Wednesday, May 31, 2006

White Lights, Strange City, Mad Music....All Around....


I did lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings where I saw the news of the Houston Astros signing Roger Clemens and I couldn't get this song out of my head on the ride home. I like Clemens. He's one of the few people who have been around long enough for me to remember them playing when I was still a baseball fan (it's like him and Julio Franco or something...). And statistically, I recognize what he has accomplished and the status he holds...and the respect he commands from fans, opponents and owners, alike. I have no problem with his coming back - even in the capacity in which he's coming back. That's great - kudos to him - hope it helps the Astros out yadda yadda yadda.

But here's what I don't get about baseball - is this really a team sport anymore? Here you've got a guy who could be one of the single greatest contributors to the Astros post-season hopes - and he misses the first 2+ months of the season, misses spring training, shows up when he pleases, works out at home, and doesn't travel with the team except on the day he pitches. How does this work? I'm not knocking Clemens for being selfish - shoot - if I could get a job that gave me that much flexibility and make $22mil doing it, I'd be all over it. But is this a good thing?

Organizations in all sports are known to make mid-season mercenary acquisitions to get them over the proverbial hump - but never before have I seen one whose contract is so uniquely personalized. And I know as a pitcher he doesn't have to perform every night - and I respect the fact that he values time with his family - but you'd think he'd at least show up and be a part of the "team", right?

If baseball can be this individualistic, why don't we form professional golf teams and tennis teams and compete for combined score or W/L like colleges and high schools do? Because I find it hard to buy into the concept of a "team" sport where one's actual presence is irrelevant but one's athletic skills can be such a difference-maker.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

...Something New Every Day

Pistons / Heat – Ouch. For the first time in three years I find myself doubting that the Pistons will win a playoff series. Their resiliency is well-docmented and recently proven (see Cleveland) but the Heat are clearly the better team to this point in the series. I think Detriot can and will win game 5 at home but they would have to win big and carry some serious momentum to Miami to even the series and I don’t see it happening. If they can manage to bring it back to Detroit for a seventh game, however, that may be a coin flip. But they’re definitely in trouble. Maybe Flip Saunders bringing an offensive focus to the group wasn’t really what was needed? Maybe Miami’s upheaval of Riles taking over for a successful Van Gundy and bringing in unstable Toinne and Jason Williams and supposedly washed up Gary Payton was actually a good thing? Payton’s playing better than I’ve seen him play for years and Toinne is somehow showing up when they need him and staying within his role.

Mavs / Suns – I would have thought that the Clips would’ve done a better job at slowing down PHX’s break….but it’s the Mavs doing it?! Kudos to Avery Johnson. Let’s see if they can keep this up.

Dwyane Wade – I completely underestimated how good he was – and I thought he was pretty darn good before. His circus shot in the fourth was one of the most amazing, “I can’t believe that just happened” moments in recent memory. For the video, click here. We’ll be seeing that in highlight videos for years to come. I heard on the radio this morning that his 69.5% shooting is third best through four games of any conference finals behind Kareem and James Worthy. First – those are some big names on the board – champions and clutch performers, both. But Wade’s doing it from jumpers and penetration! He’s just having his way with Detroit – more often and with more efficiency than LeBron did. Wade may be helped in that he has other teammates who can score so Detroit has to respect that but he’s not seeing any shortage of double-teams here.

Gilbert Arenas – I don’t find it particularly interesting or amazing that he got arrested in South Beach. This seems rather common these days – ask Santonio Holmes. But the important thing here is that Arenas reached “I’m Keith Hernandez” status this weekend with his “You can’t arrest me – I’m a basketball player” comments upon his arrest. I’m going to try that next time I get pulled over or something – “You can’t give me a ticket – I’m an engineer!” Let’s see if it flies. He’s the modern day, urban Zsa Zsa Gabor!

Indy 500 – Do we care?

Bonds 715 – I care less than Indy. It’s there….it must mean something. But really - nationwide apathy for a 'big' event - seems sublime.

Detroit Tigers - you really won't get much baseball out of me - but weren't the Tigers at roughly 300:1 odds when we were in Vegas less than two months ago?

I’m old – You know how I know? Parts of me hurt where they never did before and where I didn’t actually get an injury. I’ve started playing basketball more regularly over the past few weeks. I played yesterday and last night and today my knees hurt. My knees have never really hurt before unless I actually did something to them (other than run around). I now understand why older basketball players always have to ice down their knees after games. This is not a good sign.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


On the heels of my blog yesterday and in light of last night's NBA draft lottery, I'm wondering if the Cavs, at #25, would be smart to pick up JJ Redick. I'm not Redick fan, myself. He gets as much local airtime outside of college football season as Marcus Vick and Frank Beamer do during college football season, and frankly, it gets old. He, alone, is one of the only reasons I ever switch off sports talk radio.

But we all know that despite being the leading scorer in NCAA history, (or was it Duke history? I can't remember...either way - the guy's scored a lot of points!) Reddick is not a lottery pick. In fact, many are saying that he'd be lucky to be a first round pick. So it's quite possible that he'd be available at #25. He's projected to be a role player in the NBA - basically the next generation's Steve Kerr. (Although that's what Michael Redd was projected to be and look at him now). As I discussed yesterday - this is exactly what the Cavs need - someone who CAN (unlike Damon Jones and Flip Murray) hit a three - someone who opposing defenses will have to respect from out there and who will open up the inside just a little bit for Lebron and even Larry Hughes to do their thing.

Cleveland has already tried the Trajan Langdon experiment - and it didn't really work. Although Langdon came with less of an investment on their part, was less of an all-around scorer than Redick, and had even less NBA potential while Redick absolutely has NBA potential - just in a very specific niche. So who knows?

I'm not one to mock NBA drafts, but I think Redick could be a nice and needed addition to the Cleveland roster.

I also think Tyrus Thomas would've looked great in blue and orange and he would've given the fans at MSG something to be excited about next to Channing Frye. But red and black will have to do. The Bulls are gonna be nasty in a few years.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Moving on...

So we’re halfway through the NBA Playoffs now. What have we learned?

- I grossly underestimated the Washington Wizards. Their series with Cleveland was one of the most entertaining I’ve seen in years (more fun to watch than pretty much all of the 7-game series’ in this year’s playoffs). And the Wizards definitely came ready to play. Arenas is an amazing talent who was two free throws away from a seventh game and his scoring duel with Lebron was one of the best shootouts that I can remember. People reflect back to 1988 Bird/Wilkins duel but I don’t recall the games, personally.

- I grossly overestimated the Los Angeles Lakers. Or did I? I pegged them for a team that had one extremely dangerous player and a team that could play at a high level for a short time but certainly didn’t have enough in them to defeat the powerhouse Mavs/Spurs. I would not have wanted to draw the Lakers in the first round this year if I had any reservations about my team performing at a consistently high level. I figured they could be coached up well enough to take them past the Suns to face the inexperienced Clippers, who they could potentially still defeat. The Lakers’ carriage turned back into a pumpkin around game 5 of the Suns series and Kobe a pumpkin in the second half of game seven. After seeing more of the Clippers this past month than I have in my entire life combined, I don’t think that experience/coaching could’ve moved LAL past the Clips even if they had gotten the upset over PHX.

- Spurs/Mavs – what a tight series!….if they played 82 games, they’d probably split it 41 each.

- Did I underestimate Cleveland or overestimate Detroit? Or did Detroit take half the series off and play down to their opponent as they have done all year? I can’t tell. Maybe a little of all three. A few weeks ago I read a comment online from a source I can’t remember that said that Detroit has been able to rely on their offense so much this year since Flip has taken off the shackles that they sometimes forget that their biggest strength and true identity is as a defensive team. They still PLAY defense, and play it at a high level but it isn’t always their focus or their calling card as it has been the past few seasons. Problem is – they’re not a GREAT offensive team. They’re good – good enough. Better than they’ve been the past two championship-caliber years – but that’s not their identity. It’s like they flipped a switch at halftime of game seven.

- I can’t take away from what Lebron has done, however. At the risk of sounding cliché and plugging Nike – we are all witnesses. Incredible all around game, making his teammates better, stepping up for playoff performances indicative of the current and future greatness we’ve come to expect, maturity to handle it all. I think we’re all going to enjoy watching him for years. Scoop Jackson says that a playoff exit courtesy of a strong Pistons team will end up being what makes Lebron a champion. I usually don’t like Scoop (dating back to his Slam days) but he’s probably right. Scottie Pippen even says he’d rather have Lebron now than Jordan at this point in their respective careers. That’s saying something – even moreso coming from Pip.

o Sub-blog: GOAT?

o I was going to do this as a completely separate post but I haven’t found time this past week and I can’t keep from commenting on this so I’m embedding it in my mid-playoffs blog. I think that my generation is completely blessed to have been able to grow up watching Michael Jordan play basketball. I’ve seen him play live twice – one of which was an all star game triple double. I’ve seen him on TV countless times. Now, in adulthood, I get to watch James’ career unfold. We’ve been waiting for years as various players (first Vince, then Kobe) have been tabbed “The Next…”….and really, James’ game mirrors Magic’s or Oscar’s more than Jordan’s. But could he become the Greatest Of All Time? It’s obviously wayyyy too early to go that far with comparisons, but what about Pippen’s comments? Mike and Mike got into a fight on the subject last week with Greenburg saying that it wasn’t even worth discussion and Golic maintaining that it’s a valid discussion but MJ’s still better. Is Lebron better by age 21? Yeah, maybe….considering that Jordan was a 21-year old rookie. But is Lebron better by year 3? I’m in the Golic camp on this one – maybe worth the discussion – but no way. He’s a better rebounder and passer and physically bigger - but better?.

§ Numbers (Jordan, James) - James has more RPG and APG but less SPG and BPG….and fewer PPG if you exclude Jordan’s mostly injured year 2. Jordan’s 37.1ppg year 3 does stand out, however.

§ Observations/memories – No one I’ve ever seen exploded to the basket like young-Jordan with the potential exception of Dominique Wilkins. No one – NO ONE - could elevate like him, either. Lebron is more powerful, but Jordan was a better athlete and a better pure scorer – able to get his shot at will. Jordan made the playoffs his first three years but never won a series until his fourth try. And for all of LBJ being known for “making his teammates better”, until Chicago added Ho/Pip in his fourth year, Jordan did more (3 playoffs appearances) with less NBA talent than Lebron. Jordan, even early on, was a far better defender – he earned the DPOY in his fourth year (keeping in mind that he only played 17 games in his second year). I don’t think LeBron is on pace to match that next year.

o In summary - Maybe my memory is colored because I remember his championship-level greatness or maybe I’m biased because I finally got to sit down and watch my “Come Fly With Me” and “NBA Superstars” videos this past weekend so the highlights (where everything is amazing and no shots are missed) are fresh in my mind. But I cannot agree with Scottie Pippen. That being said – between Lebron’s early entry, Jordan’s injured second year and his 1.5-year and 3-year hiatuses, Lebron has an opportunity to amass more than Jordan did (including championships) – but will he BECOME more than Jordan was? There’s always that potential but I’d lean towards “not quite” at this point.

- Lebron James needs help. Z’s not going to do it for you. Hughes was supposed to….Jones was supposed to….Flip Murray was supposed to…but none really are. He needs a Ho Grant/Charles Oakley type (good defending, stout, rebounding big) and a legit and consistent three point threat. The Cavs need to address these needs in the offseason.

- Elton Brand is an absolute stud. If you’ve been watching the NBA playoffs, I don’t need to explain any more.

- For the record, I’m only 9-12 on my picks. Kudos to Scott!

Looking Ahead

- DET / MIA – I think a week off will do more to rest Shaq than bring rust. Miami came close to upsetting Detroit last year, but Shaq is a shadow of even his last-year form and Miami completely reshuffled the deck with its supporting cast. They’re fighting amongst themselves even in the playoffs. Good teams don’t do that. I can’t count on these guys. Shaq can’t dominate a series anymore. But does he have to with DWade? In Wade, the Pistons face even a better penetrator than James – with a potentially dominant second option in Shaq. This series will depend largely on him, his health, his motivation and his ability to selectively dominate at the right moments.

- DAL / PHX – This should be a fun, fast-paced series. What may end up being a factor is the fact that the Suns are the only team thus far to have played 14 games in the post-season. We’ve seen how worn down Nash got at times during the Clippers series and the Suns can’t win without him running and gunning.

- Finals – I think we’ll see DET/DAL but I’d love to see DET/PHX for the yin/yang effect of all offense vs. all defense.

Second Round Complete

I don't wish to alarm anyone, but I am now 12-12 in playoff series predictions. Will the Pistons end up beating the Mavs? Maybe I should predict hockey next year, and just put the two #8 seeds in the finals.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Remember Him?

I don't think I could do justice with any more words. I'll just let you read and ponder.

Danny Almonte isn't concerned about age — especially when it comes to marriage.
The 19-year-old pitcher, who made headlines five years ago when his perfect game in the Little League World Series was erased because it was revealed he was two years older than league rules allowed, has married a 30-year-old woman.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Well Well Well

So much for the Guaran-Sheed. Looks like we might have a series after all. I sure wasn't expecting it, but the Cavs appear to have learned to play defense. The Pistons still hold home court, but at least we might have some excitement in a series that few were expecting to have any.

As many hustle plays as Varejao makes, I still get very nervous anytime they pass the ball to him. So why does Eric Snow only drive down the lane when the Cavs really need a basket? Best sign I saw at the Indians-Tigers game on Sunday "Tigers, go back to Detroit, and take the Pistons with you!"

Sunday, May 14, 2006

What to do?


Okay, so everyone's seen enough of him in the media over the past few years...let alone the past few weeks. No one really wants to acknowledge him or pay him any more attention than necessary. Barry Bonds has become somewhat of a dichotomy - an incredibly taboo topic that is approaching a feat of historic proportions and is incredibly newsworthy. If we are to consider ourselves a 'sports blog', we would be remiss if we ignored what may be about to happen.

The question on everyone's minds is: how do you put this in historical context? What does Bonds' impending passing of Babe Ruth and potentially Hank Aaron really mean? Does it count?

Obviously if we were to assume that Bonds was naturally gifted enough to pass one of the most hallowed records in all of sports, then this is, indeed a momentous time. I don't think there's a morally conscious person on this earth who believes that, however.

So as to avoid any instances of libel, let's just assume that Barry Bonds has taken performance enhancing drugs that in theory have enabled him to achieve what he has. How, then, should we regard his "achievements"?

Should his stats be voided? Should he be suspended, indefinitely? Banned? Many baseball purists would argue - absolutely! Anything he has touched or achieved is tarnished and it should be stricken from the record books.

But where do we draw the line? If Barry cheated, was he the only one? Certainly not. So you take away Barry's stats, records and awards? Do you do it for his career or just the last five years? Ten years? Do you go back and erase Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's home run race? Ken Caminiti's 1996 MVP? Rafael's Pamiero's career of 500 HR's and 3000 hits? Have you captured everyone yet? I doubt it. How do we compare Bonds' numbers with players of his era when an indeterminate number of them have used the same or similar enhancers as he has?

If 'Game of Shadows' is to be believed, Bonds started using steroids around 1998. Through 1997, he had 3 MVP's, 7 Gold Gloves, 374 home runs, was a perennial All Star and already a probable Hall of Famer with an impressive body of work. Steroids may have added to his ability to hit for power but there's more to hitting a home run than merely power. Steroids doesn't improve your ability to contact a baseball cleanly and consistently. Not counting a deteriorating 2006, and 2005 when he hardly played, Bonds has batted over .300 11 of the past 15 seasons. The home runs he's hit have been while leading the majors in walks in his past five healthy seasons and thusly getting far fewer at-bats. His HR per AB ratio is amazing. Imagine if he saw more pitches.

Steroids obviously add more bulk and more strength so that a hitter can hit for more power. By my understanding, a large part what they do, physiologically, is regenerate muscle mass. Meaning that your muscles recover quicker after strenuous activity (i.e. working out) such that you can work out longer and harder - and allow for less down time between workouts, and allowing your body to build more muscle mass. The baseball position that is most demanding on a player's muscles over a short period of time, however is pitcher. Fans are in an uproar over potentially artificial home run records, but you never hear of people in an uproar about pitchers using steroids.

In 2005, Seattle pitcher Ryan Franklin was suspended for steroid use. Earlier this year, four minor league pitchers (all pitchers and all in the same farm system!) were suspended as well. Pitchers are being caught as steroid users as often, if not, more often than the sluggers we fear tarnishing the record books.

So what if Bonds has hit record home runs in the face of fewer pitches than his contemporaries, Ruth or Aaron? And what if all modern day sluggers are facing juiced pitchers that are refreshed and recharged more often and are in a 5-man rotation while Ruth and Aaron faced pitchers in 3 and 4-man rotations who wore down more as the season went on? What do the numbers and records mean, then?

If Bonds hits a 715th or 756th home run, it is no doubt a remarkable feat but one that should be considered and celebrated in addition to Ruth/Aaron, not as supplanting them in the record books. The fact that we have to consider "modern" baseball statistics as a separate item from "historic" baseball statistics is laughable at best and the reason why I can no longer truly enjoy following the sport or have any level of respect for Bud Selig.

It is ashame that Bonds will likely retire leaving fans with negative impressions over a career that would have been illustrious had he merely kept up his pre-1998 pace. This post is no defense of Bonds. I'm not particularly a fan, nor do I support his actions, and more particularly, his attitude. But in light of recent debate as to how to celebrate his potential upcoming milestone, I felt it was worth noting that his numbers are just as amazing as Ruth's or Aaron's - the problem is that they're playing two different games.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Please save us Mr. Cuban!!

I am sure there is no way Mark Cuban would ever find his way to this blog, but I am going to make my plea anyway, if only to make myself feel better. As I watch the Pittsburgh Pirates' 14th straight losing season unfold, I feel like a rubber-necker watching another car wreck on the Parkway East. It is during this time of year, May - when the Pirates are officially out of contention, that my thoughts return to the annual dream of Mark Cuban, a Pittsburgh area native, riding in on a white horse (or Humvee, if he so chooses) and purchasing the team from the clutches of evil Kevin McClatchy and the non-existent Nutting family. Clearly, they do not have the financial or marketing clout to save this team from the baseball abyss in which it currently resides.

There is ZERO doubt in my mind that Mr. Cuban has both the money and passion to build a winning franchise again in the great city of Pittsburgh. He is a smart enough businessman to realize that all of the variables are place for a very successful situation. The team already has one of the 2-3 best ballparks in all of baseball, they compete in the less rugged National League, and they have a solid farm system from which to start. There is one other factor though that I think is the most important. There is a great, loyal fan base just waiting for a winner.

Now, it goes without saying that Pittsburgh is a football town. I mean, the dungeon that was Three Rivers Stadium, God rest its soul, was sold out even during the terrible end of the Noll era, when Walter Abercrombie and Mark Malone passed as stars (ahhhhhhhh....bad flashbacks...think Super Bowl XL, Hines Ward, Big Ben...that's better...sorry for the tangent). But, I firmly believe that Pirates fans are just so beaten down by what amounts to 25 years of horrid baseball, that they are just tired and waiting for a savior. When you think about the fact that, save the nice six year run during the Bonds/Leyland/LaValliere era of 1988-1993, these fans have been subject to horrible baseball for a VERY long time. I mean, do the names Jason Thompson, Sammy Khalifa, Mike Kingery, Jacob Brumfield, and John Wehner mean anything to you? Didn't think so.

All we want is hope. Seriously. I have no doubt that, if Cuban bought the team, interest in the Pirates would shoot through the roof, even before the winning started. And, with Cuban, the winning would start pretty quickly. He is not afraid to lose some money for a few years to win back the fans and win games. Everyone forgets what a joke the Mavericks were prior to his ownership. They were every bit as pathetic as the Clippers were until recently. Now, they are perennially one of the top 3-4 teams in the league and sell out every game. I can speak from experience, having attended a Mavs/Pacers game over Christmas, their game experience is second to none. The arena is amazing, the fans are so engaged, and the atmosphere is electric.

Let's face it, Pittsburgh sports fans are a) savvy, b) impatient, and most importantly, c) not rich enough to throw cash away. For the past 14 years, being a diehard Pirates fan means throwing money away. I know from personal experience as, prior to moving to Boston in 2001, my buddies and I spent usually 2 nights during each homestand trekking to Three Rivers Stadium with roughly 7,000-10,000 other poor diehards just out to support our team. Even since my move, while watching the Red Sox go through a renaissance, my allegiance has never waived (though I will admit to following the Sox also, based on a childhood fascination with Clemens, Greenwell, Big Mo, and the fact that living here requires you know all things Sox). The first thing I do every morning is check out the prior night Buccos score/recap, which usually prompts a day long email discussion with those same Pittsburgh buddies about the good, bad, and ugly of another lost season. Heck, I have even convinced my ever-understanding wife to let me spend an extra $10 a month on our DirecTV package at our new house, just so I can get the regional sports package with FSN Pittsburgh to watch the games!! (NOTE: the reason I am getting DirecTV in the first place though is to get the NFL Sunday Ticket to follow the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers).

I refuse to believe that my buddies and I are the only fans like this out there. When I listen to my father, who never really waxes nostalgic about sports, talk about going to Forbes field to see the great Roberto Clemente, Elroy Face, Bill Mazeroski, Dick Groat, listening to the legendary voice of Bob Prince, and following the great 70's teams with "Pops" Stargell and Kent Tekulve, there is clearly a strong fanbase out there waiting for a return to those days. Heck I can even remember watching the Leyland teams with my grandma on hot summer nights, because they had cable and we didn't, and she always loved watching the games. And, I am convince that if Mark Cuban bought the team, fans would return in droves, bringing that dampened spirit back with them. Pittsburgh has the potential to be a two-sport town, all we need is a reason to believe.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Old Skool

I was thrilled this weekend to stumble across the old NBA Superstars video and the Michael Jordan "Come Fly With Me" video on VHS at a yard sale - together for a dollar. I couldn't pass them up. I started flashing back to hanging out in Joe's basement and watching the NBA Superstars video. Ahhh....memories....

So then I saw The Crafty Veteran's blog (very good synopsis if you don't recall the NBA Superstars video) and I almost got a little buyer's remorse. All three? And on DVD? And for 12$??!! Man...I never thought I'd regret getting those two for a dollar.

Great Father's Day birthday is in name it...

Monday, May 08, 2006

Quitters Never Win?

I quit exclusively watching the Suns/Lakers game in the middle of the third (flipping back to it occasionally) because it was unbearable watching a JuCo team take on the Suns. Frankly, I think I came out a winner.

But did Kobe Quit?

That's the question that's on everyone's mind today. Boyer posed it to Scott and I in an email this morning. Did he give up? Was he trying to prove a point to his teammates? His coach? The fans?

Shawn Marion was asked at halftime if they were worried that Kobe had 23 points at the half. He blew off the question saying - nah - we don't care what he has - we're up by 15. He's right! If we overlook the desperation rally game (5), the Suns withstood 4 quarters of the Kobe-ball we've been accustomed to all year without Raja Bell and won in LA, and they dominated during an additional 2 quarters of Kobe-ball in Phoenix. Down by 15 with two quarters to go, I've gotta think Phil said - hey - something here isn't working.

In the first four games, the Lakers shocked the world by working it inside, slowing it down (not jacking up a bunch of shots) and playing a team game, led by Kobe. And it worked. And it's not like they weren't trying to do it on Saturday - only the inside/out team game was not simply working in the first half. So at halftime what do you do?

You can't win if Kobe hoists up a bunch of shots. You can't win if he doesn't and the other guys don't step it up. What do you do?

It’s like Mike & Mike were talking about this morning - Kobe can't win….you’ve got 3 options….

- Kobe doesn’t shoot and they lose – people call him a quitter

- Kobe shoots a lot and he misses a lot and they lose – people call him a gunner

- Kobe shoots a lot and and hits…and they still lose – people say he needs to get his teammates more involved

So the only way Kobe’s coming out of this looking good is if they win….so how are they more likely to win? If he was sticking to the gameplan, it all makes sense. But isn’t there a point where you abandon that gameplan and say – screw it – I’m going for 60 tonight….? If he did quit – what point is he trying to prove that no one already knows? I’m the man? No one here can do this apart from me? Please sign me some help this offseason? All the world knows this….and ‘quit’ isn’t in him, I don’t believe. ‘Pout’, however, is…was he sabotaging the gameplan? Maybe… Steve Kerr said on ‘The Herd’ that he’d never seen Kobe less active. Even in games 1-4 when he was passing, he was still attacking the basket and creating shots for his teammates. Phil’s gonna create an offense where I’m not getting my shots? I’ll show him….there goes that post-season record….

The real answer may lie somewhere in between. Walton/Brown/Odom/Parker/Cook, etc. were playing beyond/above themselves for four games. And that’s how long they could keep it up. (either that or it’s how long D’Antoni figured out how to counter it….but I’m guessing it’s the former). This group has no business being up 3-1 on the Suns. Would Jordan ever have allowed that to happen, though? Jordan made people around him better (and for longer than four games) and still got his shots within the flow of the game – but he bent the flow of the game to suit him and his game.

The Suns are going to have a lot of trouble in the second round. The Clips actually ARE the strong inside/out TEAM that the Lakers pretended to be for a few games. And they can still get out and run – they’re all young and fast…even the bigs. The only thing the Suns have going for them is experience and HCA and Cassell carries the Clips in such a way that it negates the experience that the Suns bring to the table. This should be a fun series.

First Round Complete

We are now in the second round of the NBA playoffs. Looking back at my first round predictions, I was 8 out of 8, not that it was that difficult with the lack of upsets. There was only one series that I was off by more then 1 game on the extent of the series, I said the Clips in 7, they won in 5. Two series I nailed perfect, and the other five I was off by 1 game. Let's see how I do in the second round.

Two OT games in a row, one day rest, and then thrown to the wolves in Detroit on Sunday afternoon. No matter what the line was I would have put money on the Pistons to win game 1. The Cavs may as well have rested their starters the whole game. Let's see if there is a bounce back in game 2.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Draft Review - Fantasy Slant

Boyer delivered the official draft review, but I wanted to provide one with a fantasy football spin. This will cover not only the rookies, but how various selections may affect returning starters.

Arizona – Leinart was obviously a steal here for the Cards, but don’t look for him to score for you this year unless Warner goes down. While worth a late-round insurance policy for a perpetually injured QB in seasonal leagues, Leinart is worth a shot in keeper leagues as he will no doubt develop a great rapport with studs Fitzgerald and Boldin and will no doubt benefit from new Cardinal Edgerrin James. Lutui should help keep Warner upright (a very good thing for him) and Pope gives him a nice safety valve so he should improve on his numbers from last year as long as he stays healthy.

Atlanta – Not much here except that if you’ve been relying on one of the better backup RB’s in the league in TJ Duckett to get you those consistent TD’s, you may have to find another option. The Falcons grabbing Jerious Norwood in the 3rd spells the probable end of Duckett’s tenure and drops his value unless he gets traded. Look for Dunn to maybe be on the field a little more at the goal-line.

Baltimore – A slight upgrade to their DST

Buffalo – I think everyone was shocked to see Whitner go so early. But they have their first five picks on defense here (and 3 of first 4 on DB’s) and it should dramatically improve a unit that was very solid two years ago but struggled last year.

Carolina – What’s the over/under on the number of games before Foster gets hurt and DeAngelo Williams starts? I like Williams and was surprised to see him end up here instead of New England. He’ll be part of a platoon early, but will start in the event of an injury and will likely supplant Foster as the Panthers’ feature back as early as next year.

Chicago – For as stout as their D was last year, and as weak as their O was….this draft surprises me. I don’t think they did poorly, but did they get what they REALLY needed? Their secondary, the only arguable defensive weakness should be greatly improved and Devin Hester could add a few special teams TD’s to one of FF’s most dominant DST units.

Cincinnati – I don’t have much to comment on here except that Ethan Kilmer’s Rose Bowl performance and pro day earned him a lot of money. Very shocked to see him get drafted and Anwar Phillips remain undrafted

Cleveland – I like the two early defensive picks. After seriously upgrading their O-line in free agency, Crennel now gets to work on his D. Harrison was a great pick in the 5th (who I can’t believe Denver passed on) who should be a nice change of pace for Droughns and could end up stealing some carries

Dallas – Parcells must really like those 2 TE sets – I don’t know that any of this is very impactful to the FF world

Denver – They got Javon Walker for a 2nd round pick – even coming off an injury a player with Walker’s skills (much less experience) would’ve gone mid-first-round (see Antonio Cromartie). Walker’s value shouldn’t change in moving to Denver. Rod Smith, and Ashley Lelie (if he remains a Bronco) should move down the depth chart. Plummer could do better this year by having more targets but his value in keeper leagues took a big hit with the drafting of Jay Cutler – who could be a nice pickup in deeper keeper leagues. Scheffler takes Putzier’s place. The big winner here is probably Ron Dayne because Denver didn’t draft a RB. This was a surprise to me. Dayne is rumored to be sharing the backfield with Bell, but that was supposed to be the scenario last year with Mike Anderson seeing more work. Dayne has thinned down from his Wisconsin/NYG days and could be a potential sleeper candidate in Mike Shanahan’s highly-vaunted running attack.

Detroit – Calhoun was a steal by the Lions in the third and should make underachieving Kevin Jones a little nervous. Keep an eye on this backfield in the pre-season and don’t be surprised if Calhoun emerges as the starter at some point this year. Of note – there are no rookie Lions WR’s for you to blow your pick on this year.

Green Bay – The Packers traded down to amass more picks and got a lot of depth at need positions – particularly their weak D. So they improve from a completely worthless fantasy unit to one you should only merely avoid. They also drafted 3 WR’s to replace Javon Walker but none of them will help you. Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson have increased value, however.

Houston – Williams can be debated, but beyond that, but between him and Ryans, Houston’s DST should be vastly improved. Spencer and Winston should keep Carr off his butt and make room for Domanick Davis which should solve their biggest problem last year. Look for Carr to rediscover the groove that made him and Andre Johnson a hot duo in 2004 and Davis to have a solid year under new coach (former Denver OC) Gary Kubiak.

Indianapolis – Addai is rumored to be cut from the same mold as Edge – but don’t look for him to reproduce Edge’s numbers for you. At least early on, Addai will share this backfield with Dominic Rhodes who has filled in admirably for Edge before. Look for Addai to emerge as the featured back and solid FF starter by the end of the year as he picks up the blocking schemes that Peyton Manning will need help with. Manning may lose a touch of his statistical dominance without Edge’s blocking and solid running game.

Jacksonville – Leftwhich needed a reliable safety valve and Lewis is a good option here. I don’t think much of Drew as an every down back, but he’ll help the return game and is an extra insurance policy to spell Greg Jones during the inevitable Fred Taylor injury. Barring that – look for his biggest impact to be on the already solid Jacksonville DST.

Kansas City – If KC keeps drafting defense they’ll eventually be a decent DST, right? Not yet. But they’re improving. Croyle was a great pick to groom behind Green for a few years but would only be valuable in deeper keeper leagues and/or you need a handcuff for Trent Green.

Miami – not much to speak of here

Minnesota – Greenway/Griffin should step in right away for Minnesota’s D which improved by the end of last year.

New England – As mentioned previously, I would’ve picked Williams here over Maroney but to each his own. Maroney should start, but will definitely share some carries with Corey Dillon. Dillon’s stock drops with the pick of Maroney but you shouldn’t be relying on a 32 year old RB anyways. Jackson was a steal in the 2nd round but it’s WR-by-committee in New England, which limits his fantasy appeal. I don’t understand the David Thomas pick – he’s not necessarily an improvement upon Graham or Watson? They must not expect a lot from Grammatica to use a draft pick on a kicker. You shouldn’t either.

New Orleans – Reggie Bush will be an obvious playmaker. A lot of his damage, however may be done on special teams and he still shares a backfield (technically) with Deuce McAllister but that still shouldn’t stop you from selecting him in the second round of seasonal leagues or with the first pick in your keeper league’s rookie draft. McAllister’s value takes a huge hit, here. Drew Brees has a little more value as he goes from having LT to having Reggie Bush AND Deuce. Not bad. NO’s DST gets a boost from Bush and 2nd round Safety Roman Harper.

New York Giants – As Eli continues to develop as a passer and solid fantasy option, speedy Sinorice Moss should help spread the field for him and give him another great target. Look for Moss to draw some double-coverage away from Plaxico Burress but his own stats may not be enough to use him as more than your 3rd WR.

New York Jets – Credit Mangini for the best draft I may have ever seen the Jets have. They got the two best O-linemen on the board which should completely anchor their line.....and keep Pennington upright. This is better than Pennington's ever had there - too bad Laverneus Coles is his best weapon. And Leon Washington should, at worst, spell Martin but potentially develop into his replacement. He’s worth a shot in the later rounds as insurance or a potential keeper for next year.

Oakland – Not really much to speak of here as their defensive improvements are still not enough to consider using this unit.

Philadelphia – Solid picks on both of their lines – Philly DST remains solid, Brian Westbrook could find a few more holes, and McNabb could stay healthy a little longer this year.

Pittsburgh – I love moving up to take Holmes – he was a big need and the best WR in the draft. Willie Reid should be a nice replacement for Randle-El in the slot and on kicks. In his third year, Roethlisberger should continue to improve as the passing game opens up with speed (see Boyer’s Draft analysis below). The Steelers passed on LenDale White which means the backfield is solely Parker’s (unless they pick up Duckett). Look for his numbers to improve from a very good rookie year now that he doesn’t lose carries to Bettis.

San Diego – SD did nicely w/ Cromartie, but I was surprised to see them only target one DB. They had the best run defense in the league last year and horrible pass D so this should be an upgrade to a fairly decent DST.

San Fransisco – Alex Smith picks up a top notch TE, 2WR’s and Penn State’s Michael Robinson – who was actually announced as a RB. Gore and Barlow are miserable and he could easily get some looks here but has no fantasy appeal. Smith, however could begin to make strides and develop into a viable NFL QB. Davis has the potential to be the next Antonio Gates and is worth a look in every league.

Seattle – not much to speak of here

St. Louis – they needed a TE but 2 in the first 3 rounds? Who do they think they are, the Patriots? The Cowboys? Not much to speak of here, either.

Tampa Bay – Gruden is gonna ride his Cadillac through holes opened up by Joseph and Trueblood. First two picks on O-linemen should keep young Chris Simms upright, as well – plus Stovall is a good pick here. Look for Simms and Williams to increase their production from last year. Alan Zemaitis is very solid and should step in for Kiffin right away and improve a good but aging DST.

Tennessee – LenDale White was at one time top ten talent and an absolute steal at #45. Now, the question is – does he become the Bettis to Brown’s Parker or the Duckett to Brown’s Dunn…or a featured back under Norm Chow? If he ends up starting, he could be a potential star here. Chris Brown’s fantasy value takes a big hit as he’s obviously now sharing a backfield. Travis Henry becomes the odd man out and holds no value any more. Don’t look to score points with Vince Young any time soon but the potential future star is definitely worth a pick in keeper leagues. Young signals the eventual departure of Steve McNair meaning Billy Volek will have the reins this year. The Titans pass attack was relatively unimpressive last year but as their 4 second year WR’s improve and with the acquisition of David Givens, Volek will be a decent but not spectacular fantasy starter.

Washington – Are they in the league any more? I couldn’t tell….

I love This Game!

I have to say - to this point, this year's NBA playoffs have been outstanding. I was going to wait until after round one to pen an update and to check back on my predictions, but I can't wait any more. (I guess this is the purpose of this whole blogging thing, huh?).

I have loved watching Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Gilbert Arenas, Dirk Nowitzki, the entire Pistons team this past week. They are all masters of their craft and are elevating the playoffs to heights they haven't been since MJ was here....maybe the first go-around when he had better competition, too. Fans are reminded of Bird/Wilkins shootouts. James shatters playoff records like clay pigeons. What more could you ask for here?

Quickies (to date):

Pistons/Bucks - The Pistons dispatched the Bucks tonight with a Hamilton dropping 40. I had the opponent wrong but the same results. This series was never in doubt

Spurs/Kings - I have to say - I underestimated the Kings here - maybe moreso underestimated Artest's lockdown on Manu. The Spurs should pull this one off, but you gotta wonder how much longer they'll last.

Heat/Bulls - Wow - the Bulls look darn good for the team with the most ping-pong balls in next year's draft! Or do the Heat look that bad? Maybe a little of both. Shaq's winded, Wade's hurt, Bulls are gunnin'....Chicago may yet pull off the upset here. The Heat don't have the savvy of the Spurs to be sure to save the win with their HCA. (All my picks have won or are winning but I'm most nervous about this one)

Suns/Lakers - The Lakers turnaround in the playoffs has been nothing short of remarkable. If Kwame Brown is a legit threat, something special is happening here. I picked the Lakers but more because I thought Kobe would average 45ppg, not because I thought he'd morph into the consummate team leader. Kudos to Phil. Phoenix was good without Amare...but not as good as they could be. We knew they'd struggle inside without Kurt Thomas....but they're hanging on. Now they're without Raja Bell for Game 6? Done.

Nets/Pacers - I picked the Nets 4-0 here. Oops. The Pacers have definitely made it a series, but the Nets responded aggressively in game 5. I look for that to continue - may not even need a 7th game.

Nuggets/Clippers - Hell is freezing over. I'm convinced. The Clippers aren't only in the playoffs....not only have they already advanced....early....but they look to be the favorites in the second round...? What is happening to my world??! Can someone please tell me how Ron Artest and Udonis Haslem get suspensions for unintentional elbows and tossing mouthpieces and Reggie Evans only gets fined for clipping the nuggets of Chris Kaman?! If that's not a suspension, I don't know what is. Look - I really haven't seen a lot of Clippers games in my lifetime...and that includes this year. There's just been no reason to. But they're a very solid team and fun to watch.

Cavs/Wizards - What a series! This one's been the best so far. Watching James (45 tonight) and Arenas (44) duel is an amazing spectacle! Not just tonight - but this whole series, really. As good as each was in the regular season, they have both taken it to the next level in the post-season. That's what you want to see your leader do. I'm really enjoying Z's Ben Roethlisberger/Jake Plummer beard. However in tonight's game (as good as it was, I have to admit that I was flipping a bit to Spike to see Arnold try and save a young Alyssa Milano with Rae Dawn Chong's help)....I have to agree with Kenny & Charles' postgame about the Wizards' D. It's just not there. No way LeBron should even touch that inbounds. And no way should be allowed an inch of breathing room on the baseline. And where's the timeout to inbounds at halfcourt with 0:00.9 left? The Wiz lost this game on their own, moreso than LeBron winning it (but he'll get credit for the clutch performance).

Mavs/Grizz - I gave the Grizz a game in my predictions - I overestimated Pau's readiness to be a post-season contributor. My bad.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Was there a draft this past weekend?

You wouldn't know it from watching ESPN, er, scratch that. So even as our friends at the worldwide leader continue their assualt on everything special about sports, this year's draft still had the usual draw for me. As a huge college and professional football fan, the draft has always offered me the perfect confluence of these two loves. Yes, ESPN (and the almost unwatchable NFL Network coverage) really has taken the hyperpole and hype to an extreme level, but if you manage to filter it out, there is still a lot to love. Here are my thoughts and highlights from the 2006 NFL Draft. I will put out the caveat that I spent most of the 1st and 2nd rounds in either airports or on airplanes, returning from a week in Florida. I did make some emergency phone calls to my buddy back in Pittsburgh to find out what was happening with the proceedings (the 2nd call right as the Steelers traded up to draft Santonio Holmes, during a brief 5 minute window between flights...clearly a good omen!!).


1. See "Bush Whacked" for my thoughts on the first pick debacle. That one will go down in draft history...mark my words.
2. Brady Quinn's sister is clearly not dating AJ Hawk for his looks...yikes. That guy was born to be a LB in Green Bay, following in the great Ray Nitschke's large footsteps. To me, outside of Bush, that was the one "no-brainer" pick of the first round. He will be an immediate starter and future Pro-Bowler.
3. I love the pick of Michael Huff to Oakland, although most of the talking (or screaming) heads have panned them for this pick. If you really study the history of the Raiders secondary, it's littered with players just like Huff; hard-hitting, fast, and tough as nails (Haynes, Hayes, Tatum, Lott, Rod Woodson, etc.). He will be a great player for them. And to those critics slamming them for not picking Leinart, he would have not been a good fit in their vertical passing game. I mean, I'm as big a Leinart supporter as there is outside of LA, but he needs to be in a controlled passing game.
4. Leinart in 2006...shades of Roethlisberger in 2004? Hmm...only time will tell, but it is a strikingly similar slide, and I would bet he uses it as motivation in much the same way. Will he have the results Ben has had to date? Doubtful, but he, like Ben, fell into an ideal situation and should have a long productive career.
5. The Patriots getting the #2 RB with the 22nd pick and the Super Bowl champs getting the #1 WR on the board with the 25th pick is why the rich just keep on getting richer. They're smarter and more saavy than 98% of the rest of the league. It is fun to watch.
6. It is going to be Boom or Bust with this draft for the Tennessee Titans. I am firmly in the "Vince Young is not going to succeed as a pro" camp, but if he and LenDale White play to the capabilities, look out AFC South and beyond. It is a double down Trent-type gamble, but one that could have a huge payday.
7. How in the world does a defensive back as talented as Jimmy Williams slide to the #37 pick in a league where that position is at a premium? Mind-boggling. I have zero doubt that I could do a better job than half of the GMs in the NFL. The guy was an amazing player, and by all accounts had a clean off the field slate. He got bad rap for having an abbrasive attitude...yeah, I mean, who wants a cocky, confident, athletic CB? Those never work out well do they? Foolish.
8. The Vikings picking Tavarius Jackson in the 2nd round seemed like a head-scratcher until I watched the footage of him throwing lasers all over the field. You can teach the offensive system to the kid, but you can't teach that kind of arm strength. I do not usually get too caught up in the measurables, I am a past performance guy, but the throws he made on that film just jumped off the screen. He could be special.
9. I am officially convinced that AJ Smith is either A) trying to kill Marty Schottenheimer slowly with each draft or B) he is secretly competing with Matt Millen to see who can get fired first. "Let me see, should we take one of the two sub-4.4 WRs still on the board at #19 that we so desperately need, or do we take a gimpy CB with one college start and no games played in 2005. It's a no brainer...bring out the gimp!!" And then, again with some quality WRs still available in round 3 (Hagan, Brandon Williams, Stovall), he elects to draft an inconsistent, sidearm QB out of the ACC. Can't have enough of those around.
10. And finally, is there any way we can get Steve McNair to just retire? Is it too much to ask? I am not sure what kind of pictures this guy has of the media, but he is clearly the single most overrated player of the past 10 years. All weekend, all everyone wanted to talk about was how he was being mistreated by management, how superstars do not get treated that way, how he's given so much to this organization, blah, blah, blah. I just don't see it with this guy. I cannot put my finger on it, but he is just not that impressive. I'm sick of hearing about what a warrior he is all the time. Dick Butkus was a warrior. Jack Lambert was warrior. Ronnie Lott, warrior. Just because a QB plays with a sore tailbone, he's not a warrior. I don't get how some guys are such media darlings (NcNair), yet others can't catch a break half the time even though they are true superstars (NcNabb...subject for another day). That all being said, I'll be thrilled if he goes to Baltimore and plays sitting duck to the Steelers "Nasty D."

Steelers draft tangent:

1. After initially being bummed because the passed on White, I have grown to really love the Holmes pick. He (and third rounder Willie Reid) bring a speed demension to the Steelers offense that has been non-existent since...well...forever. They are two of the fastest players the team has ever drafted, which leads me to think...
2. There is going to be a shift in offensive philosophy. Coach Cowher alluded it to it a few times during the playoffs when asked about opening up the passing game, responding something to the effect, and I'm paraphrasing, "of course we're throwing more, we finally have a QB who can complete passes and win games, stupid." It's clear with the drafting of Holmes and Reid that they are going to be taking advantage of their speed to create mismatches and open up space for Hines Ward and Heath Miller. Couple that with the fact they did not draft a RB, thus leaving that position thin but fast (see Willie Parker) tells me they are opening it up. God bless Eli Manning's 2004 draft hissy fit that allowed Big Ben to slide to #11. Again, the rich get richer.
3. It is also clear that the Steelers fully expect Holmes to start from Day 1. When the pick was made, it appeared that he would return kicks and play some third and fourth WR, but with the selection of Willie Reid, one of the best KRs in college football last year, one could surmise that they expect Holmes to make an immediate impact as the #2 or #3 WR (hopefully #2, Ced Wilson is not exactly the 2nd coming of John Taylor). Again, all speculation, but with Ben as the QB, it makes sense.
4. As my prior posts stated, I like Bruce Gradkowski as a QB to groom as Ben's back-up, but I do like the selection of Omar Jacobs. He is a very gifted passer and athlete, and he has the potential to develop into a very good Roethlisberger caddy and/or trade bait (ala the Ron Wolf QB drafting/developing/trading crede).

Well, those are my thoughts. I could go on all day, but no one is reading this posting anyway.

Bush Whacked

As news broke of the signing of Mario Williams by the Houston Texans Friday evening, a thought quickly crossed my mind. It clearly takes a smart, astute business mind to make the now billions of dollars necessary to own a professional football team, but yet these owner time and again make very foolish decisions. There is no way conceivable that from a football and especially marketing standpoint the Williams over Bush selection makes sense (or cents, if you're into puns). Now, I refuse to go all Lupica on anyone and compare it to Sam Bowie/Michael Jordan. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. That being said, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!?!?! You have an opportunity to draft one of the most gifted and exciting RBs, let alone players, of the past 10 years (go ahead and name anyone more exciting not named Vick), and instead you chose a player who's college team couldn't reach .500 and has been accused of motivation issues. It's not about Williams's ability though, this judgment is based on soley on Bush. Has anyone seen the reaction of the normally reserved, almost complacent Saints fans? (ESPN's Len Pasquarelli) They sold 15,000 jerseys in the first day, and HE DOES NOT EVEN HAVE A NUMBER YET!! In hindsight, it's a blessing to that hurting city that he can bring some hope and reprieve from the suffering, but it doesn't change the fact that Houston dropped the ball. In their four years of existence, their fans have been good sports while being subjected to some pretty bad football. So, instead of rewarding them with an explosive playmaker and box office draw (or even their hometown hero Vince Young), they allow him to slide on over to New Orleans. Clearly, Texans owner Bob McNair comes from family money because he surely didn't make it through marketing and consumer satisfaction. I know that I'm already setting my TiVo for the September 25th prime time showdown with Michael Vick. Much better than watching Mario Williams and the destined for another top pick Texans. But hey, he saved a few bucks and he won't have to hire so many jersey vendors now.

Monday, May 01, 2006

It's Faaaaantastic!

Just a quick note, that after watching this whole Cavs-Wizards series, NBA refs are absolutely terrible. Nothing is even close to consistent. One time it's a charge, the next it's a blocking foul. If you drive the lane, and anyone is within 2 feet of you, even if you don't get touched, it's a foul. Whatever happened to letting them play in the playoffs? It's really put a drain on a good series. That's all.