Okay, so this started as a bulleted list, but I'm feeling a bit verbose...
- A tough night for Central Division rivals
- The Bulls dropped a home game to the Nets after leading the game by 18 points in the third quarter. (For those interested, yes, Jason Kidd still blows kisses at the free throw line... perhaps to his lawyer, who managed to flip the "abusive" label onto his 5'2" wife just in time for divorce proceedings.)
- The Cavaliers got a crash course in elite basketball, courtesy of the Phoenix Suns. Lebron James scored 34 points in the loss, 23 more than Drew Gooden, Cleveland's second leading scorer. You think Cleveland was upset that Webber didn't include their name in his 5?
- Webber to once again don Blue
Of the numerous articles in the Detroit area discussing the Webber-to-Detroit scenario, I think Keith Langlois of Pistons.com has penned the best (DBB coverage excluded, of course). He manages through his personal experience to capture both the mystique surrounding the youthful Webber and the potential benefits the Webber of today could offer. Here's a couple samples, but the entire article merits a read:
He’d turned 14 between the time of that TV special and that summer pickup game and he struck me as a young James Worthy - long and sinewy and spellbinding. He didn’t have Worthy’s feathery jump shot, but he had hands even Worthy would envy - one of the all-time greatest pair of hands in basketball, as it would turn out - and jaw-dropping explosion off the floor that not a handful of NBA big men in history possessed. I’ve never seen a guy dunk so fast and so ferociously that you’re not even sure the ball went through the hoop, though Jason Maxiell does a pretty good approximation of a young Webber dunking.
Well, a year ago he averaged 20.2 points and 9.9 rebounds - right at his career numbers. He does not have the mobility he once did, so he’s not a defensive plus any longer. But he’s still 6-foot-10, he’s still a solid 245 pounds and he still has an imposing reach. His knees have deteriorated but his touch has not. He won’t remind anyone of Ben Wallace, but given the paucity of interior scorers in the NBA, you sure wouldn’t pass on him because of his concerns over his defense.
- Ignorance is bliss
One gets the sense that the up-and-down season has the Pistons pannicking much less than the fanbase (myself included) these days. I'm sure there's frustration after dropping games to freaking Charlotte and the Rasheed/Flip Saunders dynamic could become problematic, but Saunders and Joe Dumars seem to have done a remarkable job of redefining the importance of the regular season following last season's gaudy win total. Look at Chauncey Billups' comments regarding his injured calf (courtesy of MLive):
"It hurts, it's tough, and it's frustrating," he said."But I'm not trying to rush back too soon. You want to get back as soon as you can, but I know and my teammates know that it's more important for me to be all the way back then come back too soon and get hurt even worse."
The focus is clearly on getting healthy and building a cohesive rotation by the postseason. That the Eastern Conference is so mediocre means the Pistons can afford to experiment with different combinations. They can afford to add a guy of Webber's caliber even if he isn't a need. They can afford to elevate and drop players from the rotation in search of the right combination. They can afford to send Sheed to the bench for a while. So long as by the 65-70 game point they have settled on a productive rotation, nursed their injured back to full strength, and squelched the majority of internal strife (remember, Ben Wallace's hissy fit in Orlando last season was in game #76), this team is capable of beating anyone in the league.
It is still a ways off, but it is conceivable that this year's team -- in apparent disarray thus far -- could experience a marked increase in level of play under the focus and intensity of the playoffs. From watching last year's team, you got the sense that the sameness -- same starting 5, same media praise, same fan adoration, same regular season winning formula -- might have precluded that team from finding another level of ball when everyone else stepped up their game. This year's team could surprise with the Miami formula...
Of course, these are the armchair ramblings of a amateur. But one can still hope, right?