First off, I'm all for adding Chris Webber to the mix.
As a team, the Pistons were looking fairly mediocre over the first 30-something games of the '07 campaign. Convincing wins over teams like Dallas, Houston, and the Lakers were frustratingly balanced by losses to the Blazers, Bobcats, and Knicks. A move had to be made -- if not to increase wins, then at least to slow the erosion of the Palace faithful.
Admittedly, Webber brings that excitement; he makes asses meet seats. He was a member of Michigan's most revered college basketball team. He's put up Hall-of-Fame numbers, if not quite a Hall-of-Fame career. And while he isn't dating Tyra Banks anymore, he once did -- and that's more than enough for me.
And did you know that he was from Detroit? (Over the past week, Webber's Detroit-ness has been hyped at Bettis-like proportions.)
In short, Webber joining the Pistons makes sense for every off-the-court reason you could think of. And while it remains to be seen whether the match works on the floor, there's at least a new storyline in town during the dog days of February and March.
That said, lost amidst all the buzz is the downfall of Nazr Mohammed. Mohammed -- who is not long for the Pistons after his recent outburst -- has performed exactly as should have been expected when he was sucked into the vacuum created by Ben Wallace's exit. In almost 19 minutes per game as a Piston, Mohammed's reached a high-water mark in shooting percentage (56%) and has hovered around his career averages in points (7.0), boards (5.4), and blocks (1.0). So... when given about the same minutes he received as a reserve for San Antonio, Nazr has put up close to the same numbers (if not a little better). Well who the hell saw that coming?!
If I wanted to be an alarmist, I could constuct a very good argument that the Pistons would have been better off giving Mohammed the chance to play those extended minutes that will soon go to Webber, rather than shaking up their lineup for another offensively-oriented big man. I'm not a huge proponent of the "per 48" stat, but compare Nazr's stats this season to Webber's '05-06 Philly stats (those that we Piston fans hope to Jebus he replicates in Blue):
Mohammed: 17.8 points, 13.7 boards, 2.5 blocks, 56% shooting
Webber: 25.1 points, 12.3 boards, 1 block, 43% shooting
Nazr is not as offensively talented as Chris Webber. No revelation there. Given my hesitations about relying on the "per-48", I'm not ready to say that the above is definitive proof of anything. But the numbers do suggest that Nazr does more of the defensive dirty work than Webber, and he does it in relative obscurity. With a big man rotation of Webber, 'Sheed, Dyess, et al, Mohammed's skill set would seem the be the least duplicative -- so why then is he the odd man out?
Perhaps Nazr's obscurity is his fatal flaw. When Ben Wallace left the Pistons for Chicago's cash, stats alone were not going to fill the hole for Piston fans. Whoever bore the burden of succeeding Ben would have to fill the personality void, as well as mitigate any damage from the talent dropoff. For all of Nazr's halfway decent measureables, it was the afro-sporting, scowling, goin' to work, sledge hammer swinging, 'Ultimate Warrior' persona that he didn't bring to the table. And without that, he was doomed to fail from the beginning -- especially when a flashier (and dirt cheap) alternative presented itself 30 games into a tepid season.
Now enters Webber, he of the aforementioned Detroit ties. He's the big man on campus again, famous more for what he was than for what he currently is. And while Webber may not be the hardhat wearing type, he possesses the smile, the flash, and the pedigree to steer excitement back towards the "Four All-Stars! 70-wins! Best starting five in the league!" peak of 2006. Webber has seemingly already converted his teammates:
"I already thought about that," point guard Chauncey Billups said. "Once we can get going [with Chris Webber in the Pistons' starting lineup], I do believe we're going to have the best starting five in the world."
"Yes sir," [Rip] Hamilton said, of course. "That's going to be great. When Chris gets acclimated with us, I definitely feel that we're going to have the best starting five."
The implication of the above, of course, being that with Nazr they had ceased being the top starting five. That's gotta sting a bit. But hey, if Chauncey and Rip feel that way, then who am I to argue, right?
Still, there are some questions that I'd like answered before Nazr is shipped, stamped with the "just didn't work out" label.
I'm concerned that the Pistons will find themselves, come April, May, or June, searching for a hardhat guy. Will a then-38 year old Dale Davis fit the bill? Can Jason Maxiell morph into a rebounder? Will Antonio McDyess' recent surge continue into the postseason?
Adding Webber has the potential to solve a number of the Pistons' problems -- low post scoring, overall team motivation, relieving 'Sheed of constant double teams, etc. -- but he presently only guarantees a solution for one: fan apathy. If the Pistons are striving to be more than a sacrificial lamb in the NBA finals, additions and subtractions will need to be evaluated. If I were to bet on it, I'd say that Joe's next transaction will have just as great or greater an impact on the Pistons' chances as the addition of Webber. With fans' full attention back on this team, I'm crossing my fingers in hopes that the next move is a measureable improvement.
With C-Webb in -- and Nazr out -- Pistons are NBA's fab 5 [Detroit Free Press]