Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Numbers Game...

.139 ----- Brandon Inge's batting average since the All-Star break

The Tigers third sacker stormed out of the gates this year, making some fans think this was the year his average would finally wind up on the right side of .250. Think again. Inge is in a woeful slump since his maiden trip to the midsummer classic. In these 12 ballgames, Inge is 5 for 36 (all singles) with no RBI's, and a whopping 15 punchouts to boot. It aint pretty to watch, either. Inge is swinging at everything, seemingly unable to lay off the "Kit Keller Special," which is anything in the mid-90's arriving at the plate somewhere in the vicinity of the batter's shoulder blades. I know the man is a little dinged up, but who's not at this point in the year? And if the injury is worse than we are led to believe, then it's probably time to take a short trip to the DL, heal up, and come back strong. The amount of positions that the Tigers can look to for offensive production are dwindling. Catcher, shortstop, the corner outfield spots...if you now add 3rd base to the mix, you're looking at half the lineup becoming virtual automatic outs. And you wonder why Miguel Cabrera gets so few pitches to hit in RBI situations? The major league season is a true grind, and for the most part, guys tend to find their way back to their usual numbers before everything is said and done. Inge uncharacteristically hovered around the .270-.280 range for a while, but now he's fallen to a .254 clip, inching ever closer to that depressing career mark of .238. Can't help but wonder if Dean Palmer is still alive...and if so, what kind of shape is he in??

5 ----- Home Runs by my brother Sam in the last two softball weekends

You might think this is no big deal. But keep in mind that he hit approximately zero in the 7-8 weeks prior. All of a sudden, he's routinely smashing bombs over the 300-foot sign with room to spare. Hard to figure. Things got even weirder a few days ago when I was looking around for something in the trunk of his car, only to come across a couple of empty bottles with the words "Juice" and "Lil Extra" scribbled over the labels. I'd never seen this kind of beverage at the supermarket, but when I went to ask Sam about it, he slammed the trunk shut and told me, "Those just came with the car." I'm not making any assumptions or accusations, but let's just say it's probably a good thing that there is no drug-testing yet for softball players. Little bro might have some serious 'splainin to do...

4.5 ----- Maximum number of minutes I am able to watch Everybody Loves Raymond before I realize, "Hey, this isn't funny," and "Yeah, I pretty much hate Raymond."

Is it just me? Am I missing something here? Because I have never been able to tolerate this show for more than a few minutes at a time, let alone an entire half hour. I think that when the show came out, people took the title to heart and assumed that since Everybody else loved Raymond, that they should too. Don't get me wrong. I don't hate the show. I don't have any huge problem with it. It's just that I've never found it to be funny. I used to try and convince myself that Ray Romano was a comic genius, to see what everybody else was seeing, but I just couldn't do it. Honestly, have you ever heard anyone utter the words, "Man, that Ray Romano is hilarious!! Absolutely hilarious!"?? I don't think so. I'm not sure anyone has been as highly regarded in the comedy world for as long a period of time as Ray Romano without ever actually making people laugh. I'll admit that Ray's brother on the show, Brad Garrett, is always fun to watch, but then why isn't the show centered around him?? That is something I could get on board with. Patricia Heaton always got serious Emmy consideration for playing Ray's wife, but I always thought that she would have been more at home occupying a spot in the "Téa Leoni Hall-of-Fame for Annoying Female Actresses." And the supposed comic star of the show, Doris Roberts (Ray's mom), always struck me as the poor man's version of George Costanza's mother from Seinfeld. (Sidenote: Roberts' best role came in her unforgettable turn as the Mother Pig in Faerie Tale Theatre's version of The 3 Little Pigs. This is not debatable.)

I'm not trying to criticize those who enjoyed the show and made it so popular that it is now syndicated and playing in re-runs 25 times a day. I'm just wondering what you're all laughing at.

69 ----- Years since the Tigers last had a position player win the American League MVP Award

It's not to say that the Tigers haven't had their fair share of outstanding position players over the last seven decades. Al Kaline and George Kell had Hall-of-Fame careers wearing the Olde English D. Alan Trammell was the picture of consistency throughout his 20-year career. Cecil Fielder won three straight RBI titles. Speedster Brian Hunter once managed to swipe 74 bases in a season without once hitting the ball out of the infield. But despite all that, it has been a very, very, long time since a Tiger position player took home the league's most prestigious award, the Most Valuable Player. Hank Greenberg bashed 41 homers and knocked in 150 runs during his magical summer of 1940, but since then, it's been only hurlers taking home the hardware for the hometown club. Hal Newhouser nabbed a pair, Denny McClain dominated the vote in '68, and Willie Hernandez shocked everybody by winning it in '84. But that's it. No American League team (besides the Rays, who have only been around for 11 years) has gone longer without one of its everyday players being named MVP. Heck, the Yankees have had 10 different position players win the award over this same period of time.

The Tigers drought hasn't come without its fair share of close calls, though. Many felt that Trammell was robbed of the trophy in '87 when he had a career year, hitting for both power and average (28 HR, .343 BA) in leading the Tigers to the playoffs. He was edged out by Toronto's powerful left fielder George Bell, who similarly had a career campaign, walloping 47 long balls and batting over .300. But unlike Tram, Georgie did not take his team to the postseason.

Fielder also came within a hair of nabbing the MVP two different times. Big Daddy was the baseball story in 1990 when he was chasing the 50 home run mark. At that time, fiddy bombs was still considered to be a remarkable achievement. (Note: the luster for a 50-HR season officially wore off when the chronically mediocre Greg Vaughn joined the club in 1998.) Most people thought that when Fielder finished with 51 homers (nobody else even hit 40), the award would be his. But alas, Rickey Henderson swooped in with his 65 stolen bags and zillion runs scored and ripped the title away from Cecil. I still think the baseball record books should credit Henderson with sixty-six thefts for that 1990 season; 65 stolen bases, one stolen award. The big fella played the role of bridesmaid again the following year, finishing 2nd to Cal Ripken, Jr. Fielder led the circuit in homers and ribbies for the second straight year, but it wasn't enough to take down Jr., despite his Orioles finishing a horrid 67 and 95.

Just a couple years back, Magglio Ordóñez caught fire for virtually an entire season and won the batting title with a sparkling .363 mark. Unfortunately, that performance got lost in the shuffle when Alex Rodriguez had perhaps his most dominant season, tallying a superhuman total of 156 RBI's and robbing another Tiger position player of the elusive MVP. Could this be the year the streak finally ends? Miguel Cabrera is really the only candidate, and that's not looking very promising. His power numbers don't compare with bashers like Morneau and Teixeira, Ichiro looks to be running away with the batting crown, and let's face it, his team aint exactly settin' the world on fire. Nope, it does not appear that this little streak is ready to die just yet. Guess some records are not meant to be broken...

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Ice Cream Trucks, Rising NL Teams, and Other Important Thoughts...

  • What's the maximum speed an ice cream truck can get up to, like 12 mph?? I've yet to see one cruise by at a pace where I couldn't honestly say, "Yep, I could outrun that."
  • Something tells me that even with the recent kerosene jobs by Rick Porcello, Tigers' brass is not exactly counting the days until Nate Robertson can return to the squad. If you add up Robertson's 2008 and 2009 ERA's, you wind up with a whopping 14.06. Who would have thought that after Nasty Nate's sickening 6.35 last season, that he actually had the ability to go even higher this time around? That's like Ben Wallace shooting 42% from the line one year, and then somehow managing to cash in only 33% the next. When you're that bad, the saving grace is usually that there's "nowhere to go but up." Well, Nate has proved otherwise, and you really have to tip your cap for such a unique achievement.
  • Speaking of Big Ben, it looks more and more like the Pistons will be signing the aging beast to be a reserve big man off the bench. Not that the addition will be so costly, or that Ben will be given that many minutes throughout the season, but I still think it's the wrong move for a number of reasons. The guy had his time here, and wound up leaving unceremoniously. Wish Joe D would just leave this one be.
  • Lakeview Terrace. Definitely one of Samuel L.'s most underrated performances in this highly re-watchable flick. I'm almost inclined to say I liked it better when it was called Unlawful Entry, but I actually liked this one more. Give it a go if you haven't yet.
  • Oh, nice to meet you, Yogurt Covered Pretzels.
  • If I never heard the name Plaxico Burress again in my life, that would be just fine.
  • Don't look now, but the Cubs have stormed out of the All-Star break with a vengeance, and just took over sole possession of first place in the NL Central. With Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden starting to cook at the top of the rotation, and Alfonso Soriano coming alive in the bottom of the order, the Cubbies might be running away with this thing come the beginning of September. Look out, 101-year might be coming to an end sooner than you think.
  • Yeah, I watched a good amount of the men's slo-pitch softball championship on ESPN last weekend. You got a problem with that?
  • Was shocked to hear the news over the weekend that former welterweight champ Vernon "The Viper" Forrest was shot and killed during an attempted car-jacking on Saturday night. His fights usually made for high-quality entertainment, and I still remember the night in 2002 when he seemingly came out of nowhere to upset Sugar Shane Mosley, who was then thought to be the best boxer on the planet. I remember him appearing on Inside the NBA with Ernie, Kenny, and Charles a few weeks after the fight, and being amazed at how humble he came off, especially for someone that had just dethroned the world's top fighter. In the present, Forrest's career was still moving along, albeit not at the top-shelf pace he established earlier in the decade. And while the blame in this unfortunate incident falls 100% to the soulless assailants, it's hard not to wonder why Forrest did not just let them take his car. Apparently, the men attempted to steal Vernon's Jag while he was filling it up with air at a gas station. He then took matters into his own hands (handgun in tow) to try and prevent the crooks from doing so, and in the foot chase/wild gunfire that followed, The Viper was killed. It is impossible to try and dissect the situation from afar, and in no way am I trying to blame the victim for what happened. But one would think that had Forrest not been carrying his own weapon, and just stood back and let them speed away in his luxury automobile, he would still be with us today. Forrest will most definitely be missed in the boxing world.
  • Is there anything worse than looking down at the ground, thinking you saw a quarter, reaching down to pick it up, and realizing that it's actually a nickel?
  • A bunch of Blue Jays fans recently attended a game with giant watermelons wrapped around their heads. Gotta say, that looks pretty damn refreshing.
  • Am I the only one that never really found pinball to be that much fun?? Sure, it's good for a little run every now and then, but that's about it. Oh, and the same thing goes for air hockey, too. Never that much fun. Just nobody ever had the courage to say it. Too hard to score, and you never knew which side the puck was supposed to be on so it could slide smoothly. Don't even get me started on foosball. I don't think anyone has ever really enjoyed that game. Again, people just think they have to act like they do. I'm here to say, "It's ok. You can let your guard down and just admit it. These games aren't that much fun." Don't you all feel so much better, now?? I thought so.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sit Back and Relax...It's Just Another Thursday with the HSL

I'm aware that he's no Carlos Boozer or Chris Bosh, but I really do like the Chris Wilcox signing. For the money the Pistons had remaining (not much) and the amount of good free-agent big men still left on the market (not many), the Wilcox signing was perfect. He checks in at about 6'10, 235, which is not ideal for a starting center in the NBA, but when you look at the other pivot men across the league, there are few teams that really possess a true center (meaning 7-foot plus, 280-300 pounds). When Wilcox is at his best, he's a better than average offensive player with a penchant for finishing anything around the tin. He could be labeled in the "high energy" category of big guys like Birdman Andersen and former Piston Jerome Williams, but he is more skilled than either of those two. Picture a guy like Joe Smith, but a little more athletic and not as reliable an outside shooter. With his ability to play above the rim and shoot a high percentage from the paint, Wilcox should fit in nicely with penetrating lead guards like Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum. One thing that will gnaw at Pistons fans when Wilcox gets on the court is his inability, like many other big men on this team past and present, to capitalize from the free throw line. With Wilcox being added to a stable that already employs notable brick-throwers Jason Maxiell and Kwame Brown, you will see teams put an emphasis on not allowing easy buckets for the Piston bigs, which could make for some scary nightly percentages from the charity stripe. John Kuester's club is not going to beat your brains out next year with overall girth and physicality, but the addition of Wilcox does turn a frontcourt that was completely suspect into one that is now semi-respectable. Just don't send 'em to the line...

-Rumors have the Los Angeles Clippers being very interested in the services of one-time All-Star and full-time malcontent Allen Iverson. So let me get this straight. The Clippers already employ perennial chucker Baron Davis, the man that became famous for going 63 games without once shooting over 50%. They have an up-and-coming shooting guard in Eric Gordon who should improve markedly with a full season under his belt. They used the top pick to nab Blake Griffin, a monster in the paint worthy of being the first or second option on most any NBA team. And now they want to bring aboard Allen Iverson, a player far removed from his prime, but whose mindset still tells him he is a superduperstar that deserves 20-25 looks a night?? Has there ever been a worse potential marriage between player and team? Why not bring Ron Artest to Detroit? Or send Kobe Bryant to the Nuggets? Even those would not be as much of a disaster as The Answer suiting up for the Clippers. If your team is already one of the least cohesive units in all of basketball, something tells me that adding A.I. to the mix is not necessarily the perfect remedy to the situation. People wonder, "What team is the best fit for Iverson?" I got news for you...there isn't one. The guy proved himself to be such a prima donna and me-first player in his short time with the Pistons last season that I cannot think of one franchise in the league that would benefit by signing him.

Uncomfortable Golf Terminology

Despite the unfortunate finish by sentimental favorite Tom Watson and the anti-climactic playoff to follow, I still enjoyed watching the British Open last weekend. It's always one of my favorite tournaments, mostly due to the unique playing conditions and the integral role that weather always plays in the proceedings. My only complaint is that with all the increased ruffiage and tall heather for the players to deal with, we are inundated by commentators with one of the most awkward phrases in all of sports. Whenever a player would dig way down with the club to try and rescue his ball from the deep stuff, an announcer would inevitably hit us with "Boy, look at this...he took a mighty swing, but the stuff was way too thick, and the ground just "grabbed the hozzle." The golfer would then naturally start bouncing around, shaking his wrist in pain, and you could only imagine the pain he was feeling everywhere else in his body, most notably the aforementioned "hozzle" area. When a man is standing waist deep in thorny patches of pine straw, any combination of the words "grabbing" and "hozzle" are enough to make me turn the channel...and readjust in my seat.

Tigers and Other Items from Around the League

Rick Porcello isn't just hitting the wall...he's smashing through it like a bulldozer going through tin foil. He's faced three straight weak-hitting ballclubs and been lit up each time. Ideally, you would love to be able to take a 20-year old like Porcello and either sit him down for a while or let him go sort things out in Toledo. But with the well-known struggles at the back end of the rotation, the Tigers are going to need Porcello to keep taking the ball every fifth day and hopefully regain his early season form in the process. Luke French has been solid thus far, but I wouldn't be too surprised if he rips off a couple of "2 2/3 IP, 7 H, 6 ER" performances in the next couple weeks as the American League starts to figure out his game. Armando Galarraga has managed to right the ship for now, but with the way his season has transpired, you can imagine he's got some elevator action left in that game log (a few more ups and downs). It's imperative for the Tigers that Porcello return to being a reliable hurler trusted to keep you in the game because this offense aint' gonna cover you too often and the back-end pitchers can be a roller-coaster ride.

In semi-related news, Jair Jurrjens continues to dominate for the suddenly sizzling Braves, lowering his ERA to a sparkling 2.67 Wednesday night in a victory over reigning Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. If there's one deal that Dave Dombrowski could take back in his tenure with Detroit, it would be that one: sending away Jurrjens, a promising starting pitcher, for aging shortstop Edgar Renteria. Teams sometimes fall under that spell of believing they have a "surplus of starting pitching," when there really is no such thing in today's world of 5-man rotations, free agency, and Nate Robertson. A strength can become a weakness in the blink of an eye, meaning you really have to cherish every starting pitching commodity in your franchise. And by "cherish," I do not mean "giving up 22-year old flamethrowers for 32-year old Deivi Cruz clones." You win some, you lose some in the trading game, and you roll with the punches. But with the way this Tigers team has been so top-heavy in their rotation, you would think Dombrowski has had more than few sleepless nights thinking about this one.

-Is there a pitcher more fun to watch in the whole league than Carlos Zambrano? He might not be dialing it up in the mid-90's consistently like he was once able to, but he's still among the most charismatic athletes in all of sports. He works at a frenetic pace, challenges every ball/strike call within three feet of the plate, and as much as any player in the entire league, wears his emotions on his sleeve. With every inning-ending strikeout, Big Z fires off the mound, points toward the sky, all with an expression so maniacally glued to his face that you would think it's Game 7 of the World Series instead of game 17 of the regular season. To demonstrate the intensity and energy Z possesses on the mound, just watch his actions once the pitch is delivered and the catcher is about to throw him the ball back. He's so amped up to get the pill back in his hands for the next toss that he'll start striding towards the dish as soon as the ball crosses the plate. When the catcher gets ready to throw it back, Z is only about 15-20 feet away, already jacked up thinking about the next offering. Throw in the fact that he might be the best hitting pitcher in all of baseball (Zambrano pleaded for manager Lou Piniella to put him in the lineup for interleague play...even when the DH was permitted), and you have the complete entertainment package.

Unfortunately, due to the Cubs propensity for late season swoons and playoff collapses (you may have heard about this), the Z-Pack has never been able to showcase his arsenal on the game's grandest stage. Something tells me it might change this year. The Cubbies have been a middling squad the whole year, but as luck would have it, nobody has run away with the NL Central. It's a division of underachievers, and one would think that with the loads of talent arming the Chicago lineup and pitching staff, an August-September charge might be on the horizon. Piniella's crew has managed to hang around all year with an injury to their fiercest slugger (Aramis Ramirez) and virtually no production from two of their highest-paid players (Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley). With a potent offense practically foaming at the mouth waiting to finally get untracked and a pitching staff that is just starting to come together, look for the forever underdogged Cubbies and their lead bear Mr. Zambrano to quite possibly make their first Fall Classic appearance in 64 years.

-Eric Young from Baseball Tonight is really starting to grow on me. He has a voice like Avery Johnson, he talks a mile a minute, and I always get a kick out his description of a home run traveling to "Souvernirrrrrrr City!!" I liked him as a player, but I might like him even better as an analyst. Gimme E.Y. and Fernando Viña over regulars Dave Winfield and John Kruk any night of the week.

Forgotten Detroit Tigers of the Past

It isn't often that you have a real life major league baseball player living on your block growing up, but that was indeed the case in the early 90's when geeky left handed relief pitcher Paul Gibson took up residence no more than eight houses down from the High Socks Legend. Gibby wasn't exactly an intimidating presence coming out of that old Tigers' pen, making him seem that much more accessible when he'd be out on his driveway hanging out. He sported oversized eyeglasses and was a tad on the chubby a cross between Kent Tekulve and Danny DeVito. I remember one lazy afternoon we were walking down the street and Mr. Gibson happened to be outside doing some work. Since one of the privileges you are granted as a young lad is the ability to speak freely without really knowing any better, I took a shot and addressed the Tiger lefty. Having just read that morning's sports page, I sauntered up to the bespectacled journeyman and proudly recited, "Hi, Mr. are 3 and 5 with a 4.29 ERA!" I thought he would have appreciated the recognition (he wasn't exactly being mobbed in grocery stores) and the personal interest I had taken in his statistics, but I was sadly mistaken. After a few seconds of him staring down at me with a maddening expression, Gibson gruffly responded, "Yeah, I know...thanks." I could tell it wasn't a traditional "thanks" that I'd been taught in the early stages of elementary school to mean genuine gratitude towards the person you are speaking to. Instead, this was one of those ", if you don't excuse me, I'm about to go back in the house and watch highlights of myself serving up grand salamis to Jesse Barfield while I cry myself to sleep" kind of deals.

I merrily went about my way after the brief interaction, but Gibson was not as lucky. It wound up being his last year in Detroit, after which he would move on for a couple nondescript seasons with both New York clubs. Sometimes I wonder if Gibson's whole career, and life for that matter, was derailed by that short season summary I delivered to him that fateful summer night. On one hand, I feel terrible for possibly ruining a man's life and torching his dreams. But on the other hand, I feel like a hero. Because that truly seemed like the only time in Mr. Gibson's life that he was recognized by anybody...a fan, one of his teammates, even a member of his own family. Don't fret, Paul. You might be a "Forgotten Detroit Tiger of the Past," but here's one guy that will always remember you.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Breakdown Monday with the HSL

I know it's still early in the proceedings, but the fear many Tigers fans felt when the team traded away top prospects Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin is slowly fading away. While both guys are still young and it is far too early to declare either player a "bust," neither of the much ballyhooed bonus babies are up to much in the baseball world. Miller has been so-so, mixing in 6-7 innings of solid ball with other outings where he doesn't see the 3rd. His control is still too erratic, as evidenced Sunday when the Phillies smacked him around for 2 2/3 innings, taking four free passes in the process. Miller often skates by without too much criticism because opposing players and managers are always complimenting him in such bizarre fashion. The most popular phrase attributed to the 6'6 Miller is that when he winds up and delivers, it is "all arms and legs coming at you." I nod my head and move on even though I'm always a bit unsure as to how this makes him unique.

Maybin keeps being yo-yoed back and forth from the big club in Florida to the little club in New Orleans. He has struggled big time with command of the strike zone in the majors, leading to a startling 31 whiffs in just 84 at-bats this year before he was sent down. Inevitably, in AAA, he winds up finding his stroke and hitting in the .330's. Again, like Miller, Maybin is still learning and could someday be a top-tier major league player, but the guy was drafted four years ago and does not seem to have made that much progress towards being an everyday player at the highest level. The concern with Maybin has always been that he might be more "athlete" than "baseball player." As exciting as it is to see a player tabbed with the magical "5-tools" label, it is not uncommon for these guys to never quite find their footing in the game, toiling away for years in frustration while the respective franchises keep waiting for the moment when it all "starts to click." See the Chicago Cubs with Corey Patterson. Like Maybin, Patterson was a Top-10 pick as a centerfielder, and the Cubs thought they were going to have the next Willie Mays roaming the Friendly Confines for the next 10-15 years. But he just never managed to turn the corner. He would display little hints of greatness, either bashing a 400 foot homer with a flick of the wrist, or chasing down a long drive to the gap that few others could even sniff. But more common were the "0 for 4, 3 Ks" stat lines, and final batting average totals more representative of a backup catcher.

Clearly, the Miguel Cabrera trade was a home run regardless of how these boys turn out. Cabrera has taken hold of the middle of the Tigers batting order at a time where previous occupant Magglio Ordóñez has disappeared and begun his slow and unfortunate transformation into becoming the Hispanic Craig Paquette. Cabrera led the league in bombs last year and would have had a shot at the batting crown this season if not for Joe Mauer and Ichiro stubbornly staying put in the .360's. But when you look at the very real possibility that neither Miller or Maybin will end up being All-Star caliber players, this trade goes from being a home run to an all-out heist. Young pitchers with serious control issues do not tend to figure those out overnight. And supposed "5-tool" players can sometimes go their whole careers without ever fully embracing that elusive quintet of abilities. Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin might one day be taking their place in Cooperstown, making this trade a borderline disaster. But based on what we've seen, I'd sleep peacefully tonight. Real peacefully.

Another Chance...

I'm not saying it's the best...I'm not saying it's the worst. But I will say that like fine wine and your vocabulary, the movie Celtic Pride really seems to get better with a little age on it. When it first hit theaters like a storm back in '96, there was simply too much hype to live up to. At the time, Daniel Stern was the hottest thing since sliced bread, coming off the Home Alone-City Slickers blockbusters, while nicely mixing in an underrated, albeit irritating comedy in Bushwacked. Dan Aykroyd was still consistently trotting out high-quality work with My Girl and Coneheads, while also contributing terrific supporting performances in Tommy Boy and the often overlooked Sgt. Bilko. And if Damon Wayans ever had a "peak" to his career, it was at this point. He showed us the versatility in The Last Boy Scout, doubled down with Mo' Money, and even managed to grab a few laughs in semi-dreadful slapstick jobs Blankman and Major Payne. All three of these superstars (not a stretch at that time) essentially in their prime coming together to do a basketball related comedy with actual NBA teams and logos being could it miss?!?? Well, it did.

Anybody that saw Celtic Pride in theaters remembers the empty feeling they felt walking out of the exit that day. Here we were, expecting an epic sports comedy filled with career-defining performances, legitimate hoops action, and timeless lines of dialogue. Instead, we were treated to 91 minutes of overcooked Bah-ston accents, embarrassing b-ball choreography, and one of the most confusing/deflating endings to any flick, sports or otherwise.

Stern and Aykroyd meshed a little bit, but not quite at the level so many of us had come to expect. We anticipated an explosive "Payton to Kemp" type chemistry, but wound up getting the much less thrilling "Kenny Anderson to Derrick Coleman" connection. The characters were simply too annoying. Even when they were still loyal Celtics fans in the beginning, I was never really sold. Something just didn't sit right. While Stern's storyline with the ex-wife and son made for some entertaining theater, that interplay seemed to be underused. And Aykroyd's portrayal of "Jimmy Flaherty" was basically just a sad imitation of George Wendt and Co.'s brilliant work in the Superfans sketch from SNL. I found myself routinely fake-laughing throughout the picture, somehow trying to convince myself that the movie was better than it really was. It's like watching your not-so-gifted son at the plate in Little know in your heart of hearts that he's striking out, but you still hold out a speck of hope that he'll blindly connect aluminum-to-rawhide and drive one into the leftcenter field gap.

Wayans had a chance for this to be his real coming out party, but he fell flat on his face. His brutal attempt at looking like an NBA 2-guard made Wesley Snipes' butchering of Bobby Rayburn in The Fan seem Oscar-worthy. Wayans always had that innate ability to be funny even when the material wasn't there, but he just couldn't turn the corner here. His character, "Lewis Scott," was just too darn ornery. I understand you're upset about being kidnapped bro, but would it have killed you to bring just the slightest bit of levity to the situation? He took a semi-humorous hostage situation and depressingly turned it into, "Ransom 2: Bigger, Blacker, and Sadly, This Time, No Delroy Lindo." Wayans' movie career went in the tank soon after this performance, which in turn forced us to stomach more Mos' Def and Anthony Anderson than we were really equipped to handle.

The ending to Celtic Pride is simply hard to watch. The one saving grace throughout the whole movie, the one thing you could identify with as a die hard fan of any sports team, was the unrelenting loyalty Stern and Aykroyd gave to their Celtics. They went to every game, dressed in green from head to toe, and went so far as to kidnap an opposing player to help propel their squad to victory. And all of a sudden, they go oppo-zoppo for the last 10 minutes of the flick, donning matching Jazz gear and whooping it up for Lewis Scott and his crew. I understand they had their reasons, but when we're made to watch the two longtime Bostonians celebrating on the Garden floor with the triumphant visiting team after all they'd done to try and prevent such an outcome...well, I just kind of felt violated. Like my emotions had been toyed with for the last buck and a half, and all I had to show for it was a trio of former megastars all toasting at center court to the immediate and untimely conclusion of their once storied film careers.

But back to the present. It's 2009, and the utter shock and disappointment from that early spring day 13 years ago has started to wear off. I've caught Pride more than a few times on cable and VHS (yeah, you heard me) since, and each time it gets a little more endearing, and a little less nauseating. Maybe I was too hard on Danny Stern. Maybe Aykroyd was the perfect supporting player. Maybe Wayans didn't look as bad as I thought he did on the hardwood. Like any quality movie, I started noticing things I'd never picked up on before. Little pieces of trivia and dialogue that got lost in the shuffle during that fateful first viewing were now creeping into my cerebral cortex...and being greeted with applause.

I started entertaining serious thoughts like, "If only I'd been able to capture Mookie Blaylock during the '99 playoffs, maybe G-Hill and the boys would have taken the whole thing." It all began making sense. And maybe it had to end like that...after all, I would have been much more depressed if they'd been turned over to the police for their crimes and sentenced to a hard 25 in the rack.

Like I said, it wasn't the best, and it wasn't the worst. But if you're able to grind through that first showing and get past the instinctive feeling of hatred that will undoubtedly wash over you for being exposed to such mindless filth, you'll be in for a real treat.

You thought you would go your whole life without reading such a detailed analysis of Celtic Pride. But remember this. It might not resonate now, and you might feel like I just robbed you of 7-10 precious minutes of your life. But come back in a few weeks and read it again...and do the same a month later. Like the movie, this article will only appreciate with age. Either that, or there is also the distinct possibility that I've gone completely out of my mind. Only time will tell...

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Back to the Future? Thanks, But No Thanks...

It's one of the more depressing headlines to an NBA story that I've seen in some time.

"Ben Wallace interested in re-joining Pistons."

My feelings on this are best summed up by quoting the legendary Adam Sandler sketch 'Right Field,' where he pleads and begs to the heavens during each pitch for the ball not to be hit in his direction. "Oh God no, oh God no, oh God no, oh God no...NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"

This just cannot happen. For so many reasons. First off, Ben Wallace is, as they say in the business, "washed up." The man's best days are behind him. Way behind. The last time Ben was really Ben, Shaq was still a Laker, Iverson was still a Sixer, and Darko was still considered to be "promising." Yeah, it was that long ago.

Since then, it's been a rocky road for Mr. Wallace. He signed a bank-breaking deal with the Bulls, but could never live up to the expectations or get that team over the hump. He moved on to Cleveland, where he essentially became persona non grata, playing spot minutes here and there behind Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejão while never really putting his stamp on the squad.

One thing became abundantly clear during these seasons. Never had a player been so reliant on his youth and athleticism quite like Ben Wallace was during his peak years with the Pistons. When his mid-late 20's slowly became his early-middle 30's, Big Ben started disintegrating faster than Ashley Judd's marriage in Double Jeopardy.

His pogo stick leaping ability vanished. His boundless energy was now only seen in short spurts. The brute strength he used to shut down bigger opponents was quietly leaving his once-sculpted body. And his unparallelled tenacity of years past was just the past.

He was truly handcuffed when these physical gifts began escaping him because unlike most of the other players in the NBA, Ben did not possess anything in the form of actual basketball skill to fall back on. To put it simply, he could not dribble, pass, or shoot. These were never his calling cards.

His post-up game consisted of a few halted dribbles, a look at the shot clock to see if he had to hoist, and then a high-arcing fallaway jumper that would generally touch nothing at all. His free throw stroke was broken throughout his entire career, and in a tribute to HSL Hall-of-Famer Baron Davis, Ben somehow managed to play a full 13 years in the Association without ever once averaging 50% from the stripe. You almost have to give him some credit is not easy to be in the league for that long without sniffing even the slightest improvement from the 40-percent clip he'd grown accustomed to. That takes persistence.

But maybe there's a city out there willing to give Ol' Ben one more shot. Just not here. The breakup was too messy the first time.

When Ben came to the Pistons from Orlando, it was a jolt to the franchise. He was an undersized guy fighting for every single loose ball with guys six inches taller and 50 pounds heavier. He fully embodied the "Every Night" and "Goin' to Work" spirit Joe Dumars was trying to create.

He would snag 20 boards and score zero points, but walk off the court with the biggest smile in the arena. When the Pistons finally won a postseason series in 2002 for the first time in a long time by beating Toronto, the enduring image was that of a fro'd-out Ben strutting around after the game carrying his wife Chanda high over his head in sheer jubilation. It was just a first round victory, but it remains one of the franchise's significant turning points from the last decade. Wallace was an animal in that maiden playoff journey. In those 10 games against the Raptors and Celtics, he would average 16 rebounds a game, mixing in an unheard of back-to-back 21 rebound performances in round two.

The next few years brought more of the same. Defensive Player of the Year honors...rebounding titles...the perfect teammate. Fans flocked to games sporting their own velcro afros to honor #3. Blank white t-shirts were adorned with big capital 'R's representing Rebound Row. Detroit had fallen head over heels in love with Ben Wallace.

But then things began to change.

The once selfless battler concerned only with doing the little things and getting the W was now also being consumed by the number next to his name under the "shot attempts" column. Sometimes a few All-Star appearances can go straight to a guy's head, and this was a prime example. Ben's offensive game had not progressed one iota, but the personal accolades that started piling up caused him to develop a complex that told him, "Winning is not enough. You have to be the guy in the highlights, too."

Then came the defining moment of Ben's transition to the dark side.

In a late season contest at Orlando, Flip Saunders called on Wallace to re-enter the ballgame with about eight minutes to go. But Ben didn't move.

No response. No bouncing out of his chair, rushing over to the scorer's table to check in, no ripping off his warmups...just nothing.

For a guy like Ron Artest or Allen Iverson, a move like this would not be all that newsworthy. A bad apple making another bad decision. But this was Ben Wallace. The guy that had gone undrafted out of college. The guy that had to work twice as hard as everyone else just to get in the league. The guy that had literally scrapped and clawed for everything he had ever gotten.

And now, even though he was being instructed by his coach to get back in the game to try and secure a victory for his team, Ben would not move a muscle.

It was sad, to be honest. A player so pure in his intentions just a few seasons back had now become the ultimate prima donna. Statistics will tell you that nearly 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. This one was no different.

One would assume that Joe Dumars, who once drew praise and adulation for his Ben Wallace acquisition nearly a decade ago, would know enough to let it pass this time around. Ben is barely a shell of his former self now.

He plays solid, but unspectacular defense. He's a marginal rebounder with little explosiveness. He remains an offensive liability. If you didn't know any better, you'd think I was just describing current Pistons big man Kwame Brown. Do we really need two of those guys??

I know the Pistons aren't exactly chock with salary cap space right now and that the free agent pickings are not exactly ripe. But there are still more attractive options for the slot than a former great who has seen the tank go dry.

Chris Wilcox is just a year removed from an extremely productive season in Seattle, and would be a solid addition to the frontcourt, especially at just 26 years of age. The Collins twins (Jarron and Jason) are out there and actually seem semi-desirable now that the NBA has ruled that due to the less than stellar repertoire of both brothers, any team can legally sign the pair for the price of one while only occupying a single roster spot. Not a bad deal. Even Drew Gooden, who has never claimed to have the prettiest face or jump shot, would be a better choice than our old pal Ben.

I understand where Ben Wallace is coming from. He knows his playing days are about to expire, and he wants to finish his career in the place that holds his most cherished basketball memories. Jerry Stackhouse, also a free agent, recently expressed those same sentiments. But unfortunately for Ben, it's just not to be.

He was an all-time Piston for nearly his entire tenure in Detroit, but the way it ended, so uncomfortably and with so much bitterness from both himself and the fans, there is really no coming back now. The team has moved on. They are looking to become a younger, athletic, more cohesive unit.

Sadly, Ben does not fit any of those criteria.

His game has deteriorated, his body is tired, and the glowing smile and youthful exuberance he once brought to the Palace floor every night are now just a series of memories fading into oblivion.

He should have left this city as a legend. As the ultimate competitor willing to put life and limb on the line for the sake of his team and his town.

But as time went on, Ben transformed into an individual in a team sport.

And he has come crawling back. Well, now it is our turn, as a city and as a franchise, to say, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Ben had his chance to go back in that night in Orlando, and he the Pistons must do the same.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Justice Goes Down in Straight Sets

The HSL was just a pup at nine years of age when it happened. But it might as well have been yesterday. The events of that fateful day are still fresh in my mind. Monica Seles, the wonderfully gifted tennis player in the prime of her career, was sitting in her chair during a change-over without a care in the world. In an instant, that world would be turned on its head. A crazed German fan, madly obsessed with getting Steffi Graf back to the top spot in women's tennis (Seles had won 3 of the 4 Grand Slam finals between the two), descended on Seles with a 9-inch boning knife. With no security in sight, the madman lurched forward with his weapon, plunging it into the shoulder of the helpless and unsuspecting Seles. Miraculously, though, the injuries from the stabbing were not serious. Within a month or two, her shoulder was healed up. But understandably, Seles' psyche had taken a severe toll, and it would be over two years before she picked up a racket again. For all intents and purposes, Monica Seles as we had grown to know her, she of the twisting two-handed style from both sides and the ultra-aggressive approach at all times, would cease to exist.

This was not brought up, however, to simply recap the career of Monica Seles. Her story is well-known to most sports fans. However, there is one fact associated with the saga that is so unbelievable and outrageous that even 16 years later, it boggles my mind as to how it could have happened the way it did. The man that attacked (and could have quite possibly killed) Seles, Günter Parche, never spent a single day in jail for his heinous act. Not a one. I wouldn't have blinked if the man had gotten life in prison (it was basically attempted murder after all). Twenty-five years might have been appropriate. Even 10-15 would have made some sense. But for a man to be allowed to commit such a senseless, bloodthirsty crime, taking away a person's livelihood and emotional well-being in the process, and not serve a minute in a jail cell for it, is truly sickening.

The main reason for the sentence was the determination made by psychological experts that Parche was mentally deficient. In a nutshell, the man didn't have all of his marbles. Yeah...and your point is..?? Doesn't that go without saying? Anytime you wake up in the morning and decide it's a good day to go down to a tennis tournament and stab one of the players, chances are you aren't playing with a full deck. It's fair to say of anybody that stabs, shoots, or kills another innocent human being...that person is crazy. Normal people do not engage in such activities. Was Parche out of his mind when he went Ginsu on Seles? Of course...but does that make him innocent? I have never understood the "mentally deficient" reasoning for being so lenient in these instances. If we are this easy on all of the maniacs and vilda chayas that do such things, why bother even having a trial? Just assume they have gone completely bonkers and let 'em out the door. It'll save us all time and money.

But how do you account for the fact that Seles' once picture-perfect life was instantly transformed into a constant nightmare following the incident? Doesn't somebody have to be held accountable for that, maybe the person that caused it?? And I always thought that one of the main reasons we sent people to jail was not just to make them pay for their actions, but to keep them away from the rest of society where they could possibly inflict more damage. By letting Parche roam free, the German legal system ran the risk of a similar occurrence happening with the next player that challenged Graf's perch at the top.

Seles very calmly and succinctly summed up the entire ordeal with one short statement. "What people seem to be forgetting is that this man stabbed me intentionally...and he did not serve any sort of punishment for it." Boy, does that sound familiar. Just a couple of weeks back, NFL wide receiver/killer Donte Stallworth was sentenced to a laughable 24 days in the big house for ending another man's life in an auto accident, during which he was driving drunk. So all told, we have one stabbing and one car crash killing, for which a grand total of 3.5 weeks of prison time was doled out. In related news, one of the men that contributed to the theft of Lance Armstrong's precious 10-speed was just handed his sentence...a whopping three years behind bars. Taking into account both Parch and Stallworth's crimes, I guess the moral of the story is this: If you are drunk and happen to see a fellow pedestrian riding down the sidewalk on a shiny new Huffy, feel free to knock him off the seat, throw him to the ground, smack him with his helmet, stab him with the kickstand, and leave him there for the wolves. Just don't take the bike...that'll really cost you.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The HSL Returns: Pistons, Celebrities, and The Longest Movie of All-Time

This past week, I found myself in the upper regions of Michigan at Camp Michigania, a place our family has frequented for the last umpteen years. It is a tremendous place, but along with it, the normal perks of being at home (cable television, Internet) are plucked away. You are forced to follow the sports world with a thin, early edition of the Free Press each morning. You get Tigers' results two days after they happened. The news of Pistons firings, possible hirings, and free-agent signings all trickle in with the speed of an aging turtle. On one hand, it is frustrating being so out of the loop when you become so used to being firmly entrenched inside it. But from the other side, it is a refreshing change. A trip back to a time when you could not access any score or stat anytime you wanted. To a time when waking up and checking the paper was truly meaningful, because it was actually the first time you'd be seeing many of the results from the night prior. It's not an ideal way for a sports fan to keep up with things, but fret not. The High Socks Legend is still tuned in to the world, and letting his voice be heard from Plymouth to Petoskey...

The Right Move...A Year Too Late

I have been a stout Joe Dumars defender for as long as I can remember. Favorite player when I was growing up. Wore the number '4' whenever I had the opportunity. Loved when he became GM of the team. I looked past his shoddy draft picks (Mateen Cleaves, Rodney White). Tried to justify desperate moves that didn't really pan out (adding a gimpy Chris Webber to the mix in 2007). Nodded my head in agreement when he hired Flip Saunders, a coach who had always seemed to get the most out of his talent in Minnesota. But when Joe D appointed Michael Curry to be the head coach of the Detroit Pistons last year, I could no longer defend my man. The decision made no sense. It was illogical in every sense of the word. You had a veteran-laden team, and you were adding a rookie head coach. The squad needed someone to come in and crack the whip, reign the troops in. Instead, Dumars brought in a guy that played with and against many of the players still in the league, blurring the line between boss and buddy. It was a choice that lacked the slightest bit of creativity or ingenuity, and you couldn't help but notice that Dumars' magic touch was beginning to fade.

Thankfully, Dumars saved a bit of face last week by axing Curry after just one season. He really had no other option. Curry was a train wreck from day one. The frequently changing starting lineups and rotations. The mismanagement of late game clock and timeout situations. The refusal to play Will Bynum even when it became painfully obvious late in the year that he was easily the team's most productive player. Rodney Stuckey never improved, Rip Hamilton started to sulk, and Rasheed Wallace started preparing for the off-season sometime around the All-Star break. Curry struggled as much as a guy could in one year, and thus Dumars had to bring in some fresh blood. But it doesn't let Joe D off the hook for bringing him on board in the first place. He had no credentials to speak of, besides a short stint as an assistant and a longstanding reputation as a "great teammate" during his playing days. Generally not the kind of resume that will get you top billing on a ship that had been wreaking havoc on the conference for the last decade.

I was beyond excited when I first read the names of the potential replacements for Curry. Actually, I was really just focusing on one: Doug Collins. I was a huge fan of Collins when he led the Pistons for a few years in the late 90's. He was always prepared for any in-game situation, and you would never find a coach that cared more about winning. But that was also his undoing. He might have cared just a little bit too much. He'd sweat through his shirt during a mid-December affair with Sacramento. He once sobbed tears of joy following a win over the Bulls (during the regular season). But I liked having a guy like that on our side. Might as well care too much than too little. He never took the Pistons anywhere in the playoffs, but that was probably due more to a flawed roster than any shortcomings from the coaching staff. Aside from my brother Gabe never forgiving Collins for inexplicably slashing Terry Mills' minutes upon taking over the team, you'd be hard pressed to find a Pistons fan that didn't enjoy Collins' tenure. But alas, after being hailed as the leading candidate, Collins has since taken his name out of the running. He did the same thing with Chicago last year, and you have to figure that maybe Collins has closed the door on coaching, trying to look out more for his overall health than his overall winning percentage.

So now we are left most likely with the high-pitched Avery Johnson or the career assistant John Kuester. Neither guy really makes you stand up and do a jig in anticipation. I'd love to see Bill Laimbeer get an opportunity to prove himself in the men's game, but that seems unlikely at this point. Really, the thing I would most love to see is for Joe Dumars to finally put his money where his mouth is and appoint himself the head coach. The guy has been around the league for 25 years, and every single one of them has been as a part of the Pistons family. Nobody is more familiar with the personnel and the overall direction of the franchise. Dumars is the ultimate competitor, and you have to figure that maybe he's beginning to tire a bit of the same GM post he has occupied now for the last decade. After all, when you keep rifling through coaches the way he has the last few years, why not cut out the middle man and just do the job yourself? It would create unprecedented buzz heading into next season and bring some much-needed life back to the organization. Dumars continues to search long and far for the perfect coaching candidate...but the best answer might just be staring right back at him in the mirror.

Minor Celebrity Sighting

You know that initial feeling you get when you see someone famous?? You have that little, quick, burst when you get a little too excited, and you shout out the person's name for no apparent reason. This happened over the weekend when I spotted Channel-4 weatherman Chuck Gaidica strolling out of an ice cream joint in Charlevoix. In hindsight, I would love to have just kept on walking and not freaked out at all. But instincts took over, and before I knew it, I had screamed out "It's Chuck Gaidica!!" loud enough for him and the surrounding counties to hear loud and clear. He shot me a semi-frightened look, as if to say, "You're not gonna do anything weird right now, are you?" Lucky for him, I did not. I kinda just acted like nothing happened and kept on walking. My dad, though, had sort of been caught in the crossfire and was forced to say something normal to make up for my bizarre actions. And as I'm sure 100 percent of all people do when they see Gaidica out in public, my dad decided to talk about the weather. Something about how it was nasty all week, unseasonably cold...Gaidica looked thrilled. I bet the man has never been approached by a stranger before without some type of conversation about weather taking place. Really, what else is there to talk to him about? He lives his life in segments of 5-day forecasts. Other men fall asleep dreaming of supermodels and game-winning shots...Gaidica fantasizes about big Dopplers and "another cold front approaching." You would think the man is absolutely dog-tired of anything weather related at this point in his life, and this minor celebrity experience proved as much. So next time you see Mr. Gaidica strolling down the sidewalk, offer up a few words on the latest heat wave or storm watch. You might just see an explosion...

The Longest 140 Minutes Of My Life

You can usually judge your enjoyment level of a movie by the amount of times you look down to check your cell phone clock. You want to know how much time has elapsed, and how much more you have to go. When a flick really has your attention, you can go the full duration without once checking. You're enthralled by the picture, and knowing the time is unimportant. But then there are those occasions like this past weekend, seeing Public Enemies, when I must have flipped open my cell phone a good 400 times to check the situation. It was that slow. I anticipated a highly enjoyable movie experience going in. The critics had doled out positive reviews, the cast was littered with high-profile stars (Johnny Depp...Christian Bale...even the guy that played Axel's buddy Mikey Tandino in Beverly Hills Cop), and the story, about 1930's bank robber John Dillinger, seemed like it would lend itself nicely to the big screen. Wishful thinking on all fronts. The movie started with a confusing slugfest/gunfight, repeated itself 50 or 60 times, and mixed in some lifeless dialogue with uninteresting characters. It was a swing and a miss on all fronts. I should have known better, too. When I saw the similarly long and woefully painful Miami Vice a few years ago, I swore that it would be the last Michael Mann film I donated money towards. Somehow, I made the same mistake twice, but there will definitely be no chance of a third. He's gotten my last dollar. My mom, who made it through the first hour before wisely escaping to the outside world, said the only reason she was even able to last that long was because she'd been amusing herself trying to figure out if Christian Bale was also the same guy from The Rocketeer. When the final credits thankfully started to roll, I bolted out of the theater towards the exit like there was a ticker-tape parade waiting for me on the outside. Fresh air never tasted so good. If you insist on seeing Public Enemies, do so at your own risk. But might I suggest just going out and renting Road to Perdition and watching that instead. It is the exact same movie, except you won't have the desire to gouge your eyes out during the viewing, and most importantly, it's 25 minutes shorter. I might have seen worse flicks in my time, but none, and I mean none, have felt longer.


The Pistons made the biggest splash in free agency last week by inking former Connecticut Huskies Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to long-term deals. Both players are coming off career years, just about to enter their primes. After a tumultuous season marred by inconsistency and controversy, Dumars has managed to bring a positive jolt back to the team with these two important acquisitions.

Gordon is one of the most dangerous offensive players in the league. He is cat-quick off the dribble, and has unlimited shooting range from anywhere on the floor. He doesn't have ideal size for a 2-guard, at just 6'3, and he might not be Sidney Moncrief on the defensive end, but there is not much to find fault with in Gordon's game. His competitiveness is off the charts, as everyone was witness to in the 2004 NCAA Tournament, where Gordon teamed with Emeka Okafor in leading the Huskies to the title. More recently, the basketball world was in awe of his clutch shotmaking abilities in the first round of the playoffs, where he matched Ray Allen step for step in one of the most memorable battles in league history. The major problem with bringing Gordon aboard is the logjam that continues to exist at the guard position. Last year, with Rip Hamilton, Rodney Stuckey, and Allen Iverson all expecting starter's minutes and shot attempts, the season unraveled. Hamilton pouted, Stuckey flatlined, and Iverson quit. You can blame some of it on the "in over his head" Curry, but the truth is there just wasn't enough court time to go around. You wonder if the Pistons will be able to add Gordon without the same problems arising.

(Rumors are now floating around that Rip could quite possibly be dealt to Utah for Carlos Boozer. Boozer has just one year on his contract, which would enable the Pistons to free up money for next summer's free-agent bonanza, while also adding a sorely needed frontcourt presence in the year to come. I would welcome this deal. I think the Stuckey-Gordon backcourt could really emerge as a force in the years to come, and having Rip around might muddle that possible partnership. The Pistons know they already have an ace in the hole with super-sub Will Bynum, which makes Hamilton just a tad more expendable. And by adding Boozer, a legitimate star power forward, you would avoid the horror of potentially playing Kwame Brown 30+ minutes a night next year. It's just a rumor for now, but put me down as a "Yes" to this potential blockbuster.)

As for Charlie Villanueva, this might turn out to be a real steal for Joe D. Charlie V is the rare 6'11 player that is as comfortable on the perimeter as he is in the paint. Can you say 'Lamar Odom'? After seeing Rasheed Wallace lazily float from one arc to the other over the years, it will now be a nice change to see a young pup like Villanueva actually combine that outside game with a slashing athleticism around the rim. With Villanueva and Gordon wearing the red, white, and blue, the team will finally have a semblance of a 3-point game again. Once Chauncey Billups was dealt to the Nuggets, the team could only play from inside of 20 feet. So much for keeping the defense honest. With these two players, opposing defenses will no longer be afforded the luxury of sagging off shooters and clogging up the lane to prevent penetration. Outside shooting was one of the team's biggest needs this off-season, and Dumars shored it up quite nicely. Like Gordon, however, Villanueva has never been praised for his work on the defensive end. There's no reason that can't change, though. He has the requisite size (6'11, 240) and agility to be an above average defender, and moving to a contending team might be just the change Charlie needs.

One other minor blip on Villanueva's profile is his affliction with alopecia universalis, a medical condition that causes loss of all body hair, including eyebrows and eyelashes. Normally, I wouldn't look at this as any kind of negative, but in Detroit, any mention of 'alopecia' brings to mind the sad career of Nate Cornejo. Cornejo was a 6'5 monster righthander for the Tigers in the early part of the decade. According to everything you read and heard about the guy, he was destined to become a future Cy Young winner and likely Hall-of-Famer. Only, it didn't quite go according to plan. Big Nate wound up lasting four years in the majors, compiling an unsightly 12-29 record and generally being hit harder than a piñata at Paul Bunyan's birthday party. Was alopecia universalis the reason that Cornejo fell flat on his face in the majors? It seems likely. For the time being, Villanueva seems to have overcome his hairlessness. But in Detroit, it's never a good sign, a fact that the late Nate Cornejo knows all too well.

The High Socks Legend and his brothers/dad also took home the Michigania 3-on-3 basketball tournament title for the millionth consecutive year. At this point, you could compose a team of 3-4 marginal NBA players and it probably wouldn't be enough to dethrone us on our turf. A possible tourney recap/breakdown could be coming in the future, but for now, you will be spared. Drop a comment below, or reach me by e-mail at