Happy Thursday! And time for another webisode of “The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al,” my weekly gabfest with the MVP of the MVN, Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience.

This week, I crab about the Pistons, Al worries about the Tigers’ good field/no hit catcher and shortstop, and we marvel at the job John Beilein is doing with the Michigan basketball program. All that and more, including WordAss and the Jerk of the Week!

Commence……

Eno: At the risk of sounding like “Meet the Press”, if it’s Thursday it’s the Knee Jerks. I’m Eno, aka The Journalist, and he’s Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot. Greetings, sir!

Big Al: Yo, Eno! Mr. Journalist is in the house! What’s up, sir?

Eno: Well, the Pistons are making me cranky. I hate to start off grumpy, but what is UP with these guys? They’ve been schooled by the horrible T-Wolves and now, the other night, the previously 3-15 Wizards, after having them down by 17 in the second quarter. Is it too early to be worried and/or pissed off?

Big Al: From the way they’ve been playing, you have every right to be Grumpy Eno. Defense was non-existent last night, and the Pistons are still disjointed on offense. Right now they are a fringe playoff team, at best. Add in a rookie coach, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Eno: Does it have anything to do with the Allen Iverson trade, or no? And if so, is it just a matter of it taking some time to jell?

Big Al: I’m not sure it’s all on The Answer. Sure, he’s not the player he once was, but he has to be better than this, right? I’m more inclined to blame the Pistons themselves, especially [Rip] Hamilton, [Tayshaun] Prince and Rasheed [Wallace]. They are playing as if they are still pissed that their point guard buddy, Chauncey Billups, was traded. I will admit that Rodney Stuckey has not been able to fill Billups’ shoes, but that wasn’t a realistic expectation. Do you get the feeling Michael Curry’s constant lineup changes are, well, knee jerk?

Eno: Well, I like the reasoning behind going small with Stuckey in the starting lineup. And I like Curry’s assertion that Prince, in such a lineup, can guard a lot of 4s and give 4s problems offensively. I’m very excited about Stuckey; it’ll be a thrill watching this kid grow up before our very eyes. Here’s something: do you think they missed Antonio McDyess more than they anticipated?

Big Al: You nailed it, Mr. Journalist. Dice was the glue that held this team together, and if anyone can get the “core” to move on past the trade, it’s McDyess. But with Dice back, and Curry going to a three-guard lineup, there are now three power forwards coming off the bench: Amir Johnson, Jason Maxiell and McDyess. Where are the minutes going to come from? The bench is now overloaded with big men. It might make sense for Iverson to come off the bench, but I’m not sure a “superstar” would agree to such a thing.

Eno: About Iverson. He speaks with forked tongue, sometimes in the same sentence. He’ll say something like, “It’s easier for me here because we have so many weapons, but I’m sitting more than ever, and I’m not used to that.” My gut? He wants to be The Guy, and he’s trying to convince himself, more than anyone else, that he’s happy here. Not that he was happier in Denver, necessarily. Thoughts?

Big Al: There’s a point where you can no longer be “The Guy.” Skills slowly begin to erode, you lose a half step, you begin to cheat on defense and force things on offense. Iverson may have reached that point, and can’t, or won’t, accept it. Iverson would be a great offensive weapon coming off the bench, but his wanting to still be the straw that stirs the drink won’t allow it. It may take the entire season before this team jells. If so, they could be struggling to make the playoffs, which is something I never would have imagined before the season. I’m not sure if I’d prefer the Pistons to end up in the lottery, than be a seven or eight playoff seed.

Eno: Well, I like to think that this is just one of those bumpy portions that any 82-game schedule presents. Look at the Spurs; after the Pistons beat them, they fell to 5-5 at home. I know the Celtics are the cream of the league, but I bet even they hit a rough patch. So does your gut say this gets better, or are they a 45, 46-win team?

Big Al: As Curry is still learning how to be a head coach, the Pistons may just be a 45 win team. But you’d have to believe they’d be a lower seed no one would want to play. The Cavs are playing like the class of the Central Division, so a fourth seed may be the absolute best we can hope for. Do you think this is a 45 win max team?

Eno: No, I don’t. Too much talent to not win 50, 51 – even with a rookie coach. Maybe Joe Dumars will gather them together and have one of those “Come to Jesus” meetings. Of course, you don’t really do that with an experienced coach, but in this case it might be warranted. I certainly hope it’s not any pouting due to the Chauncey trade. Cripes, move on! Which is what I should do now….what’s on YOUR mind?

Big Al: What’s on my mind? Grinds my gears? Gets me going? The Tigers. MLB’s Winter Meetings are currently underway, and the Tigers are on the prowl for a closer. My preference, Kerry Wood, signed with the….GADS…Cleveland Indians. Rumors say the Tigers have now set their sights on a former Wolverine, Seattle’s JJ Putz. But getting Putz, an elite closer when healthy, will cost the Tigers some solid prospects; Jeff Larish and Matt Joyce being the names most often mentioned. The idea of giving up even more prospects in an already weakened farm system has me concerned, to say the very least. In what direction do you see the Tigers heading?

Eno: Well, as much as I HATE to sign free agent pitchers because of their history of blowing up almost immediately (a tradition that began with Wayne Garland back in 1977), I would have preferred that route to the “prospect route.” BUT, Wood hasn’t exactly been the picture of health throughout his career. Still, it’s a little annoying to think he’ll be in the Tigers’ division. As for Putz (God, I’d hate to have that last name; Eno is bad enough!), I like him, and he might be one guy worth a little future-mortgaging. I’m not as sold on Larish and Joyce as some are; something about them screams Eric Munson.

Big Al: But Larish and Joyce are left handed bats, which are few and far between in the Detroit system. Think it would be worth looking at a second tier free agent closer, like Brian Fuentes or Chad Cordero? Or go for the old man, Trevor Hoffman? I honestly wouldn’t want to be in Dave Dombrowski’s shoes right now.

Eno: Hoffman? Why the hell not? He’s remained durable. What do you think about little Adam Everett, the new SS?

Big Al: He can’t hit Paris Hilton’s weight, but he can pick it better than anyone in the bigs. I like the idea of having an airtight left side of the infield, which it will be with Brandon Inge at third, but will it also be one that struggles to hit the Mendoza Line? The bottom of the Tigers’ batting order is where rallies will go to die. But if the money saved in signing Everett allows the Tigers to bolster their bullpen, I can live with it. Ask me again though when Inge and Everett are hitting a combined .180. Is that something you can live with?

Eno: NO!!! But SOMEONE has to bat ninth. But you’re right; the Tigers’ troubles last year were primarily in the defense and pitching. So I guess we shouldn’t sweat any perceived reduction in offense, huh?

Big Al: It’s the Tigers. I sweat everything! Eww, not a pretty picture. What about their picking up catcher Gerald Laird? Good, bad, indifferent? He’s another plus defensive player who may struggle with the bat.

Eno: Love it. I like Laird; always have. He’s who I wanted, and he’s not too expensive. The guy threw out 40% of his runners last year; that ain’t bad. Plus, I like this stat: 24 doubles in 344 at-bats. Sounds like a CoPa bat, to me! Don’t think he’ll “struggle”, per se. If he hits .260-ish, with 10 homers, 20-30 doubles, that’s fine. The Tigers have too many other weapons to worry about that kind of production from their catcher.

Big Al: Hey, at least he isn’t Dusty Ryan. The thought of “Dusty” being the Tigers’ opening day catcher wasn’t a pleasant one. Considering that the prospects the Tigers gave up for Laird are marginal, it was a solid deal for Dombrowski. But for all the defensive improvement and the likely addition of a good closer, the Tigers will still only go as far as their starting pitching. Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson are still question marks, Jeremy Bonderman is coming off of injury and Armando Gallaraga needs to prove he’s more than a “one season wonder”. Things have to go perfectly for the Tigers to contend, and that may be too much to ask for.

Eno: Well, the Central Division is funny. Teams seem to bob up and down yearly. No one gave the Indians much of a chance in 2007 and look at what they did; same with the Twins in 2008 and they almost won the division. Hey – if all that stuff can go WRONG in one season, who’s to say that a lot of it can’t go RIGHT in 2009?! The glass is half-full, Big Al! Now I sound like Chuck Tanner, who never thought his team was out of it.

Big Al: Chuck Tanner also had Willie Stargell,. Manny Sanguillen, and a high-on-LSD Dock Ellis. I’d have been upbeat too! Anything on your mind, Mr. Funny Last Name? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist after your comment about Putz!)

Eno: Ha-freaking-ha. Let’s talk about the history-making Lions. The drive for 0-16 seems to be one that cannot be derailed. What plans do you have to commemorate it when the final gun goes off in Green Bay? Is it going to be a “Kennedy assassination moment”? You know, “Where were YOU when the Lions went 0-16?”

Big Al: I know right where I’ll be, crying into a beer at the end of another soul-crushing live blog. 0-16 is inevitable at this point. I know the phrase “any given Sunday” is true in most cases, but there’s no way in Hell the Lions can beat the Colts, Saints or Packers, is there?

Eno: Nope. Even Drew Sharp is being stubborn, saying there IS a win in there, and that it’s in Green Bay. I know they’re Favre-less, and are pretty anemic at 5-8, but come on – really??

Big Al: The Lions haven’t won in Green Bay since, get this, Don Majkowski was under center for the Pack. It’s not going to happen. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if Peyton Manning and Drew Brees throw for a combined 1,000 yards the next two weeks. The Lions’ pass defense is that bad.

Eno: I agree. Of course, all streaks have to come to an end, but the Wisconsin one will continue at least one more year. OK, CB Brian Kelly got released, and C Dom Raiola got fined for giving Lions fans the bird. Thoughts?

Big Al: Kelly is the poster boy for the player evaluation mistakes Rod “I believe in invisibility” Marinelli has made this season. As for Raiola, I’m not going to hold an action made in the heat of the moment against him. Raiola has been a good soldier for years, and is the LEAST of the Lions problems. The Lions fined him $7,500, which seems fair to me. I thought it was a total non-story, but the press had to have something to write about on the Lions’ off day.

Eno: I agree about both. Kelly was pouting, and he’s clearly not part of the future. In fact, no one on this roster should be part of the future other than Jason Hanson and Calvin Johnson. Raiola’s move was a sort of reverse-Harry Gilmer. Remember when they pelted Harry with snowballs after his last game at Tiger Stadium [in 1966]? OK, I know you’re short on time today, so hows about we do some WordAss?

WORD ASSOCIATION

Big Al: Gilmer being pelted with snowballs is part of Lions’ legend, up there with Bobby Ross’ “abandon ship” and Darryl Rogers’ “what’s a guy got to do to get fired around here” quotes. One thing about the Lions, they have a colorful past…for all the wrong reasons. I’m ready for some Word Association, so let’s roll. I’ll start. As Michigan hoops had another big win this past weekend over Duke, Manny Harris.

Eno: HUGE.

Big Al: Very huge, indeed. We’ll stay with the Michigan theme; running back Sam McGuffie.

Eno: RichRod Flu. It happens in every program. Remember, Larry Bird was a Bobby Knight recruit to Indiana.

Big Al: Very good point, Eno. Plus one for you! Let’s go with the head coach of the Lions’ next opponent, a good friend of “Mr. Invisibility,” Tony Dungy.

Eno: Admiration. Total and complete. One of the league’s best people.

Big Al: I have issues with his tendency to be a “holy roller,” so to speak, but you know I’m a heathen anyway. But as a football coach, there aren’t many better. One more for you, Mr. Journalist. Lions wide out Calvin Johnson.

Eno: Two words: underused and overrated (but you already knew the second one). OK, now for you: over and under on the TD passes Peyton Manning tosses this Sunday against the Lions.

Big Al: Over/under? I’ll go four. To throw it out there, my prediction is 450 yards passing, five TDs.

Eno: Sounds about right. OK, Chris Osgood.

Big Al: Showing cracks in the armor.

Eno: Of course, that’s what I thought about 42-year-old Dom Hasek around this time and he bounced back. I think 36-year-old Osgood will do the same. OK, Marian Hossa, who’ll be the subject of my Sunday column this week.

Big Al: Can’t wait to read it. It’s a highlight of my weekend reading. Any thoughts on John Beilein’s Wolverines knocking off another ANOTHER Top Five team? I can’t believe Michigan didn’t crack the Top 25 this week. Farcical.

Eno: Wait – you didn’t give me a WordAss about Hossa! Nice try!

Big Al: Whoops. Sorry! Hossa? MVP!

Eno: Of the league?

Big Al: Now that I think about it, yes. I hate using the word (shoot, maybe I should have used it!), but Hossa has been Clutch, with a capital C!

Eno: OK, back to U-M basketball. I don’t think anyone should give a flying you-know-what about any polls until the end of the season. I mean, college basketball crowns an honest-to-goodness champ, so who cares who’s in the Top 25? It’s all about being #1, baby. But I’m sure the kids would like to see themselves in there, and it would help validate what Beilein is doing in A-squared. I love it that Michigan’s program might be back. The NCAA needs schools like that to excel in as many major sports as possible. And there I was, wanting them to hire Phil Hubbard after giving Tommy Amaker the ziggy!

Big Al: I love watching Beilein’s offense when it’s clicking. Seeing backdoor cuts going to easy baskets warms my old school heart. Michigan has been helluva lot more fun to watch than Michigan State. I’m not saying the Wolverines will be better than Sparty, but Tom Izzo’s team seems almost plodding compared to the Wolverines.

Eno: You know, you may actually be right. Fancy that! Seriously, folks, ready to do Jerk of the Week?

JERK OF THE WEEK

Big Al: I’m ready if you’re ready, sir. I’ll let Mr. Funny Name go first. (HA! I slay me sometimes!)

Eno: (At least SOMEONE appreciates it!) OK, I gotta go with pitcher Greg Maddux here. Why? For RETIRING! Don’t go, Greg! His presence in the big leagues was always strangely soothing to me. Damn him for quitting!

Big Al: You and the great Kansas City columnist Joe Posanski think alike. My “Jerk of the Week” will be Lions head coach Rod Marinelli. I’m still laughing over the “I believe in invisibility” quote! Then he finally cuts one of his pet signings this past off season, Brian Kelly. The Lions will end up taking a $2+ million dead money cap hit for that awful signing. Then he may have to start Drew Henson this week, if Daunte Culpepper’s arm is as badly hurt as it looked Sunday. I feel like I’m piling on, but he deserves it.

Eno: Indeed he does. OK, sir. It was great fun, as always. You coming back next Thursday? I heard your contract is up for renewal.

Big Al: I WANT A RAISE! But I’ll be here anyway. It’s always fun, Mr. Funny Name! I can’t help but run a joke into the ground!

Eno: I can tell!

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