Get ready for more. In the nine days leading to the June 28 draft, you’ll hear about draft promises made by anonymous teams to certain players, about workouts being called off and what the implications might be, about teams picking in the lottery calling a certain player back for a last-minute return visit, about picks being shopped and veterans being dangled and … well, absorb all of this information at your caution.
Some of it will be true, of course, but most of it will be subterfuge. It’s like trying to find Waldo – he’s there, but you’ve got to study the big picture pretty intently to sort the wheat from the chaff.
In the meantime … what about the Sullinger news? Of the seven big men we’re in the midst of profiling on Pistons.com as possibilities with the Pistons’ No. 9 pick – we’ve posted stories on Sullinger, Arnett Moultrie, Meyers Leonard, Perry Jones III and John Henson so far, with Tyler Zeller and Terrence Jones still to come – Sullinger might have been the one with the best shot at being drafted ahead before the Pistons’ turn.
He’s been variously believed a possibility for Portland at No. 6 or Golden State at No. 7. The other players from that group who appear to have the best chance to be picked ahead of the Pistons are Henson – he’s working out for Sacramento (5), Portland and Golden State – and both Joneses, who worked out for the Warriors, as well. But Sullinger’s level of production in two years at Ohio State, both earning him All-American berths, and the strong belief many have in his character and competitiveness, probably gave him the best chance to wow somebody picking in the three or four spots ahead of the Pistons.
Now? Well, who knows? You can bet the Pistons’ front office is trying to figure out the implications. Sullinger, according to multiple media reports, is due to work out for the Pistons on Monday, three days before the draft. The ESPN.com report said some team doctors have advised against selecting him in the first round, where contracts are guaranteed for at least two seasons.
Chances are we’ll never definitively know which teams have taken Sullinger off the board completely, because every team will claim boundless admiration for the player they wind up choosing. Damage control was quick to come from the Sullinger camp. His father Satch, who was his high school coach, and his agent, David Falk, both blamed the back injury on a lingering hamstring concern they say is easily remedied. Falk is also Greg Monroe’s agent, though I wouldn’t expect the Pistons to get any benefit from that association.
Bottom line: It only takes one team, already predisposed to believe in Sullinger’s tangibles and intangibles, with a medical staff that concurs with their assessment. And at some point in the draft, the reward outweighs the risk.
But: Does that one team pick before or after the Pistons – or is it the Pistons? – and at what point does the risk-reward balance tip?
One team that probably won’t surface in silly season reports connected to Sullinger: the Pistons. They’re as buttoned up as any NBA team where draft news is concerned. As I went around the league last year, I was asked a handful of times about the 2011 draft and how Brandon Knight wound up in Detroit. Everybody wanted to know if the Pistons were stunned and disappointed that Charlotte jumped ahead of them and took Bismack Biyombo. To this day, nobody is sure what the Pistons would have done.
But it was clear in Joe Dumars’ body language, tone and words on draft night that he was thrilled to come away with Knight. If the Pistons wind up picking Sullinger, then this week’s news will have played to their advantage, perhaps scaring away teams picking ahead of them who had him in their sights. If he’s available and they pass … well, we’ll likely never really know how they interpreted the medical reports.
But the solutions almost invariably include attacks on the thoroughly legitimate practice of drawing a charge. Since when did it become dishonorable for a defender to beat the ballhandler to a spot and stand his ground? That’s at the very heart of playing defense – always stay between your man and the basket, always be ready to leave your man to prevent somebody else’s cover from getting to the basket.
By all means, flopping should be addressed. But it really should be a pretty simple solution. Just because a defender hits the ground, it doesn’t mean a foul – either way – was committed. But if NBA referees believe the defender hit the ground not by force but by acting, then call a foul on the defender.
A bigger issue than flopping is the overly generous protection of ballhandlers who pump fake, get a defender to even lean off-balance momentarily, and then jump at an angle – in a way they never would to get off an uncontested shot – to intentionally force contact. Rewarding that with two (or three) free throws is the more egregious attack on the game’s integrity.