Wednesday, October 26, 2016

2016 Detroit Pistons Preview

The Detroit Pistons have the potential to be best team in Detroit this season. Unlike the Tigers and (possibly) the Lions, the Pistons have a chance to make the playoffs, and unlike the Red Wings they have a chance to go far. They are coming off their first playoff berth since 2009 (and really, the first successful season since 2008). For the most part, they are returning the same team as last year. Basketball is such an intimate team sport; there weren’t any additions that could disrupt the rhythm of the players. But the changes they did make should give them some more depth at a couple positions.

We’ll start with the positives: the Pistons have a returning core of Andre Drummond (C), Marcus Morris (PF), Tobias Harris (SF), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG), and Reggie Jackson (PG) which could be one of the best starting fives in the country. Seriously. When these five guys are all playing well, they can be competitive with any team, proving why they can be one of the best teams in the conference.

The Pistons are getting a size upgrade as well. A relatively small team last season, Andre Drummond and Aron Baynes got some help with Boban Marjanovic and Jon Leuer. Boban also brings a year of experience under Gregg Popovich. Hopefully, he can spread some of that coaching genius. Detroit also retained both of their draft picks, Henry Ellenson and Michael Gbinije.

Possibly the biggest downside is Jackson opening the season with a knee injury. There is a chance he might not see the court until December, so the Pistons will have to make do without a top point guard for the first six weeks. Not only that, but Detroit will lose one stable source of three-point shots, and they struggled from three-point range last year. They patched the hole somewhat by signing Ish Smith and (late pick-up) Beno Udrih, and Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson can take some trips at point guard, but it will be nice to get Jackson back in the lineup.

Also, I’m a little concerned with Andre Drummond’s contract signing, up $20 million from last year. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to lock up the best rebounder in the league. But he is an expensive center in an increasingly shooting guard league. Also, it’s bittersweet to hand over five million dollars to yearly-joke Josh Smith for another year. The good news is it’s one more year off the monster contract (holding the Pistons to $27 million until 2020); the bad news is it’s $5,400,000 the Pistons don’t get to use this year (and next year, and the year after, and the year after). I don’t know how they pay him, but I hope it’s in the form of a giant check with “Thanks for nothing” in the memo line.

So, the Pistons did not make an drastic improvements, instead sticking with the solid core of last year. How does that make them better off than last year? Basically, I wasn’t impressed with many other teams in the East over the offseason, with the possible exception of Indiana. The teams at the top--Cleveland, Toronto, and Boston--stayed there or got better. Atlanta and Orlando got a bit worse. Chicago, New York, and Washington all confuse me. If the Pistons can play at the same level as last season, I think even the same W/L record will earn a sixth spot where last year it was only good for eighth.

Vegas has set the odds for the Pistons’ win total at 45.5 wins. This might be too high. Nate Silver’s ESPN subsidiary, FiveThirtyEight puts them at 39-43. For a team that finished 44-38 last season, this might be too low. As for the 2016-17 campaign, I really like them somewhere right around .500 or just above. And if they do surpass their record from last year, 46 or 47 wins should make them a very likely candidate for that fourth spot in the Eastern Conference. After the Cavs, the Raptors, and the Celtics, Detroit should at least be looking at one of the remaining playoff seeds. I am ready to watch some DE-TROIT BAS-KET-BALL!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Bob Dylan, Author

Earlier this week, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. This was naturally a very controversial decision in the literary community. Dylan entered the nomination process with the low odds of winning--because of course you can bet on the Nobel Prize--set at 50 to 1. His mere appearance in the probabilities was considered laughable by most experts; however, Bob Dylan defied his slim odds. Now, many of those experts are not happy with the academy’s decision.

In the opinion of many, the selection of Bob Dylan gives short shrift to many equally qualified poets and novelists. The award is ostensibly intended for the person who contributes the most literary merit. As with most sides of our culture anymore, the award has become overly politicized, but the intention remains the same. At the very least, the Nobel Prize in Literature is representative of high-quality literature. So what is the issue with Dylan? Why are critics so up in arms about his qualifications?

The most obvious complaint is that Dylan is ‘just a musician.’ Some would say that he has no business being compared to the eminent authors of today, or (my favorite) that he should refuse the award in favor of someone more qualified. Ridiculous. In what world is writing music not considered literature? Sure, music may not be the traditional concept of a prosaic novel, but music is no different from poetry, in that it is lines of words assembled to tell a message. Moreover, music is typically performed; a musician performing at a coffee shop is hardly different from the poet who reads his or her work at the same coffee shop. The Prize has been awarded to people who produced more or less exclusively poetry. So until I hear a definition that clearly separates poetry from music, I refuse to accept that being a musician immediately disqualifies one for the award. Reducing to Bob Dylan to just a musician and claiming he is unworthy of the award is absurd.

The next, slightly more acceptable argument is that Bob Dylan’s quality of work is not on par with some of the other authors up for the award. The reason this argument is more acceptable is simple: it is perfectly fine not to like someone’s artistic output. But to claim that he does not deserve an award because his work is not appreciated is not a valid argument. For one, regardless of his style of music or his vocal talents, several of his songs became emblematic of specific times in our history as a country. Besides, this subjective nature arises with any and every award. There will be disagreements with any choice, but these do not invalidate the recipient. Was The Heist really the best rap album of 2014? Exactly.

Finally, we have the sheer length of Bob Dylan’s career. This is not so much an argument, inasmuch as there is not a lot of room for disagreement. He has been actively recording for music for an astounding fifty years. Half a century! Over the course of his career, he has put out at least three (probably more like six) of the most important albums in the history of American music. This is not really much of an overstatement, either. Few recording artists can demonstrate such a consistency of releases over such a long period of time.

This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature was unique. It is the equivalent of a particularly cinematic video game being considered for an Oscar (which I would also defend). The fact that this is the first time it has been awarded to a musician is special. But for the first choice of musicians, Bob Dylan is certainly an exceptional one.