Friday, April 24, 2009

Anti NFL Draft Thoughts

It’s the day before the NFL draft, and I’m thinking the following…

…this has been covered pretty much everywhere, including here, and yet still it can’t be mentioned enough: The NFL not only needs, they HAVE TO restructure the rookie salary scale for the first 7 picks. The NFL is the one league where drafted players are ready to step in and help right away (except QB’s, which we’ve covered), and yet the teams who so badly need the top players don’t want them because the cost too much. Does that make any sense? No, no it does not. I wonder how this hasn’t been rectified much earlier? I mean, other than 6 or 7 college draftees who have proven NOTHING, who does this system benefit? Why would the Players Association be so in favor of this in the past when again, IT ONLY BENEFITS 6 OR 7 PLAYERS WHO HAVE PROVEN NOTHING!?!?!?!? It’s just ridiculous and it needs to change.

…I don’t believe a single word any team says about who they’re drafting. Not one word. I feel bad for football reporters right now, because they’re trying to give us the readers nuggets and tidbits and insight when really? There’s none to give. Teams use these reporters to feed misinformation to the rest of the league, and that’s really it. Peter King is one of the best (maybe the best?) NFL reporter today, and yet he does the same thing in his column today.

He begins by saying “The Patriots are Fort Knox on draft weekend -- and, for that matter, on every weekend. Remember last year? New England traded down from seven to 10 in the first round and got the object of its affection, Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo, and no one ever knew Mayo was their man.”

Ok fine, yet he then says that two teams have told him that the Patriots are reportedly trying to move up to grab the 8th or 9th pick. Um, if the Patriots are Fort Knox and nobody last year had any idea they were moving up to get Mayo until after it happened, and nobody had any idea they were trading Matt Cassell to the Chiefs until after it happened WHY WOULD THEY MAKE IT KNOWN THEY TRADING UP?!?!?!? They have a history of doing deals quietly, so wouldn’t reason state that if they really WERE moving up, they wouldn’t have trade discussions until draft day? I’m not sayin’ I’m just sayin’

…All we know for sure right now is that two teams will make dumb picks, and one will make a smart one: the Lions will take Matthew Stafford (dumb), the Rams will take Jason Smith (smart), and the Raiders will take somebody who makes no sense whatsoever and who nobody had ranked in the Top 10 (this is what happens when your team is run by a senile old man in a track suit who still thinks it’s 1974). Otherwise? Your guess is as good as mine- or any of the “draft experts”.

…The only value of said so-called draft “experts” is to tell us who they like and don’t like. Do they like Matthew Stafford more than Marc Sanchez? Jason Smith more than Andre Smith? Any of the USC linebackers? Any receiver not named Michael Crabtree? Those are opinions I appreciate.

…I don’t care if Florida WR Percy Harvin was dumb enough to smoke pot knowing he’d have to take a drug test, I want the Vikes to take him if he’s there at 22. There, I said it. If Harvin’s not, I honestly have no clue. Take a WR or an offensive tackle. There should be a good one available.

…Non draft related but still sorta draft related- new Browns coach Eric Mangini is not enamored with QB Brady Quinn. If I’m the Vikings, I’m on the phone NOW and offer a 2nd round pick, and maybe a 3rd or a 4th. Or another pick next year? I wouldn’t give up this year’s #1, but I’d give up a 2 or later or a combo platter of 2 or later picks to get Quinn, who has had two years to learn in the NFL and is ready to go. Of course, because I’m not the Vikings, I actually think they desperately need a quarterback, so you know, it’ll never happen. Oh well. Watch Quinn get traded somewhere else and do well. Don’t say I didn’t tell you because I just did.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Why The Lions Should Not Take Matthew Stafford #1 Overall

We can thank George Costanza for inventing “It’s not you, it’s me.” It’s a simple and easy way to escape from a relationship you’re no longer, well, into. Or a great way to stop one before it gets started. For the Detroit Lions (or as I like to call them, the Detwah Leones), they need to pull the “It’s not you, it’s me” bit with Matthew Stafford because he is the wrong pick for them at #1 overall at this Saturday’s NFL Draft.

Telling Stafford “it’s not you, it’s me” would actually be true both ways because unless John Elway or Peyton Manning were available in this draft, I don’t think ANY quarterback is the right pick for Detwah at #1 overall- not Stafford, not Marc Sanchez, not Josh Freeman. And also because I don’t think Stafford is going to be a very good NFL quarterback.

I don’t care how strong his arm is or how much he looks or sounds or acts like an NFL quarterback, Stafford's resume at Georgia- you know, what he actually did in real live games in his three seasons as the starter in Athens instead of in pro-day drills against no defense- leaves a little something to be desired. As a Bulldog, Stafford was surrounded by future NFL talent on both sides of the ball, and he rarely, if ever, took the field against a less talented team (I know LSU and Florida won National Titles while Stafford was at Georgia, but can you honestly tell me the Bulldogs were outclassed by either the Tigers or Gators? Those teams were great, but I don’t think they were clearly more talented than Georgia was).

Just last season Georgia was the preseason #1 team in the country with a solid O-line, one of- if not the best- stable of running backs in the country (led by redshirt soph Knowshon Moreno who will be one of the first two backs taken in Saturday’s draft), and talent at wideout which included senior Mohamed Massquoi (who according to various reports could be taken as early as the 2nd round) and freshman 6’4 200 lb monster AJ Green (who, barring injury or a bad attitude, is a lock to be a first round pick whenever he decides to enter the draft). Georgia’s result for 2008? A disappointing 10-3. In his three years as a starter, the Bulldogs won zero National Titles, zero SEC Titles, and zero SEC East division titles (they tied for the division lead in 2007, but tie-breakers gave it to Florida. I don’t personally don’t count that one). Sure, they were 3-0 in bowl games (in 2007 beat Virginia Tech in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, 2008 beat an awful Hawaii team in the Sugar Bowl and this past January knocked off Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl), but they weren’t National Championship games that they had the talent to be in, and only one, the joke of a matchup against Hawaii, was a BCS game. They did win 30 games in his three seasons there, but ask Bulldogs fans if that was enough.

If Stafford has so much talent and ability and that golden arm, why weren’t his Georgia teams better? Why weren’t they the best? If his teams disappoint in college with all of that talent around him, what makes you think he’s going to be so much better in the pros?

Which leads us back to the “It’s not you it’s me” phrase actually being true because, as I said, Detroit really isn’t good enough for Stafford, or Sanchez or Freeman to be successful anytime soon. I mentioned Elway and Manning earlier because those are the only two rookie quarterbacks I can think of who were high draft picks, started in their first year for awful teams, and went on to have successful careers. Elway orchestrated a trade from the Baltimore Colts (who had the #1 overall pick in 1983) to Denver, and he started 10 games in Orange and Blue (why won't they go back to those jerseys? They were infinitely better than the stupid Nike designs they wear now) that first year and went 4-6. The next year the Broncos went 12-2 in games he started and well, you know the rest. Manning started from day one in Indy and went 3-13 his rookie year. The next year? 13-3. Like Elway, the rest is history.

But that's it for highly drafted QB's going to awful teams, starting as rookies, and living to tell about it. In recent years we've seen guys like Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Alex Smith go high, start early for awful teams, and get so beat up and knocked around they never develop. Sure, maybe one or none of these guys would have be a good QB no matter how much talent was there, but they are examples that show rookie QB's should not be starting unless EVERYTHING- and I mean everything- else is in place.

In the last decade there have been three and only three rookie QB's whose teams have been successful- Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 (Pittsburgh was 13-0 in games he started), and Matt Ryan (Atlanta was 11-5) and Joe Flacco (Ravens were also 11-5 ) this past season.

Roethlisberger has developed into one of the top 10 QB’s in the league, and Flacco and especially Ryan, could join him in that group soon. All three undeniably are talented QB’s, but they were also put into the perfect situation- their teams asked them to do as little as humanly possible to win. As I’ve mentioned on this site a few times before, the Steelers in 2004 are the blueprint for winning with a rookie QB, and it’s really simple: all you need is a great defense, Oline, running game, and solid-to-great receivers. Really you just need the entire package there except a QB and your rookie quarterback should develop just great! Isn’t that easy? Ok maybe not, but if you draft a rookie QB and insist on starting him, unless you can draft Elway or Manning, this is your only recipe that doesn’t leave to disaster.

The Steelers in 2004 had an awesome defense, a veteran and outstanding O-line, a bruising rushing attack led by Jerome Bettis, and an unreal receiving core of Hines Ward, Plax Burress, Antwan Randel-El and TE Heath Miller that could not only catch but block. The Steelers went 13-0 that year with Roethlisberger as the starter because he only threw 295 passes that season (completing196 of them for a 66.4 completion % and a total QB rating of 98.1), which is an average of only 23 pass attempts per game. They used this recipe successfully for Big Ben’s first two years, winning a Super Bowl the second. His third year when the running game broke down and he had to attempt over 400 passes (469 to be exact) the Steelers limped to a 7-8 record and Ben had a completion % of only 59.1 and a QB rating of 75.4. Ouch. In 2007 the team was healthy and productive, and Roethlisberger asserted himself by throwing a respectable 409 passes with a 65.3 comp. % and an other-worldly 104.1 QB rating.

You see the progression? Ask your rookie QB to do as little as humanly possible, let him learn in a safe environment where there’s little pressure and he can drop back to throw without fear of being killed, and you get Big Ben. Ask your rookie QB to be David Carr where your team stinks and he gets sacked 4,375 times in his first five years (I’m only slightly exaggerating those sack totals), and he doesn’t exactly pan out.

Last season Baltimore and Atlanta both had excellent defenses, offensive lines, running games, and surprisingly productive receivers, and their QB’s helped their teams to 11-5 seasons. Yes, both guys did throw over 400 passes, but their numbers were still in the bottom 10 for passes attempted in the league. When they both got to the playoffs and saw defenses who forced them to throw, their teams made a quick exit. It doesn’t mean Ryan and Flacco aren’t good, it’s just further proof that no matter how talented you think a rookie QB is, you do not throw him into the fire unless you have everything else around him taken care of.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to high draft picks, but to any rookie. Go ahead, look at any of the successful QB’s today by whatever criteria you’d measure as “successful” and they all sat at least a season before starting: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Kurt Warner, Matt Cassell, Philip Rivers, and Aaron Rodgers. I could go on and on, but you get the point- they all sat for at least a year, and I don’t see any way that Stafford will sit for much or all of 2009 if he goes to the Lions.

I think Daunte Culpepper is a fine quarterback, but let’s be honest here: while the Lions can’t get any worse in 2009, they were 0-16 in 2008. They’re not going to the playoffs or anything close this year, which means no matter how well Culpepper plays, the wheels WILL fall off the Lions season early, and the pressure will be on to throw Stafford into the mix. He’ll get thrown to the wolves and he’ll get eaten alive, and chances are, he won’t recover from it.

So if the Lions want to stop being the laughing stock of the league and be respectable sooner rather than later, the best thing they can do is pull a Costanza and tell Matt Stafford “It’s you, it’s me”, draft Baylor OT Jason Smith (like Miami drafted OT Jake Long instead of a QB last year and Cleveland passed on Brady Quinn and took OT Joe Thomas the year before that) and use the rest of their picks to help them get better now. They can take a QB in the later rounds or worry about that next year or the year after when they have more than my mancrush Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and Kevin Smith to help him succeed.

Don’t take it personally Matt, because it really is not you, it’s me.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Quick Hit Last Minute Opening Day Season Preview:

While I did a lot of prep for my two fantasy baseball drafts, I can’t say I’ve done a lot of prep into who’s going to do what this year. But one thing really, really bothers me: all of the people picking the New York Yankees and/or the Boston Red Sox over the defending AL champs the Tampa Bay Rays. For the life of me I do not understand this. Follow along, if you will…

First, there’s the Yankees, who dropped a huge chunk of change this offseason for 1B Mark Teixeira and starters CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett. Definitely upgrades, and definitely some needed moves for them, but I’m missing how this turns them into a 100 win juggernaut and how these three massive signings makes all the baseball world wrong. Sabathia has piled up more innings than any other starter the last few years, and he’s not exactly in the best shape of his career- unless his desired shape is either “round” or “rotund.” I’m just saying conditioning, as well as fatigue and wear and tear on his arm could be a factor. Burnett has amazing stuff- like top 3 in baseball type stuff- but he’s a flake. Hell, I put to you we should stop calling people “flaky” and start calling them either “Burnetty” or “Pulling an AJ”. He is the dictionary definition of the phrase “a (multi) million dollar arm and a ten cent head”. He’s been on the DL a lot over his career, and according to his own teams it hasn’t always been because they think he should be there. Last year he didn’t pitch for over a month because he just didn’t feel 110% healthy- even though team doctors could find nothing wrong with him. And now you’re going to put him in the world’s largest and toughest media market on the one of the most scruitinized and publicized teams on the planet and expect him to make it? Hey at least they got a bargain on the guy for the low, low price of $80 million.

As for Teixeira, there’s nothing wrong with him- actually there’s a lot right. He’s one of the best defensive first basemen in the game (a massive upgrade at that spot to Giambi), and is a solid middle of the order bat. But he’s not one of the best 20, or even 30, hitters in the game. He’s just not. Good yes, but not a monster middle of the order bat, and not worth what the Yanks paid him.

Around this trio you then add a suspect rotation, an even more suspect bullpen, A-Rod out for at least a month and possibly much longer, and an outfield foursome of Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady and Nick Swisher. Yep, Jeter will be Jeter and Cano is due to bounce back, but I just don’t see how this is the best team in the AL East.

Boston? They continue to make smart signings for comeback candidates like starters Brad Penny and John Smoltz. After blowing up their 2004 World Series champs team, they only made some tweaks to 2008’s playoff team, which was probably smart considering I wouldn’t have paid what the Yankees had to in order to get their 3 big signings (although I know the Sox were in love with Teixeira). That said, the rotation and bullpen will be good, and defensively if everyone stays healthy they should be good again, but what about the hitting? Big Papi has been in decline for three straight years, certainly because Manny’s not there to protect him (even though he’s only been gone for half a season) and not at all because of more stringent steroid testing. Never. Impossible.

Anyway, so Big Papi is now just Papi, 3B Mike Lowell’s hurt and was generally awful last year, their SS position doesn’t look great (Jed Lowrie should win the job and is a decent shortstop defensively, but is not a top of the order hitter), AL MVP Dustin Pedroia will never have a better season than he did last year, and JD Drew is known to be “Burnetty” (see how that just rolls off the tongue?) from time to time. I like Jason Bay (he’s a Canadian from BC, so of course I like him), Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury, but there’s still plenty of uncertainty in the Sox batting order.

Which brings us to the Tampa Bay Rays. You know, the little bunch of overachievers who represented the AL in the World Series last year? Yeah, those guys. See the 2008 Rays weren’t a mirage or a miracle or some kind of one hit wonder- that’s their true talent level. They made a huge upgrade defensively to go from one of the worst defensive clubs in 2007 to the best in 2008, and their young pitchers and hitters started coming of age and doing what they’re supposed to do. The team is so deep in pitching they sent the best pitching prospect in baseball, David Price (who was awesome out of the pen in their playoff run) down to AAA to start the season, they picked up former Cards closer Jason Isringhausen to add bullpen depth, picked up promising RF Matt Joyce in a trade with the Tiggers, and they made the best free agent signing of the offseason, picking up former Phillies OF Pat Burrell for almost nothing (2 years, $16 million) to be their DH, which is the one area they needed improvement. So they not only have all of their important pieces back from a World Series runner-up, but even made improvements to that team, yet everybody’s going to pick them third? Really?

I’m not saying the Red Sox and Yankees will be awful. Far from it actually, as I think the Red Sox will win the Wild Card and the Yankees will be at .500 or better, but there’s absolutely, positively no way either of these teams are better than the Rays. None.

While I’m 110% right about the Rays, I’m not so sure about anybody else in the AL- or NL for that matter. So for what it’s worth, here’s my predictions for everybody else:

AL Central- Cleveland (the AL West is the worst division in baseball, but the Central is second worst. Not a lot of good teams here. Everybody has some major holes, the Tribe have the fewest.)

AL West- Oakland (Anaheim’s starting rotation is in shambles due to injury, they don’t hit very well and their defenders, especially in the outfield are in sharp decline. Other than there’s a lot to love with the Halos)

Wildcard- Boston

NL East- New York Mets (they can't choke away the division three straight years, can they?)

NL Central- Chicago Cubs (not the game’s best team, but they will have the best record because they play in the NL and are just that much better than everyone else in this division)

NL West- LA Dodgers (will challenge the Cubbies for most wins)

Wildcard- um…Phillies? DBacks? Cards? Brewers? I’m going with the Braves, and not just because they won last night.

ALDS- Tampa over Oakland, Boston over Cleveland
NLDS- Chicago over Atlanta, LA Dodgers over NY Metropolitans

ALCS- Tampa over Boston (again)
NLCS- Dodgers over Cubbies

World Series- Tampa over LA

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Friday Free-For-All

Questions, Comments, and Concerns about the Final Four, Jay Cutler to Da Bears, and more…

…Well that didn’t take long. It took less than 24 hours after word came late Wednesday that the Broncos were set on trading disgruntled/childish/baby/whiner Jay Cutler to make a deal, and Denver did really, really well. Getting two firsts, a third AND Kyle Orton (who’s better than you think) for Cutler and a fifth is incredible considering a) everyone and their mother knew Denver had no choice but to trade and b) teams have been very reluctant to part with high draft picks for players. To get TWO first rounders? Really, I know Broncos fans are probably bummed to lose a 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback, but that’s a great haul and their front office has a chance to more than make up for a loss. They have the 12th pick (their own) and 18th (Denver’s) picks in the first round of the upcoming draft, and as SI’com’s Don Banks mentioned yesterday, The Bronch (as Joel calls them) have plenty of directions they can go. They could stay put and nab KState’s Josh Freeman, or deal up to get USC QB Marc Sanchez. With as gawd-awful/horrible/craptastic as Denver’s D was last year, I’d be inclined to keep the two picks and either take Freeman and the best available defender, or use both #1’s on defense and draft a QB for development later. They could not have possibly hoped to do better once they decided Cutler had to go.

But what makes this so interesting is that it’s also a good deal for Chicago. On E! right now they have a poll up of who got the better of this deal, and with almost 300,000 people weighing in, Denver is getting 52% of the vote right now. That’s pretty darn close. Did Da Bears give up a lot? Yes, yes they did. But they do get a 25 year old Pro-Bowl QB to add to an offense that wasn’t great last year, but could be sneaky good for 2009 with awesome 2nd yr back Matt Forte, a solid OLine, and…ok their receivers aren’t very good, but you never know. And in a crappy division (although not as crappy as the NFC West. Then again outside of the AL West, nothing other division in American sports is. What is it the west and crappy lately?), that could be enough, especially when it means two other teams, the Lions (stop laughing) and The Purple (stop crying- oh wait, that’s me whose crying about them really, truly, honestly ending camp with Tavaris Jackson as the starter) didn’t get the QB they so desparately needed. Oh what’s that? The Vikes don’t need him? They’re “happy with the two guys they have”? Brad Childress is like the Knight (we are the knights who say NEE!) in Monty Python’s Holy Grail who keeps having limbs chopped off yet he acts like everything’s fine. Is it a bad sign that my best hope as a Vikings fan for 2009 is for TJack to start- and suck- so that Brad Childress and the whole gang gets fired so we can get somebody in here who actually knows how to run an offense and develop a QB? Probably.

So anyway, the Bears were a middle-of-the-road team with an aging defense who needed to make a push or else, and showed some cahones by pushing all of their chips to the middle of the table (you know, just like the Vikes did last year in overpaying for Jared Allen. And just like they didn’t do this time around for Cutler, for reasons known only to NEE! Childress).

…Final Four this weekend, and I don’t think I’ll be able to watch either of the Saturday games. Par for the course for this year’s tourney as my fiancĂ© and I just bought a house, and being that it was a foreclosure, all of our time has gone into cleaning and fixing, so I haven’t seen much at all in the way of March Madness. Saturday I’ll actually be missing games for my buddy Rich’s wedding, but if I wasn’t at that, I’d be at the new house, so I’d be missing out regardless. Oh well.

…From what I’ve heard and read of what I missed, I expect a UNC/UConn national final. I used to like UConn, but after all this stuff about Calhoun and his recruiting tactics and his comments about how much money he makes, well, I’m not such a big fan anymore. And for some reason, although Carolina fits all the criteria of The Evil Empire of college basketball, I still hate Duke way, way, way, WAY more than UNC. Actually, I don’t think I hate the Heels at all.

…while I hate Calhoun, I do not hate his center Thabeet. I’m torn on him in the NBA, as he has all the signs of Major Draft Bust because he’s shown very little offensive game, yet has been an unbelievable shot blocker and rebounder. St Louis Bilikens coach Rick Majerus was on Barreiro’s show yesterday (or maybe the day before. I pretty much listen to all of my radio on podcasts now, so I quickly lose track of when it was actually aired), and used the analogy of “in a world of blind men, the one-eyed man is king”, meaning that Thabeet is only awesome at shot blocking and rebound because there’s no true centers in college hoops anymore. While that’s true (and at 7’3 he better darn well be dominating the glass and the paint), I still feel like he could be intruiging in the NBA if all he’s asked to do is just that- block shots and rebounds. Would be a no-brainer pick for the Wolves if he’s available as the perfect compliment to Al Jefferson.

…speaking of the Wolves and their draft, if they somehow defied the odds, and their incredible run of bad luck in the lottery, and got the #1 pick, I wondered the following: the consensus #1 pick is Blake Griffin (and again, just from what I heard, he did nothing to dispel that with his play in the tourney. If he was already cemented as the best player before the tourney he would have…”re-cemented” his status there? Whatever. Anyway, Griffin is a true power forward, which is of course the one position the Wolves have filled (twice, actually). Blake not only played his college ball in Oklahoma, but is a native of Oklahoma City, so I wondered if the Thunder would be interested in dealing Kevin Durant (since he has a zero percent chance of resigning there once he hits free agency. Actually what’s less than a zero percent chance? He has a negative possibility of staying there) to Minnesota for Griffin, any or all of their other 3 #1’s, and anybody else on the roster not named Al Jefferson? Griffin would give them a franchise cornerstone to replace Durant, and since he’s from there, he’s the one star-potential player who would actually want to play there long-term. And he’d fit in fine with the versatile Jeff Green at forward (unlike the unversatile Kevin Love, who, just like Jefferson, is an all-offense no-defense power forward). I’d even, and actually gladly, throw in Randy Foye too, since the Stolen Sonics need a shooting guard, and I’m not sold Foye is a future all-star in this league (nice player? Yes. But he’s a 6’2 shooting guard without the potential of Dwyane Wade, OJ Mayo, or Allen Iverson. I’m skeptical to say the least).

…I thought of this as Jer and I were sitting through the first half of Stolen Sonics/Wolves at Target Center a few Sundays ago. I had gotten free lower bowl tickets (and by lower bowl I mean the very last row of the lower bowl. Actually, it was the very last row of the lower upper section- you know, where you take the little stairs up to three of four rows of seats below the luxury boxes? So “lower bowl” is kind of misleading), and had been interested in going (even though it was the Sunday of the Round of 32 in the NCAA tourney) for one reason: to see Kevin Durant.

Since early December when Durant was moved from shooting guard to his natural small forward position, he’s been averaging 27 pts and 7 boards, and has become one of the top 20 players in the NBA. Even on a March Madness Sunday against a T-Pups team with no Al Jefferson, I had to see for myself. And he did not disappoint. Durant is one of the most effortless scorers I’ve ever seen, and yes, this came against the Wolves, but his first half was impressive. He was 5-7 from the floor and 2-2 from the line for 12 points, shooting mostly mid-range one-dribble jumpers that looked as easy as a layup for him. He scored from wherever he wanted on whoever he wanted, and yet the Stolen Sonics still went to the immortal Nenad Kristic almost as much as KD in the first half. I guess it didn’t matter much in the end since OKC was up 20 at half.

I’d tell you all about Durant’s second half…except I didn’t see it. At halftime Jer says “Hey do you want to go down to NBA City for a couple of beers and watch some March Mad”- he didn’t even finish the sentence and I was out of my chair and down the stairs to NBA City (the bar/restaurant in the basement of Target Center). Despite Durant’s awesomeness, I couldn’t have more bored and completely regretful of my decision to attend the game. I paid zero dollars for the ticket, and I paid too much. I realize it’s unfair to judge the quality of the NBA by a Wolves/Stolen Sonics meaningless game in March (it’d be like judging college hoops by attending a game of Northwestern vs a Division II school in November), but man ALL of the worst parts of an NBA game were on display.

A half full building, zero energy from the players or fans, and rap music blaring DURING THE PLAY!!!!!!!!!! This has always been the most inexplicable thing to me, but it’s made maybe one zillion times worse in a situation like this. There’s a professional sporting event happening, and music is blaring during the play. You would never, ever, ever, EVER see this in baseball, football, or hockey. Never. It would be considered a travesty, a sham and a mockery of the sport- a trav-shama-mockery if you will (and I will). It can only be viewed as a blatant and desperate attempt to create an atmosphere of excitement and energy when there is none. It should be seen as the lowest of the low to create fan interest, and an admittance by the team and sport that their product is so bad and so boring that they have to play music during the play to entertain/distract their audience. Yet it’s commonplace in the NBA. Seeing it in this context it looks and sounds pathetic at best, and desperate at worst, and I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

The whole thing just seemed like a contrived used-car-salesmen pitch, and I wasn’t buying. Neither was Jer. He said he was trying to think of how to ask to leave, and I was thinking the same thing. Crazy. Apparently in the second half the Wolves scrubs made a run and only lost by 7, and Durant ended up with 35 effortless points in the win. And you know what? Sitting in NBA City in ridiculously comfy chairs in front of a flat-screen showing March Madness, eating buffalo wings and drinking happy hour-priced beer, I could have cared less. I could not be more turned off by the NBA right now, and will be turning all of my basketball-related interests next year towards college hoops (and I’m hoping and praying that the two big-time recruits Tubby brings in will make the Gophers infinitely more interesting to watch. Or that my wife-to-be lets me get an awesome sports package on Direct TV that lets me watch Gonzaga). Regardless, the Big 10’s “three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust” basketball style will still be more authentic and pleasing to watch than the NBA.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

John Calipari is a Terrible Coach and Horrible Person

Or so says E! writer Pat Forde in his column today.

You know, I’ve been mourning the death of the newspaper industry, and I’m worried about what, if anything, will take its place. I love writing, always wanted to be a sportswriter, and appreciate the craft of writing a good story (I realize it’s hard to believe that since I update this blog once in a great never). I’m really worried that as newspapers fall by the wayside, one by one, we’re slipping further and further away from the standards and principles the industry started with, and that not just good journalism, but good storytelling, will die with it. I’m most worried about losing the watchdog that newspapers and media outlets have been and NEED to continue to be. For instance, on NPR Saturday morning, I learned how home builders in Texas have basically paid off the government there to pass laws so that they have zero accountability to home owners. Home builders in that state have almost no bylaws or rules to build homes, and the people who buy them are have no rights or means to recoup any losses or get any problems fix. This is one incident, but it’s one I would have not known about had NPR not done an extensive story on it. If it’d hadn’t been reported that AIG was using its bailout money to pay bonuses to THE PEOPLE WHO ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FINANCIAL CRISIS WE”RE CURRENTLY IN, do you think they’d be getting pressured to return the money? No way.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all media is great and unbiased. There’s lots and lots and lots of crap out there, and yes for my conservative friends, the majority of the crap comes from the liberal media. But overall, if you have a news outlet you trust, there’s still valuable information to get and good stories to be told. I’m worried that when we lose newspapers, we’ll be moving still further away that.

I also find it interesting that Congress and many Americans are rushing to save the American auto industry from themselves. The Big Three, who through their own arrogance, stubbornness and greed have rendered themselves almost obsolete, are going to get billions of taxpayer dollars to continue making bad decisions. Yet the newspaper industry, who I believe is just as vital to American society, is being allowed to disappear. I’m not defending newspapers, not in the least. They’ve made the same mistakes as the auto industry, believing the public needed them instead of the other way around, and completely, totally, and utterly botched the internet era. First they ignored it, then scoffed at it, and now have tried in vain to copy it, which has only sealed their fate. For the record, I don’t think we should be saving either one of them (I thought this was a free market economy? No?) but I just find it amusing we have two major industries in this country who through greed, arrogance and horrible business plans have caused their own demise and will cost the loss of thousands upon thousands of jobs nationwide, and yet we’re bailing out one but not the other.

Anyway, that brings me back to Mr. Forde who, according to his wikipedia page, wrote for many years for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, KY before joining E!SPN. As a trained and seasoned newspaper journalist, you’d expect to see his writing reflect the integrity and standards by which he was trained in the excellent journalism department at the University of Missouri. Instead, he puts out a totally biased column with no facts to back up his most recent column about the University of Kentucky’s hiring of Memphis coach John Calipari to be the new men’s head basketball coach.

Forde’s column bashes the crap out of “Coach Cal”, equating the hiring to a bad April Fool’s Day joke. He insinuates that Calipari is a cheater and shady character, and that he’s a bad hire because he’s going to add to Kentucky’s scandal-ridden past. His evidence? Not much, really. Yes, Calipari had a 1996 Final Four run with UMass wiped from the books of NCAA history because junior star Marcus Camby accepted gifts from a prospective agent. But as Forde points out, Calipari denied knowledge of the incident, and neither him nor the program were charged with major violations. His other evidence of Calipari’s seediness? Winning. No seriously, winning. He holds the way Calipari has won at Memphis, mostly with one-and-done players and JUCO or prep school transfers, as a serious offense. Apparently Forde prefers the Coach K approach of recruiting clean-cut white kids with little to no NBA futures, winning lots of lots of regular season games, getting high seeds in the tournament, and then flaming out by the Sweet 16 or before. Shame on Calipari for wanting more, and for recruiting the best players instead of the best student athletes to get it.

So according to Pat Forde, Calipari was the wrong hire because of a superstar player taking gifts without his knowledge, and for recruiting incredibly talented players who are in school just to play basketball. You know, because the rest of the 300+ D1 schools hold their basketball teams to Ivy League-like standards of academics and graduation rates. Puh-lease.

It’s obvious Forde doesn’t like Calipari. I don’t know if they’ve had run-ins during Forde’s writing career, if he’s just a big Rick Pitino fan (current Louisville coach, and a guy who has not gotten along with Calipari AT ALL. Probably because they’re a little too much alike), or if he just doesn’t like the way he handles himself, but it’s pretty low to write a column lambasting a guy with no evidence to support it. If he doesn’t like Coach Cal he should just say it, instead of using blog-like hearsay, rumors and zero facts to back up his opinion.

Forde is supposed to be a college sport expert, and yet he fails to grasp the basic and obvious fact that college coaching in football and basketball is not a personality contest- it’s about winning. It always has been. I think it’s insane to question the hire of a man who has won big at two “non BCS” schools in UMass and Memphis, and has never been convicted of a major recruiting violation. This is exactly like Alabama hiring Nick Saban as football coach. There are plenty of people in Baton Rouge and Miami who hate him for leaving their football teams high and dry. There’s plenty of stories and articles quoting people who say he can be, well, the word rhymes with “bassbowl.” He may not be the nicest guy in the world, but you’d probably get hung from city hall in Tuscaloosa if you were caught saying anything bad about Saban today. Whatever you think of the man’s personality, he can recruit, he can coach, and he can win. And isn’t that what big-time college sports is all about?

Calipari is just like Saban. Whatever you think of his personality, he’s won wherever he’s been in college, and he’ll win-and fast- at Kentucky. He’s going to bring the top recruiting class he had at Memphis with him to Lexington, he’ll talk Kentucky’s key guys into returning, and they’ll be back on the national landscape from Day 1. It was absolutely the right move by Kentucky, and when they’re back in the Final Four in three years or less, you won’t hear a peep from Wildcat fans about Calipari’s personality or recruiting tactics. Winning will do that.

So thanks to Forde for restoring my faith in the journalistic integrity he’s supposed to have- or maybe for securing my belief that those ideals are already dead and gone, and the newspaper industry is getting what it deserves.

Cutler? We Don't Need No Stinking Cutler!

At least that's what Vikings brass at Winter Park seem to be telling themselves. Word came last night from Broncos owner Pat Bowlen that Jay Cutler is officially on the trade block. This after their QB apparently did not return phone calls for 10 straight days as the Broncos tried to convince Cutler they really DID want him to be their QB- even though they made a failed attempt to land former-Patriot-now-Chief Matt Cassell. I think we've been through what happened in Denver already, but just in case, here's the cliff notes version: Denver was really, REALLY foolish to try to deal Cutler and not get it done. If new coach Josh McDaniels knew from the moment he was hired that he wanted to bring Cassell with him from New England, he should have been on the phone with his old colleagues the moment he was hired in Denver. Instead, all reports indicate Denver waited way too long, and missed the opportunity to make a deal. That wasn't smart.

However, Cutler pulling a hissy fit because the Broncos tried to deal him is also pretty dumb. It sounds like McDaniels has made every attempt to reconcile with Cutler and apologize, and the former Vandy standout has refused to listen. Be a man and go out and prove to Denver why they're lucky the deal never happened, and prove why you're as good as you think you are. Don't pull this crap.

Yet he is pulling this crap, and now a 25 year old quarterback who I would say is one of the ten best QB's in the league is available- and the Vikings seem only mildly interested, which makes perfect considering...ok it makes no sense. None sense. Completely and totally non-sensical. Is The Purple head coach Brad Childress so infatuated with Tavaris Jackson that he can't see doing anything and everything to get Jay Cutler is the safest way to keep his job? Jackson has proven he is not a starting QB in this league (and I don't think ever will be), and Sage Rosenfels has proven little more so far. This on a team where it seems the Vikes have done everything possible to address needs and do whatever it takes to put a winning team on the field- except at the position that matters most.

I'd love to know whose decision this has been? They're willing to go all-out to get Jared Allen, sign Bernard Berrian and Madieau Williams to huge deals, and make a genuine effort to put a Super Bowl caliber team in Minnesota- except at quarterback. Why hasn't owner Ziggy Wilf sat down and asked his staff this? Why hasn't he held Childress and the Triangle of Power at Winter Park accountable for not having gotten this team a quarterback? If I'm ZIggy, I'm telling Childress that if you believe this strongly about T-Jack and you do not make every effort to get Cutler, then if things don't work out this year he's gone. Maybe he is anyway, but I'd love to see some sort of rationale for all of this.

Hey maybe the Vikes are working the back channels for Cutler. We do know they were in on the intial Cutler trade talks when Denver was trying to deal him to Tampa in a three way trade to get Cassell, but so far have been very quiet. If the Vikes don't make a serious run at getting the disgruntled Denver signal-caller, I hope those in charge in Minnesota will get the message that they did indeed need Cutler- and I hope they realize it when they're handed their pink slips.