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 piƱata 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 highsockslegend@gmail.com

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