Signs of Life from the Red, White, and Blue
In Sunday morning's sports page, there was a very telling headline in relation to Michael Curry and his ideas on the overall well-being of the Detroit Pistons. It read, "Curry: Iverson Key to Success." So let me get this straight. The Pistons lose eight straight games, including a horrific home loss to Milwaukee and a disastrous ESPN affair in Cleveland. Then they play their first game without the services of one Allen Iverson, and the result is a hard-fought comeback win at Eastern powerhouse Orlando. And the one thing Curry has to say about the whole thing is that "Iverson is the key to the team's success"??? Well, after today's highly impressive W in Beantown over the defending champs, one thing is perfectly clear. Iverson might be key to this team's success, but more so in his absence than by his presence in the lineup.
To put it simply, Allen Iverson has never been a player known to enter a situation and turn things around for the better. The Nuggets made a big splash a few years back by pairing him with Carmelo Anthony, but nothing good really ever came out of it. Despite the team having capable big men in Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin, to go with an emerging superstar in Anthony, Iverson was unable to get them over the hump. He played there for two seasons, and both campaigns ended in first round exits in the playoffs. As a matter of fact, when one looks deeper into the resume of this almost sure-fire future Hall-of-Famer, a glaring statistic emerges. Most NBA fans are well aware of the fact that 'The Answer' led his 76ers to the NBA Finals (L to Lakers) in 2001. What many may not realize is that in the 7+ years since, AI has emerged victorious in exactly one playoff series. That's pretty stunning for a player of his caliber...or is it?
The main thing people say when talking about Allen Iverson is that "he needs the ball in his hands all the time to be successful." It's a backhanded compliment if there ever was one. People are saying that Iverson can get you 30 a game and put up huge numbers, but he needs to dominate the ball to do so. As in, if this guy is forced to play within the confines of a team and share the basketball, he won't be nearly as much of an asset. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for a guy considered to be one of the top players of the last decade. You hear certain columnists and radio guys around town suggesting the Pistons woes are related to their inability to let "Iverson be Iverson." They're insinuating that the Pistons' best chance to win is by letting him be who he's always been, hoist 25 shots a game and dominate the ball on every offensive possession. Well, he's been doing that on teams for the better part of the last decade, and we've already been over those numbers.
The trade Joe Dumars made in giving up Chauncey Billups and for Iverson will be one talked about for a long time. To me, it was just the wrong deal for so many reasons. First off, I think that finding a true point guard in this league is a rarity. Chauncey was one of the few, and was still in his relative prime at just 32 years old. And if Joe D felt the deal was absolutely necessary for salary cap ramifications, could there have been a worse player to acquire? I could produce a list of 100 players in the league that would have made a better fit for this team. Seemingly, the deal was made in large part as a nod to Rodney Stuckey and the Pistons' belief that he would one day be a legitimate NBA superstar. They wanted him to grow this year, lead the team, and learn a few things along the way. Then why deal for Allen Iverson, a guy who would undoubtedly hamper Stuckey's improvement? It is no coincidence that in Stuckey's coming out party this year, when he dropped 40 on the Bulls, Iverson was in the locker room with an injury. And while Rodney's immense struggles lately cannot be pinned on anyone but himself, it is interesting to note that in Iverson's absence Friday night, Stuckey dropped in over 20 points for the first time in 20 games.
The two biggest possessions in Sunday's win at Boston displayed the type of unselfishness that has largely been missing from this team since the day they brought on Iverson in place of Mr. Big Shot. The first was a result of Rip Hamilton drawing multiple defenders coming off a screen, and finding Tayshaun Prince for a backbreaking corner 3. The next time down, it was Stuckey darting into the lane, leaping into the air, and firing a perfect laser to Rip in the same corner for another dagger trey, icing the contest and silencing the Celtics faithful. Would these plays have transpired the same way if Allen Iverson were in the game handling the basketball? Highly doubtful.
It was only one weekend of basketball, but it was as impressive a duo of road wins that you can find on the NBA schedule. And while questions remain about this squad and its playoff future, one thing has become crystal clear. Sometimes the best answer is having no Answer at all.
Outright Big Ten Champs...Almost
Michigan State claimed at least a share of the Big Ten title on Sunday afternoon with a gritty win in Champagne over the Fighting Illini. The overall crown will most likely become official this week when MSU pays a visit to conference cellar dweller Indiana. The Spartans have shaken off their thrashing at Purdue by responding with three straight wins. Now they begin preparing themselves for a very important month of basketball, with all eyes focused squarely on Ford Field. Do the Spartans have what it takes to get there? After seeing Raymar Morgan finally able to contribute in a big way over Illinois, it becomes a lot easier to see this team make a run to the Final Four. He can be a matchup nightmare with his athleticism. If he can remain healthy and start routinely scoring in the double digits again, this team becomes that much more dangerous. Not many teams can match the depth Tom Izzo throws at you with his club, and very few clubs can also match the tenacity with which they play. They got some kind of contribution from eleven guys on Sunday, allowing them to play every minute at full bore and simply wear the opposition down.
The only thing you might worry about with this team in a high pressure affair in the tournament is the youth of their guards. Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, and Chris Allen are all sophomores, while Korie Lucious is just a freshman. While there is one Senior in that group in Travis Walton, he is not a player that will be depended on for much scoring like the others mentioned will be come March Madness. But when the dust settles, I still think they have too much depth, too much physicality, and too much Izzo. Despite that inexperience at the all-important guard spot, if the brackets were revealed today, I would be entering the Green and White on through to the Final 4. Nobody thought it would happen, but a hometown team might actually win a big game at Ford Field for the first time in a very long time.
Missed Opportunities...On the Court and the Big Screen
Watching the Michigan Wolverines basketball team this season, I am reminded of something the legendary Craig Kilborn once said on his late night show. Kilborn was riffing about the delightful little film, "You've Got Mail," but mentioned how frustrating it was for him to watch because of the way they "Grossly underused Kinnear." He felt that Greg Kinnear's appearances on screen were the greatest strength of the movie. That's why it irked him so much when Kinnear was rarely involved while bigger stars like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan dominated the action. The U of M hoops team is not much different. They possess one option on the offensive end that no team has shown the ability to stop, and they fail to utilize it during the game's most tense moments. DeShawn Sims has been a man amongst boys when posting up on the block recently, making the final minutes of the Wisconsin game all the more frustrating.
He was starting to show signs of heating up with just under five minutes to go. He nailed two straight buckets off post-ups and Big Blue had cut the deficit to two. He would not get a post touch the rest of the game. Not exactly a wise move for a team fighting desperately for its postseason life. So many times during games this year, Michigan will encounter a long scoring drought where they make something like one basket over a 10-minute period. This is exactly what happened to begin the fateful 2nd half on Sunday in Madison that dealt a serious blow to U-M's NCAA Tournament hopes. While many coaches would insist a player like Sims touch the ball down low nearly every time down, the Wolverines instead came out firing from deep. David Merritt, Manny Harris, and Stu Douglass all tried their hand from downtown. Combined with a couple of expected Harris turnovers, Michigan had played some of their worst offense of the whole year in the time when it mattered the most. Echoing my man Kilborn's statement from years back, it's pretty frustrating watching anything, let it be a movie or a basketball team, when you have to see their most viable resource go left untapped. Especially when an NCAA tournament berth is on the line.
Other Very Important Thoughts
It's a little bit depressing seeing Woody Harrelson in "Semi-Pro." The guy played one of the best movie characters of all-time when he was Billy Hoyle in "White Men Can't Jump," and now he's a 2nd or 3rd lead in a lame Will Ferrell comedy. It's hard to watch. I mean, who didn't love Woody as Billy Hoyle?? (Lord knows I did) Perfect actor for the perfect, albeit flawed, character. My boy B-Shoke was so obsessed with the character and the movie itself that he went so far as to write a letter to the studio trying to confirm his conspiracy theory that the whole movie was a dream sequence. He thought this because Billy fell asleep at the beginning of the movie and woke up in the same spot at the end. Name another movie that can have that kind of effect on an otherwise sane human being. Obviously, Woody could never tarnish the legacy he created with Billy Hoyle. However, maybe he should just chill on doing any more basketball movies so we can still remember him for the great baller he was on the courts of Venice Beach, and not the lifeless player-coach for the Flint Tropics.
I saw the movie "Milk" the day of the Oscars and came away pretty impressed with Sean Penn's performance. Just tragic the way Mr. Milk's life had to end prematurely, especially at the hand of one of the people he had worked closely with during his time as a city official. As a matter of fact, the more I think about it, yes, I did like that movie better before...when it was called "Selena."
There must be some clause in Laval Lucas-Perry's scholarship offer that says, "If you ever make a productive play, such as sinking a 3-pointer or dishing out a nice assist, you are to immediately follow it up with 4-5 boneheaded plays, 2 of which must be inexplicable turnovers."
When you are eating a bag of 'Combos,' you're basically announcing to the world, "Yep, I would eat just about anything right now."
Who was the real star in "You've Got Mail"?? Who do you have making the Final 4 right now? And if you have had a bag of Combos in the last week, let me politely ask what drove you to such a dark place. Drop any of these answers in the comments area below or just pop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org