Greg Eno

Archive for the ‘NBA’ Category

No Bumbling Allowed: That’s What NBA Stands For This Season

In NBA on December 17, 2008 at 4:06 pm

When the number of NBA coaches who’ve been canned before Christmas starts to approach the number of teams Larry Brown has helmed, then you know something freakish is going on.

Reggie Theus was the latest to get the ziggy, by the Sacramento Kings. That brought to six the number of coaches who will find coal in their stocking this holiday season. Of course, that coal comes with generous severance pay, so I don’t mean to go all Charles Dickens on you here. The deposed coaches won’t be standing in any soup kitchen lines, let’s put it that way.

But they’re out of work, and there’s no telling how many of them will resurface with other NBA teams.

The carnage so far, in no particular order:

1. Eddie Jordan, Washington Wizards
2. Maurice Cheeks, Philadelphia 76ers
3. Sam Mitchell, Toronto Raptors
4. PJ Carlesimo, Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Randy Wittman, Minnesota T-Wolves
6. Theus, Sacramento

Oh, and just for the record, Brown is now coaching his ninth NBA team — or 30% of the league. He’s now matched Scotty Bowman’s number of Stanley Cup rings. Another fun fact: amazingly, only one of the teams that canned a coach is one of Brown’s formers: the 76ers.

So what in the name of Bum Phillips is going on here?

You remember Bum, don’t you? Former head coach of the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints? Well, it was ole Bum who once said this about his profession: “There are two kinds of coaches: those that have been fired, and those who are gonna be fired. And I’ve been both.”

Indeed, as have countless others.

It might be a cop out, but I think this is nothing more than an anomaly. Nothing like this has happened before, with coaches being dismissed at such a rapid pace, and I don’t see where it’s likely to happen again soon. It could also be the herd mentality, which might make it easier for other owners and GMs to lower the guillotine after they see so many of their brethren doing likewise. Certainly there’s some sort of “firing fever” spreading throughout the NBA, which this season stands for No Bumbling Allowed.

Digging deeper, it may be that teams look at today’s NBA as a little more wide-open than in the past. Beyond the Celtics, there are a bunch of teams that like to fancy themselves as title contenders, and then there’s a tier of teams just below that — and this would include some of those who fired their coach — who feel they can get a piece of the pie if they play their cards right, set themselves up for the mother lode of free agency in 2010, and make themselves as attractive suitors as possible. Axing the bumbling coach fits nicely into that plan.

Jordan was coach of the year in 2007. Cheeks, until recently, had Sixers fans thinking more glory days were ahead with him on the sideline. Mitchell was once trumpeted as the kind of hard-nosed, no-nonsense man that was perfect for the young Raptors. Yet all were dumped, victims of maybe too-high expectations. On the other end of the spectrum, Carlesimo didn’t have a prayer with awful Oklahoma City. Wittman was handcuffed with a wretched roster in Minnesota. Theus didn’t have much to work with in Sacramento, either. But out they go, too, because pro sports is filled with owners and executives who think, “It can’t be the talent, because I was the one who brought in the talent — so it must be the coach!”

The NHL has firing fever, too. Four of them are gone, including Denis Savard in Chicago after just four games, and Barry Melrose in Tampa after sixteen. But they still can’t beat Bill Gadsby, who was fired by Red Wings owner Bruce Norris after a 2-0 record in 1969. Norris was a notorious drinker, and Gadsby told me a couple of years ago that there was a cocktail on Norris’s desk as he delivered the sobering (ironic pun intended) news to his coach.

That was the earliest firing in Detroit, and in all of pro sports — almost. The Rams gave George Allen the ziggy after just two games — two pre-season games — in 1978. The Tigers fired Phil Garner after an 0-6 start in 2002. The Lions dumped Rick Forzano after four games in 1976. The Pistons rid themselves of Dick Vitale after 12 games in 1979.

Yes, it’s the hazard of the professional coach: that you’re hired to be fired.

“It’s funny,” former Pistons coach Earl Lloyd said when he took over for Butch van Breda Kolff after VBK committed a self-ziggy in 1971, “but when you take this job, you’re also signing your own death certificate.” Lloyd was ziggied about a year later.

So who’ll be the next NBA coach to be unemployed? It’s assumed that there’ll be a moratorium until after the holidays, giving us some time to mull it over. My guess? Mike Dunleavy of the LA Clippers. His teams have been getting progressively worse over the past few seasons. Just a hunch.

If Even A Smidge Of What Donaghy Alleges Is True, The NBA Is Toast

In NBA, Tim Donaghy on June 11, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Nobody wants to believe Tim Donaghy. Nobody wants to think that the disgraced former NBA referee has one ounce of credibility left in him. Everyone wants to believe that the air with which he once used to blow whistles is all hot. For to believe otherwise cuts at the very core of the trust that is placed in professional sports.

Yet Donaghy isn’t going gently into the night.

In a filing made Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New York thru his attorney, Donaghy alleges that certain referees conspired with the league to force a seventh game in the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. While the series itself isn’t mentioned by name, its identity has been fairly easy to deduce from the details Donaghy provided. Game 6 of that series was highly controversial to begin with, and Donaghy’s allegations have re-stoked that fire.

Here’s a portion of Donaghy’s statement (Team 5 is Sacramento and Team 6 is Los Angeles):

“Referees A, F and G were officiating a playoff series between Teams 5 and 6 in May of 2002. It was the sixth game of a seven-game series, and a Team 5 victory that night would have ended the series. However, Tim learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. Tim knew referees A and F to be “company men,” always acting in the interest of the NBA, and that night, it was in the NBA’s interest to add another game to the series. Referees A and F heavily favored Team 6. Personal fouls [resulting in obviously injured players] were ignored even when they occurred in full view of the referees. Conversely, the referees called made-up fouls on Team 5 in order to give additional free throw opportunities for Team 6. Their foul-calling also led to the ejection of two Team 5 players. The referees’ favoring of Team 6 led to that team’s victory that night, and Team 6 came back from behind to win that series.”

The Lakers attempted 40 free throws to the Kings’ 25 in that game, and in the fourth quarter alone, Los Angeles made 21-of-27 from the line while Sacramento converted just 7-of-9.

It nags that Donaghy’s accusations are more than just the desperate bleatings of a condemned man.

The timing of all this couldn’t be worse, either — the NBA Finals droning on, and in the very same city where Donaghy alleged the wrongdoings happened back in 2002.

I must admit to believing there might just be something to Donaghy’s words — some shred of truth to what he’s alleging. And the Lakers-Kings thing is hardly the only act of impropriety Donaghy makes reference to. You can read the laundry list here.

Let’s not give the NBA a free pass here, either. Shame on them if even a quarter of what Donaghy alleges turns out to be fact, not fiction. Don’t automatically brand Donaghy the pathetic, desperate man and the league a besmirched innocent. Where there’s smoke there’s fire, the line goes, and Donaghy is blowing more smoke here than a greasy grill on Memorial Day. Again, it causes one to shift uncomfortably in his chair to think of the ramifications, the domino-like effect, that some of this stuff would cause if it actually occurred the way Donaghy claims.

So what to do?

Nothing, really — except to let the legal process take its course. No doubt the NBA office’s spinmasters are working overtime, preparing for counterattacks to the onslaught of bad press and bad mouthing that is sure to deluge them. Some of it already has, of course. The NBA has to be prepared should this nastiness grow some credibility. We simply would not be able to watch another NBA game again in the same way as before anyone ever heard of Tim Donaghy. How could we? How could we walk out of an arena, or turn off a TV, NOT thinking that other, grander forces were at work if our team didn’t come out on top during a close, crucial game?

This is bigger than just Tim Donaghy. He’s not the only one facing legal and public opinion judgment. This is about an entire league and its foundation.

So, back to the Finals, huh?

Not so easy to do.

The Race Is Soon To Be On: LB Against Isiah For Another Coaching Job

In Isiah Thomas, Larry Brown, NBA, New York Knicks on April 4, 2008 at 2:26 pm

OK, so who’ll get another NBA coaching job first: Isiah Thomas or Larry Brown?

Brown is acting like a strung-out morphine addict. He was quoted by the Philadelphia Inquirer thusly: “I’ve got to figure out if I can get a coaching job. I want to get back so bad. I’m so bored.”

Geez. I don’t know whether to laugh, feel sorry for him, or order him under a suicide watch.

There’s more.

“I just miss it. After my last experience (with the Knicks in ’05-’06), I just want to go where I can do a better job and move forward.”

I haven’t seen a lobby for an NBA coaching job this brazen since Dickie Vitale ran around Detroit, telling anyone who’d listen (or even those who didn’t) that he wanted to coach the Pistons, some 30 years ago. Vitale’s campaign — aided conveniently by the Detroit media — was successful, a lot more so than his actual coaching stint.

Should Brown be allowed back onto an NBA sideline? Well, professional sports are filled with enough stool pigeon owners that this is certainly a possibility. The ironic thing — and what isn’t good for Brown’s aspirations — is that the kind of team he’d fit best with is a veteran-laden club that is oh-so-close to a championship; so close that they can taste it. But this is also the kind of team that Brown could do the most damage to; he’s likely to barge in and start fixing things rather than tweak them. He’s a human double-edged sword, Larry Brown is.


Brown: he just loves this SOO much

And a young team would be foolish to hire Brown, if only because the coach might commit Hari Kari before the year was done.

So the verdict, Mr. Eno?

Brown finds a sucker someday and gets something, anything. His coaching thirst will be quenched. He’ll do more damage than good, but at least he wouldn’t be bored — until he gets canned less than two years later.

Thomas will soon be out of work, too. If Donnie Walsh, the Knicks’ new Lord of The Hoop, is even one-eighth the genius he purportedly is, he’ll can Zeke. If he doesn’t, then Walsh should have his stripes yanked off his Armani suit. Only dumb-dumbs keep odiferous reminders of a losing tradition when they’re hired with the expressed directive to blow things up and do “whatever’s necessary” to right the ship.

Strangely, I think Thomas might actually find a coaching job sooner than the desperate Brown, who he fired from the Knicks two years ago. Isiah can actually coach a bit, and an expulsion from New York would be a good thing for him, frankly. He’s the opposite of Brown; Thomas would fit well with a younger, smaller market team that is more apt to listen to him with wide-eyed eagerness, as opposed to eye-rolling disdain, as the Knicks players tend to do with him.

There was a time when I was certain Thomas would surface in Bloomington, Ind., as the coach of his alma mater Hoosiers. That’s now not going to happen, with IU hiring Tom Crean the other day.

Thomas and Brown will both be back in the NBA, coaching someone someday. But Isiah should never be allowed the keys to another team’s executive washroom ever again. After his shenanigans with the Raptors, the CBA, and the Knicks, you’d think that would be a no-brainer type of declaration.

You’d THINK.

Sadly, One Wrongly Called Timeout To Be Webber’s Legacy

In Chris Webber, NBA on March 26, 2008 at 3:20 pm

Chris Webber, it’s reported, is set to retire today. The shadow of his blunder 15 Marches ago outlasted him after all.

The timeout Webber called in the 1993 NCAA Final — a timeout his Michigan team didn’t have — in the waning moments against North Carolina just won’t go away. Not that it should, but it’s now filed in the Bill Buckner category of sports blunders — those that will forever follow their perpetrators, almost completely rendering irrelevant their careers.

The Detroit Free Press took one last cheap shot at Webber — and Webber’s a Detroit kid, remember — with this silly headline: Time Out! Webber To Announce Retirement.

Enough.

That headline was disgusting, and not even funny. What does a timeout have to do with retirement? A timeout suggests action will restart at some point. Webber is hanging up his sneakers for good. At best, it’s a bad joke. At worst, it’s simply mean-spirited, another attempt to obliterate what Webber did as an NBA player, which is only average 20.7 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 4.2 apg, along with making five All-Star teams. That after helping to lead U-M to two NCAA Finals in both his years in Ann Arbor.

Yeah, there’s the Ed Martin scandal. A blemish, for sure. But just as that shouldn’t discard Webber’s basketball accomplishments, nor should the timeout in ’93.

Returning to Buckner, you’d think the man played one game, and handled one chance in his brilliant 22-year career. He had nearly 2,000 hits, had a career BA of .295, and a .992 career FA at 1st base. Yet he’ll never, and I mean NEVER, outlive his error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, when Mookie Wilson’s weak grounder went between his legs, enabling the Mets to complete their improbable comeback win over Boston.

Scott Norwood won’t be remembered for much more than his errant kick at the end of Super Bowl XXV, when his miss allowed the Giants to escape the Bills.

Granted, these were high-profile mistakes, no question. Each occurred in their respective sport’s biggest games. And history isn’t kind; it’s simply there to record what happened, not to put anything into context.

Yet it’s still a shame that as Webber holds his press conference today, many will look at him and STILL think of that stupid timeout against NC fifteen years ago, instead of all that he did on the floor in the NBA.

Now, you can knock Webber the NBA player all you want with my permission. He never won a championship. He had a lousy attitude in Philly. He ran out of gas, out of shape, with the Pistons last spring. He was, at times, more divisive than apt to show leadership. Those charges vary in their credibility, but all are legitimate, at least on their surface. Not all are true.

But for the Free Press, Webber’s hometown paper, to take such a cheap shot at their local kid as he prepares to retire because of painful knees, is classless.

Shame on them. THEY need a timeout.

Heat’s Freefall One Of NBA’s Strangest Stories

In Miami Heat, NBA on March 19, 2008 at 2:55 pm

OK, all of you who had the Miami Heat sitting on 12 wins on March 19, raise your hand.

That’s what I thought.

Of all the crazy things that have happened during this NBA season (the rise of the New Orleans Hornets, the Houston Rockets’ 22-game winning streak, the blockbuster Cleveland/Chicago/Seattle trade), I maintain that the Heat’s plunge to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings is right up there in terms of strangeness.

How can a team with Pat Riley as coach, Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal (for half the season anyway) and other castmates from the 2006 championship squad, fall so far from grace, and with such a thud?

The Heat managed to win one last night, topping the Bucks in Milwaukee. That gives Miami just its fourth win in 2008; they’re 12-54 overall, and 4-30 since January 1.

12-54!!!

They’ll be hard-pressed to win more than a few more games the rest of the way, now that Wade is out till next season with an injury.

Alonzo Mourning hasn’t played, but I find it hard to believe that Mourning is THAT valuable to the Heat.


Riley has to be as floored as anyone over the Heat’s season


In 1979, the Pistons thought they had a frontline combo that would lead them out of the muck. Coach Dickie Vitale, functioning as a de facto GM, got rooked in a trade — though he didn’t know it. He was hell-bent on acquiring the former scoring champ Bob McAdoo, who had worn out yet another welcome, this time with Boston. McAdoo had previously poisoned the Knicks after being traded from Buffalo. So Vitale signed McAdoo, and the cost in terms of compensation (they don’t do that anymore) was a pair of top draft picks and forward M.L. Carr. The draft picks were used by the Celtics to finagle Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. It wasn’t one of the Pistons’ better trades.

So McAdoo joined Bob Lanier up front, and with a feisty point guard in Ron Lee and a shooting guard in James McElroy, plus youngsters Greg Kelser, Phil Hubbard, Terry Tyler, and John Long (yes, Vitale was afraid to draft beyond the state of Michigan), the Pistons brass felt like they were onto something.

Oh, they were onto something, alright: a 16-66 disaster, in which Vitale was dumped after a 4-8 start.

The Heat, frankly, will be lucky to match the ’79-’80 Pistons’ win total of 16.

I just didn’t see this coming. ESPN, for whatever reason, showed lots of Heat games this season, and I watched them play a bit in January and February. Their defense was non-existent; not par for a Pat Riley-led team. Strange.

Miami Heat, the dregs of the NBA. Who would have thought?

Coming To A Basketball Arena Near You: Coach Joe Dumars

In Flip Saunders, Jack McCloskey, Joe Dumars, NBA on March 16, 2008 at 3:24 pm

The Pistons were in the midst of another search for a coach. It was typical, for a franchise that had two winning seasons on its resume in 26 seasons in Detroit.

It was the spring of 1983. General Manager Jack McCloskey was rumored to have interviewed several candidates. A couple, it was whispered, turned him down. One of those rejecters was supposedly the revered Dr. Jack Ramsay, a future Hall of Famer. McCloskey, it was reported, turned to an old friend from his days with the Lakers, Jack McKinney. McKinney, too, said no.

Other names bobbed to the surface. The days dragged on. Then it occurred to me.

Jack McCloskey wants to coach this team himself.

He could have done it, you know. McCloskey was a successful coach in the Ivy League, back when some of the best college basketball in the country was played in the small arenas of Princeton, Brown, and Yale. And Penn, where McCloskey roamed the sidelines in the 1960s. In the NBA, McCloskey coached the woeful Portland Trailblazers, getting fired just before the team drafted Bill Walton. He assisted his friend Jerry West with the Lakers, and did the same thing for McKinney with Indiana.

It was while on the Pacers bench as an assistant that McCloskey was recommended to Pistons owner Bill Davidson as just the basketball man the dysfunctional franchise needed to recover from two years of Dickie Vitale’s destruction. That was in December 1979.

So I was bracing myself for the announcement that I was sure to come, that McCloskey had tired of the coaching search and was going to assume the role himself.

He made a fool of me. He hired Chuck Daly, another former Penn coach. I suppose it was a good decision.

I hit McCloskey with my theory in 1989, the summer after the Pistons’ first-ever championship.

“If I thought it was the best decision for the team, I would have taken the job,” McCloskey told me with a shrug. But no, it wasn’t his intention.

I wonder if Joe Dumars will ultimately show the same restraint.

Flip Saunders is the Pistons coach, but he isn’t where the buck stops when it comes to in-season personnel matters. They do things a little differently in Detroit. Most NBA coaches bristle when it’s suggested that he’s not the one pulling all the strings all the time – during the season. The GM’s role for those teams is to make trades, look at free agents, and sit in a suite somewhere during the games. And keep the pie hole shut when it comes to who should play when, and for how long, and against which teams.

Dumars doesn’t play that.

Frequently he’s consulted, and I wonder how much of it is Saunders consulting Dumars, or Dumars consulting Saunders, if you get my drift.

The coach was talking to the media last week about veteran Lindsey Hunter, idle for over a month and resting – getting ready for the playoffs, when he’ll once again coax energy and ball-hawking defense out of his 37-year-old body.

When, it was asked, will it be time to suit up Hunter and begin blending him back into the rotation, the playoffs about a month away?

“Not sure,” Saunders said. “Gotta talk to Joe (Dumars) about it. See what Joe thinks.”

You can count on one hand how many NBA coaches would be comfortable with such an idea, and have some fingers left over.

Gotta talk to the GM first? See what he thinks?

Hey, if it works for Saunders and the Pistons, then everyone has my blessing. But it’s starting to crystallize now – why Joe Dumars has burned through coaches like a teenager does with his allowance.

Let’s take a look back. Dumars canned Alvin Gentry in 2000, promoting assistant George Irvine. Irvine was gone a little over a year later. Dumars then brought in Rick Carlisle, who lasted two seasons – both 50-win seasons, by the way. Despite leading the Pistons to the conference finals, Carlisle was fired. Larry Brown was hired. Brown flamed out in two seasons, as well – with a championship and a runner-up on his record. Enter Saunders, who’s actually survived into a third season – a record for any man that Dumars has hired.

Dumars, letting another coach go (Carlisle, in 2003)


I wonder how much of this is Dumars being aggressively restless and risk-taking, and how much of it is that he can’t get along with coaches? Or, rather, that they can’t get along with him?

I’m not castigating Dumars here. There’s no crime in running things the way you see fit, especially if the success rate is high. But something tells me that Joe Dumars may not be totally content until he seizes control of the team himself, as coach someday. He already is mega-involved in personnel decisions. Don’t kid yourself here. One of the reasons you see Saunders’s rotation fluctuate and change so often – in an ongoing effort to bring the youngsters Dumars has drafted into the fold – is because Dumars has ideas. And he isn’t shy to flex his muscles with his coach when it comes to those ideas.

Is Flip Saunders a puppet? That’s far too strong of a word. But it’s not inaccurate to describe Dumars as a sort of micro-manager, and those types aren’t ever happy unless they can do things themselves – like coach basketball teams.

Gregg Popovich is maybe going to go into the Hall of Fame one day as a coach, leading the San Antonio Spurs as the team of the 21st century. But Popovich was an accidental coach himself. He was a little-known GM when he fired his coach one day, took the job on an interim basis, and never gave it up.

Saunders will coach the Pistons next year, odds are – barring a total meltdown in the playoffs, i.e. a first or second-round exit. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess. And I’ll again brace myself, as I did back in 1983, for the Pistons GM to announce that, guess what, he’s the new coach, too.

McCloskey made a fool of me in ’83. I doubt that Dumars will.

Theo Ratliff: Another John Long, Lindsey Hunter For Pistons?

In John Long, Lindsey Hunter, NBA, Pistons, Theo Ratliff on March 7, 2008 at 3:06 pm

The guard’s ranks were depleted, and concerns were raised that, despite their under-30 age, Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars might have to log too many minutes during the regular season. Vinnie Johnson was solid as a reserve, but there was an old favorite wasting away on a bench in Indiana that still had that smooth-as-silk “rock set” jumper, as George Blaha used to say.

Enter John Long, University of Detroit alum, and a Piston from the Dickie Vitale days. He, unlike Thomas and Dumars, was over 30 — 32 to be exact — when GM Jack McCloskey called his number once more. Long didn’t play much, but was nice to have on the bench. Coach Chuck Daly no doubt felt some relief when he looked down the row of players and saw Long in his warmups. Eventually, Daly would see Long in the Pistons locker room, drenched with champagne, as the team won its first of two straight world titles.

Fifteen years later, the Pistons — once again nervous about the playing time of their backcourt starters — brought Lindsey Hunter back into the fold after a brief hiatus. Lindsey Hunter — one of the team’s two first round picks in 1993 (Allan Houston was the other) — had been a Piston for seven seasons before moving on to Milwaukee, Los Angeles (where he won a championship as a Laker), and Toronto. Now he was back, at age 33, older, wiser, and still with that ball-hawking defensive gene. And again bringing back an oldtimer worked; the Pistons won another championship in 2004.

Earlier this week, the Pistons followed form, but with a big man.

Theo Ratliff, a teal Piston from back in the day, is a red, white, and blue Piston now. Once upon a time, Ratliff was a youthful bundle of energy, running up and down the court and swatting away enemy shots like a seven-foot tall octopus. He could score a little, and there was no telling how much his raw talent could be developed. Sort of like Jason Maxiell is today. Or Amir Johnson.

Dumars, now the Pistons’ architect, signed Ratliff away from the dreadful Minnesota T-Wolves, just after Theo got in a few games, returning from injury. Ratliff says he’s healthy and ready to go. Of course, who wouldn’t feel energized, going from the league’s worst to among its best?

There’s something that tells me that the Pistons’ history of bringing old players back into the fold prior to a championship run might work yet again, in the matter of Theodore Ratliff.

Ratliff, like most players his age (he’s 34) — especially big men — isn’t the same player he once was. The arms are still as long as ever, but the springs might not be as bouncy. Regardless, Dumars figures Ratliff to get into a playoff game now and again, play a few minutes, disrupt some things, and maybe, just maybe, slow down the likes of Ben Wallace, Josh Howard, and Kevin Garnett. Even for a little while. Every little bit helps in May and June.

Ratliff left the Pistons in 1997, traded away to Philadelphia in the deal that brought Jerry Stackhouse to Detroit. He’s never been a GREAT rebounder, but he’s made up for it at times with his shot-blocking ability, which is spectacular. He’s batted away over 1,700 shots in his NBA career — an average of about 2.6 per game. Even this year, with Minnesota, at age 34, Ratliff blocked 19 shots in 214 minutes — an outstanding ratio.

The Pistons will need to “get big” in crucial times in the playoffs. They always do. Dale Davis had been that guy in the recent past, but it didn’t work. Davis isn’t half the shot blocker that Ratliff is. How will Theo’s swatting skills play out this spring?

History might be on the Pistons’ side.

Cavs’ Trade Much Ado About Not Much

In Ben Wallace, Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA, trades on February 22, 2008 at 4:02 pm

Add the Cleveland Cavaliers to the list of delusional teams — the ones that think Ben Wallace is the final piece to a championship puzzle.

The Cavs are puffing out their chests, wrongly thinking that they’ve rocked the basketball world with their 11-player, 3-team trade made yesterday with Seattle and Chicago. In it, the Cavs acquired Wallace, along with Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith, and Delonte West. Leaving Cleveland are Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Donyell Marshall, Cedric Simmons, Ira Newble, and Shannon Brown.

Lots of player movement. But what hasn’t moved much are the Cavs’ chances to escape the Eastern Conference this spring.

It’s sensational on the surface, if only for the number of players involved, but I don’t think the Cavs improved themselves enough to get past Detroit or Boston. But that’s OK; let ’em think they did.

When the Bulls threw outrageous money at Wallace in the summer of ’06, I wrote at that time that the Bulls were fooling themselves; that such dollars are only warranted for those players who can put you over the hump. And for all of Ben Wallace’s positives, I just didn’t think he was that kind of difference maker — at least not for a team as flimsy as the Bulls.

Nor do I think he’s that kind of player for Cleveland.

Almost simultaneous with the trade, the Cavs lost guard Daniel “Booby” Gibson for 4-6 weeks with an ankle sprain.

The Cavaliers, though, are a lot closer to contention than the Bulls were when they signed Wallace from the Pistons. Yet they are not a team, because of this trade, that can beat out the Pistons or the Celtics. They’re also a tad older now, across the board. Wallace, Szczerbiak, and Smith are all on the back ends of their careers. And do you really see where they are a significant improvement over Hughes, Gooden, Marshall, and company?

The fascination with Wallace’s interior defense amazes me. The teams that win NBA titles nowadays are those whose overall team defense, including that in the paint, works together — teammates helping each other out and being active. There can be a tendency for other players to get lazy when Wallace is on the court. He’s not the force he once was, but he’s still better than average. Trouble is, everyone seems to think he’s better than he really is in this department.

Except, maybe, Joe Dumars.

Szczerbiak’s addition is basically canceled out by Gibson’s injury. Smith is a fading scorer.

Cleveland GM Danny Ferry, who made the blockbuster move just before the 3 P.M. deadline, said, “I didn’t think we were good enough to win a championship.” No argument there. But for all his maneuverings yesterday, I think those words will still ring true at the end of the season.

Bottom line: Pistons fans shouldn’t lose any sleep over this trade.

Darko Needs To Stop Playing The Pistons Card, And Right Now

In Darko Milicic, NBA on February 20, 2008 at 3:40 pm

If you have seven feet and some change available on a wall somewhere, vertically, clear out about 24 inches from left to right. Then you’ll have room for a poster of Darko Milicic. For Milicic is certainly the Poster Boy for why drafting teenagers in the NBA is a risky proposition. He’s the 21st century’s cautionary tale in this department.

Milicic was selected 2nd overall in the 2003 draft, and you pretty much know all the rest. His NBA career has been fraught with benchings, trades, public humiliation, and derision. And he’s still only 22; he’ll turn 23 in June. He wasn’t even 18 when the Pistons plucked him off the board, right after LeBron James, and right before Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade.

No, it wasn’t one of Joe Dumars’s better picks. It wasn’t one of the better ones in league history, either. In fact, it might have been among the very worst. It has a lot of Sam Bowie-before-Michael Jordan about it.

But I bring up Milicic because James Jahnke in today’s Freep reports that, according to an interview Darko did with Reuters news service recently, his confidence is waning and he seems to blame it on his sordid past.

Milicic, now with the Memphis Grizzlies, his third NBA team, is averaging 6.8 points in 24.8 minutes. And he’s running out of things to blame his career on.

“I have to get better, play better, do better. I’m trying and I’m going to keep trying … They (the Grizzlies) gave me a chance. They gave me everything. They gave me time to play, they tell me to just shoot the ball and play your game. Now it is all on me.”

But despite all that confidence the Grizzlies have tried to instill in Milicic — the lack of which he kept insisting contributed greatly to his flops in Detroit and Orlando — things are again regressing.

“Now I’m losing my confidence, I don’t know why,” he told Reuters. “There is a lot of stuff going on in my head. All the stuff that happened to me before has left some scars.”

Ahh — there it is, in that last sentence.

Milicic clearly still wants to play the “Detroit hurt me” card, even today, some five years after the Pistons drafted him. That’s no crime; 18 year-olds handle things differently. I’m not going to begrudge Milicic’s feelings, though I think he needs to move on with his life. But his “scarring” defense is symptomatic of what can happen when you thrust kids into pro sports, especially the NBA. And especially with the second overall pick, for goodness sakes.

It could be, of course, that Darko will continue to forever blame his bust status on the Pistons ruining him by not playing him while he was here. He’ll always hold that card, I suppose. And it won’t do him one bit of good to keep looking backward. He’s only 22; what in the world is he passing up by boo-hooing about his formative years with the Pistons? Maybe he should look no further than Chauncey Billups, his old teammate, who was rejected several times before finding gold with the Pistons. Would Billups have risen to perennial All-Star status, leader of a championship-caliber team, if he’d worn a sour puss about his time in Boston, or Denver, or Minnesota? But see, Billups wasn’t drafted in his teen years.

There’s a great deal to be said about maturity. A 21-year-old doesn’t necessarily possess it, either, but he still has a much better chance of weathering the storm than an 18-year-old. Darko Milicic seems to still want to blame his Detroit years for his current struggles.

It’s all in his head, and you can make a case that it was never truly screwed on properly, from the moment he entered the league. Lots of times it isn’t, when you’re talking about teenagers.

Let’s Stop The Charade: Start NBA East Playoffs ASAP

In NBA on February 8, 2008 at 2:20 pm

Instead of saying, “If the playoffs started today…”, in talking about the NBA — specifically the Eastern Conference — let’s go ahead and do it.

Better yet, let’s start the conference semi-finals right now and dispense with the rest of the regular season and the annoyance of a first round.

I’m serious. Let’s seed the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, and Cleveland Cavaliers one thru four, and let them go at it. The Celtics can play the Cavs; the Pistons can battle the Magic. Some might even think THAT’S one round too many, and that we should let the NBA have its All-Star Weekend, then move right into conference finals play — Pistons and Celtics.

OK by me; that LeBron character scares me.

But I suppose we should let the Cavs into our little four-team playoff; they ARE defending conference champs, after all.

The thing is, my tongue is only partly in my cheek as I bang this out. Not a day goes by that I look at the standings and am not disgusted with the non-competitiveness of the East. Celtics: .800 winning pct. Pistons: .729. Magic: .627. Cavs: .563. Everyone else: well, they’d give Ted Williams’s batting average a battle, but that’s about it.

It’s ridiculous, really, how much the league is tilted to the left. I look at the West and I see 10 teams above .500 — wayyyy above .500 in most cases — and another at .468. This isn’t a league; it’s a teeter-totter, with Shaun Rogers on one side and Hannah Montana on the other.

These things go in cycles, I know. Maybe someday, in the distant future, the teeter-totter will sway, and the West will be puny and the East will be mighty. But how did it get this way? How did the East — which not too long ago had contenders like Indiana, Chicago, New Jersey, Miami, and Philadelphia — sink so low, so fast? Speaking of the Heat, how can any team with Dwyane Wade (and for part of the time, Shaquille O’Neal) and coached by Pat Riley lose 15 in a row? You’d think Wade, O’Neal, and three midgets could win a couple — especially playing in the East!!

It shouldn’t bother me, but it does. I hate to see such imbalance. Maybe I’m like OCD Detective Monk that way. If the NBA goes through with its plan to hold the playoffs in their entirety — damn them to Hell — then the Celtics will batter the Nets (a team whose winning pct. the Celts nearly DOUBLE), and the Pistons will toy with the Atlanta Hawks.

YAWNNNN.

Forget it all, I say. Hold the All-Star Game as planned, then give everyone the rest of the season off. They need the time to regroup and be ready for 2008-09. Then let the Pistons, Celts, Magic, and Cavs go at it for East supremacy — which is kind of like being mayor of Podunkville, I know — but there you have it.

That way, the East champ will have some extra time to get ready for the winner of the West.

What do you think, Mr. Stern? Do we REALLY need to see the Celtics kick the Nets around for four games? Or the Pistons play Harlem Globetrotters to the Hawks’ Washington Generals? Does the league need scratch THAT badly? They’d be the first two best-of-sevens in sports history to be swept in one game each. You can put “If Necessary” after Game 2’s listing.

Get rid of Hannah, and put Refrigerator Perry on the totter opposite Big Baby. Come to think of it, that sounds more interesting than Celtics-Nets.