Big Ben, An Appreciation

by July 05, 2006

Alan Paul writes…
I returned yesterday from 24 hours at a luxury ranch alongside a beautiful and crumbling section of the Great Wall. I hiked most of the day and came home feeling exhausted but refreshed, jumped on my computer and saw this headline: “Big Ben to run with the Bulls.”

I was shocked but not surprised. It all seemed somewhat inevitable ever since the Pistons' magic season started falling apart midway through the Cavs series. Obviously, something was way amiss and I had a strong sense, even from 8,000 miles away, that Ben was a big part of that something. He just wasn't all the way there. And if he's not all the way there, he's just average.

I expect him to resurge in Chicago, which is going to be mighty painful for all of us Pistons fans to witness. At the same time, you can't really blame Joe D. Locking into a long-term deal with Ben seemed borderline insane anyhow, as he is getting older and his offensive limitations seem to be growing larger not smaller.

Joe promised to make him the highest paid Piston and their offer would have done that. He offered him roughly $50 mill over four years, on top of the $30 mill they've paid him over the last six, a deal offered and signed when no one else in the League would have given Ben a whole lot more than the minimum. Only a fool would say they were cheap or lowballed him. It's always about the money, but I sense here that's not the full picture. He seemed to feel disrespected in some fundamental way by Flip, as he did with Carlisle.

Long term, it's hard to argue with letting Ben walk because that deal would have really been a killer in a couple of years. Remember how the Nets were mocked for letting the always overrated Kenyon Martin go a few years ago? Now the Nugs are desperately trying to peddle his bloated contract. The thing is, I'm not sure it makes much sense to think long term in the East now, with DWade and LeBron on the rise and looking set to battle for the next decade. The Darko fiasco really kicks in now. None of this would even be an issue if Chris Bosh was ready to step in, not to mention Wade or Carmelo.

But beyond all of that professional analysis, It's a sad day for me because Ben has been one of my favorite players of recent years and I give him primary credit for bringing the Pistons up from the depths. I watched him in Orlando and thought he was an Oakley style bruiser and plodder. I did a Hype on him that focused on the fact that he played with a broken foot for half a season, wearing a cast between practices and games. Then he came to Detroit and I started really watching him and realized that he had incredible athleticism to go with his grit, hustle and old school toughness.

I did a feature on him in his second year in Detroit, the first year they got good, and I went to two or three Playoffs game and just sat and focused on Ben and was blown away observing his instincts, strength, leaping ability, hard work. Now it's all headed for, gulp, Da Bulls. I'm sad but it feels inevitable.

The worst part was trying to explain this whole thing to my 8-year-old son Jacob, who loves Ben.

“Why is he leaving? For money? Just for money? That's stupid! Doesn't he make money for the Pistons? He should care about winning and the team, not getting the most money.”

We all have our welcome-to-the-world moments, and this was Jacob's.

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