Editor's note: DBB is a community, not just a blog, so it's not surprising that the most interesting analysis is usually found in the comments. But starting soon, the front page will get a little smarter: I'm happy to announce that Ben Gulker, a longtime commenter who's clearly helped shape DBB's unique culture, has agreed to join our masthead, which is a fancy way of saying that we've handed him the keys to share his trademark insight and perspective anywhere on the site. Welcome aboard, Ben! -- Matt Watson
Last season, after the trade deadline passed, the proverbial gas tank on the official side of DBB ran dry. It was a soul crushing season to watch, but two things made it bearable. 1) Greg Monroe and 2) the DBB community. After the trade deadline, the regulars took over game previews, recaps and the kind of things the guys with titles were supposed to do. Despite the horrible season, it was one of the most insightful, funny and entertaining stretches I've experienced on this site.
It makes sense to give the community a greater impact on DBB's official column, and today marks the beginning of that as Ben Gulker becomes a featured contributor. If you've read Pistons By the Numbers, Ben's personal blog on the Detroit Pistons, or if you've read his comments, you likely know what Ben will bring to the table here. I, for one, welcome our new Gurks overlord.
Just a note before we dive in to figuring out just who this BRGulker guy is anyway-- as the season progresses, we welcome more official involvement in previews, recaps, analysis and content series. Who knows when or if this season will actually progress, but if you want to be considered for the next slot or two when they open, email Matt or Packey to chat it out.
MP: Your addiction to the sport of basketball borders on insane-- which makes you pretty much the average DBB'er. When you're not basketball-ing, what other addictions do you enjoy?
BRG: I still find time to lace them up now and again and do my best Ben Gordon impersonation in pick up games. I've always been a gamer, starting with ColecoVision as a kid, and currently on the Xbox 360. I thoroughly enjoy headshotting twelve year olds on Call of Duty to relieve the stress of a long day. This summer, I've rediscovered my love-hate relationship with the game of golf, and I'm becoming an avid runner.
MP: It's a faux-pas to talk about religion and/or politics amongst friends... and on a sports blog. But since faith is a core part of who you are, and since basketball fanhood certainly has a faith element to it, how would you rationalize your following of this team to someone wholly uninitiated to this franchise's identity? Preach on, brother Gulker. What made you fall in love with Detroit basketball?
BRG: Thank you for providing the proverbial soapbox, brother MP. Without getting overly philosophical about it, I agree that there are similarities between faith and fanhood. Like my faith, I was born into Piston fanhood. And like my faith, my Piston fanhood has been tested of late (My JoD, my JoD, why hast thou forsaken me?). As a child of the 80's, I grew up during the Bad Boy era, obviously one of the most successful stretches in Piston history. But I also lived through the teal era, the resurgence during the Going to Work years, and of course, the current struggles. But I'm still a fan. Here's why.
When they have been at their best, the Detroit Pistons have embodied many of the qualities and characteristics that are dear to me, and to many others who count themselves among the faithful. At their best, the Pistons resonate with anyone who has ever worked hard to realize their dreams, because the Pistons have taken pride in going to work and representing their fan base. Nothing has been handed to the Pistons; they've worked hard for everything they've achieved. We Pistons fans can relate to that.
At their best, the Pistons have relished the underdog role and have taken a sense of pride in being overlooked and forgotten by the league and media. They've done the dirty work that sports writers don't notice, but it's paid off. Big.
At their best, the Pistons are bigger than any one person; the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The Pistons of the previous decade are the quintessential example. Not superstars, not individuals, but team.
At their best, the Pistons are a franchsie that represents second chances and redemption. Guys like Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess will forever be loved and remembered as Pistons who were re-born here, no matter what other colors they may wear when they retire.
So in a nutshell, the Pistons became my team by default, as a Michigan born kid in the 80's. But they stay my team into adulthood because the franchise embodies so much of what I value.
MP: When new players are drafted onto new teams, their choice in jersey numbers are often inspired by figures that precede them. The giants of basketball history often take an active approach in cultivating the generation that replaces them. How does this relate to your work as a mentor, and if you had to pick a jersey number of a player that inspires you as a mentor (not a basketball player or fan), whose jersey number would you chose?
BRG: This is the hardest question for me to answer, simply because I have so many choices. I have been so blessed with people who have invested in and mentored me.
I'm going with my high school basketball coach. For those who don't know, I was homeschooled up until 10th grade. After my freshman year, my parents and I decided that public school made the most sense for a variety of reasons, but basketball was the most important one for me. I went from a classroom of 4 to a school of 1,200. Deer in headlights, to put it mildly.
I was a good kid, but I was naïve, especially about what it meant to be as one player on a team. I was struggling to adjust socially. And in spite of being successful on the court, I had so much to learn about basketball at that level.
Almost once a week, my coach gave me a ride home from practice, not because he had to, but because he wanted to invest in me, to help me become the basketball player he knew I could be, and more importantly, to help me become the young man he knew I could be. One conversation in my driveway stands out in my memory and will forever. That conversation is one of the most formative conversations I've ever had and has shaped the man I am today.
I don his number every day, and every day I'm proud and humbled by it. My life's work has become about creating those types of mentoring experiences for young men and women - especially those who aren't as fortunate as I was to have so many people in their lives.
MP: Like me, you take a hard line on the bad decisions and poor character of this team's players and the management. It'd be very difficult for me to answer this, but I pose it to you in kind: if you had to name the upside of these following characters, what would it be? Joe Dumars, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, and Rodney Stuckey.
BRG: For Dumars, it's undoubtedly his imposing persona and reputation that commands respect all around the league. Very few players and/or executives have accomplished what he has, and everyone in the league knows it. I know how hard I have been on Dumars since being a DBB regular, so this may sound somewhat surprising. In my perfect world, Dumars would be retained as the face of the Pistons organization for these reasons, but his eyeball approach to player evaluation would be checked and balanced by a team of people who are experts in statistics and analytics. Obviously, the day-to-day of such an arrangement would be complex, but it would be the best possible situation for Pistons fans in my opinion.
For Charlie V, I think he's an all around good guy. If you connect with him via social media in any way, this becomes obvious quickly. He is a compassionate guy, and he acts on that compassion. He interacts with his fans with respect as fellow human beings. From a basketball perspective, I think he could be successful in a "Microwave" role for a team that doesn't have to rely on him for big minutes, defense, and rebounding every night. Dude's streaky, but when he's on, he's on. I hope he has the opportunity to play for a team that can exploit that skill set in a positive way, even if it isn't the Detroit Pistons.
I've been hard on Stuckey for a variety of reasons, but the fact remains that he was the best Piston guard last season, and he still has upside. In my view, the difference between Stuckey the role player and Stuckey the legitimate starter is a consistent three-point shot. If he can develop a three-point shot consistently around 33% - 35%, he could turn the proverbial corner.
Ben Gordon is a challenge for me. It's not that I don't enjoy watching him play. When he's playing well, he's a joy to watch, and he can be a valuable offensive tool in almost any system. I view his upside, at least as being a Detroit Piston is concerned, as being closely linked with the development or Stuckey and Knight. Without question, Stuckey has the physical tools to defend either guard position. If he can consistently guard opposing SGs, then Ben Gordon's defensive weaknesses can be masked, and he can be used more extensively. And thanks to The Boourns, DBB knows that Gordon is most successful in a high usage role. Obviously, there's a lot we don't know about Knight, but, if he does develop into a more "pure" point guard, that can only mean good things for Gordon's role in Detroit.
MP: If tomorrow, Tom Gores were to dismiss our current general manager and hire you instead, what kind of culture would you create for this team, and what sort of precedent would you create for transaction-level decisions? (by the latter, I mean to ask how you would evaluate new and existing players and the contracts you give them)
BRG: I would focus on two things with respect to culture, and both are linked to empowering the coaching staff. First, I would do everything in my role as GM to eliminate the culture of entitlement that has creeped into the locker room. I believe that the locker room is the coach's domain, and thus the coach carries the bulk of that weight. But I would make every effort to proactively support my coach and his or her decisions. And I would be proactive about it. I would seek out opportunities to praise my coach's decisions.
Second, I would focus on accountability, which is the flip side of the entitlement coin. We have had some interesting conversations on DBB about what this might look like contractually, and obviously, all of those ideas are preliminary and also contingent on the next collective bargaining agreement. Those qualifiers out of the way, I would explore options as it relates to performance clauses in player contracts. These are admittedly tricky and if done poorly can do more harm than good. Further, I would empower my coach to make personnel decisions based on performance, and my players would know that the coaching staff has my full support. In other words, if you're not performing, expect accountability.
DBB knows that I dig quality statistical analysis, and if I were GM, I would use every available tool at my disposal to evaluate talent and make transactions. I would use scouts to evaluate skills. I would use my own eyeballs to watch games and film. And I would hire experts to consult with me around the plethora of statistical tools that we now have at our disposal.
That holistic approach to evaluation would be inform a more strategic approach to personnel than we have seen in recent years and would undoubtedly establish certain precedents. First, players who excel at the little things, i.e., the non-scoring parts of the game that contribute to winning, would be valued in Detroit. Guys like Amir, Delfino, and Afflalo would likely still be Pistons, for example. Second and related to the first, I would focus on smaller contracts and value for the dollar in order to avoid overpaying. For example, if Stuckey is offered a contract at $9 million per annum, and I've got Bynum and Knight already locked in on the cheap, I'm going to let Stuckey walk (or match and trade, if possible) even if it hurts a little bit in the short term. Overpaying for good but not great players wouldn't continue to happen, and you would see the frugality that originally built the Going to Work Pistons make a comeback. Finally, I would be realistic and patient. Only one team wins the NBA championship each year, and you need superstars and some luck to get there. We've been short on both lately. Monroe's the closest thing we have to a star right now, and I have the next 7-10 years to build around him. The worst thing I could do is reach for players prematurely, especially if those players that aren't likely to become the players we need. The road to relevance and eventually contention is a long one and will require a long-term, patient strategy.
MP: In order of importance, how do these values matter to you with regard to how you think about NBA basketball? Morality. Objectivity. Locality (love for your home team vs. the other 29). Productivity (vs. complacence/phoning-it-in). Community (team vs. self). Sportsmanship.
MP: If you could remove one rule from the NBA playbook, what would it be? If you could add one rule, what would that be?
BRG: I think the NBA over-regulates defense because it thinks most fans, aka band wagon ass cats, only care about watching superstars play offense (of course, they might be right about that). It's hard to pick just one thing to eliminate. In no particular order, here are three. First, I would eliminate the majority of the rules that were instated in response to the Pistons beating the Lakers. Second, I would eliminate all restrictions on the types of defenses teams can play. You want to play Box and One on LeBron? Fine by me. If Miami's offense can't compensate, that should be on them. No more crutches for weak offenses and weak offensive schemes. Third, I would eliminate the "Hack a Shaq / Hack a Ben" rule for the last two minutes of NBA games. As much as I love you, Ben Wallace, if you can't make free throws, you deserve to be exploited.
One of my pet peeves about the NBA is how few teams consistently run set plays on sideline and baseline out of bounds plays. Countless opportunities are lost each season, and I cannot fathom why. Of course, you can't make a rule that remedy this. It's unenforceable and has way too much grey area, but if it were possible, that's what I'd like to see.
In general, I think the NBA has too many rules, so I won't advocate for a new one. Instead, I will propose a tweak to an existing one. Astute observers of elite level basketball players will note that NBA teams have twenty four seconds in which to attempt a field goal. Given that Point Guards generally take four to six seconds to walk (not run) the ball up the floor, that leaves eighteen or so seconds to run a set.
I would be very interested to see what the NBA would look like if the shot clock were extended. My reasoning is that eighteen seconds fosters quick hitters, as opposed to sets, and when sets are run, there isn't enough time for a Plan B.
What I would love to see is continued focus on consistency and equality in terms of enforcing travelling. The crab dribble does not belong in the game of basketball on any level. If you want to run through defenses with a ball in your hands, go play another sport.
MP: If you could Kanderize one player from Detroit Pistons history and make them able to play at their peak for the next ten years, whom would you choose?
BRG: Without question, Grant Hill.
If you look at what Hill accomplished pre-injury and then extrapolate that out over ten full seasons, not only are you talking about the most complete Piston players ever, you're talking about one of the most well-rounded, versatile, and productive players to every play the game of basketball.
And that's if we take him in only his prime. Hill's recovery from injury combined with his productivity and longevity after multiple injuries is an amazing accomplishment in and of itself.
MP: What is your favorite thing about the DetroitBadBoys content and community?
BRG: My favorite thing about DBB is the community. I've never been part of an online community that is as organic and diverse as this one. We literally have fans from all over the world who communicate about our shared passion here. Each commentor's handle isn't just a handle; it's a name that's connected to a person that we know and genuinely care about. We have inside jokes, epic game threads, and ridiculous memes that you can' find anywhere else. DBB isn't just another sports blog. It truly is a community of people who care about each other, not just Detroit Basketball.
And of course, the content is second to none. The thing that first attracted to me to DBB was the no nonsense commentary. There's no fluff to be found here. The ethos of the blog truly reflects the team after which it's named. DBB, its content, and its community has a chip on its shoulder that we inherited from the Laimbeer's, the Rodman's, the Mahorn's. DBB welcomes anyone, of course, but we will hold you and ourselves accountable. If I say something stupid, I'm going to get called on it, and I know that. And I love that.
MP: Who wins in a fight, Kwame Brown or Kwame Kilpatrick?
BRG: Inquiring minds will want to know: Are there knives involved? If so, are they cake knives?
If they are not cake knives, I'll give the edge to the cunning, conniving Kilpatrick. If they are cake knives, well, I think we all know the outcome.