Wednesday, February 28, 2007
This Could Be The Red Wings Year
I don’t think there is any question the Red Wings helped themselves at the trade deadline. The question is, how much? Todd Bertuzzi, when he is heathy, is one of the best power forwards in the NHL. But is healthy? If he is - and he should be motivated because his career is in flux - he could help the Red Wings mightily during the playoffs. He has great hands and does score garbage goals in front of the net. He is skilled enough, even at his size, to maintain pace with the best puck possession team in the NHL. Now we have the answer to who can drop the gloves and fight if it is needed. I also liked the deal for Kyle Calder. He is just a better player than Jason Williams. He didn’t fit in that mess in Philly, like a lot of players these days. The Red Wings are in really good shape and should make a deep playoff run. If that happens, it will be kind of funny how this will become "Hockey Town" again. All these people will be jumping back on the bandwagon. The Red Wings have flown under the radar this season - too far under. I have a sense this will be their year. Yes, even relying on Dominik Hasek to stay healthy in goal.
- I know Drew Neitzel was under the weather, but the truth is, Michigan State didn’t look too motivated in their loss at Michigan Tuesday. That’s not good for the Spartans. They must take advantage of every opportunity to keep their foot on Michigan’s neck. As is, the Spartans really helped the Wolverines get off the mat. The idea in East Lansing should be to dominate Michigan in basketball for as long as possible. The Spartans didn’t play Tuesday as if they had that in mind.
- I can’t believe Edmonton traded Ryan Smyth to the Islanders. If there ever has been a player who fits Western Canada - and not New York - it is Ryan Smyth. I predict that deal will be a lose situation for all parties involved.
- The Pistons won the game Sunday, but I came away from it convinced their stiffest competition to reach the NBA Finals will come from the Bulls. That is especially true now that D. Wade is hurt in Miami. The reason: The Bulls can defend. They also have a solid perimeter game and can make outside shots.
Monday, February 26, 2007
And So Jeter Doesn't Like A-Rod
I was watching "The Sports Reporters" Sunday morning on ESPN when Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe made a point of saying Alex Rodriguez is a better shortstop than Derek Jeter, "And everybody knows it.."
I’m not so sure about that. It’s a tough call. Jeter is awfully good. He was easily the Yankees’ best player against the Tigers during the postseason last year. A-Rod sure wasn’t.
What I do know is that I am sick and tired of hearing about A-Rod and Jeter. All the stuff that is going on in sports right now - and that’s what they are talking about to the point of absurdity nationally? Don’t tell me there isn’t a New York bias in the media. It has even infested the Tigers camp. Do you think there is any way Gary Sheffield gets this much attention nationally if he didn’t come to Detroit from the Yankees? So Jeter doesn’t like A-Rod and it hurts A-Rod’s feelings. I honestly don’t care. I do think Jeter gets too much credit for being a standup guy when he won’t help his teammate out. And I do think A-Rod is vilified too much because he did willingly switch positions while in his prime to accommodate Jeter. It’s typical of the New York media to pit one Yankee star against another. First it was Ruth and Gehrig, then Maris and Mantle, Jackson and Munson and now Jeter and A-Rod. Enough already. It’s a minor blip on baseball’s radar.
- Joe Thomas was very impressive during his combine workout this weekend. He ran sub-5.0 twice in the 40-yard dash and bench pressed 225 pounds 28 times. It is apparent he is a superior athlete for his position. Adrian Peterson ran a 4.4, putting near the top of the running backs. I still think the Lions should be thinking defense first in this draft, however.
- Director Martin Scorsese finally won his Oscar, but departed wasn’t nearly as a good as "Raging Bull," another Scorsese movie that just might be the best I have ever seen. By the way, I saw four of the five "Best Picture" nominations. "Babel" was by far the best. Not that I didn’t enjoy "The Departed," but "Babel" was brilliant, although at times disturbing.
- I hate to say it, but the best player in this draft is probably a wide receiver. I didn’t think Calvin Johnson was that fast, but he is. He clocked 4.35 in the 40. That’s cooking. And he is an incredibly productive football player. But the Lions are in a box. They can’t possibly take a QB or a wide receiver second overall because of what has happened in the past with Charles Rogers and Joey Harrington.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Behind Door No. 1, Door No.2 And Door No.3...
More than anything else, the Lions need a playmaking defensive player. But there comes the rub. There is no apparent great playmaker defensively available in this draft. It means the Lions must depend on Matt Millen to make a sound judgment. That is an obvious problem. Their secondary is bad. And it is not going to get better overnight - especially since the Lions have apparently decided to part ways with Dre’ Bly. That means they need to rush the passer much better. They should get a decent push inside with Cory Redding and Shaun Rogers, but they badly need speed off the edges. There are a few defensive ends available in this draft who could provide it: Jamaal Anderson from Arkansas, Gaines Adams from Clemson and Adam Carriker from Nebraska. On the surface, none appears worthy of being taken second overall in the draft. But there are no obvious choices that early in the draft this season. It’s why the Lions are throwing up these ridiculous smoke screens they are interested in taking a quarterback. This is the perfect draft to trade down, especially considering what a crater the Lions roster has become. Other teams are not foolish, though. Being able to trade down seems like a remote possibility given the nature of this draft, which has some depth, but not much "Wow" appeal at the very top. I don’t advocate the Lions taking Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas second overall. They need playmakers on the defensive side of the ball more than anything else. And they are already paying a left tackle, Jeff Backus, a boatload of money. Chances are one of the three defensive ends I mentioned will be that impact player, but which one? I would have liked to have seen Anderson matched up more against Thomas in the Capital One Bowl, but he is obviously talented. Adams made the best defensive play I saw all last season when forced a botched field goal hold, stole the ball and then sprinted down the field for a long TD. Carriker reminds me a little bit of the Packers’ Aaron Kampman, who had double digits in sacks last season.
- It’s amazing how Joe Dumars made one of the worst draft choices in the history of the NBA when he took Darko Milicic second overall, but yet the Pistons just keep rolling regardless. No news at the trade deadline was great news for the Pistons, who had already added Chris Webber. And just as Miami was getting back on track, Dwyane Wade’s injury happened. Darko, by the way, displayed exactly what he is Wednesday against the Pistons. He’s just not that good.
- I know, I am, admittedly, a sick puppy hopelessly obsessed with sports...but I do find the extensive coverage of the combine on the NFL Network to be, well, fascinating. I TiVo it and watch it by the hour.
- Just wondering, which of the Big Three leading the Tigers starting pitching rotation - Kenny Rogers, Justin Verlander or Jeremy Bonderman - will have the most wins this season. I think it will be Bonderman. The way he bounced back from a shaky second half and performed during the playoffs should carry over to this season.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Dmitri Young's Act Is Old
There has been much talk about how Jim Leyland blasted Dmitri Young in a meeting with writers in Lakeland on Tuesday. It was in response to Young essentially saying the Tigers, by releasing him, abandoned him when he had several personal issues to face in 2006.
In reality, it could have been much worse. Leyland said he liked Dmitri Young. General manager Dave Dombrowski said the same thing. The question is, why? He was a cancer in the Tigers clubhouse. It was plan and simple. He got a big-money contract and then didn’t take care of himself physically, and it led to eroding skills. His ego was out of control. Off the field, he went to court on a domestic violence change. He had a good year and handled himself well when the Tigers were failing in 2003. Other than that, he did little in Detroit to justify the four-year, $28 million contract the franchise rewarded him. It was embarrassing, when the option kicked in for the 2006 season, the way Young left the clubhouse literally minutes after games in 2005. Last season, when the Tigers got on a roll, they had one, lone distraction - Young. He was unprofessional in every way. When the Tigers released him, it was addition by subtraction.
- In addition to probably clinching an NCAA tournament berth, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo did get the Bo Ryan monkey off his back with Tuesday’s victory over Wisconsin. State's Drew Neitzel is turning into an exceptional player. I just wonder if he will be able to defend well enough man-to-man to play at the NBA level. Wonder if he will make first-team All-Big Ten.
- Don’t be surprised if the Red Wings bring back Martin Lapointe, who is with Chicago. He is expensive relative to his skill at this point, but his grit is much needed by the Red Wings.
- Want a treat? Go to the Plymouth Whalers game Saturday night. John Tavares, The Hockey News coverboy, will be playing for the Oshawa Generals. In 55 games, Tavares has 58 goals and 50 assists for 108 points. At 16, he is the best player in the OHL - and perhaps all of junior hockey. He is already being projected as the first overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft and is drawing comparisons to Sidney Crosby and Wayne Gretzky - among others.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
About Shecky And Shaq...
When Jim Campbell was president of the Tigers, the running joke was the next person who smiled was going to be ushered from Tiger Stadium by one of the old guys wearing those weird-looking orange uniforms. Baseball was serious business. It was like attending church. Or spending a night in the pokey. They played very little music over the PA system. When the Tigers hit a home run, their elderly organ player would play the "Mexican Hat Dance." Suffice to say when the Tigers hosted the All Star Game in 1971, Wayne Newton wasn’t invited. Heck, they booed Jose Faliciano’s guitar rendition of the national anthem during the ‘68 World Series. At the first Super Bowl in Los Angelos, the big pre-game entertainment was college marching bands and these two guys who dropped onto the field from the sky wearing battery-powered rockets on their backs. It’s not that I clamor for the old days. And I do understand that entertainment and sports are national partners. But Wayne Newton at the NBA All-Star Game? That was ridiculous. I know he is Mr. Las Vegas, but it made about as much sense as having Nathan Lane play Jake LaMotta in a Broadway rendition of "Raging Bull." When he went "Hey, James, this one is for you..." The Godfather of Soul" immediately began spinning around in his casket and screaming, "I don’t feel good..." And was that really Wayne Newton? Or was that some guy wearing a mask? His face could have passed for the entertainment wing of the robbers in "Break Point." I am just glad they spared us Joan Rivers breaking out the one liners, sticking her fingers down her throat and hawking trinkets like she does on QVC. But where was Shecky Greene? David Stern blew it. If "Shaq meets Shecky" isn’t fodder for a reality show, then what is?
- It took awhile, but finally Tommy Amaker’s Michigan team showed some competitive character during its victory over Indiana on Saturday. It could spur the Wolverines on during the stretch run.
- The Tigers prospect I have never been able to quite figure out is reliever Eulogio da la Cruz. A right-hander, he has great stuff. On several occasions he has hit triple digits with his fastball. He has the makings of a major league-caliber breaking ball. Yet, his numbers have never been that good. He will be at Toledo this year and could provide the Tigers with a bullpen lift if they need it - especially if Fernando Rodney struggles - this season. But he needs to start dominating minor league hitters first.
- Just my opinion, but the most underrated Lions player of all-time was Larry Hand. The most underrated Piston was the "Man with the Golden Arm" Eddie Miles. The most underrated Red Wing was and still is Tomas Holmstrom and most underrated Tiger was Auerlio Lopez. Willie Hernandez got all the credit, but without Senior Smoke setting him up, 1984 doesn’t happen.
Friday, February 16, 2007
How Would Bly's Departure Make Lions Better?
In the wacky, nonsensical world of the NFL, the Lions allowing Dre Bly to seek a trade makes perfect sense. It would also make sense if they were to cut him. There are plenty of reasons. It’s the last year of his contract and he will count $5.4 million against the cap. He is getting older and is not the same player he used to be. He never has been the great player he acts like he is (remember his rant about Joey Harrington that was incredibly disruptive to the franchise when Steve Mariucci was fired). And he does his best work in man-to-man coverage and the Lions play mostly a zone. But to me, keeping Bly trumps all the above for one simple reason: He is the Lions best cornerback - and maybe their best player on defense. It does not matter what kind of coverage they are playing. There are some free agent cornerbacks available - Nate Clements, Asante Samuel, Nick Harper. But are any of those players actually better than Bly? And they would cost a lot on the open market. Filling that spot with a rookie from the draft would not be good. Oh, and please, spare us the Stanley Wilson and Keith Smith are so good lines. This is where the NFL - and the Lions in particular - are confusing. On one hand, they retain a number of veteran players as if they expect to win now. The most notable example of that is quarterback Jon Kitna. On the other, they are looking to move a solid player for cap reasons with no better alternative - as if they are rebuilding. The Lions of Matt Millen have constantly been in this state of flux. It points to a lack of a plan. Fine. Get rid of Dre Bly. But what is the option? The Lions never seem to have an answer for that one.
- Sometimes I want to scream when I hear, over and over, that Jeremy Bonderman’s main issue is developing a third pitch. It is not his main problem. First of all, Bonderman has thrown a changeup and a forkball in the past - and both are OK pitches. Not as good as his fastball and slider, but OK. Secondly, with his slider and fastball, it shouldn’t matter that much. He has two problems. One is struggling in the opening inning. The other is avoiding a big inning. It is not unusual for him to pitch five or six scoreless innings, but allow four or five runs in just one inning. That is a mental barrier he must breakdown. You don’t want him throwing changeups in those tight situations anyway. Not with his fastball and slider. He just has to make better pitches when he is in a jam. Other than about a 10-start span late last season, he did make progress in that area. I know people want a simple explanation for Bonderman’s flaws, and that the third pitch one falls into that category in a nice, neat package that sounds good. But his biggest issue is getting too fine in those situations, falling behind in the count and reducing the effectiveness of his slider, which just might be the best pitch of its kind in baseball.
- Credible media are reporting Kevin Jones will miss the first half of next season. The Lions are reporting Jones should be ready for training camp. Who do you believe?
- It took him awhile to get heated up, but Henrik Zetterberg has been brilliant lately. I just have a feeling he is on the verge of becoming the Red Wings next great player and will prove it during the playoffs.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Lakeland And Spring Training Is A Joy
I remember the first time I went to spring training. It was 1986. I had covered high schools at The Oakland Press the first two years I was with the paper and was on the Pistons beat when, after camp was already under way, I was being placed on the Tigers beat. I had never been to Lakeland before. I just remember seeing the films from there on the TV news. It always meant hope - that spring was on the way. Being a part of it was a dream come true. I have spent roughly three years of my life living in Lakeland. I guess you could say it is my home away from home. When I was on the Tigers beat for 13 years, I spent seven weeks each spring there. Now my stays are shorter. I was at the Tigers Fantasy Camp for a week and will be in Lakeland for a week doing columns and working on stories for our baseball special section in March. I always look forward to it. Lakeland is a good town. I have come to like and respect it very much. It’s not an exciting town, but it is a part of our tradition as much as anything in Michigan. Once in awhile people ask me if it is worth visiting. My answer is yes. Actually, I cannot imagine being a true baseball fan from Michigan and not going there at least once. And for the ultimate baseball geek experience, I recommend going to a Gulf Coast League game in July in Lakeland. They start at noon. The temperature is usually in the 90s with the humidity above 90 percent. You will, I promise, sweat. You will also get an real understanding of just how difficult it is for a player to go through the minors and reach the major leagues. I do find major spring training games boring and meaningless. It is impossible to get an accurate gauge on players. Scouts who don’t understand that are in trouble.Random Thoughts
- The only good thing about Barry Bonds approaching Henry Aaron’s all-time home run record is watching Bud Selig squirm. Famous Clowns: Yucko, Milky, Bud Selig, Bozo, Homey, etc.
- Haven’t we seen enough of Joey McDonald? Jimmy Howard was a lot better when he got his shot with the Red Wings last season. Regardless of what they do at the trade deadline, the Red Wings are so reliant on Dominik Hasek it is scary.
- I think they should pare down goaltending equipment even more. It is still too big. I would consider that option first before expanding the size of the net.
Monday, February 12, 2007
An Honor Much Deserved
Former Lions tight end Charlie Sanders was recently elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The honor was greatly deserved.Sanders was a marvel as a player. I have never seen a receiver make more “impossible” catches than Sanders did during the late 1960s and 1970s for the Lions. It was uncanny. He wasn’t afraid to stick his nose in there and block, either. Don’t believe it? Just ask Dick Butkus.Name a tight end. I don’t care which one, and Sanders was just as good - and probably better.What really hindered Sanders’ bid for The Hall was the fact he played for the Lions. Not only wasn’t he part of a championship team, he didn’t come close. Yet, honestly, he couldn’t have done more, from his position, to help his team win.It always leads to a perplexing question. How high do we place winning when accessing the performance of an individual player? Not to pick on the Lions (although they deserve it), but what type of player would Peyton Manning have become were he thrust into that mess? Conversely, how much better would Chuck Long, Andre Ware and Joey Harrington have been had they been selected by another organization? To take the question further, Barry Bonds has never won a title. Does that diminish his accomplishments? I loved Bill Russell as a player, but I don’t think he was as great as Wilt Chamberlain. Russell had Red Auerbach building teams around him. Wilt didn’t have the same type of smart GM working for him. When he did have comparable talent with the 76ers in 1966-67 and Lakers in 1972-73 - his teams dominated like few in NBA history.Jim Plunkett was a bad QB in New England and a champion in Oakland. Dan Marino was a better player than Bob Griese. He just was, but Griese has the rings and Marino - who might have been the best pure passer in history - carries this weird stigma because he didn’t win a title. Teams sports are not about one player. Even the truly great ones have sidekicks. Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen, Joe Montana had Jerry Rice, Wayne Gretzky had Mark Messier, Babe Ruth had Lou Gehrig, etc.Who was Archie Manning’s sidekick?I think most times were a little too tough in accessing athletes as losers if they are put in the wrong spot. And a little bit quick with our praise of athletes when they are put in the right place at the right time.And it’s one of the reasons I am so pleased Charlie Sanders, who is also one of the good guys, finally got his due and reached the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
- I heard some people talk about the Indians as if they are a real threat in the American League Central. I am not so sure. I like their power and their starting pitching, but their fielding and their bullpen are more than just a little questionable.
- The best high school football player I ever saw was John Miller from Farmington Harrison. The best high school basketball player was Chris Webber from Country Day. The best high school baseball player was Steve Howe from Clarkston.
- It’s just my opinion, but I think Paul Woods does a great job with his commentary on the Red Wings radio broadcasts. His knowledge of the NHL and hockey in general is extraordinary.
Friday, February 09, 2007
The Downside Of The NCAA Tourney
I know the NCAA Tournament is a huge plus for college basketball. I know it provides enormous amounts of money for college basketball programs - and universities in general. I truly love "The Big Dance." It is a great, great thing. But must admit to a certain sadness about it as time goes on. Let me explain. With each passing year, it becomes more evident that the NCAA Tournament has taken away from the regular season. A team can win its regular season conference title - and it is no big deal. Same for not winning the conference regular season title on, say, the last day. I watched the North Carolina-Duke game the other night. It is supposed to be the best rivalry in college basketball. However, there was something missing because the game, in reality, didn’t mean much. There is always a second or third chance in college basketball because of the postseason conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament. While I enjoy both, I am not sure if the game has not suffered to a growing degree because everything is predicated on the NCAA tourney. Now I have covered many NCAA Tournament games. The environment, particularly for the early rounds, is odd. There is little fan reaction. Sometimes the arena is not nearly full because some fans ignore the games not involving their teams. The atmosphere pales in comparison to the Breslin Center or some of the other arenas in the Big Ten. Regular season college basketball is great. But does anybody notice it anymore? Does anybody care? Unfortunately, not as many people as there used to be.
- Handing Matt Millen and the Lions the second overall pick in the NFL draft is like trusting Carl Lewis to sing the national anthem at an NBA game. Been there. Done that. Dogs everywhere are prepared to start howling.
- I honestly do not know what to make of Ryan Howard. Is he just the product of the cozy ball park in Philly? And I know this is unfair to a degree, but like Albert Pujols, I cannot help but be suspicious of Howard’s stunning power production given what has happened in baseball’s recent past.
- A prediction: I see Michigan State beating Michigan next week in East Lansing, but the Wolverines returning the favor when they meet again in Ann Arbor.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Is Kobe The Best In The NBA?
One of the great aspects of the NBA is the way it allows for a legitimate debate about the best player in the league. One player can have such an enormous impact on his team. For the longest time, it was not much of a debate, though. The best player in the NBA was clearly Michael Jordan. Before that, however, people would get into these intense discussions about the merits of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. And back in the day, it was about Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Or about Oscar Robertson and Jerry West.
Who is the best player in the NBA today? I know Steve Nash is the two-time MVP and a marvelous player, but I do not think he is the best player in the league. LeBron James certainly has proven his point in Cleveland, but only to a degree. Both he and Nash have not won championships. I also think Dirk Nowitzki is underrated on this front. Yet, he has not won a title, either. Tim Duncan has, but does seem past his prime. That leaves us with Kobe Bryant, who will visit The Palace Thursday night. Is he the best player in the NBA right now? As some of you know, I have never thought as highly as others about Bryant. I think he was more a product of Shaq than Shaq was a product of him. I could not stand the way Kobe played against the Pistons in the NBA Finals. What a selfish chump. I thought he got off easy on his legal problems in Colorado, and is generally a phony. I thought last season was ideal for him because he could just be a ball hog. Well, this season, he has been more of a team player and the Lakers are winning. Kobe, finally, seems to be making the players around him better. And I am starting to come to the conclusion he is the best player in the NBA.
- So Michigan did not totally embarrass itself at Ohio State on Tuesday. So what? There is something missing in that team. An intangible factor that leads to capitulation at crucial moments of big games. That team should be better than that. Period.
- The Red Wings have a couple million dollars to work with at the trade deadline. They could use a little more firepower up front from a winger. Problem is, with the deadline a little earlier and parity ruling in the NHL, most teams still have a shot at the playoffs. And teams getting into the playoffs see themselves as Stanley Cup contenders - regardless of the seed. It could make for shallow pool of players available at the deadline.
- I see the key pitcher on the Tigers staff this season as being Fernando Rodney. With Jamie Walker gone, he will be asked to get left-handed hitters out in key situations. He will also have to set up because Joel Zumaya cannot pitch every day. Rodney was pretty good last season. Just look at the numbers. But I am not sure he can be "pretty good" again. His inconsistency can be alarming.
Monday, February 05, 2007
A Super Bowl Lesson For The Lions
There have been exceptions. Trent Dilfer with the Ravens and Brad Johnson with the Bucs come to mind. Then again, you have to remember they won their Super Bowls by bettering Kerry Collins and Rich Gannon. So I guess the lesson of Sunday’s Super Bowl is that when the stakes are that high, the quarterback means everything.
Peyton Manning was not spectacular. He was good enough. Rex Grossman was not. And the Bears will not win that game until they get better at that position. That, of course, leads us to the Lions. I am fully expecting they will pass on a quarterback in the draft while selecting No. 2 overall. It will be the second year in a row they have bypassed on one (Matt Leinart was really good for the Cardinals last season). If they want to win a Super Bowl someday, they are not going to do it with Jon Kitna. They have to develop a young QB, one that is better than Grossman or Joey Harrington. It has to be the right quarterback brought up the right way - the way the Colts did it with Manning and the Patriots with Tom Brady. Otherwise, the futility will continue. It cannot be denied the one constant for the Lions the last 50 years has been inconsistent QB play. As organization, they need to understand that and not be afraid to go after that position because they were burned so badly by what turned out to be a bad decision in drafting Harrington.Random Thoughts
- The best stories I heard hanging around the Tigers Fantasy Camp last week were from Darrell Evans. And he was not talking about baseball, either, but rather about when he played guard for Jerry Tarkanian at Pasadena City College during the mid-1960s. One of the teams Evans faced was UCLA’s freshman team with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. "He swatted one of my shots away," Evans said. "The guy had really long arms. I had never seen anything close to it. UCLA was the defending national champs - and they lost to that freshman team." Evans had to guard former NBA player Lucius Allen. "He was a lot quicker than me, that’s for sure," Evans said. "And he could really jump." Evans said people are too vindictive toward Tarkanian, a long-time target of the NCAA because of recruiting violations. "Shark belongs in the Hall of Fame," Evans said. "He was a great coach. He put UNLV on the map. He won at Long Beach State, too. He even won with us."
- Ohio State has a talented team, but Michigan State was capable of beating the Buckeyes at home. It was disappointing they did not. The stretch run does not get any easier. It will be one of the most challenging coaching tasks Tom Izzo has faced - getting this team in the NCAA Tournament. It appears the Spartans will have to beat Wisconsin. Izzo had trouble doing that when he had the better team of the two. Now he has to turn the tables on his nemesis Bo Ryan. I am not sure he can.