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PistonPowered Mailbag: Phil Jackson, Tom Izzo and in-depth analysis of Pistons dance teams


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The last five years of putting time into following and writing about the Pistons have been pretty hard to justify from a return on investment standpoint, but this season has been particularly challenging. The Pistons, as we know, actually came into the season with expectations. Their collection of athletes made them an intriguing team league-wide for the first time in ages (so sad for the out-of-towners who picked the Pistons as one of their League Pass teams). And, with playoffs or bust a goal, the team was gifted with an Eastern Conference playoff race that only had like five teams actively trying to make the playoffs. With the team failing to live up to even those modest expectations (and getting tossed into rumors about hiring one of the worst executives in sports history to right the ship on top of the failed on-court product), I think questioning why you bother watching the team, attending games, commenting online or otherwise spending time on the Pistons is a completely appropriate response.

Maybe it’s just this awful winter making me a little more fat and sassy than normal, but being associated with following a team like this has had me at breaking points during the season. It’s easy to get irritated with the obnoxious, loud, dumb fans who take sports far too seriously while combining that passion with almost no knowledge — the stereotypical talk radio calling mouth-breathers, a small, select handful of brain moron PistonPowered commenters, the people who try to organize movements to get coaches fired, the people who think buying a ticket gives them the right to yell any awful insult they can think of at players and coaches. No one wants to be associated with those types of weirdos. In fact, I think it’s preferable for normal people to deny liking sports altogether rather than try to engage in a sports conversation with the type of person who would paint his shirtless body in team colors to attend a game, for example.

But having to convince yourself of your own sanity while surrounded by louts who are way too into sports has long been a common issue associated with fandom. I’ve long built up coping mechanisms to tune that out. Lately, it’s attempting to interact as a “smart” fan (please quit calling yourself “fanalysts” … reminds me of this guy) that has me down on following sports too.

The annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference/Van Gundy Brothers Open Mic Night was last week (seriously … the Van Gundy Bros. would be my Nos. 1-100 reasons for ever wanting to attend Sloan). For those who aren’t familiar, it’s an annual conference attended by any number of team and league executives, national media, bloggers and many others aspiring to careers in sports administration or media. It’s full of smart people and there is always a lot of great coverage and ideas that result from the conference. But there are also moments like this:

"Gladwell: driving a car is equally as hard as cardiac surgery We just view it differently #SSAC14"

I look forward to Gladwell picking New York City’s most talented taxi driver to perform his next heart procedure. That will make a great longform piece in the New Yorker that I can’t wait to read.

This is the problem with advanced stats and why pushback still exists — for all of the incredible information that new statistical work gives us to make us more informed fans and change conventional thinking, its proponents’ penchant for know-it-all-ism and the eagerness of some to proclaim their expertise on literally anything as a result of statistical work is a major turn-off.

It’s valuable that many people covering the NBA are versed in the economics of the game, understand the complexities of the salary cap and can use that information in analysis of the team. The problem, however is that I don’t really care if players are overpaid or not. As fans, rooting for your team to be competitive means rooting for them to spend money wisely. I get that. But I also don’t care that Josh Smith, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva got paid big money. In fact, I’m pretty happy for them. Who am I to say whether or not they deserve it? This is America, right? I’ve done jobs in my life that I’ve probably been overpaid for (including writing for PistonPowered … what is this, like my third post this year?). Good for me and good for them for finding someone who believed they were worth it. Obsessing over what teams are spending on players ruins my enjoyment of the game, so I’m just flat out going to quit doing it. I hope everyone finds their own personal Joe Dumars to hand them generous contracts.

I fully admit to not being smart enough or not investing the time to understand some of the more complex statistical methods out there related to basketball, but I do understand the value of having access to that information and appreciate the writers who are willing to study it, wade through and condense it into plain English. I do hope the Pistons assemble a front office when Joe Dumars is mercifully let go that values statistical analysis (or at least values a version of statistical analysis that doesn’t tell you, “Hey, Brandon Jennings is totally the answer at point guard!”). I think there are writers, including Monsieur Feldman at this site (or at least at this site before linking you to Pro Basketball Talk) and the crew at Detroit Bad Boys, doing really interesting, easily digestible statistical work that makes sense, is informative and adds value to what your eyes show you is happening on the court (we can all see Josh Smith is a bad decision-maker, but it’s nice that we’ve had countless illustrations this season of how historically bad a decision-maker he’s been). That deeper context is important to anyone who truly wants to understand a full picture of what’s going on on the court.

But I also loved watching Allen Iverson trying to crossover fools on a 1-on-4 break. I don’t need to feel guilty about watching Iverson or any of the many talented but flawed non-darlings of statistical analysis. I won’t claim that as a positive or efficient style or even good basketball if you don’t tell me I can’t enjoy it. I think we’re at the point in statistical analysis where all but only a few dinosaurs accept its importance to the game. But the hostility towards stats is still occasionally present just because of the nature of basketball — the game is beautiful to people for different reasons. Yeah, I like efficient offense, tough defense and teams that play intelligently and win. But I also like guys who lack self-awareness, have great style, who may not always make the smartest play but are fun to watch because of their athleticism, their unrelenting fearlessness to attack anyone at anytime, their burning desire to get triple doubles at all costs, their weird personalities or any other number of quirks that other people may find irritating. To each their own.

Rant over. Hopefully I’ll be less cranky if the Pistons manage to get bad enough to not lose their first round pick. Onto some questions (also, keep them coming … it’s going to be a long offseason, so send me any random thought/question/insult you have to help make the rest of this season a little more interesting).

"With Sacramento reportedly ready to buy out the contract of Jimmer Fredette, is there any reason that the Pistons shouldn’t/wouldn’t put a waiver claim on him?  The guy is shooting 49.3% from 3-point range this year (47.5% overall), a mystical, magical land that the Pistons can’t buy, lease, or rent a bucket from this year (31.2% as a team).  I know that he isn’t starter material, but the guy could earn minutes on what has turned into one of the worst benches in the league, right?…..right? — Alex"

I intended to get this mailbag done last week (see above about me being overpaid), so apologies to Alex for not getting to this before Fredette signed with the Bulls. Let me give an answer anyway though — if the Pistons were actively trying to make the playoffs and in a better position to do so (i.e. not just beating the Knicks in the battle for most uninterested team in the league), I would’ve loved them bringing in Fredette for the rest of the season. His shooting would’ve been a definite plus and I think he could’ve helped them as a reserve. But now that the Pistons are falling further behind the playoff race? I wouldn’t be in favor of them doing anything that improves the team, even minimally. An extra win or two could mean the difference between keeping their pick and losing it. Don’t sign anyone that helps. In fact, if you want to shut down Monroe and Drummond the rest of the season and play Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva 40 minutes per game, I’m all in on that strategy.

"Sure looks like Joe is no longer trusted to make any major decision anymore… Any insight on who might be available this off season to take his place? — Mark"

Well, I think Phil Jackson subtly tossed his name out there. Jackson hinted that he’d be interested in a front office job, and discussed some opportunities. His comments about the Pistons made it seem like they’re down on his list — like he’d prefer something more glamorous, but would possibly be open to the Pistons because of his relationship with Gores. Jackson in Detroit would be … weird. Ken Berger of CBS Sports has a list of several names, including Jeff Bower and Chris Wallace, who could be in play for any GM openings that come up in the offseason. As far as non-established names, there are plenty of good teams who could have front office staff members ready to make the leap to top GM job somewhere else — I’d be interested in the Pistons looking at potential candidates from places like Oklahoma City, Houston, San Antonio, Portland, Indiana or Chicago if they decide to go with an unknown. And speaking of Jackson …

"Never liked him (Jackson) and never will. How can you hire a man who helped destroy the organization with MJ? He’s never had anything good to say about the organization. — Andre"

Hey, he was the coach of the team’s greatest rival, what do you expect him to say about a team that routinely tried to kill his team (and occasionally nearly succeeded) and vice versa? Also, if Jackson “helped destroy the organization,” what would you call what Joe Dumars has done to it over the last five years?

Honestly, I’d be much more interested in Jackson as GM if he were willing to coach too. I know his track record as a coach. He has no track record as an exec. I think he’s been successful enough that he deserves a shot, but I also don’t think being a great coach translates to being a great executive, necessarily. Jackson would be a credible candidate, but I would hope the Pistons do their diligence on a lot of credible candidates to replace Dumars, even if they aren’t names that can compete with Jackson.

"Would Tom Izzo really consider coaching the Pistons? — Jared"

I think so. (Note: Sean Corp had a really good analysis on this at DBB). The main factor here is that when Izzo flirted with the Cleveland job a few years ago, he ultimately said he would stay at MSU for life. I believe he was being truthful, as much as college coaches are ever truthful. In that moment, he decided he was satisfied at MSU, and I think he meant it. But I don’t think someone as competitive as Izzo can ever fully put coaching in the NBA out of his mind.

He was reportedly closer to taking the Cleveland job than he ever had been to taking a pro job, and that wasn’t even a good job. LeBron was leaving, that roster was a barren wasteland (pre-Kyrie Irving) and … it’s Cleveland. Compare that with Detroit’s situation. They have a potential franchise player in place in Drummond, they have another very good young big in Monroe, they have an interesting young defensive guard in Caldwell-Pope who would really fit Izzo’s love of ball-hawking, athletic perimeter defense and I could also see Izzo really loving and finding great use for Kyle Singler and Jonas Jerebko. Plus Detroit is not so far from East Lansing that it would be a major uprooting of his family. The complicating factors are obviously what to do with this offseason’s busts, Smith and Jennings, and Izzo would certainly have to tone down his in-your-face approach a bit, but as Corp pointed out, I think his offensive and defensive schemes would be a fit in the NBA. It wouldn’t be like Rick Pitino coming to the NBA and trying to convince NBA players to do a full-court press for 48 minutes. Izzo’s systems are already very similar to what a lot of pro teams run, particularly this year when the team has featured two bigs in Adreian Payne and Kenny Kaminsky who are floor-stretchers.

Izzo has never been particularly fond of recruiting, and MSU actually hasn’t had an easy go on the recruiting front of late. He has a talented team that is losing at least three key starters (Harris*, Payne, Appling) after the season and that has dealt with a ridiculous number of injuries in an overall frustrating season. I still think it’s a major longshot for him to leave, but the NBA door isn’t going to be open that much longer, and I don’t even know how much longer Izzo plans to coach, period. The timing and location of the job might not get much better than right now.

* Harris is only a sophomore, but is currently projected as a top 10 pick, so it’s highly unlikely he stays.

"If u r a GM, which would u rather have? Pistons roster or Bulls roster sans Derrick Rose? — FT33"

The Bulls have Joakim Noah, who might be the best non-Dwight center in the league right now, plus two first round picks this year and some nice complementary pieces like Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy and Taj Gibson. The Pistons have Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe as the only pieces I would count as major assets right now, with Kyle Singler and KCP in the potentially nice pieces category. I love Drummond, but I would probably lean toward taking the Bulls roster/picks, especially if I also get Thibs as coach in the deal. If the Pistons end up keeping their lottery pick this year, that would likely change my answer.

"Why do I go to Pistons games? One word: D-Town.Their Fresh Prince bit is the best in The Association. Between D-Town and Dancing Usher, Pistons have some pieces to build on. But Flight Squad misses way too many dunks, Hooper is painfully average and the drumline is probably the biggest mistake in the Joe Dumars era. Oh and Mason is still clutch as can be. Still the overall in-game experience is sour because of the lack of video replays and screens to display stats. Isn’t it more important to fix the in-arena entertainment problems before fixing the coach or players? Gores loves entertainment right? — PT"

Wow, totally agree with the D-Town analysis — I’ve been to three games this season, and D-Town is BY FAR the best part of halftime (with apologies to the Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy guys, of course). I do actually think you need to give Gores credit for his entertainment investment. Yeah, some of the halftime acts have been easy to clown, but the Pistons have by my count at least 321 different dance teams this season, concerts at halftime, giveaways and he’s also spent millions on upgrades to the Palace (though you are right, updated video boards would be nice). With the basketball product lacking, the Pistons have certainly gone to great lengths to at least try to make the arena experience fun.

Seriously though, Gores deserves major credit for one thing so far — resisting the urge to rip off taxpayers in Michigan on a new stadium in downtown Detroit the way the Ilitch family is with the new Red Wings stadium. Kudos to Gores for instead taking a completely serviceable, nice arena and spending his own money to upgrade rather than demanding public money to help finance a new one.