Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Genesis of the Conspiracy of Mikes?

Note the child molestation at the 14 second mark.

A Megatrade That Won't Happen

Last night both the Phoenix Suns and the Dallas Mavericks were eliminated from the playoffs, both after making trades that were supposed to put them over the top. The results? Jason Kidd was torched by Chris Paul as the Mavs fell to New Orleans, and Shaquille O'Neal couldn't stop Tim Duncan (or even stop Duncan from slowing Amare Stoudemire) as the Spurs dropped the Suns. The Suns and Mavs only managed to win one playoff game apiece and both teams are now significantly worse off in the long run than they were before the trades.

So what happens now? Well, Avery Johnson was already shown the door in Dallas, despite doing nothing but win in the regular season, and rumor has it that Mike D'Antoni is next. Firing the coach might appease some fans, but will it get to the root of the problem? Probably not. The issue is personnel, not coaching.

With that in mind I began to peruse the ESPN Trade Machine, trying to figure out how to fix the Suns. It's quite clear that Shaq is no longer able to be a force, but he can still contribute (when healthy) for the right team. Meanwhile, as good as Steve Nash was this year, he's 34 and can't be expected to play at this level for much longer. If the Suns stand pat, they can only get worse, even if Stoudemire improves because of the evident decline of Shaq and the inevitable decline of Nash. So why not make a deal now? No one wants Shaq on his own, but perhaps he could be packaged with Nash. Deal the two of them and the Suns would still have Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw, Grant Hill, and Raja Bell. That's not a bad core, and of course they'd also have whatever they got back in the deal.

Ah, but who to trade with? Who would want a pair of aging players with huge contracts? The Knicks were the logical choice, but sadly the Isiah Thomas era is no more. Even so, I initially tried to work out a deal with the Knicks where Stephon Marbury makes his not-so-triumphant return to Phoenix.

Here's the rundown: New York gets Steve Nash and Shaquille O'Neal, Phoenix gets Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry, Nate Robinson, and David Lee.

Nash and O'Neal infuse new life into New York, even if it doesn't last long. But they come off the books in the same year, which happens to be one year before a certain LeBron James becomes a free agent. The Suns add Marbury's expiring deal (and perhaps a restraining order against him), Curry, so that Stoudemire can stay at power forward, and a pair of valuable young backups in Robinson and Lee.

Not a terrible deal for either team, but the problem (as usual) is Marbury. His contract may be terminated at the end of this year, so barring a sign-and-trade, this deal can't happen. Sorry Knicks fans. At least you might get D'Antoni.

Marbury aside, there's another problem with this deal. Adding Shaq does nothing for the Knicks if they have to play him alongside Zach Randolph. They'd have to find a taker for Randolph to make the deal work. The logical team to send him to is the Chicago Bulls, who haven't had a low-post scorer since Curry left. However, the Bulls don't quite have the contracts to make anything work on their own. So in come the Mavs.

Here's the four team trade that I worked out:
Phoenix gets Stephon Marbury, Erick Dampier, and Tyrus Thomas, Dallas gets Steve Nash, Eddy Curry, and Drew Gooden, New York gets Shaquille O'Neal and Jason Kidd, and Chicago gets Zach Randolph.

This would be fun. Nowitzki and Nash are reunited, plus Curry joins the fray, the Knicks get older but far more exciting with Kidd and Shaq, and the Bulls finally get the big man they've been looking for. Only one problem, the trade A) doesn't work because of Marbury and B) wouldn't work because the Suns don't get nearly enough.

This was the point where I nearly gave up. I was so close and yet so far. But then it hit me, screw the Knicks and Bulls. The Suns and Mavs have what it takes. Just send Shaq and Nash to Dallas and Kidd and Dampier to the Suns, except the numbers don't quite work. Then I found it, my savior, the Orlando Magic. Here's the final trade I worked out that won't, but should take place:

For those of you who can't read horribly blurry pictures, here's the trade:

Then Suns get Jason Kidd, Erick Dampier, and Jameer Nelson, the Mavs get Steve Nash, Shaquille O'Neal, and Tony Battie, and the Magic get Jason Terry.

Phoenix gets a still capable point guard, but one whose contract expires a year sooner, a decent center, and a point guard of the future in Nelson. Dallas gets Nash and Dirk back together, Shaq to man the middle, and Battie's soon-to-be-expiring deal. And Orlando gets a great shooting point guard in Terry.

Is it perfect? No. Will it happen? Probably not. But it would be fun. Well that was my Trade Machine adventure for the day. Let us know if you have a better idea.

Mike Conspiracy, Part 3

Thanks the help of Patrick's research, I believe we've discovered another clue in the case. After doing some more sleuthing, the crack team at PSB has tracked down the possible HQ of this potentially epic mystery. Google Search sums it up best...

An escort! What could this mean? And what else is on Golden Gate Ave? Stay tuned...

The Kentucky Derby is this weekend?

That's right, stunned sports fans, that most hallowed of sporting events involving tiny men with no athletic ability other than anorexia takes place this Saturday. As it is a gambler's paradise, I will now reveal to you my fool proof method for picking a superfecta or a machomagumba or whatever the hell it's called when you bet on which horses will finish 1-4.

First: Pick the horse with the coolest name. Some years this is easier than others (Fusaichi Pegasus made us all rich). I remember in 2002 there was a horse named "Request for Parole" which is just about the coolest name for a horse I can remember. I think he finished seventh. Parole denied.

This year's contenders: Big Truck, Anak Nakal, Court Vision, Cool Coal Man, Gayego

The winner: Big Truck

Court Vision is clever but a bit too self-aware, and I never like horse names that refer to other sports. Cool Coal Man sounds more like a Jazz musician than a Derby winner. Anak Nakal and Gayego are disturbingly sexual. Big Truck is straight forward, intimidating, and one of my nicknames with the ladies, which put it over the top, as it would were it one of my other nicknames with the ladies: "Commercial Break" or "Captain Nut Butter."

2nd: Horse with the name your girlfriend/wife/etc. is most likely to shout out during coitus

This year's contenders: Cowboy Cal, Monba, Big Brown, Anak Nakal

The winner (of 2nd place): Big Brown

Let's just say "Captain Nut Butter" has had his share of girlfriends with jungle fever. I didn't say the coitus had to be with you.

3rd: Any horse with any association with the name "Mike"

This year's contenders: Gayego (Jockey Mike Smith), Visionaire (Trainer Michael Matz)

The winner (of 3rd place): Gayego

The conspiracy of Mikes is too powerful to ignore.

4th: The favorite of the remaining horses (i.e. lowest odds)

The winner (of 4th place): Colonel John

There you have it. The sure fire way to score big cashmoney at the Derby. Understand these picks are all subjective to your own preferences, except that I am always right.

Mikes cont'd...

Foox, just a follow up. It's clear that San Francisco, that supposed bastion of liberal thought, is the biggest follower when it comes to the Mike Conspiracy, as all three top members of the 49ers staff are named Mike:

Head Coach: Mike Nolan
Ass't Head Coach/D-Coordinator: Mike Singletary
O-Coordinator: Mike Martz

Additionally, they employ RB Michael Robinson, S Michael Lewis, as well as Assistant Director of Pro personnel Mike Williams, and a cheerleader named Maki who may or may not have misspelled her own name to throw off PSB's crack investigative staff.

I Just Discovered a Conspiracy

While talking to Patrick about how everyone thinks he's 12 years old for his rather embarrassing post about Mike D'Antoni, I realized something rather disconcerting: there is an inordinate number of coaches in every sport with the first name Mike. The more Patrick and I listed, the scarier it got. Behold:

Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Holmgren, Seattle Seahawks
Mike Shanahan, Denver Broncos
Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
Mike Nolan, San Francisco 49ers
Mike Martz, assistant on the 49ers
Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons

Mike Brown, Cleveland Cavaliers
Mike Woodson, Atlanata Hawks
Mike D'Antoni, Phoenix Suns (come to the Knicks, Mike!)
Mike Dunleavy, Los Angeles Clippers

Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings
Mike Kitchen, St. Louis Blues
Michael Therrien, Pittsburgh Penguins... c'mon, that counts
Mike Keenan, Calgary Flames

Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels

That's fifteen head coaches over four sports and one well-known assistant (Martz). Note also that the MLB only has one Mike. And that's just head coaches / managers -- who knows how many Mikes there are total if you count all assistants and specialty coaches. What does this conspiracy mean? Where does it lead? Who's behind this? Stay tuned as we dig deeper here at PSB.

Steve Kerr Breaks the News to Mike D'Antoni

Kerr's Assistant: Mr. Kerr, Mr. D'Antoni is here to see you.

Kerr (sniffing a big bouquet of flowers): Thanks, Ginger. Send him in.

D'Antoni (entering): Buon giorno!

Kerr: Hey Mike, thanks for coming in.

D'Antoni (holding two half-eaten slices of pizza): It's-a no problemo, a-mister-Steve.

Kerr: It's 7:30 in the morning. Isn't it a little early for pizza?

D'Antoni: It's-a never too early for-a pizza, a-mister-Steve.

Kerr: Right, well...Mike, I hate to break it to you, but we're going to go in a different direction for this coming season.

D'Antoni (With chewed pizza falling out of his mouth): Que?

Kerr: Yeah, we think you just didn't have enough fiery italian passion to get the job done.

D'Antoni: This-a is-a an-a outrage-a! Who-a has-a more pa-shee-oh-nay than-a me?

Mario: It's-a me! Mario!

D'Antoni: Him? You-a hired him?

Kerr: Yes, we think he's the guy who can get us over the hump next year.

Mario: Over-a-da-hump!

D'Antoni: But he has-a no-a basketball expertise-a! He's-a just a plumber!

Mario: I swim-a in dee poop!

Kerr: No, but he's got a lifetime of leadership experience and a superior mustache. And as we all know, our team's defensive intensity is based entirely on the impressiveness of the coach's mustache.

Mario: Mine-a curls up!

D'Antoni: A-mister-Steve, you are-a making a big-a mistake-a. You-a must-a know-a that-a whoever is-a coach next year will-a get an old-a, slow-a tired-a team-a who-a can't play-a defense-a. You-a should-a at least bring-a me back-a and fire me in-a January, so you will-a keep-a your-a job for longer.

Kerr: Thanks for your concern, Mike, but I'm looking to get fired. I'm just hoping Marv will take me back. Those were some sweet times. I miss the warmth.

Mario: You-a want-a warmth?
(He eats a flower on Steve Kerr's desk and tries to shoot a fireball but nothing comes.)

Kerr: Mario, what did I say about this?

Mario: Eating-a real flowers do not-a give you-a fireball powers. I'm-a sorry, I-a forgot. (Mario starts to stumble around) Mario not-a feel-a so good.

Kerr: That's because you ate a poisonous flower.

Mario: Oh-a no-a! (Mario keels over to the ground. He is dead.)

Kerr: Well crap, what am I gonna do now?

D'Antoni: I don't-a know, but-a I have-a to save-a dee princess-a! (He rips off his suit to reveal a pair of overalls underneath. He picks another flower off of Kerr's desk, eats it, and destroys the door to Kerr's office with a giant fireball.) It's-a me! D'Antoni!

Kerr: I wonder if Tom Selleck is available.

Tom Selleck: Always.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Larry Brown Heading to Carolina...No, Not That Carolina

Today the Charlotte Bobcats announced the hiring of new head coach Larry Brown. This is the ninth NBA coaching job for Brown, who is known as much for jumping from one team to another as he is for his stellar career.

When we last saw Brown (as a head coach, at least) he was with the New York Knicks in 2005-06. Showing about as poor judgment as one could imagine, he left the Eastern Conference Champion Detroit Pistons to try to resurrect the Knicks. Long story short, Brown's coaching talent was simply not enough to overcome Isiah Thomas' flair for constructing dysfunctional basketball teams (maybe "team" is too strong a word). And to think, he could have gone to the Cavs instead.

Now, after a few years off, he returns to his Carolina roots. Brown played point guard for Dean Smith at North Carolina and considered taking the reins at UNC before they settled on Roy Williams.

While Brown has bounced around quite a bit, it wouldn't be a shock to anyone if he quickly became the Bobcats' longest tenured coach. The standing record is three years (held by Bernie Bickerstaff), and this season's coach, Sam Vincent, was canned after his first season. Two head coaches in four years and zero winning seasons is not the kind of start the expansion team was looking for, but if anyone can turn it around, it's Brown. Aside from the Isiah-fied (is that a word? It should be) 2005-06 season, Brown has mastered the art of resurrecting franchises that were otherwise left for dead. The man got the Clippers to the playoffs? What more do you want?

So now that Brown has control over the Bobcats, what changes will he make? Let's go through the roster, player by player, and predict their futures with the organization, in order of their likelihood to get on the floor for Brown next year:

Gerald Wallace: No doubt Brown will love this guy. He plays hard on both ends of the floor every night and has been the #2 scorer on the team last year.

Emeka Okafor: A big man who struggles on offense but is great for defense and rebounding? Okafor is right up Brown's alley. He's a free agent, but the Bobcats will almost certainly bring him back, especially now.

Raymond Felton: He's still got some work to do, but his assist-to-turnover ratio has improved in each of his three seasons. Plus he's a UNC alum.

Jason Richardson: Brown probably wouldn't mind trading shot-happy J-Rich, but with his contract, he's probably stuck with him, like it or not. Besides, someone has to score, right?

Jared Dudley: We all know Brown hates young players, but how can he pass up on Dudley? He's coming off a productive rookie season, running on nothing but hard work and high basketball IQ.

Othella Harrington: A little high on the list? It probably should be, but Harrington is the kind of crusty vet that Brown covets over mere "prospects." What good is a prospect anyway? Brown's here to win!

Nazr Mohammed: Brown traded for his draft rights back in 1998, though a few years later he dealt Mohammed to the Hawks. Still, he's a center with championship experience.

Matt Carroll: He's a good shooter, but a lousy defender. That won't play well with Brown, but he'll still get some playing time, unless Brown can find a better replacement.

Sean May: The main reason he's this far down is because he's never been able to stay healthy. If he can, he'll get his share of minutes, as a solid big man and another UNC product.

Jermareo Davidson: The odds of a second-year player getting major minutes are slim, but he's signed for one more season and he's bound to get some minutes considering the inevitable Okafor and May injuries.

Derek Anderson: Brown loves those veterans. Anderson's a free agent, but Brown might just bring him back, if only so he can cut into Carroll's minutes.

Ryan Hollins: You can always use more big men, but Brown would rather sign a washed-up vet than play a youngster like Hollins.

Earl Boykins: Brown's had quite enough of shoot-first point guards, thanks.

And finally...

Adam Morrison:
With his inefficient offense, disinterest in defense, and a molestache for the ages, he's just as likely to show up on To Catch a Predator with Chris Hansen as he is to crack Brown's rotation. If he plays at all, it will be due to either a lobotomy or heavy pressure from the front office.

Maybe tagging Morrison as a sexual predator is a bit unfair, but just look at him. If nothing else, he'd better get used to the phrase "Why don't you take a seat?"

What it Takes to Win in the NHL Today

This post is courtesy of Colby Katz-Lapides, our resident hockey guru.

Somewhere in this new era of fast-paced hockey where penalties are given out for what used to be considered good defense and sticking up for teammates, coaches and players alike seem have to forgotten Conn Smyth's famous credo: "If you can't beat 'em in the alley, you can't beat 'em on the ice." Even with the additional rules to open up the game and the undeniable advance in the skill of NHL players, this bit of advice holds just as true today as it did then.

Since the last hockey lock-out in 1994, along with a significant drop in hockey viewers we have seen a significant drop in hockey hits. Defenders were forced to change their game from physical to finesse, "goons" were forced to produce more with their sticks and less with their fists, and traditional "power-forward" type players slowly became a thing of the pass. The strategy of the game became more like basketball than hockey.

Now I like the rule changes. I think that it makes for much more exciting hockey, but do I think the coaches choice to move away from the physical game, even with the new rules, will help them win more games? Absolutely not – and the dudes from Anaheim who have last lifted the cup would agree.

The year after the lock-out was a strange one. The hockey world was bored as we watched a team that no one cared about beat a team that never should have been there in the Stanley Cup finals. Fighting majors reached an all-time low, and some of the leagues top-players fell to obscurity because of the forced change in their game. Games were decided by two factors: the goalie and the skill-depth of the roster.

Last year, the Anaheim Ducks were by no means the most skilled team in the NHL. They had the star power in Selanne, Niedermayer and Pronger, but past their top line the roster consisted of mostly players never-before heard of. However, the Ducks managed to take down The Detroit Red Wings and the Ottawa Senators, both of which had greater skill on their roster. The Detroit Red Wings, by all means, should have won the cup. What was the difference? Violence. The Ducks led the league by no close measure in fighting majors and accumulated a number of suspensions throughout the playoffs because of dirty play. Their roster was stacked with some of most feared players in the league (Parros, May, Thornton, the list goes on) and even the skill players were always ready to drop the gloves. Every series in their playoff run was won because the other team could no longer endure being on the ice with them. The Ducks found a niche that disappeared the year before, and they rode it home.

This years playoff, so far, has mostly gone to the better teams. Every team that won simply enough was just a much better team than their opponents. Teams like Calgary, Boston, and Anaheim were just too over matched for their physical domination to makeup the difference. One series, however, was turned by physical play alone. The Philadelphia Flyers have been detested around the league all year for their dirty play, and the playoffs didn't seem to slow them down. They took down the red hot Caps and now have a lead on the first seeded Habs because of physical intimidation. Philly was, aside from their physical play, the fourth least skilled team out of sixteen (next to Boston, Nashville, and perhaps Minnesota) but now there is a strong chance that we could see them in the Eastern Conference finals. Some teams get there because of a hot goalie or a dynamite roster. Philly has neither of these. They just beat the hell out of their opponents.

So where does this leave us? Physical teams succeed in the playoffs. Skill teams tend to get scared off. I believe that the league will turn back to dressing goons, allow their players to get instigator penalties and take runs at their opponents. If you can't beat the bullies, then you should join them.

Now watch Philly take Montreal in six and then scare the life out of Sydney Crosby.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Pat Riley is the Ultimate Fair Weather Fan

It was reported this morning that Pat Riley will step down as head coach of the Miami Heat, following his absolute worst season as a head coach. The Heat had a nightmarishly bad season, winning an astonishing 15 games (the record for an 82 game season is 9 wins from the 72-73 Sixers), with all of their starters playing bench warmer roles for the second half of the season.

If you've been paying attention, Pat Riley hasn't exactly been the paradigm of humility throughout this process--not just this season, but the past few years. First of all, one can't forget his abandoning the Knicks in 1995 to join the Heat, and the controversy that surrounded the matter (the Heat were accused of negotiating with Riley while he was still under contract).

The real disgrace, however, has come since 2005. Having stepped down as head coach for two years, Riley saw his team improve dramatically under head coach Stan Van Gundy and star guard Dwyane Wade. Riley stepped down as coach in 2003, at a low point in the team's standing. Now, in December 2005, when suddenly the team was looking promising, he fired the fatter Van Gundy brother and resumed control over the reigns. The team went on to win the championship that year, and everyone was convinced that Riley assassinated Van Gundy or something, because he basically fell off the face of the earth. It wasn't until he re-emerged with the Orlando Magic that everyone realized he wasn't, in fact, dead.

In the off season in 2006, when the team's future was looking shaky, Riley swore he would stay dedicated to his position. Halfway through the next season, he took a leave of absence, letting his assistants lead the team into the playoffs. Lo and behold, when they made the playoffs, he returned (only to be swept by the Bulls).

This past season was, to simplify it, awful. And Riley, true to his fair weather nature, was flaky, vaguely hinting that he wanted to leave and overall throwing his team under the bus. He even left the team for a few weeks during March Madness to do scouting. What the hell kind of head coach scouts during the regular season? His only sign of caring this year was bringing in Shawn Marion, but otherwise, he entirely gave up.

Don't get me wrong; Pat Riley is a Hall of Famer. He had a successful career as a player and led many good teams. But the problem with Pat is that as soon as his team goes to shit, he stops giving one. One can only wonder how many years will pass until Erik Spoelstra makes the team respectable, only to be promptly replaced by the fair weather Riley himself.

Don't Worry, Guys!

Hey everyone, Barry "Cy" Zito here, and I just wanted to chat with y'all here at the end of April. I appreciate you guys coming out to my Duck Tales gold coin pool. I know it was a long way out of your way, but hey, it's like they say: no pain, lots of pay. Or something like that. I'm not great with idioms.

Now, I know that you're all a little worried about my performance so far this year. Trust me, I've heard all the facts: only the third pitcher ever to go 0-6 in April, a 7.53 ERA, a 2:3 K to BB ratio, an astounding and almost mathematically impossible -6.0 VORP... yeah, yeah. But hey, don't sweat--I've got $126,000,000 over seven years (plus an $18M player option in 2014) to figure out all of my pitching issues, and like they say, money can buy you anything!

Sure, I may be the highest paid pitcher in the 170 year history of the sport, and sure I may not be able to break 92 MPH anymore with my fastball. But just think about last year! I won 11 games with a formidable 4.53 ERA! Heck, since I got my contract in December 2006, it's been nothing but smooth sailing. Some people say I'm coasting, or mailing it in. I call those people synonyms. Or something like that. I'm not great with definitions of stuff.

And let's be realistic here. It's not like my team is going anywhere anyway! I mean, over the last two years, whenever I haven't gotten a decision in the game, they have a puny .452 record. What's that? They're .379 when I do get one? Oh, well, that doesn't matter, because Matt Cain smells bad anyway. Who only gives up three home runs in six outings, anyway? That's not what the people come to see! They want to see a shellacking, and I give the people what they want!

Sabean said that if I win this many, I get an incentive bonus!

So don't worry, guys. I may have lost to the AAA Giants team this winter, but it's really not a big deal at all. After all, Mike Hampton makes $121M too, and he's not that great either! So let's just all take a deep breath, realize that everything is totally chill, and remember that one time I won Cy Young in 2002.

What's that? Bochy is thinking about sending me down to the minors? GODDAMNIT!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

What the F*@k is Wrong with You?!?

This is the first entry in a recurring series, wherein I ask a certain underachieving sports franchise ,What the F*@k is Wrong with You?!?

Hey Phoenix Suns: What the F*@k is wrong with you?!?

Mike D'Antoni: "When we traded for Shaq, we did it under the pretense of improving our interior defense and rebounding, while ridding ourselves of a malcontent in the process. Unfortunately, that malcontent was the only capable on ball defender we had, so now anyone with any ability to get into the paint does so at will against us. The malcontent was also our best open court finisher, since a certain overrated power forward has a tendency to dog it up and down the court. And shhh don't tell anybody, but Steve Nash is starting to break down, and doesn't quite realize it, so his passes aren't quite as crisp as they once were and he can't get the same open looks for himself that he used to get."

Amare Stoudemire: "Shiiiit maaaaan! I try ta score when L'il Stevie give me the ball but dem Spurs keep getting in my damn way, so i run over dem, but the zebras keep blowin' dem whistlies in ma eeeeeaaarr! If dey keep blowin' dem whistlies, why'm'I gonna keep runnin' up and down like some punk?"

Shaq: "Remember how much I was doggin' it earlier this year in Miami? Well, now Big Aristotle's the only player givin' any sort of effort out there. Even Ogden Nash ain't givin' it his all. Man, maybe I should've taken an offseason like 15 years ago and worked on my free throws."

Steve Nash: "I can't guard anyone with any sort of foot speed. I mean seriously, Tyronne Lue would bust me for 30 a game. If we made the finals against the Celtics, Rajon Rondo would run circles around me. I don't have a chance in the West, with Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Tony Parker out there."

Boris Diaw: "Quoi?"

Steve Kerr: "Well, I'm glad I gave this GM thing a shot. Hey Marv, you're getting sick of Fratello, right?"

One More Reason the Draft Sucks

Good article, Pat, but I can't believe you forgot one other insufferable point:

1a. Spoilers!
One of the worst things about the entire draft, in my opinion, is the removal of suspense. We learned that the Dolphins were taking OT Jake Long three days before the draft itself. Why? What's the fun in that? And now, about three hours before the draft itself starts, ESPN is reporting that the Rams are gonna take DE Chris Long. What the hell is the point of watching the live draft if everything is going to be spoiled beforehand? Are they gonna tell us at 2:15 EST that the Falcons and Ravens have agreed to a trade? Spoiling the top picks is like someone on the red carpet reporting an hour before the Emmys who won Best Actor. I hate it, it stinks, the NFL Draft stinks.

8 Reasons the NFL Draft Sucks

Patrick here, and in this my first post, I thought I'd expose the blog-o-sphere to my rambling, drunken, incoherent, Irish cynicism by sharing with y'all 8 reasons the NFL Draft sucks buttery monkey nuts, and a few ways to make it better.

8. Everything before the draft

During the lead up to the NFL Draft, the average football fan is forced to suffer through hundreds of hours and thousands of pages of coverage of the lead up to the NFL draft, including hours upon hours of live coverage of the draft combine, which has to be the most boring thing ever shown on TV. I'd rather watch some freakish amalgamation of Kathy Lee Gifford, Ted Turner, and Eugene Levy re-enact Two Girls, One Cup (sorry, no link) than watch a bunch of college students perform a series of activities that may or may not be minimally indicative of their potentials for success in an altogether different activity. Watching the NFL combine is like watching NBA players stretch before the tip, only if there were no game afterwards and the stretching lasted for 3 days.

7. Mock Drafts

Allow me to offer my theory on mock drafts. There is one real mock draft. It is the combined brain product of Roger Goodell, Sean Salisbury, Bill Parcells and the previous year's Oscar winner for best supporting actor (this year: This guy). They leak their final draft to Peter King, who publishes it, claiming it to be the product of months of determined investigative reporting. Todd McShay takes it, switches two picks, and publishes his own version, and then everyone else slides one or two picks around to make it seem like they did their own research. The general managers get a gander at the mocks, say things like "hmmm, Sean Salisbury really liked this guy?" and instantly decide to draft him. Matt Millen is not allowed to look at them.

6. Mel Kiper's Hair

We all know Mel Kiper has no more NFL expertise or experience than anyone reading this sentence right now, right?

5. "Busts"

I'm tired of everyone constantly grousing over busts. Consistently, around one-third of first round draft picks every year can be quantified as busts, more if you work under the assumption that a first round draft pick should be, at the very least, an above-average NFL player. To prove my point, let's go back to the 2003 NFL Draft. Four years seems a fair amount of time for evaluation, yes?

Good Picks: Carson Palmer (1), Andre Johnson (3), Terence Newman (5), Jordan Gross (8), Kevin Williams (9), Terrell Suggs (10), Marcus Trufant (11), Ty Warren (13), Troy Polamalu (16), George Foster (20), Jeff Faine (21), Willis McGahee (23), Dallas Clark (24), Larry Johnson (27), Nick Barnett (29), Nnamdi Asomugha (31)

Jury's still out: Calvin Pace (18), Rex Grossman (22), Kwame Harris (26)

Busts: Charles Rogers (2), Dewayne Robertson (4), Johnathan Sullivan (6), Byron Leftwich (7), Jimmy Kennedy (12), Michael Haynes (14), Jerome McDougle (15), Bryant Johnson (17), Kyle Boller (19), William Joseph (25), Andre Woolfork (28), Sammy Davis (30), Tyler Brayton (32)

Let's look at the totals: 16 "good picks" (and I'm being generous here; it took Carolina three years to find Jordan Gross a position, Terence Newman gets beat in coverage more than Jason Kidd's wife, George Foster was traded with Tatum Bell for Dre Bly, and McGahee demanded out of Buffalo as quickly as he could) and 13 bad picks (and that's without counting Rex Grossman, who "led" his team to the Super Bowl the same way Brian Scalabrine "led" the Celtics to 66 wins). The first round is a coin flip as to whether you'll get a solid player or a coat rack. So stop all your grousing about this bust or that bust and get over it. (As an aside, yes I know Calvin Pace had double digit sacks last year, but before then he was a complete bust, and the Jets were morons to give him the contract they did. Speak of the devil: )

4. The New York Jets

Living in New York, there are two kinds of fans: Giants fans tend to be older (with obvious exceptions, Fooxy), are devoted, enthusiastic, and impressively civil, especially for New Yorkers. Jets fans, on the other hand, are boorish, juvenile, capricious and basically intolerable. They boo at every opportunity, generally to show how much more about football they know than do the Jets front office personnel. They always sound like idiots. Fortunately, we have links like this one to entertain ourselves with. Schadenfreude is a marvelous thing.

3. The 2nd Round

I don't know what to think about the second round. I guess there are supposed to be good players left, but for every Anquan Boldin and Osi Umeniyora, there are eleven Tyrone Calicos and Alonzo Jacksons. They should just skip it and go right to the third round.

2. The 6th round

If I have to be reminded one more time about how the Patriots took Tom Brady in the 6th round, I'm gonna rip Stuart Scott's glass eye right out of its socket and feed the shards to Suzy Kolber (oh wait, sorry). IT WAS LUCK! PURE, BLIND, STUPID LUCK!! If the Patriots had the slightest inkling that Tom Brady was going to turn into one of the top three Quarterbacks of all time, do you really think they would have been sitting there, biting their nails for 197 picks, heaving huge sighs of relief as guys like Leif Larsen and Mareno Philyaw came off the board? You know who else was picked in the sixth round that year? Adalius Thomas! He's a Pro Bowler! Let's talk about him! Wait, fuck, he's still a Patriot. Spergon Wynn it is.

1. The Length

Last year the first round (the first round!) of the NFL draft lasted six hours and eight minutes. To put that in perspective, I could drive from my house in Ossining, NY to Richmond, Virginia, leaving when the Fins announce their Jake long pick, and arrive right around the time the Giants wrap up the first round. This is a travesty. No sporting event should last this long. The NFL is taking steps to rectify it - this year they've changed the time allotted per first round pick from 15 minutes to 10. Nevertheless, this isn't nearly enough to fix what could, under the right circumstances, be a very entertaining program. If I ran the NFL, here's how I would fix it:

How to fix it:

1. 5 minutes per first round pick, 3 minutes per second round pick, 1 minute 30 seconds for every pick after. That maxes out at 2:40 for the first round, 1:36 for the 2nd round, and depending on supplemental picks, some where around 4:00 for the last five rounds. That's 8 hours, only about 4 of which count. I know this doesn't leave much time to complete trades, but 5 minutes should be enough for the first round, and who gives a damn if the KC Chiefs don't have time to complete their franchise altering move of swapping 6th rounders with Jacksonville for a conditional 7th rounder in 2012?

2. Live coin flips. You know every once in a while you hear a story in late March or early April about how the Raiders won their coin flip with the Browns and will pick fourth? PUT THIS ON TV!!! Better yet, put it on the day of the draft. Make it a mystery who gets that all important 4th pick until half an hour before the draft starts anyway. It's great theater. I'd even take this a step further. Instead of coin flips, make it arm wrestling. Make all the GM's arm wrestle each other, and whoever wins gets the highest pick. In fact, I'm pretty sure the NFL is going to implement this soon, because that's the only explanation for Matt Millen still having a job.

3. Switch up the announcers. Every year, we are forced to watch the incredibly awkward commissioner of football (whoever he is) trudge on stage and monotonously utter name after name after name. I say we need some spice. Have each team trot out their own representative to make the announcement. If possible, make it a player who plays the same position as the pick. So, if the Green Bay Packers (my favorite team) take a QB like Chad Henne late in round one this year, we can watch Aaron Rodgers pretend to look excited, while secretly wanting to kill Henne and everyone in a 500 foot radius.

4. Forbid the following teams from having picks in the first three rounds: The New York Jets,
The Philadelphia Eagles, and the New England Patriots.

The NFL Draft should be fun, and if the bigwigs at Goodell's office would listen to me, it would be. Of course, the NFL will never listen to me. It only listens to men of great depth and insight, with years of experience and know-how. You know, like Matt Millen.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Definitive NFL 2008 Mock Draft

#1 Miami Dolphins: Jake Long OT, Michigan. Already signed.

#2 St. Louis Rams: Glenn Dorsey DT, LSU. Lining up with Adam Carriker, these two should anchor the defensive line for years.

#3 Atlanta Falcons: Trades with #8 Baltimore Ravens, Baltimore selects Matt Ryan QB, BC. Baltimore is starved for a quarterback.

#4 Oakland Raiders: Chris Long DE, VT. Raiders draft the second Long defensive end in franchise history.

#5 Kansas City Chiefs: Trades with #10 New Orleans Saints. Saints select Sedrick Ellis DT, USC. The Saints won't trade with St. Louis to get the #1 DT prospect in the draft, but Ellis is a close second.

#6 New York Jets: Darren McFadden RB, Arkansas. Jets draft the best athlete. With the revamped offensive line, if McFadden starts there's no reason why he shouldn't have a 1,000 yard season.

#7 New England Patriots: Trades with #13 Carolina Panthers. Panthers select Vernon Gholston DE, Ohio State. With the release of Dan Morgan and the retirement of Mike Rucker, the Panthers are looking to give second year linebacker Jon Beason some help.

#8 Baltimore Ravens: Pick traded to Atlanta Falcons. Falcons select Branden Albert OT, VT. The Falcons get a good value from this pick. Albert should give "unstoppable" Michael Turner some key blocks.

#9 Cincinnati Bengals: Keith Rivers LB, USC. With the Bengals moving to a 3-4, linebackers are at a premium. Rivers is a good all-around player who should turn into a Patrick Willis type linebacker.

#10 New Orleans Saints: Pick traded to Kansas City Chiefs. Chiefs select Ryan Clady OT, Boise State. Chiefs address a big need without paying as much as they would have for a riskier pick at #5.

#11 Buffalo Bills: Mike Jenkins CB, South Florida. The Bills need a wide receiver, but in the AFC East, pass defense is the priority. Plus, a good receiver such as Malcom Kelly should be available early in the 2nd round, and first-round wide receivers are a crap shoot at best. The Bills are in a position to make a playoff run with their team returning to health, and a strikeout in the first round would be a serious setback.

#12 Denver Broncos: Chris Williams OT, Vanderbilt. The Broncos need help at the tackle position with the retirement of Matt Lepsis. "But it doesn't matter who is on the line, all Broncos running backs have 1,000 yard seasons!" No.

#13 Carolina Panthers: Pick traded to New England Patriots. Patriots select Derrick Harvey DE, Florida. Like it or not, Richard Seymour has had two over-par years in a row. Harvey is a good value at #13, and the Patriots like lineman. With a little development, he could become a strongside linebacker to replace Mike Vrabel.

#14 Chicago Bears: Jeff Otah OT, Pittsburgh. The Bears need to give whoever is the quarterback some time to throw (to who?). Hey, at least it's a start.

#15 Detroit Lions: Rashard Mendenhall RB, Illinois. While the Lions should take an offensive lineman to protect Kitna and open running lanes, they'll stupidly take Mendenhall and watch him get hit 2 yards behind the line.

#16 Arizona Cardinals: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie CB, Tennessee State. The Cardinals begin the run on cornerbacks.

#17 Kansas City Chiefs (from Minnesota): Leodis McKelvin CB, Troy. Kansas City drafts a corner to play opposite (or replace) the aging Ty Law. Law is only good against Peyton Manning anyways.

#18 Houston Texans: Aqib Talib CB, Kansas. Despite the admission that he has used marijuana after lying to teams, he's too good of an athlete to pass up.

#19 Philadelphia Eagles: Jerod Mayo LB, Tennessee. The Eagles, left out of the cornerback run, need to replace Omar Gaither at MLB (and move Gaither back outside).

#20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Limas Sweed WR, Texas. Joey Galloway continues to defy time while the Ike Hilliard disappearing act is getting old (just like he is).

#21 Washington Redskins: James Hardy WR, Indiana. He's almost the same as Chad Johnson or Anquan Boldin...

#22 Dallas Cowboys (from Cleveland): Felix Jones RB, Arkansas. Jerry Jones takes the "other" Arkansas running back to spell Marion Barber.

#23 Pittsburgh Steelers: Gosder Cherilus OT, BC. Someone has to protect the Steelers' motorcycle riding, $100 million investment. But with the Steelers' brutal schedule, it probably doesn't matter much who they draft.

#24 Tennessee Titans: Philip Merling DE, Clemson. With the departure of Travis LeBoy and Antwan Odom, the Titans are in need of a defensive end. With Merling, Haynesworth, and Jevon Kearse (if he improves from last season- wouldn't take much), the Titans will have one of the best defensive lines in the league.

#25 Seattle Seahawks: Dustin Keller TE, Purdue. The Seahawks draft the only TE in the first round.

#26 Jacksonville Jaguars: Kentwan Balmer DT, North Carolina. To replace Marcus Stroud who was traded to Buffalo.

#27 San Diego Chargers: Jonathan Stewart RB, Oregon. As much as Charger fans hate to admit it, LaDainian Tomlinson is getting on in years. Stewart should have time to heal his injury while Tomlinson and Sproles form a very formidable 1-2 punch. Plus he is an amazing value at #27.

#28 Dallas Cowboys: Trades with Atlanta Falcons. Falcons select Joe Flacco QB, Delaware. The Falcons trade back into the first round, making them this year's Cleveland Browns. Flacco has the arm to reach the very underrated WR Roddy White.

#29 San Francisco 49ers: DeSean Jackson WR, California. In a Mike Martz offense, WRs are always in need. Dan Connor LB, Penn State is also a possibility.

#30 Green Bay Packers: Brandon Flowers CB, Virginia. The Packers would have loved a nickel back last year in the post season.

#31 New England Patriots: Pick forfeited for cheating.

#32 New York Giants: Tyrell Johnson S, Arkansas State. The Raiders overpaid for Gibril Wilson, and the Giants were smart not to shell out that kind of money for a very average player. Deficiencies at middle linebacker and cornerback can be address in later rounds, as they have passable starters.

Take it to the bank.

Trip Report and Pitch Count Retort

So I got some free tickets to Nationals Park yesterday to watch the Nats/Mets game. I got outfield seats, right by the left field pole, and watched legends such as Billy Wagner (who looked me right in the eye!) and Pedro Feliciano warm up. I even saw a batting practice ball fly above my head and land five rows behind me. An interesting side-note, though, and a testament to the park still having to work out some kinks, is that the seat I was sold did not actually exist. My ticket was for section 106, row J, seat 7--however, the seats started at number 8. As a result, we got new tickets for free and ended up sitting behind third base, about 200 feet from home plate. It was pretty great.

As for the park itself: it's... well, it's gorgeous. I can't really say much more than you probably already know: it's very modern, there's a section in center-right field where you can play PS3 and watch the game from a porch, every seat faces home plate, and the food is as expensive as ever. The world's largest HD screen was awesome, too--though, again, a bit glitchy, like they still needed to work some things out.

What struck me most about the game, though, was not the park, but an occurrence in the game itself. Oliver Perez, the Mets' starter, was looking decent but shaky, with about 65 pitches through 4 innings and only two hits given up. The fifth inning, however, was a different story, as he gave up a series of hits and three runs. He couldn't find the zone anymore, and the mighty bats of Wily Mo ".094 BA" Pena and Wil "I was once a Yankee" Nieves were lighting him up. Furthermore, bullpen activity was mysteriously absent; only after the game was tied up at 3 did Randolph send out Jorge Sosa to warm up, and he didn't even end up pitching. Perez managed to get out of the inning, with his pitch count now up to around 80.

The next inning he pitched, Perez looked just as bad. He loaded the bases with no one out before finally being taken out by Randolph. Heilman was thrown into the fray, and promptly gave up a grand slam. The Nationals didn't look back from there, and the Mets lost 10-5.

Now, sitting with two Mets fans, I experienced a lot of complaining about the management. And this complaining led me to consider the strategy employed during the game. Specifically, I thought about how Oliver Perez made it to exactly 100 pitches, and only then did Randolph decide to switch to Aaron Heilman. Now, let me make it clear: I am by no means an expert on pitching. I do not know the ins and outs and all of the intricacies of what a major league pitcher experiences or what's best for him. But I do know that Randolph gave Perez exactly 100 pitches, and I also know that this number for whatever reason is now a magical one.

The striking thing, then, is twofold: first, this new age where the magic pitch count number is 100, and second, the bullpen for the Mets sucking. The second one is obvious: the Mets have a terrible bullpen, and it's going to cost them a lot of games, and, embarrassingly, sometimes it's going to cost them a grand slam off the bat of Felipe Lopez. It's not earth-shattering to say that a crappy bullpen is going to lose you games and is a huge liability for any competitive team. But Heilman, a set-up guy, was only placed in that precarious situation after his starter was pulled in an exact situation. Perez clearly had nothing left after the fifth inning, and yet Willie Randolph kept him in for one more inning--and not just to get out the pitcher/pinch hitter, who led off, but Randolph kept Perez in for three batters.

It seems to me, then, that Randolph was letting the pitch count manage the game more so than letting himself manage the situation. I'm not saying definitively that Perez should have been taken out after five. What I am saying is that it's rather clear that, more so than ever, managers are relying on pitch count to determine when to take out their starters. It's a point I've seen emphasized constantly in the recent years, especially after Pedro's collapse in the 2003 ALCS. But why is 100 pitches such an undisputed fact? Why are pitchers so presumably sensitive to this precise amount? Shouldn't the game be managed more on the present situation than an overall statistic? I leave that open to discussion. Personally, I think pitch count has its merits, but it's an overblown statistic in today's game, and is relied upon entirely too much.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Can We Get Manuel a Manual?

This article was adapted from The People's Phillies Blog.

Once again, Charlie Manuel opted to make needless defensive substitutions during yesterday's Phillies-Brewers game. Pedro Feliz and T.J. Bohn both entered the game in the later innings, replacing Greg Dobbs and Pat Burrell, respectively. The Feliz move is reasonable, as he is a capable hitter (arguably better than Dobbs even if this year's numbers don't reflect it) and there was a left-handed pitcher on the mound when he first came in, but the Bohn one makes no sense.

The logic, if you can call it that, is that when leading, you want a stronger outfield defense than is possible with Burrell in left. In theory that sounds good. In practice it only helps you if the ball happens to be hit somewhere within Bohn's range and beyond Burrell's. Most of the time the difference in range is negligible, as was the case tonight. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder both hit to right field and Fielder's bomb would have taken Michael Bourn with a jet-pack to reel it in. And even that wouldn't have been enough if Super Bourn had been in LEFT FIELD.

It might seem like I'm nitpicking here. As mentioned, the balls were hit to right field and Bohn didn't register an at-bat. While both are true, Bohn could have easily gotten up in a clutch situation. (Sure, he delivered the night before, but who would you rather have up with the game on the line: Bohn or Burrell?) Had Feliz gotten a base hit and tied the game in the ninth, the next three batters would have been Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and, you got it, Bohn.

With a right-handed pitcher on the mound and the hottest hitter on the planet up, what do you think the Brewers do? Probably walk Utley. Then comes Howard, who is giving the Mendoza line more of a fight than he is to most pitchers right now, but he's still a former MVP. If Burrell's in the game, they pitch to Howard and perhaps even Utley, knowing what looms on deck. But with Bohn, why not intentionally walk, or at least pitch around, both Utley and Howard to take on the right-handed hitter with 16 career at-bats? We've seen it before, both this year and last, but Manuel steadfastly refuses to let Burrell stay in any game where the Phillies have a lead, no matter how small.

To make a basketball analogy (it is playoff time after all), this is roughly the equivalent of the Suns removing Amare Stoudemire in favor of Brian Skinner with forty-five seconds left in a game in which the Suns lead by five points, except Stoudemire can't be subbed back in. In theory, that should work out fine. Skinner is a better defender, so his defense should keep the other team from coming back and Skinner's offensive deficiencies shouldn't matter because all the Suns have to do is keep the other team from scoring five points in forty-five seconds The only way this move makes any sense is if the opposing team is practically guaranteed to give the ball to whoever Skinner is guarding, putting his defense to the test.

But what if the opposition avoids Skinner altogether, whether by design or by chance? Then what was the point of the substitution? Now what if the opposing team cuts into the lead or even ties the game? Wouldn't it be better to have Stoudemire out there to possible score a bucket or two and provide some breathing room? Even worse, what if the game goes to overtime and Brian Skinner is your power forward for the duration? And what if this happened game after game after game to the point that some Suns blogger asked an entire paragraph of questions in frustration?

If Mike D'Antoni followed this course of action (provided that the NBA rules changed to make substitutions permanent) he would be run out of town in a hurry. Maybe the basketball comparison isn't perfect, but it helps to bring to light a ridiculous strategical maneuver. One which might not have cost the Phillies this game, but has and will cost them many others.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rumors Around the NFL

Look Out, 8-Bit Dallas Ghosts
Rumor has it that the Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans have agreed in principle on a trade that would send Adam "Pacman" Jones to Dallas. Apparently, Jerry Jones is trying to assemble the most unlikeable group of football players ever assembled. I guess that it's a pretty smart move, considering that Dallas' largest weakness by far last year was their porous secondary. Still, one has to wonder how effective and team-oriented the guy could be, especially after having missed a year.

Seattle Wants Shockey?
Shockey has expressed his discontent with the team lately, and there have been rumors about sending him to the Saints over the last few days. Today, it sounds like the Seahawks have interest in the 27-year-old tight end, with rumors of him being dealt by the end of day 1 of the draft. Kevin Boss, the Giants' starting TE while Shockey was injured, expressed that he would want Shockey to stay. As a Giants fan, I would want Shockey to stay on the team--after all, who else would sit in the luxury box drinking beer with yet another injury while the Giants play in the Super Bowl? To be honest, I've always been a big Shockey fan, but he gets hurt a lot, and I am a big Kevin Boss fan. I guess it entirely matters on what the Giants can get for Shockey.

Why do we keep calling it "Spygate"
The NFL and former Patriots employee Matt Walsh have agreed to meet on May 13th to discuss what he experienced with the team during his employment from 1997-2003. The Patriots are staying silent about the whole matter. To sum it up: the process is moving excruciatingly slowly, he probably doesn't have anything of importance, the media is milking it dry, and everybody continues not to care.

Matt Millen Enjoys a Nice Pancake Breakfast
He poured a little bit of syrup on it, and drank a glass of ice water. He is not entirely sure if the draft is this weekend or next.

People Falling Down is the Highest Form of Comedy

If you're feeling down about anything, take a few minutes to watch this clip: Also, if the Rockets are starting to feel desperate to get far in the playoffs, they might want to consider switching to football and making their mascot Clutch be the running back. That dude is friggin' untackleable.

Note: May haunt your dreams

Recent NFL Moves & Situations

Jared Allen to the Vikings- While on one hand I think the Chiefs are absolutely retarded for letting Allen- last year's NFL sacks leader with 15.5- get away, the trade benefits both the Vikings and the Chiefs in big ways.

After franchising Allen during the offseason, Allen made it clear that he would not sign a long-term deal with the Chiefs. The Chiefs, who have been been underachieving for several seasons now (don't let their playoff appearance against the Colts in 2006 fool you) are in rebuilding mode, and got a slew of draft picks for Allen. With the 5th and 17th picks in the first round, the Chiefs are now in a position to select an offensive lineman like Brandon Albert, a defensive lineman like Sedrick Ellis, Glenn Dorsey, or Chris Long (at least one of which should still be available), trade down and draft a cornerback, or use any of the other 11 draft picks they have to trade up to get the best available athlete in a position of need.

The Vikings struck gold. For the past several drafts they have struck out on bust defensive ends. Erasmus James is terrible. Udeze has a blood disease or something. With Allen, the Vikings defense acquires an elite pass rusher and at least on paper has one of the best defenses in the NFC. If James can turn his "career" around, the Vikings' defensive line of James, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams, and Allen are going to wreak absolute havoc on the weak NFC North. With the Vikings' control-the-clock style offense on the shoulders of Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, the shortcomings of Tarvaris Jackson are somewhat minimized. Jackson flashed signs of hope late in the season last year before regressing and missing the playoffs. The loss of their first round pick this year isn't a big loss as far as I'm concerned- there won't be a player that addresses a need available and whoever they would have picked probably would have been a bust anyways.

Dolphins sign Jake Long- Jake Long will be the 1st pick overall in the 2008 NFL Draft. I like the pick, for the simple reason that good offensive lineman are hard to find and improve your entire offense (like Joe Thomas did for Cleveland). The Dolphins signed probably the safest prospect in the draft- Long should be the bookend for Miami for the next decade if not more. Before he got injured Ronnie Brown was leading the league in rushing, and if he recovers and can stay healthy there's no reason that the Dolphins shouldn't have a respectable rushing attack. Pass protection (or lack of it) made John Beck look terrible last season, and with the addition of Long whoever is under center should get enough time to throw to Ted Ginn Jr. and let him gain yards after the catch.

Jason Taylor headed out?- Also from Miami, rumors are abound that future Hall of Famer Jason Taylor might be on his way out of Miami. As much as I like Bill Parcells for not drafting future bust Matt Ryan, getting rid of Taylor would be a stupid, stupid move. I am hard pressed to name anyone else on the Dolphins defense besides Taylor (and the only ones I can name I only know because Randy Moss outjumped both of them twice in one game last season) with the retirement of Zach Thomas. Since the Dolphins are not going to draft one of the marquee defensive linemen in this draft, getting rid of Taylor puts all of the pressure on the offense, which, even if upgraded, simply will not be able to compete with the other teams in the AFC East. The Patriots offense, while it won't be as formidable as last year, will still cut the Dolphins apart especially without a pass rush. The return to health of Marshawn Lynch in Buffalo will open up opportunities for Lee Evans and Trent Edwards. The Jets revamped offensive line should lead their starter to a 1,000 yard season. Without a defense, you can't win.

Brian Urlacher contract dispute- The Bears should win the award for "Most idiotic General Manager in league history." The question marks began last year, franchising Lance Briggs and not re-signing him until this offseason. The Bears lucked out in a big way- the market for Briggs was thin and Chicago's pedestrian offer of 6 years, $36 million turned out to be the best deal. Briggs is an elite weakside linebacker, a pro bowler, durable, and one of the most important elements in a Super Bowl-caliber defense. Why you don't resign him immediately is beyond me.

The next stupid move came in the 2008 offseason with the resigning of Rex Grossman. Granted it's only a one-year deal, but why? Why? WHY? Grossman was awful even when the Bears went to the Super Bowl. "God-awful with 8 exclamation points" was how Al Michaels described nearly half of Grossman's 2006 season. In 2007, he lost the starting job to Brian Griese, who in turn lost it to Kyle Orton. Griese is gone, and Orton vs Grossman is hardly Joe Montana vs Steve Young. If the Bears want to compete in the NFC North with the Packers and Vikings, they need to either draft a quarterback that can lead the offense or acquire one through free agency. Not that it's all Grossman's fault (Devin Hester is the #1 receiver in Chicago right now), but still.

And finally, the most perplexing situation of all- the Bears refuse to renegotiate the contract of Brian Urlacher. DPOY, DROY, multiple Pro Bowl selections, team tackles leader for I don't know how many years running. Urlacher is the reason that the Bears defense functions. He is unquestionably the best middle linebacker in the league, and is making a strong case for eventual Hall of Fame consideration. Urlacher has clearly earned the right to ask for more money, yet the Bears have offered a 1 year extension with $5 million guaranteed with an extra $1 million bonus if he plays 85% of the defensive snaps. Urlacher's rookie contract was for 9 years and $56 million, with $13 million guaranteed. A big contract, but for good players big contracts are justified. A holdout would be hilarious. What monotone phrase will Lovie Smith recite in front of the press when Adrian Peterson breaks his own single-game rushing record against them in Urlacher's absence?

Jerry Angelo, the Bears general manager, said this of the situation: "Are you saying Brian's special, and we should do something for Brian and the other 52 will understand?"

Absolutely, you moron. Figure it out. Urlacher is the Tom Brady of the Midway, if you don't resign him and the Bears tank (again), you won't have a job.

Chad Johnson demands a trade- As much as I like Chad Johnson, this time I think he's gone a little too far. Johnson has more than he could ask for in Cincinnati...well, besides a winning team I guess. But the offense isn't the problem. Carson Palmer loves throwing to him. TJ Houshmanzadeh would be a #1 receiver on 75% of the teams in the NFL, and is worthy of double coverage in his own right. Since the Bengals running game is lackluster, the offense is pass-happy. Johnson's numbers reflect this.

If he somehow manages to talk his way out of Cincinnati, why would any team even want to pick him up? Sure, he's a great receiver, but how long is he going to stay happy in his new environment? I see a repeat of TO/McNabb wherever he goes. It will be nice for a season or two, but then Johnson is going to alienate himself from his team with his big mouth. Teams don't want players who are unwilling to be a team player.

That being said, what teams are looking to pick him up? The Redskins have expressed interest, but I can't see him being a good fit there. Washington is not a vertical offense, and Chad Johnson is a vertical receiver. He will not be satisfied catching 5 yard slant passes and then watching Fumble Portis turn the ball over. The Eagles? Maybe. But when Donovan McNabb dares look elsewhere to throw the ball (Brian Westbrook), Johnson isn't going to like that either. The Patriots have Randy Moss. The Colts don't have the cap room. The Bears don't have a quarterback. But none of this even matters because the Bengals won't trade him. Johnson should be ready to sit out the 2008-2009 season if he is serious about not wanting to play for the Bengals.

Cardinals refuse to deal Anquan Boldin- I'm not sure which side I agree with in this case. When healthy, Boldin has been brilliant. The problem is he hasn't been healthy a lot. On the other side Arizona has Larry Fitzgerald, another #2 receiver that could be a #1, who also just happened to renegotiate a massive contract to give Arizona more cap room. Boldin wants a similar deal but again, I see no reason for the Cardinals to do so unless he can stay healthy.

Reportedly the Eagles and the Redskins are both interested. Boldin would be a good fit in either scheme- he's big and has deep-threat speed, and isn't a drama queen like Chad Johnson.

But nobody really cares about the Cardinals in the first place, so what does it matter.

Shaun Alexander released from the Seahawks- Only about 2 years too late. Nobody is really sure why Shaun Alexander suddenly refuses to play hard / get first downs anymore, but it was clear by the end of the 2007 season that he was on his way out of Seattle. The Seahawks acquired running backs Julius Jones and TJ Duckett- a scat back and a power back, respectively, to lead their rushing attack in 2008. While I can't pin the blame fully on Alexander for his poor numbers recently (T Walter Jones & FB Mack Strong retired, G Steve Hutchinson left for Minnesota- all three potential Hall of Famers), even just watching him during the games you could tell that he was definitely not the same player.

I do, however, question the Seahawks signings of the 2 running backs mentioned above. Julius Jones was unspectacular in Dallas behind a great offensive line. TJ Duckett played in Detroit (need I say more?). The Seahawks, if they were looking for a running back, might as well have either waited to see which of the several 1st-round caliber backs fell to them late in the first round or traded up to get one.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Can't Walk the Walk

For the third year in a row, the Washington Wizards and the Cleveland Cavaliers face each other this April in the first round of the NBA playoffs. This first round match up has become almost as traditional as the playoffs themselves; one would be hard-pressed to remember offhand the last time either team faced someone else in the first round (Washington faced Chicago in 2005, and, before that, Cleveland faced Indiana in 1998).

Of course, with this repeated battle comes a sense of animosity. One of the most memorable moments came in their first meeting in 2006, when, in between two late foul shots by Gilbert Arenas, LeBron casually whispered something into his ear. Gilbert clanked the second shot, and the Cavs went on to win the series 4-2—though they were hardly easy wins, with games 5 and 6 both requiring overtime.

In the years since, the teams have had mixed luck. The Cavs made the finals last year, only to be swept by the Spurs, while the Wizards struggled to stay in the middle of the Eastern pack, often marred by injuries. The bitterness between the two has grown lately, with the two teams also playing each other 26 times in the last 3 seasons, many of which were gritty, hard-fought games. The latest and most prominent fuel to the fire came just a few weeks ago, when DeShawn Stevenson claimed that LeBron James is “overrated,” pointing out that his team is barely .500 since the All-Star Break. In the two games played so far, tiffs have broken out, with shoving, taunting and some hard fouls made.

Now don’t get me wrong—I’m the first guy to admit that I love playoff rivalry. In fact, I think that this recent rivalry between the two is great for the league. One of the reasons the NBA of the late 90s was so great was because of the intense rivalries; Jazz/Rockets, Knicks/Heat, Bulls/everyone. The pushing, the hard fouls, the jawing, all of it gave the games a much higher intensity. Those guys knew what was on the line, and they were willing to fight each other for it. Lately, the NBA has seen much less of that, especially following the infamous 2004 brawl at the Palace in Detroit. The league has clamped down on this tough-style basketball, to my chagrin, and only this year have teams really started to look like they genuinely hated each other again, to my delight.

The difference, of course, and the point I’m trying to make, is that back when these rivalries were still in their prime, the teams were evenly matched. All of those teams—the Heat, the Pacers, the Jazz, the Bulls, all of them—they all went back and forth between each other every year. Even this year, with the intensity of game 1 between the Spurs and the Suns, you got the sense that you were seeing two evenly-matched goliaths going at it.

Take all of that into account, and then consider the Washington Wizards. Only a few questions come to mind: who the hell is DeShawn Stevenson? And who are the Wizards trying to fool?

It’s one thing to trash talk. It gets players excited, it gets fans excited, it heightens the urgency of the game. But if you’re the no-name DeShawn, and you’re shooting 0/4 on the day, don’t blow off the awesome blaze of the heat upon your immortal fingers after you hit your first bucket halfway into the third quarter. And when LeBron comes right back down the court on the very next play and drains a three over you and your double team (putting the Cavalier lead back at 19, might I add), don’t retaliate later with a needlessly dirty flagrant-2 foul. And sorry, Eddie Jordan, but when your player shoves a Cav in mid-air without making a play on the ball, it’s going to be an ejection for him. Don’t cry that it’s unfair. It’s the least of your worries after you just got blown out 116-86 and became down 2-0 in the series.

Like I said, I’m all for bitter rivalries and players hating each other. But when it’s just so damn clear that LeBron James is better than the entire Washington Wizards roster put together, it becomes entirely pathetic to whine to the media and pretend like you have a shot. After all, when you’re showing shades of Tim Thomas calling Kenyon Martin fugazy, you know you’re in trouble.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

NBA Playoff Previews...

Below you will find previews for four of the eight first round playoff match-ups, while the other four can be found on the WBRS website.

Brian Raab and I, Ragin' Ravi, have collaborated on these previews and would welcome any comments.

Direct Links :

Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets

San Antonio Spurs vs. Phoenix Suns

New Orleans Hornets vs. Dallas Mavericks

Detroit Pistons vs Philadelphia 76ers

Toronto Raptors vs. Orlando Magic

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Washington Wizards

Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks

LA Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets

Thursday, April 17, 2008

NBA Playoff Preview: Jazz vs Rockets

Utah Houston Advantage
PG Deron Williams Rafer Alston Alston will miss the first few games of the series, but it's inconsequential. Williams is unstoppable Jazz
SG Ronnie Brewer Tracy McGrady Brewer and Kirilenko will both see time covering McGrady, but he'll get his points one way or another Rockets
SF Andrei Kirilenko Shane Battier Both are defensive-minded players, but AK-47 is much more well-rounded and has shot better Jazz
PF Carlos Boozer Luis Scola Boozer should be good for 20-10 every night and he'll likely guard Mutombo, negating his suspect defense Jazz
C Mehmet Okur Dikembe Mutombo Okur will be a difficult cover with his shooting. Deke has a few finger wags left, but little else Jazz
Bench Kyle Korver Bobby Jackson The acquisition of Korver gave the Jazz a legitimate perimeter threat and turned the season around Jazz
Coach Jerry Sloan Rick Adelman Both coaches have performed admirably, but Adelman gets credit for coaching a 22-game winning streak Rockets

Overview: Despite Utah's higher seed, the Rockets will have homecourt advantage due to a superior record. This could play a huge role, considering Utah's home-road splits. The Jazz went 37-4 at home, but were sub-.500 on the road with a 17-24 record. That said, it's still hard to see Houston winning this series. They are a better defensive team than the Jazz, but they don't match up well with Utah's top scoring threats. Boozer tore through Yao Ming last year and it's likely he'll do the same to whatever combination of Mutombo, Scola, and Chuck Hayes that he sees. Meanwhile, Houston has no one even remotely capable of containing Williams. The Rockets will be counting on McGrady to provide most of their offense, but with Brewer and Kirilenko defending, McGrady will have a very difficult time getting easy baskets. The Rockets have surprised us before, so you never know, but the smart money is on Utah.

Jazz in 6

NBA Playoff Preview: Spurs vs Suns

San Antonio Phoenix Advantage
PG Tony Parker Steve Nash Parker should exploit Nash's defense, but Nash will more than make up for it with his scoring and passing Suns
SG Michael Finley Raja Bell While both are mostly used as spot-up shooters on offense, Bell is also a lock-down defender Suns
SF Bruce Bowen Grant Hill Hill is much more dangerous on offense than Bowen and he gives the Suns another perimeter defender Suns
PF Fabricio Oberto Amare Stoudemire The Spurs will send a number of different players to attempt to slow down Stoudemire. Good luck Suns
C Tim Duncan Shaquille O'Neal O'Neal will make Duncan work a little harder on offense, but Duncan is the best player in this series Spurs
Bench Manu Ginobili Leandro Barbosa Ginobili and Barbosa each provide excellent scoring off the bench, but Ginobili's been significantly better Spurs
Coach Gregg Popovich Mike D'Antoni D'Antoni has done an excellent job of working O'Neal into the lineup,but Popovich has four rings Spurs

The Spurs-Suns series was the best of last year's playoffs, though it was marred by the Game 6 suspensions. It should be another incredible showdown this year and it will be the ultimate test for the Shaq trade. O'Neal was brought in to help the Suns handle the Spurs, more than any other opponent and he should give them an edge. His defense on Duncan will be critical, but the mere fact that Stoudemire won't have to guard Duncan will leave Amare with a lot more energy to take over on offense. Gregg Popovich will have some difficult decisions to make regarding how he covers Stoudemire, but the bigger issue will be San Antonio's offense. O'Neal should slow down Duncan, at least a little, and Grant Hill and Raja Bell should combine to make Manu Ginobili work extremely hard for every shot. It's hard to see the Spurs scoring enough to keep pace.

Suns in 6

NBA Playoff Preview: Hornets vs Mavs

New Orleans Dallas
PG Chris Paul Jason Kidd Kidd averaged a double-double in point and assists, but Paul is a deserving MVP candidate Hornets
SG Morris Peterson Jerry Stackhouse Neither Peterson nor Stackhouse has had a strong season, but Peterson's defense gives him the edge Mavs
SF Peja Stojakavic Josh Howard While Peja has played well, Howard is a better defender and has carried the offense at times Mavs
PF David West Dirk Nowitski West has emerged as an All-Star, but few can match Nowitski's ability to take over a game with his scoring Mavs
C Tyson Chandler Erik Dampier Both are there for defense and rebounding, but Chandler is far more consistent, averaging 12 RPG Hornets
Bench Bonzi Wells Jason Terry Terry could start for most teams and is a tremendous shooter, while Wells has always been erratic Mavs
Coach Byron Scott Avery Johnson Both have reached the Finals and lost, but Johnson gets more credit for doing it in the West Mavs

Dallas won the last meeting by a healthy margin, but Jason Kidd knocked down five threes in that game. What are the odds he does that again? In addition, Dallas was playing for a higher seed, while the Hornets were already locked in. Experience certainly favors Dallas, though the Hornets have a couple key players (Stojakavic, for one) who have been through the playoff battles before. The key match-up has to be the point guard battle between Kidd and Chris Paul, which heavily favors the quicker Paul. Of course, one can't forget Nowitski. He and Paul are both capable of winning series by themselves, but Nowitski is going to have a harder time with David West than Paul will with Kidd.

Hornets in 7