Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Morning After: Houston

Texans 14, Browns 6
Final record: 4-12

For once, the Browns did what they were supposed to do.

With the season lost, the Browns could easily have finished with two bunny-shot wins over Tampa Bay and Houston, pumping their record to 6-10 and dropping their draft position as low as ninth.

But they did the right thing, dropping the last two and lining themselves up to draft as high as fourth.

Now, the real test begins: Can the Browns do the right thing, resist the impulse to make a sexy selection with that high pick, and go after offensive linemen high in the draft? Finally?

Adrian Peterson, Ted Ginn and Troy Smith are fine talents. Smith might be the answer the Browns have been looking for at quarterback. All would look good in Browns uniforms. But, for the forty thousandth time since this franchise resumed operation eight years ago, what in the name of Mike Trivisonno smoking Cubans with Carmen Policy in vineyard humidor is going to change if the Browns don't draft linemen to protect them and open holes?

Nothing. Nada. Not one thing. Are you listening, Phil Savage? Assuming you're still in control of the roster when April rolls around.

The thing is, I'm not so worried that Savage is going to be swayed by Ginn, Peterson or Smith. I'm worried that he'll fall in love with some defensive stud he finds. Granted, the Browns can always use shoring up on the defensive line and in the cornerback corps. But the fortunes of this franchise will simply not change until they draft offensive linemen, early and often.

This is the bullet the Browns must bite. No stud pass rushers this year. No quarterbacks, no wide receivers, no running backs, nothing of the sort on the first day. Unless an impasse is reached in the conference room during postseason meetings, Savage will probably get one more draft, as will Crennel, and they must cash in.

The bar has been set at 6-10, the Browns' record a year ago. They have fallen short of that with a four-win debacle of a season this year. For Savage and Crennel to last past 2007, they must get this team to .500 next year.

That's progress. It's still possible, but it seems much farther away after what transpired this season. But it will require a lot of growth and compromise on the part of Savage and Crennel.

They must develop an outlook rooted in pragmatism more than an ideal picture of the dominant defense both want to craft. You still need to move the ball on offense. And to do that, you need a young, deep, talented offensive line.

If Savage learns that lesson between now and the draft, and can stick to his guns on draft day, this organization will be much better off in the coming years. If not, it's going to be more of the same shtick, and the Browns will once again be holding open casting calls for a GM and coach a year from now.

Up next: We'll see

Saturday, December 30, 2006

This 'N That: Cavs

Today begins a periodic column of assorted flotsam and jetsam that can't carry an entire column on its own. The Cavaliers are my test case for the inaugural "This 'N That."

Mike Fratello? You should hope not.
A couple of days ago, I said to prepare yourself for the oncoming onslaught of "Mike Fratello back to the Cavs" rumors.

I still think it's going to happen if Mike Brown keeps following four wins in five games with four losses in five games. I also think the rumors will be rooted in nothing more than senimentality.

We all loved Mikey while he was here. Not necessarily his brand of basketball, but we loved Mikey the man. His charisma, his slicked-back hair, his love of calamari. It made us feel like a cast member of "GoodFellas" was coaching the Cavs.

But Fratello is the last thing the Cavs need right now.

Everything that draws our ire about Brown is everything that cost Fratello his job in Memphis. Fratello never adapted to his personnel. He was maniacally obsessed with defense on a club that was loaded with offensive weapons. The Grizzlies were psychologically crushed by the loss of their star player, and Fratello could do nothing to pull his team up by the bootstraps and get them to at least tread water until Pau Gasol came back.

In short, Fratello wouldn't bring much more to the table than Brown does right now.

Something is amiss between Brown and Scot Pollard.
I have no conclusive evidence, but you have to wonder why an experienced veteran who excels in the frontcourt defense and rebounding the Cavs so desperately need is glued to the bench, inactive for three out of every four games.

Pollard knew he wasn't going to see as much playing time as he did with Sacramento and Indiana, but he told The Plain Dealer last week that even he is confused by his Jay Guidinger status at the very end of the bench.

Brown keeps trying to sell Pollard as an insurance policy should the team lose a member of its frontcourt to injury. But that theory was blown out of the water Friday against Milwaukee, when Anderson Varejao missed the game due to a neck injury and Pollard was left inactive in favor of D-leaguer Dwayne Jones.

Pollard is known as an outspoken, tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy. Perhaps he's uttered a few things during practice that rubbed Brown the wrong way? Time will tell, but it would not surprise me at all if Pollard finishes the season with another team. That would be a shame for the Cavs.

Someone please explain the Central phenomenon.
The Cavs are the anti-Browns and anti-Indians. While Cleveland's football and baseball teams have been notorious for their intradivisional struggles in recent years, the Cavs have handled their divisional rivals quite well. Heading into Saturday's game against the Bulls, the Cavs are 3-2 against the Central Division, including blowout home wins over the Bulls and Pacers.

A 3-2 record might not seem so spectacular, but in the ultra-competitive Central, if the Cavs can finish the season above .500 within the division, it will be a good year.

The following exchange took place Saturday night on WTAM's "SportsLine" show. Chuck Galeti was the host and the caller was an older woman:

Galeti: WTAM

Caller (after a pause): Hello?

Galeti: Hello?

Caller: Is this the Nick Mileti show?

Galeti (taken aback for a second): Do you like Nick Mileti?

Caller: I like him when he does the news on TV.

Galeti: Yep. This is the Nick Mileti show.

Have a happy new year, everyone.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Fratello fired by Grizzlies

After leading the Memphis Grizzlies to a 6-24 record through 30 games, Mike Fratello has become the first coaching casualty of the NBA season.

Where one door closes, however, another might open. At least in the minds of Cleveland fans.

Fratello is still fondly remembered in Cleveland, and still maintains ties to the area. Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry played for Fratello for six seasons.

If Mike Brown can't steady the Cavs' ship, expect the "Fratello to the Cavs" rumor machine to get warmed up in a hurry, for better or worse.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Feeding the misery monster

A couple of years ago, a book was published called "Curses: Why Cleveland Fans Deserve To Be Miserable."

I've always hated that title.

Who deserves to be miserable? Who wants to deserve to be miserable?

"Congratulations, Cleveland! For enduring 42 years without a title and counting, you have earned the right to be depressed, sulk and whine, wallow in a bottomless pit of self-loathing and self-pity that will make every other fan base in the country hate you, always look on the dark side, even when your team is winning, and on the occasion you come into contact with the fan of another, more successful team, you get to hurl insults, curses, and throw things at them. Maybe even slug them if you're drunk enough and they're a Steelers fan.

"Have fun, Cleveland. You've earned it."

You know how you despised Boston fans for reminding you, at every turn, just how deprived they were because they went 86 years between World Series titles? Well, don't look now Cleveland, but you are becoming a postmodern Red Sox Nation, in love with your own misery.

I first started noticing it when the Indians were in the midst of their 1990s playoff run. Cleveland fans utterly refused to take even a shred of pride in those teams because they didn't win a World Series. To hear most Cleveland fans talk about those teams, that was an era of failure, and John Hart's legacy is his inability to find an ace pitcher. That, and trading Brian Giles for Ricardo Rincon.

The six division titles and two AL pennants those teams won in a seven-year span is a historic accomplishment, even if it was aided by weak AL Central competition. Few teams, outside of the Yankees and Braves, can ever hope to surpass the accomplishments of those Indians teams from 1995 to 2001. But Cleveland fans will have none of it.

It continues today. The Cavaliers have the most important athlete in Cleveland's history since Jim Brown. But instead of enjoying what LeBron James brings to the hardwood every game, we are once again getting lost in the misery of what might be.

The Cavs might be backsliding after a solid playoff run last spring. Mike Brown might be a bad choice as a head coach. LeBron might be upset with the offense. Larry Hughes might be a flop as LeBron's sidekick. LeBron might be a Net in 2010. We might have to sit back and watch LeBron win a zillion championships after he leaves Cleveland.

Before you know it, 2010 will be here, and every chance you had to marvel at LeBron's talent in a Cleveland uniform could be gone.

See a pattern developing here? It's not just Cleveland's teams that squander opportunities. The fans are right there with them.

You might not think much of the concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy, but I put some stock in it. If you expect bad things to happen, you'll probably get what you expect. That's not to say that if you believe Cleveland teams will win championships, it will magically happen. But professional sports teams are comprised of human beings, and they feed off the mood of the town, whether it's positive or negative.

Cleveland fans are in need of repeated doses of perspective. You can start by looking at one of our favorite poster boys for just how bad we think things are.

Gary Baxter spent weeks in the Cleveland Clinic recovering from the now-famous double-blowout of his patellar tendons in October. He made his return to the public eye Tuesday night on his self-titled WTAM radio show.

During his time in the hospital, Baxter did some mentoring of kids who really have problems, and not one of them had to do with Mike Brown's offense, Larry Hughes' jump shot or a 4-11 football team.

And many of those kids, possibly dying, were probably happier than your average Cleveland sports fan.

He related a story of a little girl who ran around her hospital room playing, telling people without flinching, without crying, "I'm sick."

Baxter said he heard "code blue" calls go out. It probably never totally left his mind that he was in a place where people die every day.

And yet, that place of sickness and death, that place where healing comes so slowly and sparingly, was more hopeful than Cleveland Browns Stadium on a Sunday afternoon.

And then you realize why Baxter, even after suffering a compound injury that has happened only once prior in NFL history, never once said "Why me?"

And maybe that's the lesson for Cleveland fans to learn. Why you? Why your town? Well, maybe it's not all about you and how hard you've had it. And maybe it's time to start figuring out what's worth enjoying in this short life.

Maybe it's time to start paying forward the positive instead of wallowing in the negative. And maybe you shouldn't wait for the teams in this town to give you a reason to change. Make your own reason. And make them follow you.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Morning After: Tampa Bay

Buccaneers 22, Browns 7
Record: 4-11

It must be that special time of year in Browns Town.

The compression boots are hung by the chimney with care. Athletic tape adorns the tree. Ice packs are stowed in the freezer alongside a turkey with all the trimmings.

The whirlpool is humming, and somewhere, an arthroscopic surgeon is limbering his wrist to get his joint insertion technique just right.

Oh, and every surface is being wiped down with disinfectant to make sure that nobody, under any circumstances, contracts a career-threatening postoperative staph infection.

It's time for Injurymas. The yearly celebration conducted every December, where half the Browns roster gets a jump start on the offseason by suffering some kind of bone, muscle or joint malady.

Romeo Crennel loves Injurymas. It means he can make a case for a mulligan, saving his job for at least one more year, even as his team careens to a likely 4-12 record.

(Silly me, what am I saying? I forgot about the other yearly tradition: Let's-screw-ourselves-out-of-a-high-draft-pick-by-winning-the-last-game-of-the-season-mas. The Browns will almost certainly go 5-11 and drop to about ninth in the draft order.)

I could make the case right along with Crennel, but it's not like the annual avalanche of late-season entries onto injured reserve has really affected the Browns' play much. Prior to December, the Browns were a fractured band of punks, has-beens and never-will-be's. They had blockers who couldn't block, receivers who couldn't receive, quarterbacks who couldn't quarterback, tacklers who couldn't tackle, rushers who couldn't rush and coaches who couldn't coach.

Since the calendar has turned to December, the Browns are still all of the above. The only difference is it's third-stringers playing the fool instead of first-stringers. Healthy or injured, nothing has really changed. And we have to start asking ourselves, what is going to change next year if everything is kept status quo?

And I'm not just talking about Crennel.

Here's my question: Why do football teams seldom have fire sales? When it became apparent that the Indians' 2006 season was going to be a wash, team management set about trading virtually every marketable veteran to slash salary and stock up on young talent.

It's apparent that this current Browns cast of characters just isn't working out. I'd venture to say that by the time this team is good enough to win, not only will Crennel not be here, neither will Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow Jr., Reuben Droughns, Anrda Davis, Brian Russell, or any other semi-useful veteran currently on the roster.

So why not start pawning them off for draft picks? Don't trade every last one of them, but especially with regard to me-first players like Edwards and Winslow, guys who are hurting this team by their sheer attitude and sideshow antics, it might be worthwhile to dangle them if you can get an extra first- or second-rounder in the coming years.

You might cringe at the idea of another roster blowup, but again, ask yourself what is really going to change if everything is kept intact? Next year will be the same as this year. Uninspired play, injuries and losses piling on top of losses.

Who really cares if it's Edwards and Winslow running the routes, or Travis Wilson and Joe Jurevicius? It's all going to equal the same, sorry outcome if multiple high draft picks aren't committed to the offensive line.

The Browns need draft picks, and lots of them. Edwards, Winslow and company provide a valuable resource for the Browns to get those draft picks.

Are you basically grading your previous drafts a bust by trading your former first-rounders? Yes. But you are also saying that you are willing to keep trying until you get this thing right.

The Browns, quite simply, haven't gotten it right yet. All the injury mulligans in the world won't change that.

Up next: At Houston, Sunday, 1 p.m. (season finale)

(P.S. Merry Christmas, everyone. Despite how it looks now, things will get better for the Browns. And it will happen in your lifetime, believe it or not. Have a great holiday.)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Offensively defensive

The sheer density of professional-level coaches will never cease to amaze me.

Show them something they're doing wrong, and they'll show you that you don't know what you're talking about.

Most of them got to where they are by having tunnelvision. As Bob Knight said on a recent ESPN SportsCenter feature, "coaching doesn't take a lot of talent." He meant that in order to coach, you don't need to run fast or jump high, or be a dead-eye jump shooter. You simply have to believe wholeheartedly in what you are saying and get your players to believe it, too.

Our case studies today are two of Cleveland's own: Browns coach Romeo Crennel, and Cavaliers coach Mike Brown.

They preach the gospel of defense like St. Paul to the Ephesians. Games are won and lost on defense and only defense. Defense is both the chicken and the egg. It spawns the offense, it sets the table, it is the manna that sustains the team.

That's how they were taught. And they would be 100 percent right, if not for the pesky fact that neither one of their teams possess the personnel to muster than kind of defense.

The lack of a dominant defense that can singlehandedly produce wins means some of the burden falls on offensive execution. That's where Crennel and Brown start getting into trouble, and that's where their coaching philosophies start costing their teams wins.

Offense is foreign to Crennel and Brown. Neither speaks the language, neither has a history of coaching offense, neither has ever shown much interest in offense prior to becoming a head coach.

Now that they are head coaches, they have kind of been forced to look offense in the eye. And they have no idea what they are staring at.

Under Crennel and Brown, the offenses of the Browns and Cavs have been inconsistent at best, floating flotsam at worst. Game after game, the playcalling produces head-scratching. The Browns run Reuben Droughns into the line on third-and-10, down by multiple scores. The Cavs stand around while a dog-tired LeBron James dribbles and dribbles, trying to figure out how to make something happen.

If either the Browns or Cavs offense ever gets into a rhythm, it usually seems like an accident rather than the product of good coaching. Usually, the grooves are short-lived and don't offer much of a chance for reflection and analysis.

It doesn't take much video footage of the Browns or Cavs to realize their coaches don't have much of a clue about how to run an offense, and aren't very comfortable with offense. Yet neither coach has taken many steps to aid himself.

Crennel's first offensive coordinator was Maurice Carthon. He'd held the role in Dallas, but had never been the main playcaller until he arrived in Cleveland. He proved to be a colossal bust, better at rubbing his players the wrong way than calling plays. Crennel, out of loyalty, a dislike of change, or both, had to be convinced to fire Carthon midway through this season. His replacement is the more common sense-oriented but even less-experienced Jeff Davidson.

The Browns offense hasn't exactly flourished under Davidson, but at least Lawrence Vickers isn't attempting passes anymore.

Brown doesn't even have what you would consider an "offensive mind" on his staff. His top two assistants, Kenny Natt and Hank Egan, are frontcourt and defensive specialists, respectively.

Both Crennel and Brown are in their second seasons. Both have had ample time to discover what works and what doesn't work. An inexperienced, defensive-minded coach with no experienced offensive-minded top assistants doesn't work. Yet the Browns and Cavs continue to plod on with impotent offenses and coaching staffs that have few workable ideas of how to change that.

It's not as glaring of a problem with the Browns because their talent level isn't quite competitive yet. But if this Cavs season chokes to death on a lack of good offensive coaching, that's a big problem. There can be no wasted seasons with LeBron under contract.

It's time for Crennel and Brown to learn the most important lesson of organizational leadership: Hire people who excel where you are weak. It adds up to the net sum of making the organization stronger.

If they can't do that, or don't want to do that, they have to ask themselves: "Am I that dense, or am I afraid of bringing my potential replacement onto the staff?"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Right cross, black eye

Scot Pollard, who beared firsthand witness to the reputation-scarring melee that has henceforth become known as the "Malice at the Palace," said Saturday's Nuggets-Knicks brawl at Madison Square Garden is "even more stupid" than the 2004 Pacers-Pistons rumble.

"Ours was stupid, too, but it's even more stupid after what happened," Pollard told The Plain Dealer Tuesday. Pollard was a Pacers reserve that season.

At first blush, you'd think there's no way anything could top the flying fists and fans-versus-player action in Auburn Hills. But, when you think about it, the Cavs' Mohawk Man might be right.

The Palace brawl started because a fan threw his beverage on the wrong man: Ron Artest. Players in every sport get doused with errant cups of heaven-knows-what on a fairly regular basis. But it took one slimebucket's good aim and the notoriously unstable temper of Artest -- fueled by a simmering altercation with Ben Wallace -- to turn a campfire into an inferno that the NBA is still trying to douse.

Chalk it up to a perfect storm of circumstances.

Compare that with what happened in New York this past weekend, and you have the difference between a Willis McGahee knee injury, and a Nancy Kerrigan knee injury.

The Detroit-Indiana brawl was grisly to watch, but I doubt Artest laid on the scorer's table waiting for a drink to come flying at him so he could vault into the stands. The fight in New York, by contrast, was so rife with premeditation, all that was missing was an ex-husband of Tonya Harding, a hired hitman and a pipe wrench.

The sickest aspect of the whole brawl is the underlying theme of coach versus coach. Neither George Karl nor Isiah Thomas received suspension time for their roles in instigating the brawl, but every road seems to lead back to the boiling feud the two men have had since Thomas canned Karl's good friend Larry Brown this summer.

Why did Denver have their starters in so late in a game that was well in hand? Karl says it was because the Nuggets have trouble closing out games on the road and can't take a 19-point lead for granted even with less than four minutes remaining.

Coincidentally, the Cavs also have trouble closing out games on the road. Mike Brown, however, knows he would be hung by his bootstraps on Public Square if he left an already-fatigued LeBron James in the game with a 19-point lead in the closing minutes.

Brown wants to protect his superstar, and by extension, his job. I'd imagine that if you polled Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley or any other NBA coach who has a superstar player in his charge, you'd get much the same response.

Karl, however, was very obviously trying to step on the throat of Thomas' team to send a message involving nothing that concerns Karl, the Nuggets, or anyone on the Knicks roster. It was purely a personal vendetta.

That's Karl's unclaimed share of the blame. Now let's put a pair of richly-deserved crosshairs on Thomas.

Thomas has a long history of incendiary comments dating to his time as a player. That's fine when you're on the floor and trying to pilot your team past the Lakers for the NBA title. When you're on the sidelines and it's a nondescript regular-season game in the middle of December, threats like "don't go to the hole," as Thomas allegedly told Carmelo Anthony, seem like they belong in a childish game of street ball.

And that's exactly what the game devolved into. A playground fight.

First, there was the horse collar Mardy Collins put on J.R. Smith, which might or might not have been encouraged by Thomas. Smith, understandably, was upset. Chesting-up turned to shoving and words you wouldn't repeat in front of your mother, and the disrespect-fest was on.

It was bad enough when the wrestling spilled over into the baseline seats. But just as order was on the verge of being restored, Carmelo Anthony proved that you can take the player out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the player. With his crew thoroughly dissed, he flew in and sucker-punched Collins in the face, earning a 15-game suspension.

When it was all said and done, seven players were suspended for a total of 47 games, and to save their season, Denver had their hand forced into trading Joe Smith and Andre Miller for Allen Iverson.

That trade, by the way, isn't the blockbuster you might think. Not when Iverson and Anthony will both try to lead the league in scoring from the same starting lineup. Good luck dividing up the touches when 'Melo gets back, Mr. Karl.

It's a headache Karl deserves for his unpunished role in Saturday's black eye, which was delivered to the entire league, not just two teams.

Thomas' punishment? He gets to continue coaching the Knicks. Some might say that's punishment enough.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Morning After: Baltimore

Ravens 27, Browns 17
Record: 4-10
Final divisional record: 0-6

Last season, in their last divisional matchup against these same Baltimore Ravens, the Browns were able to save themselves from going winless in divisional play for the first time in franchise history.

But that was a Ravens team destined to finish tied with the Browns for last place. This season, with the Ravens on the doorstep of the playoffs, no such luck.

Sunday's loss dropped the Romeo Crennel-Phil Savage Browns to 1-11 within the AFC North. Winter, spring and most of summer will pass before the Browns get another chance to improve that record.

Of all the indictments you can have of Crennel and Savage in their two short seasons running the team, that AFC North record is the most damning.

Think about it. Think about all the terrible Browns teams that have existed throughout history, particularly the past 16 years. There was the Bud Carson-Jim Shofner 3-13 debacle of 1990. There was the 5-11 1995 Browns on the doorstep of moving. There was the 2-14 expansion Browns of 1999 and the 3-13 Browns of a year later.

Not once, not ever, did they manage to go winless in the division. Not once had the Browns managed just one divisional win in span of two years. Now, the streak is over.

Part of it is the landscape of the AFC North. It might not be the best division in the NFL, as was the popular opinion prior to the season, but you sure won't find a more competitive division.

With the resurgence of the Bengals, the Browns are now the only dreg in a division full of competitive teams. Imagine if the old AFC Central were still intact and the Browns also had to play the Jaguars and Titans twice a year. I think that's what the authors of the Bill of Rights had in mind when they outlawed cruel and unusual punishment.

Crennel and Savage get something of a mulligan for having to endure the vicious defenses of the Steelers and Ravens and the high-octane Bengals offense twice a year. But it's still no excuse for 1-11.

It's not just the losses. It's how they've lost. In three of six division games this year, the Browns were manhandled. They struggled to even put up a fight in two embarrassing losses to the Bengals and last week's drubbing in Pittsburgh.

It's hard to tell whether jitters or apathy is more to blame, whether the Browns are psyched out by their division rivals or try too hard to treat those six games like any others. What is apparent is they aren't approaching the all-important division schedule with the right mindset.

The irony is, take away the divisional record, and the Savage-Crennel Browns are actually mediocre -- a flat-level .500 record, no less.

In the past two seasons, the Browns are 9-9 outside the AFC North. It says the talent level on this team isn't as bad as we think it is, and the divisional struggles have their roots between the Browns' collective ears.

Another long, cold, dark offseason will provide the Browns' brass with ample opportunities to figure out how to solve the AFC North riddle. They need to. It's the only way this team will be able to start posting wins on a regular basis. It's also the only way Crennel and Savage will be able to keep their jobs in the long run.

Up next: Tampa Bay, Sunday, 1 p.m. at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Flipping on Flip

Whatever happened to Flip Murray?

You remember, Cavalier fans from sea to shining sea threw a collective hissy fit when the Cavs didn't keep him this summer. When he signed for relative peanuts with the Pistons as Cavs GM Danny Ferry courted 36-year-old David Wesley, we wondered what psychotropic, judgment-hindering substance Ferry was smoking.

Murray was going to give the Pistons microwave-instant, Vinnie Johnson offense off the bench. Wesley was going to come with an oil gun and manual, "How To Maintain Your 36-year-old Combo Guard."

Sure enough, Wesley hasn't found a home here. With the emergence of Dan Gibson, it's likely that Wesley will never find his place in the Cavs rotation. But that dirt-cheap 13 points per game the Pistons were supposed to get in Murray hasn't really materialized either.

ESPN's Chris Sheridan places Wesley eighth in his "Liberation Day Top 10," the free agents from this past offseason most likely to be moved before the trade deadline. But, shockingly, Murray and his team-friendly contract are even higher up the list:

"4. Flip Murray, Pistons. … for someone who might actually help Detroit. LeBron's backcourt mate in Cleveland last postseason has done almost nothing since the first 10 days of the season, making only three 3-pointers over the past 15 games. We might just start referring to Detroit's other Flip as Tony Delk Jr."

In a word: Ouch.

But then again, maybe it was another smart move by Ferry that has largely gone unheralded.

Looking at Murray's career stats, you can assume the Cavs caught lightning in a bottle last spring. The 13.5 points per game he averaged in a little more than three months with Cleveland is well above his career average of 9.8 points per game. The only time he has come close to approaching his Cleveland scoring average was in 2003-04, when he averaged 12.4 points for the Sonics.

His .448 field goal percentage with the Cavs was an abberation, way up from his career average of .412.

This season, his scoring average is down to 6.7 points. His three-point field goal percentage, the big surprise last year when he averaged .308 and buried some clutch late-game shots, is actually up. It stands at .385 this season.

It's better, but consider that Murray averaged 2.3 three-point attempts per game for the Cavs. He's averaging 1.2 attempts for the Pistons.

Assists, rebounds, minutes, points, it's all down for Murray this year. And that's on a Pistons team that is well-versed in efficient offense, not a Cavs team still feeling their way around.

When you look at just how much Murray's numbers with the Cavs stick out like a sore thumb against his career averages, you realize that the odds of him coming close to replicating what he did for the Cavs last spring are slim and none.

If he were here, he'd be another David Wesley lead weight, except, based on what he did last spring, coach Mike Brown would probably still be force-feeding Murray into the rotation at the expense of minutes for Gibson and Shannon Brown.

Murray was the right find at the right time for Ferry last February. He played a huge role in fending off another late-season collapse. But that's all Murray was.

Trading for him was the right move. Letting him go was also the right move. If you don't want to thank Ferry, Gibson will thank him for you. With every assist and basket he makes.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Everything to everyone

LeBron James isn't omnipotent. You only get that impression by watching him.

Savior of Cleveland basketball? Check. Key member of the USA national team? Ditto. Nike pitchman, a capacity that requires him to play not one, but four, roles in a commercial campaign? Yep.

Powerade hawker? Uh-huh. Philanthropist? Certainly. Media magnet? Definitely. Friend to basically every famous athlete that hails from Northeast Ohio? For sure. Devoted son, father and boyfriend? We'd like to think so.

No one said becoming the world's first billionaire athlete was going to be easy. LeBron's determined. But are the Cavs and their fans going to suffer because of it?

Despite his god-like standing among the Cleveland faithful, LeBron cannot be all things to all people. Several weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, he might be in the process of learning that lesson the hard way.

LeBron is still among the league leaders in scoring and assists. As coach Mike Brown has said, his five-point drop in scoring average might very well be due to the fact that the Cavs now spread the ball around instead of using LeBron as a battering ram to the hoop every night. That alone will save wear and tear on the most important Cleveland athlete since Jim Brown.

But stats and playcalling don't tell the whole story. Anybody who has watched LeBron this year sees the regular spark just isn't there. At least not consistently. Too often, he's settling for 20-foot jumpers against soft defenses that are crying out to be harpooned by LeBron's 6'-8", 250-pound frame.

Too often, he looks like he's trying to impersonate Zydrunas Ilgauskas, plodding up and down the floor at half-speed. In the second halves of games, grabbing the hem of his shorts has replaced nail-biting as his most prevalent habit.

LeBron is tired. The past year, his first venture into NBA playoff action, the immediate headfirst dive into USA basketball and the world championships, packing an entire offseason's worth of business work into a little more than a month, jumping right back into Cavs training camp, it's all been a bit too much. Even if he won't admit it.

The bad news is, the NBA season is only at the quarter pole. The soft part of the the Cavs' schedule is coming to an end. A series of games against the Magic, Nets and Pistons begins Saturday. A punishing West Coast trip awaits in January.

It is possible that LeBron has been sandbagging a bit with the coming weeks in mind. We can only hope so. The NBA season runs in inverse proportion to how the human body generally behaves. As a player's endurance starts to wear away, the season becomes even more demanding.

And, LeBron, in case you forgot, is a flesh-and-blood human who needs to eat his veggies and get his sleep like the rest of us.

Actually, LeBron might have forgotten himself.

It has been great watching LeBron these past few years. He has morphed from a green teenage rookie to a veteran pillar of both the Cavs organization and the NBA. But, as with any young person, there are lessons to be learned along the way. It appears LeBron is learning one of them.

He might be King James. He might be the master of all he oversees with the Cavs, the NBA, Nike, Powerade and any other corporate entity he has attached his name to.

But before LeBron can take care of those around him, he needs to take care of himself. For him, that means going back to one basic rule that all of us have to remember in this busy, demanding society:

No matter how hard you try, you can't be everything to everyone.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

An olive branch from Joey Porter

If the Browns and Steelers were on equal competitive footing, the ongoing spat between Joey Porter and Kellen Winslow Jr. would be kind of funny.

OK, it would be hilarious. Porter is a loudmouthed hothead, Winslow is a loudmouthed hothead. To ask those two to get into a war of words is like asking gasoline to catch on fire when it's exposed to an open flame.

But when your team has lost 13 of 14 to its hated division rival, the humor kind of goes out of it, and you start wishing that Porter would follow his quarterback's example and take a helmetless ride on a motorcycle. Preferably in an ice storm.

So, before he disrespected an entire city and NFL organization even further than last week's 27-7 final score already did, Porter decided to make a degree of peace with the Browns.

If nothing else, he took back the homosexual slur he used to describe Winslow and the Browns.

"I guess how we used that word freely, me growing up using it, I didn't think nothing of it like that," Porter told reporters. "Like I said, I apologize to anybody I offended on it."

Big man. Thanks, Joey. You're all right.

Thanks, Coach Cowher. You can stop glaring at your linebacker now. He's made good.

Of course, that apology does not extend to Winslow, whom Porter still thinks is a lily-livered, lace-wearing, muffin-baking, eyebrow-plucking, Zima-drinking, cuticle-clipping, shoe-coordinating, skin-moisturizing, Grey's Anatomy-watching, skip-to-my-lou pansy if there ever was one.

"I didn't mean to offend nobody but Kellen Winslow. Pretty much, that's it about that," he said.

If the Browns cannot manage to field a winning team in the reasonably near future, my second choice would be for the team to acquire Porter at some point. I want Porter and Winslow on the same roster. If wins aren't in the cards, the least the Browns can give us is the always-entertaining prospect of anarchy on the sidelines.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gagne agrees with Rangers

I knew the idea of having Joe Borowski and Eric Gagne as a two-headed monster at the back of the Indians bullpen was too good to be true.

The Indians were a finalist for Gagne's services, but lost out to the Rangers. Gagne reportedly agreed to a one-year, $6 million deal with Texas on Tuesday.

Oh well. It would be a fine pipe dream to imagine both Gagne and Borowski staying healthy for an entire season, but the reality is probably going to be different. And Borowski probably has a better chance of enduring 162 games without a DL stint than does Gagne.

I'd still like to see the Indians add one more veteran arm to the back of the bullpen. Given the advanced age of Roberto Hernandez and the potential shoulder problems hovering over Borowski, I think it would be a good insurance policy to take out.

Unfortunately, at this stage of the game, the only way to add another arm of note would likely be in a trade, which likely means parting with a young player.

We'll see what type of deals are out there to be made, and what type of stomach GM Mark Shapiro has for toying with his farm system.

If there is any confidence to be had in Shapiro, it's that he'll know where to draw the line. We probably won't have to worry about another Brian Giles-for-Ricardo Rincon deal going down.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The see-saw battle

All great coaches seem to have something in common: They all find the middle ground.

Somewhere between Lake Placid and Mount St. Helens lies the ideal coach. Patient enough to not rush to snap judgments, but impatient enough to not accept a plan that isn't working. Controlling enough to discipline, yet hands-off enough to let players think for themselves.

Knowledgeable enough to be a teacher, yet humble enough to realize he doesn't know everything.

Coaches like that do exist. Gregg Popovich, Jeff Fisher and, in his prime, Joe Gibbs, are perfect examples.

So why are some teams stuck on the perpetual see-saw between extremes?

The Browns have been teetering back and forth since they re-entered the league nearly eight years ago.

Chris Palmer wasn't a strong leader. He threw in the towel on his second (and last) season as coach, calling it a "runaway train." Injuries mounted, he lost his ability to inspire his players, and he was gone after posting a 5-27 record with an expansion team.

The tandem approach of Palmer and GM Dwight Clark didn't create a strong enough potion, so the Browns thought big, figuring they needed an all-knowing football guru to be the man in charge of everything. Enter Butch Davis.

Davis had some success, leading the Browns to a 7-9 record in his first season, and a 9-7 record and playoff berth in his second season. But then he started to go berserk. He systematically got rid of just about every player, coach and staffer that wasn't his find. He started to perceive others in the organization as threats, and got rid of them. Morale slipped. Discipline waned. Players got arrested. The organization spiraled out of control.

Davis was forced out, and with the bad taste of a megalomaniac still in their mouths, the Browns swayed back to the low-key side of things, getting a couple of decent, humble guys to run the show in Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel.

Not surprisingly, many of the same problems that plagued Palmer and Clark are also starting to encroach on Crennel and Savage.

Leadership is non-existent in the organization. Change is slow, if it occurs at all. No one wants to be the one to make the tough decision. There is a palpable feeling that many on the team are simply accepting their league doormat standing instead of trying to change it.

The only real difference between this regime and the Clark-Palmer days is that, unlike Clark, Savage is a good judge of talent. That will likely save his job for a while.

But while Savage has a scouting schedule to keep and planes to catch, Crennel gets to sit back here on the homefront and feel the fire under his feet intensify. He is being fingered, rightly or wrongly, as the primary reason why yet another Browns season has run aground.

The Plain Dealer's Bill Livingston wrote Monday that next weekend's game against the Ravens might be the watershed for Crennel. If the Browns put up a fight for 60 minutes, he might be able to buy himself another year. If the Browns are laughed out of Baltimore like they were laughed out of Pittsburgh, Crennel's job probably won't survive past January.

In retrospect, Crennel might have been a bad choice from the get-go. More and more, it seems like he was hired because he was the anti-Butch in personality. You won't catch Crennel polarizing the locker room or the organization on many occasions.

Unfortunately, his personality is so far in the other direction, he can't seem to inspire anything in his players, good, bad or otherwise. His unwillingness to take a stand on tough issues doesn't help.

But if Crennel goes, the Browns front office has a choice to make. They can't simply go out and hire another head coach based on the qualities the previous coach didn't have. Going out and hiring a fire-spewing, vein-popping, table thrower because he's the anti-Crennel is simply going to perpetuate the see-saw this team has been on since the hiring of Palmer.

If Crennel goes, Savage, Randy Lerner and any other relevant figures in the Browns organization have to sit down and analyze, in great detail, what this team needs in a coach. What they need strategically, what they need motivationally and what they need in terms of discipline. Then, the team leaders have to go out and find a person who matches that description as closely as possible.

It won't be easy. But maybe it would be good if the Browns didn't hire their next coach a month before the Super Bowl, as Crennel was hired nearly two years ago.

Take some time. The next coaching hire, whenever it happens, has to count for something big, or this organization is really in trouble.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Man of Troy

During Saturday's Heisman Trophy presentation, ESPN college football analyst and former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit took a rare public interest in one of his home state's pro football teams.

The Browns, he told millions of nationwide viewers, would "be crazy" to pass on newly-minted Heisman winner Troy Smith if he is there when the Browns make their almost-certain Top 10 selection next spring.

Smith is a native of one of the poorest areas of Cleveland's near East Side. Nothing would give him more satisfaction than to return home as a conquering hero, Herbstreit reasoned.

Even a month ago, I would have outright rejected the idea. Smith is a bit short, and has been spoiled by playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the nation the past three years. It would be way too easy for the undersized Smith to come down with a chronic case of happy feet playing behind the Browns' nightmare of trench warfare.

The "hometown boy made good" angle is a bit overrated, too. When it works, as it has with LeBron James, it gives everyone in town a warm, fuzzy feeling. When it doesn't, as has been the case with LeCharles Bentley, Clevelanders jump on the "You asked for it, wanting to come back here" bandwagon with unmatched verve. Clevelanders will turn on their hometown boys too, if they don't produce wins.

But even with all the reasons to be skeptical of choosing Smith, I'm starting to find it more and more difficult to make a case against it. Maybe it was all of the pre-award hype surrounding Smith. Maybe it was the win over Michigan. Maybe it was the Browns' blowout losses to the Bengals and Steelers.

Maybe Smith is just winning me over with his play. But in Smith, I'm starting to see a person and a player who exhibits a lot of the qualities the Browns, as a team, are lacking.

The Browns need leadership. The Browns need someone who has experienced greatness. The Browns need someone who understands what football means to Clevelanders, and how we take wins and losses to heart like few other cities.

The Browns need someone who has been to the bottom and worked his way back up to the top. The Browns need someone who is a model of perseverance. The Browns need someone who really understands what winning is all about. And, above all, the Browns need someone who has the talent to back it all up.

Troy Smith is that person.

But it isn't as simple as drafting Smith and watching wins sprout out of the ground like Dutch tulips. We know better. The Browns have a long history of damaging careers with their botched handling of players.

To draft Smith is to commit to him. To draft the competent offensive linemen that will protect him. To surround him with receivers that are more interested in catching passes than talking trash. To put a coaching staff in place that has a clue about offense, and has the presence to deliver the necessary discipline to make their lessons stick.

To draft Smith is to change how your organization conducts itself. Otherwise, there is no point in drafting Smith or any other difference-making player.

Smith has been meticulously prepared for the NFL by a pair of top-notch coaches in Ted Ginn Sr. and Jim Tressel. Over the past eight-plus years, by his own admission, he has learned the lessons that turned him from a would-be street punk into a potential NFL franchise cornerstone.

It has been an amazing metamorphosis to watch.

If the Browns can match all of the hard work that has gone into making Troy Smith the man he is today, I encourage Phil Savage to draft him. If the Browns are going to keep conducting business as usual, they should pass on him.

Smith, the man of perseverance, the national title contender, the Heisman Trophy winner, deserves better than that.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Answer for the Cavs?

Stop the presses and hold the phone. The trade winds, they are a-blowing.

Allen Iverson reportedly wants out of Philadelphia.

The man they call "The Answer" has apparently had it with the roster full of question marks the 76ers have surrounded him with. News reports say he has asked the Philadelphia front office to find him a new team.

It's something Iverson said he'd never do. But as we all know, a professional athlete's word and 75 cents will buy you a cup of muffler-shop coffee.

Actually, this divorce has been more messy and drawn-out than the one conducted by Prince Charles and Lady Di. All offseason, there were rumblings that it would be in the lottery-bound Sixers' best interest to trade Iverson and start a new rebuilding project. The rumor mill churned out scuttlebutt that Philly management was talking to the Celtics about a possible Iverson deal, but nothing ever came of it.

Now, it appears that Iverson is, in fact, going to be headed somewhere between now and the February trade deadline. The Celtics keep appearing as a logical choice.

There aren't really a lot of destinations that would satisfy both Philly's desire to clear cap space and get young talent/draft picks, and satisfy Iverson's desire to get back in the title hunt before his undersized body finally gives out.

But, one of those places could be ... Cleveland?

Ridiculous, right? Playing with fire? What have I been smoking? Go on, yuk it up.

Iverson would fill two very valuable needs for the Cavs: a reliable backcourt scorer, and a tough-as-nails leader by example who will make his teammates look bad if they aren't giving 100 percent effort.

That hard-nosed veteran who still has some game left that I've been writing about? That's Iverson.

Now, about constructing a deal that would land him...

To take on Iverson's $17-odd million salary this year, it would require the Cavs to give up one of their top two highest-paid players, either the $9-plus million being earned by Zydrunas Ilgauskas or the $13-plus million being earned by Larry Hughes.

Obviously, Hughes would be the better of the two because the salaries match more evenly and it would be a guard-for-guard trade. The NBA requires the financial give-and-take of all two-team trades to match to within 15 percent.

The Cavs would likely have to take on another long-term salary in the deal to entice Philadelphia to take something besides draft picks, which the Cavs don't have a lot of in the near future. Steven Hunter and Kyle Korver would be the two most logical choices.

Besides Hughes or Ilgauskas, the Cavs would have to load up the package with an attractive combination of expiring contracts or young players.

The Cavs' expiring deals include Ira Newble, Sasha Pavlovic, Anderson Varejao, Scot Pollard and possibly David Wesley.

One of the Cavs' two rookies, either Shannon Brown or Dan Gibson, would likely also have to be included. Brown makes more money and would help even out the deal, but Gibson is almost certainly the more attractive of the two at the moment.

If Danny Ferry can piece something together out of all of that, the Cavs can become the new home team for A.I.

There would be a significant amount of risk involved, and the Cavs would have to part with players you don't want to see them part with. But the combination of LeBron James and Allen Iverson could be a lethal one that propels the Cavs to the top of the East.

It all depends on how much of a gambler Ferry is.

Another Bentley bomb

While you were busy fuming over the Browns loss Thursday night, you might have missed a little blurb in the Plain Dealer concerning center LeCharles Bentley.

He is mulling over another surgery on his injured knee that would keep him out through 2007.

Already, he has had the knee operated on twice: once to repair the ruptured patellar tendon, and once to have a staph infection removed. He reportedly has lost 10 pounds.

If Bentley misses two seasons, what are the odds he'll ever be able to return to the Pro Bowl form that made him the highest-rated free agent on last summer's market?

The Browns' best bet with Bentley is to take the route the Cavs took when Zydrunas Ilguaskas was going through his myriad of foot problems: plan for the future under the assumption that he won't be back.

This spring, the Browns need to find a long-term contingency plan at center. If Bentley does make a Z-type comeback at some point, great. But don't count on it.

The Morning After: Pittsburgh

Steelers 27, Browns 7
Record: 4-9
Divisional record: 0-5

You want to know what makes the Browns unbearable to watch? You want to know why we want to kick the TV set after the majority of games?

Thursday night is why.

Once again, not only did the Browns lose, they looked like they didn't even belong on the same field with their opponent. They weren't even capable of putting up a fight. They were utterly and thoroughly overmatched and outclassed.

It might as well have been the Northwestern Wildcats out there playing the Steelers.

It keeps happening and happening, usually against divisional opponents, which gives the knife a couple of hard twists.

Once again, we were treated to a fourth quarter of sullen Cleveland players sitting on the sideline, hiding under their helmets, kind of like ostriches sticking their heads in the sand.

Once again, it was a stone-faced Romeo Crennel trotting off the field after his team was embarrassed yet again.

Steelers running back Willie Parker, who will never be confused with Jamal Lewis, racked up a franchise record 223 rushing yards Thursday night. As a team, Pittsburgh collected 303 yards rushing. That's three football fields' worth of rushing, goal line to goal line, with another three yards to spare.

The Browns? You wouldn't need all your fingers and toes to count their 18 rushing yards. Reuben Droughns led the Browns with six yards on five carries.

If there was a bright spot to be found, it was the play of Derek Anderson. He again showed the poise that helped the Browns beat the Chiefs last Sunday, but was sabotaged by a gaggle of street mimes the Browns refer to as a "receiver corps." They are really good at faking catches. On Fox Sports Ohio's "Cleveland Rants" postgame program, co-host Les Levine estimated the Browns receivers dropped seven passes. I'd take the over on that one.

Some of that, such as a first-half drop by Darnell Dinkins, might have been due to off-the-mark throws from Anderson. My thought is, they pay you hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to play this game. If you have to reach back for the ball, reach back for the ball and make the damn catch.

Even with all the drops, Anderson's 276 yards passing actually bested Ben Roethlisberger's 225, but when your team racks up 303 yards rushing, your quarterback can generally afford to lose the passing battle.

But I'm actually digressing. Picking apart the minutiae of the game isn't addressing the real problem. This is about a football team that was once again run off the field by a purported division rival. Those are the problems that are never going to be addressed by looking at the box score.

When will the Browns finally get humiliated enough by these blowout losses to do something about them? Will they ever, or have they just kind of resigned themselves to being the resident punching bag in the AFC North?

Does this team have any players, any coaches, any leaders who are going to take control and finally change this team's mentality, or is the roster and coaching staff littered with guys who view their Cleveland stint as prison time?

If there are players and coaches on this team who are just looking to put in their jail time until they finally get their big break elsewhere, can I please encourage them to seek that big break now and get the hell out of town?

Braylon Edwards, I'm looking right at you. Your game sucks. Your hands are terrible. Either you are legitimately as inept as you have shown with regard to catching the ball, or your mind and heart aren't in it. Dennis Northcutt, ditto.

If you look at the other sideline when your team is playing the Bengals and Steelers and envision yourself over there, far be it from any one of us to stop you. Allow me to be the one who personally signs your release papers and drives you to the doorstep of the team of your choice.

Going through the paces until your contract is up won't change the Cleveland Browns. Mediocrity won't change the Cleveland Browns. Caretaker coaches with no vision and even less energy won't change the Cleveland Browns. Average quarterbacks won't change the Cleveland Browns. Concentrating on defense while neglecting the offense won't change the Cleveland Browns.

This team needs greatness. If you aren't interested in being great, or are interested in being great somewhere else, get out of here. We don't want you, and we don't need you.

Up next: At Baltimore, Dec. 17, 1 p.m.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Daugherty appears ... sort of

At Wednesday night's game, Brad Daugherty reached out to Cavalier fans in the form of a recorded video message that was played on the scoreboard during the first half.

He noted that "you have an exciting young team" in Cleveland, and said he hoped to "see you all soon."

A step in the right direction, in a greeting card sort of way.

Whether Daugherty came up with the idea, or whether he was pestered into doing it is not known by the general public. It was nice to see Daugherty try to re-connect with the fans to some degree, but he can't stop there. He needs to appear at a game, and I still think that's miles from happening.

It bothered me that Daugherty, on several occasions, referred to the organization and city as "you." To me, it says that Daugherty does not consider himself a part of the Cavs family in any form. It was as if Patrick Ewing or Hakeem Olajuwon had appeared on the scoreboard screen and told Cavs fans, "you have an exciting young team."

I wasn't expecting Daugherty to use "we." That would be too patronizing for someone in his position. But it would have been nice if he would have uttered the team name even once, and not act like Woody Hayes describing "that school up north."

The verdict: Daugherty saw fit to show his appreciation to the fans, which is good. But he is still icy toward the Cavs organization, and I think the "see you soon" comment is a hollow salutation until some bridges are mended.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Life on a shoestring

Pardon me for feeling a little jealous.

It's just that whenever I look at the Indians' offseason activity, and then look at the offseason moves of other teams, I'm reminded of a few lines from the Everclear song, "I Will Buy You a New Life":

"I hate all those people who love to tell you,
Money is the root of all that kills.
They have never been poor,
They have never had the joy of a welfare Christmas."

I flick on SportsCenter and find out that the Red Sox have signed J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo on the same day. That's $70 million for Drew and $36 million for Lugo. Within the span of 24 hours. And Manny Ramirez is still on their roster raking in $20 million a year, or some obscenely-high amount around there.

Then I click on the Web at work Wednesday to find out that the Indians have rolled the dice on yet another pitcher other teams have shied away from due to injury concerns. One year, and a shade over $4 million for Joe Borowski.

Borowski would have been a Phillie by last week if it wasn't for an MRI on his shoulder. The Phillies saw something they didn't like and pulled their multi-year offer off the table, essentially sending Borowski to the scratch-'n-dent bin.

Enter the Indians, baseball's scavengers. They must have seen the same things the Phillies saw when Borowski came in for his Cleveland physical Tuesday. It's amazing what a suddenly-cheap price and an air of quasi-desperation on both sides will do for getting a deal done.

Borowski needed to go somewhere to rescue his market value and clear his shoulder of any wrongdoing. The Indians needed a veteran late-inning reliever and couldn't afford much else. A match made in clearance-rack heaven.

Both Borowski and the Indians are rolling the dice that his shoulder will stay intact for the 2007 season.

If all goes well, the Indians can pick up Borowski's option for 2008. If all doesn't go well, he's gone after the season.

You could certainly do worse then Borowski, a journeyman reliever who has managed to last more than a decade in the majors. But he's still a one- or two-season bandage, like Bob Wickman last year and the year before, like Kevin Millwood, like Bob Howry and Scott Sauerbeck, like Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Fultz.

The Indians keep talking about building for the long-term. So why are so many of their solutions short-term?

Every offseason, we are led to believe that this year is the year the Indians make some meaningful strides in trades and free agency, and finally turn from a potential-laden young club to an American League contender. But every offseason, the Indians become baseball's Ellis Island, a gateway for baseball's tired, huddled, injury-plagued masses yearning to reclaim their careers.

It perpetuates the feeling that, even with the impressive collection of young talent, this team is still living hand-to-mouth, year-to-year. It doesn't exactly instill confidence in the players or fans that this team is building toward consistent contention.

And all the while, we get to watch ESPN every night and be regaled by the epic stories of the Yankees, Red Sox and their big-market ilk engaged in their ongoing games of financial one-upmanship.

You can see why the temptation is to go back to bed, pull up the covers and say, "Wake me when my ship comes in."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Time to bury the hatchet

Wednesday night, the Cavaliers will honor Brad Daugherty. And, no surprise, he won't be there.

Of course, no one is expecting Daugherty to be floored by the fact that the Cavs will be passing out bobbleheads bearing his likeness. Not in a league where the Pistons once held a Zeljko Rebraca bobblehead promotion.

But this isn't the first time he's turned his back on the team's attempts to honor him.

The reason stays the same: "scheduling conflict."

It's a convenient way of saying "bite me" without actually saying it.

For far too long now, there has been a thick layer of ice between Daugherty and the only NBA city he ever called home. Now a seasoned color commentator, he has shown no desire to ever work Cavs games, even as Mark Price, with no formal training, tried his hand at it for a season.

In the past seven-plus years, he has never made appearances at Cavs games. More than that, he has never made anything that even resembled a public appearance in association with the team.

In short, it appears that Daugherty wants nothing to do with his former team.

It all stems from the 1999 move by then-owner Gordon Gund to phase out Wayne Embry as the team's general manager and bring in Jim Paxson. Daugherty is good friends with Embry and apparently did not like the way the team handled the move.

So he decided to shun the team. And continues to do so.

It would make more sense if the Cavs drew their own line in the sand and refused to honor Daugherty. It would make more sense if Gund still had controlling interest in the team.

It would make more sense if there was an ongoing war of words between Daugherty and the team. But there is nothing of the sort.

Instead, the only thing we hear is a long, cold, inexplicable silence. This is more of a cold war than the U.S. and Soviet Union could ever have hoped to wage.

The fans, the ones who remember Daugherty fondly, are the only ones who really lose out.

His absence wouldn't be as much of a travesty if Daugherty was just another Joe-Blow-Eric-Snow player. But he is a significant figure in the history of the franchise. And, lost in the shuffle of other, more front-and-center Cavs alumni like Austin Carr, Jim Chones and Campy Russell, we are forgetting about him.

Daugherty is still the Cavs' all-time leading scorer, rebounder and has converted the most free throws in team history.

He was the centerpiece player of what is still the most successful run in franchise history, with three 50-win seasons and three playoff series wins from 1989 to 1993.

With averages of 19 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, he is still the best center in Cavs' history, and figures to hold that title for a long time unless Zydrunas Ilgauskas suddenly steps it up or Greg Oden somehow falls into the Cavs' laps next summer.

And yet, he stays away, perfectly willing to let his Cleveland legacy collect dust in the attic. And all because of what?

Embry has moved on. Gund has sold the team. Paxson has been fired. The arena has been re-named. The team colors have even been changed.

The Cavs of 2006 are far different than the Cavs of 1999. It's time for Daugherty to realize that, and even if he still harbors a grudge, to realize for whom he's really appearing.

The fans want you back, Brad. No matter how you feel about the Cavs organization, come back for them. Help them reminisce about those days at the Coliseum that they -- and you -- can never have back.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Morning After: Kansas City

Browns 31, Chiefs 28, OT
Record: 4-8

As we were riding in for Sunday's game -- the first Browns regular season game I've been to in three years -- I told my friend Justin something that should probably have been filed under "Captain Obvious observations."

"You know, if the Browns win this one, it's probably going to be a nail-biter."

Well, duh. When's the last time a Browns win has involved you kicking back in the fourth quarter and scanning the TV menu to see who is playing in the 4:00 games?

Every Browns win in recent years has likely involved you biting your lip, hoping against all hope that the Browns wouldn't make that one dumb mistake that costs them the game.

Well, guess what? The Browns made that dumb mistake, and still won. Chalk it up to incremental progress after last week's 30-0 debacle against Cincinnati.

Derek Anderson, subbing for Charlie Frye after he injured his wrist, had a chance to drive into winning field goal position with less than a minute to play in regulation. The Browns had the ball thanks to a strip of Trent Green and recovery by Willie McGinest.

Then Anderson wound up and fired a fastball that was promptly picked off and returned to near midfield. The Browns dodged a bullet when Kansas City couldn't get into field goal range before time expired.

Unlike the fate that has befallen Frye so many times this year, Anderson actually had a chance to redeem himself, and he cashed in.

Cleveland forced Kansas City to punt off the initial overtime possession. With the Browns' ensuing drive about to stall around the Chiefs 40, Anderson pulled down the ball on a broken play and ran for the sideline. He spun out of tackle, cut back and sprinted 33 yards up the sideline, down to the Chiefs 12. Two running plays set up a Phil Dawson kick, and everyone in brown and orange left the lakefront happy for just the second time this year.

Anderson was the story of the game, and, like it or not, an instant quarterback controversy has just erupted.

Anderson didn't outplay Frye by much. Anderson racked up 171 yards passing to Frye's 122, but Anderson's completion percentage was far lower, 12-of-21 to Frye's 11-of-13.

But it was Anderson's poise under pressure that really grabbed the attention of those at Cleveland Browns Stadium Sunday. At least the ones who stuck around.

With the Browns trailing 28-14 and fans streaming out of the stadium on a bitter cold afternoon, resigned to another loss, Anderson rallied the Browns to a pair of fourth quarter touchdown drives.

What was most surprising was his apparent feel for the game. He let the game come to him, and then reacted. On several occasions, with the play breaking down around him, he'd find his checkdown receiver crossing in front of him, shovel him the ball, and turn a would-be implosion into a 10-yard gain.

It's the type of read-and-react skills we have seldom seen from Frye this year. After watching Anderson come out of the background to lead a come-from-behind win, I'm beginning to wonder if Frye has been overcoached.

After weeks and weeks of "don't do this/remember to do that" ad nauseum, it's no wonder that Frye appears to be walking on eggshells sometimes, like a golfer who's been given too many tips on improving his swing.

Anderson simply let his natural abilities take over, and it worked. He never seemed rattled out there, even after the critical interception he threw. Of course, it's not going to be that simple every week, particularly if opposing teams start to build a scouting report on Anderson, but I think there does come a point where you simply have to turn your quarterback loose.

Regardless of whether Frye is ready to play in time for Thursday's rematch with the Steelers, it's apparent that, in yet another that has devolved into open tryouts for next season, Anderson deserves another look under center.

At this point, no option should be turned down. The quarterback of the future is the one who can lead this team to wins. It might be Frye. It might be Anderson. It might be neither. The point of the final four games should be to find out.

Up next: At Pittsburgh, Thursday, 8 p.m.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Cavs wish list: The Top 10

All right. So you need to gripe about the fact that the Cavaliers are a mere 7-6 since starting the season with convincing wins over the Wizards and Spurs. You need to find villains. You need to blame anybody and everybody, even His Highness, LeBron James.

You need to work yourself up into a worst-case-scenario lather. Are they a lottery team? Will Larry Hughes ever play again? Is Mike Brown going crazy? Have they already won the lone playoff series they'll ever win with LeBron?

Come on. Are you really that down on the Cavs, or is the prospect of facing another Cleveland winter creating a hormone imbalance in your brain?

That's why I'm here to play Santa Claus. I'm making a list of the top 10 players that could most help the Cavs in a deadline deal.

I'll leave the trade scenarios up to you. But feel free to imagine any one of these guys in wine and gold, helping to carry the Cavs to the NBA Finals.

10. Earl Watson, Sonics
The Sonics point guard is known as a pretty decent ball handler and defender, and a better scorer than Eric Snow (which isn't saying much, I realize). He's stuck behind Luke Ridnour on the Seattle bench, and early-season rumors had him wanting out of Seattle.
He's not really a starting-caliber point guard, but he'd be an upgrade over anyone the Cavs can trot out there right now.

9. Tyronn Lue, Hawks
There is little about Lue's game that will make your eyes bulge, but he's a pedal-to-the-metal player who shows surprising flashes of finesse ability. His floater to force overtime in last month's Atlanta win in Cleveland is a prime example of his softer-than-you'd-think shooting touch.
Goodness knows, he's had enough opportunities to impress Cavs management. He turns into Dennis Johnson when he faces Cleveland.

8. Andre Iguodala, 76ers
Why wouldn't you want another forward who can jump out of the building? Sure, he's actually not as good a player as Hughes, but man, he could turn the Cavs into a two-man highlight reel.

7. Samuel Dalembert, 76ers
His scoring is abysmal. He's even more inconsistent than Drew Gooden. But he'll bring some measure of toughness that the Cavs frontcourt currently doesn't have. Well, it actually does, but apparently Scot Pollard was signed to keep dust from settling on the chairs at the end of the bench.

6. Morris Peterson, Raptors
Again, not the complete player that Hughes is. But he scores both inside and outside, and he recently had a string of 370 straight games played snapped. The next time Hughes plays in 370 straight games will be the next time they open a Club Med in downtown Cleveland.

5. Mike Miller, Grizzlies
Girly headband aside, Miller fills up the bucket with regularity. He's shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc and has the size to take it inside. If the Grizzlies continue to struggle, Miller might be on the block.

4. Sam Cassell, Clippers
Now 37, he's getting up there in years, but he has been an emotional leader wherever he's gone. He's also scoring at 17.2 PPG clip this year, above his career average.
For the Cavs' purposes, he could average 10 points a game if he can do what he's done to help turn the Clippers into a cohesive, winning team.

3. Joe Johnson, Hawks
If you're going to regret a non-signing for the Cavs, regret this one. He was a free agent in the summer of 2005.
Johnson keeps defenses honest with his outside shooting. With him patrolling the perimeter, the interior would be highly vulnerable for LeBron's drives. With a shooter like Johnson, LeBron's scoring and assist averages would almost certainly take a jump.

2. Steve Nash, Suns
No, I'm not smoking something. Two-time reigning MVPs simply don't get traded. Unless ... they have a capable backup waiting in the wings and the two-time reigning MVP's team could really stand to add some frontcourt depth.
The Suns have Leandro Barbosa signed to a long-term extension. The Cavs have a plethora of decent big men. As Roger Brown would say, "Hmmmm...."

1. Kevin Garnett, Timberwolves
I plugged the following into ESPN's NBA Trade Machine:
To the Cavs: Kevin Garnett, Rashad McCants and Bracey Wright.
To the Wolves: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Damon Jones, Ira Newble and Sasha Pavlovic.
It worked.
That's all I'm saying.