Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Oh, the weather outside is... well, mild. At best. We've had--surprise, surprise--rain, with a few flurries amid the drops, but not enough to even dust the soggy ground. I do miss the snow, a bit, just not driving through it. Or taking shovel to walkways. Or cold fingers and cold toes and a cold... er--nose? There is just something very nostalgic about Christmas, the decorations, unwrapping presents, Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in "White Christmas" or even Bill Murray in "Scrooged."

What's not to like about "Oh, look Frank! A toaster!" BAM!

I had a great Christmas last year. This year was very cool, too, and I like the trend. I used to really suffer with depression during the Christmas season. No, not the clinical type, but just a reaction to the sort of reflection and introspection people tend to do when reminded of their past. Anyway, things have gotten progressively better, especially since we moved to Seattle. It isn't the mild weather, nor the west coast culture, or even our ever-improving financial situation (though I won't deny how helpful that is); no, it is a combination of the maturity of the children and a sense of place, if not purpose.

Since my accident, I've grown more and more at peace with my lack of a career. While I'm frustrated over not contributing to our household, the gradual acceptance of my situation has allowed me to concentrate on things I enjoy--childish or not. If Brenda is fine with bearing the weight of our combined financial situation, why should I care what other people think? I mean, honestly, I'm a firm believer in the stupidity of humanity. While I'm clearly part of that group (*shudders*), I'd like to think the mere fact I'm introspective enough to consider "the why" of things is enough to earn me slightly better than a D+ in the awareness contest. I wouldn't bank on better than a C-, mind you, but I think I'm passing.

So I've been able to enjoy more of the simple things, taking them for what they are worth without constantly considering what the "successful" people would think. The twins had to answer "what is successful?" in one of their classes recently, and I answered "self-sufficient and responsible" without giving it much thought. Well, I'm not self-sufficient--not even close. As a whole, Brenda and I are definitely both self-sufficent and responsible, but only through her excellent career.

Even last year, I was left feeling very disappointed in what I've done and accomplished. As time goes by, I've become more comfortable with the idea that we are partners, a pair. Yes, she earns far more than I'm capable of without going back to college. I'd be surprised if I could earn much better than a third of what she earns, even if I was mobile. More likely, I'd earn half that much, working part-time, and I'd be surprised if I cleared anything after the increase in our taxes and the expense of a second car.

I still feel obligated to explain my situation to people I meet. I mean, I know I'd look at myself and think "deadbeat" as an outsider. Maybe that's a good reason not to judge others, since we rarely understand another's situation as well as we see into our own lives. Whatever the case, I'm growing more content with being a stay-at-home dad, or simply opting for an "early retirement." I'd be very interested in a job that could work around my limitations, but I'm not holding my breath. There aren't a lot of work-at-home jobs out there, despite the ridiculous advertising. When I get my mobility back (the pain subsides to a tolerable level), I'll have to look at my options. I don't think I'll be jumping into the job market without a lot of consideration. As much as I want to contribute, I don't want to work for nothing--which is precisely what a typical part-time job would amount to after the increase in tax bracket and second car expense. Okay, if the second car is a 350Z or a 'Vette, I might be willing to take that hit to my free time. *Grins*

Some hobby nonsense? Really? Well, if you insist!

The Pistons are tearing up the NBA. They have the second best record, trailing only the Boston Celtics. The Celtics are the team that traded away a lot of young talent for three aging, but very talented, players--Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce. Actually, they had Pierce. They're playing guys that would be questionable backups at the point guard and center spot, but holding up well. Their bench is precariously thin, though they have a decent swingman in Posey. Anyway, Detroit played against the Celtics, on their home court, and came away with a two point win. While it was a closely contested game, I feel Boston will struggle in a seven game series--if they escape injuries to their three stars. Remove any one of those three players, and I suspect they'd be fighting for the bottom of the playoff berths.

In Pistons news--Rodney Stuckey, the rookie point guard drafted with the 15th pick, finally was cleared to play after breaking three bones in his left hand during the final pre-season game. His third game was a ten minute performance against the Nets. He shot three of seven, and earned an "and one" (free throw after a successful bucket despite a foul call) for seven points. He had two steals and one rebound. Most importantly, he had three assists and only one turnover. Now, this comes after a poor second game (not much scoring, though he did move the ball reasonably well) and a quick five minutes in his first game, but I'm very optimistic.

Dumars has made some very good moves. While other teams are gambling on aging stars (for example... how much Chicago spent on Ben Wallace), he has moved to get younger. The core of the Pistons is aging. Only Rip and Prince are reasonably young, and both have more games on their bodies than any other players in the NBA (outside of the other core players from the Pistons) in the last five years. He drafted Stuckey (at 15th), Afflalo (at 27th), and Sammy Mejia with their second round pick (57th).

Analysts considered Stuckey more of a shooting guard than point guard, but Dumar's had confidence he could run the offense. He was drafted higher than analysts expected him to go, originally listing him towards the bottom of the first round due to playing at a school (Eastern Washington) in a weak league (Big Sky Conference). After the summer games, he was widely considered to be worthy of a top 10 pick, if not a top 5 pick. It's too early to say how that'll play out, but every Piston fan is optimistic he'll be everything they hoped for.

Afflalo plays shooting guard, but has proven to be the most NBA-ready perimeter defender in the draft. He's able to guard both guard spots, as well as the small forward position despite being a modest 6'5" (same as Stuckey). He's also demonstrated superb decision making, and has filled in for Rip a few times this season already. I was concerned he would be a career roleplayer, but I'm not certain about that now. With a 27th pick (the bottom of the first round), a quality reserve/roleplayer is actually a sound draft pick... but his hardworking attitude and commitment to defense is going a long way towards making him look like another excellent choice.

Mejia, unfortunately, ended up waived to make room for a veteran (Ronald Dupree). I Mejia spent most of his time at the shooting guard spot, but at 6'7" he had the ability to play small forward, as well. While still somewhat raw, he showed a lot of promise, and I wouldn't be shocked to see him back with the Pistons in the future, or at least playing in the D League or European leagues.

The Pistons already had a few young guns lined up... Jason Maxiell, Amir Johnson, and Cheick Samb.

Maxiell--Mad Max--has been dubbed "The Putback King" on some ESPN highlights. He's an undersized power forward (6'7") who even spent some time at center (the spot he played in college). He trimmed down from 260 lbs. to about 230 lbs., and his leaping ability has show vast improvement. He's rebounding better, scoring on monster dunks, and even demonstrating a solid mid-range shot. He might not make sixth man of the year, but he's got a pretty solid lock on "most improved" player, and is certainly the most important big man off the bench for the Pistons.

Amir Johnson tore up the D League last year, in his second season. Unless the NBA reverses their age limit, he'll go down as the youngest player at the time of the draft. He was picked up with the 56th pick (very end of the draft), and has grown from a thin 6'9" to 6'11" and developed a post game. He's a superb shot blocker, good rebounder, and has the ability to dunk as well as score from beyond the arc. He's still learning, but the Pistons made a big commitment and signed him to a three year contract rumored to be $12m or so. He's not getting much time yet, but I'm still optimistic he'll become a dynamic player for the team.

Cheick Samb was drafted by the Lakers (2nd round pick), but traded to the Pistons for Maurice Evans. Samb is a 7'1" center that has only been playing basketball four or five years. He spent last year in the Spanish league, and the Pistons decided to sign him for two years and bring him over in the summer. He's already earned a bit of playing time, and got in two games in the D League (which he's elgible for this season and next). I'm sure they'll bring him along slowly, but he's a fantastic rebounder and shotblocker, that has a surprisingly smooth shot. He's a project, but an interesting one.

Dumars also made some nice trades and moves over the years. The Pistons are owed the Timberwolves second round pick next year, though I think there is some confusion about that (since I read they were trading their 2nd round pick to the Celtics). If that pick ends up in the Piston's hands, they'll likely get the very top of the second round, which is far more valuable than most second round picks typically are. They also are owed two second round picks from the Raptors for Carlos Delfino, though I have no idea when those will be in the Piston's hands.

He signed Flip Murray for $1.8m. Murray might not be the best player in the league, but he's a steal at $1.8m. He hasn't meshed perfectly with the Pistons, but at that cost he's a fantastic reserve, and a valuable trade asset (since his contract expires at the end of this season).

He signed Jarvis Hayes for a single year for the veteran's minimum. Hayes, as I've said before, is too young to really deserve his "injury prone" label. A single injury cost him part of two years (of his three year rookie contract). He was drafted at 10th in 2003, and while I don't think he's worthy of a lottery pick, he's not a wash, either. He's a good scorer, off the bench. His defense is mediocre, and he can't create his own shot, but he's got good size and is deadly accurate out past the arc. He has his ups and downs, as most reserve shooters do, but I think he's an asset.

Dumars also corrected his mistake in signing Nazr Mohammad for the mid-level exception ($5.5m to about $7m) over five years. Nazr was the best center left on the market after Big Ben sold out to Chicago, and I can't fault Dumars for signing him. Unfortunately, he hasn't played well with the Pistons, and they had his contract for what seemed like forever. Solution? The Pistons just traded him to the Bobcats for Primoz Brezec and Walter Hermann.

Brezec is a 7'1" center who was a double-double machine for his first two seasons with the Bobcats, then he saw his minutes dry up to virtually nothing. He's not the toughest center, but he rebounds reasonably well and has a silky release on his shot... a touch most big men don't have. He's got an expiring contract, too. If he works, great! If not, nothing lost :) Likewise, Hermann is an Argentinian 6'9" small forward/power forward. He's definitely a talented scorer, with range out the three point line. I would not be shocked if he challenges Hayes for minutes at small forward when he gets up to speed on Detroit's play. He's also a fairly good defender, and a real hustle player. While both contracts are expiring, Dumars essentially rid himself of a contract that was bloated (given Nazr's play time) and long while getting a good look at two players that interest him.

Brezec, Hermann, and Flip Murray could all be used in a trade for someone Dumar's thinks the team could really use, too, since most NBA teams are interested in cutting salary with expiring contracts.

All in all, I'm very impressed by his decisions. I don't fault him for drafting Darko. Darko isn't playing up to a #2 draft pick, but he's not a washout, either. He signed a good contract with the Grizzlies over the summer, and that's a pretty good sign other teams still see the potential, too. Furthermore, in the aftermath of the Big Ben betrayal, Dumars managed to secure something from his mistakes (Nazr into expiring contracts, and a #15 draft pick that became Stuckey). Stuckey may very well be a much better player than Darko... for less money, and a much, much better attitude.

Anyway, it's close to 2 AM, and I'm thinking about gettng back to playing "Folklore" on the PS3. I'm really enjoying the game, both the amazing graphics, interesting storyline, and fun combat. I've read several reviews that critique the story line. Well... I don't see anything wrong with it thus far. Perhaps I'll change my mind, but the very creative manner of telling the story is worth something, too. It's a good game, and the recent addition of an expansion pack (on the Playstation Store) is intriguing. So far, it's eating up all my time, but "Final Fantasy XII" and "Shadows of the Colossus" should both be great, too... if I ever get through "Final Fantasy X-2" and "Arc the Lad: Twilight of Spirits!" Oh, and we got the girls "Shrek the Third" (video game) for the Playstation 2 they have; even that looks fun, so I wouldn't write off trying their game ;)

Once again, Happy Holidays!

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