Thursday, February 26, 2009

Knee Jerks: Curry's A Dead Man Walking? Sharks Are Toothless? The End Of Talk Radio As We Knew It?

OK, time to strap on your seatbelts and place your trays in the upright position. It's Thursday, and that means Jerkosity reigns!

It's "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al", my weekly gabfest with the MVP of the MVN, Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience.

This week's episode contains more hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing about the Pistons; bouquets for the Red Wings (although Al squirms re: the goaltending); some Lions chit-chat; the mourning of the loss of WDFN; and the usual suspects: Word Association and Jerk of the Week.

Remember, the oxygen masks will drop down if this chat gets too turbulent....


Eno: Welcome to Thursday and another Jerk Adventure! It's "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al." I'm Eno, aka The Journalist, and he's Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot. I should note that we are chatting around the witching hour (we usually do this chat during the lunch hour). How are you under this pale moonlight, Big Al?

Big Al: Recovering from my misadventures at U-M Hospital today, avoiding vampires and wondering what in the _____ has happened to our Detroit Pistons! The Pistons are a good place for us to start, as their death spiral into NBA irrelevance has accelerated. They are in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, quite likely to be an 11-game streak thanks to their brutal schedule. What happened?!

Eno: Allen Iverson happened. Yes, I pretty much blamed everything on A.I. over at OOB, just a few weeks after I blamed everything on Joe Dumars. But the gist of my rant was this: you can't win with Iverson; it's proven. He'll never win a 'ship, as Rasheed Wallace calls them. There are many culpable folks, but Iverson takes the cake, in my opinion. Oh, that and this Swiss cheese defense that has NEVER been attached to the Pistons during the Dumars Era. Your take, Mr. Big Shot?

Big Al: You're right; it turns out Iverson blended with the Pistons like oil does with water: not at all. In the long run, trading for Iverson will turn out to be the right thing for Dumars to do, as he can turn his Pistons around quickly with the cap space he'll have available. But when you also factor in an inexperienced head coach who is in over his head, a rapidly aging Rasheed Wallace (who was T'd up twice more Wednesday night, leaving him suspended for Friday's game), and the growing pains of Rodney Stuckey, who has hit the proverbial wall, you’re left as a lottery team. But it all hinges on Iverson, who can't get out of Detroit soon enough...for his sake, and for that matter, the Pistons’.

Eno: Geez, we talk about these guys every week, Al, and every week the talk gets more and more depressing. They gave it a good shot in New Orleans Wednesday night, but you just KNEW they'd lose. It used to be that you just KNEW they'd pull it out and win. And every night, in "crunch time", Iverson's cheeks are on the bench. I mean, come on!

Big Al: Well, Iverson supposedly had "back spasms" in New Orleans, but it's obvious to anyone the Pistons are a better team with The Answer on the bench. Obvious to everyone except [coach] Michael Curry. Since we're slinging around blame, let's sling some toward Curry. He's been awful as a head coach. He actually played only seven men the other night...another loss, by the way. Why in the Hell is Curry shortening the bench in FEBRUARY? I know Dumars is giving Curry an extra long leash as Curry was hand-picked to run the Pistons, and it doesn't make much sense to fire Curry at this point. But geez, the man doesn't have a clue!

Eno: Joe D missed with this dart, big time. He didn't even hit the dart board. This might be placed next to the pick of Darko Milicic in Dumars's Hall of Shame. I liked the fact that Curry was a no-name player when he played, but I also expressed reservations. I didn't think a rookie coach was good for this bunch. I think the Pistons players like him, but don't really have confidence in him. Rip Hamilton made some cryptic comments the other night about all the changes. He says he went to the bench to help the team, but was quick to point out that since he's done so, the Pistons have kept losing. Dumars isn't shy, typically, to admit when he's blundered. Let's see if he admits he was wrong with the Curry hire.

Big Al: That's been Dumars's saving grace; he realizes when he has made a mistake, and quickly corrects it, not compounding it by refusing to admit his mistake in judgment. He's done it with players, but will he do it with a coach? It seems to me Dumars has fired coaches mostly because owner Bill Davidson didn't like them. Mr. D thought Rick Carlisle wasn't personable enough; Larry Brown wasn’t respectful enough toward the franchise thanks to his constantly wandering eye; and Flip Saunders just plain didn't win a title with a talented, yet headstrong and filled-with-head cases roster. So you have to wonder what Davidson is thinking about with Curry leading his prized team into the lottery. Who ultimately makes the call, Joe D or Davidson?

Eno: Wow. Good question. You're right that Mr. Davidson had no respect for Larry Brown at the end, and didn't have all that much good to say about Flip Saunders, either. You don't get a second chance, it seems, to impress Davidson. I think that Dumars clearly has the owner's ear, though, and unless Curry does something heinous, I'd say that Davidson would let Dumars make that call. Regardless, looks like the Pistons' coaching carousel will soon be spinning again. I've said it before – just last week at OOB – and I'll ask you: what do you think of COACH Joe Dumars? And I'm not joking around here.

Big Al: I know you've been calling for Dumars’s leaving the owner's suite and heading down to the sidelines for quite some time now. It does make sense, as who better to run the team than the man who built it? But as good as a GM that Dumars has been (even with the occasional mistake in drafting, Dumars has been one the best GMs in the NBA), he's never been a coach at any level. Dumars took the time to learn the general manager's job before taking over the Pistons. He wouldn't have that luxury if he took over the reins of the Pistons. Coaching from afar is much easier than being in the locker room day in, day out, and riding herd over twelve millionaires on a nightly basis. Let's also not forget coaches are hired to be fired. If Joe D did take over the team, I'd have to believe it'd be an interim thing, not long-term. But stranger things have happened, right?

Eno: Indeed. OK, now that I'm totally depressed, let's lift my spirits some and talk Red Wings. They slapped the San Jose Sharks Wednesday night. What, if anything, can you cull from that game, as it's still only February?

Big Al: That the Red Wings are still the team to beat in the Western Conference. Period. No, exclamation point! I think the Sharks know it too. They should after Wednesday night.

Eno: If those two teams meet in the playoffs – probably in the Conference Finals – it will be a potentially legendary series. One of those series where home ice might not mean much, but oh, don't you want Game 7 in your own building? Henrik Zetterberg has seemed to up his play since signing that 12-year contract. What do you make of Z's play this season, and who do you think is the best candidate, right now, to be the guy who puts the team on his back, a la Johan Franzen last spring?

Big Al: I'd love to see a Wings-Sharks series as well. It'd be EPIC. As for who'll be THE GUY? If I were a betting man (well, if I were STILL a betting man, that is) I'd say Pavel Datsyuk. He's become a stellar playoff performer over the past few seasons, and it could be argued that he's been the Wings' best overall player this season. He's definitely their best two-way player. In a Game 7, with everything on the line, I want Datsyuk on the ice as much as humanly possible. What say the Eno-meister?

Eno: I think Marian Hossa, I really do. The man has what they like to call "puck luck"; everything he touches seems to go into the net. OK, [defenseman] Brad Stuart returned, which is a big boon. Do the overall defense and the penalty killing worry you, or no?

Big Al: Some, but not enough to lose sleep over. Could the overall team D and the PK be better? Sure. But their track record says it shouldn't be an issue when the Stanley Cup playoffs come 'round. One of these days, Nick Lidstrom is going to lose a step, and his smarts won't be able to make up for it. But that day isn't here, and I'm not going to get too worked up over a somewhat looser defense, and an inconsistent kill. I'm much more worried about the goaltending. Yes, I'm aware that worrying about goaltending is in every Red Wings fan’s blood, but Mike Babcock sitting Chris Osgood for several days to get his head together has to be a concern, no? It's not as if Jimmy Howard stood out as a replacement.

Eno: Well, yes, but this could be one of those things we look back at in June and say, "Why were we so worried? Silly bloggers, we!" But I still think Ozzie will turn it up in the post-season. He, as he says, "Knows how to win playoff games." And he does. The guy has been like a Phoenix; he's risen so many times. It says here that he'll do so again, and in the nick of time. Then again, he could be finished. Just kidding!

Big Al: Are you really kidding? It's beginning to look as if this may be Ty Conklin's team. He's 9-3 in his last 12 starts, and has won his last five [including his last twelve at home]. It's definitely not Howard's team, as he is no longer the heir apparent in goal if this past week's audition is any indication. Osgood is one bad playoff game away from being pulled (I agree the Wings start with Osgood in goal, unless he totally goes in the tank over the final weeks of the regular season). I'm going to pound this like you pound Dumars coaching the Pistons. Conklin is the man to take the Wings deep into the playoffs.

Eno: Hey, you might be right, Mr. Big Shot! OK, what's on that Teflon brain of yours?

Big Al: This week [quarterback] Dan Orlovsky announced he would not return to the Lions next season, even though the team wanted him back. Dan-O mentioned one of the reasons he was leaving was that the coaching staff has already determined Daunte Culpepper will be the starter in 2009. Mike Furrey also said as much when he was released: Culpepper is the Number One. The Lions deny any such thing, claiming training camp will be an open competition. But all signs point to Culpepper. The reworked contract; the near certainty that Jon Kitna will be cut; the lack of a true standout QB in the upcoming draft. Is Culpepper the solution under center, or a Band-Aid on a gaping wound?

Eno: The latter. Orlovsky is not – repeat, NOT – going to be a star in the NFL, so good riddance, I say. Culpepper is a good stopgap until the next QB is groomed. I think with an entire off-season and a training camp and with new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan on board, you'll see improvement in Cully's play. Now, having said that, Daunte's lost a lot of mobility so you gotta block for the guy. The O-line must be repaired. Where is that on the shopping list? Right behind milk and eggs, or down further, near the M&Ms and Fritos?

Big Al: So it sounds as if you are on the "draft a left tackle" bandwagon. In the end, I have a feeling that's the direction the Lions go. There's no clear-cut Number One, and taking a highly rated tackle is the safest play for [coach] Jim Schwartz and [GM] Martin Mayhew. Though Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks, in his latest mock draft (which I'm already sick to death of; everyone and their sister does a mock draft anymore) has the Lions drafting a LB, Aaron Curry of Wake Forrest, with the first overall pick. As bad as the Detroit defense was in '08, I can't argue with going defense early and often in the draft. As for Culpepper, I think he's going to start...because there is no one else. Sad to say, but true. Drew Stanton becomes more marginalized by the day.


Eno: Poor Drew. OK, how about some WordAss?

Big Al: Works for me. Time, and WORDASS, waits for no man. Let's start with the pitcher the Tigers are pinning many of their hopes for contending upon, who also got the win in Wednesday's spring training opener, Justin Verlander.

Eno: You know my take: the Tigers' super ball. BIG bounce back season in '09. Come on, that was a fat pitch! Give me some of your breaking stuff.

Big Al: Hey, I was just warming up! OK, let's go with the man who won the primary round in the special mayoral election in Detroit, who thinks he can save city from itself, who also saved the Pistons (again with the Pistons!) from total irrelevancy in the 1960s and ‘70s in his Hall of Fame career, Dave Bing.

Eno: If Bing had run eight years ago he'd have been a lock. His armor has been a little tarnished since then, but I think he'll be the new Detroit mayor.

Big Al: I agree, and the city couldn't ask for a more upstanding citizen. After the latest city council debacle, turning down the state's proposal to expand and renovate Cobo Hall, Detroit needs someone with common sense running the city. Bing may be just the man to do it...or he may be just G** damn crazy! But I digress. Next, let's try a current Piston, someone who must be kicking himself for returning to a sinking ship, Antonio McDyess.

Eno: The NBA's Tragic Figure. You could pen his biography and folks would say it was a work of fiction. Talk about a tortured, tormented career. He also has this fetish for coming off the bench, which just adds to his legend.

Big Al: Some of the NBA's elite teams badly wanted Dice, but he had what turned out to be a misplaced sense of loyalty to Detroit. The man deserves to win a title before his career ends. Dice is going to have to leave Detroit in order to do so. One more. The looney guard who can't get back on the floor with the New York Knicks, but may end up on, of all teams, the Celtics – the ever mercurial Stephon Marbury.

Eno: The Walking Soap Opera. OK, here's one for you to start: Tiger Woods.

Big Al: No kidding about Marbury: he needs his own reality show. Tiger Woods? The PGA, and televised golf, is relevant again! Tiger Woods can even make match play interesting.

Eno: Hear, hear! OK, next: I say Joel Zumaya and YOU say...

Big Al: Look out for falling boxes! No...Let's play Guitar Hero! Seriously, I say...a difference maker, when healthy, of course.

Eno: Of course. One more: Free agent DT Albert Haynesworth.

Big Al: He's a pipe dream. Not even The Schwartz can convince one of the NFL's top defenders to come to Detroit as a free agent. He's going to want the sun, moon and Hubble Telescope to sign anyway, Haynesworth is going to be far too rich for the Lions' blood.

Eno: You're right, oh sage one. What else do you have in the hopper before we do Jerk of the Week?

Big Al: A couple of things, but something's really been bothering me, big time. I used to listen to Detroit sports talk radio most of the day, switching between WDFN and WXYT, depending on the topic du jour. If XYT's Mike Valenti said something moronic (which happens all too frequently), I used to be able to hit the radio dial, and tune into Stoney and Wojo on DFN. But with the demise of DFN, we fans are left with no choice but to listen to XYT. And the staff there realizes it, if you go by the total lack of sports content on their shows as of late. I’m finding myself turning off the radio altogether, and find something far more stimulating streaming online. I HATE what's happened to sports talk in the D. It's a damn shame.

Eno: Bring back Ron Cameron!! Yeah, I know what you mean; competition is always good for the consumer. Have WE hurt that? I mean, us bloggers? Did we cut into that pie at all?

Big Al: I'd much rather read the blogs and listen to the podcasts of passionate sports bloggers than what's become rote, by the numbers, local radio. Big media is changing, maybe even dying, thanks to folks like us. And that's a good thing. Are you ready to name your Jerk of the Week?


Eno: I am. It's a guy named Wayne Burdick, a Chicago Bears fan who got hit with a $28,000 wireless bill after watching the Bears beat the Lions, 27-23, from his cruise ship. He used Slingbox and then the fun began. Turns out he was overcharged, but to put yourself at risk – watching Bears/Lions?

Big Al: I think he should play the temporarily insane card! My JotW is the head coach of the Michigan Basketball Wolverines, John Beilein. Yes, I have often sung his praises, but he may have shot himself in the foot, and cost his team an NCAA tournament berth, by benching Manny Harris for the entire OT in a bad loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes. Harris was having an off game, but to keep your best player off the floor in OT, saying he "didn't look fresh", was not a smart move. Harris could have been the difference in the game, if given the chance. I have a bad feeling the Iowa loss may end up being what keeps Michigan out of the NCAA tourney.

Eno: It's a fine line, at the college level, between coaching and teaching, if you know what I mean. Hey, even the greats have appeared on JOTW – haven’t they? OK, my friend, it was great fun. I can tell by the wee hour of the morning that it's time to shut it down. Thanks to this unusual hour of chat, this week's TKJ will arrive later in the day than usual. Think there'll be a revolt?

Big Al: Our readers are already revolting... Sorry, I couldn't resist. Thanks for staying up late into the night with me, Eno, and I'll see you at a much earlier Jerk time, but same Jerk channel, next week!

Eno: Nice zinger! You bet!!

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