Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lamar Odom Trade Destinations

The Los Angeles Lakers have the best team in the West. On Christmas, they went head-to-head with Boston and ended the Celtics’ 19-game winning streak. They have a record of 25-5 yet some still think the Lakers need to make a roster upgrade. Their most valuable asset that has any likelihood of being dealt is Lamar Odom, who has a $14 million contract expiring at the end of the year.

But Odom’s unique skill set—at 6’10” he can defend multiple positions, handle the ball, post up and rebound well—makes him a valuable part of this Lakers team. He’s shifted to a sixth man role this season, and he’s had his ups and downs coming off the bench, but there is no denying his talent. There will be a number of teams vying for his services should he become a free agent at the end of the year, and the Lakers may be forced to let him walk.

With all that in mind, I still think the Lakers should keep Odom, stay put, and let this roster, bolstered by a healthy Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza, take another stab at winning the championship. Having said that, there’s no doubt that Odom’s name will continue to headline any Lakers trade rumors until after the deadline passes. So, here are what I believe to be the top-10 possible, if not entirely plausible, trade destinations for Lamar Odom. They’re ranked 1-10 with number one being in the best interest of the Lakers.

10. To the Denver Nuggets (along with Josh Powell) for Nene, Linas Kleiza and Chucky Atkins
Kleiza would improve the Lakers at the 3, but probably not enough to justify a deal involving Odom. Atkins would also fill in as backup point guard during Farmar’s injury time. Nuggets would have a potential starting lineup of Kenyon Martin, Odom, Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Chauncey Billups.

9. To the Dallas Mavericks (along with Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga) for Jerry Stackhouse, Jose Juan Barea, Brandon Bass and DeSagana Diop
This is a Mavs team that hasn’t been the same since dealing for Jason Kidd. Stackhouse is rotting on the bench. Teaming Odom with Nowitski gives them an interesting wrinkle and Odom’s ballhandling ability lessens the load on Kidd as well. Barea is where the Mavs would probably flinch, but he’d give the Lakers great point guard insurance while Farmar is injured. Stackhouse gives them another shooter off the bench.

8. To the Golden State Warriors (along with Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga) for Corey Magette and Ronny Turiaf
It would be great to get Turiaf back in L.A., and Magette would be an upgrade at small forward, but the questions would be, first of all, how would he handle being the fourth option on offense. And secondly, would he make an impact on defense? Meanwhile, Odom would flourish in the Warriors’ up-tempo style.

7. To the New Jersey Nets for Vince Carter
The Nets are playing well considering how they are clearly in cap-space mode. This move would create even more flexibility for them. As for Carter’s prospects in L.A.? If this was 2001, it’d be a different story, but 2008 Carter isn’t worth as much. His defense is shaky and his shooting isn’t consistent enough to make the Lakers pull the trigger on this one.

6. To the Washington Wizards (along with Josh Powell) for Antawn Jamison and Etan Thomas
Washington’s season is already a mess, so they might as well start thinking about the future. Talent-wise, this is a pretty fair deal. Jamison is a better scorer, but Odom is a better passer, ballhandler and defender. Plus, the Wizards could use some cap flexibility after locking up Gilbert Arenas for such a big figure this past offseason. I question Jamison’s ability to stretch the defense and his ability to play defense, but he would make L.A. a more potent offensive team.

5. To the Miami Heat (along with Vladimir Radmanovich) for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks
This deal features four guys with contracts that are probably too high. On paper, Marion would be the perfect fit for the Lakers, but with an expiring contract, he might be nothing more than a few-month rental. The flipside of that is that he would likely play his best to earn a new deal from someone, even if it wasn’t the Lakers. As for Odom, he would reunite with Dwayne Wade and could tutor Heat rookie Michael Beasley.

4. To the Milwaukee Bucks (along with Sasha Vujacic) for Michael Redd, Tyronn Lue and Luc Mbah a Moute
The Bucks have to figure it out soon enough. Michael Redd is good, but your team isn’t going to thrive if he’s your first option. In L.A., Redd would be a fourth option and a perfect spot-up shooter to play with Kobe, Gasol and Bynum. Kobe would shift to the three in this configuration. For Milwaukee, Vujacic would slide into Redd’s role as a knockdown shooter, and he’s younger and cheaper. Plus, they’d have the option to re-sign Odom or let him walk and claim the cap space. Either way, this is the deal the Bucks would do as opposed to the swap listed below.

3. To the Milwaukee Bucks for Richard Jefferson
An interesting one-for-one swap here. Jefferson’s deal would put the Lakers on the books for an extra two years, but he would give them an all-star caliber small forward. The bigger problem is where Odom would fit in with the Bucks’ roster.

2. To the Chicago Bulls (along with Josh Powell) for Luol Deng and Drew Gooden
The Bulls might like Odom in their lineup or use his expiring contract to find money to sign Ben Gordon or other free agents. In Deng, the Lakers get their starting 3-man, vaulting ahead of Radmanovich, Walton and Ariza.

1. To the Detroit Pistons (along with Josh Powell) for Tayshaun Prince and Kwame Brown
Lakers fans might groan at the prospect of Kwame Brown returning, but Prince would be a major upgrade at the 3, providing the Lakers with an exceptional perimeter defender who can also shoot from distance with consistency. Is Pistons GM Joe Dumars that desperate to dump salary? It’s doubtful, but it’s definitely worth making the call.

2008 NFL Playoff Preview: QBs, Coaches, Defenses

Well, it’s time to face the music. My preseason Super Bowl prediction of New England vs. Dallas is clearly not going to come true. Both teams narrowly missed the playoffs despite posting winning records, including the Patriots, who became the first team since the 1985 Broncos to miss the playoffs with an 11-5 record.

In all, I predicted just five of the 12 playoff teams correctly. I correctly picked division winners New York and Minnesota in the NFC as well as Pittsburgh and San Diego in the AFC. I also had Indianapolis in as the AFC South winner, and they qualified as a wild card.

My biggest misses? Well, there were quite a few. I had playoff-bound Baltimore slated at 2-14. Ditto for the rejuvenated Falcons, who claimed the number five seed in the NFC. I also had the Dolphins, winners of the AFC East, pegged at 3-13. On the flipside, I picked the lowly Rams to win their division at 9-7 and gave the Lions enough credit to win seven games this year, which equates to seven more than they actually won. I was close with the Raiders, though, as they fell only a game short of my 6-10 projection.

Now that all is said and done, I get a fresh start to make a mess of things with playoff picks. It starts with a wild card weekend that I believe will live up to its name. Yes, I see big things for the wild card qualifiers playing on the road against shaky division winners.

But I’ll save my predictions for later this week. For now, here’s a rundown of three key categories heading into the postseason: quarterbacks, coaches and defenses. The team with the best combination at these key spots may very well wind up celebrating February 1.

Four have Super Bowl rings (both Mannings, Roethlisberger and Warner). Three others have played in the big game (McNabb, Collins, Delhomme). And three will be making their playoff debuts (Ryan, Flacco, Jackson). Here’s my rankings of the 12 quarterbacks that will vie for Super Bowl XLIII.

  1. Peyton Manning
    He may be the NFL MVP this season for the way he bounced back from offseason surgery and a slow start to help the Colts win nine straight heading into the playoffs.

  2. Ben Roethlisberger
    He’ll have two weeks to recover from a Week 17 concussion against Cleveland. That should be enough time to get on of the NFL’s toughest quarterbacks ready for a run at a second Super Bowl ring.

  3. Eli Manning
    Few quarterbacks have altered perceptions about themselves the way Eli did last year during the Giants’ Super Bowl run. That performance against New England makes him a favorite to return to the big game this year.

  4. Philip Rivers
    Don’t look at the Chargers’ 8-8 record. Look at Rivers’ league-leading 34 touchdown passes. He’s the reason San Diego is still playing during LaDainian Tomlinson’s worst season.

  5. Donavon McNabb
    He doesn’t use his legs the way he used to, but McNabb has veteran savvy and his best receiving corps since the departure of Terrell Owens.

  6. Kurt Warner
    The Cardinals fell off the map late in the season, but Warner still had his best season since he was a Ram. If his line can keep him protected, he will make defenses pay by hooking up with the best receiving tandem in the NFL, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.

  7. Matt Ryan
    Can a rookie QB be MVP? Fans in Atlanta certainly think so. No one’s talking about Michael Vick anymore, and that is saying something. Now Ryan has to do what no Falcons quarterback has done since Vick—win in the playoffs.

  8. Chad Pennington
    He beat Brett and the Jets to finish the storybook ending to the regular season for the Dolphins, but if Pennington’s story is going to keep going, he’ll have to overcome a swarming Baltimore defense in round one.

  9. Kerry Collins
    The doubters are back after Collins’ Titans limped to a 3-3 finish after a 10-0 start. Still, he is the quarterback of the team with home field advantage in the AFC. And he brings experience, having led the Giants to the Super Bowl in 2000 and played in the 1996 NFC Championship with Carolina.

  10. Joe Flacco
    The second rookie on this list, Flacco is well on his way to giving the Ravens their first franchise quarterback in a long line of journeyman and busts that included Trent Dilfer (who did win a Super Bowl), Elvis Grbac, Tony Banks, Chris Redman and Kyle Boller.

  11. Jake Delhomme
    No one may have a more game-changing weapon to throw to than Delhomme, who has Steve Smith, but Tommy John surgery success story has had an up and down season. And inconsistency is a killer in the postseason. One bad game—even one bad quarter—can be the difference between moving on and being eliminated. If Delhomme can conjure up the magic he found during his one Super Bowl appearance, however, look for Carolina to return to the big game.

  12. Tavaris Jackson
    He was benched after two games in favor of Gus Frerotte, only to be recalled down the stretch. He’ll now get his first taste of playoff action against a blitz-happy Eagles defense. His best bet is to hand it to Adrian Peterson 30-35 times and get out of the way.
Among coaches still active this season, only two have won the Super Bowl (Dungy, Coughlin). Three others have coached a team in the big game (Fisher, Fox, Reid). And five coaches will make their playoff coaching debut (Smith, Sparano, Harbaugh, Childress, Whisenhunt).

  1. Tony Dungy
    Whether in Tampa Bay or Indianapolis, he’s always in the playoffs. His postseason record, however, is a surprisingly mediocre 9-9.

  2. Tom Coughlin
    The reigning Super Bowl championship coach has home field advantage this time around. He’s done a great job keeping the Giants focused through adversity this season as in the past.

  3. Jeff Fisher
    The late-season losses have many wondering about the Titans’ postseason prospects, but Fisher is one of the best in the business, and I’d be shocked if this team wasn’t ready to play in two weeks when they host the lowest remaining seed in the AFC.

  4. John Fox
    From a last-second touchdown catch in Week 1 to a last second field goal in Week 17, the Panthers have been high drama. Credit Fox for making the right moves to help this team win the ultra competitive NFC South.

  5. Mike Tomlin
    One of the best young coaches in the league, Tomlin is a no-nonsense guy who clearly has a lot of trust in his team and a lot of respect from his players.

  6. Andy Reid
    Reid saved his job with a playoff-clinching win against Dallas, but a first-round stumble could put him back on the hot seat.

  7. Mike Smith
    One of three first-year head coaches in the running for Coach of the Year, Smith spearheaded an unbelievable turnaround for a franchise that was mired in turmoil last year. Bobby Petrino’s short-lived stint in Atlanta seems like it happened eons ago thanks to Smith’s fine work.

  8. Tony Sparano
    Under the tutelage of Bill Parcells, Sparano has been excellent in his first season as head coach.

  9. John Harbaugh
    Another first-year coach, Harbaugh has Baltimore playing well and exceeding expectations.

  10. Brad Childress
    Questionable game and clock management nearly cost Childress the chance to coach his first playoff game.

  11. Norv Turner
    Give him credit for keeping the Chargers ship afloat after a 4-8 start, but this team should be well over .500.

  12. Ken Whisenhunt
    No team entered the playoffs with less momentum than the Cardinals, who dropped four of their last six games. It also doesn’t help that Whisenhunt’s team went just 1-4 against playoff teams this year.
These defensive rankings aren’t based on stats, but this is my opinion of which defenses are the best heading into the postseason.
  1. Pittsburgh Steelers
    Troy Polamalu may be the most dangerous defensive player in the playoffs, and he’s the quarterback of the Steelers’ stout defense.

  2. Tennessee Titans
    Albert Haynesworh and Kyle Vanden Bosch give the Titans one of the most devastating defensive lines in football. If they’re both healthy, it’ll be extremely tough to move the ball against Tennessee.

  3. Baltimore Ravens
    The Ravens have a swarming defense led by playmakers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

  4. New York Giants
    Despite losing Michael Strahan (retirement) and Osi Umenyiora (injury) from their Super Bowl squad, the Giants’ defense remained strong throughout the season.

  5. Minnesota Vikings
    Jared Allen gives Minnesota a lethal pass rusher to go with one of the league’s best run derenses.

  6. Carolina Panthers
    Julius Peppers is back to Pro Bowl form this year, and that spells trouble for Panther opponents.

  7. Indianapolis Colts
    A healthy Bob Sanders could be the key to another Colts Super Bowl run. The NFL’s 2007 Defensive Player of the Year has played in just six games this season and has played in more than six games only twice in his five year career.

  8. Philadelphia Eagles
    Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is one of the best at dialing up blitz packages, and veteran safety Brian Dawkins seems determined to make a run at that elusive Super Bowl ring.

  9. Miami Dolphins
    Joey Porter is the emotional leader of this revamped Dolphins defense.

  10. Atlanta Falcons
    Atlanta’s defense is suspect at times, but veteran pass rusher John Abraham is always a threat to sack the quarterback.

  11. San Diego Chargers
    In the absence of Shawne Merriman, the Chargers’ defense has been a shell of its former self this season.

  12. Arizona Cardinals
    This list isn’t about stats, but here’s one for you. Not only does Arizona have the worst defense among the 12 playoff teams—they have the fifth worst scoring defense in the entire league.

Monday, December 29, 2008

We Can Build on This: Oakland Raiders 2008 Review

If 2008 taught us anything, the lesson is that there is always next year. The Miami Dolphins finished 2007 at 1-15. They are the 2008 AFC East Champions. And the Baltimore Ravens (from 5-11 to 11-5) and Atlanta Falcons (from 4-12 to 11-5) earned playoff berths with rookie quarterbacks and first-year coaches.

Why not the Raiders in 2009?

After struggling through another ugly season and setting an NFL mark for futility by becoming the first team in league history to lose 11 or more games in five straight seasons, the Raiders ended the season on an upswing.

They finished with wins against Houston and Tampa Bay. The victory over Houston was the Texans’ only loss in their final six games of the year. And the win over Tampa Bay prevented the Buccaneers and coach Jon Gruden from making the playoffs.

Jamarcus Russell finally showed signs that he could make it as an NFL quarterback. And the Raiders’ offense finally showed some life, getting big plays from young players like running back Michael Bush and wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins.

Of course, two games doesn’t tell the whole story. The Raiders can’t overlook the fact that this was a team that also lost seven games by 19 points or more. They were thoroughly dominated in nearly half their games, and they won only five.

But the Raiders need positive news. In a season that will be remembered for the feud between coach and owner and eventual firing of Lane Kiffin, the Raiders have to build on the good things they have going for them.

They need to lock up Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to a long-term deal. They need to draft well, finding players who can contribute, starting with the number seven pick overall.

But first things first. They need to make a decision about their head coach. The good news is interim coach Tom Cable won four games after taking over at the helm this year, which is as much as they won all of last year. The problem is he still went just 4-8. Cable says he thinks the Raiders can be a playoff team next season, and Russell has gone on the record saying he wants Cable retained on a permanent basis. Will Al Davis feel the same way?

I’m split here. The idea of bringing in a veteran coach like Jim Fassel or Dennis Green seems like it might bring some stability to a position that has been in flux almost annually since the departure of Jon Gruden at the beginning of this decade. But perhaps Cable could follow in the footsteps of Tony Sparano (Dolphins), Mike Smith (Falcons) and John Harbaugh (Ravens) and enjoy success despite being a new head coach.

If Davis retains Cable, I’m OK with that. But if he fires Cable for a proven commodity, I’m OK with that, too. Either way, the key is commitment. Davis has to give this coach a chance, meaning at least three or four years to make a difference and get the Raiders back on track. No exceptions. Al, Mr. Davis, do your team, your fans, and your legacy as an NFL owner a favor. Make this decision and step back. Let the coaches coach and the players play. That shouldn’t be so hard. It wouldn’t hurt to find a general manager, either. (I heard Bill Parcells might even be available.)

Will the Raiders be a playoff team next year? Who knows. But this year proves that anything is possible. And even if the Raiders reach .500, that would still be progress. If this Raiders team plays like it did in Week 16 and 17, an 8-8 finish is definitely a realistic goal, especially in a division that was won by the 8-8 Chargers this year.

The offseason starts today in Oakland. Hopefully Jamarcus Russell, Darren McFadden and the rest of this young Raiders team makes the most of it and comes back hungry to change the culture of a franchise in 2009. It won’t be easy, but thanks to some upstarts this year, it’s clearly possible to bounce back from the NFL’s basement. The Raiders have been there long enough. Only five teams have longer playoff droughts than Oakland. If the Team of the Decades doesn’t do it in 2009, this decade will be a forgettable one for Raiders fans.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

AFC West Thoughts

Merry Christmas to everyone. Once again, my response was included on Bill Williamson's AFC West blog on ESPN.com. This week I wrote in about my thoughts on the Broncos-Chargers division title showdown.

Friday, December 19, 2008

AFC West Story of the Week (ESPN)

You know the drill by now. ESPN’s AFC West blogger Bill Williamson poses a question, I respond, and, more often than not, he posts my comments along with a few others.

It’s been a nice system for me. This week my response to the AFC West story of the week focused on the Chargers’ big comeback against the Chiefs. To read my thoughts and more, check out Williamson’s most recent post.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Loyalty to Coaches and Success

Living in Pennsylvania, I’m among the minority—not a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers or Penn State Nittany Lions. In fact, I actively root against both football teams, especially when my teams (the Oakland Raiders, Michigan Wolverines) struggle as they have lately.

But there is a common thread between Penn State and the Steelers that may explain their consistent success over a long period of time: loyalty to their coach(es).

At Penn State, Joe Paterno is Nittany Lions football. The legendary coach has been roaming the sidelines (and, more recently, the press box) as head coach since 1966. To put that into perspective, the first Super Bowl was still months away.

In the decades at Penn State, JoePa has led the Lions to two national championships and five unbeaten seasons. Turning 82 this Sunday, Paterno just signed a three-year contract extension at Penn State. While other coaching positions turn over more than a restless child, Penn State has known just one coach since Lyndon Johnson was President. In fact, when President-elect Obama is sworn in to the White House in January, he’ll become the ninth President to hold office during Paterno’s tenure as head coach.

Ironically, Paterno passed up a 1969 offer to become coach of the Steelers. Who did Pittsburgh hire instead? Chuck Noll.

All Noll did was lead the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in his 22 years with Pittsburgh. Upon Noll’s retirement, Bill Cowher took over for the Steelers, leading them to a victory in Super Bowl XL before stepping down in January 2007. With the subsequent hiring of Mike Tomlin, the Steelers were on just their third coach since the NFL-AFL merger. To put that into perspectivem the Raiders have had five coaches in the past six years.

Surely, there are other problems to point at, but the success of Penn State and the Steelers deserves some recognition. Maybe they’re onto something. In this era of what-have-you-done for me NOW, a little patience and loyalty goes a long way.

So, instead of always throwing the coach under the bus right away, give him a chance. This means you, Michigan, with you Rich Rodriguez. And you, Al Davis, with whomever you hire next after Tom Cable’s interim run is up.

Success doesn’t come overnight. But ask fans of the Steelers and Penn State if they’re happy with their coach and leadership, and you’re bound to get a resounding yes. Chalk one up for loyalty.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Three of a Kind

More than a quarter of a way into the season, the 2009 NBA championship appears to be a three team race. The Spurs, Hornets, Nuggets, Magic and a handful of other teams may have something to say about that, but there is a clear-cut top tier in the NBA this season. Whatever order you rank them in, no one else is playing at the same level as the Celtics, Cavaliers and Lakers.

So what’s standing in the way of these three teams in their quest for the 2009 title?

The Celtics have been the best team so far this season. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m surprised how well the defending champs have played the role of defending champs. They certainly appear to have the mindset to be the first team to repeat since the 2002-03 Lakers completed a three-peat. Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo have both kicked their games into an extra gear I didn’t know they had.

The worry is that they will burn out. All of this success tends to make a team complacent. That’s the expectation, but the reality has been far from that. Instead, this team seems even more focused on the mission than they were last year when their many new parts (Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, James Posey) were still learning how to play together.

Still, it’s hard to believe they can continue along at this blistering pace, especially with a veteran-laden bunch. If the veteran leaders begin to show the wear and tear, the team could slip. In a year when home court advantage might be decided by one game among three potential 65-plus-win teams, that would be tough to overcome.

The Cavs are the most surprising success story this year. Everyone knew the addition of Mo Williams would help LeBron James and company, but I don’t think anyone expected it to help Cleveland vault into the elite category. With James and many of the players on this roster now seasoned in playoff basketball, this is a team built for the long haul. They have great team chemistry, and their offense is finally playing to James’ strengths.

The worry in Cleveland is based in the future. Will LeBron bolt for New York in 2010? No one knows the answer, but it’s very clear that winning now would help the Cavs’ case to keep him. That’s why ownership has signed off on deals that have this team on the high-end of team salaries. And that’s why it’s been widely speculated that Wally Szczerbiak and his hefty expiring contract is being shopped around to land one more piece of the puzzle to make a run at the title this season.

In the past three years, the Cavs have fallen in the Eastern Conference Finals, NBA Finals and Eastern Conference Semifinals. They’ve experienced their growing pains, and expectations are high. No one wants to face LeBron in the playoffs. The question is, can he and his team handle the pressure of winning in Cleveland before he is free to seek a new city?

Los Angeles
The most talented and versatile team of the bunch is the Lakers. They have the best pair of 7-footers In the league. They have a deep, energetic bench that includes Lamar Odom, who would likely start for every other team in the league except maybe Boston. And, as if that weren’t enough, they have the reigning league MVP, Kobe Bryant.

The worry in L.A. is the Lakers’ apparent disinterest. They’ve lost just three games this year, but two of those defeats came against Indiana and Sacramento. After a dominant stretch to open the season 10-0, the Lakers’ defense has fallen off. While they remain the class of the West, no one expects them to contend against Boston—or Cleveland—playing the sort of defense that nearly led to losses against the lowly Wizards and undermanned Knicks.

Friday, December 12, 2008

More of My Thoughts on the AFC West

It’s no longer a surprise to see my comments on the ESPN.com AFC West blog of Bill Williamson, and that’s a good thing. For the second time this week, my response was included among the ones Williamson posted. I ranted about Randy Moss before. This time, I chimed in with my choice for the story of the week in the division, the Broncos losing another running back to injury.

I’ll keep writing, and hopefully this trend will continue.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hell Yes, I Would Boo Randy Moss

Hell yes, I would boo Randy Moss. The ‘Sound Off’ question of the week from ESPN.com’s AFC West blogger Bill Williamson asked if Raiders fans should boo Randy Moss upon his return to Oakland this Sunday as a member of the New England Patriots.

My answer was a very strong yes. Read it and the other responses here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Podcast Now Available on iTunes

That's right. There's a new way to access the weekly MattHubert.com podcast. Every Tuesday, it'll show up here in the podcast player at the top right of the MattHubert.com home page. Then, I'll make a post like this one with a link to download the podcast. (Click here for the December 9 edition.)

However, you can also now download the podcast (for free, of course) from the iTunes store. The direct link is to its home at iTunes is here, but you can also find it with a search for "Matt Hubert" among other things.

Thanks for listening!

Friday, December 5, 2008

‘You Pick It’ Comments Posted on ESPN Again

As long as Bill Williamson keeps posting my comments in response to the queries from his AFC West blog on ESPN.com, I’m going to continue to link to them. It certainly can’t hurt.

(Also, as a stingy English major, I generally try to catch all of my errors, so don’t blame me for the fact that all of my apostrophes (‘) were turned into question marks (?) in the post. I didn’t send it in that way, and I think it probably has something to do with copying and pasting the characters from Microsoft Word .)

Anyway, this week, I wrote in to say that Jay Cutler’s performance against Brett Favre and the Jets was the top story of the past week in the lowly division that is the AFC West. And thanks again to Bill for seeing fit to publish my response.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Top-10 NBA Players I'd Like to See More Often

I don’t get to watch nearly as many NBA games as I would like. For one thing, they aren’t on basic cable every night. And, even when they are, too many of the West coast games tip off at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time. That’s now a problem since I have a regular 8–5 day job. Also, a lot of lower-level teams simply don’t get on TV as regularly.

The point is that there are a number of players I’d like to see more often than I do. With that in mind, here’s my list of the top-10 guys I want to see more of as soon as possible.

10. Danny Granger (Indiana Pacers)
I’ll be honest. Granger is the reason I was inspired to write this column. His 32-point effort last night led the way for Indiana’s upset of the Lakers. I couldn’t pick Granger out of a lineup because the Pacers have gone MIA since the departures of Reggie Miller, Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson. But he is the leading scorer for a team that just became the first to defeat both teams from last year’s NBA Finals.

9. O.J. Mayo (Memphis Grizzlies)
I didn’t get a chance to see him play much at USC, and now he’s buried in the NBA’s purgatory that is Memphis. Is he a legitimate franchise player or someone looking to play a franchise for money? I’m not sold on him, but I need to see more game action before I lay down my verdict.

8. Devin Harris (New Jersey Nets)
I wasn’t totally convinced the Mavs made the right deal last year when they shipped Harris to New Jersey for Jason Kidd, but it was because of Kidd’s age not Harris’ talent. As it turns out, Harris may be the starting point guard for the East All-Stars this year. His play is the primary reason this Nets team is hovering above .500 despite being in so-called “rebuilding” mode according to many preseason predictions.

7. Chris Bosh (Toronto Raptors)
By overshadowing Dwight Howard this past summer for Team USA, Bosh piques my interest. Playing for the only NBA team north of the border doesn’t help his exposure. Neither does being part of the draft class that included LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade. But Bosh is a beast, plain and simple.

6. Josh Smith (Atlanta Hawks)
One of the keys to the Hawks pushing the eventual champion Celtics to the brink of elimination last year was Smith’s versatility. He’s one of the game’s best shot blockers and packs a bunch on the offensive end as well. If his maturity ever catches up to his skill set, watch out.

5. Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls)
After watching him struggle against the defense of Kansas in last year’s NCAA championship, I had my doubts and probably would have taken Beasley first overall. Less than 20 games into the season, I think the Bulls made the right decision. Rose is already a leader in Chicago and is primed to make a run at Chris Paul for best point guard of the next decade.

4. Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves)
The third rookie on this list, Love was a personal favorite of mine last season at UCLA. He doesn’t have the prototypical NBA body, but he uses his bulk to his benefit and has a knack for the game rarely seen in a young player. Plus, no one throws an outlet pass like Kevin Love.

3. Kevin Martin (Sacramento Kings)
Speaking of players lacking NBA bodies, Kevin Martin looks more like someone you’d run into at the local YMCA. Listed at 6’7” and 185 pounds, he’s as scrawny as they come. But he’s not your average baller. Martin has averaged better than 20 points per game the past two years, but still doesn’t get any respect when you talk about the best scorers in the league. Playing on the hapless Kings, it’s hard to find Martin on the tube, but he’s definitely worth watching.

2. Rudy Fernandez (Portland Trail Blazers)
My pick for rookie of the year, Fernandez is no newcomer to the game of basketball. A veteran of the Spanish league, he is a big reason why Portland looks poised to make the playoffs this year. Whether it’s throwing down on Dwight Howard or draining from distance, Fernandez is fun to watch.

1. Joe Johnson (Atlanta Hawks)
If you didn’t watch the Boston-Atlanta series last spring, you may still be in the dark about the NBA’s best kept secret, Joe Johnson. I’d put him fourth on my list of players I’d want with the ball when trailing by 1 or 2 points and less than 24 seconds remaining (behind 1. Kobe Bryant, 2. LeBron James, 3. Chris Paul). He’s clutch, able to create of the dribble and a proven scorer. The Hawks are no longer a punch line and the emergence of Joe Johnson as an all-star is a big reason why.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Podcast 12/2/08

The new MattHubert.com podcast is now available in the new podcast player, found up in the top right corner of the page. This week Matt and Mike talk fantasy football, BCS chaos, NFL, NBA and college basketball.

Listen in the new podcast player or download the podcast here.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Cold Winter in Ann Arbor

The calendar turned to December and Michigan’s football season was already over. That’s still hard to believe. But after a 3-9 season that was disappointing even for the most cautious Wolverine supporter.

They fell well short of my 6-6 preseason forecast. They lost to Toledo and were humiliated by Ohio State. They lost an unthinkable five games in the Big House and six games against the Big Ten.

There were very few bright spots during coach Rich Rodriguez’s debut season in Ann Arbor. The historic comeback against Wisconsin to open the Big Ten season was one highlight, but Wisconsin was clearly overrated back then as they needed overtime to defeat Cal Poly and finished the regular season 7-5.

The biggest concern for Michigan has to be inconsistency from virtually every position on the field. No quarterback looked like he had a firm grasp of the offense. The defense surrendered 35+ points on five occasions. And turnovers were a season-long plague.

No one expects another losing season in 2009, but it won’t be easy for the Wolverines to get above .500. After all, a 6-6 mark next year would mean doubling the team’s win total.

While the focus will be on recruiting this year and what kind of players Rodriguez can land after a 3-9 campaign, player improvement will be the real test for the coach. A new bunch of freshmen can’t be expected to turn the program around all on their own next year. How will the players who have now been in the system for a full year show improvement in 2009? If they don’t get any better, that’s a serious cause for concern.

Michigan has already seen several players depart the program (in addition to graduating seniors), so it’ll also be interesting to see who steps up as a leader of this team. Running back Brandon Minor seems to fit that mold, but he shared carries with several backs during his junior year. Will be step up as a senior to restore pride to the maize and blue?

On defense, all eyes are on Brandon Graham. The defensive end led the team with 10 sacks this season. He could enter the NFL Draft, but if he returns, he would give the Wolverines a great anchor on their defensive line.

When it comes down to it, expectations will be low again next year. Undoubtedly, Rodriguez will feel the pressure, especially if Michigan struggles out the gate. But no one seriously expects them to contend in the Big Ten next year. What they have to do is so progress and not in the form of a one- or two-game improvement.

The program and coach Rodriguez deserves a one year pass. It would’ve been tough for anyone to overcome the loss of Jake Long, Mike Hart, Chad Henne, Ryan Mallett, Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. But next year, there’s no excuse to miss a bowl. After the worst season in the history of Michigan football, Rodriguez better improve in a big way. Otherwise people will be calling for his head. Patience is short in the what-have-you-done-for-me-now world of college football.

  © Blogger template 'Isolation' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP