Friday, June 11, 2010 @ 9:05am
The Arizona Diamondbacks are in last place - 12 ˝ games out of first place and 13 games under .500 - and everyone from the owner to the fans want answers.
First though, before we solve the problems - which are many - we have to figure out what the questions are.
So I'll start this off with some of the major questions that need to be addressed.
First and foremost, who is to blame for this season getting away from the team so quickly?
That answer is simple - everyone!
From the owner to the general manager to the manager to the coaches to the players everyone is to blame. Not one person in particular, but everyone needs to shoulder some of the blame for this season never getting on track.
1) Ken Kendrick is the owner and has the final say on every major contract so he needs to take the blame for ultimately agreeing to pay Eric Byrnes $30 million dollars and having $11 million in wasted money on him this year while still paying $16 million in deferred money from the Jerry Colangelo era. Factor in the $8 million so far wasted on Brandon Webb plus the $2 plus million they wasted on Bobby Howry and this team has a mind boggling $37 million dollars this season going to players who aren't even playing for them right now.
2) General Manager Josh Byrnes needs to take the blame for an organizational philosophy that has allowed so many players to be rewarded with big contracts after one good year - see Byrnes, Chris Young, Chris Snyder, Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton. In a sport where players are under your control for at least five years a team doesn't need to throw out big money to players after just one good season - they should have to prove themselves for a few years before earning that right. The current philosophy has given players a sense of entitlement that they shouldn't have and taken away the hunger and desire they should have at a young age. Not spending money wisely on the bullpen has also been a huge mistake that has cost the team dearly.
3) Manager A.J. Hinch and the coaching staff can easily say that you can only play the hand your dealt. But it is ultimately the responsibility of the manager to win games and of his coaching staff to develop players. Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds are two key pieces for the Diamondbacks and they are not playing well this year. Upton is looking at too many called third strikes, Reynolds has done nothing to cut down on his strikeouts. The Diamondbacks strike out too many times on offense and their pitchers walk too many hitters. Not a good combination. I understand Hinch wants to protect his players but in all honesty enough of the babying of these guys - if they aren't getting the job done find someone else who will or who will at least give a better effort.
4) The players - ultimately it is their responsibility to play the game the right way, play with heart and passion and get the job done. They have failed miserably and most of the blame needs to fall on them. The bullpen is the worst I have ever seen in my lifetime and the major culprit of a season gone wrong. Too many of them that have taken the mound this year -- see Boyer, Rivera, Gutierrez, Valdez, Rosa, Stange and Mulvey -- aren't good enough to pitch in the major leagues. Bottom line, end of story. They just aren't good enough, so let's face facts and deal with it accordingly.
Chad Qualls is the worst closer in baseball and the next time he takes the blame for one of his miserable outings will be the first. I've never heard a guy make more excuses for failing then Qualls.
Yes, Chad it was a ground ball, but it was hit like a rocket right into left field for a two-run single. It doesn't matter that you got him to hit it on the ground because he hit it where they weren't. Stop making excuses and learn a lesson from your new teammate Dontrelle Willis - when you suck just say you suck.
Reynolds is hitting a pathetic .212 but the good news is that he doesn't lead the major league in strikeouts with his 81. He is second. The bad news is that Upton leads with 83 and fresh off his new contract J-Up is batting a whopping .246.
Conor Jackson is hitting .246 as well and Chris Snyder has become the easiest out on the team with a .205 average and appears to have no approach to any of his at bats.
So yes, each and every one of those players mentioned and a few more need to look themselves in the mirror and take the blame for failing to do their job.
Now the million dollar question - can it be fixed, do changes need to be made, should someone lose their job?
Let's start with the latter. No the manager shouldn't be fired. The team didn't need to fire Bob Melvin last year and they don't need to fire Hinch this year. Notice I say this year.
Same goes for Byrnes. Clearly we can question the way this team was built. You can't have six guys in the top 28 in strikeouts in the National League. They don't have enough contact hitters; they lack gritty players who battle each and every at bat.
It's too late for this group - too many of them are spoiled from the big contracts at the young age therefore they aren't tough enough from having had to earn their job each and every year.
So changes need to be made.
I would give Byrnes the opportunity to do an overhaul of the team; despite the current situation he has made some good moves over the years. I would give Hinch a chance to coach the overhauled team, his lack of managerial experience has nothing to do with the team being in last place.
Joe Torre and Bobby Cox could co-manage this team and they still would be in last place. Let's see how a new look Diamondbacks team performs after the trade deadline. Let's see how they perform in spring training and let's see what kind of start they get off to next year. And if for some reason we are in a similar spot again next year at this time, then by all means bring down the hammer.
So this is no time for anyone in management to preach patience - you have lost the right to ask for that.
Moves need to be made to make this team competitive for next season, not 2012. Trades need to be made for players who are either major league ready now or will be next season, not three years from now. Byrnes' $11 million comes off the books after this season so does Webb's $8.5 and Howry's $2 million.
And next year is the last year of paying out what will end up being a whopping 250 million that Colangelo deferred from the good old days. So management please change the roster now and in the off-season and be ready to compete in 2011. And if you aren't competing next year then start looking for a new job.
Monday, May 31, 2010 @ 7:03pm
Now that the Phoenix Suns season is over, it's time for Arizona sports fans to turn their attention to baseball and the Arizona Diamondbacks. And once you do, you will find out that things aren't going so well for the boys in Sedona Red.
First off, they have lost seven games in a row. They are in last place in the NL West with a 20-31 record and are a full 9 games out of first place. Only the Houston Astros have a worse record in the National League.
It is safe to say with just about a third of the season gone that this is not going to be the D-backs' year. They are not a playoff team and therefore need to start making decisions for the future of the organization.
And there is no better time to start then now, so I give you the top five issues at stake for the Diamondbacks.
1) Chad Qualls is not a closer. He had his fourth blown save Sunday, and for a team struggling to find wins this is unacceptable. His ERA is a pathetic 7.64 as he has given up 31 hits and six walks along with 15 runs in 17 2/3 innings. In the last 3 years Qualls has 43 saves and 17 blown saves.
The bottom line is that he should not be closing games; he is better suited to be a setup guy.
2) Sometimes it's as simple as the guys aren't good enough. And that is the case in the bullpen right now. Juan Gutierrez (10.00 ERA and nine home runs allowed in 18 innings), Saul Rivera (ERA of 22.09) and Cesar Valdez (ERA of 6.32) are not good enough to play major league baseball, and the jury is out on Esmerling Vasquez (ERA of 5.06). I haven't seen enough of Carlos Rosa to make a determination about him yet.
The team has already released veteran Bobby Howry and sent Blaine Boyer and Daniel Stange down to the minors after poor performances. Only Aaron Heilman in the bullpen has been steady. One guy is not good enough.
This is the worst bullpen in baseball by far and this area needs a complete overhaul between now and spring training 2011.
3) Billy Buckner is not a major league starter. I'm really not sure why he is still in the organization, but he is. I saw enough of him in 13 starts last year to realize he can't pitch at this level as he went 4-6 with a 6.40 ERA. Due to injuries he has gotten another chance this year, and I'm not at all surprised he has flopped again. Buckner is 0-3 with an ERA of 11.08 and has given up a mind boggling 26 hits and 16 runs in 13 innings.
I know the cupboards are bare in the high minors for pitching right now, but this guy can't pitch and needs to go find a real job somewhere. So please, Arizona, put him out of his misery and spare the D-backs fans from ever having to see him start a game again.
4) Conor Jackson is back this year. So what. Jackson has played surprisingly well in left field but he lacks any power. He has no home runs in 113 at bats and is hitting just .221. Jackson has batted .291, .284 and .300 in past seasons but his lack of power for a corner outfield spot -- just 45 home runs in 1,737 at bats-- should be an issue.
This is a big year for Jackson because if he doesn't get things going and soon, he could end up being a fourth outfielder for the rest of his career.
5) Trade deadline. Arizona has talent, lots of good young talent. But they don't have enough starting pitching or relief pitching and have too many high strikeout guys (5 players amongst top 25 in strikeouts including the top 2, Reynolds and Upton).
Upton is untouchable. In my opinion, he is the only true untouchable and that includes Dan Haren. While it's nice to have an ace, it would be wise to see what Haren could fetch on the open market. If there is a package that includes various young star pitching prospects, it might be worth trading him for the future. What might hurt is that Haren is not having a good year (5-4 with a 5.35 ERA) and there could be a lot of quality starting pitching available (Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Ben Sheets to name a few).
His salary for the next three years is $8.25M, $12.75M and 12.75M. So for $33.75 million over the next three years, he is reasonably priced. Haren should be available, but only for a home run deal.
Arizona should listen to offers for anyone and everyone outside of Upton and see if some team in the hunt wants to overpay for one of their everyday players.
In closing, it's really quite a shame that things have gone so wrong this year. A lot of it can be tied to Brandon Webb's inability to come back from shoulder surgery --something the D-backs were banking on.
Arizona made five major off-season moves and only one of them flopped -- the signing of Bobby Howry. The signings of Kelly Johnson and Adam LaRoche have been good quality moves. The trade for Aaron Heilman was a solid move. The trade of Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth for Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson has been a wash so far and only time will tell on that one.
There are still over 100 games to be played, and anything can happen in a long season, but based on what I have seen thus far I would address those five issues first in getting this ballclub turned around.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 @ 8:52am
Memo to myself -- it is not over until the fat lady sings or in this case until the Lakers figure out how to beat a zone defense.
What a difference a week makes.
Last week I had written the Phoenix Suns off for dead after two embarrassing losses to the Los Angeles Lakers, in which the defending NBA champions shot 59% from the field, got mammoth performances from Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, plus a huge Game 1 from Lamar Odom and a solid Game 2 from Jordan Farmar.
The Suns had no answers for the Lakers length, no ability to slow down their high powered offense and the Suns' two stars Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash were held in check.
Stoudemire was held in check so much that after a total of nine rebounds in the first two games the criticism was raining down on him from coast to coast.
The question at the time wasn't if the Lakers were going to reach the NBA Finals it was how soon would they polish off Phoenix. Would it be a sweep or would the Suns get a game and go down in five.
The thought of Phoenix winning four of the next five games against the Lakers seemed like a pipe dream. And Phil Jackson had been a remarkable 46-0 when leading a series 2-0 in his career.
So excuse me if I thought the series was over because it sure seemed that way.
Now, all bets are off.
The Suns responded at home, tied this series and, turned it into a Best of three. They have also caused panic in Los Angeles, put the halts on the Celtics-Lakers talk for the time being and climbed within two victories of reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since Charles Barkley could see his toes.
The Suns played so well in these last two games that the sound you are hearing are the brakes being put on the bandwagon because it needs to slow down so all the fans and myself can hop back on.
But before we get ahead of ourselves let's remember one thing -- the Suns are going to have to win in Los Angeles to win this series and thus far the road teams have played four awful games. Phoenix was bad in the first two games and the Lakers were not very good in the last two games.
Maybe, just maybe, this zone defense that is forcing the Lakers to hoist up long-range bomb after long-range bomb, another 28 three-pointers attempted Tuesday night after 32 were jacked up Sunday, could be the difference in the series.
Maybe the awakening of the Phoenix bench which scored 54 points and dominated Game 4 could swing the pendulum in Phoenix's direction.
Maybe there really is something special about this group of players who didn't even make the playoffs last season.
Or maybe destiny is on their side.
There is still two more big wins to get and it won't be easy. But we learned a valuable lesson about this team in the last three days -- do not count them out because they certainly never counted themselves out when everyone else did.
Monday, May 24, 2010 @ 12:24am
This is the NBA. You win and lose behind your star players. Not your
bench, not your role players.
So taking nothing away from how valuable
Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, Jason Richardson, Robin Lopez, Goran Dragic
and Grant Hill have been for the Phoenix Suns this season, when push
comes to shove this team will go as far as Steve Nash and Amare
Stoudemire can take them. And Sunday night the Suns' dynamic duo was
bit as good as the Lakers dynamic duo of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
will always be x factors in any one game and last night it was Robin Lopez
and his 20 points for the Suns. But Phoenix got Game 3 because
Stoudemire was unstoppable scoring 42 points and grabbing 11 rebounds
and Nash was brilliant with 17 points, 15 assists and just one turnover.
That Stoudemire had such a dominant game after all the criticism he came
under for his subpar performances in the first two games is a great sign.
Stoudemire answered the critics, he responded to the criticism and he
played with the energy, passion and heart that was necessary for Phoenix
to have come away with a victory. Plain and simple Stoudemire was
special. The Suns got him the ball on the elbow and in isolation and not
only was he hitting his jump shot he was blowing by Gasol and scoring at
the basket or getting to the free throw line.
The Suns played bigger with
Lopez getting 30 minutes and the bigger lineup favors Stoudemire
defensively. He is not a center in this league and he was exposed
defensively in Game 2 because the Suns went small with him at center and
Grant Hill at power forward. That lineup works offensively but is atrocious
defensively. Sunday the zone defense and bigger lineup forced the Lakers
to jack up shots from outside (32 three-pointers taken) and that took
some pressure of Stoudemire.
Stoudemire played the final two-and-a-half months of the season with a
his shoulder and he carried this team to the three seed tallying 13 30-point
games and 16 double-digit rebound games in that time. He again played
with a chip on his shoulder in Game 3 and took his frustrations out on the
Stoudemire is an enigma. I don't remember a player who forces you
to change your opinion of him on a regular basis as much as STAT does.
One day you love him the next you don't. One day you want the Suns to
re-sign him, the next you don't. One day you believe he is worth the max,
the next you hope he walks. He is equal part frustration and elation. We
celebrate his greatness but harp on his weaknesses.
Just where the Suns first-round pick from 2002 plays next year is
anyone's guess. While Stoudemire is a very good player in this league he is
not a true superstar and therefore it is debatable as to whether he is a max
player or not. But asking whether or not he is a max player is not the
question here. All it takes is one team in free agency to believe he is
worthy of a five-year max contract and then he is a max player. The
is do any of the teams with cap space want to use it on STAT?
for the Suns is there are quite a few teams with cap space and coming
from big markets that want to spend. Miami wants to appease Dwyane
Wade and make sure he re-signs with the Heat. Getting Stoudemire should
allow Pat Riley to accomplish that. New Jersey has a new billionaire owner
who wants to make a splash and they are moving to Brooklyn in a couple
of years. The New York Knicks have no problem spending money and can
two max players and if they don't get James are going to want someone.
Chicago would like Wade but if he stayed in Miami and the Heat added
Chris Bosh or Carlos Boozer, maybe the Bulls go after Stoudemire.
The Suns would like to keep Stoudemire but on their terms, which is for
four total years. Phoenix could be reluctant to go any longer on a deal
because of Stoudemire's had microfracture surgery on his knee and there
could and should be questions as to whether he can hold up until his mid -
30's. The Suns could look at second max contracts for Tracy McGrady and
Jermaine O'Neill to see examples of where second max deals backfired. But
in Stoudemire's case -- four years is not as good as five and certainly not
as good as six so what is likely to happen is that he will test the free agent
market, see what's out there and then come back to Phoenix and say either
match it or do a sign and trade. A sign and trade doesn't bring back value
but it brings back something either in players, draft picks and sometimes
trade exceptions and it is a heck of a lot better than losing him for nothing
and future cap space. If the Suns lose Stoudemire it's not like they have
that 17 plus million to go spend, the would be roughly four to five million
the cap this year if he left. If the Suns lose him for nothing they will take a
major step backwards for the next few years and have to re-do the
franchise beginning a rebuilding process that is inevitable anyway with the
age of Steve Nash and Grant Hill.
What Stoudemire has to realize is that he is not the only player who has
received criticism for poor play in the playoffs. LeBron James, Joe Johnson
and now Dwight Howard have all felt the wrath of the fans and media for
playoff struggles. This is a what have you done for me lately sports world
so it may be in STAT's best interest to make sure his last game is a good
one because it very well may dictate the pulse of the Suns fan and maybe
even the organization.
Thursday, May 20, 2010 @ 12:06am
It was a great season and I emphasize great! No one expected the Phoenix Suns to get this far after not even making the playoffs last season. It was a fun run, a good team, one we will remember fondly. But this series is over and you and I both know it.
The Suns just won't be capable of beating the Los Angeles Lakers in four of the next five games and especially with the way the Lakers are playing.
The Suns just have no answers and its not that you can make all these adjustments and all of a sudden figure the Lakers out. The defending champs are unstoppable right now and are manhandling Phoenix.
As I said on the radio many many times the time to get LA was early in the playoffs. Oklahoma City had the best chance to knock off the Lakers because LA had been reeling losing seven of their final 11 games entering the playoffs, Andrew Bynum had been out of the lineup missing the final 13 games with a strained achilles tendon and Kobe Bryant was nursing injuries to his knee and finger. The longer the Lakers hung around the better they were going to get and we are witnessing that right now with them having won their last 8 games.
The Suns will play to get back in this series, they will take it one game at a time and try to win Game 3 and they very well could do that. Heck maybe they can win two games and make this respectable or they could lose Game 3 and bow out in 4 -- this is the season of sweeps you know.
You have to wonder if the biggest loser in this series won't just be the Suns as a team but Amare Stoudemire as an individual. Stoudemire has been exposed in this series and despite a remarkable near 3 month stretch of domination has yet to dominate any of the 12 playoff games thus far. Stoudemire ,who had 13 30-point games from January 28th to the end of the regular season, hasn't put in 30 in a single playoff game. And for all the good he did in tallying 16 dougle-digit rebounding games during that same stretch, has gone for 10 or more rebounds just twice in the playoffs and five times has gone for 5 or less rebounds. He is averaging a pathetic 6.6 rebounds per game in the post-season and looks completely lost defensively, fronting a post-up player with no weakside help and allowing cutter to blow by him as if he wasn't even there.
Not that this is all Stoudemire's fault, Channing Frye has turned into the Suns playoff version of Shawn Marion during the first two games of the playoffs and has flat out disappeared. But this had become Stoudemire's team and now he is struggling and with free agency looming the inevitable question is whether the potential suitors for the power forwards services could be turned off by his maximum contract demands and average player performance in these playoffs.
Maybe that could be good news for Phoenix in that they can retain his services on their terms -- a three-year extension on top of his one year remaining.
Or maybe Phoenix could allow Stoudemire to opt out of his final year, hit free agency and leave without taking the PR hit because right now fans are clearly frustrated with his performances and this is a what have you done for me lately town. For all the good Stoudemire did in getting the Suns to the #3 seed, this town is starving for its first basketball championship and expected more from its frontcourt star in these playoffs.
If the Suns did let Stoudemire walk they could possibly make a run at Steve Nash's old pal Dirk Nowitzki should the Mavericks star decide to opt out of the final year of his contract. The Suns would have to clear some space and be creative but it is not out of the realm of possibility that they could consider such a swap.
There will be plenty of time to talk about the Suns off-season as it promises to be busy, but that talk may come a little sooner than expected with the way the Lakers are playing.
Monday, May 10, 2010 @ 2:09pm
There they were in the press conference after getting swept by the Phoenix Suns, raining down praise on the team from the desert, talking about how classy they are and how happy they are for them.
Gregg Popovich, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan all saying nice things about the Suns, talking about how much respect they have for them and wishing them well.
Well in the words of Tanner from the Bad News Bears when the Yankees started to talk about how good they played-- "Hey San Antonio, You can take your praise and your four championship rings and shove ‘em straight up your ass!"
It may be the politically correct thing to do after getting your rear ends handed to you in an embarrassing sweep to say nice things about your opponent, but I for one want nothing to do with the Spurs, their fans and especially their admiration for the Suns.
Memo to Duncan, Ginobili and Popovich - save your breath. We don't want nor do we need to hear you talk nice now about the Suns. Go home, go fishing, go back to your desperate housewife, go get your nose job or just go #$$Q% yourself. We hated you before, we hate you now and we will hate you tomorrow.
To hear the Spurs talk about how "classy" the Suns are after years of Bruce Bowen's dirty fouls on Steve Nash, Robert Horry's dirty hip check, Popovich's mind games and Duncan whining after every call, just made me sick. Save your praise for someone who cares. Suns fans are celebrating this sweep today and will be tomorrow but they will never ever forget the Spurs, never speak nicely of them and certainly don't want to hear them speak nicely of the Suns.
Every great rivalry is based on hate. And the Suns and their fans hate the Spurs. Sweeping them doesn't make the hatred any less, in fact those four straight losses in the playoffs at San Antonio's hands just make this result that much sweeter. So we don't want to hear how happy you are for Nash and the Suns. I'm sure the Suns weren't happy for you all the times you beat them. Go lick your wounds, cry to your mom and enjoy watching the Suns in the Conference Finals. You still suck San Antonio.
Sunday, May 9, 2010 @ 10:19pm
Don't be surprised, not even by the sweep.
The Suns were the better team and after they won the first two games at
home they put the Spurs in a hole they just weren't going to be able to
climb out of.
Game 3 was the decisive game and what impressed me most about that
game wasn't the performance of Goran Dragic it was the sense of urgency
by the Suns.
With veteran players like Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Amare Stoudemire
leading the way they Suns never took their foot off the pedal, never got
complacent and clearly weren't satisified just protecting home court. They
took it to San Antonio in Game 3, overcame and early deficit and rode
Dragic's career performance to the Suns biggest post-season win since the
1993-94 made it to the NBA Finals.
For all intent and purposes this thing was over after Game 3. The Spurs
would put up a valiant effort in Game 4 but they knew they were finished,
they understood they couldn't come back and although they never quit,
they were a defeated team and the only thing that could have extended
this series was a lackadaisical effort by Phoenix and as we learned, that
was not going to happen.
The Spurs had no answer for the Suns high screen and rolls, three-point
shooting and bench play. San Antonio knew what was coming yet was
powerless to do anything about it. In Game 3 the Suns simply forced the
Spurs into mismatches the entire fourth quarter with timely picks that
forced the Spurs to have Duncan and Blair covering Dragic and Barbosa. It
was like taking candy from a baby. The Spurs bigs were too slow and out
too far to cover the Suns quicker guards and the Spurs help defense was
always late getting over. School was in session and this time it was the
Suns giving the lessons.
The Suns exorcised some demons in this series, they embarrassed the
Spurs. You can say the Spurs had this coming and you would be right. In
the past the Suns tried to build teams capable of beating the Spurs -- to
no avail. This time they just built a good team. The Spurs had a part in
this, time catches up with all of us at some point and such was the case
with Tim Duncan. Still a good player but no longer a great player, Duncan
wasn't capable of putting the Spurs on his back and carrying his team. And
the Spurs new collection of role players (Matt Bonner, Richard Jefferson,
DeJuan Blair) was not as good as the previous group led by Bruce Bowen,
Robert Horry and, yes, even the pick master Fabricio Oberto.
The Suns will start concentrating on their next series immediately but the
fans need to take some time to savor this one and enjoy it. It's been a long
time coming and payback is sweet. And Suns fans can take solace it this --
even though the Suns lost to San Antonio in the four previous playoff
meetings, at least they were never swept, embarrassed and dismantled the
way this Spurs team was by your Phoenix Suns.
Thursday, May 6, 2010 @ 3:24pm
Are you shocked the Phoenix Suns are up 2-0 on the San Antonio Spurs?
You shouldn't be.
Plain and simple the Suns are a better team than San Antonio this time around.
This is what was supposed to happen.
Is the series over?
Not necessarily but it is going to take a collapse by Phoenix to not win this series.
What the Suns did was more than protect home court, what they did was put the Spurs in a hole they shouldn't be able to climb out of.
While it is possible for San Antonio to win four of the next five it is highly unlikely.
Phoenix is beating the Spurs up on the boards, out hustling them, shooting the three pointer better, getting the crucial stops. San Antonio doesn't have the answers. Steve Nash kills them in Game 1, the Suns bench gets them in Game 2.
Manu Ginobli scores 27 in Game 1 the Suns and Grant Hill shut him down in Game 2, holding him to 11 points. The Suns have a bench the Spurs don't. Matt Bonner has two points in two games and hasn't hit a three-pointer yet (0-4).
The Spurs held Phoenix to 42% shooting, had more fast-break points in Game 2 (13-8) and had more blocked shots (8-1).
And it didn't matter.
The Suns are the team of intangibles - hustling all over the court to keep balls alive, save balls from going out of bounds, forcing jump balls. The Suns are the team that won't be outworked and that has been the difference so far in this series. These Suns also have great balance, they can score inside and outside, they can defend the perimeter and the paint and when Robin Lopez returns they can go big or small. Those combinations make them an extremely difficult matchup.
Friday, April 30, 2010 @ 4:36pm
My favorite part of the movie 'A Christmas Story' was when poor little Ralphie Parker got fed up with being picked on by the bully Scut and decided to kick his ass.
Yes, the little boy who finally got fed up with being picked on by the big bully decided to punch the bully right square in the mouth and guess what - the bully didn't fight back he just took a beating.
It's time for the Phoenix Suns to punch the bully in the face. It's time for the Suns to treat the hated Spurs the same way that Ralphie treated Scut. After four straight post-season ousters at the hands of the Spurs the Suns need to show the world that Duncan, Ginobli and Parker are not going to take their lunch money anymore.
The Suns are going to win this series and the reason is simple - they are the better team. They are a better team than the previous four squads that lost to San Antonio. And the Spurs are not as good as any of those teams. There is no Bruce Bowen to pester Steve Nash. There is no Robert Horry to knock down that crucial three pointer. There is no Fabricio Oberto to set pick after pick after pick. The Spurs are still good, but they are no longer great. Tim Duncan is still good but he is no longer great.
This version of Suns basketball is better. They are deeper with a bench that boasts three-point shooting in Channing Frye and Jared Dudley, defense and rebounding in Lou Amundson and Dudley, and a true backup point guard in Goran Dragic who gives Steve Nash the rest he needs during games without having Phoenix miss a beat. This version of Suns basketball actually plays defense and has a true defensive stopper in Grant Hill and a help-defense system that actually works. On any given night the Suns could be led offensively by Amare Stoudemire, Nash, Jason Richardson, Dudley, Frye or even Grant Hill who keyed the Game 2 victory over Portland by making 10 of 11 shots. San Antonio can't stop Stoudemire but in the past it mattered little because they may have lost the battle with Amare but they won the war by taking the series. Now, Amare has great compliments around him including another go-to-guy in Richardson who torched Portland to the tune of 23.5 points per game and 53% shooting in the series.
Winning the series won't be easy, the games will be highly contested. But the Suns will win. In a 7-game series the best team usually wins and finally the Suns are the better team.
Friday, April 23, 2010 @ 8:45am
After watching the Arizona Cardinals defense get torched by Green Bay and New Orleans in the playoffs there was no doubt in my mind that the Redbirds were going defense with their first pick.
The Cards brass could have talked all they wanted about best available player, but they weren't going offense unless Sam Bradford dropped to them at 26.
This team needed defensive help and they got it in defensive tackle Dan Williams who will likely line up at nose tackle with Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell in the Cards 3-4 alignment to provide beef and youth on that line.
For all intent and purposes Williams is replacing the not signed Bryan Robinson, who did a nice job for Arizona but may have played his last game. Williams won't provide much of a pass rush but he will certainly give the Cards a run stuffer and allow the Cardinals linebackers more freedom to rush the passer and in pass coverage.
The NFL Network rated Williams as the 15th best prospect and it was somewhat surprising that Baltimore didn't snap him up and instead decided to trade out of the first round.
A nice nugget is that Williams was taken ahead of Florida's Carlos Dunlap, Alabama's Terrence Cody, Auburn's Antonio Coleman and Kentucky's Corey Peters, players who were selected ahead of him as first-team All-SEC by the coaches. Williams was second-team. The word I keep hearing on Williams is heart. That he plays with a lot of it.
All in all a good draft pick by Arizona, but much work still to be done.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010 @ 7:58pm
Thursday, February 18, 2010 @ 10:19am
The trade deadline passed without the Phoenix Suns making a deal.
The Suns did not get, nor were they making calls, so Amare Stoudemire remains a Sun.
The Suns had two teams vying for Stoudemire's services, Miami and Cleveland, and were willing to deal their All-Star center if they could have received a "home run" package. They had serious discussions with Cleveland on a deal that would have landed them second-year power forward JJ Hickson, the expiring contract of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, forward Danny Green, the Cavs first-round pick and cash. The Suns were not willing to take anything less from the Cavs in order to move Stoudemire and the Cavs eventually found a trade partner in Washington that enabled them to land Antwan Jamison without giving up Hickson.
The Suns also were deep in conversations with Miami but the Heat don't have much on the roster that interests Phoenix and Miami was reluctant to include forward Michael Beasley, whom the Suns would have shipped to another team.
Miami feels very good about their chances to land Stoudemire after he opts out of his contract this summer so they didn't feel it necessary to include Beasley in a deal. Talks with both teams heated up to the point that Phoenix explored other deals for the expiring contracts they would have landed (either Ilgauskas or Udonis Haslem/Quentin Richardson) talking with Utah about Carlos Boozer, New Orleans about David West, Chicago about Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng and Philadelphia about Andre Iguodola. There was no scenario in which Phoenix would have kept Beasley had he been included in a deal.
So another trade deadline passed with Stoudemire still a Sun, the major question is what now?
That one is pretty easy to answer. Stoudemire will opt out of his contract if he is not given an extension by the Suns. Phoenix has offered two years at $14 million on top of next years salary of over $17 million. Stoudemire wants a four-year extension on top of next year. Maybe the sides can meet at three years but that is unlikely.
Around the league it is believed that Stoudemire will get a 5-year contract for $70 million from either Miami, who wants to pair him with Wade or New Jersey who has a billionaire new Russian owner who wants to make a splash.
There will be up to 10 teams with cap room so the chances of Stoudemire getting a big deal is high. So for the Suns to keep Stoudemire they would most likely have to move a four-year extension, tying Amare up for the next five years and that seems highly unlikely.
The Suns could still do a sign-and-trade at the end of the season enabling them to get some players and possibly a trade exception. If he walks and they get nothing for him they will take a step backwards next year, probably be a lottery team and then have unlimited cap room for the free-agent class of 2011 when the only big contracts they will have on the books are Steve Nash and Leandro Barbosa.
If Stoudemire leaves in the off-season the Suns will replace him with a free agent at no more than the mid-level exception and play Earl Clark more minutes.
So the Suns will go forward with the team they have, make the playoffs and see what kind of damage they can do before this saga begins all over again in a few months.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010 @ 12:34pm
To deal or to deal.
That is the question the Phoenix Suns are contemplating as the NBA trade deadline approaches on Thursday.
To deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers or to deal with the Miami Heat.
It is a foregone conclusion that the Suns have made the determination that trading Amare Stoudemire is in their best interest.
Now, the difficult part is trying to figure out which team is offering the Suns the best package.
As I have said many many times the Suns have no interest in the Heat's Michael Beasley long term. But Beasley is the only real asset Miami has outside of Dwayne Wade.
What Miami has that may entice Phoenix to deal is two first-round draft picks this year, their own pick and Toronto's pick, and you would have to figure they need to offer both to land Stoudemire. Plus, an expiring contract (Quentin Richardson, Udonis Haslem) that would give the Suns cap flexibility going forward. And Beasley, a player the Suns would move at some point before next season.
The Cavaliers can offer a package of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and his expiring contract, second-year player JJ Hickson and their own first-round pick.
Now, the million dollar question is which package is better. Hickson is a player the Suns would want - he is a 6-9, 240-pound power forward and a freak athletically - but not a good shooter. Ilgauskas can possibly be moved to Philadelphia for Andre Iguodala, waived or he can play the season out walk as a free agent giving the Suns cap flexibility.
Beasley is a player the Suns would move either in another trade deadline deal or in the summer. Miami has two first-round picks that will both be somewhere in the middle of the draft. Cleveland has a first-round pick that will most likely be the last pick of the first round.
Both teams have the expiring contracts that will put the Suns in a great position for the free-agent class of 2011, especially when you consider that Jason Richardson's salary comes off the book that year as well.
Assuming Ilgauskas would not be moved by Phoenix if they acquired him, this trade really comes down to Beasley and what they can get for him in a trade plus two decent first round picks or Hickson and a late first-round pick. I like Hickson over Beasley and Miami's two picks over Cleveland's one.
If the Heat are insisting on only offering one of the picks then the choice is clear - the Cavs offer is better.
If Miami is offering both picks then it's a toss-up.
Either way it looks very much like Amare Stoudemire played his last game in front of fans in Phoenix as a member of the Suns last Wednesday.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 @ 11:05pm
Another game, another loss for the Phoenix Suns.
A season that started with so much promise after an improbable 14-3 start is crashing down upon us and you get the feeling the Suns have fallen and the can't get up.
Just how a team could get off to such a great start and then forget how to win is mind-boggling but it is what it is.
There are now easy explanations. The Phoenix Suns are 12-18 since their remarkable start. They have blown double-digit leads eight times this month, including losing to Utah after being up by 17 late in the third quarter Monday.
They just dropped a game to a very mediocre Charlotte team at home last night. The team is reeling, their confidence is shot and their All-Star center is about to get traded.
For all intent and purposes this season is over. The Phoenix Suns will not make the playoffs this year. They are not good enough to overcome the teams ahead of them, nor are they good enough to be better than all three teams they are battling with for the 8th and final playoff spot - Houston, Oklahoma City and New Orleans.
They play Dallas on Thursday and then begin a four-game road trip and I have to believe when they come back from the trip, in which they will face Houston, New Orleans, Denver and Sacramento, they will be on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.
The Suns will be a lottery team without a pick in the first-round this season. And while this may all seem like doom and gloom -- it's really not. There are three weeks left before the February 18th trade deadline and it's time for this organization to go back to the drawing board and come up with Plan B. And it's not like Plan B isn't already in progress.
For all those fans who are clamoring for the Suns to rebuild, I have news for you -- they are. Have you noticed the emphasis being placed on developing Robin Lopez, Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley and even Earl Clark.
Right before your eyes without you even realizing it the Suns have started the rebuilding process -- and it's about time.
Lopez is 21 years old and he is the starting center for the Suns. He has started the last six games and has played so well that the Suns finally have a bright future at a position that has always been a weakness for them.
Dragic is 23 years old and has played 20 or more minutes in six of the last nine games. He had a career-high 32 against Utah on Monday night when he was clearly the best player on the court for the Suns. That game came just two days after he had 20 points and four steals against Golden State.
Dudley is 24 years old and is averaging 24 minutes per game and started in place of the injured Grant Hill Tuesday night.
Clark is 22 years old and was the Suns' first-round pick this year. He has worked so hard in practice that he has been rewarded with playing time this month where he is averaging 11 minutes a game.
So without having to say it the Suns are clearly making the transition to a younger team and allowing their players to develop.
Now, it's time for owner Robert Sarver to give his brass the OK and let General Manager Steve Kerr and Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Dave Griffin get their hands dirty with some creative trading.
Right now everyone should be on the trade block except Lopez, Dragic, Clark, Lou Amundson and Dudley.
Amare Stoudemire must go. He is not a great player and never has been. He is a good NBA player and the Suns need to do everything they can to find a trade that makes sense.
Now I understand guys that score 20 a game and average eight rebounds don't grow on trees. And the Suns have to make sure they don't make a bad deal. But there has to be some team in the league willing to give up some quality talent and a draft pick for Stoudemire's services. And in the right environment where he is more of a focal point of the offense, Stoudemire may even flourish.
If the Suns cannot make a good trade they will be better served letting him walk at seasons end and clearing up cap space for the future. Jason Richardson, Leandro Barbosa, Grant Hill and Channing Frye can all go to the highest bidder. And what to do with Steve Nash. The Suns All-Star point guard still plays the game at a high level and he has clearly made a major impact in the development of Dragic. He is the one player the fans identify with and it seems like he wants to stay here. But the Suns owe it to themselves to see what he could fetch on the open market. They need to go to Nash and see if he wants to go to a contender to finish out his career. It doesn't hurt to ask and it doesn't hurt to listen.
Reality has struck in Phoenix and it was inevitable. We all knew it was coming, some of us just didn't want to believe it.
The great start was fools gold, the Suns were never that good. What they are is an average NBA team and those type of teams are not worth investing in. It's time for a shakeup -- a major shakeup.
Kerr and Griffin have proven to have a keen eye for talent as witnessed by the recent draft picks, trades and free agent signings. It's time to allow them to shape the team for the future because the present isn't going anywhere. I like some of the pieces the Suns have, the young kids can play. It's time to turn the team over to them, surround them with other young talent and allow the team to grow.
It may take three or four years to get back to being a contender, but sometimes you have to take a few step backwards before you can go forward. That time is now for the Phoenix Suns.
Thursday, January 21, 2010 @ 3:02pm
It's only four games so we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves. But it's hard not to notice the impact that Robin Lopez has had on the Phoenix Suns since he has been getting extended minutes. In the last four games Lopez has shot 27-for-38 from the field for 64 points, grabbed 22 rebounds, blocked 13 shots and given the Suns a defensive physical presence that they have lacked.
It had been a long time since the Suns attempted to develop a center they drafted in the first round. In fact since 1975 when the Suns drafted Alvin Adams at 6-9 to play center, the Suns have drafted just four true centers in the first round. That's four centers in the last 35 years. First was William Bedford in 1986. One was Oliver Miller in 1992 with the 22nd pick. Jake Tsakalidis came in 2000 with the 25th pick and now Robin Lopez, whom Phoenix took with the 15th pick in 2008. And just in case anyone is wondering, Jason Williams was drafted to play power forward and never actually played here.
For the most part the Suns ignored the center spot choosing to sign minimum salaried players to man the position --- players like Steven Hunter, Jake Voskuhl, Tim Thomas, Pat Burke, Joe Kleine, Chris Dudley, Jahidi White and Scott Williams. The Suns did throw some real money at a center back in 1999 when they signed Luc Longley, but that decision backfired big time as Longley flopped and lasted just two seasons here. And then of course there was the ill-advised trade for Shaquille O'Neal which also didn't work.
So here they are two years into the Lopez development and the Suns and their fans are starting to see the results. And make no mistake the Suns drafted Lopez knowing he had great upside and potential but that they would have to work with him and develop him into an NBA center.
All that work is starting to pay off. Lopez plays the game hard, he plays with a passion and sometimes that is misunderstood, like when he broke the practice door glass a month ago. He gets up and down the court, hustles on both ends and shows tremendous effort every time he takes the court. Recently, Lopez has benefited from playing with the starters, giving him an opportunity to have more of an impact on the game offensively.
While Lopez still has a lot of work to do and can't get too excited about his recent accomplishments, there are at least signs now that this first-round draft pick and true 7-footer can pay big dividends.
Thursday, January 14, 2010 @ 1:08pm
Of all the moves the Arizona Diamondbacks have made this offseason, none have made as much sense as the one that came down today with the announcement of the signing of Adam LaRoche to a one-year contract with a mutual option for a second season.
The Diamondbacks have been desperate for a real first baseman for quite some time now and LaRoche certainly fits the bill. He is very good defensively and can hit for power.
Last season LaRoche hit 25 home runs and drove in 83 runs while hitting .277 for Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Boston.
That Arizona got LaRoche for $4 million this season is an absolute steal, but that is what happens when you are smart and wait out some of the players in free agency.
Those that are not signed in December start to get antsy and the price tag usually comes down when the calendar year rolls over and spring training is within sight.
LaRoche addresses a major need for the D-backs, who used a mind boggling eight different players at first base last year - Conor Jackson, Mark Reynolds, Brandon Allen, Rusty Ryal, Chad Tracy, Chris Snyder, Jason Whitesell and Tony Clark - all without much success.
LaRoche's addition will help not only Reynolds, Stephen Drew and newly acquired Kelly Johnson in the infield, but his defense will save the starting pitchers and relievers runs.
While Jackson is a plus offensively he was clearly not suited to play first base and his defense over the last few years cost the D-backs several games. It is imperative in this day and age of baseball to have a good defensive first baseman. Look at the New York Yankees with Mark Teixera last season compared to Jason Giambi.
While there is no official count of how many games Teixera saved the Yankees with his glove it is somewhere between 7-10 and that's just with defense. That LaRoche has pop in his bat and hits for a decent average is a major plus. He is left-handed which gives the D-backs tremendous lefty-righty balance and will be a middle of the lineup hitter, hitting somewhere between cleanup and sixth in the order.
The addition of LaRoche moves Jackson to the outfield and will all in likelihood spell the end for outfielder Eric Byrnes, who you can expect the D-backs to release with one year left on his contract because there just isn't a spot in the outfield for him.
All in all this was a good day for the Diamondbacks in addressing a major need at a reasonable cost.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010 @ 10:54pm
Now that the Pete Carroll hiring in Seattle is official it's time for Ken Whisenhunt to get to the nearest Hallmark store and purchase that $4 'Thank You' card.
Because no one in the NFL will benefit more from Carroll's hiring than Whisenhunt himself.
Carroll signed a 5-year contract for a mind boggling $33 million dollars. The Cardinals head coach is making $2.5 million a year on a four-year contract with a fifth year team option. Carroll went 33-31 in four seasons when he did coach in the NFL with New England and the New York Jets.
Whisenhunt, who is in his third season as head coach of Arizona, took the Cardinals to the Super Bowl last season and has a chance to take them back again this season.
Whisenhunt has one-year left on his deal not counting the option year and you have to believe that the Carroll signing just cost Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill a lot more money.
The original thought was that Whisenhunt would accept a contract of double the salary -- somewhere in the neighborhood of a four-year deal for $20 million dollars. Now you have to wonder if that will be enough. Is Whisenhunt worth more than Carroll? Shoud he at least get equal value? Could the price tag for Whisenhunt now be at $6 million or more per season?
Whisenhunt and his agent will certainly use the Carroll contract to their advantage in contract negotiations that should and are expected to take place after this season is over. The Cardinals can justify a new deal because Whisenhunt will be entering the final year of his contract although there is a team option for a fifth season. And they really are caught between a rock and a hard place.
They absolutely can not afford to upset or insult the most successful coach in franchise history. They are going to have no choice but to pay the man to keep him happy and make sure that he doesn't play the current contract out and then flee to the highest bidder. Make no mistake that Whisenhunt would be the hottest coaching candidate available should he ever hit free agency.
So while Whisenhunt will match wits with Carroll two times next year and it will make things more interesting in the NFC West, for now he certainly owes the man a debt of gratitude. Because Seattle and its owner Paul Allen clearly "showed Carroll the money" and Whisenhunt knows darn well that he is going to benefit from it.
Monday, January 11, 2010 @ 3:38pm
So Mark McGwire told us all what we already knew - that he cheated and took steroids during his playing career.
So what now?
It doesn't change anything. He is not suddenly off the hook. Maybe it's good for his conscience that he came clean and he can now live with himself. But for me it does nothing. This shouldn't make Hall of Fame voters all of a sudden decide that this one dimensional home-run hitting first baseman who used steroids to break the single-season home run record is now worthy of induction.
McGwire deserves nothing. Not our praise, not our pity, not our acceptance. He made this bed and he has to lie in it. Admitting that he took steroids doesn't make him any less of a cheater. He is plain and simple a man who cheated the fans and the game itself and he should not be forgiven for being a part of the biggest farce in baseball history and for ruining some of the great cherished records of this game. Not to mention that along the way to 583 home runs he passed some of the true legends of the game and he did it dishonestly. Sorry, but I for one can't forgive McGwire for tarnishing his legacy and making a mockery of the game I love.
He can come back to baseball. He can coach. He can go on with his life. Sorry, Big Mac, but what you said today I already knew and it does nothing to change my opinion about you. It's not like you're off the hook. You shouldn't be able to come clean and get a new lease on life. You shouldn't be able to tell the world you were a cheat and now all is forgiven and forgotten. Mark McGwire was a cheater yesterday and he is a cheater today.
Nothing has changed.
Monday, January 11, 2010 @ 2:28am
As fun and exciting as Sunday's game at University of Phoenix Stadium was the Cardinals go into this week of practice with several questions.
How will they react with a short week of practice?
Can they address their secondary issues in time to face a potent New Orleans offense?
Will Anquan Boldin be able to return from knee and ankle injuries?
Has Neil Rackers lost his confidence after missing an easy 34-yard field goal at the end of regulation?
But to me the biggest question is simple - Can the Cardinals rebound in a short week from a physically and emotionally draining game?
It is the playoffs so you expect the Cardinals to be ready. They are well coached so you expect them to be prepared. But I can imagine it wasn't easy getting out of bed this morning if you played in that game Sunday. The Cards are already a 7-point underdog in the game. New Orleans is well rested, they are at home and despite losing their last three games of the season they will have the advantage. Arizona is spent and you can understand why. That game was hard, extremely hard.
What makes you think the Cardinals will have a chance is that New Orleans pass defense is awful - they ranked 25th in the NFL in total yards. The Cardinals played well on the road going 6-2 this season, the second best mark in the NFC. And it's not like New Orleans likes the way they are playing right now. But I'm sure they are licking their chops watching film of the Cardinals secondary and their inability to defend a pass.
And if the Cardinals can recover from the Packer game we can expect more fireworks next week. As Cardinals wide receiver Early Doucet told us on the show today, "It's the playoffs so you have to find that edge to get motivated and if you can't then you don't need to be in the NFL."
Thursday, December 31, 2009 @ 9:27am
The brutal 16-game December stretch that the Phoenix Suns brass was going to use as its true gauge to determine how good this team is officially ended Wednesday night.
The Suns went 7-9 during the month, finishing with quality wins over the defending world champion Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. They had a nice win over San Antonio along the way. And they had some embarrassing losses, like on the road at the New York Knicks and Golden State and at home against Oklahoma City.
They probably should have won at Denver being up by 17 points in the second half and at Portland where they led by 12 in the fourth quarter.
So just how good is this team? Well, they are good enough to beat the best team in the league (Lakers) and bad enough to lose to Golden State. But the Suns are no different from many of the teams in the NBA -- inconsistent. Not good enough to just show up and win. Capable of beating the best teams and losing to the worst on any given night.
As it stands, the Suns are a very impressive 21-12, which is good enough for fourth best in the Western Conference. They are exciting and fun to watch. They are deep, well coached and have good chemistry. They may have fared better in December had Leandro Barbosa not missed all but four games because of injury.
Had the Suns totally collapsed in the month it would have been a clear indication that this team was not good enough to compete amongst the Western Conference's elite and triggered a belief in the organization that moves needed to be made. But they didn't fail and they didn't exactly excel. What they did was survive and now have a stretch of games coming up that should clearly establish them as one of the top-4 teams in the conference.
Whether that is fool's gold or not is yet to be determined. The Suns are good enough to host a first-round playoff series - even good enough to win it - but not good enough to to win an NBA Championship or maybe even get to the Conference Finals. They have a major decision to make on Amare Stoudemire, who has the ability to opt out of his contract after this season and become a free agent.
Just what the Suns decide to do with Stoudemire will eventually determine how good they think they can be this season. There are several options.
1) Do nothing with Amare. Play the season out and see how good this team can be and how far they can go. If Amare walks at the end of the year and you get nothing for him at least you can say to your fans that you went for it. Suns fans just have to understand that losing Stoudemire's $16.3 million doesn't mean they have that money to spend next season in free agency because of the salary cap.
2) Find a trade for Stoudemire that makes sense for this season. A deal that brings back a good veteran player who can be not only a part of the present but also the future.
3) Trade Stoudemire for another player on the last year of his deal to make the money work, but acquire a young piece for the future and a first-round draft pick for 2010 as well, something they currently don't have. This would signal that the organization believes the team is not going far in the playoffs and would rather get something for Stoudemire rather than lose him.
4) Re-sign Stoudemire at some point and hope for the best. Recent trades for Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley plus free-agent signings of Lou Amundson and Channing Frye have worked out very well and maybe the Suns can do it again next off-season.
5) Play out the season with what they have and see if Stoudemire picks up his option next year for $17.6 million -- highly unlikely considering Stoudemire could get a long-term deal on the open market.
6) Play out the season with Stoudemire and go for it but move him in the off-season through a sign-and-trade, which is a likely scenario considering some teams that would want Stoudemire would only want him if they could move some salary in the process.
For now the Suns have been a pleasant surprise. If the goal is to win the NBA Championship then I would continue to explore options on a Stoudemire trade and other moves as well because while this team is good, it's not championship caliber at this point. If the goal is to be competitive, host some playoff games and win a series or two, then by all means keep the team intact for this year but know that you could lose Stoudemire for nothing at seasons' end and that would put this organization in a huge hole.
The ride has been fun so far. But big decisions lie ahead, decisions that will ultimately determine the future success of this organization. As good as some of the Suns recent moves have been the decision on what to do with Stoudemire will by far be the biggest in quite some time. Unfortunately for the Suns brass, December didn't give anyone a clear indication of how good this team can be. And that makes things that much tougher.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009 @ 8:26am
Not a bad year that we have going on for sports here in the Valley right now.
The Cardinals are headed back to the playoffs to defend their NFC Championship.
The Suns have been better than expected and coming off a huge win over the Lakers Monday night and appear to be a solid playoff team after missing the playoffs last season.
The mighty Mercury won the WNBA Championship.
And Mike Stoops has Arizona in the Holiday Bowl.
All great stories.
But no story may be bigger than what is going on in Glendale, Arizona right now on a sheet of ice that many felt would have melted by now.
And that is the Phoenix Coyotes, who are shocking the hockey world by winning with regularity.
The Coyotes are clearly the biggest surprise not just in the NHL but maybe in all of sports right now. The team was left for dead just a few months ago due to a bankruptcy filing, mounting financial losses, a league takeover, threats of relocation, lease issues and a coach who quit on his team.
And that doesn't even begin to tell the story. The Coyotes in the Wayne Gretzky era were awful. The team failed to make the playoffs in any of his four seasons behind the bench and finished in fourth place twice and last place twice in the Pacific Division. Last season only three teams had fewer points than the Coyotes 79. Gretzky won just 143 of 328 games that he coached.
So entering this season with a roster completely shaken up over the last year by General Manger Don Maloney the Coyotes were projected to finish - drum roll please -- dead last in the NHL by every major publication. Not a big surprise considering all their recent failures both on and off the ice. But something happened along the way. The Coyotes never felt sorry for themselves, never let the ownership distraction get them down. The organization hired its first real coach since Bobby Francis guided them to the playoffs in 2001-02 in Dave Tippett. And this group of misfits somehow, despite all odds, came together and have made Jobing.com arena a place to be.
On Saturday in front of a near capacity crowd the Coyotes defeated the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in a thrilling non-stop action game that ended with the 'Yotes killing off a 6-on-3 or the final 49 seconds. The win was the 'Yotes 9th straight at home and ran their home record to a sensational 15-5. The team is 11 games over .500 and with its 50 points Phoenix is tied for the third best record in the Western Conference and just five points out of first place.
Just how the Coyotes have put together this string of success is anyone guess. It starts with good talent evaluation by Maloney, a great structured system by Tippett, a Captain in Shane Doan who leads on and off the ice and a team that just wants to win.
The biggest additions to the team have been low-cost free agents. Defenseman Adrian Aucoin, center Robert Lang, wingers Taylor Pyatt and Vernon Fiddler plus tough guy Paul Bissonnette have paid huge dividends. Trades for Scottie Upshall last season and James Vandermeer this season have been home-run deals. Upshall leads the team in goals with 13.
Combine those additions with great goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov, who leads the NHL in shutouts with five, ranks fourth with a 2.02 goals against average and fifth in save percentage at .926 and you have the makings of a very good hockey team that is built to win with solid defense, great goaltending and timely scoring.
It has been seven years since Phoenix made the playoffs and while Doan will never allow the players in that locker room to get too far ahead of themselves, you have a feeling that this could be a special year. For now the Coyotes are exciting and that excitement comes mainly from finally winning. And with the style of play and on-ice success the 'Yotes are having, we can finally say that the Coyotes are definitely worth the price of admission.
Monday, November 23, 2009 @ 10:09am
There are certainly no moral victories for the Arizona Wildcats this season. The door was wide open for them to win the Pac-10 championship and head to their first Rose Bowl thanks to a down year by USC.
But Saturday's devastating loss to Oregon -- a game in which they led 24-14 in the fourth quarter -- eliminated the Wildcats from the 'Grand Daddy of them All' game and puts them at 6-4, 4-3 in the Conference and fighting for Bowl positioning in its last two games.
The game was certainly worth College Game Day's presence as it was one of shifting tides and momentum. Arizona was down 14-0 early, came back to take a 24-14 lead and then allowed a game-tying 15-play, 80-yard drive that forced overtime. There are always a few plays in each close loss that will haunt a football team. For Arizona there are five that stand out. Five plays that if made would have assured victory and set up an incredible two weeks of football in an attempt to make Pasadena a January destination.
1) Alex Zendejas misses a 24-yard field goal. With Arizona leading 17-14 the Wildcats have a chance to tack on three more and their reliable kicker misses a gimme. Those three points would have been the difference between winning and losing.
2) Still ahead 17-14 after the missed field goal, Trevin Wade drops an easy interception at the Oregon 37-yard line. The difference between winning and losing in a game like this is this close and had Wade caught that ball Arizona would have likely came away with at least three points, maybe seven.
3) Oregon kicker Morgan Flint hits a low line drive on a 43-yard field goal attempt that hits the crossbar bounces up and over to pull Oregon within 24-21. Sometimes you have to be lucky and Flint certainly was on this field goal.
4) On the final drive in regulation Oregon faces a 3rd and 11 with 1:06 left and LaMichael James breaks a tackle and races 17 yards for a first-down to keep the drive alive.
5) With 23 ticks of the clock remaining Oregon is facing a 4th-and-5 from the Arizona 22. A stop here and the game is over. Instead Jeremiah Masoli finds Jeff Maehl for a 7-yard gain and a first down. Two plays later Masoli hits Ed Dixon with the tying touchdown and Oregon goes on to win in overtime.
It's hard to look back on any one play and say it was the difference but in reality that's what football is all about. If any one of these plays had gone Arizona's way the Wildcats would be in the drivers seat in the Pac-10. Instead all they can do now is sniff the tears and hope that wins in their final two games will get them to the Holiday Bowl.
Thursday, October 29, 2009 @ 1:00pm
It was just about 10 months ago when NFL analyst Chris Collinsworth said that the Arizona Cardinals were the "worst playoff team of all time." We'll it's almost a year later and Collinsworth has issued his apology. Today, as a guest on Gambo and Ash, Sports 620 KTAR Phoenix, Collinsworth was asked if he has any regrets about what he said.
"Of course, ya, when you say something that stupid and it comes back the other way you wish you hadn't said it," said Collinsworth.
The current NFL Sunday Night Football analyst said that it was the timing of what he said that needs to be taken into consideration.
"It's important to realize when it was said," said Collinsworth. "I had already called the Philadelphia game where they were completely demolished by the Eagles. I just finished watching the worst game of the year by any team that I saw when they were destroyed by New England in a game I thought they - I don't want to say gave up - but it was pretty close to it."
The Cardinals went on to prove Collinsworth wrong with playoff wins over Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia to reach the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history where they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game in which they led with under two minutes remaining.
"Did it end up biting me in the tail, of course it did," said Collinsworth. "I apologize to the great state of Arizona for what I said last year."
The entire Collinsworth interview can be heard online here.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009 @ 12:58pm
Pedro Martinez, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton?
Are you kidding me?
Memo to the Philadelphia Phillies - this isn't the Tampa Bay Rays you are playing in the World Series.
Just how people are picking the Phillies to win this series when after Cliff Lee they are sending that collection of junk to the mound is beyond comprehension.
Sure Martinez did well as a 5-inning pitcher in the National League where he got to pitch to the opposing pitcher. But he is 38-years-old, has nothing left on his fastball and he knows who his daddy is.
Cole Hamels - please. This guy couldn't get lineups out in the NL this year how is he going to get the most feared lineup in baseball out when it matters most. Hamels has pitched three games in the postseason and his ERA is 6.75.
And Joe Blanton, that guy looks like he has been on a diet of cheese steaks and french fries ever since he got to Philly.
If the Phillies even had two pitchers they could do the old Spahn and Sain and pray for rain but they don't. The Phillies only chance rests in the left arm of Cliff Lee who has been brilliant, but he can't win four games in a series. So reality check Phillies fans - you have no chance. You might be better off going to the Pearl Jam concert Saturday night at the Spectrum rather than watch Hamels implode again. Or check out the Eagles and the Giants on Sunday rather than watch Ryan Howard (who is hitting a whopping .207 vs lefties) strike out four times against CC Sabathia.
And anyone who is wondering about the slump Mark Teixera is in need not worry. Lee is the perfect remedy as the Yankee first baseman is hitting .391 in his career against him. Let's face facts as there is a reason the American League always wins the All-Star game and has a better interleague play record - 1) It's a better league. 2)The teams are better 3)The players are better. Just ask Brad Penny or John Smoltz who both flopped badly in the AL this year and resurrected their careers once they went back to the NL.
I will say this though - Jimmy Rollins was right. Right about the amount of games that will be played in this World Series. Yankees in 5.
Sunday, October 18, 2009 @ 11:26pm
And then there were two.
The NFC West is now officially a two-team race between the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers. The Cardinals made sure of that on Sunday with a convincing win over a pathetic Seattle team that couldn't get out of its own way for much of the game. The victory by the Cardinals in no means officially eliminates the Seahawks from contention, but we don't need anything official here.
Seattle is a bad team and Arizona exploited them in a dominant performance that dropped Seattle two games behind San Francisco and Arizona and with a loss to each on their record.
Seattle is done - put a fork in them.
The win also allowed Arizona to make a statement that they are still the team to beat in the West and shouldn't be counted out as a threat in the conference. The Cardinals continued to play well defensively holding Seattle to 14 rushing yards, forcing seven 3-and-outs, sacking Matt Hasselback five times and limiting Seattle to 128 total yards.
Larry Fitzgerald finally had his breakout game with 13 catches and Kurt Warner proved once again that if you give him time there isn't anyone better at reading a defense and finding an open receiver. The Cardinals still have issues -- they can't run the ball. Tim Hightower led the team with a whopping 32 yards on 13 carries. But running on this team may be overrated. This is a team predicated on passing the football and they will live and die with the pass.
While it would be nice to see this team show some resemblance of a running game its just not going to happen. Beanie Wells still looks shaky and Hightower is better suited to be a third-down back. In some ways the Cardinals high percentage short passing game acts as its running game -- keeping the chains moving, eating some clock and keeping defenses off balance. These next three games will give us a better indication of how good the Cardinals are as they travel to New York to face the Giants, are at home to Carolina and go to Solider Field to face Chicago. That's a tough stretch that may see them lose two games, but the schedule gets a lot easier after that and the matchup later in the season at San Francisco could be for all the marbles in the division. Arizona is playing much better now than they did in Week 1 and is much improved on the road as witnessed by wins at Jacksonville and Seattle so far this season. Plus San Francisco is no world beaters - they are a good but not great football team that showed a lot of weaknesses in last week's loss to Atlanta.
Clearly the Saints, Giants and Vikings are the cream of the crop in the NFC right now. The Cardinals may not be considered a championship contender at this point of the season but they don't have to be. There are plenty of games left for Arizona to find their rhythm, get in a groove and establish themselves. The win at Seattle is a step in that direction. And besides, as the Cardinals proved last year what matters most is getting hot in the playoffs. Not that getting there is going to be easy -- San Francisco will challenge. Nonetheless the Cardinals are improving from week to week and Sunday put it all together to let the rest of the NFL know they are still here and make Seattle fans start thinking about next year.