LOS ANGELES -- Joe Dumars smiles when he confirms that, yes, those Carmelo Anthony questions aren't coming in so loudly now that the Detroit Pistons are in the NBA Finals and playing the Lakers rather evenly.
"They've started to dissipate a little bit," Joe D says. Then he quickly adds: "If you get to the Finals, you'd think they would."
Truth is, though, there was another reason all along that Dumars shouldn't have been so widely second-guessed for his gutsy decision to draft Darko Milicic ahead of 'Melo last June. That reason: Dumars will have two promising youngsters at Anthony's position next season, not just Tayshaun Prince. Which means Detroit is pretty well covered at that spot no matter how Darko develops.
People have been forgetting Carlos Delfino, the other foreigner Detroit nabbed in the 2003 draft.
While true that Dumars had no guarantee he'd land the Argentinian swingman after he landed Darko, Dumars did get both guys he wanted. The Pistons have since come to believe, without much external debate, that Delfino would be a lottery pick if he were part of this June's draft pool, after his fine season in Italy with Skipper Bologna.
The Pistons also believe that Delfino will prove to be a better shooter than another Argentine swingman folks seem to like: San Antonio's Manu Ginobili. That's not to say Delfino is going to be as good as Ginobili -- let's not get carried away -- but Detroit knows it won't have to wait on Delfino's body, as with Milicic. Delfino is sculpted swingman already, and Detroit plans to use him immediately to provide a nice contrast to the slight Prince and Rip Hamilton.
"He's not Darko," Dumars said of Delfino. "He's 21, 22 and he's ready to play."
Joe D went on to insist that reports regarding Delfino's hesitation to join the Pistons and play for Larry Brown next season -- in fear of being rooted to Brown's bench like fellow foreigners Mehmet Okur and Milicic -- are unfounded. Ask him if Delfino will be in Detroit for training camp in October and Dumars has a firm answer: "It's 100 percent."
Foreign sources insist that Dumars is being overly optimistic, but if he's right?
"We're going to be pretty deep at the two/three next season," Dumars said with another grin.
Can't tell you when you can expect to hear some fresh commentary from Gary Payton, but you can expect a slightly tweaked defensive assignment for GP in Tuesday's Game 2. In search of someone who can share some of the Hamilton coverage with Kobe Bryant, L.A. has apparently considered giving Payton some spot minutes as a Rip chaser, in hopes that he will fare better than Devean George, Rick Fox or Kareem Rush.
If I'm Phil Jackson, I'd give Bryon Russell a shot at it, too, since Russell is a noted defender who's single-minded enough to focus on chasing and who's itching to make a Finals contribution. The Lakers need someone to spell Bryant, because if Karl Malone and Derek Fisher remain as limited by their respective knee issues as they looked in Game 1, L.A. has to have a fresher Kobe in the fourth quarter than it did Sunday night.
Yet I'm told Jackson is unlikely to entrust Russell with such a prime assignment when he has barely played in the playoffs. Since Russell has logged just eight minutes in the postseason to date, Jackson wonders how long Russell's conditioning would allow him to keep up with Rip.
Lamar Odom is getting strong consideration from the selection committee to join Miami teammate Dwyane Wade on the Olympic squad as Team USA replacement No. 9. If Odom were selected, that would leave one spot open on Larry Brown's roster. Either way, Team USA could still use a dependable shooter like Milwaukee's Michael Redd.
Teams interested in Tyson Chandler -- and there are many, as you can imagine, in spite of the concerns about Chandler's back -- are finding that the Bulls aren't in any rush to trade him, contrary to late-season signals that the 7-footer would be made available. Of course, that might simply be Chicago's strategy to generate better offers.
The Mavericks are quietly confident that they will be able to sign Avery Johnson this summer as a player-coach, no matter who else is interested, given that they've made it clear to Johnson for years that they want to groom him to succeed Don Nelson. Dallas thinks Johnson can bring a new (albeit squeaky) defensive message by returning to the Mavs, even if he's still in uniform.
In case you missed his recent Motion segment on ESPN.com, Dennis Rodman checked to give us his best Ivan Chiriaev, insisting his NBA career is not over despite lackluster reviews of Rodman's brief stint in the minor-league ABA last season.
"Watch out for the Rodmonian," he said. "I am coming back, and the NBA needs me back."
At 43, Rodman concedes that he has lost some of the lift and explosion that made him one of the greatest rebounders in the game's history at just 6-8. But he has a wish list of teams anyway, saying he'd love to play for the Lakers, San Antonio, Dallas, Sacramento or New York.
"A half step (lost)," Rodman said, "is (still) better (than) most guys in the NBA now."
The latest evidence that Los Angeles is more of a Laker town than ever before in the city's history came in Sunday's Los Angeles Times, which contained two special sections. There was a 12-pager devoted to the passing of former president Ronald Reagan, who also served as California's governor ... and a 44-pager to preview the NBA Finals.
With one victory -- and growing respect for its underappreciated defense -- Detroit has at least somewhat hushed calls for a complete re-seeding of the playoffs. There might only be one team in the East with West size, but the Pistons, at the very least in these Finals, appear primed to win back some prestige for their beleaguered conference.
The league absolutely has to respond to this plea: Please ditch those trophy presentations at the end of each conference finals.
Conference champions who hang banners in the rafters are already overdoing it.
For the record, we will continue to back Dumars' drafting of Milicic, as much as you have to admire Anthony's instant success as a Denver rookie. As stated here a zillion times, the tie goes to the 7-footer ... especially when you also hold the rights to Prince and Delfino.
"We see Darko as being on the same pace as a Jermaine O'Neal," Dumars said hopefully.
Even if Milicic doesn't develop similarly, Dumars' willingness to gamble on Darko and Delfino is no less a reason why he got my Executive of the Year vote than the mid-season heist of Rasheed Wallace.
Who else out there has a team with a 1-0 series lead over the Lakers and two blue chips in the organization who have nothing to do with that lead?
"It's the best of both worlds for us," Dumars said, smiling yet again.