At the very least, the Phoenix Suns should hire a new head coach this offseason. Finding a new general manager may not be a bad idea either.
There's a chance Phil Jackson will be available, and if he is, Robert Sarver should be all over it.
According to our good friends at ESPN, the Zen Master is "itching" to return from his latest hiatus. The Suns probably wouldn't be an option if he wants to find his way back to the bench considering he's always coached teams with more talent in two-fifths of his starting lineups than the Suns have on their entire roster right now.
But if Phil wants to follow in the footsteps of Pat Riley and Larry Bird and take the reins of a struggling franchise as is reported to be the case, Sarver should offer him the chance to do here what Riley and Bird have done for the Heat and Pacers, respectively.
Some may argue that just like great players don't always made good coaches, what if a legendary coach doesn't translate to the front office? That's a fair point. But what do the Suns have to lose? Regardless of how the organization tries to spin it, there's not a lot to get excited about moving forward, so good luck selling the Morris twins and Kendall Marshall to your fan base and season ticket holders. Getting excited about all the "assets" (aka draft picks) rings hollow too, especially if the Lakers make the playoffs. I mean, who in this class has "franchise cornerstone" written all over them?
I imagine Jackson with some sort of executive title in charge of personnel (and whatever else he wants to control) and Brian Shaw as the new head coach. Unlike Lindsey Hunter (when he took over for Alvin Gentry), Shaw has plenty of experience on the bench and the success to go with it. Plus, there's no pressure to win now, only develop young players and convince free agents they can be successful here.
Shaw is currently Frank Vogel's right hand man for a really good Pacers team, but was also on Jackson's Los Angeles coaching staff when they won championships in 2009 and 2010. Shaw also won three rings playing for Jackson's Lakers during the Shaq and Kobe era. Two years ago, the Lakers passed up on making Shaw their head coach in favor of Mike Brown, then passed on bringing back Jackson last November after firing Brown for Mike D'Antoni. Shaw recently turned down the Bobcats coaching job because, well, they're the Bobcats.
While the Suns haven't hit Bobcats status yet, another season or two like this and they'll become the kind of team that gets rejected by guys like Shaw.
Draft picks aren't the Suns' biggest asset right now; Sarver is. He's the one who holds the power to decide if the Suns turn to greatness to get things turned around, or continue on the path they're on. Hopefully in the coming days and weeks, Sarver will give Jackson the chance to do for the Suns what he's already done for the Bulls and Lakers.
Maybe Lindsey Hunter winds up being the best coach in Suns history.
Maybe he takes this current collection of role players, head cases, has-beens and never-will-bes and gives Suns fans a reason to be excited about the future.
Maybe he proves Robert Sarver, Lance Blanks and Lon Babby to be basketball geniuses for having the foresight to fire Alvin Gentry and appoint him head coach before things got really ugly.
Of course, in order for that to happen, Hunter has to hope good buddy/general manager Lance Blanks goes out and gets him a marquee player this off-season. So far, the trio of Sarver, Blanks and Babby have been unable -- or unwilling -- to either lure or acquire (via trade) anything resembling a franchise-changing player, although Suns fans have been told things will change this summer.
Luis Scola, Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic are nice pieces, but clearly incapable of taking over games in crunch time.
One of my favorite NBA coaches of all-time unleashed on the Suns for firing Gentry.
During Friday's ESPN telecast Jeff Van Gundy said, "…why fire Alvin Gentry? I'm trying to understand what he did wrong…I really do believe there's going to be some management soon enough that sticks with a guy even when he's the coach of a bad team, because they know he's a good coach."
I covered Van Gundy when he coached the Rockets. Just about every time a coach was fired during the season he called out the team president or general manager of that team. He could never figure out how those responsible for giving the coach so little to work with, never pointed the finger at themselves, but were more than willing for their coach to fall on the sword.
Ironically, the only time I remember Van Gundy giving ownership a pass for having a quick trigger finger with a coach was when the Suns parted ways with Terry Porter halfway through his first season on the job.
Sometimes bad fits are obvious to everyone except those making the hire.
To the best of my knowledge Suns players liked, respected and responded to Gentry. Despite the pitiful record, they played hard every night (save the 40-point debacle in Detroit).
Despite the constant slow starts and poor finishes, these Suns were competitive and fought to the very end.
Judging by what they said following Hunter's first practice on Sunday, they're looking forward to his hard-nosed, no-nonsense approach.
We'll see how that approach Hunter took during a 17-year playing career translates over the next three months. We'll see how guys respond to that in March when they're 25 games under .500.
Not only do I strongly disagree with the Gentry firing, but the fact that both Dan Majerle and Elston Turner were passed over by the Sarver/Blanks/Babby trio was a poor decision and should cause Suns fans to be suspicious at best, wary at worst, that this management team is qualified to get this franchise back to where it needs to be.
Maybe only one of the three guys made the decision to go with Hunter.
I honestly don't know.
I do know Babby has been extremely open and honest about his disappointment level about where this team is at during his weekly visits on Arizona Sports 620 with Doug & Wolf. I genuinely believe he cares about the direction and future of this franchise. He sounded devastated during his conversation with Doug & Wolf Friday.
I honestly don't know how much say Babby had in promoting Hunter. I do know that the recent, and seemingly current lottery seasons(s) are on his watch, and that it's eating at him.
I'm also aware that Majerle has long been devoted to this franchise and this city as a player, broadcaster and assistant coach.
As for Turner, aside from being Gentry's right hand man the last two seasons, he's also spent significant time as one of Rick Adelman's top assistants in both Houston and Sacramento -- and had success in both places. Turner has also interviewed for head-coaching vacancies in recent years.
You're telling me that either one of those guys were less qualified less deserving than Hunter, a player development scout (last season) and director (this season), with absolutely no coaching experience to speak of?
Or maybe does it just pay to have friends in high places?
Again, I'm not saying that Hunter will fail, nor am I pulling for him to. I just hope that the powers that be are as committed to putting a product on the floor that fans can be proud of as they claim publicly to be.
As if an eight-game skid following a 4-0 start isn't infuriating enough, how about a championship-caliber defense being wasted on this alleged offense the Arizona Cardinals are force feeding their fans on a weekly basis?
Two weeks ago, the Cardinals defense forced six turnovers only to fall short in Atlanta. On Sunday against the Jets, Ray Horton's unit came up with four more takeaways, including three interceptions (to go along with three sacks) against a hapless and ultimately benched Mark Sanchez.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Greg McElroy proved to be the difference maker for the Jets, throwing the go-ahead touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter.
I could spend the remainder of this column ripping the Cardinals offense. I could talk about how they only mustered five first downs and 137 yards of total offense. I could crack lame jokes about how they were 0-for-15 on third down conversions, or how according to ESPN Stats & Info, rookie Ryan Lindley was just the second quarterback since the merger to throw for less than 75 yards with at least 30 pass attempts. Lindley was 10-of-31 for 72 yards and an interception. I could also point the spotlight on a ground attack that mustered 81 yards -- 40 of which came on run by safety Rashad Johnson on a fake point -- against the league's 30th ranked rushing defense. But we're past the point of pointing fingers aren't we?
What's needed are solutions, and unfortunately the only solution I can offer this season is to get Kevin Kolb back on the field as soon as he's healthy enough to go.
Sorry John Skelton fans, Ken Whisenhunt made it crystal clear after the game that Skelton wasn't an option today and doesn't appear to be one going forward.
"You always do what you think gives you the best chance," Whisenhunt said. "That's what we did."
Kolb is the only quarterback on this roster that gives the Cardinals the best chance to win. They're 4-2 in games in which he's played this season, and at this point I don't think anyone in that locker room would disagree with starting him.
Aside from avoiding a 12-game losing streak to finish the season, the Cardinals also need Kolb back to see if he's their guy going forward into next season.
I have maintained all along that the Cardinals would have been fighting for a playoff spot if Kolb had managed to stay healthy. Based on how he started the season, I believe the losses to the Vikings, Falcons, Rams and Jets would have gone the other direction. That's obviously a huge "but."
Kolb has had trouble staying on the field the last two seasons, which must also be taken into consideration.
These next four weeks should be an audition for every offensive player not named Larry Fitzgerald, and every coach not named Ray Horton.
The quote of the season came from Fitzgerald following the 7-6 loss Sunday.
"You gotta laugh to keep from crying," the All-Pro wideout said.
There may be several grown men crying about a month from now.
It may not have resulted in a win, but Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt made the call of the season early in Sunday's game at the Georgia Dome.
After four first quarter possessions, quarterback John Skelton got the hook in favor of rookie Ryan Lindley.
Skelton suffered yet another bout of ineffectiveness, completing just 2-of-7 passes for six yards. But the problem wasn't necessarily Skelton's completion percentage. The problem was his on-going struggles with accuracy, which led to several missed opportunities. And this time, there were no receivers dropping passes to blame.
The play that stands out like a sore thumb is a first quarter throw into the end zone intended for a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald that wound up soaring out of bounds. Earlier, Skelton had a chance to hit Fitzgerald for a first down but missed on that one as well. Neither throw appeared to be all that difficult.
The Cardinals defense intercepted Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan three times in the first quarter but had only a 13-0 lead to show for it. They wound up with five picks and a fumble recovery on the afternoon. A team with half an offense would have won by a minimum of three touchdowns with that kind of defensive performance.
Unless Lindley gets hurt, Skelton should not see the field again this season.
At 4-6, chances are slim to none this team is bound for the playoffs, although no one inside the organization would dare admit that now, nor should they. Both the division and the conference are way too competitive for a team with less than 10 wins to reach the postseason. So unless you think the Cardinals have a six-game winning streak in them with December road games at New York, Seattle and San Francisco, then hear me out.
Skelton has had multiple opportunities to take the starting quarterback job from Kevin Kolb. He didn't have a good preseason. He wasn't off to a good start in Week 1 before getting hurt. And, with the exception of a decent second half in Green Bay two weeks ago, he's been inaccurate way too often since Kolb got hurt five weeks ago. There's no reason to believe the Cardinals can win with Skelton under center. In fact, they haven't yet this season.
Although Lindley wasn't anything special against the Falcons, he wasn't expected to be. He hadn't seen any game action since the preseason, and presumably did not receive many snaps with the first team offense in practice during the bye week. He looked like a sixth-round draft pick making his NFL debut.
Unfortunately Skelton has looked like a rookie since August. I think that given a full week to practice with the starters, we'll see a better Lindley next Sunday against the Rams.
In fact, Lindley should play until Kolb is healthy enough to return, especially if the Cardinals have the slightest inkling he could be their signal caller of the future. Maybe they have already secretly decided to move on from Kolb after the season.
There are still more questions than answers surrounding their future at quarterback.
Would Larry Fitzgerald be okay with a rookie under center the rest of the way? He only caught one ball for 11 yards on Sunday. Of course it was Lindley who threw it to him.
And did you read his body language when Skelton missed him in the end zone?
John Skelton is a nice guy. I think he works hard and does his best to prepare as thoroughly as he can. He's got a good arm. The Cardinals had an impressive run with him running the show down the stretch last year -- thanks in larger part to Patrick Peterson and a great defense -- but the proof is in the pudding this year.
2012 started with so much promise, but has gone down in a hurry. Now it's time for the Cardinals to give fans a reason to have hope for the future.
Sometimes one play is the difference between a win and a loss.
During Sunday's 31-17 loss to the Packers, I believe it was one play call that proved costly. Late in the third quarter, the Cardinals trailed 24-14 and faced a 3rd-and-1 from the Packers' 2-yard line. For some reason either Mike Miller or Ken Whisenhunt -- or maybe both -- felt that giving LaRod Stephens-Howling the ball on a run up the middle was a good call.
Three problems with that: The Packers stacked the line. The Cardinals offensive line still can't run block. And, Stephens-Howling is hardly a power back. Needless to say he was stuffed for no gain, and Arizona settled for a short Jay Feely field goal to pull within 24-17.
Two plays later, it was 31-17 after Aaron Rodgers connected with Tom Crabtree on a 72-yard touchdown pass. Neither team scored again.
I'm not saying the Cardinals would have won had they scored a touchdown instead of a field goal on that possession, but this team has essentially no margin for error. So that if we're going to get on players for making bad reads or dropping passes, coaches can't afford to make calls that have very little chance of working -- especially on third down.
I do think the coaches did a much better job of getting Larry Fitzgerald more involved this week. He had six catches for 74 yards and a touchdown, after combining for just nine receptions the last two weeks. I also thought they put John Skelton in a much better position to succeed than they did last week ago against San Francisco. They didn't give up on the run game, and in the second half, we saw a much more poised, confident and accurate Skelton than we've seen so far.
That being said, the Cardinals offense is still bad and the defense is starting to spring a few leaks.
I'd be lying if I said the bye week couldn't be coming at a better time. The Cardinals could have used the time off three weeks ago.
Unfortunately, the Atlanta Falcons -- undefeated as of Sunday afternoon -- await the Cardinals in two weeks. If the Cardinals have any hopes whatsoever of playing meaningful games in December, then pulling off what will be considered a major upset at the Georgia Dome is the only option.
It's on the players to quit missing tackles, making bad reads, dropping passes and whiffing on blocks. It's on the coaches to make better calls when the offense actually has a chance to put points on the board.
John Skelton and the Arizona Cardinals are not a recipe for winning football.
I'm not saying Skelton can't or won't ever be a winning quarterback, nor am I saying the Cardinals won't have any more success. That would be a bit presumptuous. What I am saying is that Skelton needs more talent around him than the Cardinals can offer. If Peyton Manning (presumably) knew his neck would've been in grave danger with this offensive line, how can Skelton expect to thrive?
But Skelton's struggles aren't all on the offensive line. While the Cardinals generated a lame seven rushing yards during Monday's 24-3 loss to the 49ers, they were able to run effectively last week against the Vikings, yet he still struggled to find consistency (and points) in the passing game.
While seemingly everyone and their brother dog-piled on Kevin Kolb's lack of pocket presence and inability to read opposing defenses in the preseason, it's been painfully apparent the last two weeks that Skelton has similar issues. He tends to hang onto the ball too long in the pocket, and either forces the ball in places he shouldn't or overlooks open receivers. His accuracy also leaves a lot to be desired. He's completed just 55 percent of his passes this season with one touchdown and three interceptions. His quarterback rating is a less-than-stellar 61.5.
During Monday's beatdown, Skelton barely completed half his passes -- at least while the game was still somewhat competitive. In the first half, he was 5-of-10 for 50 yards and an interception on a weak Hail Mary throw. While he completed his first three passes in the third quarter, including a nice 27-yarder to Jeff King, his next three attempts amounted to two completions for a grand total of three yards, and most importantly zero points.
The biggest problem was that the Cardinals needed to get off to a quick start, and at the very least, avoid falling into an early hole. Neither happened.
Unfortunately, quick starts haven't happened as long as Skelton has been under center. In his 14 career starts, the Cardinals have scored a grand total of 33 first quarter points. That's unacceptable.
Over the last eight quarters, the Cardinals offense has managed all of 17 points. That, is also unacceptable.
While Kevin Kolb isn't exactly Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, I find it hard to believe the Cardinals would be riding a four-game losing streak heading into Green Bay if he were still healthy. Of course staying off the injury report has been problematic for Kolb, and that's something that will undoubtedly be written and talked about more in the coming weeks and months.
As for the here and now, Skelton should get another chance Sunday against the Packers. But if the offense continues to stall, and the Cardinals fall to 4-5 heading into their bye week, Ken Whisenhunt should consider starting Ryan Lindley. While many would argue that starting a rookie so soon would be waving the white flag on the season, what do you call continuing to ride with the offense we've seen the last two weeks?
The Cardinals offense needed to come out and make a statement. It needed to score on its first possession -- preferably a touchdown. So after getting the ball on the Vikings 48 following a bad punt, John Skelton led the Redbirds on an incredible three-play, two-yard drive that took all of 80 seconds off the clock leading to a punt.
Following a Vikings' 88-yard touchdown drive, the Cardinals offense came back with a legitimate 13-play drive that should have led to a score, but apparently John Skelton forgot that he had 1) a bad offensive line and 2) an internal clock. He fumbled after taking a hit from Brian Robison.
Fortunately, Paris Lenon intercepted Christian Ponder's next pass, ultimately leading to a LaRod Stephens-Howling short touchdown run.
That score came at the 12:41 mark of the second quarter. Arizona's next score came with 2:08 left -- in the ballgame -- and the Vikings up 21-7.
What was most frustrating about the 21-14 loss was that despite another hideous performance by the offensive line (seven sacks allowed), the Cardinals actually outgained the Vikings 356-209. They also had 21 first downs compared to just 12 for Minnesota. They even had a 10-minute edge in time of possession.
Unfortunately, they couldn't capitalize. Even though Jay Feely missed a field goal right before halftime, I thought Ken Whisenhunt's decision to go for it on 4th and 2 at the Minnesota 18-yard line in the 3rd quarter sent the wrong message on several fronts:
1) I thought it showed a lack of confidence in Feely after two straight missed field goals (dating back to last week).
2) I thought it showed panic. Sure, the Vikings had a two-touchdown lead, but there was still eight minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
3) It was an awful play-call. For the first time all season, you actually had some semblance of a running game, and you called for Skelton (who can't run) to roll out with a glorified backup fullback as his option. Reagan Maui'a was well covered and Skelton was leveled for no gain.
The Cardinals defense, despite allowing Adrian Peterson to rush for 153 yards and a touchdown, played well enough to win. They also held Ponder to 58 yards passing and picked him off twice. That's unacceptable. It's unacceptable that your defense continues to make plays and do its job, while the offense stumbles around all over itself. It's unacceptable that arguably the best receiver in the league is held to four catches for 29 yards.
I'm not saying it's time for Cardinals fans to panic. They're still 4-3 and only a game behind the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers with four division games left. The defense will continue to keep them in games.
The Cardinals next game is a week from Monday against the 49ers. It's a home game. It's Primetime. It's also a must win.
Losses hurt in the NFL. Every last one of them.But the Cardinals 19-16 overtime defeat to the Bills on Sunday stings just a little bit more than most do.
There's plenty of blame to go around, but why point fingers?
Why point fingers at an offensive line that features the two worst tackles in football? If you don't believe me, just ask Kevin Kolb's mouth and ribs -- which have doubled as punching bags in the last two games.
Oops. I was trying to avoid the blame game.
But seriously, is it too much to ask Reagan Maui'a, who only played because Anthony Sherman was out, to not spike the ball after a seven-yard catch near midfield? I know Maui'a only has a handful or so career catches, but when your offense struggles to move the ball forward, you're supposed to embrace all the positive yards you can.
After the game, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt called the delay penalty, "stupidity." That was a lot more G-rated than what the TV cameras caught him saying to Maui'a during the game.
There were also the usual suspects -- dropped passes, poor run blocking (as usual), a misread between Kolb and running back William Powell on the play where Kolb got knocked out of the game and bad reads by both Kolb and John Skelton which resulted in interceptions.
I hate to throw Jay Feely under the bus, especially since his 61-yard field goal with 74 seconds left in regulation tied things up, but it's tough to not lose sleep after a missed 38-yard field goal that would've won it -- although Feely is convinced the kick was tipped after a low snap.
LaRod Stephens-Howling's drop on a screen pass came right before Skelton's game deciding pick.
There was some good news. The running game showed signs of life - namely Powell and Kolb - combining for 136 of the Cardinals 182 rushing yards.
The toughest thing to swallow about this one is knowing the Bills limped into University of Phoenix Stadium having allowed 97 points in their last two games, and weren't even competitive last week (a 45-3 beat down in San Francisco). This should have been a get well game for the Cardinals.
The good news is - despite back to back losses - the Red Birds are still tied for first place in the NFC West. The bad news is their confidence has to be shaken, their starting quarterback is in a lot of pain, and D'Anthony Batiste and Bobby Massie are still their starting tackles (at least as of Sunday evening).
Next Sunday they visit the Minnesota Vikings, who also lost on Sunday. Like the Cardinals, the Vikings are off to a surprising 4-2 start, but have also proven to be vulnerable.
The Cardinals need to remember last year's 34-10 loss at the Metrodome that dropped them to 1-4. They also need to remember that while it's practically impossible to play a completely perfect game physically in this league, mentally there is absolutely no margin for error.
Although the defense has given up some big plays in each of the last three weeks, they've also made big plays - in crucial situations.
I don't believe the clock has struck midnight for the Cardinals, but they are at a crossroads. At the end of last season, I wrote that my expectations are high for this team. They still are.
Kevin Kolb wasn't sharp. The defense allowed too many big plays, and Jay Feely even missed a field goal. But the main reason the Cardinals fell flat Thursday night in St. Louis was because the offensive line -- once again -- allowed their quarterback to lay flat most of the night.
The Rams sacked Kolb nine times in their 17-3 win. Four days earlier, Kolb was dropped eight times. Cardinals quarterbacks have been sacked 23 times this season in just five games. That's nearly five per game. They're on pace to allow 74. The all-time record is 104, set by the Eagles in 1986. The 1997 Cardinals allowed 78 sacks.
In 2002, I covered a young quarterback by the name of David Carr. He was the number one overall pick in that year's draft, but never quite lived up to expectations. I believe it's because he was sacked 76 times as a rookie. He was hit a whole lot more than that. He was shell-shocked.
Kolb missed some throws on Thursday night. He had Larry Fitzgerald for an easy touchdown in the first quarter, but didn't see him pop open. He made a bad throw to Rob Housler on another seam route, and he and Andre Roberts weren't on the same page on a second quarter throw to the end zone. Not to mention, a couple of other throws could have been intercepted.
So Kolb isn't Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. That shouldn't be surprising. But the guy needs a chance to throw. He has shown a lot more poise in the pocket so far this season than we saw in the preseason. I don't know how much more longer that will last unless the offensive line, namely Bobby Massie and D'Anthony Batiste, learn how to pass protect.
It might also help if the Cardinals could actually run the ball. Credit the Rams for turning to Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson in the third quarter when Sam Bradford was struggling.
Not that the Cardinals tried to run the ball much, but when they did, it was pathetic at best. Just 45 yards on 17 carries for an average of 2.6 per carry. Totally unacceptable. If you can't pass protect, at least be able to run block.
Just as love covers a multitude of sins, wins cover a multitude of glaring weaknesses.
Maybe Thursday's loss will serve as a wake up call that something needs to be done about the line. The Rams entered Thursday's game with six sacks on the season.
The Buffalo Bills are up next at University of Phoenix Stadium. Their much heralded defensive acquisitions are off to a slow start. Right now, they probably feel like the Cardinals could be a get well game for the likes of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson.
Kolb should be back under center in that Bills game -- even if John Skelton's ankle is good to go. But after watching what Kolb has endured the last two games, would Skelton even want to admit he's healthy?
The Arizona Cardinals are 4-0 -- thanks and no thanks to Kevin Kolb.
On one hand Kolb was awful, throwing two bad interceptions, including a dreadful decision while going for the kill-shot in the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals were facing a second and goal from inside the Dolphins five-yard line when Kolb rolled to his right and tried to force a throw into Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone. The problem was Fitz got knocked down by Sean Smith, meaning Smith was the last man standing (figuratively speaking), and he wound up with the ball.
Kolb called it, "the worst throw of my career."
And it couldn't have come at a worse time as a 14-13 lead turned quickly into a 21-14 deficit with 7:05 left in the fourth quarter after Ryan Tannehill connected with Brian Hartline on an 80-yard touchdown pass.
They say timing is everything, and at times on Sunday Kolb was absolutely spectacular.
Despite being sacked eight times and having no running game to work with, Kolb guided an improbable game-tying drive with just 22 seconds left in regulation. The drive began back at midfield thanks to a Tannehill fumble.
Kolb was sacked on the first two plays from scrimmage before hitting Andre Roberts on two fourth down plays. One was a nine-yard completion, the other, was a 15-yard touchdown strike following three straight incompletions.
"I'd say that was probably the best pass of my career," Kolb said after the 24-21 victory.
Earlier in the fourth, Kolb found Roberts for a 46-yard touchdown.
Kolb also helped get the Cardinals in position for Jay Feely's game-winning 46-yard field goal in overtime.
By most accounts, Kolb did not have a good day, and would've been crushed by many fans and talking heads had the Cardinals lost.
The defense also struggled. I mean, how do you allow a rookie quarterback playing in a ball-control offense to light you up for 431 yards, including 253 to Brian Hartline (whom I'm guessing many fantasy owners are kicking themselves for not starting today)?
Yeah, but at least they forced four turnovers including two late that had a direct result on the outcome.
The defense played a huge role in the win. So did Kolb. He shook off the sacks, the pitiful running game and the bad throws to lead four second half scoring drives. He didn't fold. He didn't pout. He didn't complain or point fingers at a certain right tackle.
He wound up throwing for 324 yards and three touchdowns. His quarterback rating was 84.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt called him "a fighter and a competitor."
Kolb just did what he's been doing for four consecutive weeks -- helped the Cardinals win a football game.
Coming up on Thursday in St. Louis, he'll try to do the same.
The debate is over. And like it or not Cardinals fans, Kevin Kolb is the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals.
While head coach Ken Whisenhunt didn't say those words immediately following Sunday's 27-6 domination of the Eagles, he easily could have and maybe even should have.
In Week 1, Kolb came off the bench cold in the fourth quarter and led the game-winning drive. Last week, Kolb managed the game well and even threw a touchdown pass during the improbable win in Foxboro. Against his former team on Sunday, Kolb did a lot more than just protect the pigskin, he made big plays. Winning plays.
Not bad for a guy who was as good as garbage in the eyes of many Cards' fans just two weeks ago.
"I'll put this into words in the offseason," Kolb said. "Hopefully it comes with a ring and a lot more wins."
He's focused on the big picture.
In the first half, Kolb threw for 177 yards and two touchdowns. That included a 37-yard dart to Larry Fitzgerald that gave the Redbirds a very comfortable 17-0 second quarter lead.
That leads me to another point: Kolb managed to get the ball to his star receiver just one time last week. Sunday, Fitz caught nine passes for 114 yards. Getting number 11 more looks was a point of emphasis in practice last week, and Kolb made it happen against Philadelphia.
Of course, he was quick to redirect the credit to his coaches for coming up with the right game plan to get him open.
Kolb also overcame a major handicap -- the running game. In the first half, when the Cards scored all but three of their 27 points, they managed just 32 rushing yards on 13 carries. Despite the inept ground attack, Kolb managed to complete passes to six different receivers. He didn't turn the ball over and continues to look more and more comfortable in the pocket.
For those fans yet to hop on the Kevin Kolb bandwagon, I can throw an avalanche of statistics showing you why he has done enough to reclaim the starting job. He has a 108.6 quarterback rating, turned the ball over just once in nine quarters (a second quarter fumble vs. the Patriots) and made some big throws in big situations.
Most importantly though, Kolb is winning. Last time I checked, that counts for a heck of a lot. He's also now the answer to a trivia question. As in, "Who was the first quarterback to lead his team to a 3-0 start since 1974?"
Kevin Kolb did not overwhelm the New England Patriots on Sunday. He probably won't keep Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo up until all hours of the night this week as he assembles his game plan for next Sunday's game at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Kolb wasn't spectacular in the Cardinals improbable 20-18 win in Foxborough, but he was effective. He didn't light up the scoreboard or the stat sheet, but with the exception of a second quarter fumble, he protected the football. He wasn't especially accurate, but he made big throws when they counted. He also knew when to throw the ball away and not force it into coverage.
Considering the Cardinals want to be a run first team that relies heavily on its defense, there's no reason Kolb should not be under center against the Eagles, even if John Skelton is healthy. After all, Kolb is directly responsible for both wins.
Has Skelton done anything to lose the starting quarterback job? Not at all. But he also did nothing in the three-and-a-half quarters of action he saw in Week 1 to put a stranglehold on the position.
I know the popular sentiment is that no starter should lose his job to injury, but if every coach followed that mantra, Tom Brady might not be destined for Canton. I'm not saying Kolb will become Brady, but I do see a winning formula so far.
If Skelton gets credit for finishing strong last season, shouldn't Kolb get the same consideration for starting strong this year? The one case that can be made for Skelton starting against the Eagles is what he did to them last season -- 315 passing yards and three touchdowns in a come-from-behind win. But that was last year. Kolb has the hot hand this season.
No doubt coach Ken Whisenhunt has pushed almost all the right buttons since the middle of last season. I'm not saying he pushed the wrong one by starting the season with Skelton under center, but I do think it would be a mistake to go back to him at this point.
I have a few questions for Cardinals fans: Did Kevin Kolb rack up 14 yards of offense and no first downs in the third quarter of Sunday's win over Seattle? Was Kevin Kolb the one who threw a bad interception while trying to throw a ball away? Did Kevin Kolb roll over on John Skelton's ankle and force him out of the game? I didn't think so.
Answer me this: When your team is trailing in the fourth quarter and hasn't been able to move the ball at all in the second half, why in the name of common sense would you boo the one player capable of getting your team back in the game?
There are two possible answers: A) You know nothing about the game of football. Or B) you do know something, but are so hell-bent on hating a guy because he got a big contract a year ago and hasn't lived up to expectations, that you can't bear the thought of pulling for him.
Either way, for those who booed Kolb, it was a low-class move. It's not like he's been Derek Anderson bad.
Fortunately, Kolb tuned out the white noise and mostly led the game-winning 80-yard drive, including the go-ahead touchdown pass to Andre Roberts.
After the 20-16 win, Kolb said he wasn't aware of the jeers at the time, but even after he was told about them, he shrugged it off.
"It's a ‘what can you do for me now league'. I understand that. Hopefully people learned a little bit about my personality today," Kolb said.
Kolb's teammates were just as excited for him. The first thing veteran safety Adrian Wilson addressed when he walked up to the post-game podium: "I want to talk about Kevin Kolb. Let's talk about how poetic he was."
Larry Fitzgerald seemed to take it a step further. "Kevin's our guy now. We're gonna ride with him."
Seeing as how Kolb's teammates are behind him, maybe it's time that fans are too.
I'm not writing on whether or not Kolb should've been named the starter instead of Skelton. I'm not even saying he should be the guy once Skelton is healthy enough to play.
What I am saying is that Kolb appears to be the starting quarterback for the immediate future. Maybe fans need to get over themselves and whatever expectations they've placed on him (realistic or not), and pull for him to succeed.
Get over your bitterness, frustration, ignorance, stupidity or whatever it is that had you pulling against the most important player on the field at the most important part of the game, and try something original, like cheering for him.
Here's to Kevin Kolb stepping up his game in crunch time. Hopefully Cardinals fans will start doing the same.
It would be easy to criticize and belittle the Arizona Diamondbacks for how this season has gone, especially the recent disaster of a homestand that effectively ended any realistic shot at the postseason.
Less experienced and/or more ignorant members of the media would take pot shots at a team fresh off a 2-8 stretch at home, including a sweep at the hands of the lowly Padres for the second time this season.
And while I hardly consider myself the world's foremost authority on the great game of baseball, I have been covering it long enough to know the difference between a team deserving of our hate, and one that simply hasn't been able to consistently recapture the magic that raised our expectations to apparently unrealistic levels in the first place.
What I've found to be the most infuriating aspect of baseball (aside from pitchers that take 30 seconds between pitches) is that the harder a player or team tries to get out of a slump, the worse things seem to get, thus the more it looks like they're not trying as hard as they should.
Case and point, Jason Kubel, Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Montero combined to go 10-for-83 (.120 average) with four extra base hits, six RBIs and 24 strikeouts on the last homestand. Those are the same guys who have combined for 58 homers and 220 RBIs. In other words, the D-backs' top three run producers in 2012.
Does that mean they're chokers? Does it mean they don't care? Of course not. They just ran into a bad stretch at the worst possible time. It happens. The Giants' offense went in the tank last season fresh off winning a World Series in 2010. Seems to me they've bounced back quite nicely.
The D-backs have also been awful in one-run games this season (10-20 as of August 29th). Their offense is practically non-existent in "close and late" situations, a National League-worst .199 batting average. Even the Astros aren't that bad.
That's not to say guys haven't underperformed. Bigger and better things were expected from Justin Upton, Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill. Stephen Drew's recovery from ankle surgery took longer than expected, and even when he did return, it wasn't to form.
That being said, I have yet to see a single player on this team throw in the towel. Guys are still running out ground balls. In the field, they're diving for balls that other teams and players in similar situations wouldn't bother with. They're trying to make things happen on the bases -- although that doesn't usually turn out very well.
I know Upton has been a popular target this season. Some of it is deserved. Some of it is because he's still a young player who may still have a thing or two to learn about dealing with success. Chris Young's white-hot start to the season was derailed by a shoulder injury that probably wasn't completely healed even after he returned from the disabled list.
General Manager Kevin Towers has done everything in his power to try and upgrade the roster by making trades, and deeming just about everyone not named Paul Goldschmidt or Tyler Skaggs open for business. He even tried to inspire the troops by calling his shot on "Doug and Wolf", a second straight trip to the postseason for the D-backs.
This isn't a team that lacks leadership or direction. Kirk Gibson and his staff came arrived at Spring Training with the correct, "put 2011 in the past" approach. I think the players said the right things, but for whatever reason(s) have struggled to deal with being the hunted instead of the hunters.
The good news is the Giants and Dodgers will grab all the attention in 2013, so the D-backs can get back to flying under the radar again. It seems to be the best place for them.
How do you motivate NFL starters in the preseason? Just use the words "as long as it takes" when it comes to playing time.
At least the Cardinals defensive starters seemed to take Ken Whisenhunt's words to heart.
The head coach was in a bad mood all week. The turnstile effort against the Saints and Chiefs led Whisenhunt to proclaim not once, but twice that his starters would NOT come off the field against the Raiders until they got it right. On Wednesday, I got the feeling he wasn't overly thrilled about cancelling the morning practice for the annual pilgrimage to the movies.
Friday night against the Raiders, it didn't take long for the defense to start resembling the one that was among the league's best in the second half of last season. It forced the Silver and Black three and out on their opening drive. That stoppage led to a long punt return from Patrick Peterson, which ultimately resulted in a Ryan Williams touchdown (free plug for the offense).
"They set the tone on defense," Whisenhunt said.
Oakland was able to move the ball on its second possession. Carson Palmer and Darren McFadden marched the ball from their own 18 all the way down to the one yard line. A Darnell Dockett personal foul and William Gay pass interference call also aided the Raiders. Two stuffed running plays and an incompletion later had the Raiders settling for a Sebastian Janikowski field goal.
"That's the signature we want as a defense," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "We want to come out, and no matter where they are, be able to get a stop."
The Raiders settled for another three-pointer on their ensuing possession after starting on their own 39.
The Cardinals defense really started flexing its muscles in the second quarter after forcing back-to-back turnovers -- a Rhodes 60-yard interception return followed by Daryl Washington forcing a Mike Goodson fumble.
While it was more of a "bend but don't break" than a smothering defensive performance, we got a much better idea of what "as long as it takes" meant. The starters were off the field early in the second quarter.
"It was encouraging to see them respond," Whisenhunt said.
At least fans can start to feel good about the Cardinals' play on one side of the ball.
It's not like the Phoenix Suns had aspirations of competing for the Pacific Division title before the Los Angeles Lakers acquired Dwight Howard. What, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley had Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash worried there was all of a sudden a new threat to their division dominance?
Get real. Even the most irrational Suns fans knew their favorite team had no chance to compete with L.A. before Thursday night's blockbuster trade, let alone now. The Suns should throw a parade if they finish within 10 points in any of their meetings with the Lakers this coming season.
Yes, the rich get richer. And no, it's not always fair. But the rich also find ways to pad their account instead of crying, pouting and then settling for mediocrity when things don't go their way.
It's not as if the path to greatness has always been easy for the purple and gold. Since winning their first of three straight championships in 2000, the Lakers have had had star players:
1. Hate each other (Kobe and Shaq)
2. Demand to be traded (Kobe and Shaq)
3. Demean teammates by essentially calling them inferior (Kobe)
4. Mentally check out of playoff games (Pau and Bynum)
5. Shoot stupid three-pointers, get benched and defy their coach by saying they'll do it again (Bynum)
They've also had coach/player soap operas (Phil Jackson-Kobe and Shaq), coach/owner's daughter soap operas (Phil-Jeanie Buss) and team/commissioner/de facto Hornets owner drama (botched Gasol/Odom trade to Hornets/Rockets for Chris Paul thanks to David Stern).
That's just to name a few.
Despite all of the above (and then some), the Lakers have won four NBA Championships, seven Western Conference titles and the division eight times - since 2000.
What's your point, Foster? My point is the Lakers find ways to make things work. They resolve problems, know when to fish or cut bait with star players, and effectively deal with massive egos that come with the seemingly unlimited talent.
The Suns have to figure out a way to do the same. Howard, Andrew Bynum, Chris Paul, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith and Andre Iguodala are all unrestricted free agents next summer. James Harden is restricted. The Suns should target one, maybe two of those players. Yes, some of those guys are potential headaches, but greatness always comes with a price. It also comes with great reward.
There are several reasons the D-backs enter the
weekend in Philadelphia within striking distance of the
National League West lead:
1) Manager Kirk Gibson has
maintained a cool and steady hand throughout the season,
not panicking when his team and one of his star players
(Justin Upton) were at their worst.
2) Jason Kubel. He
leads the D-backs with 22 homeruns and 72 RBIs. Not bad
for a guy who many people felt received too big a contract
during the offseason (2 years, $15 million) to take
playing time away from Gerardo Parra.
Goldschmidt. He appeared on the verge of being sent to the
minors in mid-May when he was hitting just .223 entering a
series with the Royals. Now, Goldschmidt leads the team
in batting with a .304 average and effectively sucked the
life out of the Dodgers with first inning bombs in the
first two games of the D-backs sweep in L.A. earlier this
Hill (club-leading 117 hits) and rookie pitcher Wade Miley
(12-6 with a 2.98 ERA) have also played HUGE roles.
Since general managers are often one of the first to
receive blame when things go bad, let's give D-backs
"architect" Kevin Towers his due now that he has the club
knocking on the door of first place.
The D-backs are 148-
119 with an improbable division title since Towers was
hired 23 months ago. If they can find a way to win another
one in 2012 after how the first three months went, one
could argue that the D-backs have the best GM in the game.
As of August 2nd, the first place Giants ($118 million)
and second place Dodgers ($94 million) dwarf the D-backs
payroll, which tops out at just under $75 million. There's
also the matter of pulling off those "under the radar"
trades like Kelly Johnson to Toronto for Hill and John
McDonald last season. While grabbing Chris Johnson from a
pathetic Astros team didn't make major headlines when it
happened on Sunday, the Dodgers quickly felt the impact of
it. Johnson went 6 for 11 with two homers and seven RBIs
in the series.
Those are just two transactions over Tower's tenure that
stand out. I haven't even mentioned signing J.J. Putz to
a two-year, $10 million dollar deal before last season.
All Putz has done is racked up 64 saves in 71 chances,
including 45 in 2011. Willie Bloomquist, Henry Blanco,
re-signing Joe Saunders and unloading Mark Reynolds for
David Hernandez are other moves that have the D-backs in
Yes, the players have to perform and the manager has to
fill out lineup cards, but it also helps to have the right
mix of talent on the field. Towers is showing now, just
as he did with the Padres for 14 seasons, that few are
better when it comes to evaluating talent and making it
Baseball is my first love. The two teams I follow most
(Astros and Diamondbacks) have been awful and mediocre,
respectively. Given the choice, I take the former because
at least you know where they stand. To follow an up and
down team is to subject one's self to torment, especially
when you know said team (D-backs) should be better.
Then there were my hometown Rockets and Suns (whom I want
to succeed for professional reasons) this past season --
the epitome of mediocrity and uncertainty. I can't tell
you how many times I swore off being a hard core fan in
February, March and April.
Can July 25th hurry up and get here already?!
the Cardinals hit the field for the first day of training
camp. I know they're already getting a head start on most
other teams, but that's how ready I am for something else
to focus on. While this year's camp promises to be
somewhat different than in years past (thanks to new
player-friendly CBA rules), it's still football, as well
as a reprieve from sports-fan purgatory of following
Now, I truly love the gridiron. It's not just a rebound
sport for me when baseball season isn't going my way.
Plus, as frustrating as it may be for Ken Whisenhunt to
have to deal with, I eagerly anticipate watching the
Cardinals' quarterback competition unfold. While it's too
bad it has
to come down to Kevin Kolb vs. John Skelton -- especially
considering what the Cards paid for Kolb -- it will
be entertaining to watch coaches and fans live and die
with every snap during every practice, scrimmage and
preseason game. What will be even better is hearing how
many different ways Coach Whiz can answer the same
questions, posed in different forms and fashions each day.
Truth be told, I have high expectations for the Cards.
Unlike many experts and prognosticators, I expect them to
play more than 16 regular season and five preseason games.
I believe Kolb will be better than last year. I believe a
healthy combo of Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams will be a
big reason why. While I'm not quite sure what to make of
the offensive line (and that is a big question), I am
confident the defense will pick up where it left off in
the second half of last season.
Baseball, I still love you. D-backs, I still believe you
can keep things interesting in August and September.
Unfortunately, I can only take so much of two wins here,
three losses there and the star player drama.
Let the record show I am writing this column about five
hours before D-backs rookie phenom Trevor Bauer toes the
Turner Field rubber for his big league debut.
Truthfully, I don't know what to expect of him in his
first start. I don't know what to expect of him, period,
because I've never seen him pitch. I've seen highlights
and I've seen his numbers, therefore, I'm optimistic he
won't disappoint…over the long haul.
The Braves may have some success against Bauer Thursday,
and in my opinion there's a better chance of that
happening than him opening up a can of Stephen Strasburg
and striking out 14 in his coming out party. I've been
watching baseball for 25 years and generally trust a
lineup of proven hitters over a wide-eyed rookie trying to
live up to expectations. Then again, I don't know Bauer.
D-backs GM Kevin Towers does know him told Doug and
Wolf this week that Bauer has "tunnel-vision."
I hear Bauer still needs to work on how to manage a game.
He needs to be more efficient with his pitches and cut
down on his walks (46 BBs in 93 minor league innings this
season). The Braves have the fourth-best offense in the
National League and are relatively patient at the dish.
That being said, I also know Bauer has an arsenal of
filthy pitches, and 116 strikeouts in those 93 frames
would suggest as much. Towers says Bauer has "six and
seven pitch mixes" compared to "two and three" for most
guys. That's going to be tough on any hitter, regardless
of who they are or how long they've been roughing up major
Towers is also extremely confident in Bauer's mental
makeup, saying "This guy has met every challenge we've
thrown at him. He was a proven winner at ULCA, he won in
the Cal League, he won in the Southern League and he's won
in the PCL (Pacific Coast League), one of the more
difficult places to pitch…"
That's enough to sell me that Bauer is ready for at least
a shot at being more than a stop-gap as the D-backs figure
out how to cope with the loss of Daniel Hudson. If Bauer
goes out Thursday and throws six or seven innings of one
or two run ball, great! If he gets lit up for five or six
runs in four innings, throw him out there again in another
five days to see how he responds.
In a season that's tried the patience of every D-backs fan
out there, enjoy this moment. This kid has the potential
to be really special, even if that special doesn't happen
I have a question for Cardinals fans: What did Kevin Kolb
do deserve getting booed Wednesday night? We're not
talking about a game, and we're not even really talking
about a practice. We're talking about a minicamp workout
at Fan Fest! Kolb probably thought he was back at Lincoln
Financial Field instead of University of Phoenix Stadium.
Besides, when did you turn into Philly fan?
Of course last season was a disappointment. Kolb would be
the first to tell you he should've thrown more than nine
touchdowns and fewer than eight interceptions in only nine
starts. He'd also tell you he should've made more than
nine starts. I'm guessing he didn't overly enjoy battling
turf toe and head injuries last season. I'm going to also
assume Kolb didn't enjoy feeling like a sitting duck in
the pocket because his left tackle didn't/couldn't block
for him. Sure he had happy feet, but wouldn't you?
Kolb would've also benefitted from offseason workouts
after being acquired from Philly last season. Save your
"Cam Newton did just fine without OTA's and Minicamp, and
he was a rookie" comments. Kolb is not Newton. Not even
close. Newton has a legitimate chance to be a Hall of
Fame quarterback. If he stays healthy, I believe Kolb will
become a solid NFL starter (think along the lines of Rich
Gannon) that can help a team win games, but will probably
never carry a team.
It's not like Kolb came to Arizona with a sense of
entitlement. Sure he got a nice contract, but he also knew
the Cards were somewhat desperate for someone who could
give them a chance to win games. He didn't demand
outrageous money. He came in, said the right things and
put in the work to try and hastily learn a brand new
Even Larry Fitzgerald commented during training camp how
impressed he was with Kolb's work ethic. Of course you
want that to translate to the field, but things don't
always work out that way.
I know the fans who booed Kolb in June are the same ones
who'll be sporting No. 4 jerseys in November if he's
helping the Cards rack up wins. They also might be the
same people who demand patience when they're struggling in
a particular area of their life, but aren't as forgiving
Assuming Kolb begins the season as the starter (and I
believe he should), he needs a strong start. This is a
franchise that has high expectations and it should. If
Kolb comes out and struggles, then feel free to express
your frustration. But to lob jeers at a guy in his first
true offseason when he's coming off a head injury is a bit
On paper, you'd be hard pressed to find a more mediocre
ball club. The Arizona Diamondbacks are batting.246 as a
team. The Major League average is .249. They've hit 27
homeruns. Big league average is 27. Team ERA is 3.92. Big
league average is 3.86. They've committed 18 errors which
is exactly the Major League average. Of course the most
telling stat is their record, 14-15 heading into a
homestand which begins Monday against St. Louis.
Are the D-backs really that pedestrian, or are they just
underperforming? You can blame injuries if you want. Chris
Young was the best hitter in baseball not named Matt Kemp
when he hurt his shoulder last month. Justin Upton got off
to a slow start due in large part to a sore thumb. Stephen
Drew still hasn't played since last summer. Their number
two starter, Daniel Hudson is on the disabled list with a
Physical breakdowns or not, the D-backs are still better
than what we're seeing on the field. That being said, I'm
having a very difficult time criticizing them for two
reasons: One, we're only a month into an excruciatingly
long season. On May 7th of last year, the D-backs were 15-
17, presumably on their way to another lowly finish. We
know what wound up happening. Today, they're just under
.500, in third place and just 4.5 games behind a Dodgers
team that many believe are playing over their heads. The
D-backs are also three walk-off losses away from being 17-
12, and a few more late inning meltdowns from having one
of the best records in baseball. So should we be concerned
about the struggles of David Hernandez and J.J. Putz? Not
yet. Both still have live arms and good stuff and may just
be having a hard time finding their groove. Plus the
starters (minus Hudson and Josh Collmenter) have a 2.80
ERA. In other words, starting pitching isn't the issue.
Another reason I'm not ready to call these D-backs "one-
hit wonders" just yet is Kirk Gibson and his staff. They
didn't panic last season when things weren't going well
and there's no reason to believe they're going to start
now. Gibson knows how to handle struggling players (Ryan
Roberts, Paul Goldschmidt and Jason Kubel), who have track
records of producing. We've seen on several occasions
already this season where all three of the aforementioned
players responded to time out of the lineup by coming up
with big hits and/or multi-hit games.
Young is expected back in the next couple of weeks. Upton
continues to creep closer to .300. And so far, all
indications point to Wade Miley holding his own in the
starting rotation. Just as in life, patience is required
in baseball. The D-backs are almost certain to reward fans
for showing the most difficult of virtues.
The Suns made me look bad by failing to reach the playoffs. I've
had their backs all season, writing multiple times that not only will
they reach the postseason, but they'll also be a dangerous
underdog once they get there. Good thing I'm not paid by my
accuracy rate. At least I hope not.
There are many reasons the Suns are taking an early vacation, too
many for me to get into. But I'm not a 'focus on the problem' kind
of guy. I like solutions.
It starts by thanking Steve Nash for all the memories over the last
eight years and moving on. This isn't an easy decision, but it's the
right one - for both sides.
Nash wants to make another deep playoff run or two before
retiring, and the Suns aren't headed in that direction. Now that I
mention it, it's hard to tell which direction the Suns are heading.
They have a ton of cap space this offseason, but so do several other
teams. Besides, who do the Suns have now that would attract a big
name free agent?
I think they're better off taking their chances in the draft, and
signing their potential point guard of the future. Goran Dragic is an
unrestricted free agent who'll be looking for a starting gig
somewhere. I'm also a big fan of Jazz shooting guard C.J. Miles,
whom I believe could thrive here. It would also be a good idea to
put in an offer on Blazers restricted free agent forward Nicolas
Batum. That should still leave enough space to target Utah center Al
Jefferson or power forward Paul Millsap; both will be free agents
Offering Michael Redd a three-year deal (with a team option) would
benefit both parties. The Suns could use his scoring off the bench
and positive influence on the younger players. Redd knows he'd be
in good hands with the training staff here.
Shannon Brown won't have any trouble finding a place to land, nor
should Sebastian Telfair. Those two guys deserve a ton of credit for
the second halves they had, but are little more than stop-gaps for a
franchise in need of rebuilding. It's time to look forward. Dragic
proved with the Rockets this season he's ready to be a floor general
for the foreseeable future. Miles is only 25 and still has a ton of
potential. Those two alone would be a good start.
The Suns could also stand to upgrade their front court. Marcin
Gortat is under contract for two more seasons, and although he
faded down the stretch, he's still serviceable. How about going
after Kris Humphries? Before you start booing me like you probably
did him this season, Humphries averages 11 rebounds (4th in the
league), to go along with 14 points per game. Don't tell me the
Suns couldn't use those boards. Plus, he's only 27. What might
make it tough to sign Humphries is how much money he'll probably
want. He's making eight million dollars this season and may
command at least 10 million-a-year this summer. If that's too
expensive, Jordan Hill (I'm trying to make some friends in Arizona)
would be a low-risk, high-reward option.
It may also be a good idea to gauge other team's interest in
Channing Frye and Jared Dudley. A package deal could net the Suns
an extra draft pick or cap space. Either is fine.
On a personal note…Nash has made watching Suns basketball
entertaining for me since I arrived in the Valley (with no fanfare)
four years ago. The last two years, he even put them in a position
to go somewhere they had no business even sniffing (playoffs).
Steve, do yourself a favor and go somewhere where you can still be
playing in May and June. You deserve it.
Maybe I'll lose all credibility I have for writing this.
Maybe I'll win a Pulitzer. The former is a lot more
likely, but I'm pursuing neither. I'm simply telling you
what I genuinely believe.
Assuming the Suns do enough to crack the postseason (which
incidentally I predicted they would back in January when
they were 4-6), they will be a handful for San Antonio
or Oklahoma City. They obviously won't be favored, nor
should they be. But they will be by far the team with the
least amount of pressure. The aging Spurs can ill-afford a
second straight first round exit after posting a top
seeding, and just about everyone who wears a media badge
(myself included) picked the Thunder to take that next
step and win the Western Conference.
The Suns, on the other hand, have nothing to lose. Nobody
knew what to think of them at the beginning of the season,
nobody thought much of them two months ago when they were
12-19, and nobody will give them a chance in the first
I'm not picking them to win a series (on paper, I'd be a
fool to), but I do expect them to draw things out and
perhaps steal a Game 7 on the road. Of course there's a
method to my apparent madness.
I know they don't match up well with the Duncans or
Durants, nor have they had any success against them this
season (a combined 0-5 entering Wednesday's game vs. OKC).
Tim Duncan has handled Marcin Gortat 69-35 in the points
column, and Russell Westbrook has had little trouble with
Steve Nash, outscoring him 49-20 in the first two
meetings. The Suns don't have much of an answer for other
key players like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, James Harden
and Serge Ibaka either.
Here's what the Suns do have in their favor: no chance -
at least not in the eyes of the rest of the country and
probably their opponents either. The Thunder and Spurs
will say the right things. They'll tell everyone Steve
Nash is still an elite point guard, Grant Hill a great
defender and Alvin Gentry a really good coach. They'll be
correct on all three counts. But will the Spurs/Thunder
really believe that an inferior team left for dead just
weeks ago will be that big a threat to their ultimate
All the Suns have to counter with is an elite guard hungry
to bring his team and the Valley a few more good memories
before he hits free agency and quite possibly leaves for
bluer waters (Miami). Hill's contract is also up and he
wants to do the same. They have Shannon Brown, who's
averaging 15 points over his last 10 games and knows a
great chance drive his price up in free agency when he
sees one. Channing Frye might even decide he wants to make
some sort of impact before the offseason. The Suns also
have a bench that's been among the best in the NBA (37 ppg
since the All-Star Break and nearly 45 ppg over their last
Obviously there's the matter of actually holding off
Houston and Utah and actually making the playoffs, but
assuming they do, these Suns won't be easy outs.
His days of being a team's leading-scorer are behind him,
but that doesn't mean he still can't score on a whim.
Over the past three months, Michael Redd has gone from
washed up veteran just trying to get some reps on a team
going nowhere in a hurry, to the best player off the bench
of a team surging toward the playoffs.
The Suns have rebounded from a 12-19 start, thanks in
large part to improved play from just about everyone Alvin
Gentry sends in off the bench. Sebastian Telfair, Robin
Lopez, and Shannon Brown (pre-Grant Hill injury) have
bounced back from a disastrous opening six weeks.
Not one of those players has had to overcome two knee
surgeries and a full year away from the game to rehab.
Like Hill before he found wonder trainer Aaron Nelson,
Redd's career was left for dead. His first few weeks
provided little reason to believe that Redd would ever be
an impact player in this league again. The last few weeks
have given hope that maybe he could contribute on a semi-
consistent basis. Over the last week, you'd be hard
pressed to find anyone better in the league off the bench.
For the first time in more than three years, Redd has
scored 15 or more points in four straight games. He's
averaging more than 12 points since Hill went down with
his injury seven games ago. Without his massive efforts
Saturday vs. the Lakers and last Wednesday in Utah, the
Suns are likely playing out the string instead of knocking
on the door of the playoffs.
The Suns signed Redd in late December knowing he was a
low-risk, high-reward project. They head into the final
two weeks of the season knowing he's a big reason they
could still be playing a month from now. They also know
he'll be a free agent after the season.
If the Suns plan on trying to re-sign Steve Nash, and land
a big name free agent, they should also bring back Redd.
Two months ago, when the Suns were 4-6, I wrote that they
would still be playing in May. Today (March 14th), they
enter play 19-22. Assuming they stick to their guns and
DON'T trade Steve Nash, I still believe they have a good
shot at the playoffs.
Before you start casting the first stone, hear me out.
First and foremost, they seemed to have found their
offensive touch. They're averaging 101 points per game
over the past month and have climbed right back into the
Western Conference playoff race, winning seven of their
last 10 games. Nash has been the catalyst of course, with
some much needed help from Jared Dudley, Sebastian Telfair
and believe it or not, Robin Lopez. While Channing Frye
has yet to find any kind of consistency from long
distance, he has discovered there's no legislation
prohibiting him from taking the ball to the hoop. Grant
Hill looks like his old self from mid-range, and the bench
isn't getting overwhelmed on a nightly basis anymore.
The Suns are just three games out of the final playoff
spot in the West and four behind the number six seed. They
have four very winnable games this week starting with the
Jazz Wednesday at U.S. Airways Center. Utah is one game
ahead of the Suns; the Rockets - who currently occupy the
eighth playoff spot - come to town Sunday night. If the
Suns go 3-1 to close out the week, they'll be within a
game of .500 and full of confidence heading out on a
grueling East Coast swing that begins with stops in Miami
Let's take a look at the five teams directly ahead of the
Suns as of today:
The Blazers are 20-22, a disaster on the road and in
desperate need of a point guard.
The Jazz (20-21) have dropped seven of 12 after a
surprisingly quick start to the season and find themselves
on the outside looking in.
The T-wolves (22-21), who just lit the Suns up for 127
points on Monday, are loaded with young talent. That also
means they're loaded with inexperience, which could prove
costly down the stretch. It doesn't help that Ricky Rubio
is out for the season, although Rick Adelman (in my mind
the most underrated coach in the NBA), and Kevin Love (the
best power forward in the game) could help offset some of
The Houston Rockets are currently clinging to that final
playoff spot with a 23-20 mark. They shocked the Thunder
last night with a last second win in Oklahoma City. They
did that without two of their top scorers, Kevin Martin
and Kyle Lowry. Martin has battled injury and
inconsistency all season long and Lowry is currently hurt
and out for at least another month. Chances are decent
they could fall off.
The defending champion Dallas Mavericks are just a game
and a half from being out of the playoffs altogether.
They've battled health issues and uninspiring play all
season long. Jason Terry isn't happy right now and they
just don't seem to have much direction.
While I'm not predicting a 2010-like playoff run for the
Suns, I do believe that if they hold on to Nash, and maybe
even look to acquire some scoring help by the trade
deadline, it's quite conceivable US Airways Center will
more resemble a vibrant NBA arena again instead of a
mausoleum as we head into Spring.