Monday, May 28, 2007

Stanley Cup Finals

So, the time has finally arrived when soon, PJ will have nothing to talk about on the blog. The NHL Stanley Cup finals are here and start tonight. I wanted to get my pick in early, but I am still deciding which I'm going with. I suppose I could pull an ESPN and post numerous picks all contradicting each other, but I think I'll break it down.

Offense: With apologies to the Finnish Flash (do people ever call him that anymore?), the Senators behind Alfredsson, Heatley, and Spezza, are the favored when it comes to scoring.

Defense: Pronger and Niedermayer make the defense for Anaheim very stout. Even though Ottawa's defensive corps is solid, they don't have the two work-horses.

Goaltending: As good as Emery has been, Giguere can be a game-changer. I'd have to lean toward J.S. cause he goes by his initials.

Depth: The Senators are a deeper team and that separation got larger due to some injuries for Anaheim.

Coaching: Both Carlyle and Murray are good coaches and I'm not sure that there is an advantage here.

Final Analysis: I think Ottawa will win in seven games. Normally I go with Defense and Goaltending which would be Anaheim, but I just think it's Ottawa's year.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Dallas angst

I have heard a lot lately about the woes of various cities, so I thought I would pitch in with my Dallas sob story. But first, a disclaimer: I am fully aware that historically I have nothing to complain about. We've got five Super Bowls, a Stanley Cup, an NBA Finals appearance and multiple MVPs. More often than not, we've been competitive.

But recently, we haven't been so lucky. Oh, there have still been successes, but we've been kicked in the jimmy quite a bit lately.

A quick aside: Hey you, Boston fan. Yeah you. Shut up. Quit crying about the NBA Lotto. Maybe those three shiny new Lombardi's and the Sox breaking the Curse have spoiled you, but the NBA doesn't owe you a top two pick. It isn't your birthright. Deal with it. Isn't it bad enough that we endured your blatant tanking? Must we endure the crying now, too? That New York fan you despise? You are the same dude in a different color personalized jersey. Go get a tissue and blow your nose already. Bill Simmons, I'm talking about you.

Let's start with the Cowboys. When Tony Romo stepped in, it looked like the stars might be aligning. So to collapse in December like they did, followed by a mishandled snap on a chip shot of a field goal against Seattle in the playoffs, was a little hard to take. It was good news when Parcells left, but underwhelming when Wade Phillips stepped in. Dallas politicians actually managed to not sabotage the Super Bowl bid, despite their best efforts, but I'm not counting on the Cowboys being the first team to play at home for the big one. Overall, three jimmy kicks.

Next up is the Stars. This is probably the mildest because they had an average regular season and lost in the playoffs as a six seed to a better team. But to tease the fans by winning three straight only to lose in Game Seven was a little cruel. If you were told that your goalie would get three shutouts in a best-of-seven series, you'd take that, wouldn't you? Me, too. One jimmy kick.

The Mavs. What's left to say? They had a historic regular season and followed it up with a historically bad playoff performance. You might say you'd take 67 wins every time. I say 67 is an insult after the first round choke. Four jimmy kicks. Ouch.

But the worst comes from the Texas Rangers. The Rangers, you say? They didn't tease you with success only to fail miserably in the end. No, this is more a tale of what might have been.

The last (and only) time the Rangers were really good, their general manager was Doug Melvin. But after three playoff series losses to the Yankees he was fired and John Hart began running the team into the ground. Before last season, Jon Daniels took over that role and has continued the process. But at least he found a different way to do it. Under Hart, the team was neglected-Daniels trades the team to death.

Doug Melvin? He has assembled a team in Milwaukee that is tied for the second best record in the National League. Milwaukee!

To make it that much worse, another candidate for the Rangers GM position in 2001 was Dave Dombrowski. When he didn't get the job, he took over in Detroit and remade a bad team into World Series contenders in five years.

But don't think I'm placing all of the blame on the GM: the managers have done their part as well. It appears the the Fire Showalter Blessing isn't going to come true this time. And Ron Washington sure was contagiously enthusiastic in his interview and throughout spring training, but it sounds pretty hollow now that they have the worst record in the AL and second worst overall. We'll never know now, but I thought homegrown Trey Hillman would have been a better hire at the time. Overall, I give it five kicks in the jimmy.

Maybe Griffey should have given his jock strap to a Dallas resident.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hey Cowboys! Shut Up!!!!

It never fails. A team under achieves and the head coach or manager is fired and every under achieving player comes out of the wood work to throw the coach under the bus. It become self evident that because of that idiot coach, who had no idea how to handle such an awesome talent, is a complete fool and the new coach is a genius who is going to get the optimal performance out of each and every one of the players who just couldn't bring themselves to try under the old loser moron idiot.

Case in point: My beloved Texas Rangers are terrible. This time last year they were 20-19 on their way to 80-82 third straight third place finish in the AL West. For pretty much the whole year, they looked apathetic and unemotional. Buck Showalter exercised his usual brand of anal retentive managing that drove players crazy. But players can take just about anything if they are winning, but the Rangers (true to their history) were just mediocre. And Buck was fired, deservedly so.

Enter Ron Washington. Also known as, the savior. A funny looking savior, but savior none the less. All during spring training, the players were going on and on about how much looser they will be able to play this year. Washington brings a different attitude to the team and baseball will be fun again. The flowers were going to bloom, birds would sing over the Ballpark, and the World Series was just around the corner. We even had the Buck Showalter affect in our favor! Victory would be ours. Well, apparently, playing looser doesn't mean playing better. They are 10 games under 500 and only the Royals and the Nationals have worse records. Maybe down the road, the change will come and they start to come around, but I'm not optimistic at this point. In fact, I'm feeling really bad about the Rangers, but that's a post for another time.

This post is about the Cowboys. The Cowboys underachieved last year, at least in the last five games in which they got their heads handed to them three times, especially on defense. After four years of decent football, but hardly the excellence that was expected when he came, Bill Parcells quit. He had improved the team from when he got it (3 straight 5-11 seasons under Dave Campo) but only made the playoffs twice and didn't win a playoff game and the team seemed to loose steam down the stretch each year he was here. He wasn't that great of a talent evaluator as his drafts were either ok (2005- Ware, Barber, Canty) or terrible (2004- Rogers, Peterman). So I was personally pleased when Bill left. I was also a bit underwhelmed by his replacement, but I'll reserve judgement.

Some players aren't being so reserved. I can understand being optimistic about the future. This is a talented team who should be ready for a strong season. Expectations will be high for this team and if they fail to make some noise in the playoffs, it will be profound disappointment. They are at this point a Super Bowl contender in a fairly weak NFC. But I want them to shut up and get ready for the season. I'll leave Terrel Owens stuff aside. No one was surprised when he threw Parcells under the bus. But at least he produced (drops aside.) Others who didn't produce are crying about their roles and I'm tired of it.

Julius Jones, a talented back who has not really produced the way we expected when they passed on Stephen Jackson and other backs to get him in the 2nd round.

"Maybe I was being told a little bit where to run and wasn't really able to use my instincts," Jones said at minicamp. "Maybe I listened to (Parcells) a little too much and was kind of running like a robot."

Kevin Burnett, a second round pick at linebacker who made a grade total of 31 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 pick and has seen linebackers drafted in the first round each of the last two years says this
"I don't know where I'm gonna be," said Burnett, who did play inside in college at Tennessee. "Hopefully I'm playing and hopefully I'm a Dallas Cowboy. I want to play. I don't want to be somebody who stands and plays 30 special-teams plays a game. That's not why they drafted me. I damn sure take offense to playing 30 special teams snaps a game.

Add to this the longing for better times from Greg Ellis and Marcus Spears. Now again, I understand disappointment over the last couple of years and high expectations for next year. But here is my message to the Cowboys. Shut up and get ready to play. Just because there's a change, even if it's the right change, doesn't mean that there is going to be improvement. If you improve, win the division (which they haven't done since 1998), win a playoff game or two (which they haven't done since 1996), play for the championship, (which they haven't done since 1995), play for the Super Bowl (which they haven't done since 1995), win the Super Bowl, then complain about Parcells all you want. But by then, it probably won't matter.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Mark Cuban called me a moron

When Mark Cuban was asked if he had any questions about Dirk Nowitzki's ability to lead the Dallas Mavericks he replied, 'No, not at all. Not even a little bit. Anyone who suggests otherwise is a moron. You can print that.'

Guess he was talking about me.

There is no question in my mind about Nowitzki's disability to lead. He's a great player that has made failed attempts to lead in the past, but he just doesn't have it in him. And I'm OK with that.

There has been a lot of talk the past few weeks about Nowitzki's inability to lead, but that is not his problem. Leadership does not have to come from your best player. It's nice if it does, but it isn't necessary.

Nowitzki's fatal error is that he is not aggressive. The Mavs can fill in leadership from other players, but if their best player refuses to take the ball to the basket, they are doomed to fail. In Game 3 of the 2006 Finals, the Mavs reverted to their jumpshooting ways, and it happened again in the Golden State Warriors series, and that starts with Nowitzki. He went from regular season MVP to playoff MIA overnight.

So that's why Nowitzki's got to go. It isn't about a lack of leadership, but rather a lack of aggressiveness. Having a seven footer who can shoot from the outside is only dangerous if he has the complimentary inside game. Dirk could do it, but he has consistently refused to, particularly in the playoffs.

With Nowitzki, the Mavs will always win 55 plus, but they will never win a title. If they are content with being a perennial good to great team, then by all means, maintain the status quo. But if the goal is a NBA title, it's time to say goodbye.

What should they do with him?

Some have suggested a trade for Kevin Garnett. I don't see that as an improvement. KG and Dirk are the same animal. Or more accurately, the same non-animal.

I do not know the details of draft pick trade values, so I can't propose a specific deal. But I would agree to trade everyone save one point guard in a package for the number one pick in the draft. Do whatever needs to be done to match salaries, and make 'em a Godfather offer. Then I would select Greg Oden.

Would this be a step backwards for a few years? Certainly. Oden will spend a few years continuing to develop his game, plus the Mavs will have to restock at the other positions.

Will it eventually result in titles? Without a doubt. Oden will win multiple titles in his career.

Will the Mavs actually attempt such a trade? Not a chance. Because Cuban isn't the moron that I am.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

NHL Playoffs - Conference Finals

So I recovered from my first round losses and picked 4 for 4 in the second round. I was off a couple times in games, but the final teams moving on I had nailed. This is where it becomes really tricky, especially since I haven't been watching as much as I'd like.

But in the East, we'll see Ottawa vs. Buffalo. Man, this should be a great series full of scoring, speed, and great goaltending. I used to be a big Senators fan and it's very cool to see them representing themselves better than they ever have. I've never liked Buffalo - mostly because they can't get over the fact that Brett's goal was a goal. But I like Drury, and Afinogenov is the coolest hockey-name since Borschevsky. The goaltenders are where this series will be decided as the other areas are pretty even. And they are pretty even too, so I'm sure this series will go to 7 games, and I say.... Ottawa. This is finally their year at least until the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In the West, Detroit will face off against Anaheim. Detroit has some great forwards, and Hasek is playing very well, but Anaheim has some real difference-makers on defense that the smaller forwards of Detroit have not had to face yet. I think this will be another long series, but I expect the defense and Giguere to overcome. Anaheim in 7.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Post Mortem

Embarrassing. There is no two ways about it. How in the world do they come out and just put out that kind of performance? I wasn't even mad last night as I watched the game. It was almost comical. The worset part about it is they got out hustled the whole night. There was no question who wanted that game. Mid way thru the 3rd Dallas acted they just wanted it to be over with. The one who even tried to do anything was Austin Croshere!!!! There was one time down when Dirk had the ball at I think was the right wing, wide open for jump shot, but instead of taking it passed it over to Croshere who shot it. Why in the world was Dirk defering to Croshere? And what happened to Dirk? We've already discussed this on this blog, but I thought that after Game 5 when Dirk took over in the last few minutes that he had fianlly broken out of whatever funk he was in. Well, I guess not. Here is line: 2-13, only 4 free throws. You can talk all day and all night about match up problems and crap like that, but Dirk came up small during this whole series. Is he the same guy that stood tall during the Spurs and Sun series from last year? He took over game 6 six against the Suns last year, 50 points. We all watched it and said that finally he had arrived. I guess Dwyane Wade was right about Dirk. I was mad when he said it, but he's right.

Anybody want to venture a guess as to what the Mavericks can do now? I don't think they trade Dirk. You can't win without a superstar and Dirk, for better or for worse, is their superstar. I heard this thrown out there and the more I think about it, the more I like it. Get Jason Kidd. They never should have traded him in the first place. But they need a point who can distribute the ball. I've never really likes Jason Terry. He's not really a point guard and I guess Devin Harris is a back up. Maybe Jason Kidd can get the things done that the current team can't. So there is my initial call for change. Any other ideas?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Why didn't I think of that?

For the 1996 model year, Chevrolet introduced the world to the third door on their extended cab trucks. When I first saw it, I thought it was so simple and yet so genius. My second thought was 'why didn't I think of that?'

I had the same thought yesterday when I heard about the Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal match on a half-grass, half-clay tennis court. This is going to be a great event. One dominates grass, the other clay. On this specially created, $1.63 million court, we'll finally get a fair and balanced compromise between the two best players in the game.

In fact, this reminds me of the sprint that Michael Johnson and Donovan Bailey ran in 1997. Johnson was a 200m specialist, while Bailey was the 100m record holder, so they split the difference and ran 150m. Hopefully, the tennis match will have a better ending: Johnson pulled up lame during the race. (Or did he? Conspiracy theory, anyone?) If either tennis player happens to be down in the third set and suddenly clutches his quad, you know where he got the idea.

So what other level-the-playing-field type sports compromises can we rig? How about Dale Earnhardt Jr and Danica Patrick racing standardized, identical cars? And while we're at it, why not make it a little common man and have them drive Honda Civics? Or maybe have Tiger Woods compete in a golf tournament with nothing longer than a 3-iron.

Or how about this for a wacky idea: have all major league baseball teams compete with equal payrolls. Crazy, I know.

What dream sports exhibitions can you think of that would make me say yet again 'why didn't I think of that?'

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A radical thought

First of all, I feel compelled to say that this is not a kneejerk article. I have thought about this, I believe, clearly and rationally.

Dirk Nowitzki's got to go.

I love the Big German. He's a great player who is likely about to win a MVP award. The problem is, that award is for the regular season. No one would ever consider giving Dirk a playoff MVP award, even before this year.

Dirk's problem is that he lacks heart, or whatever you want to call it. A killer instinct, intestinal fortitude, whatever. He just doesn't have it, and I think he knows it. He was described in this article as being 'sapped', 'listless' and 'flustered' and quoted as saying, 'I've got to take what they give me, and they don't really give me a lot.' There is no question that Don Nelson knows Dirk's game, and therefore how to limit Dirk's game, better than anyone. But that's not good enough from an MVP candidate. I need some fire.

And so does Avery Johnson. In the same article, he responds to Dirk's comments, saying that if he doesn't see something better for the Game 5 shootaround, he's going to be 'highly upset'. He demands confidence from his best player: If he's not confident, it is that much harder for everyone else.

The Mavericks have slowly grown since the 1999-2000 season, getting a little better each year, the only hiccup being the Antawn/Antoine season experiment. After last year's Finals appearance, the next step was a championship. To win 67 games, only to (presumably) lose in the first round is inexcusable.

Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks should be dictating the tone and pace, not taking what the Warriors give them. If Dirk hasn't learned how to do that yet, he never will. He's a great player, but he is not a leader and he can't dominate.

If the goal is to win a championship, then Dirk should be moved. I am now convinced that he will never win a championship. I don't know where he could go or what they could get for him, but this is not going to work. And I'm not saying they automatically win the title next year if they actually do trade him. This team needs to be rebuilt as a tougher model.

As a Maverick fan, this is tough for me to say because Dirk is such a likable player, as are the rest of the Mavs. They are an easy team to root for—no thug life activity. But this team is flawed because they are too nice and too soft, and it starts with Dirk, the best player.

I don't expect a trade to actually happen, and would be sad if it somehow did, but the prize is a championship. Unless he finally puts the team on his back and digs them out of this 1-3 hole right now, I'm convinced it will never happen in Dallas with Dirk.