BE HAPPY THE PISTONS WANT TO SPEND MONEY

Hey, I think it’s great move. It may not work, but it’s a great move. I’m happy to see an owner spending money in this town for once. And I would think that fans would feel the same way.

Instead, there’s been a wave of resentment over the Pistons’ proposed multimillion-dollar woo of Jon Koncak, a 7- foot forward/center from Atlanta who, heretofore, was most commonly known as “the big white guy who plays with Dominique.”

“Why are they complaining?” Jack McCloskey, the Pistons’ general manager, asked me the other day, observing the backlash in the papers and on the street. “We have the money under the salary cap, and we’re willing to spend it to try and repeat as champions.

“Isn’t that what most fans want?”

Yes. Deep down, it is. Oh, it’s true, Koncak has never been the type of player who made your head spin. Unless he bumped you. Big and burly, his career stats (6.7 points, 6.1 rebounds) belie his effectiveness. He can play the game, and he is only 26. He reminds you of a kinder, gentler, younger . .
. Rick Mahorn.

Hmmm.

Last week, Detroit handed Koncak, a “restricted” free agent, a one-year,
$2.5 million offer sheet that, if Koncak signed — and Atlanta did not match within 15 days — would send him to Detroit free and clear. It would also make him, for one season, the highest-paid player on the team.

Koncak thought long and hard before signing. At least four seconds.

And the noise began.

“He’ll make more than Isiah!”

“It’ll tear the team apart!”

Come on, folks. Can’t you tell a shrewd business move when you see one? A way to reverse Mahorn dilemma

First, let’s examine the Pistons’ motivation. They spent years building a championship team. Then, two days after capturing their first NBA crown, they lost Mahorn to the expansion draft. Lost him the way a man loses at the track
— with no compensation.

There were only so many ways to replace a starter in the NBA. They could make a trade — but that means giving up another player. They could try to draft a replacement — but with the 27th pick, the odds of another Mahorn were pretty slim. Not that “slim” and “Mahorn” have ever been used in the same sentence.

Or they could buy somebody.

This is an ugly and effective practice in American sports. The Dodgers did it with Kirk Gibson. The Redskins did it with Wilber Marshall. Hey, the Hawks did it with Moses Malone. Only thing is, in order to buy Koncak, the Pistons had to offer an outrageous salary, otherwise Atlanta would simply match the offer and tug on the leash. “On the fair market, Koncak is probably worth between a million to a million-and-a-half,” McCloskey admitted. “Obviously, we had to come up with much more.”

They did. Both the Pistons and Koncak know this salary is good for one year only. It is simply an exit tax, the price of freedom. Next year, if Koncak wanted to stay with the Pistons, “I’m sure it would be for much less,” McCloskey said. Less than Isiah. Less than Joe Dumars.

But right now, this is the only way the Pistons can reverse the Mahorn dilemma — get a starter without giving one up. And make no mistake, McCloskey believes in this kid. “He’s a potential star. Strong, good rebounder, team guy, and he can play center as well as forward. In a few years, some of our guys (read: Bill Laimbeer, 32, and James Edwards, 33) will be moving out, and he can move in.”

To me that sounds like good planning.

Do you really care what it costs? Will Hawks match offer?

“Yeah,” I hear you say. “I do care, because it’ll disrupt team chemistry.”

Sorry. I don’t buy that. If we’ve learned anything from American sports, it’s that most athletes are secretly delighted when salaries get outrageous — because they know soon it will be their turn at the buffet table. Isiah? Don’t worry about Isiah. If Koncak maintained his ridiculously high paycheck, Isiah could sell his house in Bloomfield Hills and buy Bloomfield Hills. That’s how much he would eventually get.

“OK,” you say, “how about me, the consumer? I’ll end up paying for Koncak in higher ticket prices.”

I’ve got news for you, friend. You’ll end up paying those anyhow.

“But, darn it,” you say, “it just doesn’t seem right. The man isn’t worth that kind of money.”

You’re right. None of them are. But this is sports; it’s not supposed to make sense. If some other team paid for Koncak, came in here next season and kicked the Pistons’ butts, most fans wouldn’t be cooing, “So what? Look how much he cost them.”

They’d say: “How can we get one?”

The funny thing is, for all the fuss, McCloskey thinks the odds are still against him, getting Koncak. He thinks the Hawks will match the offer — because they can’t afford to lose Koncak and strengthen a Central Division foe. Even so, McCloskey would stick them where it hurts: in the pocketbook. Shrewd. Nasty. Not the way I do business. But I don’t own a basketball team.

Bill Davidson does. And if he wants to spend his money this way, I say fine. At least he’s trying to improve things. The alternative is a team that squeezes the purse strings, loses players, refuses to buy free agents — and watches the rest of the league pass it by.

They’re called the Tigers.

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