If the worst happens, and KG truly does get traded this offseason, I've already found my new favorite team: whichever one drafts Gonzaga senior forward Adam Morrison (unless it's the Lakers, Knicks or Spurs). I had a chance to watch the Gonzaga/Michigan State game with TheDan last week, and we were treated to an impressive display by both sides in a triple-OT 109-106 Zags win (undoubtedly three of the greatest tragedys of the 21 Century, in no particular order, are the NHL Lockout, Burger King getting rid of the Rodeo Burger, and the fact TheDan no longer has a website). I had never heard of State's Maurice Ager before that night, but I certainly won't forget him after he torched the Zags for 36, including a tough game-tying 3 at the end of regulation (Ager a 6'5 two guard, looks like he could be a solid pro. Ridiculous athlete, nice shooting touch and a helluva defender. Of course the NBA will draft some 7-3 Euro guy playing in the Lithuanian Wednesday night intramural league ahead of him). But the show-stopper was undoubtedly Morrison. A pre-season All-American, Morrison scored a career high 43 points in 52 minutes in the win. Not only that, the floppy-haired, striped-socked senior did it with the dirtiest mustache I have ever seen.
TheDan and I debated if he grew it that dirty and whispy on purpose, and eventually decided he HAD to be growing that on-purpose, knowing full-well he would look more like a guy you'd never leave your children alone with than an NBA lottery pick. His basketball idol growing up was a certain slow-footed 6-9 white guy with bad hair and mustache who used to wear the green and white of the Celtics while bombing 3's and taking over games. I believe the Sports Guy calls him the Basketball Jesus, but you can jsut call him Larry Legend. Comparing Morrison to Larry Bird, even with the stache, is unfair, and there are plenty who still doubt Morrison's game will translate to the NBA. Perhaps swayed by the power of the Stache, I disagreed, and after witnessing Morrison's performance, my mind has not changed.
TheDan, a basketball aficianado if I've ever met one, was quick to point out Morrison's, shall we say, lack of foot speed. Granted, he was being guarded most of the night by Ager, who's one of the better perimeter defenders in the land, but Morrison was making Rik Smits look agile at times. Still, just when TheDan would wonder aloud why Morrison wasn't taking over, he would bury a 25 ft three, or make an improbable, off-balance bank shot to put the Zags back ahead. It happened again and again, and by the time the game was over he had wrung up 43 on a VERY good Spartans team, not to mention, he did it shooting 50% from the field and from 3 (4-8), while adding 7 boards, 4 assists, and 2 steals. His season stats look almost as silly as his stache, averaging 25.3 pts, 7.3 reb, and 1.5 stls while shooting 48.7% FG, 81% FT, and 44.4% 3PT. Those aren't "3-point specialist" numbers on the next level, folks. That's the sign the kid can play a little.
I agree the Bird comparisons are far-fetched, and yeah he's going to be one of the slowest 3's in the NBA next year, but the man can shoot, can effectively get off his shot, rebounds, and can even pass a little too. OH, and he WANTS to take the big shot when it matters. He WANTS the ball with the game on the line. He plays every possession like it's his last. AND he has the dirtiest stash ever seen on a basketball floor since the mid-70's. What's not to love here? I believe that if Wally Sczerbiak can be an NBA player, why can't Morrison? I mean Wally and Stache are similar players really: both white, both 6'8, both with great shooting strokes. Of course Wally can't dribble, pass, defend, rebound, create, or shoot with a hand in his face, but he DID make the All-star team one year and he DOES have a $50 million contract that the Wolves couldn't give away. But hey, if a guy like that can make it in the NBA, why can't Morrison, who can do so much more? He could also single-handedly bring back the mustache as a fashion statement- unless you live in the Dakotas where it's never gone out of style.
TheDan believes Morrison should sponsor a stache trimmer that evenly removes 60% of a normal man's mustache so it can look just as whispy and dirty as Morrison's. Sign me up for one.
Hey everybody, please join me in saying congratulations, best of luck and welcome to the club. Please, let's give a warm welcome to the newest member of the Kevin McHale Scapegoaters Club... Matt Millen. Matt joined the club on Monday after firing Steve Mariucci as the head coach of the Detroit Lions football club. This distinct honor, to be a member of this prestigious club, goes only to (ahem...) men who are so inept at their jobs, so clueless in their off-the-field negotiating, so hapless in how they draft talent for their teams, that in order to cover their behinds they fire very talented and capable coaches, in lieu, and for fear, of losing their own jobs. It takes a special person to look at all of the factors around them, realize how horrible they are at their job, somehow think of a way to not point the finger at themselves, and instead turn around and fire the next person in charge. Other members of the Scapegoaters Club (current president Kevin McHale), a firey group of folks never willing to take the blame for the problems which they have created and who come up with creative alternatives for laying blame include Mr. McHale himself, Art Modell, Ricky Williams, Red McCombs, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Latrell Spreewell, Norm Green, Glen Mason and every living member of the Pohlad family. So welcome, Mr. Millen, we have no doubt that your ineptitude, creative scapegoating and subsequent spinning will continue for years to come and make you an active and honored member of the Scapegoaters! And remember, when in doubt, draft a wideout!
Well, the Vikings are 4-0 during the current Brad Johnson Era. Please note that I did not say that Brad Johnson is 4-0 as the Vikings starter. Look, BJ is doing a nice job leading the offense right now, and the coaches have certainly done a good job of tailoring the game plan to fit Johnson's strong points. For that the coaches deserve to be commended, and for the way that he is playing, Brad Johnson should be commended. But this current streak (5-1 in the last 6 games) is not about Brad Johnson, and it's not about the offense. The offense woke up in the last game and a half, springing Mewelde Moore for 90 yards in the second half against the Pack and allowing BJ to throw three touchdowns to Marcus Robinson against the Browns. Still, even though the offense is beginning to come to life, this winning streak is not about them. This is about the defense. This is about a defense that has improved incredibly. During the current 4-game winning streak, in comparison to the first 7 games, when the Vikings went 2-5, the defense is giving up 11.6 pts/game fewer, 67 yards/game fewer, 1.5 touchdowns/game fewer, and is taking the ball away from their opponents 2.5 times/game more often than during the first 7 games of the season. A staggering turnaround. Through 4 full games Brad Johnson has an 85.0 quarterback rating, which is 13 points higher than what Daunte was able to amass during his starts, but still not exactly what you'd call Pro-Bowl numbers. The difference between what Duante wasn't able to do, and what BJ seems to be doing, has to do with decision making, and on a team that needs someone to tell them when to wipe their collective proverbial buttocks, Johnson is making all the difference in the world. Brad Johnson is old, and he's not agile and he does not have a strong arm, but, having said that, he will not get you beat. He might not win the game for you, but he will not be the one that gets you beat, and that's what he's doing better than Daunte. So, if Daunte was healthy today, and was cleared to play next week at Detroit, should he be the one to get the start? In my opinion, absolutely. You cannot take away how important it has been for Brad Johnson and the offense, that the defense has been dominating the last four games. And you cannot blame Daunte for how horrible the defense was playing in the first 7 games and how many bad positions he was put into. Now, did Daunte sometimes make those situations worse by forcing passes? Sure. But that doesn't mean he does not deserve the opportunity, as the leader of this team, to take the helm when everyone is clicking on cylinders. Thankfully, we don't need to worry about that quarterback controversy this season. Brad Johnson is our man right now, and in no way is that sad.
- Any questions about why Glen Mason is never going to get the Gophers to that next level? Anyone? What an awful showing Saturday. Just awful. Getting blown out in a game that could have gotten you into a New Year's Day bowl, I mean, aren't those the games you SHOULD show up for, especially knowing you don't play again for a month? Enjoy the Motor City Bowl, Glen.
- The complete opposite was Reggie Bush Saturday night. If you didn't see it, you've probably heard about it, and maybe heard too much about it. Trust me, the performance can not be overstated. Fresno's a legit team, and if they played in a major conference would have been ranked higher than 16. I am just in awe of Bush. His speed to the corner is like nothing I've seen since Bo Jackson. The long run down the sideline where he put the brakes on, let the guy blow by him, and then cut back to the opposite corner to score was one of the plays of the year. Forget about trading up to get Matt Leinert in April's draft: Bush is a once in a generation player. He'll be one of the best running backs AND best receivers from the moment he steps on the NFL gridiron next season. I did not see Gale Sayers play, but from those who have that's who they're comparing him to, which is really saying something. I see him as a faster version of Marshall Faulk, who in his prime was pretty much unstoppable.
- The NCAA needs to mandate that USC and Texas meets in the Rose Bowl. It has to happen.
- Ohio State has every right to be upset if they don't get into the BCS. Their only losses were to undefeated Texas and one-loss Penn State. They're so much better than Notre Dame, who's guaranteed to get in. I know Michigan State was playing much better when they beat Notre Dame, but that loss looks bad now, and Ohio State's schedule is tougher than ND's.
- The Indy/Cincy game yesterday was unreal. I didn't think the Bengals stood a chance. I felt the Bengals were overrated, since all of their wins were against sub-.500 teams (except for Chicago. more on the BEars in a second). Boy was I wrong. After the Colts scored on 5 straight possessions to open the game, I figured that was it. But Palmer and Johnson & Johnson and the rest came storming back. Against two of the best defenses in the league, it was so enjoyable to watch two incredible offenses march up and down the field.
- I was wrong about Peyton Manning, ok? I was wrong. I always had him pegged as football's Alex Rodriguez. The best player in the sport who folded when it really mattered, and who was more selfish than the media wants you to know. THe guy signed for the most money possible (Tom Brady signed for much less to give the Pats some cap flexibility), and before this season that had hampered the team's ability to build a defense. Although I still think he should have taken less (can you name the last Super Bowl winner with a quarterback with a monster contract? Can you? Answer at the end), I've been impressed with the way he's swallowed his pride this season. I wonder if after all the personal accolades he received last year, that still getting whooped in the playoffs again made him think he's willing to sacrifice it all to win? Teams this season for the most part are making the Colts beat them with Edgerrin James, and Manning has been happy to do it. You know it's killing a guy who's that competitive to hand the ball off as much as he has, but that style has not only made them a good regular season team, but I think they're the team to beat for the playoffs (if they get homefield, it's over. Print the championship t-shirts). Anyway, I don't hate Peyton Manning anymore. Plus the Mastercard commercials are hilarious.
- How tough is the AFC? Either Pittsburgh or San Diego, who would be HANDS DOWN the best teams in the NFC, may not make the playoffs. How incredible is that?
- Oh, and Chiefs fans, I hope you enjoyed yesterday's 45-17 win over Houston because that's probably the last one you'll get this season. KC's final 6 games look like this: home to New England and Denver, at Dallas and the Giants, and finally home to San Diego and Cincinnati. Is that even fair?
- Count me as #9,475,485 who didn't think the Bears were for real. THey absolutely manhandled a very good Carolina team yesterday. All the hype (and rightfully so) was centered on Julius Peppers and the Panther line, but man the Bears front four had Delhomme running for his life all day. Vikings fans, just so you know, THAT"S what a pass rush looks like-- and the Bears did it with just 4 guys all afternoon.
- trivia answer: Denver, with John Elway in 1999 (sorry to bring this up Vikes fans), was the last Super Bowl winner win with a big-money QB. Indy could be an aberation this year if they win, but I don't think their run will last long. There's no way they have enough cap room to keep that D in tact for more than a year or two. Just look at what happened to the Ravens after their Super Bowl win in 2001-- and they didn't have a QB or receiver taking up a huge chunk of their cap.
I've never met Minnesota Timberwolves VP Kevin McHale. I have nothing against him as a person. He's probably a nice guy, and as a matter of fact, I'm sure of it, because that's all I hear from anybody who knows him or deals with him. But Timberwolves fans, after this season we may lose Kevin Garnett. The greatest athlete in the history of Minnesota sports could very well ask to be traded because the organization, fans, and media are too "Minnesota Nice" to McHale, the guy whose most responsible for the team's current state. Where's Donald Trump when you need him? Garnett could leave this summer because none of the people around Kevin McHale have had the courage to tell him the two simple words he needs to hear: You're fired.
I like KFAN. I really do. But most of the on-air staff on that station fall all over themselves to heap praise and love on McHale whenever he's on the air or his name is mentioned. On the Sludge & Lake Show last night, I almost drove off the road because of something Sludge said. After my seething anger had subsided, I realized that what he had said was what so many people around the Wolves believe and accept, and I think that's why it made me so mad. A caller had stated that McHale doesn't get enough criticism from Minnesota media and basketball fans for the horrible decisions and non-decisions he's made the last 2 dozen years. Sludge's response was that (and I'm paraphrasing here) "He does get plenty of critisicm (really? from who?) and that yeah he's made a lot of bad moves. He hasn't had many draft picks work out, but you can say that about a lot of teams. Like (Michael) Jordan, a great player doesn't always mean he's going to be a great GM." Here's the part I'm not paraphrasing. This is an exact quote, and is what sent me off the handle: "But he's such a nice guy."
(let me get a running start at this one...)
WHAT THE HELL DOES BEING A NICE GUY HAVE TO DO WITH RUNNING A PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL TEAM?!?!?! WHAT DOES BEING NICE HAVE TO DO WITH THE FACT KEVIN MCHALE IS A TERRIBLE GM?!?! YOU JUST SAID HE CAN'T DO HIS JOB, AND COMPARED HIM TO MICHAEL JORDAN, WHO WAS EQUALLY AS BAD AT HIS!!! BUT BECAUSE HE'S NICE WE CANT FIRE HIM?!?!WELL GUESS WHAT? JORDAN'S THE GREATEST PLAYER IN THE HISTORY OF THE @#$%^* SPORT BUT HE GOT FIRED!!!!!! THEY CANNED HIM BECAUSE HE WAS INCAPABLE OF TURNING THE WASHINGTON WIZARDS INTO A WINNER!!!! THIS DOESN'T MAKE JORDAN A TERRIBLE PERSON, IT JUST MEANS THE PEOPLE IN WASHINGTON HAD THE BALLS TO TELL HIM HE SHOULDN'T BE RUNNING THEIR TEAM!!!! I DON'T CARE HOW NICE MCHALE IS OR HOW GOOD A FRIEND HIS IS WITH THOSE IN THE ORGANIZATION OR WITH THE FLAGSHIP STATION!! HOW CAN YOU SAY YOU CARE ABOUT WINNING OR CARE ABOUT THE TEAM WHEN YOU'RE SO BLATANTLY PUTTING FRIENDSHIPS AHEAD OF WINNING?!?!?!?
(...taking a moment to allow redness to leave my face, and for steam to cease from blowing out of my ears...)
Look, McHale's a good guy. I get it. A big hero for the Gophers, a real man's man on and off the basketball court. Old school, doesn't take any crap. One of Minnesota's finest, one of Minnesota's "our guys", a true "Minnesotan" in every sense of the word. Got it. But he's failed running the Wolves. I could fill pages (and Jer and I have in the past) and pages with the blunders the guy's made. Saying he's been a failure at putting a championship team together in Garnett's 11 years is not saying he's a bad guy: it's just saying he shouldn't be a GM. Timberwolves fans are some of the most passionate in the NBA. They care about this team as much or more than any fan base in the Association, and have been through as much or more adversity since the city was awarded a franchise. They DESERVE to cheer for a champion as much as Garnett deserves to be one.
Wolves fans, please, I beg you: stop being Minnesota nice. As much as you don't want to think about, realize losing Garnett is a real possibility here. In a pregame interview with TNT last night, Garnett was the most outspoken he's been on how McHale and owner Glen Taylor have mishandled the team around him. Garnett still answered in more of a "read between the lines" style than calling anyone out, but it's the latest sign that Garnett's patience with the organization is not only running thin, it's running out. Before it's too late Wolves fans, put aside "McHale the Minnesotan" and look at him as "McHale the GM". Realize we could have a GM that can actually makes a solid draft choice more than once or twice a decade, and a GM that actually KEEPS draft picks to make a solid choice. A guy who actually knows how to pick up the phone, and use some creativity to make a deal and get some guys around Garnett that he can win with. McHale got ripped off in the Cassell/Jaric deal by Elgin Baylor, the worse GM in any sport!! So what does that make McHale? For the last 10 seasons, Timberwolves fans have accepted exactly what this current group of players around KG is going to give you: good, but not good enough.
Please, before it's too late, before I have to throw up all over myself watching KG win a championship in another city, call out Kevin McHale. Demand he find a new job. Demand a new guy to run the team. If you don't, the only thing McHale's really doing is helping to pack Garnett's bags this offseason when he demands a trade to a team that cares about winning. And there would be nothing nice about that.
Once in awhile my job affords me some pretty cool opportunities. Last night I got the chance to attend Asian-American night at the Timberwolves game against the Houston Rockets and Yao Ming. Some thoughts...
*First, I have to give it up for the halftime entertainment. A small Asian woman riding a 10-foot tall unicycle while balancing a large white bowl on her head. She then would take more bowls, starting with one and working her way eventually up to five bowls, balance them on one of her legs and then throw her leg up sending all the bowls flying upward and all landing inside of each other on top of her head. Amazing stuff! Major props to the unicycle-riding-bowl-juggling-lady.
*Rashad McCants is smooth! This guy has the offensive talent to be a superstar in this league if he can keep his head on the right way. Lucky for him you don't have to be able to play a lick of defense (ahem, Troy Hudson) to be a good player in the NBA. I'm telling you if he keeps his head right, learns to play some D and continues to hone his offensive game he is going to be fantastic to watch.
*When the Wolves offense catches up to the defense we might be able to topple some good teams and be pretty scary heading into the playoffs, but until that happens .500 ball is probably about all we can hope for. McCants could explode down the stretch, but he's nowhere near ready to be the main, or even one of the main, scoring threats. He seems to want to play one-on-one, and not always stay within the offense. Wally looked like he was on the verge of a big season, but he can't quite seem to find his shot. T-Hud (note: Thud) simply is NOT the consistently deadly offensive player that we saw in the playoffs two years ago. Marko Jaric seems like he might have some potential to score from the point, but right now he's doing a serviceable job of moving the ball around and that's about what we should expect from him. Trenton Hassell is a defensive guy and is just not built to play offense as well as he defends. Olowokandi at least seems to be giving us about a quarter and a half of good basketball per game, and he did a nice job of playing Yao last night, but at best he's probably going to be a 10-point a night guy, which might be okay if we could count on anyone else to score. This leaves The Man. Unfortunately KG is our only hope. Fortunately, it's KG, so we've got a chance for everyone to rally around and learn to run the offense through him and take advantage of the looks that they get, but until that happens... yep, .500 ball.
*Troy Hudson (who I will now forever call Thud) might possibly be the single worst defensive player in the entire NBA.
*Dwayne Casey definitely has not settled on anything that even resembles a normal rotation. Last night all 12 guys saw playing time and 10 of those guys saw over 10 minutes. That's a lot of rotating to do for a team that is still looking for an identity. I understand that he is trying to find the group of guys that play best together. I also understand that guys 4 through 12 probably all look pretty similar from a coaching standpoint as far as production and talent. But pretty soon Casey is going to need to settle on a starting 5 and on a 7-9 man rotation. Constantly changing the line-ups, the combinations and the number of minutes played will not allow players to get into a rhythm during the season, and without a solid flow, we're going to be looking at... you guessed it... .500 ball.
I think we've pretty much beaten to death the notion that the Vikes were lucky to beat the Giants Sunday. The only real debate was who was worse: the vikes offense or Eli Manning? But lucky or not, it still counts as a win, and in this season, which may go down as one of the strangest in team history, we'll take it. Somehow, someway, the team (4-5) is still in the hunt for the division title. This season has proven league wide there's no such thing as an "easy" game (just ask the Giants), but the Vikings schedule looks favorable from now until the end of the year meeting with the Norris-leading Bears (6-3). Chicago, on the other hand, has to play four teams with winning records, plus the plucky Packers twice before the New YEar's Day game at the Metrodome. None of their games are considered even remotely easy, but with their tough defense and conservative offense, there's no reason to think the BEars can't continue rolling. THe Vikings need help from these good teams, and even from our hated neighbors the Packers. But not this week. This is not just Packer week, but it's a Monday Night Packer week at that. This is one of those games where it's fun to be a football fan. "Throw out the records" is a cliche you'll hear far too often, but it's certainly true this season. As much as I hate to hear announcers fighting over who loves Favre more, you can't deny how dangerous this team is. During their win over Atlanta Sunday, I must have heard 537 different times how "this team hasn't quit", and it's true; they haven't. Nobody plays better on the Monday Night stage than Favre, and with 5th string running back Samkon Gado putting some punch back in the Packer running game (my favorite stat of this week: Gado's 3 TD's last week were more than Ahman Green's had in the last calendar year) there will be some fireworks at Lambeau. The Vikes will need to play better (espcially on O) to keep up with an inspired Packers bunch.
So for this week, I'm putting aside all talk about the Love Boat and Tice and Daunte and all the other debacles we're endured. For this week, I'm going to bask in the glow of one of football's best rivalries, of a prime-time stage, of a two-game winning streak in November, and the fact that we're still in the playoff hunt. Hopefully this will continue for a few more weeks to come.
I had to stand up and bring my Dorito-stained forearms together last night when I heard Donovan McNabb talk about how it's time to move on without T.O. on the Eagles. It's one thing for owners, managers and even Andy Reid to stand up and publicly say that the Eagles are going on without Owens, but when the players start to do so, especially the team leader, everyone needs to take notice. From the top of the organization on down to the players everyone in the Eagles corner has been unified on this Terrell Owens saga. To date not one person with a first-person knowledge of the situation has defended Owens' position. T.O.'s agent was is paid to defend him, so his opinion matters little in this situation. And Ralph Nader? Well, apparently this guy's got nothing better to do than attend Green Party Smoke-Ins and defend professional athletes who have overstepped their bounds. "With him on the field, we do remarkable things. We could have set records. That was something that I looked forward to doing, winning Super Bowls together. But it just continued to go in the wrong direction." This is what McNabb had to say about the situation with T.O. Coming from a guy who has proven that he has the stuff to take a team to the Super Bowl and lead during high and low times, about a guy who has only proven time and time again that he cares more about himself and his bank account than any team, that's a telling statement by McNabb. So, for what it's worth: I applaude the entire Philadelphia Eagles organization for assessing a bad situation, acting swiftly, and keeping a unified front from top to bottom.
... to the sidebar at the right of your screen. There you will notice a new link called "Fire Glen Mason." Dedicated to our strong belief that, despite being a good football coach, Glen Mason is not the coach to take the Golden Gopher Football program to the next level, Fire Glen Mason is a new blog where we can all discuss, debate and commiserate.
Allow me to paraphrase The Jer, Vikings fans: "don't get too excited over yesterday's win. It was, after all, just the Lions."
The Leos hadn't won in Minnesota in 7 seasons before yesterday's game, and when Joey Harrington was announced as the starter, it didn't matter who the Vikes had at quarterback Sunday (as long as it wasn't Joey Harrington), 8 wins in a row in the Dome over the Motor City Kitties was a mortal lock. So to say this was a great win for the Vikings would be false. Regardless of the turmoil surrounding Winter Park, yesterday was a game they should have won, and for a change, they did. Brad Johnson looked like the same guy who played here the first time around, not like the washed-up 37 year-old who replaced Daunte last week against the Panthers. The Vikes offense looked crisp, Michael Bennett also made a resurgence, and low and behold, the defense played better too (and yes that is in direct correlation to a productive offense- and brutal Lions team).
The real tests are coming, however. The next two weeks will be the real litmus test of where this team is at, and what chance, if any, still remains of catching the Bears for first place. The Vikes will be at the Meadowlands this Sunday to face a Giants team that has demolished the Vikings their past few seasons. Following that, it's a Monday Nighter at Lambeau Field. There's no need to elaborate, but I will: injury woes continue for the Pack, to the point they may be pulling drunken cheeseheads out of the crowd to play receiver and tailback. But make no mistake, nobody plays better on Monday Night that Brett Favre, regardless of who he as around him.
Looking at the remaining schedule, the Vikes have a very winnable game at home vs Cleveland, at Detroit, home vs the Rams and then Pittsburgh, a Sunday Night game at Baltimore, and the season ends at home against the Bears. At 3-5, still 2 games behind Chicago (5-3), the Vikes need a heck of a run to make that last regular season game count, especially considering the BEars already won the first meeting. Realistically, you're going to need at least 8 wins and some help, which means winning a minimum of 5 of your last 8. What chance do the Vikes have? Sunday's game at Giants Stadium would be a tough one even if the Vikes were undefeated, so no shame if they lose out there. More important to me is HOW they lose, or how they play. In every loss this year, they've been blown right off the field. If that happens again against the G-Men you can really kiss the year goodbye. A solid showing keeps the hopes up for Green Bay and beyond. Besides NY and the Steelers, how many of the remaining opponents are you afraid of? Exactly. SO it's not entirely out of the question.
We at least know Brad Johnson won't be the reason the Vikes fall short. Yesterday he showed poise, command, and accuracy, none of them qualities embued by Daunte this season. Another comment made by The Jer yesterday, is that if Johnson continues to play well (i.e. continue to make good decisions and keep turnovers at a minimum) things get a LOT more difficult for Daunte whenever he returns next season. But I'll let him elaborate more on that if he wishes.
Jason Whitlock wrote a great reaction to Charlie Weis' contract extension. He feels the move is a bit racially motivated, which I'm not sure I agree with, but some of his comments not related the the race card are dead on. Here's a few.
On Weis' success so far: "Notre Dame has beaten a mediocre Michigan team, a Dave Wannstedt-coached Pittsburgh team that is .500 only because the Big East is terrible, the third- or fourth-best team in the Mountain West Conference (BYU), a bad Purdue squad, and a Washington club with one victory (vs. Idaho).... Weis' greatest accomplishment so far is that he led Notre Dame to a close loss against USC."
On Weis finding success coaching players that Willingham recruited: "Yes, Weis is doing a nice job working with the offensive talent Willingham recruited. But while Willingham inherited offensive personnel recruited to run the football, Weis inherited players recruited to operate in a pro-style passing offense. Forgive me for not being shocked that Weis is getting points out of all that mature, experienced talent Willingham left behind."
On Notre Dame's concern about Weis being pursued by NFL teams: "If the New York Giants or any other NFL team decides it wants Weis as its coach, there's no amount of money that is going to stand in the way of that getting done. Only Weis can stop that deal by saying he'd prefer to remain a college coach. You think Weis is the only college coach the NFL has ever been interested in?"
On what the truth behind this extension is: "This is a gigantic overreaction by a school administration that should know better. They watched Willingham experience early success and then struggle. Notre Dame has no clue whether Weis can recruit or sustain success... Let's call this exactly what it is: greed and stupidity."
When I heard that Notre Dame extended Charlie Weis' contract through 2015 earlier this week the only thing that came to mind was: WHAT? It's been less than a year since Notre Dame was accused of playing the race card in firing Ty Willingham before giving him a five-year chance to be a great coach for the storied program. They followed this up by hiring a white coach, which caused sentiments of "See? I told you so" from those playing the race card. I never felt like it was a racial issue that Willingham got canned, but I did feel it was unfair to not give him the customary 5 years to try to build a program of players that he had recruited before giving him the boot for not upholding Notre Dame tradition. For the record Charlie Weis is 5-2 in his first 7 games. After his first 7 games as Irish head coach what was Willingham's record? 7-0. Is Weis' extension more evidence of old school racism at the top at Notre Dame? Is it evidence of racism at all? Is it motivated by money and a fear that Weis will depart for more money and the NFL? I don't know the answer to any of those questions, and since I'm not an expert in this field, I don't have to. But personally I don't think the answers to any of those questions matters as much as the answer to this question: Is Weis a better coach than Willingham was? And the answer is that we simply do not know. Going by wins/losses alone through the same number of games, the answer is no. But if you listen to the Notre Dame faithful Charlie Weis is the second coming of the Touchdown Jesus. In the words of Notre Dame's Athletic Director, Kevin White (ahem): "Charlie has clearly and impressively demonstrated the ability to take the Notre Dame program where we all want it to go." And where is that exactly? As per usual the Notre Dame higher-ups are keeping their reasoning close to the vest. In my opinion a 10-year extension after just 7 games is absolutely ridiculous. Deciding that someone should be at the head of your program for the next 100+ games based soley on what they've done in only 7 games is not smart business. It certainly seems to be that Weis is a nice fit for Notre Dame, and it certainly seems to be that Weis is a good college coach. And based on his start, I could see giving him a one or two year extension, as a good-will gesture for the Notre Dame wrinklies to say they are happy with his start, his attitude and his plan for the future. But 10 years? Notre Dame has long believed that the way they conduct their football operations is a bit above the cuff. Perhaps the unwritten rules don't apply to Notre Dame. In a couple of years this contract extension is either going to look horrendously stupid or insightfully forward thinking. Only time will tell which is true, but one thing does seem obvious: the rules that applied to Ty Willingham do not seem to apply to Charlie Weis.
7. WASHINGTON WIZARDS: I probably would have let Caron Butler play a season in DC before giving him a five-year extension. Will he feel he has to earn it every night, or be one of those guys who coasts through? To replace Larry Hughes, the Wiz need a full effort from both Butler and free agent signee Antonio Daniels. With Arenas and Jamison back, at least scoring won't be a problem, and maybe now gunner Jarvis Hayes will get a chance.
6. MILWAUKEE BUCKS: The Bucks stole Jamal McGloire from the Hornets, and suddenly this team goes from the brink of the playoffs to scary. They HAD to overpay for Redd, and he'll be a key, but the most important player in Brewland is TJ Ford. IF he regains his rookie season form, Ford's an all-star and the Bucks are suddenly making the Pistons and Pacers nervous. My favorite thing with this team is that we can finally begin the "Who was a worse pick?" debate between Bogut and Darko. Have fun with that one, and remember: there's really no wrong answer.
5. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: I'm going to say Lebron has two more years before he starts averaging a triple-double. I don't think he can be better than MJ, but I'm willing to hear the argument. HUghes was a good get, and will flourish with open dunks and shots courtesy of LBJ, as will Damon Jones, Donyell Marshall (maybe the most underrated signing of the offseason), and just about everybody else. Big Z looks more like a Big Distraction to me, but if his feet stay on and he doesn't whine too much about touches, this could work. How good do you think Carlos Boozer's feeling about things right about now? I don't feel sorry for him either.
4. DETROIT PISTONS: They're the best team in the conference when it matters, but they coasted through the regular season last year and still made the Finals. Where's the incentive to not do the same this year? Flipnosis has never been a real rah-rah guy, and guys with this kind of track record for winning probably wouldn't listen even if he was. They won't have the best record, but they're still the team to beat come April.
3. INDIANA PACERS: This looks crazy, but hear me out: Ron-Ron will be playing like a house-afire this year, and that's bound to spread to the team. They're right there with the Pistons, but they all play in the toughest division in the league, and that's going to take its toll. It'll keep them from the best record, but anybody from the Central that makes it (at last check I have four of the five) will be playoff tested before the 2nd season even starts. Even more fun than the Darko/Bogut debate will be seeing Don Stern have to present Ron-Ron with both the Defensive Player of the Year award AND Comeback POY. And before you start saying nobody would vote for him for the latter, remember Jason Giambi won the same award in baseball this season- you know, his comeback from STEROID ABUSE.
2. NEW JERSEY NETS: They're a distant 4th in the East, but here's why they finish 2nd: Not only are they the best team in the league's worst division, they're BY FAR the best team in the league's worst division. Nobody in the Atlantic (yes the Raptors have Bosh but they also have absolutely nothing else) has a low-presence to exploit Collins, Krstic, and anything else NJ has in the middle. Kidd and Jefferson will have something to prove after being injured for big chunks of the last two years, and well Vince Carter doesn't have a heart or soul, but since he's getting paid and the guys he's playing with are fun, he's along for the ride. Will this be the year he finally drives the lane with authority, and uses all of his God-given talent? Um no. When it really matters, Vince makes the Vikings D look tough, but hey, if you need a wide open dunk or a fade-away 3, he's your guy. Second round exit coming.
1, MIAMI HEAT: There are no group of people on earth that have bigger egos than NBA players (ok maybe Tom Cruise, but that's about it). The better the player, the bigger the ego, and the bigger the ego, the more the player wants the ball when it matters. Portland and Dallas of a few years back, as well as the Karl Malone/GP Lakers proved this doesn't work. You CAN have too many good players on one team in basketball! In the regular season, talent generally wins, which is why the Heat, along with the fact the Southeast is pretty weak, will cruise to the league's best record. Everybody will play nicey-nice during the year, but when the playoffs begin, that's when the trouble starts. DWade and Shaq not only need the ball in crunchtime, but deserve it, because they've proven they can take over in the clutch. THe problem here are guys like JWill and Antoine Walker, have been selfish players their whole careers (and both are on their third teams, I might add). Why would they change now? What was wrong with keeping Eddie JOnes for one more season and then gaining cap space? Ohhhhhh Pat Riley, that's right. Looks like egos aren't just on the court in the NBA. Despite having the two best players in the league, the HEat won't even make the conference finals, let alone the NBA Finals.
Wasn’t it just a few years back when this was the worst conference in the history of professional sports? Well the balance has shifted back, with 3 real-deal title contenders, and a slew of teams on the rise. And of course, there’s Toronto and Atlanta to play some 70-65 games as a reminder of how bad it used to be.
15. TORONTO RAPTORS: Canada does a lot of things well: hockey, beer, hockey, comedians, and of course, hockey. Basketball? Not so much. Sure, the Great White North will turn out a good NBA player or two, like Steve Nash, or the invaluable bearded wonder Bill Wennington, but when basketball and hockey are going at the same time, well, Canadians are going to watch hockey. Especially when the Raptors are this terrible. Mr. Stern: contraction case #2.
14. ATLANTA HAWKS: If I’ve said this once, I’ve said it at least twice: is there a worse pro sports town than Atlanta? I don’t think so. They’ve been spoiled by the Braves winning 14 consecutive division titles, to the point that nobody shows up unless they make the World Series. The only reason they go to Falcons games is because of Vick, and honestly, how’d they get an NHL team? Or how do they still have the Hawks? The mystery remains, as do hordes of empty seats at Phillips Arena for Hawks games.
13. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS: Getting the hometown kids in UNC Alums Raymond Felton and Sean May was a nice idea, but how do you pass on Danny Granger AND Gerald Green twice? Bernie Bickerstaff is taking his time, trying to building slowly but surely. Emeka Okafor starts year 1 of his 10 year all-star tour. The guys around him will work hard, and continue to slowly improve. Oh and they also wear a lot of orange, so, you know, if you’re into that, here’s the team for you.
PLAYOFF CONTENDERS OR PRETENDERS?
12. ORLANDO MAGIC: Stevie Franchise-Killer plays his last season in Orlando. That’s 2 (not included Vancouver where he pouted his way out of town before playing a game) places he’s been run out of town. Can we stop calling him Franchise please? Unless he’s playing in Portland, Atlanta, or Toronto, where the teams there apparently enjoy disfunction, can we drop the nickname please? Dwight Howard deserves better than this. If their teams were better, you’d actually be able to find the Howard/Okafor battles on TV. Like the Vikes and Gophs, Grant Hill continues to find new ways to do the same old things, which is get hurt.
11. CHICAGO BULLS: Cutting ties with Eddy Curry was the right move, although it’ll hurt them in the short-term, i.e. this season. Mike Sweetney could be a nice player, but they’re still a guy short in the middle. Hinrich, Gordon, Dang, and that other Argentinian make for a lethal backcourt rotation. A small step back this year, but they’re close in Chicago, very close.
10. BOSTON CELTICS: This is assuming GM Danny Ainge does the right thing and trades Paul Pierce before the trade deadline. I like Pierce, and he’s been the heart and soul of that team, but he doesn’t fit in the rebuilding process, and he deserves another shot at a title. He’s got value, and could add a couple more pieces for the C’s. Harrington at times looked like a monster-in-the-making, last year, but with added pressure and added minutes, we’ll see how he handles a bigger load. T-minus 3 years and counting before Gerald Green takes off as the best player in the 2005 draft class. Like, the Bulls, they’re on the cusp.
9. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: Here’s a team that REALLY needs to blow it up completely and start over. They’ve tried every combination of guys around AI, and nothing’s worked. They at least got the Andre Iguodala pick right, as he’s a star in the making. Nobody was a bigger fan of C-Webb back in his Fab 5 days than I was, and it’s been sad to watch him these last few years. Like Shawn Kemp before him, one of the best power forwards of our time never got to realize his full potential.
8. NEW YORK KNICKS: Like the Sixers, so many problems here and so many cap problems they can do little to stop it. However, as much hype as Larry Brown’s gotten, I’m a believer. His teams are always competitive and he’ll find a way with this undersized, underachieving bunch too. Eddy Curry will help on the one night a week he feels like it, and Marbury will continue to be Marbury. Having Nate Robinson here makes it difficult for me to hate the Knicks- difficult, but not impossible.