Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Curry Should Be Retained As Piston Coach, But...

Joe Dumars said Wednesday that Michael Curry will be back as Pistons coach - and that’s the way it should be.
Curry didn’t have much of a chance his first season. The team was 4-0 when Dumars made the ill-fated Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson trade with Denver.
But understanding whether Curry was at a disadvantage, and wondering if he is the long-term solution as the Pistons’ coach, are two different matters.
While the Pistons were troubled by the Iverson situation, Curry let it linger longer than it should have. The team was playing really well when Richard Hamilton, actually, came back from injury. Instead of seeing the obvious - or admitting it - Curry went right back to the three-guard system with Iverson, Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey that wasn’t working. Then he had Hamilton coming off the bench, which presented a bad mix. Then he had Iverson coming off the bench, which was even worse. By then the season had deteriorated. Curry should have been much more decisive much sooner.
Also, did the Pistons’ young players - Amir Johnson, Jason Maxiell and Stuckey - make progress or regress this season under Curry?
Those are legitimate issues that can be raised about Curry’s coaching - regardless the bad hand he was dealt by Dumars.

Random Thoughts

- I like Ryan Perry’s stuff a lot, but you can tell his confidence has been shaken. Jim Leyland needs to either put him in a less-than-pressure packed role right now or Dave Dombrowski needs to give him some time in the minors. Freddy Dolsi is pitching very well at Toledo.

- Should the Red Wings consider bringing up a fighter like Aaron Downey or Darren McCarty for this series with Anaheim? You know the Ducks are going to be looking for trouble.
My column Wednesday on the Ducks-Red Wings series:


Monday, April 27, 2009

It Was There All Along For Verlander

It would be easy to look at Justin Verlander's performance Monday night against the New York Yankees and ask the question, "Where has that been all year?"
In truth, it's been there all along. The 98 mph fastball. The breaking ball. The changeup. The difference Monday is that Verlander was able to sustain a high performance level for seven innings.
He is an immensely talented pitcher, a rare combination of a power arm, athleticism and feel for pitching - although it has been the last year-plus he has lost of his feel for pitching.
Verlander is still relatively young and is typical of even the most talented pitchers in that he is going through a period of adjustment. At his best, he trusts his fastball when in trouble. It was the different Monday night.

My Column for Tuesday On the Lions Draft:

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lions Can't Coddle Stafford Like They Did With Harrington

After weighing all the factors, I came to the conclusion the Lions should select Matthew Stafford with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft.
But I also understand, especially after hosting radio shows the last week, including Saturday morning after the deal was completed, the Lions' decision couldn't be more unpopular with their fans.
I'd say every seven of 10 calls were against the Lions taking a QB, and often Stafford in particular. There was often a harsh bitterness in the tone.
It points to two things: Just how burned Lion fans felt by Joey Harrington. It also reveals just how much mistrust the Lions' fans have in the franchise and its management. That part hasn't changed. And it is more than understandable.
The Lions will have to deal with this. They can't make Stafford the focus of a marketing campaign, and he is going to have to develop a thick skin. He can only win the Lions' fans over with victories and by being standup guy. No hype will do.
The Lions handled Harrington poorly. They coddled him, and he'd act like a spoiled brat. By the time he developed an understanding of the pressure points of the position, it was too late.
Harrington was already ruined.
The last thing the Lions should do is make it easy on Stafford that way. If he doesn't embrace the pressure of playing QB in a town that has a natural scorn for the position, he has no chance.
He can't hide from it, so the worst thing he can do it run from it.

My Sunday column on the Lions' draft.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Stafford-Lions Deal Could Go to Last Minute

Look for the Matthew Stafford-Lions negotiations to go to a very late point. The deadline isn’t essentially until 4 p.m. Saturday - when the draft begins. It could go to the last minute.
Until then, all the leverage on both sides rests with that deadline.
For the Lions, it’s knowing they must get a deal done in order to draft Stafford. If they don’t, it could lead to a prolonged negotiation dragging into training camp. For a quarterback, that is a disaster. It greatly hindered Jamarcus Russell with the Raiders a few years back, and may have ruined the career of the Lions’ Andre Ware back in the day.
For Stafford and his agents, Tom Condon and Ben Dogra, it is the understanding that Stafford’s best opportunity to make the most money is as the No. 1 overall pick. Not only will he be slotted at a lesser salary as he falls down the board, but will be risk dropping several spots if he does not sign with the Lions. That would be particularly true if Seattle is as enamored with USC QB Mark Sanchez, as several reports indicate.
Lions president Tom Lewand has good success negotiating contracts. It’s a strength and he is respected among NFL agents. Tom Condon and Ben Dogra, Stafford’s agents, are considered tough, but fair negotiators. It is difficult, considering the circumstances, that either side would cut off their nose to spite their face.
What will likely transpire is a little bit of last-minute movement on both sides and a deal getting done.

Random Thoughts

- I’m not surprised LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson is moving up draft boards. He not only is a good pass rusher, but an excellent run defender. If the Lions were to pass on Stafford, I believe he would be a better choice for them than Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry.

- I knew Adam Everrett wasn’t going to be much of a hitter, but did expect more from him defensively. For somebody who is supposed to be among the best defensive shortstops in baseball, he hasn’t played like it. Where is that great range? Don’t see it. As for his arm, not sure if it is fully-recovered. That was a scary throw he made Thursday night in Anaheim. Almost got Miguel Cabrera clocked.

- The Wings would be better off facing Vancouver than Anaheim in the second round. The reason: Confidence. The Ducks know they can beat the Red Wings in the playoffs, having done so twice since 2003. Chris Pronger has been the main force behind the last two teams to eliminate the Red Wings from the playoffs - Edmonton in 2006 and Anaheim in 2007.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On Stafford, Granderson, Lyon And Rip...

Initially, I didn’t think the Lions should select Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. Now I believe they should - but only if they sign him before the draft.
Stafford has extraordinary talent. More as a pro prospect than other quarterbacks in recent drafts, this one or next year. He did pass all the tests under the microscope of being the consensus No. 1 overall pick in regard to his workouts, tests and conduct with flying colors. Some of the bashing of his college career is overdone. The bottom line is he was a very good QB in what is widely-regarded as the nation’s premier conference, and is potentially a great pro player.
Is he a sure thing? There is no such animal - especially at QB. Obviously, he won’t be welcome in this town. I’m pretty much alone on this one. The majority of fans are against selecting him, and most of the media is either dead-set against it or lukewarm to the notion.
Those chants "Don’t draft Stafford" when the Lions unveiled their new logo were indicative of a wide-spread feeling. It’s difficult enough to be the first overall pick in the draft. Can Stafford handle it being that it will be largely unpopular. Those type of intangible factors are the great unknown.
The Lions must use their pre-draft leverage on this to sign Stafford. They cannot take him if he is unsigned. Holdouts as a rookie will kill the career of any QB.
Stafford does have the highest ceiling of any player in this draft I don’t see anybody else that has a similar upside, although it might turn out to be a decent draft in terms of depth. A star or two will emerge. They always do. But who? Stafford is the most likely.
The Lions do have four picks in the next 81 to address their many defensive needs if they do take Stafford.

Random Thoughts

- Haven’t we already seen enough of Brandon Lyon to understand he is not the answer as a late-inning reliever for the Tigers?

- The home runs by Curtis Granderson Tuesday were important for the Tigers. Anytime they have done anything in recent seasons, it seems like Granderson has been the catalyst offensively.

- I know it doesn’t mean much to Pistons fans in their current state of disappointment, but you must give Will Bynum credit. He is their one player, who is always playing extremely hard, and mostly pretty well.

- Here is a interesting statistic: The Pistons lost by 12 Tuesday night, but were outscored by 30 points during the 40 minutes Richard Hamilton was on the floor.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Make No Mistake: Billups Wasn't Addition By Subtraction

The subplot often not mentioned about the Pistons and their collapse this season is the way Chauncey Billups has taken off in Denver.
There is a prevailing thought this will not do much long-term damage to the Pistons because Allen Iverson has an expiring contract. Billups was signed long-tern by the Pistons, but is he really done as a championship-caliber player? He had 36 points and eight assists while handing Chris Paul his lunch when the Nuggets beat New Orleans Sunday. Billups is in his 30s. That’s understood. But what player, honestly, are the Pistons going to get who is as good as Billups in free agency this off season?
It’s a bonafide question to ask in lieu of the way the Pistons faltered this season, and the way Billups’ has sky-rocketed in Denver. He wasn’t addition by subtraction, the way a lot of people are making him out to be, that’s for sure. He is sorely missed.

Random Thoughts

- Rick Porcello throws plenty hard enough, but his success comes more from command of all his pitches and mound presence. It’s amazing, but age and experience often don’t matter in that equation. Some pitchers never acquire it. Others are born with it.

- The ESPN trade rumors about Miguel Cabrera seem like wishful thinking on the parr of the Red Sox. They are floundering without Manny Ramirez, and now that it appears David Ortiz is on the downside of his career.

- Anybody notice the Marlins are 11-1? Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller aren’t necessarily why. Maybin is hitting .206 and Miller’s ERA is sky-high. The best former Tiger on the Marlins: Cody Ross. He turned out to be a pretty good player. It always seemed odd to me that one of the knocks on Ross is that he throws left-handed and hits right-handed. What difference does that make other than it is unique?


Friday, April 17, 2009

Is The Tigers' Start Really That Good Or Expectations So Low?

- Most people are breathing a sigh of relief the Tigers’ season isn’t over before it really got started - like last season. That’s especially true after the opening series in Toronto didn’t go well. While the recent homestand was much better, it should be noted the Tigers must also play respectable baseball on the road. This trip will be a good gauge.

- Jeremy Bonderman is iffy because of his health. Zach Miner is maddeningly inconsistent. Nate Robertson has been pitching well in the bullpen and is left-handed. The Tigers’ starting rotation is void of left-handed starters. Don’t be surprised if Robertson pitches his way back into the rotation sooner instead of later.

- Fernando Rodney has been really good, but I’d still be surprised if Ryan Perry isn’t the Tigers’ closer by All Star break.

- Brandon Inge deserves all the credit in the world for his hot start at the plate. He told the world he is a much better player at third base than at catcher. There were many - myself included - who thought he should be catching. He was right. We were wrong.
- Count me among those who feel Ramon Santiago would be exposed if he were the Tigers’ every day shortstop.

- Armando Galarraga has shocked me. I fully expected a dropoff. Instead, he is even better than last season.

- The American League Central is not a good division. Don’t be surprised if a ridiculously low number of victories - something like 85 - wins it.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

There Was Nothing Phony About Mark Fidrych

If Mark Fidrych had started grooming the mound and talking to the baseball with the purpose of garnering attention toward himself, it never would have worked.
He would have been detected as a phony and been called out for it - especially in this town.
The difference is Fidrych was genuine. It wasn’t an act.
He was a simple guy, who lived a simple life except for his 15 minutes of fame. What was so wonderful about those 15 minutes is that Fidrych enjoyed it so much. Never got a big head. Never was full of himself. He was only full of life and it rubbed off not only on this town, but the entire country. It was wonderful watching him enjoy it.
Fidrych was the kid with the curly, blond mop top from down the street who made it. It was impossible to resent him for his success.
He was also a excellent pitcher. When Fidrych talked, the baseball listened. What set him apart during that magical season in 1976 was his command of the ball. Every pitch buzzed the knees and clipped a corner of the plate.
It’s surreal to know he is gone.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Automakers Signs At Comerica Classy Move By Ilitch

There is a reason Tigers owner Mike Ilitch is garnering much praise for putting the logos of Chrysler, General Motors and Ford above the center field fountain at Comerica Park - free of charge. It's because he deserves it.
It was a sincere move by a Detroit native. Ilitch has his share of detractors. Some of it is justified, but Ilitch has represented Detroit well overall as an owner. He's made mistakes, but he hasn't been cheap and he's always cared deeply about winning - and, obviously, the bigger picture of Southeastern Michigan.
The Tigers' current struggles can't be put at Ilitch's feet. He has spent money, not only on veteran payroll, but for drafted players such as Rick Porcello.

Random Thoughts

- I see the Red Wings doing well in the first round of the playoffs against either St. Louis or Anaheim. Nashville, however, could present the Red Wings with some problems. The Predators are strong defensively and goalie Pekka Rinne is playing well. Also, the Preds are very familiar with the Red Wings.

- The biggest sign Michigan's football program is making process will be during Saturday's spring game if the Wolverines' offense isn't fumbling the football. Last season, the Wolverines dropped the ball so much it was ridiculous.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Tigers First Two Games Raise Questions About Dombrowski And Leyland

The Tigers 0-2 start begs the question why?
- Why give Dontrelle Willis and Gary Sheffield long-term contract extensions after trading for them, hindering the Tigers from adding a bonafide veteran closer during the off season?
- Why sign Brandon Lyon to a $4 million-plus contract when it’s obvious he lacks the "stuff" to be an effective late-inning pitcher?
- Why not use rookie Rick Perry in pressure situations in the first two games - if he gives you the best chance to win?
- Why give Nate Robertson a long-term contract extension to be a mopup man?
- Why trade for over-the-hill shortstop Edgar Renteria last season when quality relief pitchers such as Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel were available?
- Why not leave Edwin Jackson in for another inning when he had thrown just 90 pitches?
- Why, with all that ability, can’t Justin Verlander pitch well in the clutch for the Tigers anymore?
Here’s the simple truth about the Tigers:
General manager Dave Dombrowski made several key moves - the signing of Pudge and Magglio Ordonez, the trades for Carlos Guillen and Placido Polanco, signing Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones, etc. that turned the Tigers into pennant winners in 2006. Since then, however, he has made a series of moves that have backfired badly. It has the left the Tigers as not only an expensive team, but a bad team. At least it sure looks that way so far this season.
The "season’s a marathon" line doesn’t fit here - not after last year when the Tigers couldn’t recover from a horrible start.
Manager Jim Leyland may turn out to be the fall guy in this, but he hasn’t been given the best parts to work with - just expense ones, a couple that aren’t even with the club. Although it’s pretty obvious he has lost his touch, too.
It’s put owner Mike Ilitch in a spot. The Tigers are having trouble generating much buzz. Coupled with the flagging economy, it’s going to make ticket sales difficult. It’s not like Dombrowski and Leyland haven’t done well in the past. They have, but even after two games, this just doesn’t look like it’s working.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Prediction Time On The Final Four And The Tigers

I only filled out one bracket before the start of the NCAA tournament. It had Michigan State winning it all. I figured a darkhorse often comes in. Didn't see much sense in just taking the prohibitive favorite - North Carolina. And Ty Lawson's status was iffy coming into the tourney. State's rugged style of play reminded me of its best teams under Izzo during the late 1990s and early this decade, but I had no idea they would peak to this degree.
I look at tonight's game like this: If it were a seven-game series, I would pick North Carolina in six. The Tar Heels are more talented than the Spartans, just as tough and every bit as deep. However, I believe for one game - especially in the special setting that will be Ford Field tonight - the Spartans have a 50-50 chance of winning. And being that I picked MSU at the start of the tournament, I'm not going to change it now.
Final score: MSU 80, NC 77

Tigers prediction:

Hey, have to make it before the first pitch on opening day, right? I say the Tigers will win 83 games this season and finish second, three games behind the Cleveland Indians, in the American League Central.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Spartans Have Earned U-M's Respect - Even If Wolverines Won't Give It To Them

Sometimes you're surprised by a reaction. Other times, it's expected. I have to admit I was surprised, while doing my radio show Friday night and Saturday morning, by how Michigan fans are responding to Michigan State being in the Final Four at Ford Field.
Maybe, having lived here all my life, I shouldn't have been.
The idea the Spartans' advancement to the Final Four has turned Southeastern Michigan green is bunk. It's always seemed to me there are more Michigan fans in Metro Detroit than Michigan State. A lot more. It's almost one of those things that people either went to Michigan State or they are Michigan fans.
And those Michigan fans, most of whom didn't go to the school, have reacted in one of the following three ways.
1. They are genuinely happy for the Spartans and are rooting for them to bring home the national championship. They understand the situation and are genuinely happy for our state. This is not the majority, but it is a good chunk of people. They, however, don't rank among Michigan's most feverent fans.
2. They are more than willing to give MSU and Tom Izzo credit for their success, but make it clear they don't like this all that much and won't openingly root for the Spartans. Nor are they willing to give MSU much credit for their recent football success. It appears the majority of Michigan fans fall into this category.
3. The third group hates MSU and everything about it. They don't, really, acknowledge basketball as a sport. They mock whatever success MSU has - period. These don't tend to be students or alums of Michigan. They are also the majority leading the Michigan "got jobbed" brigade, whenever Michigan loses. This is, fortunately, a minority of Michigan fans - but they are probably the most vocal.
There is a bottom line about this. Michigan State has reached the Final Four five times in 11 seasons. Michigan made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. Last fall, MSU's football team was 9-3 and Michigan's 3-9. When the two teams played head-to-head in both sports, MSU won.
That doesn't necessarily mean MSU has buried Michigan. To the contrary. But MSU fans have nothing to apologize for, and there is no reason for Michigan fans not to give the Spartans' credit. It is certainly due.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Ford Field Not A Typical Dome Stadium

The idea Ford Field is a football stadium hosting basketball games this weekend is essentially true.
But some of the criticism about Ford Field as a host venue for the Final Four is not justified.
First of all, it is not a domed stadium. And it has subtle features that set it apart from other massive indoor stadiums, such as the wall from the old Hudson's warehouse.
The sight lines for Ford Field have been criticized, but a stadium of this size just can't win in that regard. A basketball court is much smaller than a football field or even a hockey rink. There aren't going to be a lot of good seats - regardless.
The idea of attending the Final Four, especially for those from the host schools, is to be part of what is a special moment. Ford Field is terrific from that aspect. It's probably the best indoor stadium in the nation.