Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fuentes Would Have Been Better Than Nothing

Nobody is surprised the Tigers didn't win the Brian Fuentes' sweepstakes. Not sure they were ever really involved in them. The Angels signed Fuentes to a two-year contract worth $17 million Wednesday.
Fuentes has pretty much been a good closer on bad teams. The year Colorado did get into the postseason was the year he lost his closing role to Manny Corpas. In the postseason that year, 2007, he had a 6.52 ERA.
I agree with the premise that Fuentes isn't a premier closer despite some statistics that are impressive. He isn't clutch. However, he is better than nothing. And that's the what the Tigers essentially have at this stage for a closer - nothing.
General manager Dave Dombrowski obviously still has a lot of work to get done this off season.

Random Thoughts

- The most ridiculous premise about the hiring of Martin Mayhew as general manager of the Lions is that he has been there for the past mistakes, so he knows what needs to be done to correct them. It was also strange when Mayhew brought up the coaches he played for in response to the issue he has never been surrounded by winners.
While it's true he played for great coaches along the way, so did Matt Millen. It meant nothing when he was an executive.
In truth, there is little that can used to justify Mayhew being the Lions' general manager. The only hope is that William Clay Ford's shot in the dark turns out to be right. It's just that given Ford's track record, it's not exactly a comforting thought.

- Michigan State's basketball team seems to be hitting stride at the perfect time. Having Goran Suton back has meant all the difference in the world. But don't read too much into the Spartans' impressive victory at Minnesota Wednesday. The Golden Gophers' undefeated record going in was build on a house of cards. Minnesota had played an easy schedule to that point.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Marinelli Ouster Had To Happen Sooner Instead Of Later

There should be no surprise it happened this soon, the morning after the Lions lost to the Green Bay Packers to become the first team in NFL history lose all 16 of its regular season games.
Rod Marinelli had to be released as Lions head coach. There was no justification for retaining him.
He inherited a bad team, but it regressed further under his watch. His defensive scheme was stale and out-of-date. He made poor decisions when it came to acquiring player personnel to fit his scheme (all those defensive linemen the Lions drafted and the former Tampa Bay players they acquired).
I know the Lions head coaching position is a difficult one. There is a losing culture there. It hovers over the franchise like an ominous cloud. There were times when Marinelli put up a decent fight to change that culture. Him being so focused on not being distracted worked pretty well the first half of the 2007 season. It’s when the losses mounted that his rhetoric got tired, and it became evident it was just a matter of time before his stint in Detroit would be complete. You can’t preach sound, fundamental football - and have the team perform in a completely opposite manner. In professional football, you can’t talk constantly about how well a team practices when it performs so poorly on game day
Not having experience as a coordinator hurt Marinelli. It didn’t help, either, that his coaching staff wasn’t stellar.
While he was far from the only one at fault for the 0-16 record, Marinelli certainly played a major role in it. I think it would be fair to say that many other head coaches - most of them - would have found a way to win at least one game this season.

Random Thoughts

- Why not Bill Parcells? If the Dolphins kick him loose because of ownership change, the Lions should be interested. Who do you like better hiring the next head coach - Parcells or Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew? Not even close, is it?

- The Lions have to do a lot more than just freeze ticket prices to win back their fans. They need to make a serious splash this off season. Not sure that’s going to happen.

- I still can believe a team with a player as great as Calvin Johnson didn’t win a game. He tied for the NFL lead in touchdown receptions with 12. Amazing under the circumstances.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Was It The Curse of Bobby Layne Or Brett Favre?

We’ve heard about the curse of Bobby Layne forever in this town. It was supposed to last for 50 years. It was to be up in October, when it became five decades since Layne - the Lions’ last great quarterback - was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Well, the Lions haven’t won a game since and are looking at 0-16 unless they win at Green Bay Sunday.
The curse of Bobby Layne lives on. Or was the curse just hoax? I suppose it depends on whether you believe in the 50-year aspect of it.
My theory about the Lions’ troubles doesn’t have as much to do with Bobby Layne as it does with another great QB, Brett Favre.
The Lions last won a playoff game in 1991 - the year before Favre joined the Packers.
The Lions last won at Lambeau Field in 1991 - the year before Favre joined the Packers.
The Lions took their only legitimate run toward a Super Bowl berth in 1991 - the year before Favre joined the Packers.
More than any other opposing player, Favre ruined the Lions. They did beat the Packers sometimes at home, but for the most part, it was embarrassing. It pretty much started with the game-deciding touchdown pass Favre threw to Sterling Sharpe during the playoff game in ‘93 at the Silverdome that set the tone. Is it possible it will different now that Favre is gone?
Now earlier in the season, the Packers did scorch the Lions during the fourth quarter at Ford Field without Favre. Even with a 5-10 record and not winning in more than a month, the Packers deserve to be 10-point favorites over the Lions. I can’t see the Lions’ defense stopping a CYO offense, let alone any NFL team.
But if there is a ray of hope for the Lions Sunday, it is that Favre is no longer with the Packers. If he were still in Green Bay, especially in a December game at Lambeau, I’d say the Lions’ chances of winning would be nil. Without him there, they are minuscule.
Just a thought - as convoluted as it might be.

Random Thoughts

- Amazing how quickly an organization can turn it around if they get the right person in charge. Look what Bill Parcells has done in Miami. Lets see - Bill Parcells compared to Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew. Hmmm. What a difference, eh?

- If the Yankees keep going at this rate, it’ll only be a year or two before they hold half the money to players in guaranteed contracts.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Stuckey An Example Where Dumars Has Gotten It Right

Joe Dumars has often heard criticism for not drafting well. There are certainly examples of questionable draft choices by the Pistons under Dumars - from Mateen Cleaves to Rodney White to, obviously, Darko Milicic.
But Tayshaun Prince was a great draft pick late in the first round. Mehmet Okur was a terrific choice in the second round. And Rodney Stuckey has provided the Pistons with a cornerstone for the future.
Stuckey got off to relatively slow start this season because of a health issue, but the way he played in the second half Wednesday against the Bulls may be a precursor to what he may provide in the future.
With Allen Iverson out with a groin injury, he took over the game. It’s rare the player that can go to the basket like Stuckey. If he gets a little better with his mid-range game, he’ll truly be special.
And it wasn’t like he was on everybody’s radar coming out of college. Eastern Washington is about as remote as it gets in Division I. It was a gutsy call by Dumars to select Stuckey where he did. For that, he deserves credit.

Random Thoughts

- Happy Holidays to everyone who supports The Oakland Press and this blog. Your comments are very good and always appreciated. Thank you very much.

- The most under-reported aspect of the Lions’ season finale at Green Bay is Kevin Smith. He is just 116 yards shy of 1,000 on the season. Who would have thought it possible on such a dreadful team. Smith is an excellent football player. A definite keeper.

- The early weather forecast for the Winter Classic January 1 at Wrigley Field: A high of 29, a low of 19 with just a few snow showers. If that holds up, it would be ideal.

- I’ve had people request my thoughts on the Rob Parker situation Sunday after the Lions’ game. I wrote it about in Wednesday’s paper (You can read my columns at Just click on sports and go to the "columns" section.) This is what I wrote:

It’s a terrific old song, lyrics taken from a passage in the Bible by legendary folk singer and song writer Pete Seeger in the 1950s. Most remember The Byrds version of it from the 1960s with the great electric guitar riffs.
"To everything, there is a season. Turn. Turn. Turn. A time to live. A time to die. A time to laugh. A time to cry. And a time for every purpose under heaven."
It’s a great message. As relevant today as it was then. And it always will be.
That song is the first thing I thought of Sunday when I heard Detroit News columnist Rob Parker ask Lions head coach Rod Marinelli the following question: "On a light note, do you wish your daughter would have married a better defensive coordinator?"
A news conference, comprised of professional journalists, who were issued credentials because they work for legitimate news organizations, didn’t seem to be the appropriate time for such a question.
I not sure there would ever be one.
Nobody should shy away from asking tough questions of Marinelli - or anyone else in the Lions organization - about their 0-15 record. I’ve had a few testy moments with him myself at news conferences.
It’s true that Marinelli opened himself to questions of nepotism by hiring his son-in-law, Joe Barry, as defensive coordinator. However, he answered Parker’s question about Barry a few times before Parker pulled out his, "On a light note..." line Sunday.
There are questions. There are followup questions. Then there are asinine questions. This one fell into the latter category.
It personalized the issue rather professionalized it. It was a cheap shot. Marinelli is drowning as Lions’ head coach. His team is 0-15. They lost Sunday’s game 42-7. Understandably, he was in anything but a "light" mood. He’s been an awful head coach. The worst I’ve seen with the Lions. His "just keep fighting" rhetoric is stale and trite. It doesn’t give the media the right to humiliate him with their line of questioning, though.
Parker did that. It’s why the backlash was so hard on FOX’s post game Sunday. It’s why his managing editor at the Detroit News referred to the question as "inappropriate" and "unprofessional" on the newspaper’s website.
This is part of the larger issue of media calling attention to themselves above those they are covering. The Lions’ news conferences are broadcast on both of Detroit’s sports talk radio stations. It shouldn’t change the mentality of the media at news conferences. They should ask the questions they need to ask for their stories, columns or broadcast reports - period. They shouldn’t become a dog and pony show playing up to the listening audience on radio.
Parker has done exactly that for much of this season - like he’s not asking questions as much as presenting some sort of shtick he has going with Marinelli
There was a line in Parker’s column Monday that was particularly disturbing. He wrote of the questions he asks at virtually every news conference about Barry: "It’s almost a running joke. A news conference isn’t complete unless I ask it."
Huh? According to whom?
There was also a point Parker made in his Monday column about the mutual respect he and Marinelli have for one and other. Not according to what I’ve heard from those in Allen Park. That was confirmed when Marinelli very publicly didn’t accept Parker’s apology.
In the age of the 24-7 news cycle, the "media" has evolved, but one factor hasn’t changed: We’re there essentially for you.
Our main objective should be to ask the questions you want to have answered of athletes, politicians and public figures. We’re there to discover and tell stories you might not have heard about otherwise. Sometimes we provide analysis and opinion for you to ponder.
We’re not there to become the story by playing to the crowd at a news conference.
Wrong place. Wrong time. Horrible question.

Monday, December 22, 2008

This Is Just William Clay Ford Being William Clay Ford

If anyone is surprised William Clay Ford’s first public comments this season presented confusion about what he is going to do with the Lions’ future, they shouldn’t be.
Ford has a long track record of exactly this type of thing. It’s why Russ Thomas was general manager for so long. And why he stuck with Wayne Fontes as head coach throughout the 1990s, despite talent that was better than the record indicated. Before he hired Matt Millen, the Lions front office was unclear as can be. They had a number of vice presidents. Chuck Schmidt was probably the highest ranking, but it was never made apparent. Then Ford just gave Millen the keys to everything - including the business end of the operation. There is no rhyme nor reason for the way he operates.
At least Ford left the door open for Rod Marinelli’s departure. And that is the big hope - that the Lions land a good head coach. It’s just the draft is the lifeblood of an NFL franchise and the Lions have been confused on draft day forever. It’s not like their coaches have been on a level field when it comes to the talent of their players.
Everyone knew Tom Lewand was going to be retained, but he deals with the business end of the operation. Martin Mayhew as a general manager is curious. He is tied closely to Millen’s record as his assistant. He did make a good deal to land the Lions a number of draft choices for Roy Williams, but other than that, what’s his track record been? He may be the next general manager. If he isn’t, he may have a hand in who is getting hired for the position. That part doesn’t make sense. If Ford has been impressed with Mayhew, fine, but don’t have him be part of the hiring process for a new personnel guy unless he is the general manager.
Ford would still be wise to look around a little bit. The game plan for all this should already be in place. It’s disappointing it isn’t already. Millen was fired how many months ago?
It speaks volumes to how detached Ford is from the public - despite Ford Field being half-empty. It also speaks to his lack of effort when it comes to digging out the best possible talent for his front office.
Status quo is fine with Ford. Even if it means losing like no NFL team has ever lost before. Amazing.

Random Thoughts

- The Pistons would currently be a fifth seed in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs. They are just three games ahead of the ninth seed (Milwaukee), but 10 1-2 games behind the first seed (Boston). It may still be remote, but there is a danger of this season slipping away beyond what could have been imagined. The Pistons’ 10-11 record since the Iverson trade isn’t exactly comforting.

- Goran Suton is a vastly underrated player. His absence is why Michigan State struggled early in the season. His return is why they beat Texas Saturday. It’s pretty simple.

- The Red Wings ended last season with five players ranked among the Top 13 in the NHL in plus-minus ratio (Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Brian Rafalski, Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kromwall.. So far this season, they don’t anybody in the Top 13. Nicklas Lidstrom is the highest ranking Red Wing at 18th with plus-13. Says a lot about how the Red Wings must tighten up defensively.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Red Wings Definitely Put The Sharks In Their Place

To me, the surprise would have come if it had been the other way around. If the Red Wings had been dominated by the Sharks. As is, it was fastball served right down the middle for the Red Wings. They hit it out of the park with a dominating 6-0 victory Thursday.
Pavel Datsyuk had a great game. A couple goals. A couple assists. He was strong on both ends of the ice. Isn’t he a better player than Joe Thornton? So is Henrik Zetterberg, by the way.
One of the big question marks surrounding the Red Wings is goaltending. Not only has Chris Osgood struggled, especially early in games, but there is a downside to Ty Conklin as backup. It’s that during his entire NHL career, he’s played in just one playoff game. With Osgood out with a groin injury, Conklin was better than good Thursday, particularly early in the game when the Sharks carried play and were threatening. Osgood’s biggest issue this season has been allowing early goals.
Wonder what they will say about the Red Wings on "Hockey Night In Canada" this week? It still can’t be that the Sharks are the "best team in hockey."

Random Thoughts

- Look, neither Gerald Laird or Matt Treanor is going to remind anybody of Ivan Rodriguez in his prime, but the Tigers catching is going to be solid this coming season. About in the middle of the pack among major league teams. The bigger question is whether Brandon Inge will hit enough to justify playing third base every day.

- There are some factors pointing to a Lions’ victory Sunday over New Orleans. The Saints are just 1-6 on the road. They have been eliminated from playoff contention. Kevin Smith, Calvin Johnson and Dan Orlovsky have given the Lions’ offense some life. It’s why the Saints are just a touchdown favorite. But there is one factor that just can’t seem to be overcome: Can the Lions defense stop any team when it really has to? Especially with Drew Brees involved, that doesn’t seem likely.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ultimately, The Defense Rests At Rodriguez's Feet

There was one game, above others, that defined Scott Shafer as Michigan’s defensive coordinator. It was the Purdue game. The Boilermakers had scored just six points in the week before in a home loss to Minnesota. The following week, they didn’t score until the final minute against Michigan State. In-between against Michigan, though, they scored 48 points. They did so with backup QB Justin Siller, who began the season at running back.
The Red Sea parted for Juice Williams in the second half against Illinois. It was a bad first half vs. Utah.
Michigan had the lead against MSU - and lost it. How did Toledo’s Nick Moore catch 20 passes against the Wolverines? Good question.
It didn’t work out with Shafer, but it should by no stretch of the imagination take head coach Rich Rodriguez off the hook. Shafer was his choice. Rodriguez really seem to have a grip on what went on defensively. It is, ultimately, his responsibility. He did little to stem the tide last season. The same cannot happen next. This will be Rodriguez’s most important hire. And he must do a better job of overseeing it.

Random Thoughts

- Not that Javon Ringer didn’t deserve his spot as a first-team All-American, but it is noticeable how the terrain has changed for running backs. In the days of the power-I formation, Ringer’s statistics likely wouldn’t have been good enough. The spread offense has made college football so very different.

- Weirdest baseball off season development: The Orioles pursuing Mark Teixeira. It makes no sense from their standpoint nor from his standpoint.

- In the you heard it here first department: I would be surprised if the Red Wings don’t beat San Jose Thursday night.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Orlovsky's Stock Is Rising

It’s difficult to grasp exactly where Dan Orlovsky stands as Lions’ quarterback.
His first few starts, he took care of the ball well, but didn’t make a lot of plays nor throw well on the run.
Orlovsky was a different player - a better player - Sunday during the Lions’ 31-21 loss to Indianapolis. He was more accurate than he had been. More poised in the pocket. The Lions’ pass protection was better - and he took advantage of it. That is despite having virtually all the Lions’ front-line receivers down, with the exception of Calvin Johnson. Orlovsky didn’t give up on getting the ball to Johnson. He let him make plays.
The Lions are going to have to address the quarterback position this off season. It’s just a matter how. Is Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford coming out, and if he is, how do his skills translate to the NFL? Matthew Stafford from Georgia is a classic pro-style QB with a strong-arm. Would he be worth the first overall pick? Or should the Lions address other needs - particularly on defense - and draft a QB later in the first round or within the first three rounds. They should have five selections within the first 100 in the draft.
It does seem like Orlovsky has passed Drew Stanton and is worth keeping. But is he enough of a veteran presence to forego picking up the option on Daunte Culpepper’s contract? Has he played well enough to be the starter at the beginning of next season?
Based on what we saw Sunday, and considering the options, it appears that way.

Random Thoughts

- Is anybody expecting a bounce back season from Joel Zumaya? The 2006 season isn’t that long ago. His various ailments have been frustrating to say the least, but Zumaya is awfully young. The Tigers have to take other measures, obviously, but it is way too early to give up on Zumaya.

- I don’t see where Rasheed Wallace has necessarily slowed down. I do, however, see a team that is clearly out-of-sync surrounding him.

- Sam McGuffie leaving Michigan is a blow to the program. McGuffie did have two 100-yard plus games, he was the Wolverines’ best back at holding onto the football and he did flash considerable potential in the spread-option offense. Wonder if Michael Shaw will be more consistent next season?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jackson Trade Hinges On His Ability To Throw Strikes

If the Tigers were going to move Matt Joyce in a trade, they needed to at least get a power arm in return.
And that's exactly what they accomplished by trading Joyce to Tampa Bay for right-hander Edwin Jackson.
Jackson is still in his middle 20s. He does throw his fastball consistently in the mid-90s. He did make 30-plus starts for Tampa Bay the last two seasons. He was available because the Rays needed left-handed hitting, wanted to save a bit of money (Jackson is salary arbitration eligible) and they needed to make room for phenom David Price in the starting rotation.
I believe Joyce has good upside (read original post below), but so does Jackson.
The concern with Jackson is his control. When he throws strikes, he is as tough as they come. When he doesn't - which is often - he gets in trouble. It's one of the reasons he hasn't approached the 200-inning mark yet. His pitch count get high. Even when he is not walking hitters, he often falls behind in the count.
There isn't an injury issue to be concerned about - like with Jeremy Bonderman. He hasn't totally lost his ability to throw from Point A to Point B accurately - like Dontrelle Willis. He has not lost zip on his fastball - like Nate Robertson. Yet make no mistake: Jackson is one of those pitchers who go either way for the Tigers in 2009.
They need him to throw strikes. They need him to be better than in the past.

Posted before trade for Jackson...

Whether acquiring J.J. Putz in a trade with Seattle is ideal for the Tigers depends on how two of their younger players - left-handed hitters Jeff Larish and Matt Joyce - are viewed.
Of the prospects the Tigers were forced to bring to the major leagues last season because of injuries, I thought Joyce showed the most promise. He made some blunders in the field, but he does seem to have the makings of at least an average corner outfielder defensively.
What is best about Joyce is that he has a fairly compact hitting stroke and turns well on a good major league fastball.
I see him as being a better player in the future than Larish, who has a longer batting stroke and is limited defensively. I know the Tigers played Larish at third base last season, and he did get a lot of time there in the Arizona Fall League, where he excelled with the bat, but I don’t see where his career is necessarily going to take off. He appears to be below-average defensively for a third baseman. The Tigers are, obviously, set at first base - his primary position - with Miguel Cabrera, and it doesn’t seem like Larish will hit enough to be full-time DH once Gary Sheffield departs.
I know this: The Tigers desperately need left-handed hitting. I wouldn’t trade both of them for Putz. But if one or the other must go, I think the Tigers should keep Joyce, who is also two years younger than Larish.
Joyce had 31 extra base hits in 242 major league at bats last season and walked considerably more than Larish, who displayed far less power in the major leagues than he had for Triple-A Toledo.

Random Thoughts

- Shaking up their starting lineup didn’t do the Pistons much good at Washington Tuesday, but in fairness to the Pistons, the Wizards did get more than double the free throw attempts. Doesn’t excuse blowing a 15-point first quarter lead, though.

- Should Jim Rice be in the Hall of Fame? This is his final year on the ballot and he came close last year. Yes. He is on my ballot.

- Jimmy Howard has a below .500 record and a save percentage under 90 percent for Grand Rapids. Red Wings general manager Ken Holland knew what he was doing when he signed Ty Conklin during the off season.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Laird Trade Only Resolves Part Of Tigers' Many Issues

It’s not going to cause nearly the same splash as the trades for Gary Sheffield in 2006 and Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera in 2007, but the Tigers deal for catcher Gerald Laird was nonetheless interesting.
He is a solid receiver with a decent throwing arm. His hitting tends to come and go. He was a second-round draft pick, and it was thought he had some power potential, but it hasn’t really materialized at the major league level.
The Tigers will get a good 100 games from Laird from behind the plate - maybe more. They do need a veteran backup. Doesn’t seem like Dusty Ryan fits the mode. Still wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers add another veteran catcher this off season.
Laird did not come cheap. The Tigers need bullpen help, and Guillermo Moscoso, while not necessarily a top-line prospect, has major league potential - perhaps as soon as this season - to fill a middle relief role. To be honest with you, I don’t know much about Carlos Melo - other than he has been tagged with the "power arm" label. That means he has a chance to come back and haunt the Tigers.
This much we know about the Tigers - they want to improve defensively more than anything else. It’s why Brandon Inge is at third. Why they didn’t even consider re-signing Edgar Renteria. Why, when they do acquire a shortstop, his defense will be the priority.
While that should help the pitching staff, they still need more there - especially in the bullpen. They also need bounce back seasons from Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis in the starting rotation - hardly givens. They have also put a couple holes in their lineup to improve that defense, and could be considerably less formidable offensively.
I’d like Laird better for the Tigers if he were a left-handed hitter. Their lineup is still balanced too much toward the right side of the plate.

Random Thoughts

- Beating UCLA and Duke early this basketball season represents considerable progress for Michigan’s basketball team. I didn’t think John Beilein would be able to implement his system this quickly, but it’s obvious his players have bought into it. This is a team that won just nine games last season. This is more than a good start. It’s a great start. Manny Harris was a terrific high school player at Detroit Redford. Having seen him play then, I didn’t figure he’d adapt that well to Beilein’s system. He has.

- It’s not just that the Pistons haven’t been playing well lately, it’s like their heart isn’t into it. It’s not a good sign for first-year head coach Michael Curry.

- The biggest farce of the bowl season: Notre Dame getting a bid to play Hawaii. The Fighting Irish haven’t won a bowl game since 1994. They were 6-6 this season despite a mild schedule.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Larionov Goal Summed Up His Brilliance

Everybody who follows hockey has a favorite goal. Mine was Igor Larionov’s in Game 3 of the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals. It was the third overtime, and Larionov held on to the puck...and held on to the puck...and held on to the puck - seemingly forever - before flipping it off the top of the net with a backhanded shot. It was truly a pretty goal at a dramatic moment, and was so perfectly executed, it almost made you feel sorry for Carolina goalie Arturs Irbe.
They call soccer the beautiful game, but Larionov was proof hockey deserves the moniker as well. There was a fluidness to his game Larionov sustained even as he aged. Of the Russian Five - and they were all tremendous players for the Red Wings - he was the one who best exemplified the old Soviet system of hockey. Smooth and fleet skating. Precise and timely passing. Soft hands. There was nuance to his game. Larionov is more than worthy of the spot he was given in hockey’s hall of fame, that’s for sure.

Random Thoughts

- I honestly don’t know what the Giants were thinking by giving Edgar Renteria a two-year contract at more than $9 million. There is a theory he just wasn’t in good physical condition last season and has worked much harder this off season. Another is he is just a much better player in the National League. Either way, he isn’t a premier player anymore. His range was lacking in Atlanta in 2007 as well. Renteria plays older than his actual age. Period. Difficult to see how signing him will pay off for the Giants.

- Wonder how Daunte Culpepper will react Sunday against the Vikings? It’s the second time he has played against his former team since leaving following the 2005 season. Seems like motivation will be on his side. Last season, with Oakland, Culpepper did throw for 344 yards against the Vikings for the Raiders in a 29-22 loss at Minnesota. It was one of his better games since he was in his prime.

- What stood out about Michigan State’s loss to North Carolina was how the Spartans tried to run with the Tar Heels. It was obviously a bad idea. They needed to slow down the tempo and make it an ugly game to have a fighting chance. Running with North Carolina garnered a predictable result. It wasn’t one of Tom Izzo’s better coaching performances.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Burress Hasn't Grown From MSU Days

The first time I saw Plaxico Burress play, it was obvious to everyone he was going to be a very special player.
It was just the spring game at Michigan State, but he dominated it to the point it was breathtaking. He was a great player for the Spartans, but after that spring game, I thought he was going to be even better than he turned out. It’s not only he is bigger and faster than just about every other player, but stronger. Fast as a cornerback. Sure-handed as a possession receiver. Strong as a linebacker - and some defensive linemen. A man among boys. On the field.
It was also evident back then that there were some deportment issues. Just talking to Burress after games, something just wasn’t right. One second, he’d be fine. The next, it was as if he was trying to prove he was above it all by being difficult.
There are few people around him at the time surprised he has run into trouble since leaving MSU, the latest and most serious issue being shooting himself in the thigh with handgun at a night club.
He had to go to prep school for a year before Nick Saban could get him into MSU. That was an era when Saban took a lot of chances with players. Hubert "Boo, Boo" Thompson was rated as the top defensive lineman in the country when he was recruited by Saban, but struggled academically and was obviously out of place on a college campus. Last summer he was declared not mentally fit to stand trail for allegedly tossing a 66-year-old man off a balcony to his death in 2007.
Thompson never had an impact for the Spartans. Burress did. They won 10 games in 1999 largely because of Burress. It’s their most wins and highest final ranking (seventh) since the salad days of the mid-1960s.
Taking "risks" for college and NFL teams is part of the business. Burress can’t be too despised in New York. He was arguably the Giants’ best player and did catch the winning pass in the last Super Bowl. It just makes you wonder sometimes if it is worth it when superior athletic ability meets character issues. A lot of risk. Much reward. Perpetual headache.

Random Thoughts

- The Tigers will have numerous candidate to win baseball’s Comeback Player of the Year award, but the best bet in my opinion is Jeremy Bonderman. He was injured relatively early in the season and could bounce back quickly.

- Sean Avery’s comments about his former girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert dating Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf were bizarre. The league suspended Avery - and it was justified because the comments were clearly sexist. The man’s need to call attention to himself takes on a different meaning and is a cry for help. The NHL shouldn’t just suspend him. They should get him the help he needs. It’s one of the reasons the Red Wings unloaded him when he was a young player, despite the considerable promise he displayed on the ice. Avery has special talents that fit a definite niche. Too bad wastes such grit with his strange behavior. It’s one thing to be chippy, another to be over-the-top and strange.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Iverson Deal Starting To Unravel

It wasn’t too long ago that the Pistons beat the Lakers on the road and all seemed perfect in regard to the Allen Iverson trade.
Just a few weeks later, the deal is unraveling on the Pistons. Iverson missed practice Thanksgiving morning. Given his sound byte, "Practice," is one of the most infamous in sports history, it was a horrible development for the Pistons. Iverson was contrite about it, but it didn’t matter. The damage was done.
As importantly, the Pistons are struggling to adapt their game to Iverson. They are 6-6 since the trade. They didn’t play well at all in a home loss Sunday to Portland. It was nearly as bad as the blowout loss to Minnesota the Sunday before.
Iverson played 32 minutes vs. Portland, but complained about his lack of playing time. It’s not that he is a bad passer. He does a good job of penetrating the lane and kicking the ball out to shooters spotting up. It’s his necessity of having the ball all the time that is a concern.
Iverson is not a point guard. Yet, he demands the ball as much or more than a point guard. The Pistons don’t have a point guard - and therein lies a problem offensively.
That’s before you get to the Pistons’ issues defensively. They don’t guard nearly as well as in the past. When the Pistons bog down on the offensive end of the court, they don’t play the stellar defense they used to in order to carry them through. Defense isn’t Iverson’s strength. Do the Pistons adapt their game to Iverson? Or does Iverson adapt his game to the Pistons? Seems like that’s the issue Piston coach Michael Curry is going to have to sort out. So far, they’re trying to reach a middle ground and nobody to adapting to anyone.
The result: .500 basketball and a future that isn’t exactly looking bright.

Random Thoughts

- Despite his giveaways during the playoffs and his matador defense at the blue line, such as Saturday night in Boston, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock places a lot of faith in Andreas Lilja. Not sure how long that will last with all the depth the Red Wings have at the blue line. Also, Ty Conklin and Chris Osgood need to be sharper in goal.

- There seems to be growing sentiment for the Tigers to play Carlos Guillen at shortstop, at least part-time, next season. In retrospect, was he really that bad there? He made too many errors, that’s for sure. But he had a lot better range - especially to his glove side - than Edgar Renteria displayed. Wonder if he could stay healthy playing short, though. And who would play left field.