Saturday, April 30, 2005

Zen serenade

Give Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert credit for starting at the top with his coach/general manager search. He is reportedly laying his franchise at the feet of Phil Jackson, he of the nine championships and Zen philosophy.
Jackson will soon step off the Path to True Wisdom and resume his walk on the Path to Knocking Red Auerbach Into Second Place. Auerbach, like Jackson, has nine rings as a coach, the most in NBA history.
The question is, where will he land? The Lakers, Knicks and Cavs (in that order) are probably the top three teams he could end up with.
But before we in Cleveland start getting our Pavlovian reflexes gurgling at the idea of Jackson patrolling the home bench at Gund Arena, let's get a dose of reality swallowed first.
Yes, the Cavs have LeBron James. Yes, he makes the Cavs an attractive destination for many coaches. But it is hard to believe Jackson will get starry-eyed about being LeBron's mentor, at least enough to turn down overtures from the Lakers and Knicks.
In Jackson's previous tours with the Bulls and Lakers, he took over teams that had most of the championship pieces in place. Doug Collins in Chicago and Del Harris in Los Angeles did most of the dirty work as the teams rounded into championship form. By the time Jackson arrived at the helm, the teams were already loaded with star power and needed someone to bring it all together.
Jackson is very good at that. He helped turn Michael Jordan into a man that putting winning somewhere between God and country on the importance scale. He helped make the rest of the roster accept that they were auxiliary pieces to Jordan.
In Los Angeles, he got Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, two petty, bickering, perpetual infants, to harmonize and pool their talents long enough to win three straight titles. Of course, that clock struck midnight last year when the Lakers were humiliated by the Pistons in the NBA Finals, leading to Jackson's ouster and the trade of Shaq.
The Cavs are in a vastly different situation than the Bulls and Lakers were when Jackson took them over. This roster has LeBron and not much else. A talented general manager needs to get the roster to the point where a coach like Jackson is willing to take it over.
One could counter by saying the Cavs could offer Jackson the coach and GM positions, something the Lakers and Knicks most likely would not do. It might work, but Jackson has never outwardly fancied himself a master basketball team architect; just a great manager of men.
Even if offering Jackson control of the entire organization appeals to him, it might not be enough to vault the Cavs past the attraction of New York and L.A.
Jackson parted the Lakers on less than good terms with Bryant. Published reports say their relationship has been mended, and Jackson would possibly like a second crack at coaching the Lakers.
The Knicks have no superstar and are bogged down with bad contracts, but it is still the team Jackson played for in the 1970s. He still has a soft spot in his heart for the Knicks.
It would be best to term the Cavs chances of landing Jackson as "outside." Possible, but not probable. Especially since the Lakers and Knicks both missed the playoffs this season and might be looking for a quick fix, and a way to make their fans open up their wallets at the ticket office.
Gilbert might want the same quick fix, and the same googly-eyed reaction from Cavs fans, but odds are, he'll have to build his front office the old-fashioned way: hire the GM, GM hires the coach, and everybody works together to try and build a winner.
The good news is, that method has been around in basketball much longer than Zen philosophy.

Friday, April 29, 2005

The Dolan way

I am going to ask you to do something that might make you kind of uncomfortable. For some of you, it might be out of character.
I am asking you to give Larry and Paul Dolan, the father-son ownership group of the Indians, credit.
Give them credit because, for better or worse, they have formulated a plan, hired baseball people to carry it out, and are staying out of the way and signing the checks.
Some of you cringe at the the Dolans' bargain-basement approach. You know the prime-of-career likes of Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome will never be seen in Tribe uniforms again unless oil is discovered under Jacobs Field.
(Jacobs Field will have a new corporate name after the 2006 season, but I won't get into that right now.)
The Dolans know they can't compete with the Red Sox, Yankees, or even the Orioles in baseball's inherently unfair, salary-capless financial landscape, so they are doing the only thing they can do: play it close to the vest, and pour money into what they can control instead of fretting over what they can't control.
Since taking over the team in 2000, the Dolans have largely eschewed free agent signings to pour money into their farm system. The farm system, through drafts or trades, has in turn yielded the likes of Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, C.C. Sabathia, Coco Crisp, Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee.
You might not like it, but these guys are the so-called "core players" of the future. And the Dolans are putting their money where their mouths are.
Martinez, Hafner and Sabathia have all been signed to contract extensions, the most recent this week when Sabathia inked a two-year, $17.75 million extension that will keep him with the Indians through 2008.
Compared to the quicksand on which the Browns and Cavaliers have recently been built, the Indians under Larry and Paul Dolan are the systematic, talent-identifying, talent-cultivating, stay-the-course-even-when-it gets-bumpy rocks of Cleveland sports.
But even in a steadfast environment, change is imminent.
The irony in baseball is that, if you are a stadium-driven revenue club in a mid-sized market like Cleveland, you want to develop players good enough that you will one day not be able to keep them. According to published reports, Sabathia met with his agents this winter. When they showed him the contract he could be looking at in free agency after the 2006 season, Sabathia's loyalty to the Indians shrunk exponentially with each passing digit.
It took bonding with his teammates in spring training to convince Sabathia he wanted to stay here past 2006.
Sentimentality might work once, but if Sabathia keeps on the pace that has seen him win 55 games before his 25th birthday, the Indians will most likely lose him after 2008. He will simply command too much money on the open market.
Martinez and Hafner are struggling now, but you'd be smart to bet they are talented enough that they will be in a similar situation when their contracts are up.
Chances are one or more of those guys are going to be dealt off for prospects before they become free agents.
It's loyalty to a system and not loyalty to players that defines the Dolan regime. It's not fan-friendly, and it means the team won't be able to contend every year, if they do at all. But in the world of small-market ownership in Major League Baseball, it is one of the few ways a team can survive.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Bulls are back

It appears on the cusp of happening: the Chicago Bulls are on the verge of becoming a title contender once again. After amassing 47 regular-season wins and clinching homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs, Chicago is convincingly up 2-0 on the Wizards in their first-round series.
They'll probably get bounced by Miami in the second round if they get past Washington, but man, are the Bulls ever setting themselves up for the future. They're playoff good now, but if they land a Michael Redd or Ray Allen in free agency this summer, they'll be NBA Finals good. Again.
Everything the Cavaliers should have done to build around LeBron James, the Bulls have done with no superstar. Not surprisingly, the Bulls are light years ahead of the Cavs in rebuilding. Who would have thought it a year ago?
General manager John Paxson (it turns out the Paxson brother with the most playing and the most general managing talent) set to work with a plan to surround his youngsters, Eddie Curry and Tyson Chandler, with college players from top programs. He drafted Kirk Hinrich from Kansas, Luol Deng from Duke and Ben Gordon from Connecticut. All three played key roles in getting the Bulls back to respectability this season. Gordon, all 6'-3" of him, led the NBA in fourth quarter scoring this year.
The Bulls used to have another guy who was pretty good in the fourth quarter. Wore the same number as LeBron. His name escapes me at the moment ...
Paxson topped off his team by hiring a coach who was known as a pretty feisty undersized player in his day, Scott Skiles. Skiles preached relentless defense as the ticket to success. The Bulls players, free of the ego and pretensions than plagued the Cavs this year, bought into the plan hook, line and sinker.
The result is a team that is fundamentally sound, plays defense for four quarters, and believes in their coach and each other. (Dan Gilbert, are you taking notes? Seriously?)
A superstar such as LeBron can make building a team without jealousy more difficult, simply because other players will quickly realize how long a shadow the superstar casts. But a superstar who can pass and is willing to get teammates involved like LeBron should help soothe sore egos not belonging to Jeff McInnis.
But, as we in Cleveland are finding out, a superstar is not the whole equation. Sometimes, he's not even the most important part.
The Cavs and Bulls both last made the playoffs in 1998. The Bulls, with a team concept, broke their drought this year. The Cavs, despite leading the Bulls in the standings for more than half the year, did not.
Who knew? Less than a decade after the last Bulls title, we in Cleveland are once again talking about the Bulls as a template for success.

Tiger meat

Indians right-hander Jake Westbrook is actually off to a decent start when he's not facing the Tigers. Not that you'd know it to look at his stat line (0-5, 5.36 ERA), which screams "start the bus for Buffalo."
In starts against Minnesota, Chicago and the Los Angeles Angels, Westbrook is Mr. Hard Luck. He's 0-3, but has a Pedro-Martinez-circa-1998-esque 1.50 ERA. In those starts, he has had less than two runs of support per game from an Indians offense that is still apparently carrying PVC pipe for bats.
In two starts against the Tigers, however, Westbrook is carrying a burden no pack mule would want: 0-2 with an obscene 33.48 ERA. That's 16 earned runs in 4 1/3 total innings, and obliterates his performance in the other three starts as far as his stats are concerned.
In Wednesday's 10-3 loss to Detroit, Westbrook allowed a career-high nine earned runs and was replaced by Jason Davis in the third inning. Just about every pitch coming out of his hand was up and straight. As Charles Nagy could tell you, flat and belt-high is virtual suicide for a sinkerballer throwing about 90 miles per hour.
Westbrook had the best ground-ball to fly-ball ratio of any pitcher in the American League heading into Wednesday night's game. Usually, pitchers like that don't give up a lot of home runs. In his starts against Detroit, though, Westbrook can count a grand slam to Marcus Thames and a two-run shot off the bat of Craig Monroe as the souvenirs he's served up.
The ironic thing, as has been well-publicized, is that Westbrook was excellent against the Tigers last year, with two wins in three starts and a 3.41 ERA. He probably owes a relief appearance against the Tigers last April to saving his career as he knows it. In relief of Jeff D'Amico, he set down 21-of-21 batters, and was set on a course for the AL all-star team last season.
Turns out, he must have owed the Tigers one.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Site addition

If you look on the right-hand side of the page, you'll see I have set up a CQ site counter, so I'll know who has been visiting this site. So visit early and often, I want to get those numbers high.

In the immortal paraphrased words of David Lee Roth, "If you like it, tell a friend. If you don't like it, tell an enemy."

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The battle looming

Turns out Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has to battle more than the fractured legacy of Jim Paxson and Gordon Gund, and big-city leeches trying to plant the seeds of discontent in the mind of LeBron James this summer. He also has a simmering feud with the national media brewing.
I see the winds of war swirling between Gilbert and and ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith. Smith, as you might remember started a rumor before the season ended that Paxson would be fired within 48 hours of the initial report, which didn't happen (turns out, Smith was only off by a week or so). He also implored Gilbert to "shut up and write the checks."
In today's edition of The Plain Dealer, Gilbert had his rebuttal chance. Calling Smith and many of his national media cohorts "media entertainers posing as journalists," he proceeded to refute all the rumors about ownership meddling and the notion that March and April's playoff-killing collapse was caused by Gilbert taking control of the team.
Gilbert said he had no regrets about firing Paul Silas in March, saying the bulk of the damage was done to the season when the Cavs lost nine of their last 12 under Silas. Gilbert said Silas was not open to suggestions from anyone on anything, and "wanted out."
He backed up his decision to use Brendan Malone as the head coach for the season's last 18 games, even though he announced Malone would not be back as coach the day after the season ended.
"Brendan took over and we went 8-10," he said in The Plain Dealer. "Not great, but not a freefall considering the schedule we faced during those 18 games."
The Cavs didn't have the benefit of facing league doormats Atlanta and Charlotte in those 18 games, but also dropped embarrassing home decisions to Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York.
Gilbert spoke of finding a scorer to compliment LeBron, a defense-minded point guard, and hiring an experienced, savvy general manager who knows how to win.
At least he's saying all the right things.
He also echoed Zydrunas Ilgauskas by saying the chances of the two-time all-star center returning are about "50-50." Crazy prediction time: Ilgauskas will not be back and current Hornets center Jamaal Magloire will be signed to replace him. Magloire is the the defense-minded, shot-blocking, rebounding center Gilbert sees as ideal. It should be noted Gilbert is a huge Pistons fan and probably considers Ben Wallace the litmus test as to what a center should be.
Gilbert touched on a wide range of topics in his first sit-down postseason interview, but he saved his sharpest barbs for Smith, whom he deliciously referred to as "John A. Doe" in lieu of of actually naming him in The Plain Dealer's interview.
"Most people who know basketball realize what a phony this guy is and how he primarily blurts out fantasies on a daily basis," Gilbert said in the interview.
I expect a return volley from Smith on an NBA pregame or halftime show near you.
If Gilbert is as adamant about building a winner in Cleveland as he is about refuting Smith, the future is very bright for the Cavaliers. Let just hope Gilbert remembers his first (only) job in basketball is to build the Cavs into a winner, and not to fire back at every talking head who has a negative thing to say about him. Putting loudmouths in their place is a time-consuming and ultimately futile task.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Moyerized again

Jamie Moyer + Indians = loss.
Like a lecture on algebra, it's black and white and painful to sit through.
In Sunday's 9-1 Mariners win over the Indians, Moyer used his change-up to the effect of Chinese water torture yet again. It must be like hitting a Nerf ball, because seldom does the ball reach the outfield on the fly when it's struck.
The loss was (believe it or not) worse than it looked. Indians starter Scott Elarton held Seattle to one run on a sacrifice fly through five innings before the wheels came off in the sixth, when Seattle made it a 7-0 game.
But when you are the Indians and you face Moyer, one run might as well be seven. It might as well be 100.
Moyer has not lost to the Indians since 2000. In his last nine starts, The Plain Dealer related this morning, he is 7-0 with a 1.91 ERA. That doesn't count two wins in the 2001 playoffs.
Sunday, the lone run he gave up was an Aaron Boone solo shot in the seventh inning.
The kicker is, Moyer is 42. But he throws soft and softer, and appears to keep himself in pretty good shape, so there's no telling how long he can keep this up. He could realistically pitch until after the age of 45. He's already 4-0 this season, winning his 130th game in a Mariners uniform Sunday to tie with Randy Johnson for the franchise's all-time winningest pitcher.
That's great news for the Indians, isn't it?

Wait, nevermind

So much for the Browns training camp face-off between Charlie Frye and Luke McCown. No sooner had I written the "Copycat draft" post below than it came over the media outlets that McCown had been swapped to the Buccaneers for the sixth-round pick at No. 203, which was used on Virginia defensive lineman Andrew Hoffman.
Unless the Browns sign another veteran to be Trent Dilfer's immediate backup (which I would still advise for this season), it will be an all-Mid-American Conference backup corps for Dilfer, with Akron's Frye and Bowling Green's Josh Harris on the bench.
This headlines for this Browns draft belong to Frye and wide receiver Braylon Edwards, but on the whole this was a defensive draft for Cleveland.
After four rounds, the Browns had two members of the Oklahoma secondary in tow. After safety Brodney Pool went on Day One, corner Antonio Perkins went with the first Cleveland pick of Day Two, in the fourth round at pick No. 103.
Perkins was the first of four consecutive defensive selections for the Browns, followed by fifth-round pick David McMillan, a linebacker from Kansas taken at No.139, New Mexico linebacker Nick Speegle, taken in the sixth round at pick No. 176, and Hoffman.
There was one thing disturbingly Butch Davis-esque about this draft, however: offensive linemen being bumped to the back of the line. Much like Davis, who used low end picks on Joaquin Gonzalez and Kirk Chambers in recent years, the only offensive lineman picked by the Browns in this draft was with their last pick: Virginia Tech offensive tackle Jon Dunn in the seventh round at pick No. 217.
Dunn is 6'-7" and 328 pounds, and was durable at Virginia Tech, on the field for 793 plays as a senior.
However, he bench-presses 350 pounds, decent, but for a sumo-wrestler offensive lineman, far from hulking strength. By comparison, Pool, at 6'-2" and 208 pounds, benches 355.
Nobody can realistically grade a draft until several years later, once the players have had time to learn and the coaches have had time to teach. But if pressed, I'd give the Browns a B.
Edwards, much like the Kellen Winslow Jr. last year, gives Browns' opponents something they will actually have to prepare for. As opposed to facing "the Browns" hopefully teams will start talking about a trip to Cleveland as having to face "Edwards and Winslow."
Frye, with proper grooming, could be a very good NFL starter. Pool and Perkins, combined with the off-season free-agent additions to the secondary, could give the Browns once of the deepest defensive backfields in the league. But depth doesn't mean anything without playmaking ability, which these guys will have to prove they can do.
Pool and Perkins should also net a lot of time on special teams this year, which is good. Hopefully it means Winslow won't be breaking any more legs covering kickoff returns like he did last year.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Wright going wrong

Jaret Wright, the rookie hero of the 1997 playoffs for the Indians, left his Saturday afternoon start for the Yankees with yet more pain in his right shoulder. The Yankee Stadium fans, predictably, booed him. After several minutes of Bronx cheering, assistant Yankees trainer Steve Donohue popped out of the dugout and gestured toward his right shoulder, trying to tell the fans Wright was hurt and not just sucking.
If Wright needs surgery, it will be the third on his pitching shoulder, and some in New York are wondering if this might be the end of the line for the righty who possessed a 98 mile per hour fastball as a rookie.
A comeback 2004 season under the miracle-working eye of Atlanta pitching coach Leo Mazzone led a lot of people to believe Wright was back to his 1997 form. Some Cleveland fans were hoping to see the Indians re-sign him. Good thing they didn't.
It looks like the Yankees gagged on the three-year, $21-million contract they signed Wright to this off-season. The Yankees do have an out, however: if Wright spends more than 75 days on the disabled list this season or next, the Yankees can void the contract. It won't replace the innings Wright was supposed to absorb, however.
Wright could be the poster boy for the first non-contending Yankee team in more than a decade. The Yankees are 7-11 and in last place. Granted, it's only April and there is still plenty of time for the Yankees to go out and trade for a few more all-stars signed to bad contracts, but it is apparent this is not the Yankees of the late 1990s. This isn't even the Yankees that won pennants in 2001 and 2003.
I think losing to the Red Sox in the ALCS last year was a line of demarcation for the Yankees. No matter how much money George Steinbrenner throws at his team, the Yankees might be forced to ultimately -- gasp! -- rebuild.

Copycat draft

Apparently, "redundant" is not a four-letter word in the vocabulary of Browns General Manager Phil Savage.
Last year, Butch Davis used the Browns' first three picks on a receiver (Kellen Winslow Jr.), a safety (Sean Jones) and a quarterback (Luke McCown). This year, Savage used the Browns' first three picks on a receiver (Braylon Edwards), a safety (Brodney Pool) and a quarterback (Charlie Frye).
Last year's first three picks did little to help the Browns stave off a 4-12 record. Jones tore a knee ligament in spring mini-camp and saw no action in 2004. Winslow broke his leg on special teams during the second week of the season and was done for the year. McCown was thrown to the wolves after Kelly Holcomb and Jeff Garcia were injured late last season, and was scared into a boatload of bad throws and interceptions playing behind a rumor of an offensive line. The Browns went 0-4 with McCown under center.
It can be assumed Savage did not mean to indict Winslow, Jones and McCown by drafting Edwards, Pool and Frye. Depth at skill positions (or any position) can't hurt on a team as bad as the Browns have been. If anything, with what we in Cleveland all hope is a much more solid foundation in place than the one Davis provided, this year's draft could be able to augment last year's.
Edwards is an acceptable pick at No. 3. I expressed my belief before that third overall is too high to take a wide receiver for just about any team since wide receivers are reliant on the quarterback and offensive line make their plays. But Savage could have done far worse, such as getting fleeced by San Francisco in dealing their pick and more to get quarterback Alex Smith, as was rumored by ESPN while the Browns were on the clock. The last thing the Browns need is fewer draft picks.
Savage could have spent the third pick on a quarterback, which many teams apparently think would have been a mistake. After Smith went at No. 1, the next quarterbacks to go were Aaron Rodgers and Jason Campbell, to Green Bay and Washington at Nos. 24 and 25.
Savage went with the best players available during each pick as opposed to going the need-based route, which can dramatically overvalue some players by drafting them too high. The move appears to have been largely accepted by NFL gurus and media pundits. The Browns still have sizeable needs on the offensive and defensive lines, and their linebacker corps is weak overall. But at the end of the day, the Browns need talent. Overestimating the talent of players is a big reason the Browns are a bottom-feeding franchise in the league. To build a great team, you need at least some great players, and the Browns have woefully failed to this point, sending only one player to the Pro Bowl since re-entering the league in 1999 (Jamir Miller, after the 2001 season).
Edwards brings big-play capability and, with Winslow, could help give the Browns a receiver corps not seen in Cleveland since the late 1980s. Pool was a safety at Oklahoma, but could possibly move to cornerback in the NFL, the analysts say, giving the Browns a deeper secondary with Jones, Daylon McCutcheon, and free-agent additions Gary Baxter and Brian Russell.
Frye is probably a more polished quarterback than McCown was, learning in his seasons at Akron how to finesse the ball into a receiver's hands, when to roll out of the pocket, and when to stay in the saddle. McCown was a gunslinger coming out of Louisiana Tech, which didn't help his touchdown-to-interception ratio last year. But regardless of what McCown did last year, if he is still on the roster for training camp, the competition for Trent Dilfer's backup slot will be good for both he and Frye.
The first three picks of this year's draft might be a carbon copy of last year's, but given where the Browns have been in recent years, that might not be a bad thing. For last year's draftees, either.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The NFL draft

Less than 48 hours before the fact, and I finally get around to acknowledging the existence of the NFL draft.
(I still can't believe Mel Kiper Jr. has parlayed two days on the calendar into a career, but that is another rant for another time.)
If you are a Browns fan, you probably know this team has more problems than just one draft can cure. But general manager Phil Savage hitting on the majority of his picks, unlike Dwight Clark and Butch Davis, ensures that future off-seasons won't require binoculars to see the end of the rebuilding tunnel.
It's a chess match with the haunting past for Savage. He has to plot his moves carefully. When one inherits a team in as bad a shape as the Browns were in at the end of last season, sometimes the flashiest move isn't the best move. Draft czars have to be pragmatic.
With that in mind, I'm going to give you some players the Browns could, and might take, with the third overall pick. I've divided the picks into three categories: Yes (I approve), Maybe (I'll reserve judgment until I see what else Savage does to improve the team) and No (Savage's middle name is now "Paxson").
(Most of the college player information below is courtesy of Street and Smith's draft guide.)

Yes: Derrick Johnson, LB, Texas; Alex Barron, OT, Florida State; Antrel Rolle, CB, Miami (FL).
The Browns have not been able to replace linebacker Jamir Miller since his career was ended by an ankle injury in 2002. Butch Davis dismantled the veteran linebacker corps that helped get the Browns to the '02 playoffs in favor of young, fast, but raw athletes. Of those, Andra Davis looks like the only real long-term keeper. Going into a 3-4 defensive alignment means the Browns need a fast, hard-hitting, solid-tackling linebacker more than ever. Johnson might not be Ray Lewis, but he fits the bill.
Barron could be Jonathan Ogden, or he could be Bryant McKinnie. If the Browns draft Barron and let him learn the left tackle position from Ross Verba for a year, they could have that money left tackle they have always been missing. But Barron does have an extensive injury history and a quiet demeanor, two Courtney Brown red flags waving.
Rolle is slower-that-average for a corner, but at 6'-1", he has above-average height. He is physical and cam jam receivers along the line of scrimmage. In a division that throws Hines Ward and Chad Johnson at your defense, it is nice to have a big corner who can play rough.

Maybe: Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan; Mike Williams, WR, USC; Trade the pick down.
I am never a fan of taking a wide receiver with a pick as high as Cleveland's No. 3. Wide receiver is a reactive position on the football field, unlike quarterback, running back or linebacker. Sure, good receivers can make the catches bad ones can't, but receivers can only do what the offensive line and quarterback lay the groundwork for. Having said that, the notion of having Edwards or Williams lining up alongside Kellen Winslow next year is intriguing. If they do the last option above and trade the pick down to, say, Washington at No. 9, I'd be more inclined to accept a wide receiver selection.
If they do, in fact, trade the pick, they don't need to get multiple first-rounders in return, but an extra second-rounder and a lower-round pick next year along with a first-rounder this year would be nice.

No: Any quarterback; Mike Nugent, PK, Ohio State.
We love Nuge, and he is a rare kicker talent. But the local yokels calling up the sports talk shows in Cleveland with fantasies about trading down to the low first round to draft Nugent are shacking up with Teletubbies in a dream world. Loyalty to Ohio sports has to be limited somewhere.
Now if Nugent should somehow slip to the fourth round, that's another story...
Drafting Nugent would be warm and fuzzy for Buckeye fans, but should the Browns even kick the tires on a quarterback in the first round this year, somebody needs to have their head examined.
The lemming-like pursuit of a "franchise quarterback" is a big reason the Browns are in the mess they are in right now. They have Trent Dilfer as a capable stopgap, and if they want to add another QB for the upcoming season, it should be another veteran stopgap along the lines of Jeff Blake.
Utah's Alex Smith brings the brains, and Cal's Aaron Rodgers brings the athleticism. Akron's Charlie Frye brings the hometown-boy appeal. But all these guys are project players, and none should be serving as a second-stringer on a rebuilding team with an injury-prone veteran starter (reference Tim Couch, 1999).
There are plenty of ways to get all different kinds of quarterbacks. I think the Browns need to be a little further along in their rebuilding process before they worry about who's going to be holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy in the Super Bowl photos.

Jim Paxson fired

Paxson's canning today was the worst-kept secret this side of "Wal-Mart is trying to take over the world."
Paxson is gone. Paul Silas is gone, one month to the day beforehand. Brendan Malone, it was also announced today, will not be considered for the Cavs' head coaching job next season.
By the end of this summer, many of the current Cavs players will be elsewhere as well.
It is only April 21, and it is already apparent: next season is going to be on Dan Gilbert. It's going to be his general manager, his coach, and largely his players. And if next season turns out like this one, it's going to be his fault.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


The trail of tears that has paved about 90 percent of the existence of the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise got a little bit longer tonight.
The Cavs took care of things on their end, beating Toronto 104-95, but the Celtics, despite holding a 19-point first half lead, couldn't close out the Nets. New Jersey won, 102-93, and will play the role of Shaquille O'Neal's personal play thing in the first round of the playoffs. For the second straight year, LeBron James and his motley crew have missed the playoffs by mere days.
I could go on about second-half collapses, about Paul Silas' temper-driven meltdown, Jeff McInnis' matador defense, Dan Gilbert's fantasy-league meddling, Jim Paxson's poor decision-making in putting the roster together in the first place, Eric Snow's pitiful offense, Drew Gooden's inconsistency, Zydrunas Ilgauskas' slow feet and dislocated finger, DeSagana Diop, Lucious Harris, Dajuan Wagner, Luke Jackson, Jiri Welsch, Scott Williams, Brendan Malone and vultures from New York trying to pry LeBron away from Cleveland. But I'm not going to. The Cavs missed the playoffs. That's the only real story tonight. This season is a failure no matter how you slice it. And the fans of Cleveland, who haven't seen a local team win a playoff game since 2001, are the biggest losers of all. Not that I'm expecting a heartfelt apology from anybody in the Cavs' camp.
Have a nice summer, boys. Not that you earned it.

Trouble at the top

In between peering through my fingers at the Cavaliers, I have still been paying attention to the Indians as their season takes flight.
It hasn't been a soaring start so much as a gentle glide. Smooth, but not very far off the ground so far.
Heading into tonight's series at the yes-we-can-identify-ourselves-with-the-Los-Angeles-market-but-still-play-in-Anaheim Angels, Cleveland owns one of the worst batting averages in the American League. Their sleepwalking offense and shoddy defense have already wasted a handful of games this year that could have put the Indians over .500. Instead, the Tribe is jogging along with a 6-8 record.
They could have been .500 with a sweep of the the last-place Royals, but the offense let Kansas City wriggle out of bases loaded jams in the fifth and eighth innings Tuesday with not so much as a scratch. The result was a 6-5 loss as Arthur Rhodes had the first blemish on a stellar start by giving up a walk-off home run to backup catcher Alberto Castillo.
I have been among the contingent that believes the Indians' offense is simply off to a slow start. To an extent, I still think that is true. But then I thought back to the end of last season, when we all but knew Matt Lawton and Omar Vizquel weren't going to be back.
I remember thinking how losing those two guys was going to hurt the 2005 offense. And it has.
I don't want to turn this into another episode of "Let's Get Mark Shapiro and Larry Dolan For Not Re-Signing Omar." I've visited that on previous occasions, and I stand by my assessment that, with Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Phillips waiting in the wings, the Indians had better places to spend money this past off-season than on the shortstop position.
But there is no getting around the fact that Lawton and Vizquel comprised the ignition switch for the 2004 Tribe offense that finished fifth in the American League. The pair were playing healthy for the first time in several seasons last year, and it showed. Lawton, hitting mostly leadoff, compiled a .277 batting average with 20 home runs and 70 RBI last year. He also scored 109 runs in 150 games with a .366 on-base percentage.
Vizquel, rebounding from a pair of knee operations in 2003, hit .291 last year in 148 games. Hitting in his customary two-hole for most of the year, he scored 82 runs and had a .353 on-base percentage.
Many heart-of-the-order hitters will tell you how much easier their job is when the guys ahead of them find ways to get on base frequently. The proficiency of Lawton and Vizquel at finding their way to the basepaths contributed heavily to breakout seasons for Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner, and career years for Ronnie Belliard and Casey Blake. Lawton and Vizquel might be the reasons Blake and Belliard were re-signed by the Indians over the winter.
This year, the top of the Cleveland order has been decidedly less potent. Leadoff hitter Coco Crisp, another beneficiary of Lawton and Vizquel last year, enters play tonight hitting .250 with a .318 on-base percentage, though he has managed to score eight runs in 14 games.
The lion's share of the two-hole at-bats have gone to Belliard and newcomer Alex Cora so far. Belliard, who got off to a scorching start last year, hitting over .400 for much of April and May, has been driftwood so far this year, hitting a mere .244 with a .289 on-base percentage in 13 games. Cora has been respectable, hitting .321 with a .367 on-base percentage. But Cora comes with a caveat: As a left-handed hitter, he has played almost exclusively against right-handed pitchers. In his 11 games of action, only three of his at-bats have come against lefties, producing one hit.
In a division that will throw the likes of Johan Santana, Mark Buehrle and Mike Maroth at the Indians four and five times over the course of a season, being at least competent against lefties is imperative.
It remains to be seen whether the lukewarm hitters at the top of the Indians order will lead to a disappointing season in the batter's box, but it is apparent the likes of Crisp, Belliard and Cora are not having the same energizing effect on the Tribe's RBI men that Lawton and Vizquel had last season.
If the Indians want to seriously contend for anything this year, they might have to make a trade for a veteran, top-of-the-order contact hitter before the July 31 deadline. Preferably one having a season like Lawton or Vizquel had last year.

The final day

Playoff races make strange bedfellows.
Tuesday, Cavaliers fans were rooting as hard as they could against the Celtics. Tonight, with the Celtics hosting the Nets in the last game of the season, Cavs fans will be rooting as hard as they can for Boston.
Cleveland's 100-86 win over Boston Tuesday night combined with New Jersey's 109-101 win over Washington means the status quo was kept. The Cavs and Nets have identical 41-40 records with the Nets holding the head-to-head tiebreak, having beaten Cleveland in three of four meetings this year. Tonight, Cleveland must win in Toronto and New Jersey must lose for the Cavs to advance to the playoffs for the first time since 1998.
The Cavs have a chance tonight. But that may be the only thing they get. Because the Celtics, with the Atlantic Division title and homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs both secured, were trying harder to stay healthy than they were to give the Cavs a meaningful game Tuesday night. The same will probably hold true against New Jersey tonight.
Celtics pillars Antoine Walker, Gary Payton and Paul Pierce spent all but a sliver of the fourth quarter glued to the bench. Boston coach Doc Rivers will probably afford the Nets the same comfy situation tonight. But, as we all know, there is a huge difference between the Cavs and Nets this spring: the Nets are playing like their feet are on fire; the Cavs are just plain burning up.
Heading into tonight's regular season finales, the Nets have won 14 of 18 while Cleveland has a scant 11 wins since the all-star break. If the stumbling Cavs managed to beat the Celtics reserves by 14, one can only imagine what the streaking Nets will do to them.
Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith spent part of this morning (loudly) debating the issue of the Celtics tanking their last two games on the ESPN2 show "Cold Pizza." Bayless tried to make a case that Pierce, still fuming over the Nets' elimination of the Celtics en route to two NBA Finals, will try to singlehandedly derail the Nets' playoff hopes tonight. It's fun to imagine, but you'd be better off putting stock in what came directly out of Pierce's mouth after Tuesday night's game, as reported in The Plain Dealer:
"I know it sounds good to say every game means something, but, matter of fact, it don't mean nothing for us. We got home court, we won the Atlantic Division. I think it's more important to rest the guys who played heavy minutes for the the playoffs."
If the rest of the Celtics roster feels that way, and it would be wise to bet they do, it sounds like an easy New Jersey win tonight, and the end of the Cavs' season.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

10 years ago today

Can it already have been 10 years since the bombing of the Alfred Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City?
I can say that, but to the family members of victims, it was probably a decade that never seemed to end. On April 19, 1995, America witnessed the most ghastly attack on contiguous U.S. soil in the 20th Century. The fertilizer bomb Timothy McVeigh was later convicted of planting and detonating killed 168 people, and branded an image of a high-rise with an enormous concave chunk blown out of it into our collective memory.
Six years later, in June 2001, McVeigh was executed. Three months afterward, Oklahoma City's tragedy was dwarfed in magnitude and horror by terrorist attacks that originated overseas.

Ten years after Oklahoma City, there is only one thing I am sure we have learned: people never learn.

No seats for you

Talk about swift, severe retribution.
Chris House, the Red Sox fan who took a punch/swipe/love tap at Gary Sheffield last week has had his season tickets revoked by the Red Sox front office. In Red Sox country, especially world champion Red Sox country, that's like the doctor telling you your newborn son will develop an immediate, deep and lifelong interest in ballet dancing and will never harbor so much as a hint of desire to become a big-league ballplayer.
House gets the Pete Rose treatment and Gary Sheffield -- who went back to the fan after he dug the ball out, presumably not to ask him for the time --- undeservedly is heralded as the pinnacle of self-restraint for not clocking the guy.
That's the reason I hate the Red Sox and Yankees, but love their rivalry. It's probably the same gossipy fascination people have with bickering backstabbers on reality TV shows. We want to dig dirt on the famous and successful and make them act out for our entertainment. And it doesn't get much more famous and successful than Yankees and Red Sox. They are like the Hatfields and McCoys, if their rights were purchased by Donald Trump and Bill Gates, with the feuds promoted by Don King and televised on pay-per-view live from Tokyo.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Uncle! Uncle!

Okay! I get it! Fates that be, put me and my hopeful, optimistic rear end in its place!
The Cavaliers aren't going to the playoffs. They are now at a tiebreaker-loss with a Nets team that features playoff veterans Jason Kidd and Vince Carter.
So euthanize this season already. Don't let me hang onto false hope any longer. Just have the Cavs lose to Boston and get it over with. New Jersey, she's all yours. After some consternation, I will go gently into that good night and take my sorry basketball team with me.
I apologize to have bothered the National Basketball Association with the outlandish, excessive expectation that a team that features LeBron James, a team that was once 31-21, would make the playoffs.
Some teams just have to know their place I guess. The Cavs tried to hang with the Pacers and Pistons. Now, we are cast down into the company of the Clippers. Guess we in Cleveland got a little too uppity when we made the declaration that the Cavs were playoff-ready.
OK. We're back in our Cavalier place, wallowing and miserable. All is right with the universe again.
Cavs in the playoffs. Whew, that was a close one. Who knows what type of Pandora's box would have been opened by Gund Arena hosting games in May?

Friday, April 15, 2005

LeBron's future

Like living wills and pre-nuptial agreements, the possibility of LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers when he is able is a subject most Cleveland basketball fans don't want to broach.
But like living wills and pre-nups, it is a prudent thing to examine.
Let's face facts: if the Cavaliers do not drastically improve the talent and organization surrounding their young prodigy with in the next year and have much better results next season (read: make the playoffs with relative ease in 2006 and win at least one series), LeBron will probably start seriously questioning whether this team will ever have the front-office ammo to become a serious contender.
I think LeBron, in his heart of hearts, wants to stay in Cleveland. He's from around here, his lifelong friends are residents of this area, and being a native of Akron, he is quite cognizant of the misery that has been heaped on Northeast Ohio sports fans in his lifetime, even if he'd rather cheer for the Yankees and Cowboys than the Indians and Browns.
I think it would be the thrill of a lifetime for LeBron to hoist a championship trophy for this area. But at some point, pragmatism is going to take over. Either the Cavaliers are going to be able to utilize LeBron's talents to contend for a title, or they are going to keep tripping over themselves, blowing draft picks, coach hirings and free agent signings.
If LeBron thinks playing for the Cavaliers is going to be a waste of his time, he's leaving. Sorry to be so blunt.
New owner Dan Gilbert has not gotten off to a rollicking start in his first two months at the helm of the organization. He fired Paul Silas, a coach whose stock was rapidly dropping, and replaced him with Brendan Malone, a coach who is flying by the seat of his pants. Probably a no-win situation, given the personnel available.
Malone's presence in the head coach's seat has not had the settling effect Gilbert had hoped for, and as the losses have mounted, the buzzards have begun flocking to the nearby trees. Thursday, with the Knicks in town and the predictable throng of New York media in tow, rumors were let loose in Cleveland that LeBron was going to demand a trade to the Knicks this off-season.
LeBron has a clause in his $90 million Nike contract that allows him to be paid more in endorsement money should he ever play in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, the three largest markets in the country. It is fairly standard practice for a big-money player to have such a clause, one would think, since a player's profile is magnified where the market exposure is the greatest. But in Cleveland, always aware of the other shoe hurtling toward Earth, it sounds like LeBron's road out of town being paved in gold.
LeBron and agent Aaron Goodwin were quick to shoot down the rumors. LeBron reportedly said, "The fans of the city of Cleveland have nothing to worry about at this time. I'm here."
If you're a Clevelander, three words ring out in that quote: "at this time."
So when will "at this time" end? Tomorrow? A month from now? Next year? A lot of it rides on Gilbert, who he brings in as the new general manager, who the general manager hires as coach, and what players the general manager and coach bring in to surround LeBron with for the 2005-06 season.
This is deeper than finding a couple shooters or rebounders. This is deeper than whether or not to re-sign Zydrunas Ilgauskas. This is a philosophical question about the direction of this organization, about what type of team the new brain trust is going to build. Plucking a bunch of this-n-that from other rosters and the draft and winding up with a mish-mash of players isn't going to work anymore, a big reason why Jim Paxson's time as the Cavs GM is short. Next year's team has to be built along a theme, be it defense, shooting or open-court floor-running.
July 1, 2006 is the day the Cavaliers can offer LeBron a maximum contract. If LeBron turns it down, Gilbert's boys had better start weighing their post-LeBron options. They'll have him for at least two ensuing years, but if the Cavs continue their long parade of front-office and coaching ineptitude to the point where LeBron has made up his mind he wants out, a blockbuster trade needs to be examined, and that trade had better yield a slew of draft picks and young players from some team.
Hopefully it won't get to that point. If it gets to the point where Cavaliers management is so clueless we are talking about what we need to get in return for LeBron so he doesn't bolt with nothing recouped, that just might challenge the Browns leaving in 1995 for the saddest, most pathetic moment in Cleveland sports.

And of course...

The Cavs lose to New York on Thursday 95-89. To make matters a bit worse, Philadelphia beat Miami in overtime to send the Cavaliers back into the eighth slot in the Eastern Conference.
Two games up on New Jersey with four to play, and no tiebreak to fall back on. The Cavaliers are still in the driver's seat, technically, but more and more it is looking like they are going to need the Nets to stumble a bit more to eke out a playoff berth.
If the Nets win their last four games, the Cavs are in trouble. Of course, "trouble" is a relative term right about now, when you have a team that can't do things as basic as make defensive rotations and hit open jump shots.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Site Pimps of the Month

This is the 36th post since this blog was launched on Dec. 27. I started out with zero readers, but have progressed to two regular ones that I now know of. Hopefully, through the efforts of myself and these two gentlemen, my regular reader volume can soon pass into the "respectable" range.
It is with that in mind that I bestow my first ever "Site Pimps of the Month" awards, to the two guys who have done the most to pimp this site since its birth.
David McCafferty and Zach Baker, come on down.
Dave and I do a semi-regular sports talk show, which can be accessed online at We have one coming up on Saturday night at 10, so tune in if you have a capable computer. If you don't, find one, dangit!
Zach is a former sportswriter cohort of mine at The BG News, the student paper of Bowling Green State University. He's been blogging on a range of topics for about a year now. His musings can be found at
Thanks, guys. In the event I ever print "Papa Cass" t-shirts, I'll put one aside for each of you.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Digging out some hope

The shiniest silver lining about the Cavaliers' two-month slow burn has been its place of occurrence: the NBA Eastern Conference, which cradles sliding teams by having more give than 30-year-old car struts.
Opportunity is suddenly knocking, and the 40-37 Cavs are starting to win games again at a time when it will only take a couple more victories to secure a playoff spot. On Wednesday night, Indiana's and Washington's victories clinched the East's No. 5 and No. 6 playoff spots. Two remaining spots in the East have now yet to be awarded, and the Cavs' current No. 7 spot is next in line.
A win Thursday night against the Knicks would put the Cavs three games up on ninth-place New Jersey with four to play for both teams. My limited math brain tells me that would put the Cavs' magic number at two (magic number is the combination of wins by the leading team and losses by the team in the trailing, elimination spot -- in this case the ninth spot in the conference -- needed for the leading team to clinch a playoff berth). That would mean Cleveland can go 2-2 in their ensuing final four games and still clinch a playoff berth even if New Jersey wins out in their final four.
Even with all the struggles the Cavs have endured in February and March, a win Thursday should make a playoff berth all but academic.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

We love Z, but...

Is it mere coincidence that the Cavaliers have suddenly begun to play better defense now that he is out of the lineup with a dislocated finger?
Zydrunas Ilgauskas has seen more than his share of vultures circling over his head during his career and overcome them, so nobody should shrug off his presence on this team. His perseverance, his offensive skill and his league-leading offensive rebounds-per-game average all command respect and rightfully place him among the game's top pivotmen.
But nobody can get around the fact Z is slow and plays at a plodding pace at both ends of the floor. When he lags on a defensive rotation, the whole defense suffers. Slow (or no) rotation of defensive assignments is the number one cause of uncontested layups and dunks against the Cavs' defense the past two months.
Robert Traylor is eight inches shorter and decidedly less nimble than Ilgauskas with the ball in his hands. But the Tractor has brought energy that Ilgauskas simply hasn't mustered in the second half of the season. Granted, Ilgauskas has been getting physically pounded in the paint trying to rebound the many, many bricks Cavs shooters have hoisted onto the rim this year. That, combined with an early-season case of insomnia are probably contributing to his fatigue.
Z brings talent, and for the first half of the season, he and LeBron James made this team go. But right now, the Cavs need energy. They need a sense of urgency to try and fend off Philadelphia and New Jersey and get into the playoffs. It seems implausible even now, but maybe at the moment, the Cavs need Traylor's energy more than Z's skill.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Gloves of stone

I shouldn't complain. The Indians are 3-4 as of 6 p.m. Monday, when they lost to the White Sox in their home opener, 2-1.
The bullpen was stellar again, offering up two innings of scoreless relief after Kevin Millwood handed them and the offense a manageable one-run deficit in the seventh inning.
Millwood and the starters have done a respectable job on the whole, the lone black spots being duds from Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook on Thursday and Saturday.
The offense has the second-lowest batting average in the American League, but it's still early. There is enough talent in the lineup to make a reasonable fan believe this offense will warm up as the weather does so.
But that defense... ohhh, that defense.
The Indians' glovework is ... how shall I put this delicately? Impotent?
Oh, nevermind the pleasantries. The Indians suck on defense. Suck suck suck.
An Aaron Boone boot today raised their already league-leading error total to 10. And Boone, with three errors, is one of the softer-handed Tribe fielders.
Jhonny Peralta has four errors. I said in an earlier post that we shouldn't be too hasty to judge Peralta because he is trying to fill the enormous defensive shoes of Omar Vizquel. And we shouldn't.
On the other hand, shortstop is not a position where you want to be holding your breath for every ground ball hit that way. A lot of ground balls go to shortstop, a big reason why Alex Cora has been starting the past two games.
It would be a shame if Peralta and his tremendous offensive potential are glued to the bench because he can't even make routine plays consistently.
But let's not brand only Boone and Peralta. Ronnie Belliard and Ben Broussard have both dropped routine throws from teammates. Grady Sizemore tracked down a fly ball in deep center Sunday in Detroit, only to have it kick off the heel of his glove on a diving catch attempt. Ryan Ludwick did the same in foul territory today.
Coco Crisp has range, but possibly the worst outfield throwing arm in the majors. Victor Martinez has gotten much better at moving around behind the plate, but throws out a very low percentage of base stealers. Pitchers who don't check runners and deliver slowly are not helping matters for Martinez.
Ironically, Casey Blake, who moved from third base to the outfield, might be the most solid defensive performer the Indians have had after one week of the season.
Seven games in is not the time to overly fret, but if this type of granite-handed defense continues, the Tribe's glovework is going to start costing them more and more games. In the AL Central, which promises to be tightly-packed all season, that could be lethal to their playoff chances.

Friday, April 08, 2005


At 162 games, Major League Baseball has the longest regular season in American sports. Still, getting swept in your first series is not a good way to start off.
Pennants aren't necessarily won or lost in April, but a team's tendencies and self-image can be cast in concrete by the end of that first month. Reference last year: the Indians' bullpen squirmed through an atrocious April, and with its collective confidence thoroughly shot, didn't recover until after Bob Wickman came back to the mound in late June.
That's why Thursday afternoon's rally to beat the White Sox and avert a first-series sweep was so important for Cleveland. The Indians spotted White Sox starter Jose Contreras five runs in the first couple of innings.
Contreras, a former prized Cuban defector signing of the Yankees, keeps making George Steinbrenner look more and more like a fool for his decision to make an off-the-cuff trade last year, sending the somewhat-underachieving Contreras to Chicago for the fizzling Esteban Loaiza.
Contreras is the real deal, and when the ancient likes of Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson begin to break down this year, Steinbrenner will want Contreras back. But I digress.
The point is, the Sox have an excellent starting rotation, not to mention Dustin Hermanson, Damaso Marte and Shingo Takatsu at the back of the bullpen. Scoring runs against them is going to be work this year. Which makes Cleveland's rally all the more impressive.
The offense worked to scrape together five runs all series prior to the ninth inning Thursday, when Takatsu took the goat horns off Wickman's head by giving up home runs to Casey Blake, Coco Crisp and Ronnie Belliard. From then on, it was like the pinata broke. All the stored-up offensive mojo from the week gushed forth in a six-run 11th inning. They won 11-5, and the series was salvaged.
If Cleveland hadn't rallied, they would have been the only winless team left in the American League heading into tonight's series at Detroit. Maybe it isn't much at 0-3, but if 0-3 were to become 0-6 or even 1-5, foreheads would start getting really sweaty in the Indians clubhouse. Seasons are marathons, but months can turn into sprints when a team starts out poorly.
Thursday's rally was a safety valve before the pressure got too high. The first win is in the books, and now the Indians can settle into the rhythm of the season.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Are they even trying?

I've tried to control my temper, but my frustration with the Cavaliers is about to boil over.
In Tuesday night's latest embarrassment against the New Jersey Nets, the Cavaliers played absolutely, positively no defense. That is not an exaggeration. The Nets are the second-worst offensive team in the NBA, and they did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted to do it in a 111-80 rout. It was the Cavs' worst loss at home since 2001, and at 31 points, tied their worst loss of the season, set several weeks ago in Dallas.
I have to seriously question whether the majority of players on this team even want to make the playoffs. There might be a lot of guys in the Cavs' locker room just playing out the string so they can go home, or in the case of Jeff McInnis, get the heck out of Cleveland.
Despite their best non-efforts, despite the flogging their record has taken since the all-star break, the Cavs still sit in the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference with a 38-35 record. LeBron James might be able to singlehanded lift the Cavs to another two or three wins to get them into the playoffs. He'll probably have to. His teammates, in large part, appear very willing to let the young prodigy do all the heavy lifting for the rest of the season.
Maybe it's ingrained onto this team from a pile of 50-loss seasons in past years, but the Cavs' collective attitude appears more suited for the Atlanta Hawks or New Orleans Hornets, last place teams who have seen their playoff hopes disappear down the dumb waiter months ago.
Teams in the Cavs' position are usually playing like cornered animals. Every possession, every quarter, every game could affect the outcome of the season. But this team is bobbing along like the 17-65 team that was awful enough to land LeBron two years ago.
Still, they are doing just enough right to make you believe there remains a pulse beating somewhere deep down. But they have to pretty much have a winning effort cattle-prodded out of them. Sunday, two days after a pathetic effort against Sacramento, the Cavs appeared headed for some kind of record-setting loss against the high-octane Mavericks at Gund Arena. I personally didn't even bother to tune in. I get enough Sunday afternoon stress watching the Browns in the fall.
Lo and behold, not only do the Cavs win, they win convincingly, 100-80. The Mavericks, jockeying for positioning in the Western Conference, made a spirited run, but Cleveland held them off. The ejections of Robert Traylor and Drew Gooden, for flinging armbands into the crowd in protest of a referee's call, might have jump-started their fight.
My hopes up, I tuned in to Tuesday's game. By halftime, they were down double figures, and I had better things to do.
Just another chapter in this frustrating, confusing second half for the Cavs.
General Manager Jim Paxson might not be around to see how this season ends. Rumors have put the crosshairs of owner Dan Gilbert squarely on Paxson's forehead, possibly as early as today.
Not that it will do much for the rest of this season. The trade deadline is long past. This team has to crash-land on the deck of the playoffs with what they've got.
Paul Silas is gone. Paxson's days are numbered (very low). And Gilbert has a mess to try and make some sense and wins out of. Getting LeBron playoff experience this spring is of utmost importance. LeBron is ready for showtime, but playing with teammates who are very obviously not.
The one guy who comes out of this season smelling like a rose is former majority owner Gordon Gund, who is now $375 million richer after selling most of his stock to Gilbert in January. Gund, now a minority owner, made a cameo at Tuesday's game. He recently returned from a several-week sojourn to China and Taiwan, where the only two basketball words known by the populace are "Yao" and "Ming."
Gund said he misses the hustle and bustle of owning an NBA team. But, presuming he stayed for the whole game, he must have been reminded that life is a whole lot easier when the ship is sinking and you are not the captain.

Monday, April 04, 2005

He's not Omar, he's Jhonny

Those Indians fans looking for a reason to grate some more skin over the loss of Omar Vizquel didn't have to wait too long. In the first regular-season game of the post-Vizquel era Monday afternoon, new shortstop Jhonny Peralta committed a critical boot of a ground ball which allowed the only run to score in the Indians' 1-0 opening day loss in Chicago.
"Omar would have fielded that ball no problem."
There. I said it for all of you.
If Peralta hits .300 this year and finishes in the top 10 in doubles, it will alleviate a lot of the hard feelings created when the Tribe let Vizquel go to San Francisco over the winter. But while Peralta's glove is adequate, every error he makes, every boot Vizquel would have fielded with the smoothness of melted chocolate will be a black mark against Peralta.
It's not deserved. We in Cleveland were spoiled by Vizquel's defense for 11 years. Most shortstops aren't ever as flawless as Vizquel was in his prime, or even now for that matter. Peralta, unfortunately, is an apprentice following a magician.
He's not Vizquel. He never will be Vizquel. Peralta might have to be lifted late in games for defensive replacements, something that never happened to Vizquel.
Peralta can't carry Vizquel's toiletry bag defensively. But Peralta can hit. He was the MVP of the International League last year.
Even with the errors, hopefully fans will allow him to be Jhonny Peralta, and not just the stinging absence of Omar Vizquel.

Dirty Sanchez

Come on, what did you expect when a guy named Sanchez gets busted for alleged steroid abuse? If Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfielder Alex Sanchez really wanted to spin straw into gold, he'd immediately go to court and legally change his first name to "Dirty."
Steroids or no, he'd go from footnote on a mediocre team to the single most memorable name in sports since ex- hockey goalie Ron Tugnutt.