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)
26Jun

odds and ends

Not much to share with the class today, but here’s a few things to help kill some time on a Thursday afternoon.

For starters, we have my bi-weekly Hobotrashcan column, called Note to Self. This week, I’m a little angry at the sports world and decide to vent. Everyone from Don Imus to Kobe Bryant to Barry Melrose to Jim Bowden is in my sights this time around, so I hope you enjoy.

Once you plow through that, there’s a Washington Times feature story on the blacksheep Ovechkin. Alex’s brother Mikhail is profiled, but really, we don’t learn much about the 26-year-old other than he works for the Mystics and he chain smokes. This is roughly a halfstep away from living in a van, down by the river.

WUSA Channel 9 has video of Shaun “Shazam” Suisham “kicking an amazing 110-yard fieldgoal.” Since I’ve seen him blow ’em from half that distance with the game on the line, I’ll go ahead an say this might not be 100 percent real. If nothing else though, it gives me an excuse to post this awesomely legit video of Jason Campbell from last year, completely two passes like you’ve never seen before.

And even though I took a potshot at Suisham, at least he’s capable of actually making a fieldgoal in his video. Arizona Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers shanks four fieldgoal attempts in this video, and then actually looks pleased with himself. Let me just say, Rackers wasn’t so quick to pat himself on the back when I was standing next to him last season after he blew a chance to beat the Redskins on a last-second fieldgoal at FedEx Field.

24Jun

zorn to be wild

Let me start by saying, we’re absolutely in the leanest portion of the football offseason. Training camp is still a month away and there aren’t even OTAs to help pass the time. With the NBA and NHL seasons concluded, it’s pretty much baseball or nothing. Since baseball in D.C. is nothing, here’s something to help pass the time.

A popular topic on some of the Redskins message boards, is the topic of “What can we expect from Jim Zorn?” Because he is of the people and for the people, Ryan O’Halloran of The Washington Times was kind enough to email me with a detailed breakdown of just what kind of offense Jim Zorn called back in January when the Seahawks defeated the Redskins 35-14.

Seattle offensive formations vs. Redskins in playoff game (54 snaps total)

3WR-1RB: 17 times
4WR-1RB: 14 times
3WR-2RB: 10 times
2WR-2RB: 8 times
1WR-2RB: 4 times* (three of which came after taking 28-14 lead)
5WR: 1 time

Looking at this breakdown, would it be fair to surmise that there actually might be enough touches to go around for Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El and a occasional rookie wide out, as well as Clinton Portis, Chris Cooley and a certain rookie tight end with a faulty alarm clock?

[Update: Turns out that Ryan actually put together a post using all of his great research. Go show him some love, so he’ll continue to provide goods like this down the line].

24Jun

nat pack: the team

Remember when Ryan Zimmerman christened the brand-new Nats Park with a game-winning solo home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning? Or that this 2008 squad actually started the season 3-0? Yeah, we didn’t think so.

That’s because the Nats went 9-17 in the month of April and haven’t been any better since. It hurts to say it, but by my estimation, the current roster is the fourth reason to go to a ballgame in D.C. these days. First, you’ve got the new park. Second, you’ve got the racing presidents. Third, you’ve got the shirts vs. skins controversy. And finally, you have this rag-tag bunch that general manager Jim Bowden slapped together (and yet, has somehow managed to keep his job).

Warning: this is the paragraph that hurts.

The Nats have the second worst record in the majors. They’ve scored the fewest and have allowed the third most runs in the big leagues. In fact, only two players are currently batting over .300 this season (Christian Guzman and Jesus Flores), and Zimmerman leads the team with a measly eight homers, even though he’s played 26 games less than the next guy in line. And they’re not getting better with age — they’re currently 6-15 in the month of June. One could argue that right now, there are a grand total of three players on the Nats worth watching — Chad Cordero, Zimmerman and Flores. That’s it.

This is the part where I focus on a fairly simple statement that I feel needs to be reiterated — D.C. went without a baseball team from 1972 until 2005. Hardcore sports fans will still be around, but people aren’t really used to having a home team in the District, so if you want to attract new fans you actually have to give them something worth caring about. That doesn’t mean bringing in every single “I’m over-the-hill and clutching on to my last chance to play in the majors” sob story or players who need a change of scenery (as long as their legal troubles still allow them to leave the state).

While Kobe Bryant has been busy “instilling his DNA into the rest of the team,” the Nats have no such luck. This is a team with no payroll, no identity and no real reason for optimism over the next few years. Because a bunch of no-namers have overachieved, Bowden continues to trot out pitchers who should not actually be allowed to collect a big-league paycheck. That’s why no one in their starting rotation will be confused with an ace, or even a number two pitcher on an actual major league roster. They’re currently 26th in baseball in ERA, and some might say they’re playing better than their talent would suggest they’re able of sustaining.

And don’t think that the pitching is the only issue. It’s actually better than the hitting. The Nats bats scored a grand total of one, I repeat — ONE FREAKING RUN — over 27 innings earlier this month. They’re so pitiful that local newspapers coverage actually applauded the team for not losing the night they were rained out. I’m not talking about columnists trying to be funny, I’m talking about beat writers connecting on more shots than the Nats offense. These guys are in need of something drastic (i.e. – talent). In the absence of that, I’d at least suggest a slump buster.

To be fair, last year’s draft was considering very strong and early reports are that Missouri pitcher Aaron Crow, whom the Nats drafted this year, might be the best college pitcher in the draft, but these guys are a long way away from contributing. Anyone in the organization within earshot of a microphone or tape recorder toes the company line and says, “We’re trying to build a team that will be competitive for more than just one year.” And that’s understandable. I’m just saying you’re not going to run fans off by winning games in the interim.

I’ll leave you with one final (and sobering) fact. At 221 lbs., the 2008 Washington Nationals are the second fattest team in baseball (behind only the White Sox at 227 lbs.) As a team, they average 23 lbs. more per person than the Kansas City Royals. Congrats Jim Bowden, you’ve built a team of fatties who can’t actually hit home runs. Am I wrong for thinking this is some sort of cruel joke?

Overall grade: D

23Jun

baseball & football

In murf by b murf / June 23, 2008 / No Comments

By George Carlin (1937-2008)

Baseball is different from any other sport, very different. For instance, in most sports you score points or goals; in baseball you score runs. In most sports the ball, or object, is put in play by the offensive team; in baseball the defensive team puts the ball in play, and only the defense is allowed to touch the ball. In fact, in baseball if an offensive player touches the ball intentionally, he’s out; sometimes unintentionally, he’s out.

Also: in football, basketball, soccer, volleyball, and all sports played with a ball, you score with the ball and in baseball the ball prevents you from scoring.

In most sports the team is run by a coach; in baseball the team is run by a manager. And only in baseball does the manager or coach wear the same clothing the players do. If you’d ever seen John Madden in his Oakland Raiders uniform, you’d know the reason for this custom.

Now, I’ve mentioned football. Baseball and football are the two most popular spectator sports in this country. And as such, it seems they ought to be able to tell us something about ourselves and our values.

I enjoy comparing baseball and football:

Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.

Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park. The baseball park!
Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.

In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap.

Football is concerned with downs – what down is it?
Baseball is concerned with ups – who’s up?

In football you receive a penalty.
In baseball you make an error.

In football the specialist comes in to kick.
In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.
Baseball has the sacrifice.

Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog …
In baseball, if it rains, we don’t go out to play.

Baseball has the seventh-inning stretch.
Football has the two-minute warning.

Baseball has no time limit: we don’t know when it’s gonna end – might have extra innings.
Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death.

In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there’s kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there’s not too much unpleasantness.
In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least 27 times you’re capable of taking the life of a fellow human being.

And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different:

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!

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