Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Phillies Need to Focus on Hamels, Not Halladay

Lost in the hype and anticipation surrounding the Phillies interest in Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay, is what the Phillies already have. Beyond the suggestions that the Phillies should just step up and send a small army of prospects to Toronto for J.P. Ricciardi to pick and choose from, I think we have collectively lost sight of one guy.

Cole Hamels.

It’s not as if people have forgotten his name. The talk is centered on pairing Halladay and Hamels together to create this unstoppable playoff force that makes them the favorite to repeat as World Series champions this year and possibly in 2010.

Here’s where the memory appears to lapse about Cole Hamels. He’s already that unstoppable playoff force. He just needs to show it again.

Just months removed from winning every MVP award they give for postseason performance, Hamels showed that you really don’t need much of a bullpen or starting rotation behind him when he is on a roll. Hamels put the team on his back down in October and won his team a World Series championship.

The problem arises because he’s not pitching the way we all expected. We, or at least I, expected Hamels to be a perennial Cy Young candidate after his magical playoff performance last season (35 IP 4-0 1.80 ERA). Then the injury problems came at the beginning of the year and he got off to a slow start. His first few starts weren’t right and he didn’t look healthy. As a result, he’s been average for most, if not all season.

In step the trade rumors, mostly discussing Halladay because the Phillies need a starting pitcher, apparently. But they don’t need Halladay. They need Hamels.

The Phillies find themselves as legitimate contenders for the World Series, without Halladay and with Cole Hamels being as average as he has been. In such a weak National League (think the NBA’s Eastern Conference circa 2003), they are on a virtual collision course with the Dodgers for the pennant. There is no dominant team in the American League. Every contender has their flaws: Boston has suddenly lost their power, the Yankees and Dodgers have middle relief issues, and the Phillies and Angels have issues with starting pitching. Hamels by himself could be the extra boost to put the Phillies over the top.

Yes, Halladay is a great pitcher, maybe the best is baseball (though my money is on Dan Haren in Arizona). Yes, he would be a great addition for every franchise in the MLB (especially Washington, since they don’t want Stephen Strasburg). But the cost is just too great.

To open talks with the Blue Jays, it will probably take J.A. Happ and top prospect Kyle Drabek. This is just to begin the trade discussion. There has been some discussion that it could 4 or more top prospects to get Halladay. Is it worth sending a clown car full of prospects to Toronto for Halladay?

History says maybe, maybe not. These pitching blockbusters usually have mixed results. There are the St. Louis Cardinals and Montreal Expos (currently the Washington Nationals), who acquired big name pitchers Mark Mulder and Bartolo Colon, respectively. They were average or worse with their new teams. Then there are the guys that St. Louis and Montreal traded away. St. Louis traded away Dan Haren. Montreal traded away Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee. Those guys are pretty good.

But then there is the CC Sabathia deal that happened last year. Sabathia basically took the Milwaukee Brewers to the playoffs singlehandedly after getting traded from the Indians, though the jury is still out on the prospects they dealt.

So, though I think that Halladay will be more like Sabathia than the injury plagued Mulder, it’s 50/50 with these kinds of deals, at best (especially considering Halladay and I have the same amount of postseason innings). The last thing I want to see is J.A. Happ doing his best Tom Glavine impression north of the border.

The focus, instead of looking to acquire talent, should be on getting the talent you have right. You need a dominant Cole Hamels to think you’re going to have any success doing anything in October, whether you have Halladay or not. Hamels is the key to all your success.

With the offense that the Phillies have and the good defense they play, the Phillies just need Hamels to recapture some of the magic he had last year. They won a World Series with mediocre pitching behind Hamels, so what is to stop them from doing it again this year?

We’ve seen a sporadic Cole Hamels all year. One night, he’s dominating the Dodgers: the next night he struggles against the anemic Braves offense.

It’s not that I’m against the Phillies going to get a frontline starting pitcher to add to the rotation. By all means, please do: at the right price, however. The Blue Jays want to own the totality of the Phillies farm system for that starter. The risk and price doesn’t quite match the potential reward or failure.

Instead, the Phillies should look towards Hamels. He holds the near-future of this team in his left arm. If he regains what he was the previous two seasons, the Phillies won’t need Halladay to embark on another World Series celebration.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Goodell Should Do Right Thing: Reinstate Vick

No one likes dogfighting. It’s not a neutral issue. It is universally hated (except by those involved in the dogfighting). It’s, more or less, a slap in the face to the core of American friendship.

So it’s perfectly natural that the purveyors of said dogfighting, guys like Michael Vick are completely vilified. The radical PETA fundamentalists protested at every Vick-related place possible. The more moderate Humane Society was disgusted. America, as a whole, wanted nothing to do with Michael Vick.

Vick’s actions represented nothing else but sheer stupidity. He lied to federal prosecutors, the Atlanta Falcons, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He’s blown all his money and is now in bankruptcy court answering to his creditors. Bad decision followed bad decision and it ended with 20 months in federal custody.

Well yesterday marked the day that Michael Vick left federal custody. Yesterday marked the day that Michael Vick got to restart his life.

But the major impediment to his life being restarted lies in the hands of Roger Goodell and the indefinite suspension he imposed in 2007, the stern disciplinarian with a heavy hand usually ruling against the players whether or not the justice system has dealt with the player. If the justice system has dealt with a player, like in Vick’s case, it’s a virtual no-brainer for Goodell. Brandon Marshall, Adam “Pac-Man” Jones, and Donte Stallworth have all felt the wrath of a Goodell suspension. Which begs the question: should Goodell reinstate Vick from his indefinite suspension?

Yes. If I remember correctly, the old adage goes: hate the sin, not the sinner.

Should we really punish Michael Vick again and again with another suspension after 20 months with the feds? Michael Vick is not “Pac-man.” He isn’t a repeat offender who consistently runs afoul of the law. So does he deserve the “Pac-man” treatment, a one-year suspension? Probably not, considering Vick’s offenses were limited to one event as far as we know: and Vick’s never led to the paralysis of a man.

But as many dog lovers will contest, his offenses were so appalling that there aren’t any applicable comparisons.

The fact of the matter is, while what he did was wrong and shouldn’t be allowed to happen ever again, it is not a career-ending or season-ending offense, considering the price he has already paid. Vick didn’t order the Trail of Tears. He’s not the Son of Sam copycat. Let’s put things into perspective. Vick did awful things, but it doesn’t crack the list of the most horrific.

In a society built on forgiveness, does Vick get his chance at redemption disregarded because of a couple of PETA protesters outside the NFL offices? I really don’t think that we should make decisions based on the thoughts of PETA. They got upset when President Obama killed a fly.

Michael Vick is a football player. He should be allowed to play football. He has served his time, paid his debt to society and is ready to reenter our world.

Just ask Tony Dungy, a man better than me and probably better than you. Just ask Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.

The reality is that it is pointless to pile on the punishment after the person leaves prison. What good does it do anyone to continue to punish this man for his one crime? You’re not teaching him anymore of a lesson. You’re not making him feel more of this “remorse” that everyone wants to see. All you’re doing is stunting his development back into society.

He can only be taught a lesson by getting a chance to demonstrate what he has learned. He can only show remorse by being given a second chance and doing well with that second chance. Unnecessary punishment driven by ego and PETA makes sure no one wins.

Goodell should reinstate Vick before training camps open in a couple of weeks. Give teams the opportunity to sign him and get him in. Endorse the work he’s doing to stop dogfighting through the Humane Society. Give everyone a chance to be reintroduced to Vick on Sunday’s and allow the forgiving public to begin to accept him again. If you put yourself in his situation, you would want a second chance too. So give Vick the second chance that we would all want ourselves.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Uncertainty at Point Guard Creates Unenviable Postion for Sixers

This offseason has created two realities for the 76ers that they must come to grips with. First, they are not in a select group of “Haves” in the Eastern Conference (Boston, Orlando, and Cleveland) that have clearly distanced themselves from a group of mediocre teams that don’t really have a shot of advancing past the second round of the playoffs. Granted, they already couldn’t compete with those teams, but the additions of Rasheed Wallace, Vince Carter, and Shaquille O’Neal have more than solidified it. They are, frankly, years away from even thinking that the teams ahead of them may come back to their level so they can compete. Second, this team is going to have to make some serious decisions if they want to stay in the second tier of teams in the East (Chicago, Atlanta, Miami).

The outcome of that decision will be seen by what the Sixers do at point guard for the upcoming season. Andre Miller is an unrestricted free agent and would really prefer not to come back to the Sixers, which may or may not be a good thing depending on how you look at it. While many will point out that Elton Brand, who is coming back from shoulder surgery and will be ready for the start of the season, couldn’t play with Andre Iguodala and Sam Dalembert (though I really can’t blame him for the latter), the reality may be that he couldn’t play with Andre Miller. Consider that Andre Miller spends most of his time in the lane or on the block because that is generally where he generates offense. So in the 29 games the Sixers had Brand, Iguodala and Miller, they struggled because the paint became too crowded for any of them to thrive. The fit would work better if Miller could shoot a jump shot and spread the floor from 20 ft. or farther but that’s as likely as Megan Fox singing at my next birthday party.

This partly explains the reasonable success that the Sixers had after Brand was shut down for the season. The lane was clogged less, Miller's inability to shoot was masked and Iguodala was free to continue to take contested 23 foot jumpers (why they only had reasonable success). Without Brand, the floor opens up for Miller to do his work in the lane and create from 15 ft. in, allowing Iguodala more room to do work on offense as well. But with the Sixers investing $82 million in Brand, his ability to thrive with the other players on the floor needs to be a priority.

Which creates the little conundrum that the Sixers currently find themselves in. If they bring back Andre Miller, the offense becomes restricted to 15 ft., Brand and Iguodala struggle like they did last year and we kill Ed Stefanski for signing Brand. Or they don’t resign Miller, and considering the Chris Duhon for Andre Miller swap was nixed, Lou Williams would take over at point guard, which isn’t the most ideal situation. Lou Williams is best served to come off the bench, like he currently does. He’s a pure scorer from the point guard position and has never been asked to really set up an offense. To ask him to all of sudden become something he’s not, a pure point guard, is only asking him to fail, especially considering he lacks a crucial component to his game to play the position at its highest level, vision. An average passer with below average vision with an uncanny ability to get to the rim and score is probably best suited to score and lead the second unit that is pretty devoid of scoring.

If those don’t seem like good options, it’s because of their not. You can either bring back a guy who really won’t play very well with the highest paid player on the team or get worse and basically sacrifice a season by being lead by a point guard who really isn’t a point guard, all this while first-round pick Jrue Holliday tries to learn the game to eventually take over the post. Well that’s why Ed Stefanski gets paid.

Realistically, they may have to bring back Andre Miller and new coach Eddie Jordan will have to get creative on offense to create the necessary spacing, via Jason Kapono longrange shooting, to allow everyone to be successful. At this point, they can’t put their season in the hands of an unproven point guard and get worse. Already struggling in the attendance department, a season where they compete with the Bobcats, Pacers and Nets for 8th and 9th spots just isn’t ideal. What’s ideal is they get a point guard like Steve Blake from Portland, a proven guy in this league who can shoot and get a team into its offense efficiently, nothing great or spectacular, but proven and reliable. But unfortunately, what is best isn’t really feasible.

But they also can’t have Elton Brand and Andre Miller’s playing style clash for, presumably, 82 games next season. A repeat of the first 29 games from last season, over 82 games, wouldn’t amount to very much.

So no matter how you look at it, the Sixers are probably going to be a worse basketball team than they were last year. Brand, Miller and Iguodala can’t play winning basketball together and Lou Williams can’t seamlessly replace Miller and have the offense run at its best. And the ideas that Jrue Holliday is ready to come in and start just aren’t reasonable, considering he didn’t start at UCLA. He needs to slowly adjust to the NBA game, starting off getting few minutes and slowly work more into the rotation.

With the options staring Stefanski in the face, it’s moments like these that make me happy I’m not a general manager.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Fall of Allen Iverson

It has, unfortunately, come to this for Allen Iverson. The same guy who crossed Michael Jordan, thee Michael Jordan, in his rookie season on the way to a Rookie of the Year Award, the same guy who won an MVP award and took a band of vagabonds (George Lynch, Tyrone Hill, Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, I would go on but it’s too embarrassing) to the NBA Finals, producing my favorite playoff memories of all-time (and even won more games [one] than anyone expected against the Lakers), the same guy who has four scoring titles. This same guy is now begging for a job from the Memphis Grizzlies or facing forced retirement. How did this happen? Why does no one want Iverson?

The answer seems simple but it will hurt me to say it. Allen Iverson is not a winner. Nothing about him allows him to become a part of a championship formula. My favorite player that I have ever seen is destined for an NBA cemetery.

But in the end, this is the only way that it could happen, and it has nothing to do with off-court issues or even practice. It’s Iverson’s pride, offensive style, and inability to play with great players that has doomed him. Iverson is one of the greatest scorers of his generation but can only score one way. He must have the ball in his hands, for about 16 seconds to create his scoring opportunities. He invented the volume shooter/scorer role. Without Iverson’s progressive style of play, Jamal Crawford wouldn’t have a job. But how does that help him play with Carmelo Anthony? It doesn’t, which is why they never won playoff series. He is the ultimate alpha-dog, a star who believes he’s a star and won’t take anything less. That’s why the chemistry with Carmelo was never quite there and in some ways, may have held back Carmelo’s development into one of the best players in the league (check how Anthony evolved at the end of this season without Iverson), or look at his reluctance to fit in with the Detroit Pistons, which was an unmitigated disaster.

The fact is the 2001 Sixers were the perfect fit for Iverson, the only team in which he could thrive. He can only play with defensive-minded/offensively-limited guys because his offense only works when he is the ONLY guy who can realistically put the ball in the basket. He has to be the center of attention, the lone offensive threat to be at his best, which is why the team can’t be at its best. The 2001 Sixers undoubtedly was the perfect gift for Iverson’s career. He was at the top of his game playing the best basketball of his career, in a terrible Eastern conference that allowed him to win the MVP and take a terrible team to the Finals. They allowed Iverson to thrive on offense (because Todd MacCulloch and and Jumaine Jones really weren’t lighting it up, let’s be real) while playing pretty good defense to scrape through the Eastern playoffs and Iverson got validated as a great player with a bad team around him. But building a team around Iverson became impossible because no matter who you brought in, they didn’t mesh with Iverson (Toni Kukoc, Chris Webber, Larry Hughes, Glen Robinson, Keith Van Horn, just to name a few). And it became easy to blame the secondary star for not being the right guy and Billy King eventually lost his job because of it because he never brought in the right guy. But who was or could have been the right guy. I couldn’t imagine what would happen if Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson ever teamed, the guy I always wanted. As much as I don’t like the job Billy King did, trying to build a team around Iverson’s unique skills was far from easy. And after seeing Carmelo and Iverson not working and whatever that thing in Detroit was, I’m not sure that it would have worked with KG. It’s no wonder that a contender doesn’t have any interest.

Think about it: if you’re building a championship team, do you need Iverson taking shots away from your Kobe or LeBron or Big 3, especially considering he’s not a true point guard, bogging down the flow of your offense. Iverson is almost like a black hole for your offense, the ball enters his hands and he’s going to do something with it, for better or worse. He could come off the bench of the contender and remake his Sixers days, play the role of scoring guard as the top guys rest, playing with guys like Sasha Vujacic or Brian Scalabrine but he refuses to do that. Iverson has completely pigeonholed himself. Singular in his focus and skills, refusing to open up or change one little bit. The same qualities that made him the tough little guy in Philadelphia, who’s singular focus was on the game, no matter what injury he was dealing with at the time, singular skill, getting to the rim, no matter the obstacle in the lane or in front of him to provide everything that the Sixers needed, pure scoring. Now those qualities have left him in his current predicament. There aren’t any teams out there built like the Sixers were, perfect for his style of style of play where he can play the lead role like he demands. He refuses to play a secondary role to anyone which is why he can’t play for a contender. This is a future Hall-of-Famer with something still left in the tank being virtually ignored, most of it by his own doing.

Iverson is a great player. But his greatness is limited to unique situations and it is not conducive to winning a championship. Iverson has always been willing to sacrifice his body for a championship but when it calls for sacrifice of his ego, Iverson cannot go that far. A great player lost behind an array of over dribbling and volume shooting.