics, and Polanco's steadying influence on the Detroit Tigers is one of them.

It's a surprise when Polanco has a hitless night. That's only occurred 15 times this season. Out of 57 games played. That's 26%, people. And I think it's a fair bet to say that even when he didn't register a base hit, Polanco did what he could to move runners and set up scoring opportunities. Or if someone is in a position to score, Polanco might just drive that runner in himself. He's batting .424 with runners in scoring position. If he's facing two outs in that situation, Polanco's still hitting .310. Whatever needs to be done to win a particular game, Placido Polanco is more (much more) often than not doing what's necessary.

This is speaking your piece for a guy that deserves the recognition. This is standing up for your team that warrants representation in the sport's showcase exhibition. (And it's also keeping a New York Yankee down, a fringe benefit that really shouldn't be overlooked.) Rise up and let your voices be heard, Tigers fans. Spread the word through Digg! Vote so much it can't be ignored. Polanco in 2007!

[image courtesy of Quo Vadimus and the 2007 "Go to the Polls for Placido!" campaign]

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The PING! of the Bat Brings Me Back

It only took one night for the sports angel to help me get over the bitterness of the Detroit Pistons' loss to Team LeBron.

Congratulations to the Michigan Wolverines baseball team, who defeated Vanderbilt, 4-3, last night to advance to the Super Regionals of the NCAA Tournament. Their next opponent will be the winner of tonight's Oregon State-Virginia game.

Rich Maloney's squad took the lead when freshman Alan Oaks (who had all of 48 at-bats for the season) crushed a pitch from soon-to-be #1 draft pick David Price over the left-field fence for a pinch-hit home run. The Commodores were the #1 overall seed in the tournament, and the home crowd in Nashville was shocked to see their team go down. Man, that was one hell of a game.

(Price, by the way, pitched of 1 1/3 innings of relief after throwing 130 pitches on Friday night. I bet the Devil Rays are thrilled about that.)

Here's a recap from Big Ten Hardball, who has most definitely fueled my growing interest in college baseball over the past year or so. And here I thought I was already watching all the sports I could take.


Monday, June 04, 2007

This Run Is Officially Over

I don't know how other Pistons fans felt, but while watching the final game of the Pistons-Cavaliers series, this thought slowly trickled into my forehead. It had grown into a full-blown roar by the time Rasheed Wallace decided he'd had enough and got himself kicked out of a game in which his team still had a chance (on the scoreboard, at least):

I'm not sure I've ever come to dislike a team I root for more than these Detroit Pistons.

It's not because they ceded the Eastern Conference to Team LeBron, thus giving the NBA (or perhaps more specifically, ABC) a true superstar to promote in its signature series. Teams lose, torches are passed. Before the season, we were already wondering if the Pistons' time had passed, if that sweet championship window had already closed. And Cleveland was one of the teams that looked like it could push Detroit off the top of the hill.

So I'm not surprised the Cavs won on Saturday night. Hell, I think most everyone expected the series was over after Game 5. But I never thought I'd see this Detroit Pistons team flat-out quit on the court. And from my armchair, that's exactly what it looked like in that fourth quarter. It's like they just decided the outcome was inevitable. Maybe it was. Nothing the Pistons were doing was working. Put two or three guys on LeBron, and he dished off to the open guy. And Daniel Gibson wasn't missing. The home crowd was surging with excitement, the kind of excitement you feel when you know you're about to experience something you've never experienced before. It's a great feeling, maybe the best you'll ever have as a sports fan.

The Pistons must have sensed that too, because they seemed like they just wanted to get the whole exercise over with and go home. I thought they'd at least go down swinging. The fact that they didn't might be one of the most disappointing things I've ever seen as a Detroit sports fan.

Even worse was Wallace bailing out on the season - and his teammates - with almost eight minutes left in the game. The Pistons were only down by 12 points. But rather than stay in the game and help his team - and maybe for once play in the post and dominate Gooden, Varejao, and Ilgauskas like everyone knows he can, instead of jacking up three-pointers - he decided to stomp and pout back to the locker room.

I'm sorry - his act is totally played out. It's old and tired, like someone repeating a joke long after it stopped being funny. Stop complaining about the referees. Stop acting like you're entitled to every call. Stop acting like everyone is out to get you. Stop making your teammates waste energy trying to hold you back from doing something stupid.

But he won't stop. And I think even his teammates and coaches are sick of it. Terry Porter looked as if he wanted to punch 'Sheed. Lindsey Hunter just stared at him blankly. What was that outburst going to accomplish, other than making Wallace look like a giant baby who wasn't getting his way so he wasn't going to play anymore. They're tired of having to deal with this $#!+.

Rasheed Wallace probably is the most important player to the Detroit Pistons. And thus, they've taken on his persona. These guys don't just play basketball anymore. Remember this team back in 2004? "Going to work" and all that? This was a team Detroit fell absolutely in love with because it was the type of basketball team we wanted to see: No egos, no superstars, no divas. Any flash was provided by unselfish, hard-working basketball. Everyone played a role and worked toward a collective goal.

Somewhere along the line, this team forgot about all that. Their championship emboldened them to an almost comical level of arrogance. They complained about nearly every call, as if the referees should just let them do whatever the hell they want on offense and defense.

How could you call that foul on me? How did you miss that call on them?

Instead of asserting themselves and showing they were a better team, it's like the Pistons expected the game to just unfold for them, as if they were entitled to victory every time. And if they weren't my team, representing my community, I'd find it very difficult to root for these guys.

But maybe I shouldn't paint with such a broad brush. There's one guy on the Pistons who truly seemed to feel this loss, because he hadn't experienced the success his teammates had. If only Antonio McDyess had been able to pass that desire onto those who lost it. When someone needed to set a rugged defensive tone, who stepped up to try and establish it? McDyess, and it cost him (and maybe the team) virtually all of Game 5. But someone needed to show the Cavs that they couldn't drive so easily to the basket. It's just too bad that those who won a championship couldn't set an example for him, instead of the other way around.

So what now? The rest of this week in the Detroit sports blogosphere will surely be filled with eulogies and fix-it solutions. I'll probably chime in with some ideas, too, though I think it's pretty clear based on the previous 850 words who I think needs to go. Actually, the Pistons are in kind of a tough spot right now, because though its core might be aging, it's not yet old. This isn't like the 1990-1991 team that had clearly gone past its prime. Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, and Tayshaun Prince have quite a few good years left in them. Joe Dumars might still be able to build around those three.

Changing the coach is probably an easy call to make, but can Dumars find another voice that can get through to these guys? Is Terry Porter that guy? He could be a head coach for another NBA team, which makes him an immediately on-hand candicate, but maybe the players are already too familiar with him. Or, after sitting in the assistant's chair, was he able to see what Flip Saunders did wrong, and have an idea of what changes should be made?

Would that even be enough? Or does Joe D have to do something bolder to shake out the complacency and change the culture? If so, is there enough flexibility in the rest of the roster to follow through on such ambitions? He might not, which means he'd have to touch one of the core trio. And if another team decides to throw a maximum dollar contract at Billups (the value of which might be questionable after his performance in the Eastern Conference Finals), Dumars is going to have quite a dilemma. If Billups opts to move on while cashing in perhaps the biggest paycheck he'll ever receive, Joe D might have no other choice than to set him free. Or he might have to consider sacrificing one of the other two for the greater good of keeping Billups and his leadership in Detroit.

Maybe that's the consolation prize for Pistons fans. At least the off-season shouldn't be boring.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Some Guys Actually Live Up To the Hype: Touché, LeBron

I really want to complain, but it's not going to accomplish anything.

I'd love to devote 500+ words to how someone in a Pistons uniform should've fouled LeBron James at the end of last night's second overtime, and made him earn a victory. Maybe I'm showing my age here, but I grew up in the "no easy layups" era of basketball. It's what I saw on TV, it's what I experienced on the playground.

That's not to say LeBron's game-winner wasn't an easy shot. He was surrounded by Detroit Pistons. Yet LeBron sliced right through four of them, neither of whom forced him to change his shot. Jason Maxiell should've come down harder LeBron's arms, making it virtually impossible for him to bring the ball above his waist. And instead of just standing on the edge of the lane, Rip Hamilton should've stepped toward the basket and at least tried to obstruct LeBron's path to the basket.

But maybe it wouldn't have even mattered. As much of a cliche as it might be, sometimes a player just refuses to lose and can't be stopped. The truth is, LeBron had already earned a win before his winning shot with two seconds left in the game. You've already heard or read the stats. You'll be hearing them all day today on TV and radio. LeBron scored 48 total points. The Cavaliers' final 25 points, and 29 of their last 30 were his. Unlike Marv Albert, I have difficulty declaring something I just watched an "all-time" performance. Once the shock wears off, I'm sure I'll be able to compare what I saw to all the other basketball I've observed in my lifetime.

For right now, however, I still can't believe LeBron was able to win a playoff game - likely the most crucial in the series - on a frickin' layup. Long after the game ended, after LeBron had his post-game chat with Craig Sager, I kept rewinding those final seconds and watching them over and over in some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder loop, like a turntable needle that just can't skip over a scratch in a vinyl record. How... in... the hell did the Pistons just let him... spring to the basket like that?

I'd also love to complain about Antonio McDyess getting inexplicably ejected from the game just before the end of the first quarter. Was it a hard foul? Absolutely. That was a clothesline smack straight out of professional wrestling. Anderson Varejao didn't have to fake a fall because McDyess knocked him right to the floor.

But getting thrown out of the game for that? Don't we see that kind of foul all the time? Sure, McDyess deserved a technical foul. You have to suffer some kind of penalty for decking a player off his feet.

However, the referees wildly overreacted in trying to make sure that sort of rough tone wasn't established upon the rest of the game. This was obviously a trigger-happy response to the hard fouls by Chris Webber and Drew Gooden in Game 4. But you can't send a player to the showers on a play like that.

I'm not saying the ejection decided the outcome. It happened far too early in the game, and the Pistons only ended up losing by two points. Besides, McDyess' absence forced Chris Webber to return from the side of whatever milk carton his picture was on, and contribute 20 sorely needed points. But would McDyess have at least tried to prevent LeBron from getting to the basket at the end of the second overtime? Unfortunately, we'll never know.

We also might never know what McDyess would've contributed to Game 6, as the very real possibility exists that he'll be suspended because of that flagrant foul, which is taking this heightened sensitivity toward rough basketball to an entirely too high level of overreaction. Clearly, those are the ground rules the NBA wants to set. I think it absolutely #$@%ing stinks. And I'm not just saying that as a Pistons fan, though this has clearly affected my team. I still nursing a slow burn over what happened in the Phoenix-San Antonio series, and if the Pistons weren't involved at this point, I'd have given up on the NBA playoffs already. That thought was pounding inside my head as I watched McDyess walk the walk of disbelief back to the Pistons' locker room.

But all that is essentially irrelevant against the larger scope of this series. I said I didn't want to complain, but I realize I've spent 700+ words doing just that. I'd actually forgotten that the Pistons also fell behind 3-2 in last year's series with the Cavaliers. But I think I echo the thoughts of every Detroit sports fan when I say this feels different.

This isn't just the Pistons not taking an opponent seriously anymore, seemingly waiting to turn on a switch. This feels like a shift in the Eastern Conference power structure. Here in Detroit, we've seen it before with our own team, and know exactly what it looks like. Perhaps the only difference is that LeBron is changing the balance approximately one year before most of us expected him to. Last night, he showed everyone exactly why he gets all the attention some of us may have felt he didn't yet deserve.

No, this series isn't over yet. But it sure seems that way. I feel much the same way as I did after the St. Louis Cardinals won Game 4 of last year's World Series against the Tigers. The series wasn't officially decided after that, but it may as well have been. The Tigers were wobbling at that point, just trying to stay upright while the Cards were measuring them up for the finishing blow. Today, the Pistons have that same look to them.

▪▪ Detroit Bad Boys easily wins the contest for best post-Game 5 headline, thereby highlighting a sensation I just can't shake this morning as I try to digest my breakfast.

▪▪ True Hoop breaks down the memorable moments from the game.

▪▪ Big Al didn't think he'd ever see one man beat five. (Word, my friend.)

▪▪ Bill Livingston believes LeBron may have trumped Jordan.

▪▪ Scott Warheit points out that this Pistons team has historically responded well to being down 3-2 in a series.

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