Tuesday, March 1, 2011

At least we're not Detroit

"So a guy walks into a psychiatrist's office with Saran Wrap pants..."

Thanks to last week’s trade with the Clippers for Baron Davis and more importantly an unprotected draft pick, the Cavaliers finally seem to have some direction in what had been a season in purgatory.

You could argue as some gloomy national scribes have about Davis’s cancerous locker room presence as well as an upcoming NBA draft deemed to be the worst in years, but naysayers aside and as awful as this season has been, at least the franchise has some ever-so-tiny bit of momentum going forward.

If you want to feel better about the Cavs in the meantime, train your tired eyes north, past Lake Erie and to the Palace at Auburn Hills. There plays a team in worse straits, arguably far worse, than Cleveland's. The once proud Pistons, a club that hosted a Larry O'Brien trophy not long ago, are now dealing with an alleged player revolt by a roster of over-the-hill veterans.

There’s even a Cleveland connection here, as Detroit head coach John Kuester, a former Cavaliers assistant, is at the center of the apparent mutiny spearheaded by Rip Hamilton, who, according to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, upbraided Kuester as “nothing more than a career assistant coach” during a recent practice. Hamilton further turned the screws on Pistons’ brass by reportedly nixing a trade that would have sent him to Cleveland, if briefly, followed by a likely buyout and a possible championship run with a team like Chicago or Boston.

The ugliness culminated in a supposed shootaround boycott that resulted in a half-dozen Pistons’ players dressed comfortably in warmups during a game at Philadelphia. When Kuester was ejected from that same game, these players could be seen smiling from their place on the bench.

My long-winded intro begs the question: What the hell happened to the Pistons, a franchise built on the tenets of team play, toughness and selflessness?

Thanks to our good friend Mr. Hindsight, we can see the mistakes that were made. Let’s look past drafting Darko Milicic, who has one more ring than both Carmelo Anthony and That Guy in Miami (TGiM). What cannot be ignored, at least after the fact, is the Chauncey Billups-Allen Iverson trade, a move that freed up cap space for the signings of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, two of the supposed gems of the 2009 free agent class who have not lived up to their combined $95.7 million contracts.

Basically, the Pistons are probably a year or two from even being at the point where they can blow things up. The recent rebellion and inevitable coaching change are further exacerbated by an ownership turnover that has yet to be completed, meaning no significant moves with the roster can happen until a new chief is in place.

Feel better, C-town? OK, probably not. I cannot find it even in my bitter heart to be happy with the Pistons’ disintegration. Sure, there was Rick Mahorn’s elbow connecting with Mark Price’s head those many years ago, and more recently Rasheed Wallace making Zydrunas Ilgauskas bleed like he was Mick Foley in a Hell in a Cell match, but Detroit is a city “like us;” a struggling manufacturing town looking to regain some pride within the slow throes of economic agony and a football team just as bad as ours.

I think of the riot scene from the end of “Do the Right Thing” when the Korean grocer runs up to one of the rioters and says, “Me, you...we same!!” That’s Cleveland’s and Detroit’s relationship right there.

Still, if you need an elixir to ease the ache of the post-That Guy era, just remember this calming thought: “At least we’re not Detroit.”