Greg Eno

Archive for February, 2008|Monthly archive page

Hank Steinbrenner’s Red Sox Slam Is Good For Baseball

In Uncategorized on February 29, 2008 at 10:07 pm

God bless Hank Steinbrenner.

Proving that the nut — and I use that word purposely — doesn’t fall far from the tree, George’s son and one of the principal leaders of the New York Yankees lashed out at the Boston Red Sox in an upcoming article in the New York Times’ Play Magazine.

It’s great stuff, because it adds some much-needed fuel to a Yankees-Red Sox family feud that had been drying up in recent years. Part of the evaporation has to do with the fact that the Yankees have become increasingly irrelevant, not appearing in a World Series since 2003, and not winning one since 2000. The Red Sox, meanwhile, have won two championships in the past four seasons — including the remarkable comeback in the ’04 ALCS from an 0-3 deficit against the Yanks.

All of it has been making Hank Steinbrenner chew glass. And in the Times piece, he levels both barrels at Red Sox Nation.

“Red Sox Nation? What a bunch of [expletive] that is,” he said in the interview. “That was a creation of the Red Sox and ESPN, which is filled with Red Sox fans.

“Go anywhere in America and you won’t see Red Sox hats and jackets, you’ll see Yankee hats and jackets. This is a Yankee country. We’re going to put the Yankees back on top and restore the universe to order.”

The words are so over the top that they read like something taken from one of those satirical pieces at TheOnion.com.

Hank’s words, I think, are great for baseball. It’s always nice to have a loose cannon in our midst. Charlie O. Finley played that role to perfection when he owned the Oakland A’s in the 1970s. Before Finley, you had Bill Veeck, who was part baseball owner, part circus barker. Then, of course, came Hank’s dad, who took over the Yankees in 1973 promising to be an “absentee” owner — perhaps one of the biggest lies in the history of the world.

No wacky owners as of late — just goofy managers like the White Sox’s little punk, Ozzie Guillen. So it’s nice to see Hank Steinbrenner stoking the fire. Agree with me or not, but pro sports are always better served when there’s a goofball with a loose mouth wearing the black hat.

Hank’s assertion that “We’re going to put the Yankees back on top and restore the universe to order” is dynamite, especially the way it ends. “Restore the universe to order”? Who is he — a pro wrestler yapping about the upcoming match? Regardless, I love it.

It’s also funny that Hank is so infatuated with the Red Sox, when there may be two or three teams better than them in the American League; the Tigers, the Indians, and the Angels might all win more games than the Red Sox and the Yankees will in 2008.

But that’s OK. Let the Yankees and Red Sox have their Hatfield and McCoy thing. The beauty of it is, contrary to what Hank believes, most of the nation doesn’t like either team. But that’s our little secret. Don’t tell Hank.

Lions Need Super Bowl-Winning Management People, Not Players

In Lions NFL on February 29, 2008 at 2:01 pm

They’ve come through town, their fingers ringed, and smiled the smile of the champion.

Damien Woody. Az Hakim. Eric Davis. Dre Bly. Desmond Howard. John Jett. An offensive lineman; a receiver; a couple defensive backs; a kick returner; even a punter, for goodness sake. And there’ve been more, as you go deeper into history — players who’ve won Super Bowls for other organizations, in other years, for other coaches — who’ve come to the Lions after having captured The Prize.

They’ve been looked at with awe in the locker room, for having owned what no other Lions player has come close to sniffing: that elusive World Championship ring.

It’s even been a reason, in some instances, why some of those players have been signed to wear the Honolulu Blue and Silver. The old claptrap about how having players on your roster who’ve won championships somehow services you well. It was mentioned again yesterday, after the Lions signed safety Dwight Smith, proud alumnus of the 2002 Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Bucs.

Nonsense!

It’s not PLAYERS who’ve won championships that the Lions have been lacking. Or, to fittingly borrow from an old campaign line in this, an election year: It’s the management, stupid.

The Lions have woefully lacked Super Bowl-winning front office types, and that — way more than a lack of Super Bowl-winning players — is the biggest reason why they have been ring-less since the Eisenhower administration.

I remember back in the mid-to-late-1990s. Bill Ford Jr. was dispatched by his father to openly spy on the San Francisco 49ers. The objective was to find out how a championship-type organization goes about its business. So the younger Ford hung around the 49ers braintrust for a while, in training camp, taking notes, before reporting back to the brass in Pontiac.

That was over a hundred losses and a half dozen coaches ago.

It’s nice to pick the brains of champions, but it’s far more effective to go one step further and raid their organizations for their brightest talent.

How many Super Bowl winners do you think the New England Patriots had on their roster before they began their 21st century supremacy? Were the Indy Colts dotted with champions before the current management team took over and built a mini-empire?

As insult to injury, the Super Bowl “winners” that the Lions have signed have often proved to be far from key contributors to their old team’s cause, anyhow. Starters? Yeah. Decent players? In some cases. But it’s not like the Lions have brought Tom Brady, Marshall Faulk, or Warren Sapp over here, fresh off a championship.

But that’s secondary. What’s primary is that you cannot model yourself after an elite organization until you are ready to stop admiring from afar and start plundering from within.

The closest the Lions came to doing such a noble thing was in the mid-1980s, when they stole Bears executive Jerry Vainisi. But then they fouled the whole thing up by making him beholden to then-GM Russ Thomas, which completely defeated the purpose. They bought a Rolls Royce and fitted it with an Edsel engine.

So be ready to hear all about Smith and his 2002 experience. About his two returned INTs for touchdowns in the Super Bowl against the Raiders. It’s nice. But it was for another team, at another time. You don’t win Super Bowls with players resumes. You win with competent front offices and scouts.

The most important Super Bowl-winning talent a team can employ are those who wear suits and ties to work everyday.

Thursday’s Things

In Thursday's Things on February 28, 2008 at 2:00 pm

(on most Thursdays at OOB, I rant in list fashion. Last week it was Things You Could Hear, If You Listened Hard Enough, As Nick Lidstrom Crumpled To The Ice In Denver On Monday)

Things In Sports I’ll Never Understand

1. The two-minute warning. Really, why do we need to stop the clock in pro football with two minutes remaining in either half? It’s particularly grating when the game is a blowout. I say if not eliminate it entirely, then make it obsolete if the score differential is more than 16 points. I know — it’ll never happen, mainly because it would eliminate precious advertising time on the tube.

2. Guys proposing marriage at the stadium. Why do men feel that something as private and tender as a marriage proposal should be done in full view of millions — or at the very least, tens of thousands? Do ladies feel that it’s romantic to be strong-armed into an engagement?

3. The NHL shootout. Tell me, ever since the league introduced the shootout after the lockout, is a penalty shot — once one of the most exciting plays in sports — as thrilling as it once was? Gotta give that a big, fat NO.

4. “Icing” the field goal kicker. Many placekickers say they actually enjoy the extra time they get, when the opponents call timeout before a big kick. Gives them a chance to gather their thoughts, talk to their holder and snapper, and basically kick under as controlled a situation as possible, rather than in hurry-up mode.

5. The possession arrow in college and high school basketball. This rule stemmed largely from the referees’ inability to toss the ball fairly in a jump ball situation. This is one of the most moronic rules in all of sports. What if hockey decided to do such a thing? Forget face-offs; we’re just going to alternate who gets the puck after every stoppage. Ridiculous!

6. Wearing jerseys with pro athletes’ names on them. Nothing makes me cringe more than seeing a 300-pound, beer-guzzling doofus at the game wearing a “LIDSTROM” jersey that is stretched to its limit. It’d be like your Aunt Millie wearing a bathing suit with “ALBA” stitched on it. Blecch! And to prove that I practice what I preach, I own two hockey jerseys — Penguins and Red Wings, and they have “ENO” on the back. Why? Well, that IS my name. (Exception: it CAN BE cute when women do it at the game; it’s that whole wearing-mens-clothing-thing that I find endearing).

7. The media’s mock NCAA basketball tourney selection earlier this month. They gathered a bunch of writers together recently and had them put together some mock brackets. My goodness, who CARES? It’s about as useful as soliciting sixth-graders to vote for president in a “mock” election.

8. The Pro Bowl. Enough said.

9. Starting the MLB season in March — and in northern cities, like Detroit. Can you say “makeup dates”?

10. Why it’s so hard to win on the road in the Big Ten in basketball. Cripes, the percentages are more skewed than the NBA’s. You don’t think it has anything to do with officiating, do you? Hmmm.

That’s all for this week. Care to share?

Shame On Red Wings If The Future Blinded Them

In NHL, Red Wings, trades on February 27, 2008 at 2:57 pm

I’m loathe to agree with Free Press columnist and sometimes radio blowhard Drew Sharp, but I fear that I fall on his side of the fence when it comes to the Red Wings and the much-ballyhooed NHL trading deadline, which came and went yesterday like the month of March: in like a lion and out like a lamb. Sharp argued, rather competently, in this morning’s Freep that GM Kenny Holland — assuming we know all the facts, which we never do, so bear that in mind — played things a might too conservatively, completing only one deal: acquiring D Brad Stuart from Los Angeles for a couple of draft picks.

As the clock ticked closer and closer to 3 p.m. yesterday, and as I refreshed the NHL.com trades page once every 2-3 minutes, failing to see the Red Wings logo, I kept muttering to myself, over and over: “I can’t believe the Wings aren’t going to make a move. I can’t believe they’re going to stand pat.” It was almost 3:30 when even the late deals were being posted and announced, and I was beside myself. No deals? For a team depleted by injuries and 1-7-1 in their last nine games?

Well, then the Stuart deal came down the pike, and that soothed my nerves a little bit. Stuart’s name had been mentioned a while back — actually, when the Kings were in town on February 7. Incidentally, that game, a 5-3 come-from-ahead loss, started the Red Wings’ current slide. Oh, and the man who scored the game-winning goal that night? None other than Brad Stuart.

But after the relief from the Stuart deal wore off — which was about ten minutes, tops — I went back to gnashing my teeth. I merely changed my whine to “ONE deal? For a team depleted by injuries and 1-7-1 in their last nine games?”

Now, as I eluded to in the first paragraph, we don’t know what went on behind the scenes at Red Wings HQ. No doubt Holland and his crew were racking up the cell phone minutes, and no doubt that the club could have gotten into the Marian Hossa bidding, but the asking price was likely a bit steep. Certainly Holland was TRYING to look for something that made sense, without giving up too many draft picks and/or young players.

But here’s my thing: when you have 90 points and lead the league, but things are dicey because of the injuries and the improvement of your main competitors, you kind of have to forget about the future a little bit. Let’s face it: pro sports is about NOW. My feeling is that the fans who worry so much about giving up prospects are being a little disingenuous. Those same people want it both ways; they want to win now, AND have something under the mattress for a rainy day. That’s not always possible, folks.

The Red Wings have been Cup contenders for 16 years straight. They’re likely to be Cup contenders for several more years to come. How badly could they truly deplete their stockpile of youth? And isn’t it worth a shot at some more championships?

I’m not saying the mythical “window” is closing on the Red Wings. Far from it. But whenever you’re coming off a conference finals loss and following it up with a big year that has the general hockey community buzzing about your chances, then I say err on the side of recklessness.

I guess what it boils down to is this: I just hope the Red Wings didn’t keep their guns in their holsters because they were afraid of dipping too much into future assets. I think pro sports teams’ futures are bad bets anyway, if you want to know. The percentage of “prospects” who actually make a splash isn’t as high as you think. And even if they do, and you’re adding to your trophy case, who cares?

The fascination over “can’t miss” guys who are “untouchable” as trade bait amuses me. If the Red Wings fretted too much over the future to the extent that they missed out on some deadline-available talent, then I’m in disagreement with that philosophy. Because, all things considered, the average fan doesn’t give a hoot about the future. Everyone wants to win NOW.

Tigers Fans Must Learn To Accept The "Non-sexiness" Of Closer Jones

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2008 at 1:14 pm

The oldtimers will remember Dick Radatz, a.k.a. The Monster. He would take the ball in the late innings, all 6-foot-6 of him, and plow thru the order, quelling the enemy rally — back when closers didn’t just wait until the ninth inning to jump into the fray. Radatz — a Detroit kid — mainly did his thing with the Red Sox. He played for the Tigers briefly in 1969. He averaged well over a strikeout per inning for his 635 career IP.

The 1970s brought us more crazy-looking, crazy-acting characters out of the bullpen. There was the Mad Hungarian, Al Hrabosky — who would turn his back to the batter, go through some sort of ritual, then smack the ball angrily into his glove and turn, revealing that bushy Fu Manchu mustache and wild-eyed look.

Rich “Goose” Gossage, another Fu Manchu guy. A sprawling, intimidating windup that ended with the thwack of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt, the sphere of horsehide’s flight undisturbed by the Louisville slugger designed to obstruct it.

Then came the 1980s. Rob Dibble. Bill Caudill, The Inspector. Charlie Kerfeld. Kent Tekulve, who was once described as being so skinny that he looked like a giant pair of scissors on the mound. Bushy-faced Bruce Sutter.

And so on.

The common denominator? Theatrics. Gimmicks. Odd body shapes. Odd body movements. Reputations that preceded them. And usually more than one strikeout per inning. The beauty of Charlie Sheen’s “Wild Thing” character in the Major League movies — the Indians closer who comes into the game to an almost rock star-like reception — was that it really wasn’t that far off the mark from reality.

The Tigers do not have the rock star closer on their roster.

Todd Jones is pushing 40, is a good old boy from Georgia, and averages no where near a strikeout per inning. In fact, most of Jones’s saves — and there’ve been 301 of them — are predicated on the opponent striking the ball with his bat, hopefully at someone for an out. It’s not the sexiest way to end games, and that’s what makes people around here nervous.

Jones relies on his control and location to get batters out, and that may be a great approach for starters, but it’s an unordinary way for a closer to make a living.

Truth be told, even if Jones WERE that sexy, overpowering closer in the mold of an Eric Gagne or Gossage, there’d still be hand-wringing. There always is, when you’re talking about the one guy who frequently stands between victory and heartbreaking defeat. But the fact that Jones uses brains and not brawn when it comes to closing games makes, for some reason, his job security all the more flimsy in many people’s minds.

Todd Jones makes people nervous in Detroit, and it’s almost as if all those saves he registered happened by accident — like the thug who protests that his victim “rammed his face into my fist ten times”, in explaining away an assault. Couldn’t have been something Jones did; must be something the batter didn’t do.

It’ll be another summer of drama around Comerica Park in the ninth inning this season, for Jones isn’t going anywhere, the Tigers have no intentions of getting anyone else, and so you pretty much just better learn to deal with it.

I must admit to occasionally being wistful. I, too sometimes wish that Jones was someone else — a power pitcher, specifically. I wish he could come in, blow people away, and put everything to bed without ratcheting up my blood pressure. But that’s just not who he is. The nice thing, though, is that he KNOWS that’s not who he is. So he doesn’t try to be that pitcher. He stays within himself, and enjoys the ninth inning tension more than you know.

The funny thing is, for his lack of strikeout ability, Jones rarely gives up that baseball dagger — the walk-off homerun. He manages to keep the ball in the park most of the time. Now, he may surrender a string of hits that may lead to some damage, but he doesn’t usually give up the knockout punch. If you’re going to beat Todd Jones, you’re going to have to do it on points.

May as well accept it, folks. Jones is the Tigers closer, he is who he is, and that’s about it.

But he must be doing something right.

Trade Deadline Rescued Murphy From Toronto In 1997

In NHL, trades on February 25, 2008 at 2:43 pm

They booed him, unmercifully, every time he touched the puck. They made signs deriding him. Games at Maple Leaf Gardens became nasty. The fans were bidding him good riddance.

And he was one of theirs.

Larry Murphy, at the trade deadline in 1997, was held up as the punching bag for Toronto Maple Leafs fans frustrated with the team’s Stanley Cup drought — which continues today and is now 41 years old. It was obvious that he had to go; the differences between Murphy and the fans were irreconcilable.

To the rescue came the Red Wings.


Murphy came to the Red Wings at the deadline in ’97 and added two Cups to his resume


They traded for Larry Murphy at the deadline in 1997, and free from the slings and arrows in Toronto, he helped the Red Wings win Stanley Cups the next two springs.

I bumped into Murphy the night Steve Yzerman’s jersey went up to the rafters. We spent some time together in the alumni suite, watching the game below. I asked him about the final days in Toronto. He shrugged it off. Didn’t seem to bother him all that much.

“It’s all about winning,” he said. “When you don’t win, people get frustrated.”

Mats Sundin, it was reported, has told Leafs management that he doesn’t care to waive his no-trade clause. He would like, in other words, to stay in Toronto.

“To me, it means more to be part of the journey from October to June,” Sundin said to the press, explaining his decision. “I’ve never cared for the idea of the rental player.”

Tell that to Raymond Bourque, who finally won a Cup in 2001 with Colorado, after over 20 years with the Bruins and some failed Finals appearances. He didn’t seem to mind the idea. But I can certainly understand Sundin’s sentiment, and find it rather refreshing.

Of course, Sundin isn’t being hung in virtual effigy in Toronto, the way Larry Murphy was. And it’s perhaps easier for Murphy to shrug off that poor treatment, since he was a four-time Cup winner (two in Pittsburgh, two in Detroit). Plus, Murphy ended up being revered in Detroit, and stays close to the team as a TV analyst. Those miserable Toronto days are long gone.

By the way, if you’re lucky enough to get the NHL Network (I do, with DirecTV), you might want to take a sick day. The network is providing non-stop coverage of Deadline Day tomorrow, from 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. They’ll be all over it. I work from home, so I can bask in it; Deadline Day in the NHL is one of my favorite days of the year.

In 1997, I’m sure it was Larry Murphy’s favorite day as well — even if he could shrug it off some 10 years later.

Millen’s Cowardice Has Only One Cure: Winning

In Jimmy Devellano, Joe Dumars, Ken Holland, Matt Millen on February 24, 2008 at 8:00 pm

The short, dumpy, bespectacled man with the un-combed hair and ill-fitting suit stood before the throng of reporters at his introductory press conference and if you thought he was funny-looking, you were in for a treat once he began speaking.

In a squeaky, nerdy voice singed with Canada, he said, “As long as Jimmy Devellano is the general manager of the Detroy-et Red Wings, we will NOT trade a draft choice.”

It was the summer of 1982, and this little pipsqueak of a man was the one entrusted with the future of a hockey franchise teetering on the brink of self-destruction.

Jimmy Devellano. Jimmy D. The first man hired by new Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, taking over after the Norris family era had fizzled out with one playoff appearance in 12 years. Years damaged by “Darkness With Harkness” and curious coaching hires and absurd draft choices. Grotesque re-naming of the team the “Dead Things” by an increasingly fed up media and fan base. A new hockey palace, Joe Louis Arena, that was hemorrhaging ticket-buying peasants.

Devellano’s addition, for my money, was the best bang-for-your-buck executive hire in Detroit sports history. He still works for the Red Wings as an Executive Vice President, and has been a key cog for six Stanley Cup winners: three in Detroit, to go along with the three he helped win with the New York Islanders, when he was a scouting genius. Twenty-six years of faithful service in Detroit ensued when Mike Ilitch, in one fell swoop, put an end to the front office nonsense that had been going on with the Red Wings for over a decade.

After he bought the Tigers in 1992, Ilitch monkeyed around with different GMs and scouting directors and player development people before he finally found his gem in David Dombrowski, hired in 2001. This time, Ilitch righted his own wrongs, instead of cleaning up someone else’s mess.

Bill Davidson, who would work out of offices in Detroit, then Pontiac, then Auburn Hills with the Pistons, was trying like mad to get his arms around a highly-dysfunctional front office after he bought out a syndicate of owners in 1974. He made some bad decisions before a league insider tipped him off to a little-known man sitting on the bench of the Indiana Pacers as an assistant coach.

When Davidson hired Jack McCloskey in December 1979, the Pistons had been reduced to expansion team status. McCloskey’s words. Once, Trader Jack offered his entire roster to the Lakers for Earvin “Magic” Johnson. When I reminded him of this youthful indiscretion a couple summers ago, McCloskey laughed, recalling it fondly and with total recollection.

McCloskey, though, was no fool. He built a championship team from the dregs he was handed when he signed on with the Pistons. And he did it rather rapidly, all things considered. Hiring a coach named Chuck Daly accelerated things a bit.

Davidson would learn more lessons after McCloskey departed, all of them the hard way. Until he handed the Palace keys over to Joe Dumars in 2000.

The Red Wings, Tigers, and Pistons have all graduated from the school of hard knocks. The Lions are still in detention hall.

Matt Millen was no coward on the football field. There really aren’t any of those in the NFL, if you want to know. One does not play professional football if one has any propensity toward fear. Millen was a middle linebacker, the kamikaze of the defense. He learned linebacking from the LB factory of college, otherwise known as Penn State University. Some schools make good doctors, or lawyers, or scientists. Penn State made linebackers. And Millen was one of the best – college and pro. He won pro championships – almost being able to fill all of his fingers on one hand with rings.

Millen does not run the Lions, anymore, with the zeal or reckless abandon that he once used to crush enemy ball carriers. There may not be any cowards on the football field, but there sure are some of them walking around in the management offices of professional sports teams across the country.

Millen is now one such coward.

He held an absurd, brief Q&A session with some Detroit sportswriters at the NFL combines in Indianapolis the other day. The newspapers printed portions of it, and the websites ran it in its entirety. But it had all the substance of a rice cake.

The questioners wanted to know why Millen is increasingly less visible and quiet the deeper he gets into his reign, which is now 112 games old – 81 of those losses.

“I can’t do anything about the perception,” he said. “You can perceive it any way you want. The facts are these: I have 100% confidence in Rod Marinelli. I trust him. I think he’s doing it the right way. I trust his words. So I don’t have to say anything. I think he does a great job with it, and I think it’s good. There’s one voice. Go ahead and speak. I’m very comfortable with him. …”

In other words, I’m going to prop my coach out there to take all the heat, even though he’s working with the chicken feathers I’ve given him, his charge being to make chicken salad out of it.

Millen says we can perceive it any way we want. That’s a fastball down the middle.

Millen is in seclusion most days because he has nothing good to talk about. Simple as that. And losing breeds cowardice among executive types.

When the Tigers were losing 119 games in 2003, Dombrowski didn’t vanish. Dumars of the Pistons and Kenny Holland of the Red Wings have put themselves in the line of fire, answering all the “what happened?” questions in the wake of playoff disappointments. No cowards, they. Winning has made them visible, and by extension, brave. And I can assure you that none of them would go into hiding if things were to ever go south again. They’re not those types of dudes.

Because they’re hard-knock school graduates, you see. They have diplomas, where Matt Millen has been too yellow to earn his.

The Ceremonial First Bitch

In Uncategorized on February 22, 2008 at 5:02 pm

It just isn’t baseball season until Gary Sheffield throws out the first bitch.

Sheffield is again in the news, which means that someone asked him a question.

In his latest rant, Sheff goes off on agent Scott Boras, who Sheffield says took money from his Yankees contract that Boras wasn’t entitled to. Among other things, Sheff calls Boras a “bad person” and that things will get “ugly, very ugly” as soon as he can REALLY say what’s on his mind — when the legal proceedings are over and done with.

And, as usual, I’m sure fans and media across the country will vilify Sheffield — even though this time the target is a sports agent, which isn’t exactly in the same category as children and animals when it comes to effusing sympathy from the general public. So maybe the fallout from Sheffield’s latest diatribe — spoken eagerly with the intention of it being oh, so very public — won’t be as vitriolic.

But look — if you don’t want to know what Gary Sheffield thinks, then the solution is simple: don’t ask him. Frankly, I find his unfiltered honesty refreshing. He simply answers what is asked of him. Does he enjoy the consequences? Well, he admitted in his Boras rant that even his wife and family thinks he’s “psychotic” because he sometimes thrives on the negative reactions to his words. But so what? That’s his prerogative. The bottom line is, he doesn’t say things just to say them. He won’t give you one answer on Monday, and a different, sugar-coated one on Tuesday.

Sometimes I just don’t know what my colleagues in the media — or the fans — want out of an athlete. If he speaks his mind, he’s volatile and militant. If he gives processed, cliche-filled answers, he’s mocked for his triteness. If he doesn’t speak at all, he’s aloof and a bad apple.

The media, especially, has no idea how good they’ve got it, as long as Gary Sheffield is still in the big leagues. He should be a writer’s dream, for all his colorful copy. They love to hate on him, so what will they do when he goes away? Some will say that they’ll be thankful when Sheffield fades into the sunset. Same thing with Bobby Knight. But all I know is, college basketball is more boring now with Knight gone, and so will baseball be when Sheffield hangs up his spikes and rests his jaw.

Don’t ask, and he won’t tell.

Cavs’ Trade Much Ado About Not Much

In Ben Wallace, Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA, trades on February 22, 2008 at 4:02 pm

Add the Cleveland Cavaliers to the list of delusional teams — the ones that think Ben Wallace is the final piece to a championship puzzle.

The Cavs are puffing out their chests, wrongly thinking that they’ve rocked the basketball world with their 11-player, 3-team trade made yesterday with Seattle and Chicago. In it, the Cavs acquired Wallace, along with Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith, and Delonte West. Leaving Cleveland are Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Donyell Marshall, Cedric Simmons, Ira Newble, and Shannon Brown.

Lots of player movement. But what hasn’t moved much are the Cavs’ chances to escape the Eastern Conference this spring.

It’s sensational on the surface, if only for the number of players involved, but I don’t think the Cavs improved themselves enough to get past Detroit or Boston. But that’s OK; let ’em think they did.

When the Bulls threw outrageous money at Wallace in the summer of ’06, I wrote at that time that the Bulls were fooling themselves; that such dollars are only warranted for those players who can put you over the hump. And for all of Ben Wallace’s positives, I just didn’t think he was that kind of difference maker — at least not for a team as flimsy as the Bulls.

Nor do I think he’s that kind of player for Cleveland.

Almost simultaneous with the trade, the Cavs lost guard Daniel “Booby” Gibson for 4-6 weeks with an ankle sprain.

The Cavaliers, though, are a lot closer to contention than the Bulls were when they signed Wallace from the Pistons. Yet they are not a team, because of this trade, that can beat out the Pistons or the Celtics. They’re also a tad older now, across the board. Wallace, Szczerbiak, and Smith are all on the back ends of their careers. And do you really see where they are a significant improvement over Hughes, Gooden, Marshall, and company?

The fascination with Wallace’s interior defense amazes me. The teams that win NBA titles nowadays are those whose overall team defense, including that in the paint, works together — teammates helping each other out and being active. There can be a tendency for other players to get lazy when Wallace is on the court. He’s not the force he once was, but he’s still better than average. Trouble is, everyone seems to think he’s better than he really is in this department.

Except, maybe, Joe Dumars.

Szczerbiak’s addition is basically canceled out by Gibson’s injury. Smith is a fading scorer.

Cleveland GM Danny Ferry, who made the blockbuster move just before the 3 P.M. deadline, said, “I didn’t think we were good enough to win a championship.” No argument there. But for all his maneuverings yesterday, I think those words will still ring true at the end of the season.

Bottom line: Pistons fans shouldn’t lose any sleep over this trade.

Thursday’s Things

In Thursday's Things on February 21, 2008 at 2:02 pm

(on most Thursdays at OOB I rant in list fashion. Last week it was Things Roger Clemens Also Said At His Congressional Hearing)

Things You Could Hear, If You Listened Hard Enough, As Nick Lidstrom Crumpled To The Ice In Denver On Monday

1. Oh

2. My

3. God

4. You

5. Have

6. GOT

7. To

8. Be

9. F***ing

10. Kidding

11. Me

12. This

13. CANNOT

14. Be

15. Happening

16. The sound of Mike Babcock’s underwear soiling