Tuesday, February 28, 2006


It's Barry Bonds ... I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.


The Wonderlic test is kind of like "American Idol." You can gain fame by performing very well, or by bombing it. Those that bomb are just funnier.
Contrary to widely-held belief, the Wonderlic test isn't just administered to college players at the NFL combine. It is a personnel test for managment in all kinds of professions to evaluate potential employees.
The NFL edition, however, reads like those "Iowa" standardized tests you get in fifth or sixth grade. The questions are challenging in some areas, but can be generally deciphered with a pencil and some scratch paper.
That's why those that score in the single digits get so much attention, like Chris Gamble and (we have heard) Vince Young.
Now, we don't want to get carried away and assume Gamble and Young are as dumb as lamp posts. They might have test-taking anxiety problems, or never had their cognitive abilities developed because every adult they've ever been associated with has been infatuated with their football talents. (No! That never happens!)
If you wants to see if youz'n been learnin' up reel good, ESPN.com reposted a sample Wonderlic test from 2002. At 15 questions, it is one-third the size of the Wonderlic given NFL prospects. Take your final score and multiply by three to see how you match up against the gridiron boys.

The verdict

Are we ready to brand this a collapse yet?
The Cavs have lost four in a row following a home-and-home sweep by the Pistons the past two days. Both losses came by 12 points.
I'm sure there are thousands of Clevelanders that are already gearing up for the slide, even as the team still stands in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and seven games over .500. The Cavs have 25 games left and stand at 32-25.
So what will their final record be? 35-47? 32-50? C'mon. It's Cleveland. There is no such thing as "it can't get worse." Right?
So, will LeBron tear his ACL during the month of March? Will he suffer a more debilitating knee injury that requires career-jeopardizing microfracture surgery?
We're waiting with baited breath.
Will Zydrunas Ilgauskas' feet finally give way? What about his knees? His back? We need to get more creative. How about a heart murmur?
Will Larry Hughes' finger heal just in time for him to accidentally sever it chopping vegetables? I'm trying to cover all my Cleveland bases here.
How about Donyell Marshall and Eric Snow, who are magically turning into George Burns before our very eyes? Whose kneecaps will fall off first?
If the Cavs and Pistons traded rosters, Marshall would be the top three-point marksman in the league, Damon Jones would be second, Hughes would be healthy, Z would be bound for the hall of fame and LeBron would already be the greatest player in history. The Pistons would be 54-2, and only because they have to play those pesky Spurs and Mavericks four times.
Meanwhile, Chauncey Billups would be a selfish, underachieving player in Cleveland. Rip Hamilton would be injured, Ben Wallace would be a stiff and Rasheed Wallace would be demanding a trade.
We're cursed. We suck. Why do we even have sports in Cleveland? Heck, why does this city even exist at all? Can we hire Halliburton to come in here, bulldoze the whole place and turn it back into forest and farmland, so that this miserable tract of land can actually do some good for once?
We know it's true. We make it true by our attitude. We believe it so. When the dam is about to crack, Clevelanders don't plug it. We take a hammer to it because it was going to break anyway. Then we sit in our rowboats and whine about how miserable life is.
Cleveland has got to be the most inanely self-defeating place on the planet. Sports and otherwise.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Ungrateful idiots

Count The Toledo Blade's John Harris and ESPN.com's Chris Broussard among those who think the fans who booed LeBron James during Friday night's loss to Washington might have just convinced him to leave town as soon as possible.
C'mon. It's Cleveland. The black cancer on the face of planet Earth, right? we were fighting an uphill battle to keep him anyway. With everything going against Cleveland and the Cavaliers like it routinely does, something stupid was bound to happen that makes LeBron wake up, say "Hey! What am I doing? Cleveland sucks! The weather's cold, the people are ungrateful idiots with fifth-grade educations, and I can't find a good piece of hoochie ass anywhere. I'm outta here! Jay-Z, get that Nets contract out, I'm headed east!"
(By the way, Clevelanders: how many of you were offended by the above psuedo-quote, and how many of you said, 'Yep. That's pretty much Cleveland in a nutshell.'")
Since Murphy's Law applies in Cleveland more tha anywhere else, it is perfectly permissible to believe that all the hard work put into keeping LeBron, all the money spent by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, all the moves made by Danny Ferry, all the effort notched by Mike Brown, could be completely undone by some droplets of spittle from a few frustrated, and possibly drunk, fans.
When Dan Gilbert sits down and offers the sun, moon and stars to LeBron this summer, we can all fully expect him to say, "Sorry. Back on Feb. 24, I missed four straight free throws and the fans booed me. No deal."
It's Cleveland, after all. Dumb shit blows up in our pathetic, miserable faces on a regular basis. Don't expect any better.
And the condescending national media thinks so, too. They know LeBron is a big-market talent who realistically belongs on a big-market team. We in Cleveland should be drinking jars of LeBron's urine if he made it a condition of signing a contract extension.
Booing him? Because he's human and missed some free throws and some of the fans were human and got frustrated for a few minutes? That's just not acceptable.
I have an idea. Let's make a no-argument law for marriages, too. The first time a husband and wife have a disagreement, the marriage is null and void.
That will make sure nobody ever upsets anybody else, and we keep our emotions all bottled up where they belong.
That would be an especially good law here among us desperate, boot-licking Clevelanders. Good practice for walking on eggshells around our superstar, who is always a sneeze away from leaving.

The beatdown

No one exactly knows the fallout for Pistons center Rasheed Wallace or his elbow just yet.
He flagrantly elbowed Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the head during the first quarter of Detroit's 90-78 win in Auburn Hills, Mich. Sunday. The elbow opened a gash that required stitches and took Z out of commission for the remainder of the first quarter.
Z had been getting a little physical with Wallace, and Wallace decided to send a message. Wallace threw his elbow and was tagged with the flagrant foul. Z shot free throws with blood trickling down his forehead, then retreated to the locker room where the medical staffs of both the Cavs and Pistons tended to him.
Wallace could be fined or suspended for a game or two. But it's a small price to pay for a team 14 1/2 games up on Cleveland in the Central Division. The message has been sent, loud and clear. The Pistons are the alpha dog in the division, the Eastern Conference, and possibly the entire NBA, lest the Cavs or anyone else forget. Cleveland was notified in no uncertain terms that their New Year's Eve win over Detroit has been wadded up and thrown in the garbage can.
Detroit won by 12 points Sunday, comfortable but hardly a blowout. Don't let the score fool you, though. This was a first-class butt-whupping in the purest sense of the term. The Pistons harassed the Cavs into 20 turnovers, and physically pounded them for 48 minutes.
And even that wasn't good enough for Detroit head coach Flip Saunders, who lamented his team's inability to keep their collective foot on Cleveland's throat in the second half. The margin of victory didn't adequately display Detroit's dominance. Due to some defensive lapses and poor shooting, Detroit let Cleveland stay on the fringe of the game. They should have won by 25 or 30, and Saunders knew it.
Saunders knows when a win is enough, and when his team should be crushing someone. That's demanding excellence.
As Bud Shaw of The Plain Dealer pointed out today, Sunday's loss was a glimpse ahead to the playoffs. Especially the later rounds, where the Pistons have taken up residence every spring. When both teams are tired and suffering through nagging injuries, toughness, both physical and mental, determines winners in May and June. The Pistons have toughness in spades. Toughness is what Cleveland lacks.
It's a throwback to the Cavs teams of the early 90s, the ones Michael Jordan derided as "cream puffs." But there is one big difference between the finesse Cavs teams of bygone days and the current finesse Cavs team: what the Mark Price-Brad Daugherty Cavs lacked in girth and sharp elbows they made up for with near-flawless offensive execution. They made crisp passes and took care of the ball, allowing their excellent jump shooting and high free-throw percentages to win games.
The current Cavs are overrun with streak shooters and 70-something free-throw percentages. Not to mention errant passing and a dribble-first, secure-the-ball-second mentality, which contributed to Sunday's 20 turnovers.
When facing a team like the Pistons, you need one of two things: physicality to match Detroit when the game devolves into a mosh pit, or a good offensive perimeter game, which allows you to shoot over Detroit's bangers and still score.
The Cavs have neither. Combine that with a collective self-confidence that tends to waver like a shaking seismograph, and you have the recipe for a back-alley beatdown by basketball's next-generation bad boys.
The Cavs have a rematch with the Pistons tonight at The Q. How they respond on their home turf after being embarrassed will give us a good glimpse ahead to late April and May.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

New e-mail

Seeing as how my family is going to drop AOL soon, I figured I should get a jump and create another e-mail account, which I have done with Yahoo!
I'm so torn. My AOL address has been a part of my life for almost 10 years. It was my calling card at The BG News during my college days. But change is inevitable. So change I must.

If you want to drop me a line, my new e-mail is TheChief97@yahoo.com. Note it's "97", not "87" anymore.

For instant messaging puropses, I'll still keep TheChief87 as a screen name.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Meltdown memories

I'm not trying to get ahead of myself. I don't think I need to. Other Cleveland fans are doing it for me.
Tonight's 102-94 Cavaliers loss to the Wizards puts the Cavs in the exact same position they were in after 55 games a year ago with a 32-23 record. A year ago, they were two games into a six-game losing streak that signaled the beginning of the end.
Sure, we all believe this Cavs team is more talented, better coached and overall more stable than the bunch that careened to a 42-40 record and no playoffs last spring. But how confident are we? More importantly, how confident is the team?
Fans have already begun calling up radio talk shows airing out their fears about another spring collapse. Coming from the mouths of talk-show hosts and callers, it seems like quasi-irrational what-iffing.
Far more important is what is going on in the minds of LeBron James and his teammates. And based on the fourth quarter they played against Washington tonight, I have to think last spring's collapse is swimming around in the backs of their minds somewhere. Or, I fear, much closer to the surface.
I saw a Cavs team that played tight with the game on the line, resulting in a fourth-quarter brain cramp that cost them a winnable game. They committed seven turnovers, played zero perimeter defense and missed a boatload of free throws. At one point, LeBron missed four straight from the line.
LeBron was also picked clean on a steal by Gilbert Arenas, and Donyell Marshall failed to secure a steal of his own, giving the ball right back on a ill-advised attempt to push it up the floor.
The Cavs also air-mailed a game away two nights ago in Philadelphia with a bad fourth quarter.
It's not classified information: fourth quarters almost always decide games in the NBA. If you rise to the occassion, as the Cavs have done numerous times this year, you will win a lot of games. If you choke in the fourth quarter, you will lose a lot of games.
It's not to say a loss like tonight necessarily dooms the Cavs to a playoff-killing collapse yet again, but last season's collapse might be a ghost they have to bust before arriving in the postseason for the first time since 1998.
When you are a fourth-seed team, other teams aren't going to take you out of the playoff race. Only you can do that. Unfortunately, last season's failure might be an unseen sixth man the Cavs have to battle every time they take the court from now until they finally clinch a playoff berth.

The other BG pitcher

If you mention Bowling Green baseball to the casual BGSU sports fan, one name will probably come to mind: Orel Hershiser.
No secret, Hershiser is the biggest celebrity to come out of the BGSU baseball program. The last Falcon pitcher to hurl a complete-game no hitter in 1979, he was vaulted to stardom by a surreal stretch run for the Dodgers in 1988, pitching a record 59 straight scoreless innings. He went on to win the MVP awards in the NLCS and World Series, and captured the Cy Young Award for the National League.
Hershiser had his BGSU celebrity cemented during a three-year stretch with the Indians from 1995-97, winning the MVP of the 1995 ALCS.
But there is another BGSU baseball alum who has made a pretty good living for himself in the major leagues. As a reliever, Roger McDowell was a key cog in the Mets' 1986 championship team, setting up closer Jess Orosco. He bounced around the majors, making 727 big league appearances, going 70-70 with a 3.30 ERA.
He was also known for pranks, shagging batting practice in the buff and making a cameo on "Seinfeld."
It's safe to say McDowell didn't take the most direct route through his big-league career. You might chalk him up to being a typical screw-loose reliever like Tug McGraw. But like McGraw, his loopy persona belied a sponge of a brain, absorbing knowledge about pitching and the mental games-within-the-game of baseball.
Now, all those years of sitting, watching and learning have paid off. McDowell is taking over the most celebrated pitching staff in all of baseball. He is the new pitching coach for the Atlanta Braves.
The position was made available when pitching guru Leo Mazzone took his old-school coaching act to Baltimore in the off-season.
As ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick says, the Braves are headed for an adjustment. Atlanta is transitioning from Mazzone, a sometimes-gruff coach who spends less time watching film than Pat Robertson at a porno festival, to McDowell, a far more laid-back coach who embraces the technology at his disposal.
Mazzone's religious adherance to throwing programs is great for a veteran staff, or for veterans trying to reclaim their careers. It's a big reason why Mazzone was able to coax good seasons out of the likes of Jaret Wright and John Burkett, Crasnick points out. It's why veterans like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz flourished under Mazzone's eye.
But Mazzone's sometimes-abrasive demeanor could be intimidating for young pitchers, Atlanta ace Tim Hudson told Crasnick. With the Braves staff facing an imminent youth movement, GM John Schuerholz and his staff sought out a younger pitching coach who might mesh better with a younger staff.
McDowell was chosen out of more than 20 candidates, and now has a chance to rocket up the coaching ladder. It's like a newspaper reporter getting their first editor's job with the Washington Post.
If McDowell makes his mark in Atlanta, he might be interviewing for a manager's job in the next few years.
It's a long way from freezing-cold, sparsely-attended Falcon games at Warren Steller Field.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Flip side

It turns out thing aren't exactly what they seemed on the Cavaliers trade front this evening.
The Cavs aren't really getting Lee Nailon, but they are getting scoring swingman Ronald "Flip" Murray, acquired from Seattle for Mike Wilks.
Nailon, it turns out, was acquired as a favor from Danny Ferry to 76ers GM Billy King. The Cavs received Nailon and a 2006 second round pick from Philadelphia for a conditional second-round pick. Acquiring Nailon gives the Sixers some luxury tax relief, and gives the Cavs an extra draft pick.
Nailon, who hasn't played since being arrested in connection with a domestic dispute last month, will likely not suit up for the Cavs, Ferry said on Cleveland radio station WTAM earlier this evening. He might be released or his contract bought out.
Murray, on the other hand, was acquired for basketball purposes. The 6'-4" shooting guard is averaging just under 10 points per game this season. He isn't a great outside shooter, hitting three-pointers to a 22-percent clip, but he can score, shooting 40 percent from the field overall.
In essence, Murray looks to be a poor man's Larry Hughes, which should suit the Cavs just fine. If a combination of Murray and Sasha Pavlovic can plug Hughes' hole for the rest of the regular season, Cleveland should earn a fourth- or fifth-seed playoff berth with little difficulty.
Murray's acquisition is likely a short-term deal. He is a free agent at the end of the season, and with all the other contract extensions and offers on the Cavs' plate, the chance of Murray staying put in Cleveland beyond this year is probably slim.
But first things first. The Cavs are trying to get to the playoffs, and maybe still be playing in May. That's why Murray was acquired.

Nailon returns

CNNSI.com is reporting that the Cavaliers have re-acquired forward Lee Nailon from the 76ers for a conditional second-round pick.
If the Cavs are getting back the Lee Nailon that averaged almost eight points per game for them late in the 2003-04 season, this is a small move that could pay huge dividends for a team getting threadbare at the wing positions.
If the Nailon that has been a colossal flop for Philadelphia this season shows up, this is more dead weight the Cavs don't need.
At least the cost is minimal. If Danny Ferry could get Nailon for a second-rounder, it makes you wonder why Jim Paxson needed to burn a first-rounder to get Jiri Welsch last year.

Trading day

Three o'clock this afternoon is the NBA trading deadline. So far, the biggest move was an utterly inconsequential one between two losing teams, as the Magic shipped Steve Francis to the Knicks for Penny Hardaway and Trevor Ariza.
The only items even remotely interesting about that trade are Hardaway's return to Orlando, where he helped lead the Magic to the 1995 NBA Finals, and how Francis and Stephon Marbury -- two notoriously mercurial players -- will get along in the New York fishbowl.
Beyond that, the rumor mill has churned out all kinds of names, most of whom are just padding for newspaper notes columns. Kenyon Martin, Allen Iverson, Jermaine O'Neal and Kevin Garnett are among the most prolific.
Denver's Martin is the most likely of the above to be dealt by 3 p.m., but he carries a massive contract and matching injury history that should make every smart GM run screaming in the other direction.

On the Cavaliers' front, both The Plain Dealer and the Akron Beacon Journal reported today that a move is not likely. The Cavs simply have no tradeable pieces. Every one of their players are either too expensive (Eric Snow, Damon Jones, Donyell Marshall), would create a bigger hole by being traded (Drew Gooden, Sasha Pavlovic, Anderson Varejao), are on the injured list (Larry Hughes, Ira Newble, Luke Jackson) or are on the do-not-touch-under-pain-of-death list (LeBron James, Zydrunas Ilgauskas).
Gooden is the most-mentioned player in Cavs trade rumors, but GM Danny Ferry has given Gooden assurance that he is not being shopped. After watching Gooden play the past several weeks, I'd have to say that's a good move. Unlike last season, when Gooden was known for his inconsistency more than anything, he brings energy to the floor just about every night this season. He is Cleveland's best rebounder, best low-post defender, and has shown an adept shooting touch that makes him a solid third or fourth option at the offensive end.
In short, there are almost no realistic trade scenarios involving Gooden that the Cavs would get the better of, especially as they are trying to make the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
Sure, Gooden is a restricted free agent this summer, and with contract extensions to LeBron and Varejao on the horizon, it is possible Gooden will leave for more money elsewhere. But right now, rocking the boat by trading Gooden could be sabotage come springtime.
With Gooden under lock and key, that leaves next to nothing for Ferry to deal with. The Cavs are already tapped out with regard to trading draft picks. They are obligated to keep this summer's first-rounder since their 2007 first-rounder was shipped to Boston for Jiri Welsch a year ago.
About the only scenario remaining is if Ferry could pawn off Jackson for a backup point guard like Keyon Dooling of Orlando. Jackson has a broken wrist, but could return before the end of the season. But that would still be a difficult sell.

Less than three hours remaining. If the Cavs make a move, I'll update ASAP.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hockey update

The U.S. men's team has been bounced from the Olympics in a quarterfinal loss to Finland, 4-3. Team USA finished the Olympics 1-4-1.
America's two-week-long yawn through Olympic competition continues.

Red, white and spoiled

Why does the rest of the world seem to hate America?
Is it becuase of the war in Iraq? Abu Ghraib prison abuse? A hedonistic attitude toward money? Sex on TV? Snooty French people influencing the values of Europe?
They hate us because of Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick. They hate us because of Bode Miller.
They hate us because, no matter how many Joey Cheeks there are giving money to Sudanese refugees in Chad, there are at least three petty, spoiled, snippy, arrogant Olympic athletes from the U.S., their egos and sense of entitlement fueled by an overpopulated American media contingent starved for new angles on stories.
You want to know how the Italian media probably feels? Remember those playoff series between the Indians and Yankees in the '90s when the Yankees would come to Cleveland with the Times, Daily News, Post, Newsday, ESPN and Sports Illustrated in tow, and how every time David Cone got a hangnail, it was newsworthy.
Now, imagine instead of the Yankees, it was 25 clones of Barry Bonds or Jose Canseco. Now you start to get the idea.
A treasure chest of gold medals by Norwegians, Germans and Austrians can't match a good snipe-fest between Davis and Hedrick, American speedskaters who have found that exchanging glares and complaints in front of rolling cameras is every bit as compelling as who takes gold in the 1,500 meters. That is, if you are into the whole celebrity-gossip angle of the Olympics, and honestly couldn't care less about who wins. Which probably describes a good portion of Americans.
For some, defending the home turf is more important. Today, The Plain Dealer ran probably the best stab at Davis and Hedrick to date.
It is a Getty Images photograph depicting a beaming Enrico Fabris. The Italian speedskater had just won gold in the 1,500 meters. Slightly out of focus to the front and rear of Fabris are Hedrick and Davis, both sulking. Davis had just won silver and Hedrick bronze, but something tells me they'd like to chuck those medals off the side of a boat, like Maverick did to Goose's dogtags in "Top Gun."
Afterward, America's Finest continued their bickering at a press conference. No two athletes were less deserving of gold, if only for the reason that it would have merely served to stick it to the other.
In other countries, winning gold means "I'm good." In America, it means "I rule, you suck."
It only perpetuates the outside notion that Americans are a rich, spoiled, self-centered people who arrive with their entourage, soak up the spotlight and leave without so much as a handshake.
It's not true, but the behavior of Davis and Hedrick and the microphones jammed in the face of zero-medal winner Miller are a testament to the way we stroke the egos of the famous, even if they're only famous for being famous.
We let our athletes believe the Olympics are all about them. Some abuse that fact. So why should it surprise us when some of them turn around and embarrass our country internationally?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Limping Olympics

Television ratings are lagging for the Olympics. What a surprise.
Seems the one-two punch of NBC and ice-based sports has caused many American viewers to search frantically for the nearest poker tournament on cable.
In a country that puts Angelina Jolie's pregnancy at somewhere between national security and the Super Bowl on the importance scale, the failure of an amateur sporting festival to draw huge ratings probably shouldn't confound too many.
But then again, maybe it says far more about the U.S. Olympic contingent this time around.
I have searched and searched, and found no compelling storylines associated Team USA in these Olympics. Michelle Kwan pulled out. The U.S. women's hockey team staggered to the bronze medal. The men's hockey team isn't off to a rollicking start.
After nine days of competition, the U.S. sits fourth in the medal standings, behind Germany, Norway and Austria. it should be pointed out, however, that Norway's second-place standing has been fortified with eight bronze medals, while the U.S. is in a four-way tie with seven gold medals.
One of those golds belongs to snowboarder Shaun White, the most-hyped of the Olympic champions to this point. Much like Cavaliers reserve Anderson Varejao, a lot of his fame is due to his locks, flaming red and tousled.
That, and his musings on hooking up with figure skater Sasha Cohen.
"I figured I'd say, 'hey babe, look at this'." White said of showing off his medal to Cohen.
Snowboarding is great for the under-25 set, but NBC wants their parents, and Cohen and Co. is about the only calling card left. Women's figure skating begins tonight, and must rescue NBC from the ratings doldrums.
Beyond that, there are only the manufactured stories that come out of every major sporting event. The starving journalists following vastly overrated skiier Bode Miller around, hoping another controversial comment will dribble out of his mouth like so much spittle. The reporters covering short-track speedskating (a.k.a. ice roller derby), for the "Apolo Ohno Factor."
Me, I don't care so much for soul patches and drunk skiing. Give me German luger Georg Hackl, who is competing in his last Olympics.
Hackl has been like a recurring sitcom character for the past 20 years, yet nobody notices him because he competes in an semi-obscure event like luge. But I remember him making cameos on TV throughout my childhood. I remember him from Calgary, from Albertville, from Lillehammer, Nagano and Salt Lake City.
Let's hear about Hackl, who has devoted two decades of his life to the Olympics and the sport of luge. He has to be a wealth of stories. To me, the backstories are sometimes more compelling than the medal events themselves.
Besides, I can turn on E! any time to see if White and Cohen have become an item.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Sabathia speaks out

Reason No. 936 why the World Baseball Classic is a bad idea:

Look no further than Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia, who is concerned that spending three weeks away from his normal spring training routine could cause him problems as he prepares for the season.
Heaven knows the Indians don't need a discombobulated Sabathia with messed-up mechanics taking the hill in April. That can only help pave the way for another 9-14 opening month and another double-digit deficit in the division.

All-Star MVP

If LeBron James isn't already the best basketball player on the planet, he soon will be.
You can have Kobe Bryant and his scoring. You can take aging Shaquille O'Neal and his size. I'll even give you Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett with their lethal around-the-basket games.
Me, I'll take the guy who lifted a jaded Eastern Conference all-star team to victory almost by himself Sunday night, winning the first-ever all-star MVP by a Cleveland Cavalier.
You thought LeBron had to carry the Cavs on his back? Try a collection of the best players in an NBA conference.
The East trailed by as many as 21 late in the first half. Veterans like Allen Iverson and Shaq looked like they were playing at half-speed, perfectly willing to let the West run away and hand the MVP trophy to Houston hometown hero Tracy McGrady.
But not LeBron.
In an exhibition game long ago deemed meaningless by the basketball-viewing public, LeBron took control like it was the deciding game of a playoff series. Much like he does with his Cleveland mates, he sparked a competitive fire among his East teammates, driving, passing, shooting and playing with the combination of talent and exuberance that is becoming LeBron's calling card.
The hunger to win on the big stage, I think, is something stoked by LeBron's lousy experience in the 2004 Olympics. He sat on the bench while a largely-unmotivated USA team backed into a bronze medal.
Armed with a starting gig on Sunday, LeBron set about proving that when the game is on the line, you want him on the floor, because he wants to win. Olympics, All-Star Game, regular season, playoffs, it all counts.
Like I've been harping on for months, this is what clutch is all about. It's not about game-winning shots necessarily. It's about doing whatever it takes to win with the clock winding down. LeBron manages to do that without being selfish like Bryant or a taskmaster like Michael Jordan. He's ferociously competitive and still personable enough for his teammates to like him.
At 21, LeBron is the youngest MVP in the history of the the NBA All-Star Game. More MVPs, all-star and otherwise, almost certainly await him. Special doesn't come close to defining this guy.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Cleveland's pessimism

If you are a Clevelander and concerned about the overall mental health of the region (as I am), an article today in The Plain Dealer is a must-read.
A shrinking job market, poor school system, spreading poverty, cold winters, losing sports teams and stubborn "mistake by the lake" reputation all contribute to Cleveland's collective inferiority complex.
But how we view ourselves isn't necessarily how those from the outside view us. Sure, Cleveland will always be the butt of jokes, but so are Detroit and Pittsburgh, and those cities don't have the "we suck" mentality that is rampant in Cleveland.
Those who have visited Cleveland (believe it or not, people do vacation here), have noted that Cleveland is not unlike many other major cities. Parts are ugly and impoverished, parts are actually quite beautiful. I'd personally put University Circle on a warm summer day up against any public park in Chicago.
That's why it is so puzzling to outsiders who know how Cleveland really is. They wonder why this city's people are so down on where they live.
Andrew Bohrer was quoted in today's Plain Dealer article. He grew up in Queens, NY and now lives in Syracuse. He chose to vacation in Cleveland. This is what he said:
"I don't know why (the people of Cleveland) would be down on themselves with a city like this. It has a lot more to offer than a lot of cities I've been to."
Bohrer could have travelled a shorter distance and gone back home to Times Square, Grand Central Station and Yankee Stadium. But he told The Plain Dealer he hopes to return this summer for a cruise on Lake Erie.
I'll let you in on a little secret: the people who make fun of Cleveland don't really know what they are talking about. But we treat them like they are all-knowing sages.
For too long, we have been spoon-fed a self-perception that includes a burning river and financial default, even though both incidents happened more than a quarter-century ago. We worry about what comedians were saying about Cleveland ages ago to get a cheap laugh from a jaded audience.
Last year, Cleveland was the most impoverished city in the country. This year, we are 12th from the bottom. To me, that would raise questions about exactly how those national bean-counters are calculating poverty rankings. Are they doing something beyond pulling names out of a hat?
The negative national perceptions of Cleveland are two-dimensional observations from a distance, kind of like assuming the checkout clerk who accidentally rang your pork n' beans twice must be a mouth-breathing dimwit.
That checkout clerk likely can likely read, write and do math problems, but all you know him or her for is a single mistake. Cleveland is much the same way, except we ran crying into the bathroom stall about 35 years ago and haven't come out since.
It's time to change. And the impetus for change lies in one place, and one place only: our collective head. We have to stop giving a damn about what naysayers spew about Cleveland, and start carrying ourselves with some pride. Self-confidence is the number one cure for bullying. Until then, we are going always perceive ourselves as America's ugly, 98-pound weakling.
What makes Pittsburgh better than Cleveland, really? The Steelers? Come on.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Belle behind bars

Albert Belle has always cast an intimidating shadow dating to his days as an Indians slugger. But now, he's just being creepy.
Belle's horrible temper has gotten him into trouble yet again, this time for allegedly stalking an ex-girlfriend using a GPS system. He also allegedly threatened her over the phone, telling her she'd need a bodyguard for protection.
Belle was arrested and charged with stalking on Thursday. He likely had little trouble posting his $100,000 bond and has a court appearance set for Feb. 24, The Associated Press reported.
Belle might be the most frustrating sports figure I have ever seen. His ability to hit was matched by few. Inside the batter's box, he was everything any manager could ever want in a hitter: steel-trap concentration, power to all fields, a glare that could melt the glove right off a pitcher's hand.
Outside those four chalk lines, however, he was a liability in every facet. He excelled in no other part of the game, and his personality made him a walking organizational black eye away from baseball.
You wanted to like the guy. You wanted to admire him. But you knew he'd probably hate your guts if you ever came in contact with him. He just hated most people before he even met them. The proof's in the pudding. He had a positive relationship with so few people in his life, and as this week's incident shows, those relationships could sour quickly, too.
We've heard the stories. He beaned a photographer. He screamed at NBC reporter Hannah Storm in the dugout before Game 3 of the 1995 World Series. He smashed a clubhouse thermostat with his bat when a teammate turned up the temperature. He took out who knows how many clubhouse buffets in the same manner. He almost beat up Plain Dealer columnist Bud Shaw, whom he accused of rooting through his locker.
He chased down house-egging trick-or-treaters in his car. He beaned a fan in his Municipal Stadium days. He went through a bout with alcoholism. He probably corked his bat.
Is it any surprise that when his production started to wane, the White Sox couldn't wait to get rid of him? When a chronic hip injury forced him to retire from the Orioles in 2000, many said he was getting his comeuppance.
The baseball player made have ceased to be, but the man lives on. One of these days, I fear, Belle is going to do something that will get him jailed for the rest of his life, or worse. Stalking an ex-girlfriend is indication Belle is taking a turn down a dangerous path.
Albert Belle has an irrepressible internal beast. In the batter's box, it served him well. In society, it could be his downfall.

Tribe concerns

Joel brings up a valid point in response to the post below.
Just how exactly did the Indians get better this off-season? And while the White Sox, Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays (and possibly the Twins) made improvements, just where does that place the Indians in the shuffle?
The Indians could be a 90-win team this year. They could also be a 70-win team.
To me, the X-factor is what the minor leagues produce during the season.
If the Tribe is forced to rely on Casey Blake, Aaron Boone, Ben Broussard, Jason Johnson and Danny Graves all season because the farm system can't offer any support, this could be a long year.
If some combination of Andy Marte, Ryan Garko, Andrew Brown, Fausto Carmona and Jeremy Sowers ride in like Grady Sizemore did last year, this could be a very dangerous team.
That's how the Indians are designed to operate. They live and die with their farm system. They gamble with prospects the same way richer teams gamble with their checkbooks.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


The Cavaliers have reached their high-water mark from last year following last night's double-overtime win over the Celtics. After topping out at 31-21 last season, the Cavs went 11-19 over their final 30 games to finish 42-40, getting edged out by the Nets for the East's final playoff spot on the last day of the season.
Thirty games remain after the all-star break, most or all without second-leading scorer Larry Hughes. Below, I give some reasons to be upbeat about the Cavs' chances to reach the playoffs and maybe still be playing in May, along with some reasons to be wary.

The good stuff

1. The roster is decidedly deeper than last year
At times last year, if LeBron James wasn't getting it done, no one was. The bench was dead weight, and Ira Newble was the only player with a clue on defense.
This year, the Cavs are getting offensive and defensive contributions from other places on the roster. Donyell Marshall plays hard at both ends of the floor, as does Drew Gooden. LeBron's defense is improving, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas looks like more than a cigar-store Indian on defense. The reture of Anderson Varejao has injected energy.
Damon Jones has rebounded from a sluggish first three months of the season to begin shooting the ball well the past several weeks. Sasha Pavlovic, a bit player most of the year, has stepped up his play since Hughes went down. Now if he can just get his fouls under control.

2. Mike Brown has created stability
No factor contributed to the Cavs' collapse last year more than locker room instability. Coach Paul Silas and mercurial guard Jeff McInnis seemed more interested in feuding with each other than trying to win games. Silas, already notorious for unpredictable substitution patterns, benched McInnis for a game in Toronto, allowing James to score 56 points and still lose, a move that got Silas fired.
This year, Mike Brown has created a team environment that places hefty emphasis on defense and teaching. The environment around the team appears far more positive and resilient (I shudder to think what would have happened to last year's team had they lost a player like Hughes). This year's Cavs are above .500 since Hughes went down.
Brown is a rookie head coach and still is learning himself. He sometimes puts his offense on too short a leash and still hasn't found a way to avoid the mental lapses that caused home losses to teams like the Hawks and Warriors. But Brown is a good teacher, and the Cavs are a healthier team because of it.

3. LeBron is better than ever
A 43-point outburst against Boston put LeBron's season scoring average at 31.2 per game, third in the league. He has four triple-doubles, and could average 30/7/7 this year, which is brain-melting.
If LeBron knows his team is working with him, the sky is the limit. He could singlehandedly carry the Cavs into playoffs, so long as he doesn't think he has to singlehandedly carry the team. Does that make sense?

4. The tough parts of the schedule are basically over
The Cavs got their West Coast trips out of the way before the end of January. In fact, Dallas and New Orleans are the only two Western Conference roadies left. Arguably the toughest part of the reamaining schedule is a home-and-home with Detroit at the end of the month.

The bad stuff

1. Hughes' injuries
Losing Hughes likely drops the Cavs out of the running for a 50-win season, a mark that could have put some serious separtion between Cleveland and the rest of the field for the fourth playoff spot. Instead, it looks like it could be a dogfight with Indiana, Washington and Milwaukee for homecourt advantage.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned about Hughes' long-term future in Cleveland. When healthy, he is one of the top second-tier players in the league. But he hasn't played a full season since 1999-2000. Hughes can't be LeBron's top lieutenant sitting on the bench in a suit and tie. He needs to stay healthy for the Cavs to blossom into a championship contender. But more often than not, keeping Hughes healthy seems like bucking the odds.

2. Donyell Marshall's advancing age
No player is more important to the Cavs' bench than Marshall. And no player on the Cavs' bench is older than Marshall, 32.
Much like with fellow 30-something Eric Snow, there is a strong possibility that Marshall will grow old on the Cavs' watch. Already, his three-point field goal percentage is at a career-low, a troubling sign of what might be on the horizon.
Marshall's legs, which have withstood the pounding of an 11-year NBA career, are already deteriorating to the point that he no longer makes an ideal starter.
If Marshall's ability to drive and defend begin sliding along with his shot, the Cavs are going to be left with a used-up spare part taking up valuable salary cap space. Marshall is signed for three more years.

3. Lousy draft picks
This is where GM Danny Ferry needs a big-time upgrade over the previous regime. The only way the Cavs will routinely be able to withstand the injuries and adversity that come with every NBA season is to make good draft picks.
As it stands, the busts of former GM Jim Paxson have put this team behind the 8-ball. Sadly, it looks like Luke Jackson can be thrown onto the Cleveland compost heap along with Trajan Langdon, Chris Mihm, DeSagana Diop and Dajuan Wagner.
Much is riding on Ferry's first pick as a GM. He had no picks last year. The Cavs will likely have a 20-something draft pick in June, followed by no first-rounder in 2007.
One first-rounder in three years, thanks to the ill-fated Jiri Welsch trade last spring. Ferry must (MUST) hit on this summer's pick, and find a player who can help this team in his rookie year. No project players. No players who can run fast and jump high but have no idea how to play basketball. No seven-foot-tall fatasses who have no idea how to play.
I know Ferry wants to follow the San Antonio model, but here, he should study the ways of Chicago GM John Paxson, whose team has made one more playoff appearance than the Cavaliers since 1999. Draft a smart, well-rounded, accomplished player out of a big-name, routinely-successful college program. Make sure he's a junior or senior.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Second to someone

With spring training starting this week, CNNSI.com's John Donovan says the Indians are a force to be reckoned with in 2006, but when it comes to picking winners, he'll stick with the White Sox.
I'm not going to blame him. After winning the World Series, Chicago GM Ken Williams not only kept all his major pieces in place, he added Jim Thome to the heart of the lineup and Javier Vazquez to the starting rotation.
The White Sox aren't setting themselves up to dominate their league the way, say, the Pistons have dominated the NBA this year. But they are the best in baseball right now, and certainly did not get worse over the winter.
The only caveat with the White Sox is just how many things went right for them in 2005. Their obscene record in one-run games. The 11-1 postseason mark. Unheralded relivers Cliff Pollitte and Bobby Jenks stepping up to complete the bullpen. Those items aren't likely to be duplicated this year, especially when everybody is going to be gunning for them.
The Indians, meanwhile, might be the victim of being in the wrong division (the AL Central. How ironic is that?)
Cleveland has a good offense. But not as good as the White Sox. Cleveland has a good starting rotation. But not as good as the White Sox. While Chicago's bullpen had to endure the loss of Damaso Marte in a trade, Cleveland's bullpen, the best in baseball last year, was overhauled with arms that might not be as durable as last year.
Thanks to the White Sox, the wild card might be the most realistic chance for the Indians to reach the postseason this year, like it was for the bulk of last year.

Divine judgment

A new Cleveland sports blog has been launched. The writer, Mike Stein, told me the blog is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but fair warning: if you want to feel good about being a Cleveland sports fan, this is not the place.
If you need therapy from watching too many ESPN Classic programs on "The Drive" and "The Fumble," however, dig in.
The name of the blog is "God Hates Cleveland Sports."
I am all for blogging about Cleveland sports. In a sports world dominated by media markets on the coasts, little ol' Cleveland should make its voice heard whenever possible.
But personally, I am wary of Cleveland fans, as a group, cloaking themselves in their misery too much. I don't want to become like Red Sox fans, who became the pill-popping divas of baseball. They never stopped whining about how afflicted they were, and now that they've won it all, we never stop hearing about how great they are.
It's become now that I can't stand the Red Sox even more than I can't stand the Yankees. That's just wrong. I don't want Cleveland fans to become that insufferable to the nation at large.
Incessant whining and complaining will not change the fortunes of Cleveland sports. You might think that it changed the fortunes of the Red Sox, but it didn't. Money did.
Cleveland is, by nature, a downtrodden city. The failures outnumber the successes in sports, and in life in general. It is among the most impoverished, most overweight and least educated major cities in the country. With that in mind, you'd expect a majority of Clevelanders to not have a terribly sunny outlook on life. That carries over to sports.
I just think negativity is a cyclical thing. The more you expect bad things to happen, the more bad things happen. The more bad things that happen, the more you expect bad things to happen.
I'd rather see events begin that change the disposition of Cleveland as a whole. A citywide Prozac distribution program isn't the answer, either. New jobs and an improved education system will get to the root of the problem. Once Cleveland's collective self-esteem is raised, we will begin to expect good things. And then the good mojo will carry over to sports.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Who knew?

The Cavaliers are messing with us. They don't seem to want the fans to get too high, but just when we are about to really get down on this team, the Cavs come through with an impressive win like last night's 101-87 victory over the NBA champion Spurs.
What was really impressive was the fact that the Cavs took over this game midway through the second quarter and never really let go.
Sure, the Spurs made their runs like they are supposed to do, but the Cavs outplayed them at both ends of the court for the entire second half, leading by as many as 18.
The cynic (read: average Clevelander) would probably take the luster off the win by saying the Spurs were at the end of a seven-game road trip. They won the first six, and were probably due for a loss.
That might be, but considering the Cavs allowed themselves to be outplayed an outhustled by an inferior Golden State Warriors team playing three times zones away from home on Saturday night, even a tired Spurs team had a chance to come into The Q and beat the Cavs.
Maybe the losses against Washington and Golden State had more to do with the Cavs playing to the level of their competition than the loss of Hughes. If the Cavs can beat Detroit, Phoenix and San Antonio at home, losses to Atlanta, New York and Golden State are probably due to a lack of focus more than anything.
That's another hurdle the Cavs will have to clear on the way to contention. The competitive juices will flow like water when the Spurs are in town. But you can't sleepwalk against a lesser team just because the game is harder to get up for. You need to take care of the Hawks and Knicks, too.

More finger

Larry Hughes will, indeed, have additional surgery on his broken finger today in Baltimore. GM Danny Ferry said Hughes was "frustrated" because the hand feels pretty good. But letting him play with the hand in its current condition could damage it more.
Another eight weeks of recovery would take us to mid-April, the week before the regular season ends. Ferry's last chance to make a short-term addition to replace Hughes comes Feb. 23, the NBA's trade deadline.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Crying over Kwan

A miserable thing is going to happen to Michelle Kwan now that her Olympic career is likely over. For the rest of her life, a section of the population is going to make sure a dark cloud hangs over her reputation.
Why? She never won the big one.
Kwan, not-so-arguably the standard-bearer for American female figure skaters for the past decade, never won Olympic gold. At age 25, she probably won't get another chance now that a nagging groin injury has forced her out of her fourth Olympics.
It's the same fate Dan Marino has been subjected to, the same reputation that is growing on Peyton Manning. It's the smear Ted Williams avoided because he played in Boston where baseball, and the stars who play it, transcend the diamond.
But to Kwan, who came to the forefront of the American consciousness just once every four years, the blank line on her Olympic resume is all-too-glaring.
Those nine U.S. figure skating titles are unapproached and unprecendented. She was a one-woman dynasty. If she was an NFL quarterback with that kind of hardware, she'd have been a god.
Instead, she is a figure skater, and your average American doesn't care what people like Michelle Kwan do unless they are either competing in the Olympics, or tangled up in a scandal involving redneck husbands and goons hired to smash the competition in the knee with a blunt object.
Because Kwan's success largely flew under the public radar, her failure on her sport's biggest stage will be the thing that defines her. Bill Buckner, anyone?
It's not fair, but seldom does our sporting society reward sustained excellence without getting all the way to the top. The flip side is that average performers are somehow vindicated by winning it all, even if they weren't much more than passengers along for the ride.
It's the dreaded "but."
Marino? Greatest passer in NFL history ... but he never won a Super Bowl.
Trent Dilfer? Mediocre quarterback ... but he has a ring.
It's a skewed way of thinking that brands great athletes who never claimed their sport's top prize as somehow overrated. But it simplifies things too much.
In Cleveland, we know all too well how greatness can be derailed by everything from injuries to playing the wrong team in the wrong place at the wrong time. An individual's greatness can't always be measured in hardware. Or a lack of greatness by a lack of hardware.
Talent, dedication, perseverance, those things can measure an athlete. A quarterback can't be measured by a team that never put a talented enough cast around him to win a title. Just like a figure skater can't be judged for all eternity by a groin strain that robbed her of her last chance at an Olympic gold medal.

Bad bats

Zach thinks Indians management needs to apologize to fans for making us watch Class AAA legend Casey Blake play right field for 147 games last year.
I am among the fans who think an Indians ballclub that truly wants to view itself as a contender shouldn't have a spare part with a questionable hitter's eye manning a power position like right field for most of the season.
I also know that, love it or hate it, manager Eric Wedge has his reasons for sticking with Blake. And Aaron Boone. And Ben Broussard. And most of it has to do with the roster GM Mark Shapiro hands him.
Fans are antsy. They don't want another season of the Rally Killer B's batting seven, eight and nine in the order. But with a shackled payroll, Shapiro won't be wiping all three off the roster anytime soon.
Farm system analysts on ESPN.com and FoxSports.com give prospects an estimated time of arrival, or ETA, in the big leagues. Below, I'll give you an estimated time of departure (ETD) for the much-maligned bottom third of the Indians order. My estimates are based on several factors, including who is in the farm system and how valubale Wedge and Shapiro view the player in question.

Aaron Boone, 3B
Age 32
2005: 143 games, .243, 16 HR, 60 RBI
ETD: End of 2006 season
Aaron Boone is an Eric Wedge type of guy. He's a company man who buys into the system and uses his veteran status to get the younger players to buy in as well. Wedge loves the leadership Boone brings to the table. But there is no secret that Boone is an old 32 with surgery-scarred knees. His .243 average last year is 22 points below his career average. And he needed a productive second half to even get that high.
The Indians made the Coco Crisp trade for one player above all else: third-base prospect Andy Marte. When Corey Smith fizzled, the Indians were left with no high-level prospects for the hot corner. Marte got his feet wet at the major league level with Atlanta last year. If he isn't ready to take his turn at the position at some point during the upcoming season, he should be ready by spring training 2007, spelling the end of the road for Boone in Cleveland. He can be a free agent after the '06 season.

Casey Blake, RF
Age 32
2005: 147 games, .241, 23 HR, 58 RBI
ETD: 2007 or 2008
Not what you expected? Sure, Blake can be a free agent after this season, but four factors will probably cause Shapiro to offer Blake a one- or two-year extension beforehand: he's affordable, versatile, plays a position with no top-flight prospects in the minors and, like Boone, is a great clubhouse guy.
Brad Snyder is the closest thing the Indians have to right field prospect. Even though he will likely start the season at Class AAA Buffalo, no one seems to know when/if Snyder will be ready for the big leagues, or if he will hit for enough power to play right field. That puts Blake on much more stable footing for 2006, despite his lackluster numbers.
Even if Snyder or someone else emerges as a right fielder of the future, Blake has proven he will make a drastic position change with no public complaint. In a sport saturated with huge egos, that is one of the quickest ways to a manager's heart. Whether in a starting role or off the bench, Wedge will probably always find a use for Casey Blake.

Ben Broussard, 1B
Age 29
2005: 142 games, .255, 19 HR, 68 RBI
ETD: 2006 or 2007
If Broussard were a catcher, his stat line would be easier to swallow. But he's a first baseman, and if you don't hit for either high power or a high average, you aren't cutting it.
Something is going to get re-configured in the Tribe's lineup either this year or next, and push Broussard out. Either Ryan Garko will move in at first base, or newly-acquired catcher Kelly Shoppach will step in behind the plate and allow Wedge to move Victor Martinez to first.
Broussard, with adequate power potential, could be a serviceable pinch hitter for a National League team. My guess is he gets traded.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Getting the finger

Some discouraging news from the Cavaliers on Thursday:
Larry Hughes' infamously-broken finger on his shooting hand hasn't progressed as hoped following his Jan. 6 surgery. He saw a hand specialist in Washington, D.C. Thursday, and the team is reportedly exploring other options to treat the fractured digit.
That means the original 6-to-8 week prognosis for Hughes' recovery time was a bit optimistic. No new timetable has been set. Hopefully, we're not looking at a season-ending situation.

Monday update
Two losses in two games since the news of Hughes' setback became public. I think LeBron and Co. have taken a psychological hit learning that they will be expected to hold down the fort without Hughes for a longer (and as yet undetermined) amount of time.
If Hughes needs additional surgery, I hope he gets it done this week so he has a fighting chance to make it back before the end of the regular season.

Z's feet

If you've ever wondered, as I have, what Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas goes through to keep his tormented feet in playing shape, The Plain Dealer's Dennis Manoloff has written an excellent story on the subject.
Eariler this season, hall-of-fame center Bill Walton remarked that the NBA is missing out on one of the great comeback stories in the league. He's right.

Consider that:

A) Z has 10 screws holding his feet together -- seven in the left and three in the right.

B) He's had five feet operations since 1995.

C) The most recent foot operation in February 2001 was an all-or-nothing gamble, as Baltimore surgeon Mark Myerson surgically altered the shape of Z's left foot. The surgery could either have repaired the foot, or forced Z to walk with a limp for the rest of his life.

D) The recovery took nearly a year of painful rehab. Z has to undergo a regimen of nearly constant exercise and icing to keep his feet in playing shape during the season.

E) He's only 30.

When you look at where Z has been and where he is now, it is a startling turn of events. Z suffered his most recent foot fracture in December 2000. After undergoing a previous surgery in January of that year, struggling through yet another lengthy rehab stint, only to have another fracture sideline him, Z was seriously mulling over retirement. The surgery performed by Myerson was viewed as a last-ditch effort to save his career.
The Cavs had drafted Chris Mihm and DeSagana Diop in 2000 and 2001 in ill-fated attempts to replace Z should he have decided to end his career. But he stepped on the floor about a quarter of the way through the 2001-02 season, and hasn't left for a foot-related problem since.
Since returning, Z has made a pair of all-star teams, and has emerged as one of the elite centers in the game. He's become durable, missing no games in the 2002-03 or 2003-04 seasons due to injury. He missed a handful last year with a dislocated finger on his shooting hand.
This year, he is setting to work burying the long-standing notion that he is a one-trick pony who is soft and can't play defense. Through Wednesday's win in Minnesota, Z is averaging 16.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, all the while showing a hustle and willingness to mix it up on defense that he has seldom shown before. That's likely due in large part to the schemes and teaching of head coach Mike Brown.
Z can score outside with a smooth mid-range jumper, and is a master at drawing fouls inside and getting to the free-throw line. Sending Z to the line is like handing Paris Hilton a boyfriend, video camera and darkened bedroom. He is the top free-throw shooting center in the NBA this year, making foul shots at a nearly 87 percent clip. He is the only player in the NBA in the top 20 in both free-throw percentage and field goal percentage (.514).
And yet, because Z plays with an ambling, cumbersome style that is not TV-friendly, he has become the Bob Wickman of the Cavs: underappreciated, and always making fans think the grass might be greener somewhere else. But, like Wickman, he gets the job done in his own way. And that's the bottom line.
For those who know basketball, and know just how rare a 7'-3" center with Z's skill set is, he is invaluable. We appreciate what LeBron brings to the floor on a nightly basis. We should appreciate Z in much the same way. It's a blessing he's even on the floor.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Blockbuster trade

How did NBC land Al Michaels? ESPN traded him for a prohibition-era cartoon character. I am not making this up.

From ABC to NBC

Turns out, ABC's loss should be NBC's gain.
The NFL will return to NBC for the first time since the late '90s next season, and to broadcast NBC's marquee Sunday night game of the week, they have recruited none other than this past season's ABC Monday Night Football duo, Al Michaels and John Madden.
Talk about a coup.
A network that lost its Major League Baseball, NFL and NBA contracts in rapid-fire succession, a network that has been reduced to airing arena football and rodeos as its premier weekend sporting events, will bring in two of the most well-known broadcasters of the past quarter-century to man the booth for its national telecast.
Michaels was originally slated to continue serving as the Monday Night Football play-by-play man on ESPN alongside Joe Theismann, but backed out to switch networks.
For money? Maybe. To continue working with Madden? Possibly. My bet is that Michaels cringed the instant an ESPN executive said, "Wait, we'll put Tony Kornheiser in the booth, too! It will be great!"
Michaels has a great sense of timing from years in the broadcast booth. Part of that timing is knowing when to back out.

Can you imagine Michaels calling the 1980 Miracle on Ice alongside Kornheiser and Theismann?

Michaels: Five seconds!

Kornheiser: I don't care what you say, Terry Bradshaw would not make a better hockey player than Jack Tatum!

Michaels: Do you belie---

Theismann: Bradshaw would bring skill and finesse! All Tatum would be is a goon!

Michaels: Believe in mirac---

Kornheiser: But you have to be tough to play hockey! Tatum would knock Bradshaw's head off!

Michaels (as the USA team is mobbing each other at center ice): Do you b----

Theismann: Are you saying Bradshaw's not tough? Are you saying quarterbacks aren't tough enough to play hockey? You want to see how tough a a quarterback is? Let's go! right now!

(Kornheiser and Theismann begin fighting, as Michaels struggles to keep his microphone on)

Michaels: Doyoubelieveinmiraclesyes! Ow! you rolled on my leg, you &%$#!! Stop It!! Go to commercial!! Now!!!

LeBron comes through again

I'm beating a dead horse, but LeBron James is proving his critics so irrefutably wrong, I can't ignore it.
You want clutch? You got clutch. You've gotten clutch in every Cavs win since coming back from last month's West Coast trip, where B.J. Armstrong and his legion of fellow jocks-turned-talking-heads first made the assertion that LeBron is not a clutch player.
In last night's 97-91 win in Minnesota, LeBron scored 12 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, outscoring and outdueling none other than Kevin Garnett, who finished with 21 points and 1-for-5 shooting in the fourth quarter.
The Timberwolves were breathing down Cleveland's neck with 36 second to go, as a 6-0 run drew Minnesota to within 90-88. Much like he did against Milwaukee on Monday, LeBron took the ball on the ensuing possession and blew past the entire defense for the winning bucket, swooping to the basket for a don't-even-try-to-contest-this left-handed layup to make it 92-88.
The basket forced the Timberwolves to foul on each possession thereafter. Zydrunas Ilgauskas and James cashed the game out with four consecutive free throws.
Maybe that isn't clutch enough for Armstrong, a former barnacle on the butt of Michael Jordan. But that's why Armstrong's career was basically over after 1994, when Jordan began his baseball hiatus.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

MNF announcers

Tuesday, we got all the evidence we need that Monday Night Football is undergoing a transformation from a weekly national event to just another football game.
Monday Night Football announcers used to be icons, or at the very least household names: Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, Keith Jackson, Frank Gifford, Al Michaels, John Madden.
Even -- ahem -- Dennis Miller.
So, with ABC bowing out after 36 years, who is ESPN going to trot into the broadcast booth next season?
Mike Tirico, Tony Kornheiser and Joe Theismann.
I don't have a problem with Tirico as the play-by-play man. He's a polished, personable announcer with experience covering a number of sports. Kind of a younger version of Michaels.
Kornheiser and Theismann together as the color guys? That's another story.
Tirico might be overpowered by the hyper-opinionated bullhorns of his booth-mates. Kornheiser is used to shouting down and cutting off co-host Mike Wilbon on "Pardon the Interruption." Theismann has a history of abrasive commentary that could set Kornheiser into full debate-team mode.
Can you imagine Theismann snapping off a "John Riggins was a better running back than Jerome Bettis" comment during a telecast, or the like? It might be a semi-outlandish assertion, but for Kornheiser the argument would be on. Touchdown drives, interceptions, it probably wouldn't matter what was going on down below. Kornheiser and Theismann would determine a winner if it took until the end of the game. Tirico might as well head to the media lounge and get some coffee.
ESPN obviously wants talkative, opinionated commentators for its telecasts. But there is a time and place for Kornheiser's brand of commentary, and I question whether it's in the broadcast booth when the game is supposed to be the focus, not "would T.O. be a good fit for one of the teams?"
The object of a broadcast booth team is the opposite of what Kornheiser does on "PTI." You are supposed to work with your colleagues to enhance the telecast, not try to verbally subdue them. I'm not saying Kornheiser can't make the adjustment, it just seems like a broadcast style that goes against his grain. And the quality of ESPN's telecasts might suffer because of it.
The ABC-ESPN two-headed monster has tried this before. The Dennis Miller experiment failed because, for all his extensive vocabulary, his football knowledge didn't extend beyond "yeah, that guy is pretty fast."
The Rush Limbaugh experiment was quickly killed after the infamous "Donovan McNabb gets a free ride from the media because he's black" comment. Again, a bad mismatch of commentator and job.
ESPN, I think, is looking for the next Cosell. A brash, fearless, opinionated announcer with sports knowledge. But Cosell wasn't just good at spouting out what he thinks. He was also an excellent announcer and interviewer with an unforgettable delivery.
With Kornheiser, as with Miller and Limbaugh, ESPN might be looking for love in all the wrong places.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Cavaliers 89, Bucks 86

You know when a team loses a game it should have won, and all the doomsdayers and naysayers say, "at the end of the season, they might look back at this one"?
The Cavaliers have had plenty of losses like that this year. The gag against New York in early January. The close losses to the Lakers, Blazers and Nuggets on the West Coast swing.
Last night, however, the Cavs had a win they might look back upon at the end of the season.
Monday's 89-86 win over the Bucks is important in a couple of ways: It keeps the Cavs three games up on Milwaukee for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. It was a game they could very easily have let slip away. Most importantly, it won the season series over Milwaukee 3-1, giving the Cavs the tiebreak should the two teams finish the season with identical records.
The Cavs are now 9-2 against the Central Division, having won the season series from both the Bucks and Pacers.
A winning divisional record is important when you are jockeying for playoff positioning. Are you taking notes, Eric Wedge?
Monday's game had a playoff feel to it. A lot of sportscasters say that about a lot of games, but this truly felt like a first-round playoff preview. There was a see-saw, ebb-and-flow to the game. The Cavs would make a run, knocking the lead out to double digits, but the Bucks would come storming back with unlikely contributions from guards Bobby Simmons and Charlie Bell, who picked up the slack for Michael Redd. Redd was the primary focus of the Cavs' defense. He finished with a respectable 18 points, but was shut down for much of the game.
Like a lot of playoff games, Monday's game ended in a stare down. The Bucks went on an 11-0 run to take the lead on a T.J. Ford jumper with 30 seconds to play.
These were the situations the Cavs were failing in during the West Coast trip. Remember how the media and fans were riding LeBron James for missing game-winners on that trip. Well, he got one Monday.
No, it wasn't a buzzer-beater, a stupid, contrived litmus test for how meaningful a basket should be considered. But the play displayed everything that is unstoppable about LeBron. He dribbled up top, looking for a seam, found it down the left side of the lane, and exploded to the hoop.
Once he turned the corner around Simmons, there was no way any Buck was going to stop him without fouling him. He tossed the layup in off the glass for an 87-86 lead.
The Bucks had a chance to answer with less than 20 seconds remaining, but Anderson Varejao stepped up. More exactly, he fell down.
No player in the NBA spends more time with his butt, back and shoulders on the floor than Varejao. But he makes his falls count. He is showing a propensity for floppery that probably makes the greatest European players jealous. And no flop was more important than the one he took when Redd gave him a forearm to the chest with 11 seconds left.
No sooner had Varejao's moptop grazed the floor than the referee jabbed his arm toward the other end of the floor, signaling a Redd charge.
LeBron took the ensuing inbounds pass, sucked the defense toward him, then found a wide open Donyell Marshall for an uncontested dunk to seal the game.
It was the type of game the Cavs should file away for late April and early May, when a LeBron bucket or Varejao flop could make the difference between advancing or going home for the summer.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Injuries and trades

The news that Cavaliers guard Luke Jackson might out until the end of March with a broken wrist isn't the gut-shot that the loss of Larry Hughes was. Jackson, after all, has been inconsistent at best, a bit player with on-again, off-again minutes.
But it still thins out the Cleveland bench a bit more, and makes the question of whether GM Danny Ferry will make a move before the Feb. 23 trading deadline all the more pressing.
The Cavs have no Hughes until around the start of March, no Jackson until the end of March or later. Compounding that is center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who dislocated the ring finger on his shooting hand last week against Miami. He has played with no noticeable ill effects since then, but no one knows the long-term ramifications.
(It might be a case of an inch being all the difference. Ilgauskas dislocated his ring finger and can still shoot the basketball. Last year, he dislocated his middle finger and it wreaked havoc with his shot.)
This is a Cavs team that knows how to win, but can't sustain it on the floor. The result is a streaky team that might win 50 games or might win 40, depending on how they finish the season. A key addition or two could go far to stabilizing the team's play.
ESPN's Greg Anthony spent half a column last week bellyaching about the Cavs' lack of a star point guard and how it would stop them from being a factor come playoff time. While Anthony has somewhat of a point, he also does a disservice to Eric Snow, who has been solid if not a stat-sheet stuffer.
No doubt, having a Mike Bibby, Stephon Marbury or Allen Iverson up top would make the Cavs a much better team. But let's be realistic. The odds of Ferry pulling off a deadline deal of that magnitude are almost nil. Even if he could, he'd have to decimate the team to do it.
In Ferry shoes, I'd take my chances with Snow at the point and try to deepen the bench. A trade like that is workable, and the Cavs have some pieces that could make it happen.
When trading for bench help, a team needs to take the approach of the Indians, who almost always make a trade through the scope of how it will benefit the team two and three years from now.
In other words, no more Jiri Welsch "OK, you're a shooter, you'll do" trades like last year. I'd much rather see a youngster who could be developed by Mike Brown into an eventual starter.
One trade rumor that keeps surfacing is Drew Gooden for Chicago's Chris Duhon.
It's a difficult proposition to trade Gooden, who has been a productive member of this year's team. But he's a restricted free agent after this year and could be eyeing some big money on the open market. Ferry has to watch to whom he commits long-term dollars. He already has Hughes, Ilgauskas, Snow, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones inked long-term. A long-term contract offer is on the horizon to LeBron James, one that might make him the highest-paid player in the league. Factor all that together, and the Cavs could be over the salary cap for a while, subjected to paying the dreaded NBA luxury tax.
With that in mind, trading Gooden could lessen the financial noose on the Cavs. Whether it's for Duhon or another youngster with upside, it would still give the Cavs a deeper bench.
The obvious downside is what happens to Gooden's minutes. Anderson Varejao, Marshall and Alan Henderson would not fill his role completely, resulting in a power-forward-by-committee until (hopefully) Varejao matures into a starter by next year.
(That's the other issue. Varejao is a free agent in the summer of 2007. Money will need to be committed to him.)
I am proposing a deal that would package Gooden and recently-resurgent Sasha Pavlovic for a youngster with star potential, one who might be the point guard that someday runs the floor with LeBron and Hughes.

Super Bowl XL champions

Congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks, who defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers last night 20-17, winning their first-ever Super Bowl title. The Seahawks had some clock management problems at the end of the first half, but they won the statistical battle and the game.
Seattle set the tone early with a first-quarter touchdown reception by Darrell Jackson to make it 7-0. Though replays showed Jackson giving his defender a little stiff-arm, the officials never considered nullifying the reception with an outlandish pass intereference call.
In the second quarter, the Seahawks responded to a Pittsburgh first-and-goal with a great defensive stand. On third down, Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger ran left and tried to muscle the ball over the goal line, but was unsuccessful by a fraction of an inch. The officials reviewed the play upstairs, but couldn't come up with enough evidence to overturn the ruling. Pittsburgh had to settle for a chip-shot field goal and trailed 7-3.
As time expired in the first half, Seattle kicker Josh Brown nailed a field goal in perfect, windless dome conditions for a 10-3 Seattle lead.
Pittsburgh tied the game at 10 on a 75-yard touchdown run by Willie Parker in the third quarter, the longest TD run in Super Bowl history. But the tie was short-lived.
The next Steeler series, with the Seahawks once again pinned against the goal line, Seattle corner Kelly Herndon plucked a wobbly Roethlisberger pas out of the air and raced 76 yards. The interception set up Seattle's second touchdown to make it 17-10.
Brown later followed with another dead-red field goal in those climate-controlled dome conditions, a 50-yarder to extend Seattle's lead to 20-10 in the fourth quarter.
Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck was later picked off deep in Steeler territory. On the ensuing drive,The Steelers reached into their grab bag for a gadget play, trying desperately to stay afloat as their championship hopes began slipping away.
The reverse TD pass from Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward drew the Steelers to within three at 20-17, but time was running out. Seattle began using the running tandem of Shaun Alexander and Mack Strong to wear down the clock. Pittsburgh got the ball back for one last heave, but a Roethlisberger hail mary fell well short of field foal range on fourth down.
Hasselbeck took a knee to seal the Seahawk win. Jubilant owner Paul Allen joined coach Mike Holmgren and MVP Hasselbeck on the dais at the 50-yard-line.
"This is a great moment for the city of Seattle, and for the entire Pacific Northwest," said Holmgren as he hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy high over his head. Holmgren becomes the first coach to win a Super Bowl with two different teams.
In the Steeler locker room, Joey Porter racked up an unprecedented $325,000 in fines as he lit into the refs, calling them "blind old farts" who "should either be dead or in a nursing home," among other things we can't print here.
Outside Ford Field, drunk tanks began filling up with irate Steeler fans who had started throwng half-full cans of Iron City Beer at anything that even remotely resembled a windshield.
And in Cleveland, we all slept well.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Super Bowl musings

It's Super Bowl Sunday. Time for people who aren't Steelers or Seahawks fans to consume beer, feast on cocktail shrimp and pizza, and lose $10 because they drew the 5-by-5 square in their office's Super Bowl score picks.
The guys watch the game. The girls watch the commercials for Matthew McCougnahey sightings. And Cleveland fans like myself prepare to lob things at the TV set when Ben Roethlisberger hooks up with Hines Ward for a Steeler touchdown.
It's like Christmas, except there's no presents and the alcohol is a lot cheaper (Out: Bailey's. In: PBR) In that spirit, here are some random Super Bowl thoughts as the hours wind down to kickoff:

It's good to be No. 12
The first thing you should notice when sizing up the Super Bowl matchup is the absence of a starting quarterback with jersey No. 12.
It's too bad for Messers Roethlisberger (No. 7) and Hasselbeck (No. 8). No. 12 is a cherished number in the annals of Super Bowl history. No other number has been on the jersey of the winning QB as often:

Bob Griese (twice)
Terry Bradshaw (four times)
Roger Staubach (twice)
Tom Brady (three times)
Ken Stabler
Joe Namath
Doug Williams

Every champion quarterback from Super Bowl VI through Super Bowl XIV wore No. 12. If you were wondering the track record of today's QB numbers, they've been on top, too. But the ledger favors Hasselbeck's No. 8 slightly.

No. 7:
John Elway (twice)
Joe Theismann

No. 8:
Troy Aikman (three times)
Steve Young
Trent Dilfer

Stay away from the Ohio Turnpike this evening. It's not so much the lake effect snow we've been getting as the hordes of drunk Steeler fans who will be making a mass-exodus out of Detroit after the game. If you live in Toledo, I suggest staying as far away from I-75 as possible.

And for the six Seahawk fans who will be at the game tonight, yes there are places to get sushi and a cappuccino east of the Mississippi. Just not the same place.

Sorry, that was a cheap shot at Seattle. I don't doubt you are devoted to your team, and I know all of you aren't millionaire dot-com executives who wear Dockers 365 days a year. But if you take a tour of downtown Detroit, that thing that looks like a burned-out building isn't modern art. Don't tell that slovenly-looking guy in a trench coat that you love his work.

Actor Haley Joel Osment hasn't been wrong in six years of Super Bowl predictions. He predicts a 31-21 win for Pittsburgh.

If the prognostication of a teen actor isn't enough, Jamie Foxx, Jack Nicklaus, John Kerry, Condoleezza Rice, LeBron James, Placido Domingo, Shaquille O'Neal and Bill O'Reilly also pick the Steelers.

Seattle-area resident Bill Gates understandably picks the Seahawks. And he's rich enough to own everybody listed above. Checkmate.

As for my own prediction, I'm taking Sultan's Harlot in the fifth at Pimlico.

Finally, I have to hand it to fellow BGSU blogmeister Matt Sussman, who predicted a Seattle win today based on the the Scrabble word value of Hasselbeck's name against that of Roethlisberger. His unique take on Super Bowl predictions got him noticed by columnists for the Seattle Times and Los Angeles Times, his name getting published in the latter.
It's a quirky but marketable idea. Sussman's own, personal "jump to conclusions" mat.

Friday, February 03, 2006


Public relations rule No. 1: if you are a high-ranking public relations official in a professional sports organization, and you plan to disseminate a racially-charged e-mail, make sure you don't accidentally send it to the media.

Winter thaw

The Cleveland weather forecast is white for one of the few times this winter. Areas east of the city could have over a foot of snow by nightfall tomorrow.
No matter. Winter's grip is bound to loosen. The truck that carries the Indians' bats, balls, uniforms and bubble gum to Winter Haven, Fla. pulled out of town today.
The Coco Crisp-less Indians will begin spring training in 13 days when pitchers and catchers report.
The off-season work of GM Mark Shapiro is winding down. Those Jake Westbrook-for-Austin Kearns rumors appear to be just that. The Indians might add an outfielder in spring training, but Shapiro will likely let the bulk of spring training play out before he decides on making a move.
The focus will soon shift to the guys in uniform: manager Eric Wedge and his players.
It will be the outset of a very interesting season for the Tribe, one that will go a long way to determine if the Shapiro-led rebuilding project can yield a perennial playoff contender, even when inhibited by a lack of funding from ownership.
Expectations are high. The Indians won 93 games and were a last-week collapse from making the playoffs last year. But several of the players who played a large part in last year's run -- namely Crisp, Kevin Millwood and Bob Howry -- are gone.

The good news: The backbone of the lineup and starting rotation remains intact. Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez both hit .305 last year. Jhonny Peralta and Grady Sizemore arrived with breakout years. Ronnie Belliard proved 2004 was not a fluke, and pitchers C.C. Sabathia and 18-game-winner Cliff Lee make up the front of the rotation along with playoff-tested Paul Byrd.

The bad news: Casey Blake is still in right field. Left field could be a platoon of part-timers Todd Hollandsworth and Jason Michaels. The durable Howry has been replaced by talented-but-fragile Guillermo Mota in the all-important eighth-inning setup role. Arthur Rhodes is gone. Wedge will be relying on reclamation projects Danny Graves and Steve Karsay to round out the bullpen. Closer Bob Wickman might have caught lightning in a bottle with his 45-save season last year. Sooner or later, his body is going to realize it's overweight and pushing 40.

More good news, at least possibly: The Indians have a group of talented youngsters at Class AAA Buffalo who might be ready to contribute this year. Andy Marte's ability has just about made scouts drool on their notebooks. If Aaron Boone continues his slow decline toward has-been status, Shapiro shouldn't hesitate to promote his newfound third-base prodigy. Ryan Garko can rake, but where he will play defensively remains a question. Franklin Gutierrez might be a long-term replacement for Crisp.
Pitchers Jason Davis, Fausto Carmona and Jeremy Sowers are waiting in the wings to round out the starting rotation and bullpen as needed. But understandably, Wedge probably would rather give jobs to veterans out of spring training. Dress rehearsal is over. It's time for this team to contend.

Good news or bad news: Fans are poised to pounce one way or the other. This season, the fans will either embrace a winner, or reject a team that, as they feared, took a major step backward this winter. Another season of double-digit Central Division deficits to the White Sox won't help matters. Season ticket sales are predictably up following last year's success, but baseball fans in Cleveland have shown they will embrace a winner and spurn a loser with equal passion. The Tribe's financial lifeblood, ticket revenue, hangs in the balance.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A very bad year

Forget the Indians and Braves. Nevermind the Chiefs and Redskins. Now, there is a whole new sports nickname to be offended by. Something so vile, so disgusting, it will leave the taste of moldy enchiladas in your mouth for days.
Enter the evil lair of the Houston 1836, the newest Major League Soccer team, relocated from San Jose.
I'm offended by it, but for reasons entirely different than the Hispanic community of southeastern Texas. So let me get my beef out of the way.
History tells us that when naming a sports team after a year, you must always follow it with the suffix "-ers." That turns into an active noun denoting people doing something associated with that year. The 49ers means 1849 gold prospectors in northern California. The 76ers means the founders of America.
The 1836 sounds like a self-important street address, kind of like "The Donald." It sounds like an adjective with no noun to modify.
I realize soccer nicknames aren't like nicknames in other sports. Americans want ferocious animals and monochromatic stockings in their sports monikers. Soccer offers F.C. this and United that, so we'll never see eye to eye with Europe on that front. But, still, when I see "The 1836," I want to say "The 1836 what?"
OK, enough of my issues. Let's get to the real party. You see, across most of the country, 1836 was a year with a lot of farming, hunting, cholera and other things associated with a growing nation in 19th Century. But in Texas, it was a year of bloodshed.
Texas broke away from Mexico that year, igniting a war that cost Texas Davey Crockett and The Alamo. Many white settlers died in that war, and many more Mexicans, which is why they now curse us with Taco Bell.
Apparently, members of the Hispanic community believe that, by naming a Houston sports team "The 1836," the team owners are celebrating a war that cost uncounted Mexican lives and fractured Mexico. Sort of like Jewish people being upset over a Berlin soccer team being dubbed "The 1939."
A Houston Spanish newspaper flippantly asked if the next step was to be a soccer team called the "New Orleans Hurricanes."
Oliver Luck, a former Houston Oilers quarterback who is the 1836's general manager, said the team name was aimed at embracing Texas history. Raul Ramos, a University of Houston professor, wrote an op-ed piece in The Houston Chronicle stating that the team apparently wants Hispanic fans, but "on (the teams) own terms."
Several readers lashed back at Ramos with letters to the editor, prompting this response on FoxSports.com:

"The team's name is something of a litmus test," said Ramos wanly. "If you disagree with this singular opinion of Texas Independence, then you're not a good American. But in a multicultural America, Americans can hold differing views of the same event. I spoke up because these should be questions not just for Latinos, but for all Americans, about how could we be more inclusive."

Is it another case of dense white folks being insensitive to the concerns of other ethnic groups, or are we being forced to walk on PC eggshells again? Or should the 1836's owners just split the difference and name the team the Houston 1800-somethings?

10 games over, once again

With last night's win over New Jersey, the Cavaliers reached 10 games over .500 for the first time this season at 27-17.
It matches the high-water mark from last season, six games earlier. The Cavs made it to 30-20 and matched at 31-21 before their epic slide began. So we can be forgiven for doing the Cleveland thing and holding our breath until that little "X" appears next to the Cavs in the standings, denoting a clinched playoff berth.
Last season taught me to reserve judgment until the whole season plays out. It also taught me the value of not placing expectations on a team that hasn't proven anything yet. Last year, I viewed missing the playoffs as unacceptable. Guess what? The unacceptable happened. And there wasn't a thing in the world my moaning and bellyaching was going to change about that.
This year, I just want the Cavs to go as far as they can go. Is that 40 wins? 50 wins? The fourth seed? The sixth seed? A first-round series win? A complete, total, distastrous implosion like last year? I don't know, and I'm content with that.
Reviews are mixed on the Cavs to this point, which is understandable considering the streaky season they have had. The Cavs play with tremendous confidence for a couple of weeks, then lose an embarrassing game and reel for a couple of weeks. That's a sign of a team that needs to mature and grow together.
Right now, the Cavs' confidence is at a season high like their record. They have exorcised some demons on their seven-game winning streak by beating Indiana twice, followed by New Jersey. They notched an impressive win over Phoenix on Sunday.
Everything seems to be coming together for the rest of the season. The loss of Larry Hughes to hand surgery has made the team stronger, forcing weak links like Sasha Pavlovic and Damon Jones to step up and start producing, which should make the bench that much stronger once Hughes returns. Anderson Varejao has returned to his energetic form after coming back from shoulder surgery.
Did we mention LeBron James is better than ever? The King averaged almost 33 points per game in January.
The schedule is also more user-friendly. A back-to-back with the Pistons at the end of this month is the biggest remaining hurdle in the schedule. The grueling West Coast road trips are done.
Does it sound like I'm getting too high? I'm trying not to. The items I listed above are the facts. That's all I'm stating. The rest is up to LeBron, his teammates, coach Mike Brown and GM Danny Ferry, who could still make a move before the Feb. 23 trade deadline.
I'd like to see May basketball around these parts, something we really haven't had since the early '90s. But I'm not expecting it. I'm just going to go with the flow. I hope.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Job posting

If you or anybody you know is a journalist, just out of school or looking to gain a toehold in the biz, The Medina County Gazette has a job opening.
My editor is looking for someone to cover the southern tier of Medina County, a beat that includes the city of Wadsworth and the villages of Seville and Lodi. The pay is entry-level, but the opportunities to write and build a clip file are many.

Anyone interested should send resume, cover letter and clips to the attention of Liz Sheaffer, managing editor at:

The Medina County Gazette
885 West Liberty St.
Medina, OH 44256.

Tell her you got the job posting from Erik's blog.

Super Bowl no-show

Space. Alaska. Cleveland. The final frontier.
Last week, I wrote about the six teams that have yet to reach the Super Bowl. But being a part of that select group of rejects just isn't special enough for Cleveland.
Nope. We're in a class by ourselves. As if we didn't know that already.
Of the six NFL cities who have yet to see their team go to the Super Bowl, five of them -- Phoenix, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Houston and Detroit -- have hosted the big game.
That leaves Cleveland as the only NFL city to neither have hosted nor played in the Super Bowl.
Forty years, and zero direct connections to football's prized game. You think dynasties take work to build? Try remaining completely separate from the Super Bowl for four decades in a league with only 31 other competitors.
The law of averages would have to catch up to you sooner or later, right? But in Cleveland, "law of averages" is an entirely different term.
Spending four decades as a Super Bowl isolationist takes work on the part of the local football team, the city government, and a couple harsh slaps in the face from Lady Luck.

The Browns' part
Since the NFL merger in 1970, the Browns' front office has screwed up draft pick after draft pick. Sure, we've had the occassional Ozzie Newsome, but more often we've seen draft picks used on Mike Junkin, Clifford Charlton and Gerard Warren. One draft pick, Don Rogers in 1986, died of a drug overdose less than a year later, and another, Jeremiah Pharms in 2001, was thrown in the clink before he could even ink a contract.
Art Modell had a nasty habit of spending money he didn't have. His line of credit eventually gave way to stifling debt that caused him to borrow more money from minority owners Bob Gries and Al Lerner. Not wanting to leave son David with a choking debt, he sought a financial windfall that would cure all his long-term money problems.
Baltimore came calling, and the rest is history. Cleveland football has been in a state of upheaval ever since.

Cleveland's part
We could have had a domed stadium in the mid-'80s. A domed stadium would have prevented Modell's move and Cleveland would have hosted one or two Super Bowls by now.
Instead, funding couldn't be secured and the idea died on the drawing board. A new idea was concieved, but the Browns were left out.
While the Indians and Cavaliers received posh new downtown digs as part of the Gateway project, the Browns got stuck with dilapidated Cleveland Stadium. That fried Modell, since the Browns were pretty much the only game in town from the '60s through the '80s.
Modell continued to make subtle threats about pulling out of Cleveland, but the administration of former Mayor Mike White kept dragging their feet, trying to call Modell's bluff up until 1994, when it was too late.
A new stadium was hastily constructed on the site of the old stadium, eating up a choice section of lakefront real estate for another 50-to-75 years. The biting winter winds off Lake Erie and lack of even a partial roof make Cleveland Browns Stadium a no-go for hosting the Super Bowl.

Luck's part
We need no primer on this. January has not been kind to the Browns:
Red Right 88. The Drive. The Fumble. A 37-21 loss to the Broncos in the 1989 AFC title game. An 0-5 record in games that would have sent the Browns to the Super Bowl. Playoff eliminations at the hands of the Steelers after the 1994 and 2002 seasons. And a whole lot of sucking in between.