Thursday, September 27, 2007

Marion Unlikely to be Traded

Shawn Marion has recently requested a change of scenery, but don't expect the Suns to accommodate him. He has said in the past that he would be interested in being the best player on a worse team, so that perhaps he could get some of the recognition he deserves. It's hard to see the Suns trading him, but if so there are some decent options available. Andrei Kirilenko comes to mind, as does Lamar Odom, but neither of these players could make Phoenix any better.

The fact is that it's hard to envision any player, save someone at the level of Kevin Garnett, could give the Suns even value, simply because Marion is a perfect fit for the Suns. He's one of the top defenders in the league, as well as one of the most versatile, on a team that is otherwise fairly poor defensively. He is extremely athletic and is adept and running and finishing the fastbreak. Marion also has a good enough three-point shot to take advantage the openings created by Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. He creates mismatches on the offensive end with his quickness and athleticism, but is strong enough and a good enough rebounder that he is not exploited on the other end.

If the Suns trade him, they will not acquire a player who fills all these needs. If they were to swap him for Kirilenko, they would get a good defender and a great shot-blocker, but an inferior rebounder and shooter. Odom would provide better shooting, but he is a worse defender and he has had trouble staying healthy in recent years. Of the two, Kirilenko would be preferable due to his defense, but it's hard to see Marion having much success in Utah.

The best trade might be a three way deal, sending Marion to LA, Odom to Utah, and Kirilenko to Phoenix (with a couple throw-ins involved to make the numbers work). Marion would give Kobe rebounding and defense, as well as some scoring, Odom would give Utah some more offense and a better shooter, as well as some flexibility, and Kirilenko would (for the most part) replace Marion's defense and might even be able to run the point for a brief time now and again while Nash takes a breather.

That said, Marion is still a far better fit for the Suns and any trade would be a downgrade. Odds are the Suns will hold off on a trade unless Marion's sulking becomes a major distraction. If that is the case, the Suns have to make a move and try to win a championship while Nash is still at his best. Nash seems to be aging gracefully, since he doesn't rely on athleticism to be a great player, but he is 33 and can't be expected to put up MVP-caliber numbers through his mid-to-late 30's. The Suns can hardly afford to have a disruptive Marion waste another great year from Nash.

Still, no need for Suns fans to panic. Most likely Marion will come to his senses and will remain in Phoenix. The Matrix has to realize that being The One isn't all it's cracked up to be. Just ask Allen Iverson, Paul Pierce, and Kobe Bryant (who are all far more talented than Marion) how that worked out for them.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Thoughts From Week 3

Titans-Saints: What happened to the Saints? The offensive line has been terrible. I still expect better from Drew Brees, but he was under pressure all night, and the Titans defense is not that great. The defense was bad last year and may have actually gotten worse. All in all, a pretty ugly game.

The most entertaining moment was when one of the commentators (I think it was Mike Tirico) called Keith Bulluck's second interception of the night and then, in the same breath, said that Bulluck's mother abandoned him when he was twelve years old. It's one thing to tell that story, but Tirico said it the same way he would've said that Bulluck is in his 8th year out of Syracuse. I can't wait until Tirico calls a Lakers game this year just to see if he says "And the fade-away is good for Lamar Odom, whose infant son died two years ago."

Another great moment was during the post-game press conference when Reggie Bush said that the Saints "can either go left or go right." That just cracked me up because going left and right is about all Bush does on the field.

Cowboys-Bears: How much longer can the Bears start Rex Grossman? On one hand, I'm not sure how much better Brian Griese is, but at this point, how much worse could he be? Even Kyle Orton didn't lose them games the way Grossman is this year. To be fair, the Bears are really missing Thomas Jones. Cedric Benson looks to me like an over-hyped LenDale White. But still, something has to be done about Grossman. I mean he threw an interception to Roy Williams. ROY WILLIAMS! I'm pretty confident that Detroit's Roy Williams would be better in coverage than the one in Dallas, but even he could read Grossman without any trouble.

Also, Adam Archuleta is terrible. All he did Sunday night was miss tackles. Not to mention, he got leveled on a block from Sam Hurd. For the record, Hurd weighs 195 lbs.

And is it just me or would that Tony Romo ESPN ad be about a gazillion times funnier if the Sportscenter anchor tossed a pen or clipboard at him and he fumbled it? I feel cheated.

Giants-Redskins: The Giants still stink. The Redskins lost this game more than the Giants won it. Clinton Portis looked worse every time he touched the ball and Jason Campbell proved that he's not ready to carry the offense. The Redskins could be a pretty good team this year because of the defense, but it doesn't look like they're capable of scoring more than 20 points. And don't tell me it was the Giants' defense. Expect the Eagles to light them up next week. Speaking of the Eagles...

Lions-Eagles: Kevin Curtis must have set a record for infuriated fantasy owners. After doing nothing in the first two weeks, he exploded for 221 yards and 3 TDs. I guess the Eagles were saving up their offense for this one. Westbrook was just as good, with 221 all-purpose yards and 3 TDs, and he was supposed to be injured. Meanwhile, McNabb completed 80% of his passes. I bet a white quarterback would've completed 90% (sorry Donovan, but you were asking for that), but that's still a pretty good game.

Jon Kitna had an excellent game, even though it wasn't enough to keep his team close, but now we have a better sense of who the Lions are. Great offense, zero defense. They'll out-gun a few teams, but I wouldn't expect the ten wins Kitna promised.

Browns-Raiders: Not much to say about this game except that Lane Kiffin is clearly a quick learner. Nice job icing the kicker after Shanahan abused him last week. Maybe there is hope for the Raiders.

Colts-Texans: The Texans surprised me in that they actually made a game of this. Yes, they came in 2-0 and were the home team, but nobody gave them much of a chance, especially with Andre Johnson out. Could they be this year's Saints?

Cardinals-Ravens: The Ravens defense is clearly not what it used to be. Seventeen points in the fourth quarter? From Kurt Warner? That's inexcusable even though Baltimore won in the end. Meanwhile, I'm liking Ken Whisenhunt more and more. Is using Warner as the no-huddle quarterback good for Matt Leinart's confidence? No. But the Cardinals just need to win games at this point. Kudos to Whisenhunt for thinking outside the box.

Rams-Bucs: Steven Jackson has the same number of touchdowns this season as he has in that commercial. Amazing how the consensus top three fantasy running backs have just one rushing touchdown between them.

Bills-Patriots: The Patriots three-game streak of scoring exactly 38 points will come to a halt this week when they go to Cincinnati. They'll score at least 48.

On a side note, Lee Evans has five receptions in three games. How long can this go on?

Chargers-Packers: When is the last time a coach has destroyed a great team like Norv Turner is this year? It's only Week 3, but his seat has to be getting awfully hot right now. Schottenheimer has never looked so good.

I have to give the Packers credit though. While they're not going to be an elite team, they could easily take the NFC North. Who are they competing with? The Bears can't score, the Lions can't defend, and the Vikings can't do much of anything. A few injuries could change things quickly for the Packers, who aren't that deep, but they've got a great chance to win the division.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Thoughts From Week 2

Eagles-Redskins: The Eagles looked pretty bad Monday night. Donovan McNabb showed some positive signs. He was moving reasonably well and looked like the McNabb of old in the 4th quarter. If only he figured that out earlier in the game. Credit the Redskins defense for covering the Eagles receivers, but the old, confident McNabb would have put up at least 25 points on that team. It can't be helping that he's got Kevin Kolb in his rearview mirror. It seemed like every incomplete pass was followed by a shot of Kolb on the sideline. Not that it matters. This team is McNabb's until he gets injured or the Eagles are completely out of contention.

I'm starting to wonder if the Eagles system was ever ideal for McNabb. The West Coast offense requires more accuracy than arm strength, which is why Jeff Garcia was able to step in and have so much success last year. I'm a McNabb fan, but it seems like his talents could be far better utilized if he had a big play receiver (who's not a lunatic) and played in an offense that featured more throws downfield. Imagine if he was the quarterback in Detroit or Arizona. He'd be lighting up the scoreboard every week. That said, the Eagles look like they are capable of being a very good team. The defense is better than last year's and the wide receivers are at least as good. If McNabb can play like he did in the 4th quarter, the Eagles can be very dangerous.

Bengals-Browns: Jamal Lewis rushing for 200 yards has to be considered one of the biggest surprises of the year. That said, we all know why it happened. The Bengals defense is abysmal. Lewis and Derek Anderson are not that good, sorry Cleveland fans. How many games will it take for Anderson to throw another five touchdowns? I'm thinking four, at least. I just feel bad for Carson Palmer. I mean what more can you ask from him?

By the way, Chad Johnson looked genuinely dejected after he received a rude welcome to the Dawg Pound. Honestly, Chad, what were you expecting? Don't get me wrong, I love Chad Johnson, but he had to know the Browns fans wouldn't exactly be happy to see him.

Packers-Giants: Nothing made me happier than watching Jeremy Shockey screw his team over when he was penalized for spiking the ball. I took great pleasure in the Giants' demise. The Eagles may be 0-2, but the Giants are an uglier 0-2. This game also proved just how awful the Giants defense is. Tony Romo got most of the credit for Dallas' success in Week 1, but it clearly had a lot to do with the Giants inability to tackle. There is no excuse for letting Favre put 35 points on the board.

Bills-Steelers: When will Lee Evans make a play? I've got him in my fantasy league and he's killing me. I'll have to wait at least until Week 4. Hard to imagine he'll go off against the Patriots. By the way, I love ESPN's headline on the game recap: "Drained Bills lose first game since Everett's injury." This game had nothing to do with Kevin Everett. If the Bills had been playing the Giants this week, they would've won and the headline would be "Bills win big for Everett." All that off the field stuff is so overblown. The Falcons aren't 0-2 because they miss Michael Vick, it's because they're bad. End of story.

Saints-Bucs: What happened to the Saints? Well for one thing, Reggie Bush has to remember he's in the NFL. He struggled early last year as well (though it seems like everyone forgot about that) and it's because he insists on running side-to-side all the time. Every so often that will work, but most of the time you won't have too much success. Deuce McAllister is going to need some more carries; ten isn't nearly enough. It also doesn't help that the defense still stinks. They're not a bad team and they'll come around, but we could be looking at a disappointing season.

Raiders-Broncos: Mike Shanahan straight out owned the Lane Kiffin. Was it cheap? Yeah, kind of. But the way he pulled the ref aside and perfectly timed his timeout was simply a veteran coach showing up his young counterpart. Give the Raiders some credit though. They don't look half-bad for an 0-2 team. No one expected them to hang with the Broncos, let alone take them to overtime.

Jets-Ravens: What is wrong with Brian Billick? This is the second week in a row when he's called passes when all he needed to do was run some clock. It was one thing to do that last year when he had a healthy Steve McNair and a washed up Jamal Lewis running the ball, but McNair looked awful last week and Kyle Boller started against the Jets, AND he's got Willis McGahee now. What's the point of acquiring a stud running back if you aren't going to use him? If not for a few dropped passes late in the 4th quarter, the Jets probably would have won that game.

Chargers-Patriots: What part of "MVP" doesn't Norv Turner understand? You've got a young quarterback on the road against a good defense and the MVP in the backfield, so you start the game with a pass? It didn't help that the defense looked flat for most of the game. The Patriots deserve credit for the win, they are clearly the best in the league until someone (maybe the Colts) prove otherwise. Still, it really seemed like Turner spent more time safeguarding his playbook than he did preparing his team.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Oden to Miss 2007-08 Season

After everything seemed to be looking up for the Portland Trailblazers, things took a turn for the worse today when it will be announced that Greg Oden is going to have knee surgery and likely miss his rookie season. This is the same surgery that transformed Chris Webber from one of the league's best athletes and most versatile players to a slow, immobile big man who gets by on jump shooting and passing.

Now before Portland fans begin to panic, let's remember that Webber was much older when he had this surgery and a complete recovery is possible, just ask Amare Stoudemire. According to a report by, the damage is relatively minor and a full recovery is expected in six to twelve months. Nonetheless, this puts a damper on a team that many were looking forward to watching, with Oden joining Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy and a number of other talented young players.

If Oden is able to fully recover, this may not turn out so badly for the Blazers in the long run. There would have been tremendous pressure on this team to improve and it is debatable whether such a young team would have been able to play .500 basketball, let alone make a playoff run as some analysts had predicted. This will alleviate that pressure and free up playing time for LaMarcus Aldridge (who would have started anyway), Channing Frye, Josh McRoberts, and perhaps even Travis Outlaw, letting Portland find out what pieces they really have to place around Oden and Roy.

This will also likely leave the Blazers as a lottery team once more, giving them a chance at another high draft pick. With some luck, and without the consistent scoring that Zach Randolph provided, the Blazers could even land a top five pick. Who knows, the 2008-09 Blazers could feature Oden AND O.J. Mayo. Obviously the chances of this occurring are pretty slim, but the point is that the franchise is far from ruined.

Of course, if Oden is unable to regain the full range of athleticism he's displayed in high school and college, it's hard to know how good of a player he can be. With his offensive game still developing, Oden is primarily a defensive force right now. His greatest strength is his shot-blocking, which is attributed to his height and athleticism, as well as impeccable timing. He can still be an effective shot-blocker if he loses some athletic ability because of that timing, but he will not be the same player he was in college.

One has to wonder how the recovery process will impact Oden's game. When his right wrist was injured during the Ohio State season, it forced him to use his left hand, which ought to pay off dividends in the long run. Similarly, Oden may take some of his recovery time to improve other skills, such as shooting. It is hardly necessary for a player like Oden to be a strong jump-shooter, but it certainly couldn't hurt. Obviously there is no guarantee that he works on this skill and this is purely speculation, but it seems a safe bet that Oden will be doing something basketball-related during all this downtime.

Portland fans have much to fear, but Oden is in as good a position as anyone to make a full recovery from knee surgery and help the Blazers become serious contenders down the road.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

NFL Preview: NFC West

St. Louis Rams: The Rams were only able to muster a 8-8 season in 2006, but showed signs of improvement. Stephen Jackson emerged as one of the league's premier running backs and Marc Bulger started all 16 games for the first time in his career and had an excellent season. The receiving corps of Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, and Kevin Curtis remained one of the best in the league. Despite its explosive offense, the defense, once again, played poorly and kept the Rams from making the playoffs, though they were only one game shy of Seattle.

While Curtis left for the Eagles in the off-season, he was replaced by Drew Bennett, who will be the slot receiver for now. Bennett is a better all-around receiver than Curtis, so that turns out to be an upgrade at a position where the Rams were already strong. Dante' Hall was also added and he should bolster the return game.

Of course, we already knew the Rams could score. If they are going to improve this year, it will be because of their defense. The offense is good enough to simply outscore some teams, the defense will have to be better if they want to make the playoffs. One big addition could be that of first round draft pick Adam Carriker, who will line up at defensive end opposite Leonard Little and should greatly improve the pass rush. It's hard to know if the defense can get much better, but they should be at least a .500 team even if they have to win by offense alone.

Seattle Seahawks: The Madden Curse struck again last year, victimizing Shaun Alexander, who played in only ten games (he had played in 16 games in every other season of his career). Even when he played, he was rarely healthy and was not particularly effective. Matt Hasselbeck also missed 4 games and had his worst season since becoming a full-time starter. Deion Branch was added to the mix, but even he was not enough to help Hasselbeck. The defense also lapsed from its 2005 form, allowing 70 more points in '06. Even so, the team went 9-7 and made the playoffs.

In the off-season, the Seahawks lost Darrell Jackson to the division-rival 49ers, who had been their top receiving option, despite his penchant for dropping passes. He'll be replaced by Branch and D.J. Hackett, who could emerge as one of Hasselbeck's best weapons. The biggest addition was that of Patrick Kerney, who should be a defensive upgrade and may be able to get the defense back to where it was in '05.

If the Seahawks are going to bounce back from a somewhat disappointing year, it will be because of a resurgent Alexander. Should Alexander reinstate himself as one of the elite running backs in football, Hasselbeck's job will be much easier and the entire offense should click. If he continues to face injuries, this team is likely headed for a .500 season, at best.

San Francisco 49ers: By finishing 7-9, the 49ers exceeded many expectations and continued their steady improvement. Frank Gore had a phenomenal season, finishing with nearly 1700 rushing yards. Alex Smith showed some progress, improving the numbers he put up as a rookie. It didn't help that Smith lacked competent receivers to throw to. The wide receivers struggled and Vernon Davis, who many considered a viable Rookie of the Year candidate at the start of the season, missed a number of games and had a very minor impact on the offense. The defense was amongst the worst in the league, allowing over 400 points.

The 49ers should be a very different team this year, as it has received a major overhaul. The team added Nate Clements and first round pick Patrick Willis, among others, to upgrade the defense, and Darrell Jackson and Ashley Lelie to give Smith some more options downfield. These moves should make the defense far more formidable, though they won't become an elite unit this year.

The offensive additions are harder to judge. Jackson typically misses a number of games due to injury and even when healthy, he tends to drop a lot of passes (which is not good for a young quarterback's confidence). Lelie is talented but has never lived up to the hype surrounding him. Also concerning is Gore's health. Gore suffered a broken hand and while he is expected to start in Week 1, San Francisco has to be worried about whether or not he can stay on the field. If the 49ers are going to have a strong season, it will be because of Smith, who could take a big step forward this year.

Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals showed some signs of hope last season, with great performances from their wide receivers, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, and then-rookie Matt Leinart, who showed signs of becoming a great quarterback. However, the Cardinals suffered through another 5-11 season because of poor play from the defense and offensive line, as well as poor coaching from Dennis Green.

Green was replacement by Ken Wisenhunt, who ought to be a considerable upgrade (though we'll all miss Green's "They are who we thought they were!" tirade). The team spent its first round pick on Levi Brown, but also lost Leonard Davis to free agency. Had they managed to hold on to Davis, the Cardinals might have had a strong offensive line, but now they are pretty much back where they started. That does not bode well for Leinart and it is particularly bad for Edgerrin James, who ran for a career-low 3.4 yards per carry last season.

There were no major defensive upgrades, so that unit will again be a weakness for Arizona. They should be able to put up a lot of points, but the offense will be very dependent on Leinart since the offensive line will not be strong enough to open up holes for James. Unless the line gets substantially better, Leinart will have to carry the offense basically by himself. Maybe in a few years he could handle that responsibility, but it is unlikely that he will make that step this year. Another 5-6 win season is in the books.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

NFL Preview: NFC South

New Orleans Saints: The Saints were America's team last year, surpassing all expectations and making it all the way to the NFC Championship game. Led by newcomers Drew Brees and Reggie Bush, the Saints had one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Brees made a smooth transition to Sean Payton's system, aided by receivers Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, and Joe Horn (when he was healthy). Deuce McAllister's power and Bush's speed gave the Saints one of the best rushing attacks in the league. Perhaps most important was the emotional boost the team received from the New Orleans fans, who had the team returned to them after it spent a season in exile due to Hurricane Katrina.

The biggest loss the Saints suffered was that of Horn, who had been the face of the team before last season. However, Horn did not play much last year due to injury and other young receivers have emerged. Colston, Henderson, and rookie Robert Meacham should be able to offset Horn's departure. The offense should continue its improvement as Brees gets more comfortable and Bush takes a bigger role in the offense.

The potential downfall could be the defense. The only remotely significant upgrade came at cornerback, where the team added former Colt Jason David. This drops Fred Thomas to third in the depth chart, which could make a difference (as anyone who watched Thomas get burned in the playoffs would agree). The high-powered offense might be enough to get to Saints to a conference title in the wide-open NFC, but it's hard to imagine them overcoming a more complete team like the Chargers, Patriots, or Ravens.

Carolina Panthers:
The Panthers continued their year-to-year inconsistency, posting a 8-8 record. Jake Delhomme had a mediocre season and the running backs, once again, struggled to stay healthy. DeAngelo Williams emerged as an effective running option, but missed four games due to injury. The defense was also sub-par, allowing almost 50 more points than they did last season.

Despite the defense's relatively poor performance, the two biggest acquisitions were on offense. David Carr was added after patience in Houston wore thin, and Dwayne Jarrett was drafted to replace Keyshawn Johnson. Jarrett plays a similar game to Johnson and should fit in nicely opposite Steve Smith, as his size will make him a prime red-zone target.

Carr won't see the field as quickly as Jarrett, but he could potentially have a bigger impact. Should the Panthers get frustrated with with Delhomme's erratic play, they can turn to Carr. While he was ineffective in Houston, he did show some flashes and his poor play was likely due to the inability of his offensive line to keep him on his feet. Given the opportunity and an effective offensive line, Carr could lead the Panthers to a very strong season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
An aging defense and numerous quarterback injuries caused the Bucs to fall to 4-12 a year after making the playoffs with an 11-5 record. As the Bucs turned to Chris Simms to lead them, he suffered a spleen injury and missed much of the season. Too much Bruce Gradkowski combined with the decline of veterans such as Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, and Ronde Barber left Tampa Bay a shell of its former self.

In the off-season, the Bucs addressed their quarterback needs (for now) by signing Jeff Garcia. Garcia should be a good fit in Jon Gruden's West Coast offense after excelling in that role with the Eagles last season. While this does not address Tampa Bay's long-term quarterback needs and may soon spell the end for Simms in Tampa, it should significantly improve the offense in the short term.

The changing of the guard seems to be beginning, as Rice was released and was effectively replaced by fourth overall pick Gaines Adams. The Bucs still have a lot of work to do if they intend to fix up the aging defense, but Adams should be a good start. The team also recently added Jeremiah Trotter, who, while no longer a Pro Bowl-caliber player, should be a good influence in the locker room. The Bucs still have a lot of work to do, but they should be significantly better this season.

Atlanta Falcons:
Coming off the 7-9 season, the Falcons looked to improve under new head coach Bobby Petrino. They hoped that he could figure out Michael Vick and that perhaps the addition of Joe Horn would give Vick the sure-handed receiver he's been longing for. Well, we all know how that worked out. Vick will spend at least a year in prison and the Falcons have cut ties with him to the best of their ability. (I'll keep the Vick jokes to a minimum, I promise. It's just too easy.)

Atlanta clearly picked the wrong year to let Matt Schaub go, as he would've had a chance to start, and now they are left with Joey Harrington as the starting quarterback. Harrington has looked good in training camp and was decent for Miami last year, but he's a far cry from Vick or even what would've been expected from Schaub. Because Vick's legal troubles occurred so late in the off-season, Atlanta was unable to acquire a suitable backup quarterback (well, technically Harrington was that backup) and are left with only Chris Redman and D.J. Shockley as alternative options.

Much of the offensive load will be carried by Warrick Dunn, who is now 32 and may see the decline that most running backs experience around his age. Horn will improve the receiving corps, but he is past his prime and with Harrington at the helm, it's debatable whether Horn could have made a major difference when he was still an elite receiver. For the Falcons to be a decent team, they will rely on their defense, Dunn, and Harrington to performance well beyond expectations.