Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Mistake, mistake, mistake.
No other way to evaluate it. The SF 49ers dumping QB Alex Smith, to the Kansas City Chiefs for two high draft picks, was a bone-headed move that they will regret.
What's going to happen is that new starting QB Colin Kaepernick is going to get hurt next season, forcing the Niners, under some no-name backup, to plummet down the NFC ladder. No doubt in my mind that's the scenario this fall. The 49ers had to make a trade before next month or else they'd have to pay Smith $8.5 million to be a backup, which they clearly thought was way too much. At that salary, he'd be the highest-paid No.2 QB in the league, but he'd provide security at the most important position.
But Kaepernick, a reckless, relentless runner, is bound to go down. League defensive coordinators are, right now, plotting ways to curb his rushing. Last season, he had only ten starts. This season, with more starts, he'll be more likely to take damaging hits. Look at what happened to Washington's R.G. Griffin, another premier rushing QB. He was knocked out of the playoffs, taking his team out with him.
The way Kaepernick runs, the Niners need a top-flight backup waiting in the wings, ready for the inevitable moment when he gets hurt. If Kaepernick had gone down late last season or in the playoffs, Smith could have stepped in with not too much of a drop-off. Yes, the Niners would have had to shelve the read option, the formation geared to QB rushing, and, with Smith, there would have been less of a deep-passing threat. But Smith reads defenses skillfully, throws short and medium-range passes expertly, doesn't make mistakes and is a perfect QB for a team, like the Niners, that likes to run. OK, so the offense, under Smith, is no longer in overdrive, but it's cruising, very efficiently, in second gear, neatly complimenting that strong defense.
For most of his 49ers' career, I wasn't a big Smith fan. But he really blossomed under coach Jim Harbaugh and turned out to be a great fit for that low-key offense, which is all that was necessary for a team defined by its defense.
But there's going to be a hole in the backup QB spot next season. Harbaugh is almost certain to develop some QB into a solid backup, but he's going to need more than one season. It took him two to shape Kaepernick into a gem.
This fall, along with new coach Andy Reid and RB Jamaal Charles, Smith will lead Kansas City to respectability. Meanwhile, without Smith, that backup QB position will be the Niners' undoing.
Count on it.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 3:13 PM
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
I really didn't know Jerry Buss, the pioneering owner of the L.A. Lakers who died of cancer Monday morning. I had drinks with him a few times when he was with friends we had in common. Good guy? Bad guy? Good guy as far as I could tell but I'd heard some horror stories about him too. You don't go from poor to multimillionaire in the business world without stepping on people.
Something happened one night about thirty years ago that gives an inkling of what kind of man he was.
It happened in Dan Tana's, a cozy, upscale Italian restaurant in West Hollywood. Though not fancy, it's a place that celebrities like to hang out, especially late at night. On this night, not far from closing time, there were about twenty people scattered throughout the main room. Buss was sitting at a table near the bar, which seats about a dozen, with a tall, muscular guy who looked like a bodyguard. As usual, a handful of celebrities were there too. Basketball great Wilt Chamberlain was in a booth with a lady. In another, R&B singer Rick James was huddled with a bunch of women. One of the BeeGees, I'm not sure which one, was there too.
I was sitting at the bar with two friends when this middle-aged man, dressed in a business suit, walked in and found an empty bar stool. He spotted Buss a short distance away and then something strange happened. This guy, whom we'll refer to as the Jerk, started badmouthing Buss, talking to no one in particular and loud enough that everybody at the bar and in the bar area could hear him. He claimed Buss was a deceitful lowlife who had cheated him and many others in various business deals. The Jerk rambled on for about five minutes, painting a picture, with figures, of Jerry Buss, the crook. Some at the bar tried to shut him up, but there was no stopping the Jerk.
Through all this, Buss continued his conversation with his companion, never acknowledging the Jerk.
Finally Buss got up from his booth and, followed by the big guy, walked over the bar and stood in front of the Jerk. Oh, oh, we all thought for a second, it's curtains for this loudmouth. But Buss took the high road. He smiled at the Jerk, who was still seated, patted him on the back and said in a friendly tone, "Have a nice night." Looking at the bartender, Buss said he was paying the Jerk's bar bill. Buss' companion took out a wad of bills, pulled out a few and placed them on the bar.
Buss waved goodbye to Chamberlain, who was sitting across the room, and walked out with his friend. Seeming totally untouched by Buss' gesture, the Jerk kept on talking, spewing more anti-Buss venom. Some at the bar listened intently. Others, like me, tuned him out. My friends and I left shortly after Buss.
About an hour later, probably around 3 a.m., I was driving home alone. Passing by Tana's, I saw a police car and a paramedic van parked in front of Tana's. From my car I could see a man, face bloody, sitting on the sidewalk being tended to by the paramedics. The patient was the Jerk.
I parked and walked over to the lone bystander, a Tana's waiter, and asked what had happened.
The waiter just smiled..
The waiter said, "I'm staying out of this" and walked away.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 2:02 PM
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Fast forward to next year at this time. Who's going to be the center for the L.A. Lakers then?. If you say it's going to be Dwight Howard the Lakers' current center, you're dreaming.
After this season, when his contract is up, and maybe even before that, Dwight will be long gone from L.A. Where he'll be it's hard to say--Dallas, Brooklyn, Atlanta, who knows? Right now it seems like no team has a place for him. But let him become available and you'll see some team go through the contractual, financial gymnastics necessary to land Howard, a player who could be a franchise cornerstone for the next seven or eight years. But one thing you can bank on--he won't be a Laker.
Get this, Lakers fans. Howard hates playing for your team. Multiple sources close to two Lakers players say, in the locker room, Howard's feelings about being a Laker are very clear. The players know it and Howard doesn't hide it from them. But no one on the team wants to say it out loud. Why kill the fans' dreams? Why make them hate Howard more than they already do?
When Howard is asked by the media about playing for the Lakers next season, he always dodges and dances, never really answering the question. Face it, if he was eager to play for the team next year he wouldn't hesitate to say so. Not giving an answer is the same as confessing, "I don't want to be a Laker."
Why does Howard want out? Two reasons, coach Mike D'Antoni and domineering teammate Kobe Bryant. First of all, Howard is totally unsuited for D'Antoni's run-run-run system. When Howard signed with the Lakers last year the coach was Mike Brown, who uses a defense-oriented system that favors post-up centers like Howard. But when D'Antoni replaced Brown at the start of the season, that was the beginning of the end for Howard as a Laker.
Also, Howard hates playing with Kobe Bryant, a dour, win-win-win fanatic who's totally dedicated to being a Laker and passionately rules the team, on and off the court. They may seem civil toward each other, but that's all show. Dwight and Kobe are oil and water. Used to being No. 1, Howard doesn't take kindly to being in Kobe's shadow or being viciously criticized for not wearing a serious game face when the Lakers are losing. Nor is Howard crazy about the constant, intense scrutiny that comes with playing in a major media center. He was king in little Orlando, the No.1 player on the Magic, just about immune to criticism. But in L.A.he's been a giant target for the merciless media that has all but labeled him a lazy bum who's a big-time disappointment.
Howard is a fun-loving, hang-loose guy. To him, losing isn't the end of the world. But that's not the Laker way. To Kobe and many fans, the Lakers are like a religion. They chase championships with maniacal fervor. Not winning one is a crushing defeat. Dwight hasn't boarded that bandwagon and never will. Fun-loving Dwight isn't having any fun in L.A.
Coming into this season, the Lakers were severely over-hyped. Injuries to Howard, Steve Nash, Paul Gasol and Jordan Hill have hurt the team. Nash, who just turned 39, isn't physically able to be a first-rate point guard any more. The bench is just so-so. If bench-warmer Earl Clark hadn't blossomed, this middle-of-the-pack team would be even worse.
There's a chance that Howard, who's getting much of the blame for this lousy season, won't even be a Laker much longer. Management claims they won't trade him by the deadline, which is this Wednesday, but for the right deal, who knows?
If he's not traded, Howard has no interest in a contract extension. The Lakers' chances of making the playoffs are slim. Even if they do inch in, they'll be rudely bounced out in the first round. If you think the anti-Howard sentiment is red-hot now, just wait until the playoff debacle. It's going to get real ugly.
Sources close to the two Laker players say Howard can't get out of L.A. fast enough.
If Howard came out and declared he hates the Lakers and won't re-sign after his contract is up, imagine ho how that would ruin this season for fans.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 4:42 PM
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Fans and teammates are mercilessly beating up on L.A. Lakers' center Dwight Howard. Leave him alone. He's getting a bum rap. Here's why.
When he was acquired by the Lakers during the off season, Howard was considered the best center in the NBA, a defensive Goliath who gobbles up rebounds, ferociously guards the paint and scares the hell out of any opponent who dares to drive to the basket. Each game, he was a lock to score in the high teens and scoop up 13-16 rebounds. So far that super player has been MIA. His numbers are down-- 16.2 points and 11.7 rebounds--and he's far from an intimidating presence in the paint. Clearly he's not the great center L.A expected but just a good one. Arguably the Knicks' Tyson Chandler and the Nets' Brook Lopez are better
What happened to Howard?
First and most important, he's injured. He's just 70-80% of the player we're used to seeing. Not only is he still recovering from preseason back surgery but a few weeks ago he suffered a nagging shoulder injury--a torn labrum. That bad back has inhibited his jumping and, on the court, you can see him protecting that shoulder, which is definitely targeted by opposing players. Bottom line, how can he be that badass of old if back and shoulder ailments his effectiveness?
Point two in Dwight's defense: he has a new coach, Mike D'Antoni, whose system he hates because it's alien to post-up centers. D'Antoni's racehorse system devalues players like Howard who post up and play with their backs to the basket. Howard thrives in a slow-down, half-court offense, not in a high-speed system like D'Antoni's that's geared to outside shooters. When Howard came to the Lakers, Mike Brown, who prizes defense and a half-court offense, was coach. To Brown, getting Howard was like winning the lottery. But when the players stopped responding to Brown's over-working and micro-managing, he was kicked out and his opposite--D'Antoni--was hired.
So here we have an injured player handcuffed by a system implemented long after he signed. Do you think Howard would have become a Laker if D'Antoni was coach at the time? Hell no.
To make matters worse, Howard is being called a wimp because he's hesitant to play through pain. He's reluctant to risk aggravating his injuries by playing hurt. Does that make him a softie? To me, that's just being smart. The person who's leading the play-through-pain campaign is Kobe Bryant. Don't listen to Kobe. He's got a screw loose. Only the most severe injury would keep Kobe off the court. Dwight doesn't have that kind of drive and tenacity. Hardly any players do, so that's hardly a crime.
You're not going to get the best of Howard when he's injured and playing in a system that doesn't emphasize defense. He's not a wimp. He's just being cautious and sensible
So get off Dwight's back.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 3:42 PM
Monday, February 4, 2013
Greg Roman, what the hell was that?
Known as the Einstein of offensive coordinators, you're the brains of the San Francisco 49er offense. Niner fans expect genius from you. So what do you do when it really counts? You regress into idiocy and resort to bone-headed play-calling that cost your team the game. They lost to the Baltimore Ravens, 34-31, in the Super Bowl because of you. What were you thinking?
Near the end of the game, the Niners had backed the Ravens up to their own seven-yard line after safety Ed Reed saved the game for his team by tackling RB Frank Gore there, at the end of a long run. Clearly the game would be won or lost right there, in the shadow of the Ravens' goal. There was plenty of time left, more than two minutes. On the first play Roman did the right thing, calling for a run. Backup RB LaMichael James ran for two yards. Then, Greg, you went haywire. You weren't racing the clock, so why, in the name of God, would you call three straight throws to Michael Crabtree down there?
At the end of the game, at the goal line, you go with what got you there. For the last two years, under the guidance of coach Jim Harbaugh, a notorious hard-ass, the Niners have been basically a smash-mouth team. Sure, near the end zone, the Ravens would stack the line, wary of the run. But, with rugged RB Frank Gore and great rushing QB Colin Kaepernick, one who's skilled at executing the tricky read-option, you take your chances with the run. Then it's brute force against brute force. You rely on your strength, going smash-mouth, staying on the ground. If you don't make it, at least you go down valiantly, with a sense that you gave it your best shot, grinding it out in your signature format.
But no, Greg, you get slick and try to outfox the opposition. I was wincing with each pass. On that critical second down, you should give the ball to Gore. He's probably going to gain a yard or two, making a QB sneak with tall, tough Kaepernick an even more lethal weapon on the next two downs. With rushes, you also use up time, so that if you score, there's less time for the Ravens to get close enough for a decent field-goal try.
On the fourth down, five yards from the goal, after those other stupid passes didn't work, you have no choice but to pass. True, on that play, Ravens' cornerback Jimmy Smith was flagrantly holding Crabtree and the Niners should have had a first down on the penalty, but it shouldn't have come to that. In that situation, most refs won't throw a flag, preferring not to let a penalty have an impact at such a crucial point.
So, when Kaepernick's pass, which was overthrown, sailed harmlessly out of bounds, it was game over, Niners cooked. Sadly, embarrassingly, they went down like wimps, taking the slick way out, enforcing the pre-Harbaugh stereotype that the Niners are softies, reflecting the wine-and-cheese image of the city.
Thanks a lot, Greg.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 2:30 PM