Will the Real Joe Dumars Please Stand Up?

By Paul Knepper

Joe Dumars was one of the most beloved sports figures in Detroit when the Pistons named him their President of Basketball Operations and General Manager in 2000. During his first several years on the job, the architect of the “Bad Boys” reincarnated became a Motown legend. Now, three years after their last trip to the conference finals the franchise is in disarray and Joe D is a big reason why.

Weeks after Dumars joined the Pistons front office their franchise player Grant Hill bolted for Orlando. Dumars used the loss of Hill to acquire the first piece of a championship puzzle, Ben Wallace, via a sign and trade with the Magic. Wallace, who was perceived as an offensively challenged role player went on to win Defensive Player of the Year four times with the Pistons.

Two years later, Dumars made three more crucial acquisitions. He selected Tayshaun Prince, a 6’10 forward who most scouts agreed was too frail to play in the NBA, with the 23rd pick in the draft.  Then he signed free agent point guard Chauncey Billups who had played for five teams in his first five years in the league and traded high-flier Jerry Stackhouse to Washington for Richard “Rip” Hamilton, a lanky shooting guard who the Wizards President of Basketball Operations Michael Jordan was anxious to get rid of.

Prince developed into one of the most versatile players in the league, Hamilton was named to three all-star teams and Billups earned the  nickname Mr. Big Shot, while leading the Pistons to a championship in 2004.

Joe D wasn’t done yet. Despite the Pistons reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2003, he fired coach Rick Carlisle and replaced him with Larry Brown. Midway through the ’03-04 season he added the final piece to the puzzle, trading for Rasheed Wallace of the Portland Trailblazers. Sheed joined with Ben Wallace and Prince to form the best defensive front line in basketball.

During his first eight years in the Pistons front office, Dumars seemed to make all the right moves, with the notable exception of passing on Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in favor of Darko Milicic with the second pick in the 2003 draft. His Pistons advanced to six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals from 2003-2008 and won the NBA Championship in 2004. Dumars was named NBA Executive of the Year for the ’02-’03 season and developed a reputation as one of the best general managers in the league.

In 2008 the tide began to turn for Joe and the Pistons. After losing in the conference finals to a seemingly inferior Cavaliers team the Pistons’ President decided it was time to make some changes.

Dumars terminated coach Flip Saunders (who replaced Larry Brown after the ’04-’05 season) and promoted assistant coach Michael Curry to the head job. The Pistons GM also believed the team had gone as far as they could with their nucleus and in November ’08 traded Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess and Cheikh Samb to the Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson.

Dumars hoped Iverson, still one of the best scorers in the league, could get the Pistons over the hump and back to the NBA Finals. More importantly, Iverson’s $20.8 million a year contract expired at the end of the season clearing up cap space for Dumars to sign a couple of big-time free agents.

Neither scenario worked according to plan. The team went into free fall, finishing 39-43 and was ousted in the first round of the playoffs. Iverson was a disaster in Detroit. His shoot first mentality didn’t mesh with the Pistons unselfish style of play and the diminutive guard was relegated to the bench before missing the playoffs due to injury. To make matters worse, Billups led the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals that season.

Dumars dismissed Curry after one season, replacing him with John Kuester. Then he failed to sign a star player and instead of saving up for the free agent bonanza in the “summer of LeBron,” used the cap space to sign Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to a combined $19 million per year. Gordon, an undersized shooting guard has averaged a whopping 13 points per game over a season and a half in Detroit and Villanueva has contributed a mediocre 12.5 points and 4.6 rebounds a contest.

Detroit finished a dismal 27-55 last season and their big off-season acquisition was an over-the-hill Tracy McGrady. Kuester immediately clashed with Prince  and inexplicably benched Rip for the past ten games, which has ruffled the feathers of veterans on the club. The Pistons are a measly 17-31 and looked apathetic on the court during a 124-106 loss to the Knicks Sunday night.

Their current roster doesn’t provide much reason for optimism either. Dumars has failed to infuse the team with the type of young talent they can build around and his hands are tied by the money he locked up in Prince, Hamilton, Villanueva and Gordon.

Karen Davidson, daughter of long time owner William Davidson, who passed away in 2009, is currently attempting to sell the team. When new ownership takes over they’ll have to decide which they believe is the real Joe Dumars, the GM that built a perennial contender out of other teams castaways or the President who has overseen the rapid descent of a proud franchise.


Remembering one of my all-time favorite athlete gaffes…

Hall of Famer Andre Dawson was known as an excellent right fielder during his days with the Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs. The biggest error of his career came off the field when he told a reporter:

“I want all the kids to do what I do, to look up to me. I want all the kids to copulate me.”

Charles Woodson is a Michigan Man

by Paul Knepper

When the University of Michigan fired head football coach Rich Rodriguez a few weeks ago there was a lot of talk about him not being a good fit for Ann Arbor. Boosters and alumni complained he wasn’t a “Michigan Man.”

So what exactly is a “Michigan Man?”

The term dates back to legendary football coach Fielding Yost in the early part of the 20th century, though long-time coach Bo Schembechler brought it to prominence in 1989. When U of M basketball coach Bill Frieder accepted the same job at Arizona State University prior to the NCAA tournament (a tournament Michigan won under interim coach Steve Fisher), Schembechler, in his role as athletic director, dismissed Frieder immediately, stating that “A Michigan Man will coach Michigan…”

Since then, the term “Michigan Man” has generally been used to refer to somebody who played or coached at Michigan under Schembechler (who incidentally was born, raised and began his coaching career as an “Ohio Man”). The school’s fight song, Hail to the Victors, is somewhat vague on the subject, referring to Michigan men as simply “the leaders and best”.

As a graduate of the University of Michigan, I have my own idea of what it means to be a “Michigan Man.” I believe a Michigan Man or Woman is somebody who excels in their professional and personal life, is a leader in the community and represents the university with class and dignity.

Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson is a Michigan Man.

I was the same year as Woodson at Michigan and watched him lead the Wolverines to the 1997 National Championship, while becoming the first predominantly defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. Thirteen years later I can say unequivocally he’s the greatest football player I’ve ever had the privilege of watching on a regular basis.

But don’t take my word for it. Last season, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of Woodson: “I don’t mean to offend anybody by saying this but he’s the best football player I’ve ever seen in person. I’ve never seen anybody dominate a position the way he has.”

Woodson was drafted by the Oakland Raiders with the fourth pick in the 1998 draft and immediately established himself as one of the premier cornerbacks in the league. He was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons and led the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2003.

Then his career hit a snag. He suffered through several injuries over the next few seasons, and the losses in Oakland mounted. After the 2005 campaign, he signed with the Green Bay Packers, where his career was rejuvenated.

Woodson led the NFC in interceptions in 2006 and the NFL in 2009, a season in which he was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He has returned 11 interceptions and fumbles for touchdowns over his career, just two shy of Rod Woodson’s record, and is headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Charles’ versatility is what sets him apart from other defensive backs. He is one of the few shut-down corners in the league, and unlike many DBs, is an excellent tackler who does not shy away from contact. In addition to cornerback, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers lines #21 up at strong safety, free safety and on occasion, outside linebacker.

More impressive than his performance on the field is his leadership in the locker room and the community. Charles is a spokesman for the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, scheduled to open in 2012, and in November, 2009, donated $2 million to the hospital.

In June 2009, Woodson delivered a speech introducing then governor of Wisconsin Jim Doyle at the state Democratic convention. In early 2011, he offered public support for Wisconsin workers who were protesting a proposal by Governor Scott Walker that would force employees to pay more for health insurance and pensions. His political leanings aside, Woodson’s willingness to take a stand in an era in which athletes are terrified of damaging their “brand” is admirable.

At age 34, Woodson is still at the top of his game and has become a vocal leader on a Packers team that is set to face the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

Many sports fans have seen video of Woodson calling out President Obama following the Packers’ 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game. Prior to the matchup, the President, an unabashed Bears fan, said he would attend the Super Bowl if the Bears made it.

In a postgame speech to his teammates Woodson said “The President don’t want to come watch us play in the Super Bowl? Guess what? Guess what? We’ll go see him.” He closed it out with “White House on three. One, two, three. White House!”

However, most publications omitted the first part of that speech, in which Woodson told his teammates: “Think about one thing. One. For two weeks, two weeks, think about one. One mind. Let’s be one heartbeat. One purpose. One goal. One more game. One.” Those are the words of a leader, a trusted voice in a locker room full of professionals. On a team with several Pro-Bowlers, Woodson was the one who stepped up to the mic.

Woodson’s star status and propensity for witty quotes will be on full display during the massive media hype build up to the Super Bowl. U of M students, alumni and fans should be proud.

Charles Woodson is a Michigan Man.

Top Ten Point Guards in the NBA

by Paul Knepper

The point guard is a general on the floor, responsible for setting the tempo of the game, running the offense and creating shots for himself and his teammates. NBA rules prohibiting handchecking by defenders has placed a premium on point guards who can break down the defense by driving into the paint. This has led to a influx of blazing ballhandlers who comprise the most impressive crop of playmakers at the position since the early 90’s, when Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway, Mark Price, John Stockton and Terry Porter were running the show.

Here’s my list of the top ten point guards in the NBA. Let me know what you think.

10) Stephen Curry

Ultimately, the Warriors will trade either Curry or Monta Ellis, but for now Steph’s running the point. He’s a shooter first, though his decision making is sharp for somebody who’s still learning the position. After Nash, he’s the best shooting point guard in the league, connecting on 43% of attempts from behind the arc and over 90% from the line. His achilles heel is defense, where teams feast on him with the pick and roll.

9) Raymond Felton

Felton has taken his game to a new level during his first season in the Big Apple, averaging career highs of 17.5 points and 8.9 assists per game. He’s developed strong chemistry with Amar’e on the pick and roll and has hit several big shots down the stretch of tight games. However, his biggest contribution to the Knicks is his fierce competitiveness, which has breathed life into the once moribund franchise.

8)  Chauncey Billups

At 35 Billups is on the downside of his career, posting his lowest point and assist numbers since the 2001-2002 season. Still, there’s no point guard I’d rather have with the ball in the closing seconds of a tie game than Mr. Big Shot.  The former Piston runs the Nuggets offense with controlled efficiency, rarely turning the ball over. He has a great feel for who to feed it to and when to look for his own shot.

7) Tony Parker

There’s no greater indication of the depth at the point guard position than Parker’s ranking on this list. The 2007 NBA Finals MVP has guided a resurgent Spurs team to the best record in the league. His quickness makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing teams and he’s significantly improved his outside shot over the years in order to keep defenders honest.

6) Steve Nash

Nash, who turns 37 in a couple of weeks has lost a step or two and is a liability on defense. But if you think he’s no longer an elite point guard just take a look at the Suns roster and you’ll realize it’s remarkable that he has them hovering around .500. He’s beating guys 15 years his junior off the dribble and is second in the league in assists. I’ll never understand why he’s not mentioned as one of the all-time great shooters.

5) Rajon Rondo

Let’s get one thing straight, it’s the “Big Four” in Boston. On a team with three future Hall of Famers, Rondo is arguably the most valuable player. He’s become the maestro of the Celtics offense, serving up a league-leading 12.9 assists per game and is a disruptive force on the defensive end, wreaking havoc with his long arms and quick hands. If only he had a jump shot.

4) Russell Westbrook

Kevin Durant has found his Robin. Westbrook has emerged as a bona fide star in his third season, averaging 22.5 points, 8.4 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals a game. He’s not a traditional point guard, but he uses his spectacular athleticism to make plays. Well worth the price of admission, he’ll blow your mind at least once every game. In order to take his game to the next level he needs to work on his three point range and shot selection. 

3) Derrick Rose

Rose may be number one on this list in a couple years. Nobody is quicker with the ball and he throws down like a mini Blake Griffin. He’s also improved his three point shooting from 27% last season to 38% this year. D-Rose has the Bulls in contention for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference despite injuries to Boozer and Noah and is a leading MVP candidate at the midway point.

2) Deron Williams

D-Will is the most underrated player in the game. He’s one of the top ten ballers in the world and has no weaknesses on the court. He’s the perfect fit for Jerry Sloan’s motion offense, with the speed to turn the corner on the pick and roll and size (6’3) and upper body strength to finish around the rim. If his man slides under the screen he consistently knocks down the outside jump shot.

1) Chris Paul

CP3 is masterful at controlling the tempo. He keeps defenses on their heels by abruptly shifting gears and never turns the ball over. The Hornets star became the first player to lead the league in both assists and steals in back-to-back seasons in ’07-’08, ’08-’09 and is first in steals again this season. After missing much of last season with a knee injury he’s back in top form and has New Orleans riding a 10 game winning streak.

Honorable Mentions:

Baron Davis – Could be top five on this list, if only he gave a damn.

Brandon Jennings – Injury has prevented him from taking the next step after a stellar rookie season.

Devin Harris – Exceptionally quick on both ends of the floor, he just needs some quality players around him.

Jason Kidd – Still racking up the assists on one of the best teams in the league, but is too slow to guard anybody.

Jameer Nelson – He seems to have taken a step backwards after 2007-2008 all-star campaign and now he’s losing minutes to Arenas.

John Wall – He needs a little experience to make the list and a jump shot to climb it.

Media Deprivation Mode

by Paul Knepper

It hurts. Oh man does it hurt. I try to block it out by delving into a book or one of life’s many mundane daily activities, but every few minutes it pops up again.

I’m talking about the Jets loss to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.  Sometimes it’s the image of a certain play which creeps into my head, like Sanchez’s fumble and the ensuing touchdown late in the first half or L.T. getting stuffed at the one yard line on fourth down. Other times I’m overwhelmed by an existential thought, like there are only so many times in my life that the Jets will get that close to the Super Bowl again.

It’s not the thought itself that hurts. It’s what follows. Like Alex in A Clockwork Orange when exposed to violent images, a sick feeling comes over me. It’s difficult to describe, but every die hard fan knows what I mean. My stomach feels queasy and my knees get weak. My heart aches and the features on my face involuntarily scrunch together, like an addict jonesing for his next hit. I desperately want that feeling to disappear. I desperately want to forget.

But the reminders are everywhere. People talk about it around the water cooler at work. Some of my “friends” fan the flames with sarcastic comments. Other friends and family members attempt to be supportive by offering up a cliche like “It was a great season” or “They’ll be back next year” when all they’re really doing is feeding the sickness.

However, the greatest irritation is caused by the ubiquitous sports media. The Jets loss to the Steelers is the lead story in every local newspaper, national sports television and radio show and sports website. In order to truly avoid the sickness I must go into complete media deprivation mode. For a sports junkie like myself that’s easier said than done.

I typically start my day by watching Sportscenter and checking ESPN.com for any developments in the sports world since I went to sleep the night before. During the subway ride to work and several other times throughout the day I check Twitter to see what my favorite sports reporters and athletes are writing about. While walking from the subway to the office I pass several bodegas with the headlines of the New York Post, Daily News and New York Times prominently displayed in the window. Then I check ESPN.com and SI.com at least every half hour to see if there’s any breaking news. The first thing I do when I get home is watch PTI, usually followed by Sportscenter or another sports news program later in the evening.

By Wednesday it will appear as if the threats have died down, but I know better. A second wave of media attacks will be launched. Sports Illustrated hits the newsstands, its cover almost certain to include a shot from the Jets game. Inside the NFL and other weekly sports shows will bombard the airwaves. If I’m not careful I can fall victim to a near vomit inducing segment of Plays of the Week on Sportscenter a full week after the tragic loss.

Media deprivation mode requires significant changes to my daily routine. I stare at the ground as I walk down the street, overdose on CNN  and crappy reality shows and start tweaking from a lack of tweeting. Before long I’m completely out of sorts, leaving me vulnerable to unwanted intrusions by virulent thoughts about Schottenheimer’s play calling and why the refs called a personal foul on Eric Smith, but not on James Harrison when he dove into Sanchez after Sanchez slid to the ground.

And like that the sickness is back. My eyes peeled wide open, vivid images of missed tackles and dropped passes thrust before them. And it hurts. Oh man does it hurt.

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