Greg Eno

Archive for the ‘Allen Iverson’ Category

Curry Has 66 Games To Get Pistons Squared Away — On & Off The Court

In Allen Iverson, Michael Curry, Pistons, Tayshaun Prince on December 1, 2008 at 3:26 pm

The good news is that there are still 66 games left in the 2008-09 season for the Pistons. The bad news is that there are still 66 games left in the 2008-09 season for the Pistons.

Coach Michael Curry is seeing, up close and personal, why it’s so much better to make a blockbuster trade in the season’s opening weeks than at the trading deadline.

Curry has something smoldering in his camp, and it isn’t the remnants of a hot-shooting team.

These are touchy times for the Pistons, who are just 6-6 since trading for Allen Iverson. Though there have been some big wins among those six, there’ve also been some head scratchers.

But it’s not just the record, which includes a pedestrian 5-3 overall at home, that is of concern this morning. As always in the NBA, it’s about the happiness within the ranks. Or UNhappiness, really.

Curry has come highly recommended by the only person who really matters: Pistons president Joe Dumars. So it’s important to know that the coach will have the support of the team boss should the rank and file get too ornery.

Yet I’m sure Dumars would rather that not be necessary because of drama his coach is instigating.

Curry blindsided forward Tayshaun Prince after another lackluster Sunday performance yesterday — a 96-85 capitulation to the young, hungry Portland Trail Blazers.

The coach was asked why Prince had his rump on the bench in the fourth quarter, when the Pistons gamely tried to make a comeback.

“Tay didn’t play that well,” was Curry’s response. Short, succinct, to the point.

Except that this was news to Prince, according to today’s Detroit Free Press.

“Huh?” said Prince, who scored 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting in 22 minutes. “Wow, I thought I was playing pretty good if you ask me. … I don’t know. It’s up to them to see what’s going on, and I guess their decision was to sit me down. I was playing well.”

Then this from the beanpole Prince.

“I was upset when I came out of the game in the first quarter because I thought I started the game off well trying to get the guys in the flow. It’s always tough for me because I’m in the position where I’m put at the point-guard position; I’m trying to make plays for them, get them guys going. Sometimes I’m going to have a good night doing it. Sometimes it’s going to take me out of my rhythm.”

Then there’s the newly-acquired Iverson, who’s already tested the rookie coach’s mettle by snubbing a mandatory Thanksgiving Day practice. Iverson is quick to point out that he’s sitting on the bench in Detroit more than he ever has in his career. Funny, but one of the reasons A.I. was happy to come to the Pistons was the allure of not having to be “The Guy” — the one who carries the load. But Iverson wants to not be “The Guy” and play a lot of minutes, too. I think they have a saying for that, involving cake?

It’s a player’s league, this NBA, and that sometimes collides, head on, with a new coach’s desire to prove that he’s no pushover. It’s what they said about the deposed Flip Saunders: not enough accountability for the rank and file.

It’s an admittedly very delicate balance, and just as his players are trying to get accustomed to a new, high profile teammate, so is Curry trying to get a hang of this “I’m in charge now” thing.

Sixty-six games to play before the curtain goes up on the playoff season. Sixty-six opportunities to find cohesiveness, chemistry, commitment. The three Cs. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there are sixty-six games for another C to emerge: cancer.

Look around the league and you’ll see many teams whose potential is snuffed out by various forms of cancer, from the treatable (Nuggets) to the terminal (Knicks). And everything in between. You’re not just an NBA coach, Mike Curry, you’re also an oncologist.

Curry got hit with a double whammy. He was just four games into his first season, fresh from training camp, and now he has to conduct a bunch of mini-camps while the season is going on, with a touchy, high-profile superstar in tow, to boot.

But can you imagine if this trade had occurred in February?

The normally cool Prince bristled at Curry’s surprise negative assessment; that can’t become a trend

Don’t be sucked in and try to draw much of a comparison to the Rasheed Wallace trade of 2004. First, the coach was anything but a rookie (Larry Brown), and Wallace filled a chasm on the Pistons roster, rather than trading one like player for another. And Wallace wasn’t a point guard handling the ball 80-90% of the time up the floor.

Trading for Iverson at the deadline would have been the highest of high risk moves for a GM. It would have eclipsed even the Adrian Dantley-for-Mark Aguirre trade that Jack McCloskey pulled off in February 1989. There simply wouldn’t have been enough time to slay all the dragons and get all the ducks into a row, to mix metaphors (and species).

So Dumars gave Curry Iverson, and 90% of the season, basically, to work with him and find that delicate balance between pushing hard and pulling back.

Calling out your players to the press before talking to them, though — as what happened yesterday with the normally laid back Prince — isn’t a recommended path toward harmony and success. But Curry will learn. He has no choice, really.

Iverson Finally Puts A Face On Stale Pistons

In Allen Iverson, Pistons on November 16, 2008 at 8:28 am

They were the bane of the NBA.

Rude, arrogant, snarling basketball players who played as if they stowed their own version of the rule book in their locker room. Champions, they became, with the league commissioner smiling at them in public and grousing about them privately.

The Bad Boys!

That’s what they called the Pistons of the late-1980s, early-1990s. It’s also what they called themselves. They didn’t shy from the reputation; they embraced it. Maybe a bit too much.

They played hard and they fouled hard. They used their superior defense to break their opponent’s neck, then their spirit. Other teams called them dirty, unfair, cocky, you name it. It was all true, of course.

For two seasons in a row, the Bad Boys terrorized the NBA as they won the league’s brass ring. Commish David Stern and his lieutenants fretted that this rambunctious, rowdy bunch of hooligans would forever change the way the pro game would be played. Namely, would other teams take the brutish route toward victory?

But then Superman, aka Michael Jordan, swooped in and rescued the NBA from the Bad Boys. Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, thrice swatted out of the playoffs – literally and figuratively – by the Pistons (1988-90), finally toppled the Bad Boys in 1991. The Bulls then won six of the next eight championships. Stern and his minions didn’t have to worry about the Bad Boys, or anyone else following their lead, any longer.

Since every gang has to have a leader, the Pistons of those days were no exception. And little Isiah Thomas was the team’s Leo Gorcey to its Dead End Kids.

Make no mistake – Thomas WAS the face of the Pistons. There was the flopping, maddening Bill Laimbeer. The Neanderthal-like Rick Mahorn. That pest, Dennis Rodman, aka The Worm. The petulant, dark Adrian Dantley, who was replaced by the petulant, once-upon-a-time troublemaker Mark Aguirre. But the leader of the pack was Isiah, all six-foot-one of him. The smiling assassin. He had that cherubic face but he just as soon stomp on your heart on the basketball court.

They were the Bad Boys but know this: Thomas was the first person you thought of when you thought of the Detroit Pistons. He was one of those NBA players that only needed to go by one name, or a nickname. There was Magic. Kareem. MJ. Dr. J. And Isiah.

It says here that ever since Thomas retired in 1994, the Pistons have been faceless. Doesn’t mean they’ve been unsuccessful. Just faceless.

What about Grant Hill, you ask?

Hill, a Piston from 1994-2000, was a very nice young man. A terrific basketball player. He still is both of those things, though not as young. But he didn’t have the strong, dominant personality needed to be the “face” of any basketball franchise. Plus, the teams he played on weren’t all that good. Some wouldn’t even want their face associated with those Pistons teams to begin with, much less BE the face.

The Pistons got better and won another championship, in 2004. But the way they did it was opposite of a franchise with a face. They prided themselves on being a franchise that didn’t need a face. They beat the star-studded Lakers in ’04, and this was going to usher in a new way of winning: the way that didn’t need a superstar player. Just a bunch of hard-working dudes – good, but not great players coming together in a common goal.

That lasted about one year.

The Pistons lost in the 2005 Finals to the San Antonio Spurs, who featured superstar Timmy Duncan. They lost in the 2006 conference finals to the Miami Heat, who featured superstar Dwyane Wade. They lost in the 2007 conference finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who featured superstar LeBron James. And they lost in the 2008 conference finals to the Boston Celtics, who featured superstars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

See a pattern here?

But now the Pistons, some 14+ years since Isiah Lord Thomas hung up his sneakers, finally have a face. A superstar. Someone around whom to worship on the basketball court.

Allen Iverson is about Isiah’s size: six-feet tall, on his tippy toes. One-hundred-and-sixty-five pounds, soaking wet and with $100 worth of quarters in his pockets. Tougher than nails. Still some street in him. A shrimp, really, in a giant’s game. And also one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history.

A face, finally, for the Pistons.

Iverson isn’t cherubic like Thomas, but he’s the new Pistons face

A couple weeks ago, Iverson came over from Denver for Chauncey Billups, the poor man’s Isiah. A point guard who had a lot of journeyman in his resume but who found gold in Detroit. The MVP of the 2004 Finals. Mr. Big Shot, they called him. But it was mainly a Detroit nickname – an invention of announcer George Blaha, spouted after some clutch Chauncey shots, once upon a time.

But Chauncey Billups wasn’t the face of the Pistons, either. He was merely one of the starting five — albeit one of the very best starting fives in the league. But he was no more the face than was the bellicose Rasheed Wallace, or the whirling dervish Rip Hamilton, or the quiet beanpole Tayshaun Prince. Together, they were A face. But there was no REAL face.

Iverson gives them that face. For the first time since Isiah, as noted above. The first genuine superstar to wear a Pistons uniform in 14 years-plus. The first player who can truly create his own shot, who craves the ball with the game on the line. The first one who mingles among the NBA elite. He’s AI and The Answer, Iverson is. He’s nicknamed and everything.

Ironically, Iverson might not be a Piston beyond this season. He’s a free agent at the end of it, and there’s sourced talk that president Joe Dumars (himself a one-time Bad Boy) is perhaps using Iverson’s contract so that when it comes off the books next summer, Dumars will have lots of cash to spend – whether on AI or on someone else. But rest assured, it will be a superstar player. No more of this “basketball is a team sport” stuff. The Pistons have tried it that way for the past four seasons, and it hasn’t worked.

Allen Iverson, the face of the Pistons. For one season, anyway. But it’s one season longer than they’ve had a face since 1994.

Dumars, Ever The Chessmaster, Uses The NBA As His Board And Pawns

In Allen Iverson, Chris Bosh, Joe Dumars, LeBron James on November 5, 2008 at 3:24 pm

There’s great irony in Joe Dumars’s career as a basketball executive.

As a player, we called him Joe D — probably first coined by broadcaster George Blaha — and the “D” was mainly for defense. Dumars made it into the Hall of Fame not because he could score (even though he could), but because he established a reputation — earned, unlike some others — as being a top-notch defender. It was said that, in his prime, Dumars was the only man who could come close to checking Michael Jordan, one-on-one.

So here’s the irony: Dumars, a perennial candidate for Executive of the Year, is so much on the offense that he’s practically forcing the rest of the league to play defense to his aspirations.

The question is, is there any GM out there who can check Joe Dumars, one-on-one? Or will they have to gang up on him? You can’t stop Dumars — you can only hope to contain him!

Dumars, to hear those in the know report it, looks at the rest of the NBA as a giant chess board, with him controlling even the opposition’s pieces.

Monday’s trade for guard Allen Iverson got people talking, for sure — but most of the talk was what the trade meant in terms of Dumars’s grand plan. And, even scarier for his colleagues, Dumars’s grand plan seems incapable of being foiled, even if everyone can see it coming.

Kind of like Air Jordan in the middle of a flying path to the basket. And even Joe D couldn’t stop that.

Here’s the crux of Dumars’s scheme: if the Iverson trade doesn’t work out the way Dumars hopes, then no harm, no foul. AI becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer, and Dumars has a trove of cash at his disposal, once Iverson’s and Rasheed Wallace’s (potentially) contracts come off the Pistons books. Then, Dumars can perhaps trade for Toronto big man Chris Bosh, who becomes unrestricted in the summer of 2010 — if the Raptors don’t feel they can keep him in their camp one year hence. Or, Dumars can simply wait until 2010 and go for other folks, namely LeBron James, and Bosh again. Or others. The class of ’10 is filled with some of the league’s most marquee players.

Sources say it’s James and Bosh, though, that Dumars is zeroing in on. No, that wasn’t a typo — I didn’t mean to type OR there. James AND Bosh. You heard me.


Dumars (top) is zeroing in on the NBA’s King, it’s said

With a boatload of cash, a winning culture, top drawer talent, depth, and the respected Dumars himself, few other teams will be more attractive than the Pistons to big names available.

James, it’s thought, wants to play in New York. It’s also said that there are days he’d consider playing in Timbuktu or Beirut — because at least those cities aren’t Cleveland.

Dumars absolutely has a path to LeBron James in 2010 — and there might not be a damn thing anyone else can do about it. Such is how Dumars has set himself up.

Of course, a cynic might say that had Dumars drafted Bosh back in 2003 like he could have, then a lot of this maneuvering would have been unnecessary. But it’s not like the Pistons were destroyed by the misstep involving Darko Milicic. They won the championship in Darko’s rookie year, and went back to the Finals the following season. The Pistons have been Final Four participants every season since then.

You can tell that Dumars truly enjoys all this GM stuff. For the competitive, sometimes it’s hard to find anything off the court that scratches that itch. But Dumars clearly has found it: the wheeling and dealing, the front office strategy, the “wins” you get when you negotiate a good contract or make an astute trade, or sign a “diamond in the rough” free agent. There are losses, too, and disappointments. Also part of high stakes competition.

I think that Dumars’s role as team president and GM is merely an extension of his role as a player. He played in a lot of big time games as a Piston. He tasted championship champagne. He experienced deep disappointment. He was surrounded by high profile, sometimes high-maintenance guys. And he competed against the best players in the world.

So it doesn’t matter whether it’s shorts and sneakers, or blazer and khakis. Doesn’t matter whether it’s on the hardwood or in an office. Doesn’t matter whether he’s guarding Jordan or trying to put the moves on a rival GM. It’s all about competition and outwitting and winning the whole enchilada.

It’s all there right now for Dumars; the NBA landscape is shaping up just the way he would like it to. It’s not even relevant whether his intentions are close to the vest or plainly evident. A true chessmaster will put you in checkmate in due time.

And Dumars definitely has his sights set on the King from Cleveland.

Pistons Gain A Superstar, Lose An Excuse For Conference Finals Losses With Iverson Trade

In Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups, Pistons on November 3, 2008 at 6:07 pm

Allen Iverson can be selfish — a ball hog as some say. He can be petulant, moody, disdainful of those who write about the game for a living. He is pugnacious and sometimes thinks it’s him vs. the world. He, famously, sometimes has problems with practice. He’s loathe to give anyone else the last shot in crunch time.

Translated: he’s exactly what the Pistons need.

The 33-year-old Iverson is about to become a Piston today, according to all reports. He may already be one, officially, by the time you’re reading this.

The trade is this: guard Chauncey Billups and power forward/center Antonio McDyess to the Denver Nuggets for Iverson.

First thought: a good deal for both teams.

Second thought: a good deal for both teams — and a better one for the Pistons.

We’ve said all sorts of things about the Pistons over the past five years, when they’ve been annual threats to win their conference, if not the whole league. But a couple constants have appeared in the discussion: 1) the Pistons don’t have that “one guy” — that superstar that other teams who win championships have; and 2) why do they keep getting upended in the conference finals?

I think the answer to both concerns lies in, well, “The Answer” — which just happens to be Iverson’s nickname.

Billups might be initially missed, even mourned, by some Pistons fans. He was Mr. Big Shot, though I think that was largely a Detroit myth. The truth, and this may be unseemly to the mourners, is that Chauncey never really elevated his game in the playoffs. He didn’t. Sometimes he was hurt. But Iverson has been hurt, and you’d hardly know it. The Pistons’ inability to beat back the likes of the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, and even the Boston Celtics in the Final Four can be directly traced to Billups’s inability to beat back his point guard counterpart in those series.

But still, Billups, it could be argued, was the team’s glue. He was captain and point guard, a lethal combo in the NBA if you crave leadership in your player. Think Isiah Thomas in his heyday. But Billups wasn’t Thomas — not even close, really. At best, he was a poor man’s Thomas. At worst, he was a drag to the Pistons’ playoff hopes.

This sounds rough, I know — and I don’t mean to be, because Chauncey Billups is a damn good basketball player, and he did a lot for the Pistons. In the regular season. But did you, in your heart of hearts, believe that another playoff run with Billups at the helm was going to end all that much differently? After his mediocre performance in the past three springs?

One of my faithful readers called me as the trade was being reported, and expressed this concern about Iverson: “Isn’t he kind of a ball hog?”

Yes! Thank God!

Pistons finally have an “Answer” to their lack of a superstar quandary

This brings me to the other tired Pistons talking point, bantied about even when they were winning the title in 2004. That talking point is that the team never had a true “go to” guy on their roster. For a while, we tried to sugarcoat that as some sort of badge of honor. You know, the old “Who needs a superstar when you have a bunch of good players?” argument. But as the time lengthened since that ’04 championship, it was evident: the Pistons’ lack of a true superstar wasn’t a plus. It was a definite minus.

The Heat beat them in 2006 behind the superhuman efforts of Dwyane Wade. The Cavs drummed them out of the ’07 playoffs behind the superhuman efforts of LeBron James. And the ’08 Celtics slapped them around in Games 3 and 6 of the conference finals behind the superhuman efforts of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. All while the Pistons looked at each other and wondered who their “go to” guy was going to be.

Having five guys on the floor who could all potentially take the game-winning shot sounds very nice and benevolent, but it’s a losing way of doing things. It’s the old mantra: if you have five game-winning shot guys, you have none.

Well, now the Pistons have one.

Allen Iverson should take every single game-winning shot for the Pistons this season, and for however long he remains with the team. It shouldn’t matter if all five of the opponents and 20,000 people in the stands, plus those watching on television, and even your Aunt Josephine and the cashier at Walgreen’s know it. Give Iverson the ball and let him do his thing. Like it or not, it’s how championships are won — when the supporting players know to get out of the way at the right time.

Sometimes you need a ball hog. Like at the end of games, when you need a play to be made. Remember how much flak James took after passing up a game-winning shot against the Pistons in the ’07 conference finals in order to feed the ball to Donyell Marshall, who missed a three-pointer? Then remember what James did to the Pistons in Game 5 after he learned that lesson? He literally beat them all by himself. Selfishness is good, at times.

As for the Nuggets, they get a hometown kid in Billups (who finally ends up in his native Denver after playing just about everywhere else in his pre-Pistons days) who is more of a pass-first, shoot-second point guard. This allows Carmelo Anthony to regain the claim of the Nuggets being “his” team. And while McDyess is a very nice man who deserves to win a title, the Nuggets can probably use him more than the Pistons, who are grooming guys like Amir Johnson, Jason Maxiell, and Walter Herrmann in their frontcourt and in the swing.

Ball hogs have done alright in this league. There was someone named Michael Jordan, who only wears six rings. Larry Bird was hardly the epitome of selflessness when games had to be won in the playoffs. Wade ball hogged his way to the 2006 title. Kobe Bryant comes to mind, too — even with Shaquille O’Neal in his midst with the old Lakers teams. And Kobe just might ball hog his way to another title sometime soon, like this season.

Billups won the 2004 NBA Finals MVP largely by default. It was definitely a testament to the Pistons that no single player really stood out as being any more valuable than the other that spring. Their supposed “team first” method was lauded as having beaten the allegedly selfish style of the star-ladened Lakers. For one year, it was true. It was also an anomaly — an exception to a normally hard and fast rule.

Ball hogs and selfish superstars. Petulant point guards and snarling punks. They’re not always as toxic as advertised.

The Pistons could use a player like that. They haven’t had one, really, since the Bad Boys days.

Isiah Thomas didn’t always pass, contrary to popular belief.