Tuesday, July 5, 2011

NBA's Age Minimum of 19 Has Got to Go

This is part one, telling you all the reasons this particular age minimum makes little sense, and is a poor solution to the NBA's desire to have more mature rookies. 

Check out part two below on the real solution to having less instantly, mega-rich teenagers in the NBA.  The actual salary numbers can be fiddled with, perhaps with a greater jump in salary per year, but the premise is there.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Fitz Blitz: Jordan Comparisons and Heat Hating

Aren’t we over the "next Jordan" thing yet?  Are we really still doing this?

Ever since Michael Jordan established himself as the most exciting player in NBA history, we began obsessing over what new young player reminded us of Jordan.  Ever since Jordan began his series of retirements, everyone began predicting who would be the next Jordan.

Aren’t we over this yet?  Aren’t we far enough removed from the Jordan era that we can just enjoy the NBA’s best for who they are?  Players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and others have expressed to us that they don’t want to be compared to him and want to make their own legacy.

It’s quite alright to compare players now to those of previous eras to describe their play or mannerisms on the court, especially for scouting or painting a picture of their play.  In that regard James could be called, “Magic Jordan” in that his style of play seems like a melding of the two. 

But to consider a player a failure or not one of the top players in NBA history because their career path doesn’t perfectly mimic Michael Jordan’s is ridiculous. 

James apparently isn’t allowed to have an off night or to make the smart pass at the end of games.  All things Jordan would do that our short memories have forgotten.

To say that a 26-year old man must play and plan his career in the exact manor of Michael Jordan and carry the load of a team himself (though Jordan had some exceptional help) to be considered a great player makes us seem very stuck in the past and rigid in what we want from our NBA stars.

I think we go too far with the Jordan comparisons, and I think the average NBA fan has gone to far with the Heat hating.

I’m rooting for the Miami Heat, and I’m not ashamed to say it.  I understand and respect rooting for veterans like Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd to finally get a championship ring.  But I won’t root for Dallas, just for the sake of being a Heat Hater.

I liked James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh as players separately, why can’t I root for them collectively?

Is it because of the way the team was put together?  Miami's big three took less than the maximum in years and dollars.  That should be commended. 

The big three of Boston coming together was seen as something to root for.  Was it because they were older players?  Was it because it happened a traditional hoops happy market like Boston?

A lot of championship teams bought or dealt for big stars to improved their team.

Is the hating still based on “The Decision?”  Of course “The Decision” was wack.  Even James will tell you that now.  Doing that TV special was a bad decision by a very young man with a lot of people in his ear looking to boost his Q rating, under the guise of helping the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

It fed our need to treat his decision about his job and life like a soap opera.  ESPN was more than happy to feed our obsession with "The Decision" and "LeBroncenters," only to then slam him after he gave the “sports leader” the ratings fest they craved.

If you tell me you never made any dumb decisions in your mid-twenties, I won’t believe you.  Picture having your entire life televised and scrutinized at that age.

The hating of James signing with Miami still stinks of comparing him with Jordan or Magic Johnson.

Critics and NBA legends turned commentators said James was dimming his star power, lessening his legacy, or that he couldn’t be considered an NBA great because Jordan or Magic wouldn’t have joined another team to get an NBA title.

It meant nothing to James to be THE man only to end up a man with no rings.  Being a one-man show wasn’t going to help him beat the Spurs, Lakers or Celtics.

Jordan had Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman, serviceable big men like Bill Cartwright and Will Purdue, and reliable, clutch outside shooters like John Paxson, Steve Kerr, and BJ Armstrong during his tenure in Chicago. 

All while being coached by one the greatest NBA coaches of all time in Phil Jackson, and already playing in a big, bustling market like Chicago.  So it’s no wonder Jordan never had to leave the Bulls to compete for a championship.

Jordan also had and has a competitive, screw-you-attitude-filled, chip on his shoulder the size of North America.  James’ stubborn pride doesn’t reach the same heights as Jordans’.

Magic Johnson didn’t have to leave the bright lights of Los Angeles while playing with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott, and slew of quality role players like Michael Cooper and Kurt Rambis, all while being coach by... wait for it... one of the greatest coaches of all time, Pat Riley.

It’s fun to compare and rank players against one another.  It makes for great debates and it’s part of the fun of watching sports. 

But we’ve taken the, “LeBron will never be Michael” argument too far.  It’s pointless, motivated by a need to continue knocking James for veering from the script we had in mind for him to stay in Cleveland, and is unrealistic. 

No player will ever be Michael Jordan, and we should be thankful for that.  If a bunch of Michael Jordans came along, he wouldn’t seem so special anymore. 

We should also remember there’s only one LeBron James, and to appreciate him for what he is if you’re an NBA fan. 

If James spurned your team or plays for a rival, I understand the hating.  But if you’re reaching for straws in reasons to hate on James by saying he’ll never be Jordan, then you’re a shoe in... for hater of the year. 

Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fitz Blitz on Here & Now KJZZ: Rick Welts Comes Out

Talked this morning with Steve Goldstein of KJZZ in Phoenix about Rick Welts coming out, and the potential impact it may have in the future on gay athletes coming out.  Give it a listen.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

St. Louis Rams Should Draft Jacquizz Rodgers for Back-Up Running Back Job

The St. Louis Rams have been trying to find a quality back up for running back Steven Jackson for over three seasons.  Even GM Billy Devaney has acknowledged the pursuit has become a punchline within his family.

So far the search has come up empty.  The best thing you can say about the Rams failed attempts to land a back up RB, is at least this management group didn’t waste a first round pick on Trung Candidate.

Depending on what type of back the rams are looking for, they may want to draft another back from Oregon State like they did with Jackson.

If the Rams want an all-around type of back in the later rounds who can carry the load if Steven Jackson were to be injured -- along with being a change-of-pace back -- they should go with a player like Taiwan Jones, DeMarco Murray, or Bilal Powell.

But if a change-of-pace, third-down back to spell Jackson is what the Rams are looking for, then Jacquizz Rodgers could be a perfect fit.

Physically Rodgers is a shifty, bouncy runner who makes people miss.  For a guy measured just under 5’ 6” at the combine and listed at 191 lbs in college, he doesn’t shy away from contact either.  He has good hands too as he caught 151 passes in his college career, including 78 as a sophomore. 

Along with his small stature, the other knock on Rodgers is his lack of top speed.  He was clocked at an underwhelming 4.67 at the NFL combine, but ran a 4.47 according to most reports at his pro day.

But what he lacks in top speed he makes up for in his quickness and cutting ability.  He can stop on a dime and has good football speed, which makes him a great fit to be the change-of-pace back for the bruising, beastly Jackson

But along with forming a balanced tandem in skill sets on the field, having a fellow former OSU Beaver to back up Jackson could lead to a much smoother co-existence between the two backs than picking someone Jackson doesn’t know, hasn’t rooted for, or doesn’t have a common connection with.

Drafting a player that a veteran may perceive as their potential replacement can lead to a sticky situation. 

Recently Jackson spoke to WXOS-FM in St. Louis about the Rams potentially taking a running back early in the drat.

"I'm kind of up in the air on that,” Jackson said.

“I think right now while I'm still young, that I still have the ability to carry the team and carry the load, I'd rather us go get someone on the outside, some more skill players, some more guys on defense to help this team come along while I’m able to still youthfully do my job at a high level."

Jackson continued, saying, “Everyone knows how strongly I feel and take pride in being one of the few featured backs, three-down running backs in the league. That being said, it can be viewed as being selfish, but I don't see it as being selfish. 

"I see it once again sacrificing for the betterment of the team. Let's find some more guys around me; let's continue to build a team around me and as the years go by, we can find that solid backup.  But let's not push the issue."

It’s obvious Jackson doesn’t feel he needs someone to share the load with, and that’s fine.  He is a true feature back and is very capable of playing all three downs. But the truth is, every team needs a capable back-up running back, even if they’re not using a two-back system.

Most NFL analysts and fans watching the 2004 NFL draft assumed the Dallas Cowboys were going to pick Jackson.  Instead they traded down, sending the 22nd overall pick to Buffalo who took quarterback J.P. Losman.

At that point the Rams wisely pounced on an opportunity to pick Jackson.  They knew they needed to find the heir apparent to hall-of-famer, Marshall Faulk, and traded up two spots with Cincinnati to make Jackson the first running back picked in the ’04 draft.

When the Rams picked Jackson, Faulk was 31 years old, hadn’t played all 16 games since 1999, and hadn’t rushed for 1,000 yards since 2001.  He’s knees were wearing down, and he would eventually retire after the ’05 season.

The Rams are not in that situation now, which is another reason the they can go with a change-of-pace, scat back rather than a 25-carry type of runner. 

Jackson is only 27, and has proven he is quite possibly the toughest running back in the league.  He’s played though back and groin injuries, and a broken hand. 

He keeps himself in impeccable shape, and even uses alternative therapies to treat his injuries, along with old fashioned ice baths.  Jackson probably has three to four more seasons of being a very productive back, given his size and the improved artificial turf in the NFL today.

Faulk and Jackson’s relationship was a bit cold.  Faulk was a fiery, prideful, competitor like Jackson, and wasn’t ready to relinquish his role as the starting running back.  Jackson wan an eager, immature player, who felt he could be a feature back right away, and should get more touches based on his ability.

Their relationship is actually very good today.  Any tension between the two at the time and in the few years following Faulk’s retirement was based on competitive tension of a vet who didn’t want to be phased out, and a young man who didn’t quite know how to handle himself professionally at the time.

But if Jacquizz Rodgers is the pick for the Rams to back up Steven Jackson, it’s more likely Jackson will rooting for Rodgers and embrace his back up.  It’s all the more reason drafting a complementary back from Jackson’s alma mater is the right move for the Rams.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Albert Pujols' Leg Kick

I noticed something peculiar about Albert Pujols' approach at the plate during an at bat last night in Arizona.  He picked up and put back down his normally semi-stationary left leg as the pitch came in.

Pujols hasn't had a leg kick in his swing for a long time.

Only after seeing him in the minors on 60 Minutes did I know he ever did it on a regular basis before.  I saw him lift his foot up for a home run derby, but not in a regular season game. 

Has he tried it during other slumps to get his timing right?

It doesn't seem to be helping. From camera angles behind home plate he's putting the foot down to his left, opening his hips and whole body up. Somebody like Matt Holliday who's used to doing it puts his foot down in the same place every time and without veering off to the side.

Albert should ditch the kick.  It's not going to fix his problems.  

The biggest issue he has at the plate right now is that his head's not down on the ball, and he's not looking it all the way in. He's swinging too early, and low change ups are inducing all these ground balls he's hitting.

He needs to let things come to him.  Hitting is about patience.  Base hits and walks will do.  He shouldn't feel he always has to hit dingers, but yes, the money's in home runs.

I don't think the slump is about the contract as much as him feeling he has to provide all of the offense and extra base hits -- again.  I'm sure putting up big numbers in a contract year is in the back of his head, but he's just trying to hard to do it all right now, pending free agency or not. 

Overall, I'm not worried.  I expect Pujols to be okay in a month or two, and he is starting to rip some liners on pitches up and in.    

I'm even looking forward to a little doubt being put into the heads of other GMs if he has a slightly off year.  Maybe he can price himself back down into the Cardinals range, and be worth his future production.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Amare Stoudemire Better than Dwight Howard? I Don't Think So

I accepted a battle on the whotheman.com that the original poster didn't reply on.  Win by forfeit.  I'll take it.  Peep the case I make anyway.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Whotheman.com Battle: The case for Gabbert's Success

Do I think Blaine Gabbert could be a bust in the NFL? Oh yea.  Do I make the case for him succeeding anyway?  Oh yea.

It all depends on who picks him.  He didn't throw to a bunch of All-Americans to hide his flaws.  He's a project, but he is also a smart guy and a hard worker to go with the big arm.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

NFLPA Doesn't Trust Owners, Gabbert Pro Day Expectations

NFLPA disagreement about trust.

Throughout the CBA negotiations between the NFLPA and the NFL owners I've sided with the players.  That’s pretty standard with how I am in any labor negotiation, I’ll side with labor over management. 

There may be an issue or two or a certain ploy I don’t agree with on the labor side, but overall in principle I will side with the them. 

That is the case with the NFL CBA.  But don't screw that up NLFPA.

Blaine Gabbert's NFL pro day will be tomorrow March 17th.  I expect him to look good at it, but that's to be expecting with no pass rush.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Day After Tomorrow Before Today

Well, "Albertgeddon" has come and gone.  Finally.  Everybody in St. Louis okay?  All present and accounted for?  Looks like there was minimal damage.

There is a sense of relief even if no contract extension was signed.  It's better than not knowing what's going to happen.

Much like Cardinals skipper, Tony La Russa, I like to let things digest for a night. He doesn't like to address a player or fellow coach immediately after a loss in regards to something he may be upset about until the next day to control his emotions.

The Albert contract deadline certainly had some emotions involved. It also gave me a chance to hear from Pujols himself. You know, the guy whose life path will be determined by this contract. Might as well hear from him first right?

Pujols said he wants to be a Cardinal for life. Jason Stark is right to mention he didn't say, "at any price."

But Pujols has to realized who he's dealing with. The Cardinals don't ask for a "home-town discount" because the feel they deserve it, or that the player should be willing to take less money for the privilege of playing for the St. Louis Cardinals. They've signed or offered other all-stars less money because they have to.

They are still a small-market team that can have a $100+ million dollar pay roll because of their attendance. They are 10th in profits and 10th in payroll. So it's not like they're getting by with being miserly or cheap. They're being smart.

Should Pujols go after top dollar? Sure, it's his life, his prerogative, and his contract. He's a very charitable guy, and probably has that in mind in these negotiations as well.

But I hope he understands saying he wants to be a Cardinal for life, while potentially asking for a contract that isn't realistic for St. Louis is a bit misleading to fans.

Pujols has never been on any other MLB team. And he's never had a sales pitch from another team or been wined and dined by them... well, just dined in Pujols' case. But he's never trudged through a season that was over by August either. Even the 2007 hangover season had life in September.

Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Mark McGwire, Chris Carpenter, Matt Holliday and others had been elsewhere before, and had experienced less than desirable situations. To them it was worth a few million less than what they could have demanded in free agency or from another big-market team in Holliday's case to stick around with the Cardinals.

Perhaps though we're talking about more than a few million. Tough to know the truth. Pujols scoffed at the idea of him demanding 10 years and $300 million as has been reported.

"That's so funny because me and my agent talked every other day about you guys throwing numbers out there," Pujols said. "Assuming the Cardinals offered this and 'Albert is asking for 10 years' and we just laughed about it. I'm pretty sure the Cardinals are too because you guys don't have any clue. You guys are way off on what the numbers are you guys are throwing out there."

That's certainly reassuring. It does show he isn't making unrealistic demands.

I would have an entire omelet on my face if he were after telling friends I thought he'd sign for around $23 to $25 million before the Ryan Howard extension. I still thought there was a possibility he'd ask for A-Rod money, but took his statement of, "I want to be a Cardinal for life," seriously. But perhaps we're only talking about a few million as the difference there as well.

Maybe he is still asking for A-Rod money of roughly $27 million per year. We've all assumed he wants to at least be paid as well as Ryan Howard. Pujols reportedly turned down $21 million per year over eight seasons. Which if is true, is lower than I would offer. Even though it's not my money to spend, I am realistic about the current baseball market.

I can't blame Pujols for asking for Ryan Howard money. But I also can't blame the Cardinals for thinking the Ryan Howard deal is an overpay as well and having the team's long-term financial security in mind.

But if Pujols really wants to stay with the Cardinals, why demand an amount the Cards feel is unfair? Will Pujols feel like he chickened out by not demanding for more? Will it be embarrassing for him to be considered the best hitter in the game, but not the highest paid at his position? Is his pride - one of the seven deadly sins - part of his motivation?

Getting this next contract shouldn't be a another competition for a competitive guy like Albert. It should be about finding the right compromise for him and the Cardinals, so he can remain on a competitive team without having to uproot. The higher paying job isn't always the best one to take.

I can't think of one Cardinal who left the team strictly for more money who ended up in a far better situation taking the cash St. Louis couldn't give them. Anyone? Seriously, please tell me if you can think of one.

They only ones I can think of would be Edgar Renteria or J.D. Drew. But those are a mixed bag at best. I don't think I could consider either to be distinctly better off leaving St. Louis.

J.D. Drew is the Adrian Beltre of outfielders, and Renteria was shipped out of Boston after one season.

Renteria did well in Atlanta, struggled in Detroit, and didn't stay healthy in San Francisco outside of a remarkable playoff run. Both he and Drew won titles and had some success, but would any of that had been better than staying in St. Louis and winning a World Series in 2006? Renteria's replacement got hot and won a World Series MVP himself after all.

But like Pujols said, this is all part of negotiations. There's a back and forth in negotiations that happens. He should start high, the Cardinals should start low, and eventually, hopefully, they meet near the middle. The Cardinals unfortunately drug their feet on this, but are doing what a team normally does of trying to start off as low as possible.

They're taking an awful risk by letting the negotiations get to the post-World Series negotiating window. One team who wants to make a splash could throw a ton of money at him. Pujols' options are slightly limited in comparison to previous seasons, but there's still enough teams with a spot and money available. The Yankees could could always make a spot available too.

But again, we may be talking about a difference of a few million that Albert is willing to trade off. Perhaps $28 million from the Cubs is a wash with $25 million from the Cardinals, in which he would most likely choose the Cardinals.

So the Cardinals didn't make this deadline, but there are still more to be made. And though Pujols' comments may seem slightly contradictory, he did reassure fans he's not out to top the biggest, most foolish contract in baseball history.

The wild card in all of this is Pujols' agent Dan Lazano. He broke out on his own this past year, a la Jerry Maguire, leaving the Beverly Hills Sports Council. He needs a big splash and big contract to put his business on the map.

What's he telling Albert? Is he telling Pujols he can get a mega deal, and that he should try for it? It seems as if it's been his intention all along to take this to free agency. Pujols considers Lazano a friend and would like to help him out as much Pujols would like to take care of himself.

Lazano is who I'm directing my angst towards, as I really dislike agents, if I can make any recommendations on that to Cardinals fans.

Basically, we're a tiny step closer to an extension than we were before the spring training deadline. The negotiations haven't gone horribly wrong, as Pujols has no ill will towards Cardinal management, and still wants to try to work out a deal after the season.

I've said all along the negotiations would have to take a really bad tone for Pujols to consider signing with the Cubs. He'd have to hate the Cardinals to accept being hated by Cardinal fans. And that after all is the biggest fear of Cards fans in letting Pujols go to free agency.

Much like when Pujols is at the plate, he is trying to be patient in these negotiations and see every pitch. He usually makes good contact and pleases Cardinal fans. We just have to sit back, and hope that trend continues.