All posts in basketball

26Nov

temporary remedy

(AP photo)

Yes, the Washington Wizards were able to snap a five-game losing streak and earn their second win of the season last night by beating the Golden State Warriors 124-100. But if you think that things are automatically “all good” in Wiz land simply because the team fired coach Eddie Jordan and replaced him with Ed Tapscott for the remainder of the season, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.

The first game after a coach is fired is usually good for a win – if for no other reason than because the players are still in that “oh crap, management noticed we’re all getting free paychecks” mindset. It’s true, you can’t fire your players in the NBA – not with their guaranteed contracts. So if you need to really shake things up, then you hope to send the proper message by firing the coach. If that doesn’t work, then you’re probably cheering for the New York Knicks.

And it’s understandable to fire “the other” Jordan, who had guided the team to an NBA-worst 1-10 record to start the season. But the problems run much deeper than a coach who seemed to have been tuned out by some of his players. Whether by design from “Big” Ernie Grunfeld or directive from owner Abe Pollin, this is a severely flawed team that is typically suited to qualify for the playoffs, and then get sent home almost immediately.

The Wizards, for as long as they’re led by forward Antawn Jamison, forward Caron Butler and oft-injured guard Gilbert Arenas, are a shoot first, defense is optional squad. They are a team content to jack up 20 footers and (who thought you’d ever hear this) without Brendan Haywood, they’re not even remotely interested in doing the dirty work in the paint on either side of the court.

Shooters go cold. Defense doesn’t.

So when teams tighten up and go into lockdown mode when the playoffs roll around, the Wiz look great one night and then struggle to score 80 points the next. But because the Wes Unseld Era Bullets/Wiz were so pitiful for so long, no one cared. As long as this team made the playoffs, there would be confetti falling from above and banners celebrating simply qualifying. Gold stars for everyone!

And even if management suddenly realized that this team has problems, there’s no easy answer in sight. The truth is, the Arenas signing this past offseason is ultimately going to take folks back to the Chris Webber days. Giving $100 million to a supposed franchise player who simply can’t stay healthy, is a sure-fire way to ensure your team goes nowhere fast. While every other team is clearing cap room to take a run at LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh when they become free agents, the Wiz are helping Gilbert pick out his suit to wear on the bench each night and hoping that a 32-year-old Jamison suddenly learns how to play defense. Not good times for the home team.

So feel free to let optimism run through your mind that maybe, just maybe Tapscott is the next Bruce Boudreau and will be able to instantly right the ship the way Bruce did last season with the Capitals. But chances are, regardless of what Tapscott brings to the table, the Wizards will be cellar dwellars for the forseeable future not because of the coach, but because of the team management sends out on the floor each night.

20Nov

batch of links

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Believe it or not, but some high-quality reading actually comes from outside of Homer McFanboy. Just in case you missed it, here’s some of what caught our attention this week:

  • Redskins blogger Matt Terl thinks it’s a good idea to give Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot some additional exposure (apparently he’s not familiar with Smoot’s time in Minnesota). Either way, Terl is pushing for fans to vote for Fred in the NFL’s Super Ad campaign. If Smoot wins, his commercial will play during the Super Bowl. We recommend you check it out, if for no other reason than to learn about Smoot being duct taped to the goalpost by former teammate Champ Bailey and friends and left there for two hours back when he was a rookie.
  • Elsewhere, ESPN the Magazine has a feature on how Sean Taylor’s death has affected the NFL. While they went to great lengths to interview numerous players throughout the league, the part with ‘Skins running back Clinton Portis is a must read. And if you take nothing else away from it, please – do not walk up to him, throw your arm around him and tell Portis you pay his salary. Trust me on this. Also, ESPN blogger Matt Mosley covers how Taylor’s loss has affected the ‘Skins locker room.
  • A website called Fast Company has an article listing the six best sports bloggers, which naturally shows some love to the D.C. sports scene. Both Redskins tight end Chris Cooley and the formerly relevant Gilbert Arenas are listed, as well as pitcher/blowhard Curt Schilling, L.A. Dodgers manager Joe Torre and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (whose just glad to be making headlines for other reasons). Now, if only someone could explain how they forgot to include the blog of Caps owner Ted Leonsis
  • Finally, we point you to one of our favorite blogs, Mister Irrelevant, who stumbled upon proof that the Redskins apparently at one time had a mascot. No, not Chief Zee. Not the Hogettes. An actual mascot. Go see for yourself.
19Sep

shock jock

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Chris Cooley’s nude study habits aside, the talk of the town this week is Vinny Cerrato, and the announcement that the Redskins’ executive vice president of football operations is ESPN 980’s newest radio host.

Starting today, Cerrato will host Inside The Red Zone With Vinny Cerrato, which is scheduled for two hours every Monday and Friday. Apparently, many folks in town feel that Cerrato, whose job description includes personnel decisions, directing the Redskins’ draft, identifying free agency needs and acquisitions, coordinating all pro and college player evaluations, and day-to-day football operations, should concentrate more on football and less on … well … anything else.

Honestly, I don’t get the big deal. ESPN columnist Bill Simmons completed a fantasy football trade on his podcast this week. How great would it be to hear Cerrato on the horn with the New York Jets or the Denver Broncos chatting about possible trade scenarios? If people are willing to listen to Clinton Portis and Brian Mitchell bicker on air, then they’d definitely tune in to hear Cerrato on the phone with player agents working out when would be best to fly in clients for the suddenly vacant punter position. There’s no real way I see this show not being a hit.

Actually, that’s not true. History shows that Washington-based general managers rarely succeed as radio hosts. Fans might not remember, but each of the other three local GMs had a short stint as a radio host, with all three shows failing to catch on in the local market. For those who don’t remember, here’s a recap:

Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden’s radio show never got off the ground because they refused to put any money into it. They showed up in a brand new market in the middle of the night, tried to get by on the cheap using a handful of nobodies off the street and expected a steady fanbase to appear over night. To read more about the show’s failures and terrible ratings, please read the next “kick ‘em while they’re down” piece by Dan Steinberg.

Washington Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld’s radio show never lasted because he continued to bring back the same mediocre cast season after season. Sure, it was offensive, but it didn’t bring much else to the table. If an angry caller ever phoned in with a negative opinion, there wasn’t anyone on the roster capable of coming to Big Ern’s defense.

Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee’s radio show failed because … um … have you heard the man? Whenever GMGM appears on the John Thompson Show they refer to him as the “Undertaker.” He might be able to put together a competent hockey team, but apparently personality costs extra. For what it’s worth, I hear his show always did well in Russia.

For more info on Cerrato’s new show, click here.

10Jul

just another day at the office

If you were even remotely surprised that Elton Brand left the Los Angeles Clippers at the alter for a bigger payday (a five-year, $79.8 million contract) from the mediocre Philadelphia 76ers, then you, my friend, are a moron.

That because, as a general rule, professionals athletes will almost always take the money and run. To me, this is as newsworthy as Britney Spears leaving the house without panties or an Olsen twin with an eating disorder. The fact that people are pretending to be shocked is absurd. Riddle me this Batman, if the guy wanted to truly stay with the Clippers, then why did he opt out of his contract in the first place?

And while we’re on the subject, if you think Gilbert Arenas did something noble by “giving money back to the organization,” then you too, are a moron. Arenas didn’t do anything. He was played perfectly by Wiz general manager “Big” Ernie Grunfeld, who was able to stroke Gilbert’s ego by offering a max contract when free agency kicked off at 12:01 a.m., but also put heat on Agent Zero by saying, “If you take the max deal, we won’t be able to bring in another player for the next several years.”

If Arenas was really giving the Wizards some sort of hometown discount, he’d have taken half the money he did and truly put them in a position to build a championship caliber roster. As previously stated on this blog, this team is capable of making the playoffs and nothing more. Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison are solid players and fun to watch, but they’re never going to be a threat to the handful of teams actually able to contend for a championship year in and year out. Winning teams score points in the paint and play sound defense, two areas this team has no interest in improving upon. But with the bar being set so low after years of Wes Unseld at the wheel, anything Grunfeld does is an improvement – including the annual one-and-done playoff routine the Wiz and Cleveland Cavaliers have worked out.

01Jul

burning the midnight oil

Ivan Carter of The Washington Post is getting it done.

On the first night of free agency, Carter earned every penny they pay him when he cranked out a blog post at roughly 3 a.m. shedding some light on the initial craziness. I highly suggest you click the link to read the posting, but here are a few highlights:

– Baron Davis opted out of the final year of his contract with the Golden State Warriors, which would have paid him nearly $18 million. Five hours later, Carter reported that word on the street is that Davis will join my man, Elton Brand, on the Clippers next season.

– Within 30 minutes of the start of free agency, the Warriors, who now have money to spend, put in a call to Gilbert Arenas and offered him a maximum-level contract of five years and more than $100 million. Guess it’s safe to say the Warriors regret ever letting Gil leave in the first place.

– After locking up Antawn Jamison, Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld offered Arenas a maximum six year, $124 million deal. Grunfeld apparently also laid it all on the line, telling Gilbert that if he takes the max deal, then the Wiz offseason is essentially over. There will be no money to retain Roger Mason Jr., or to pick up any other pieces to round out the roster.

– The final nugget from Carter is that the Sacramento Kings, who haven’t been noteworthy since Chris Webber was still good, apparently want Agent Zero so badly that they’re allegedly willing to trade away their entire team if need be to make room for him.

That’s a lot of good stuff, especially considering that this is a weak free agent class and the only other news of the day is that Tiger Woods won’t be coming to town.

30Jun

step one: collect underpants

Do you remember the Underpants Gnomes from South Park? They’re memorable because the had a three-phase business plan that they were convinced would make them lots of cash. Here’s pretty much how it broke down:

1. Collect underpants
2. ?
3. Profit

I bring this up because it reminds me of the situation the Washington Wizards currently find themselves in. I’m not making any bold statements by saying their current roster revolves around three players — Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. And this hasn’t been a bad business plan, seeing as this team has made the NBA playoffs in each of the last four seasons, something previous incarnations of the Bullets/Wiz Kids couldn’t always say. But this offseason, general manager Ernie Grunfeld has to make a decision. Should he re-sign Arenas and Jamison, both of which are free agents, or should he take the team in a different direction. Compounding matters, Agent Zero has no agent, and has said that if the Wiz would like to keep him in town, they must first bring back Jamison.

So essentially, Ernie’s looking at this business plan:

1. Re-sign Antawn Jamison.
2. ?
3. Re-sign Gilbert Arenas.

We put the question mark there because nothing is certain with Gilbert. He could wake up tomorrow, decide to flip another coin and take a mid-level exemption to play in Toronto. Seriously, nothing should surprise folks about this guy anymore. And more importantly, what is Big Ern trying to accomplish with this team? If he wants an entertaining team that can make the playoffs, but get bounced in the first round annually, then it makes sense to bring both Arenas and Jamison back. If he plans on actually trying to win a championship … well … this ain’t the team to bet on.

Scanning the pages of the Worldwide Leader in Sports, they’re reporting that the Wiz have basically wrapped up Jamison to a new four-year, $50 million deal. I have no problem with that. On a team of hotdogs and showboats, he’s the voice of reason. He’s the guy who would rather his team do less talking and more winning. A knucklehead like Andray Blatche needs a role model like Jamison in his ear (as opposed to a hooker in his ear). I’m just not sure Arenas is the answer. Call me crazy, but when an entire team plays one way, and the superstar plays another … well, that’s not a good thing. I’d work the phone and pull off a sign and trade with the Clippers for Elton Brand. Both players are in the same salary ballpark and both are coming off of injuries. The difference, Brand gets guaranteed points in the paint – something this team of jump shooters sorely needs.

Arenas is talented, charming and fun to watch, but he’s also a coach’s nightmare. The Clippers aren’t going to win any championships, so he’d be perfect back in California, where he could battle Kobe Bryant and the Lakers for most entertaining act in town. Meanwhile, the Wizards could use Brand and the Wizards players who actually buy into a team concept to try and advance to the second round of the playoffs. It’s so crazy, it just may work.

27Jun

draft recap: the wiz

The Washington Wizards used their first round draft pick, 18th overall, to select JaVale McGee, out of Nevada. He’s a seven footer, who weighs in at around 240 lbs., and apparently has the wingspan of a Buick. Doing a little homework, I’ve seen him compared to Portland Trail Blazers forward Channing Frye and Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum, although Bynum outweighs him by roughly 35 lbs.

“Very talented,” said Jay Bilas, when describing McGee during ESPN’s NBA draft coverage. “He’s got good shot mechanics, he can step away and hit the little soft turnaround jumper and he uses the glass really well. He needs to move his feet a little bit better, but he’s got a lot of potential.”

And even though the panel of experts covering the draft considered McGee to the Wiz a little bit of a reach (Chad Ford had him ranked the 26th-best prospect), basketball apologist Michael Wilbon loved the pick. Not surprisingly, I don’t agree with him.

Wilbon wrote that getting a legit big man was priority number one because “anybody who spent any time watching the Washington Wizards over the last four years could see the Wizards weren’t big enough, strong enough or physically tough enough to be a serious playoff contender.”

While McGee excels as a shot blocker, (he told one beat writer, “If I were in a video game right now, shotblocking would be a 90”) one of his biggest weaknesses is his one-on-one defense. On top of that, the words “project” and “raw” are word commonly used to describe McGee.

The Wiz don’t need a guy who can help them three or four years from now. They have a stack of big bodies, including Brendan Haywood, Etan Thomas, Andray Blatche, Darius Songalia and Oleksiy Pecherov. What they need is either a back-up point guard or someone who is an above-average defender (or best-case scenario, a back-up point guard who plays above-average defense). D.C. is full of projects (in more ways than one). They could have done without McGee, who is described by his hometown newspaper as not ready for prime time. Sure, he’s got potential, but as a wise man once told me — “Potential is just another way of sayin’, ain’t done shit yet.”

That nifty photo at the top of this entry is a shot I took earlier this year of Georgetown center Roy Hibbert, who was drafted one spot before the Wizards were on the clock. If the hometown team was going to have to coach up a youngster with potential, it would have been much more enjoyable if it were Hibbert.

(photo by Brian Murphy)
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