Friday, August 12, 2011 @ 8:41am
No general manager can hit on all of his trades and free agent signings. They all make mistakes. And Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers is no exception.
He swung and missed quite a few times this year. Anyone remember Juan Miranda, Armando Galarraga, Melvin Mora, Russell Branyan, Geoff Blum or Zach Duke?
All moves that fans would like to forget and Towers wishes he could take back. But the Arizona Diamondbacks are in first place and Towers is a big reason why.
Not because of those moves that just plain and simple didn't work out. But for the moves that did work out.
How about Willie Bloomquist making $900,000 this year. Or JJ Putz on a two-year deal for a very reasonable $10 million.
Both great moves.
But the move that defines the Towers era so far is the trade he pulled off that brought David Hernandez to Arizona along with Kam Mickolio from the Baltimore Orioles for Mark Reynolds.
That trade often gets overlooked when discussions ensue about what were the key deals in the rebuilding of the D-backs.
The deals for Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson take precedent, and rightfully so, because they are starting pitchers who are anchoring the staff and keying the Diamondbacks resurgence. But none of this success is possible had Towers not worked his magic with the bullpen. And it's not like Towers took the job with an open checkbook.
The reason many of the above mentioned signings and trades didn't work out is because there wasn't much money to spend on better players and most times you get what you pay for. So Towers took a few chances on guys and had to release them. Such is life.
But he didn't miss on the one area he needed to succeed. The Arizona Diamondbacks had one of the worst bullpens in the history of Major League Baseball last year with an ERA of 5.74. In fact it was the 6th worst since 1953. Yes, it was that bad. The bullpen today is almost 2 runs better than it was last year. And Towers led the way to the complete overhaul of that problem area.
With little money to spend he secured a solid closer in Putz and has his future closer and current setup man in Hernandez.
In the Hernandez deal Arizona killed two birds with one stone. First, they rid themselves of the final two years of a bad contract on Reynolds (3 years, $14.5 million) that previous GM Josh Byrnes signed off on. Also, that eliminated an astonishing 211 strikeouts from their lineup. Second, they acquired a now 26-year-old flame thrower who has been as valuable to this ballclub as any player on the roster including Kennedy and Justin Upton.
The former Oriole with a 95-97 mph fastball has been nothing short of spectacular this season. He is 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 51 innings and he has chipped in with 10 saves while Putz was sidelined or unavailable.
Hernandez has been so good that he has made Diamondbacks fans forget about names such as Juan Gutierrez, Blaine Boyer, Juan Noberto, Chad Qualls, Leo Rosales and Bobby Howry. Players who contributed to the infamous bullpen of 2010.
With Hernandez and Putz, Arizona has as solid a 1-2 punch to close out a game as anyone in the Majors and with Putz only having a year left on his contract the D-backs don't have to look far for their closer of the future. Hernandez may not get the fanfare of Upton or Kennedy but
I can assure you the Arizona Diamondbacks aren't in first place in mid-August had Towers not pulled off one of the great baseball trades of the offseason.
Monday, August 1, 2011 @ 8:10am
They say all good things must come to an end. And such is the case for the Gambo and Ash show. After 12 years of hosting the main afternoon drive sports show here in Phoenix, the show is no longer. Management at Sports 620 KTAR decided to go in a different direction and my radio partner for over a decade, Mark Asher, is no longer on air, relegated to working for ArizonaSports.com writing columns until his contract expires at the end of the year.
While Ash and I both thought we could have done the "Gambo and Ash" show forever, the reality is that this is a tough business. We had an incredible run. An amazing run. A run that most people in this industry can only dream of. You see, in this business you are hired to be fired. A five-year run is a good run in radio. But 12 years, that is an eternity.
I am saddened to see the show end and it is very, very strange to walk into the radio station these days knowing that Ash won't be there. I am extremely excited to be working with Dave Burns, someone I have long admired, respected and enjoyed working with during the many times he filled in for Ash over the last five years. Dave and Mark have some similarities. Both were born and raised in Arizona. Both NAU products. Both extremely talented radio hosts.
I have not said much in the past week since the news came down and I want people to know that I was under no gag order from the radio station. No one told me not to comment on it. No one said that I couldn't respond to people via email, text messages, Facebook and Twitter. I just needed a week to absorb what was going on. It happened so suddenly that it came as a shock to everyone, including me. But people want me to respond and I understand. So instead of answering everyone directly I have decided to put down my thoughts and feelings right here on ArizonaSports.com.
I want people to know that the management of Sports 620 KTAR approved and encouraged me to write this piece. I wanted to write this piece and I asked management to allow me to write it -- unedited -- and they thought that I should, so thank you to them. It is basically just my thoughts on what was a major part of my life with a lot of respect for the guy who was alongside me day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year for 12 years.
First, a little background. I started hosting afternoon drive radio in Phoenix 1997 on 1360 am with Tim Liotta. Ironically Mike Golic was hosting the morning show at that time and now he is hosting mornings with Mike and Mike on ESPN radio and that will be our morning show in a few weeks. I spent two years with Tim before he decided to switch to mornings. He was the program director so he could basically do what he wanted. At that time a search began to find me a new co-host. The station tried several people with me on air as fill ins but something was always missing.
When I first started working at the radio station I was hosting a Saturday show and Ash was my producer. He was young, brash and right out of college at Northern Arizona University. We clicked right away. He went on to be an update guy, a reporter and he hosted a weekend show as well. So back to the search for my new partner - after not finding anyone that clicked I suggested to management that they give this 25-year old Arizona native a shot. And they did. And in 1999 "Gambo & Ash" was born.
We didn't go with any stupid silly name for the show. We just used our nicknames. The show was an instant success and we developed quite a following over the years from 1360 to 550 to 910 and then on to 620.
What made the show work so well was the dynamics. I was a kid from New York and he was the local from Arizona. I was a little bit older so I could talk about the Big Red Machine, the Steelers dynasty, Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier and games and teams from the 70's and 80's. He was local so he could talk about the Suns of Walter Davis, the Madhouse on McDowell and Arizona State with Frank Kush. I was married with kids, he was single. We liked different music, movies and sports teams.
We always felt we were different from most radio combos because we played sports where many of the other radio guys didn't. Heck even at the radio station we had an ice hockey team, a softball team, we played in baseball games, street hockey games, an annual ASU vs UA flag football game that we started and played whiffle ball in the parking lot with our listeners.
In studio we would shoot baskets against some door gadget we made up with Stephon Marbury and George McCloud, play whiffle ball in the hallways with Danny Ainge and always find a way to invent some kind of game that we could play during commercial breaks or taped interviews.
We used that to our advantage to develop great relationships with players, coaches, general managers, etc. Our show was fun, it had a little bit of everything. We focused on the local teams hard. We focused on delivering great interviews -- my favorite was Tommy Henrich who at the time was the oldest living Yankee, our sit down at the Negro League Baseball Museum with Buck O'Neill and the infamous golf interview with Ken Venturi who said to me that if I didn't agree with him then I didn't know sports. We swear to this day that Venturi was drunk. But there were so many others. I know that one of Asher's favorite moments was when I asked Dallas Drake of the Phoenix Coyotes if he ever caught crabs. I was referring to the ones you catch in the ocean and eat but Dally and Ash both started laughing so hard because they were thinking of something else. Another favorite is when we had Alex Smith on and Ash introduced him as the talented quarterback from Utah who is soon to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft - only to find out that on the other line was Alex Smith, the tight end from Stanford.
We played our show to those who were 20, those who were 70 and everyone in between. We mixed in some old school with some new school. And we had fun. We gave tickets to sporting events away by having people go find producer Joe Mac at the Circle K. One time he was in the ice machine! We once gave away Cardinals NFC Championship game tickets to a guy who tattooed in studio Gambo and Ash, Sports 620 KTAR on his rear end. And we gave free golf away to those who would answer the phone saying the radio station was going to send them golfing when we called on Tee Box Thursdays. That list had 3,000 people on it waiting for us to call for free golf and if you didn't answer the phone the right way we pranked you and we pranked you good.
When I met Ash he was a scrawny kid driving a jeep. Through the years I watched him grow up into a man. I was there when he got married as my daughters were the flower girls in his wedding (yes it's true I brought a TV to the wedding to watch the Coyotes season opener and Miami vs Florida State), there when his son was born and there when he got divorced.
I wouldn't say Ash and I were the best of friends. We got along great but we didn't really hang out. We spent all this time together every day so I guess we needed time away from each other on weekends. We talked every weekend, but we lived separate lives and he had his friends and I had mine.
We shared a passion for radio and for giving back to the community. As our success grew we had great opportunities to give back. We did annual charity drives for the Phoenix Children's Hospital when we were on 910 and when we switched to 620 we began the Gambo and Ash Holiday Heroes to benefit the 100 Club of Arizona. We raised hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars for great charitable causes over the years.
And we won many awards as the best talk show and best sports radio talk show. We always easily won the battle against the sports radio competition that was on against us and one of our highlights was from just a few years ago when we registered as the No. 1 show in the market in our time slot, not just sports, but overall for our target category. No sports radio show had ever done that before and none has done it since.
I believe one of the things that made us feel so close to our listeners was our desire to bring them into our lives, to make them feel like they really knew us. Nothing was off limits. We talked about our ups and downs and brought our family life into the show. We talked sports first and foremost but we wanted our listeners to know us and by talking about our real lives we felt that we connected with them.
Working with someone for such a long period of time you are bound to have some conflicts and Ash and I had our share. But what made us work so well together was our ability to move past them quickly. We could have a major disagreement about something (in our case a near brawl) and forget about it five minutes later and concentrate on doing a great radio show. Although I will admit that I punched him one time, but it was just once and I felt bad. Alright I didn't feel that bad. But we never held grudges.
In those 12 years we worked with some of the best people in the industry like Joe Nicita, Joe McIntyre, Johnny Villareal, Eric Sorenson, Mike Jurecki, Vicki Fiorelli, Ashley Schlecta, Bruce Jacobs, Vince Marotta and Craig Grialou to name just a few. There were so many people behind the scenes that made the show go and we were always so thankful to those people and every Christmas we made sure they knew they were appreciated. To all of those people and I mean all of them - THANK YOU. There are too many to name.
Thursday, July 14, 2011 @ 9:37pm
For the first time in years the Arizona Diamondbacks will be buyers, not sellers, at the trade deadline. But let the buyer beware in this case, because while the Diamondbacks are clearly in contention in the National League West, they are by no means a lock to make the postseason. Arizona has a stocked minor league system with a number of quality young players destined to be a part of their bright future. While many fans may say the future is now, the D-backs still have to be careful not to make a bad trade, a trade that see's them swap a young star for a rent-a-player. One such player is the Padres Heath Bell.
Bell will be the most sought after reliever in the game at the trade deadline and he will fetch a big price in prospects to obtain him. Plus, he is a free agent after this season and at 34 years old he will be looking to cash in on what will likely be his last chance to hit the jackpot. Bell's numbers are good, very good. He has converted 26 of 27 saves with a 2.43 ERA in San Diego this year. And with J.J. Putz a little banged up, Bell could give Arizona insurance at the position plus, combined with Putz and David Hernandez, to give the Diamondbacks a potent 7-8-9 combination to close out games.
But there are major reasons to say no to Bell. One is that he will cost Arizona one of their top-5 prospects plus other solid prospects in the minor leagues. Arizona has several "untouchable" prospects in the organization such as Jarrod Parker, Tyler Skaggs, Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Owings, David Holmberg and Patrick Corbin. And trading one of them for Bell just makes no sense.
The reality is that Arizona doesn't need a closer, especially if Putz is healthy. What they need is a 7th inning guy, someone like Kerry Wood of Chicago or Jason Isringhausen of the Mets. Isringhausen makes a lot of sense because he is 38, having a very good year in New York with a 3.14 ERA in 35 games and has 293 career saves. He has experience closing should he be needed in that role. But more than likely Isringhausen-to-Hernandez-to-Putz is close enough to Hernandez-to-Bell-to-Putz and will come at a much cheaper cost.
Obtaining Isringhausen won't cost Arizona any of their top prospects. More than likely, it will cost them a good prospect or two but not a top-10 prospect in the organization. And if you are renting a player for a few months that is a much better option than mortgaging the farm with no assurance of a playoff spot. Arizona is also talking to Toronto about pitching help and they have several options for starting pitching including Wandy Rodriguez of Houston, Jeremy Guthrie of Baltimore, Ricky Nolasco of Florida and possibly James Shields of Tampa Bay -- should the Rays decide to be sellers.
Getting help at starter and reliever is the priority but not overpaying for that help will ultimately determine if the risk is worth the reward. While being three games out definitely means you are in a position to go for it, it certainly doesn't mean you do so at all costs. So beware, Arizona, because your minor league system is stacked, your future is bright and if you don't make the playoffs this year there is always next year. And I mean that in a good way.
Friday, July 8, 2011 @ 8:11am
I'm frankly getting tired of all these athletes lying to us, playing us like we are fools. The latest is Suns swingman Mickael Pietrus, who in dissing the Phoenix Suns to a French newspaper saying the only thing he cares about is winning a title. LIAR.
If Pietrus really cared about winning more than anything else why would he pick up his $5.3 million option with Phoenix, especially if what he says about the Lakers and Celtics being interested in him is true. I'll tell you why, because Pietrus is no different than most athletes and it's not winning a championship that's at the top of his list. It's making as much money as he can and Pietrus knows damn well that no team in their right mind would pay him anything close to that $5.3 million to miss as many shots as he does.
Pietrus said the Suns didn't use him and it's their problem. Hey Mikael -- if you would have made more than 39% of your shots I'm sure they would have used you more.
I guess Pietrus forgot that in his first game for Phoenix he made 1-of-6 shots against Miami. Or a week later in back-to-back games against Detroit and Sacramento he shot a combined 7-24. And let's not forget that 1-for-5 performance in 19 minutes against the Knicks in just his 7th game with the Suns. Somehow Pietrus can't remember that he played 25 or more minutes in five of his first seven games with Phoenix and only had one good game. Yeah Mickael, you gave the Suns plenty of reason to use you -- off the bench!
Now, back to this winning a championship thing. Who has a better chance to win a title next year? The Lakers, Celtics or Suns? Or put it this way, which of those teams has no chance to win a championship next year. We all know the answer and so does Pietrus. But yet he chose to pick up his option with Phoenix instead of taking a minimum deal with the Lakers or Celtics. Why? Because he likes the color of green a heck of a lot more than the color of gold, which is the overlay of the Larry O'Brien championship trophy.
So why play that card? Why do an interview telling the world how much you care about winning a championship when you are full of crap. Why lie to the public when you care about a championship about as much as Casey Anthony cared about her daughter.
Have some pride, tell the truth. You picked up your option with Phoenix because where else can a player that sucks make that type of money to sit the bench. Because while winning a championship with Boston or Los Angeles would be nice, having $5.3 million is a heck of a lot better than making about a mil. Heck, do you know how many croissants $5.3 million will buy. We will understand Mickael and heck most of us wouldn't even blame you. But don't tell us you care about winning a title when we all know that you don't.
Thursday, June 23, 2011 @ 8:44am
And with the 13th selection in the 2011 NBA draft the Phoenix Suns select -------. Ok before we get to that pick let's go over some scenarios because there are several players the Suns like and would be happy drafting.
First and foremost they need help at power forward in the worst way. Markieff Morris from Kansas makes a lot of sense. Second, they would love to find a point guard that could allow Steve Nash to spend a few more minutes on the bench and possibly be the heir apparent should the former two-time MVP play out the final year of his contract and bolt in free agency.
There are a few point guards that could be there at 13, including BYU's Jimmer Fredette. But Jimmer will not be the pick here, he can't be. Not if the Suns want to maintain any semblance of credibility. Reason being is that Phoenix is now preaching defense. General manager Lance Blanks is the man in charge and he intends to make his mark on this franchise by bringing some hard nosed in your face defense to the US Airways Center. Heck the Suns are even going to be hiring a defensive coordinator so they can improve their defensive efficiency in hopes of winning a few extra games with a new emphasis on playing some D.
So the last thing you can do when you are selling defense to anyone that will listen is draft a player in Jimmer who can't play any defense. Ditto for Washington State's Klay Thompson. So take those two out of the mix. Jimmer will not be a Sun simply because it goes against everything the Suns are selling these days. And I'm perfectly fine with that because I am one who believes that the BYU standout will not be a great player at the next level and will likely just be a role player.
Who does fit that bill as a tough, defensive minded point guard that could be there at 13? It's Georgia Tech's Iman Shumpert. He impressed at the workout in Phoenix a few weeks ago and was a well kept secret until Monday when we let the world know he could be the Suns pick. So barring some unforseen star like Tristin Thompson falling to them at 13, the pick will likely come down to Morris or Shumpert.
Morris can play right away and fill the need at power forward. He is 6-10, 240 and averaged 13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds for the Jayhawks this year. He would fill a position of need immediately in Phoenix and could be a nice role player on the current roster
Shumpert is intriguing, he really is. Sure, he wasn't projected to go in the first round of many experts mock drafts. But that doesn't mean anything. If you like a player you draft him. It doesn't matter if he is projected at 20 or 25 or 35. If you have the 13th pick and that's the player you like then grab him and to hell with everyone else. It's your draft, do what you think is best.
Shumpert fits the Lance Blanks philosophy perfectly. He is a 6-foot-5 lockdown defender with great anticipation, therefore he comes up with a lot of steals. He is very good in the pick and roll game, very good in transition with speed and he can guard both point guards and shooting guards. He also brings something this team needs -- toughness. No he can not shoot. Not yet anyway. And that may be an issue to start.
But in this era of the great point guards, wouldn't it be wise to draft a player that can actually guard those guys. The position is loaded with talent in Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Brandon Jennings, Tony Parker and a few others. Those players are extremely difficult to guard. If Shumpert is the great defender he is made out to be then how much better is Phoenix having somebody to lock up with that array of talent?
What Phoenix needs to understand is that hiring a new defensive coordinator alone is not enough to make a difference in how the Suns play defense. They need the personnel to actually execute it. Look at Memphis and how good their turn-around was defensively from last year to this year. They improved form 24th in the league, giving up 104 points per game, to 13th in the league giving up 97.6 points per game. Did they hire a defensive coordinator? No. What they did was got better defensive players, including signing lockdown defender Tony Allen as a free agent and trading for Shane Battier. Better defensive players mean better defensive team. It has little to do with coaching and everything to do with the players. So if Phoenix wants to get better defensively then Shumpert makes sense.
The Suns may be split on which player to take. Morris fills an immediate need, Shumpert doesn't. Shumpert has more upside and intrigue than Morris. The fans would like the Morris pick because he went to Kansas, they have seen him play and they know he's pretty good. They know nothing about Shumpert because he played on a bad Georgia Tech team. Morris seems like a good fit at 13, Shumpert looks like a reach at 13.
So with the 13th pick in the draft -- again barring some unforeseen drop by a player projected to go top 10 -- the Phoenix Suns will select -- Iman Shumpert, point guard, Georgia Tech.
Friday, June 17, 2011 @ 9:30am
You can see it happening right before your eyes. The maturity level is at an all-time high. The game winning hits, the leadership, the commitment to playing the game the right way. It's all happening right now for the Diamondbacks 23-year-old right fielder Justin Upton.
Upton's heroics in the 10th inning last night - a one-out opposite field solo home run - not only allowed the Diamondbacks to salvage the final game of a thee-game series with the San Francisco Giants but it also gave Arizona confidence that they can contend with the defending World Series Champs.
As it was pointed out on the television broadcast last night, Upton has been on a tear lately. In his last 18 games he is hitting .429 with 7 doubles, 3 triples and 3 home runs. He has taken his game to a new level at just the right time.
And last night wasn't the only game-winning hit for the former first overall pick. He had a bloop single to beat Florida in walk off style on June 1st. He broke a tie with an 8th inning home run in Colorado last month that propelled Arizona to a 4-3 victory, then two days later drove in the winning run in the 11th to beat the Rockies with a single. On May 18th he drove in Ryan Roberts with a ground ball to the right side to give Arizona a 5-4 win in the 11th inning against Atlanta.
So Upton is not only on a tear, he seems to have a knack for the dramatic. And isn't this what we expected of him when he got to the big leagues? Upton has too much talent to be a good baseball player. He needs to be great. Last year Upton was average and it was unacceptable to the organization which floated his name as trade bait this off-season.
The Diamondbacks have surrounded Upton with quality veteran players like Willie Bloomquist, Melvin Mora, Henry Blanco and Xavier Nady and I'm sure that has had a positive effect on him. Winning also helps as it was obvious that the constant losing took its toll on the right fielder.
Upton has his average up to .291 with 12 homers and 35 runs batted in. He could hit 30 home runs this year and drive in 90 runs. And if he keeps coming through in the clutch, he could lead Arizona to the playoffs.
Friday, June 10, 2011 @ 9:05am
Unfortunately for the Dallas Mavericks if they happen to win the NBA Championship nobody outside of Big D will be talking about their success, they will be talking about the failures of the Big 3 and the Miami Heat.
Not that the Mavericks will care. Winning that elusive title is all that matters and why should they care what anyone thinks or says.
There have been five hotly contested matchups thus far in the Finals, it has been a great series. Not a good series but a great one. These games are coming down to the wire each and every time. But Lebron James' struggles are the focal point of this series and that just is not right.
It is time to give the Mavericks credit for responding from 1-0 and 2-1 series deficits to put themselves on the brink of a championship. Maybe just maybe these Mavericks are better than we all thought. Maybe this team is more than Dirk Nowitzki -- as witnessed Thursday by the sensational fourth quarters by J.J. Barea, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd. Maybe its the defense of Shawn Marion, DeShawn Stevenson and the Mavs zone that is shutting down and wearing out King James.
So much emphasis on this series is on the Heat win or lose. And it has taken away from the heroics of Nowitzki and his teammates. The Mavs were the underdog here. They were not supposed to win this series.
Heck some people had them going out in the first round to Portland. Let's not forget this team swept the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and took down the team of the future Oklahoma City Thunder in five games.
Is it that hard to give credit to the Mavs for stopping Lebron instead of believing Lebron is stopping himself?
If James' confidence is shaken isn't because of the Mavericks frustrating defense?
The Mavericks still have one more game to win and that won't be easy considering they have to go to Miami to finish out the series. I'm just saying that should the Mavericks win, can't we make this about what Dallas did right and not what Miami did wrong?
Friday, June 3, 2011 @ 7:52am
For years the Phoenix Suns have traded away draft picks in an effort to save money. The organization could have had Rajon Rondo, Rudy Fernandez, Luol Deng or Andre Iguodola, to name a few.
With a head coach in Mike D'Antoni who didn't like rookies and the ability to use draft picks to entice another team to take on some of Phoenix's excess salary (see Kurt Thomas), the Suns discarded draft picks like they were going out of style.
Did they miss out on some good players?
But truth be told, in most cases the NBA draft is overrated. Unless you have a top 5 pick your chances on landing an impact player are slim to none. The best you can hope for is a role player. Look at some of the Suns first-round draft picks in recent years; Earl Clark is gone, Alando Tucker is gone and Robin Lopez is barely hanging on.
In most cases when you are not drafting in the top 10, like Phoenix this year, it's a crapshoot. You take your chances and hope for the best. But this is not the year to hope for the best. This NBA draft is considered one of the worst in recent memory, which is exactly why the Suns need to trade the pick.
With the Timberwolves signing of Ricky Rubio this week they now have the perfect trade partner. The Suns need to send the 13th overall pick in a bad draft to Minnesota for point guard Jonny Flynn. Minnesota is now overloaded at the position with Flynn, Rubio and Luke Ridnour. They have to trade Flynn and everyone knows it.
Phoenix needs a good back up to Steve Nash and an heir apparent. Flynn will be that guy. Goran Dragic is gone, Aaron Brooks is not the answer and Jimmer Fredette is a pipedream. Flynn was the sixth overall pick in a good draft just two years ago. Why wouldn't you trade the 13th pick in a bad draft for a guy who was the sixth pick in a good one?
Plus, Flynn can play. He is young, super athletic and started every game his rookie season when he averaged 13.5 points and 4.4 assists. He had a hip injury last year, which the Suns would need to make sure is completely healed.
He struggled in Kurt Rambis' triangle offense, but he is a starter in this league, not a backup. He is way better than anything the Suns could get at 13 and I mean way better.
Flynn could apprentice under Nash for one year and then take over as the starter in 2012-13. Other teams will try to get Flynn now that they know Minnesota has to move him. The Suns have a nice chip with that 13th pick and it should be enough to land him.
In past years the Suns have traded their first-round pick when they likely should have kept it so they may be very reluctant to do it again. But if they are wise and can put two and two together they will realize that Flynn is head and shoulders better then anyone in this entire draft outside of maybe Kyrie Irving. Put it this way, if Flynn was in this draft right now, he would be no worse than the third overall pick in the draft.
Make the move Phoenix.
Friday, May 27, 2011 @ 8:19pm
I have come to the conclusion that Chris Young is who he is.
I no longer have the expectations of CY hitting .300 with 30 homers and 100 runs batted in. He is going to hit somewhere between .225 and .250. He is going to hit 20-plus home runs and drive in 75 to 85 runs.
And he is going to play magnificent defense in centerfield. For years I have been of the belief that Young couldn't stay in this lineup hitting .223, his current average. But I was wrong.
Chris Young is a key part of the Diamondbacks success. As baseball has changed to become more about pitching and defense and less about offense, Young's importance to this team as a dominant defensive centerfielder increases.
His career batting average is .239. He hit .212 in 2009 and .257 last year. But none of that matters. The Diamondbacks get just enough offensive power from CY to make him a threat.
And he does on occasion go on hot streaks and when he is on base he is a threat to steal and to go from first to third on a single because of his speed.
What matters though more than his home runs, stolen bases or lack of a batting average, is his defense.
Never was that more evident than with two outs in the 8th inning at Colorado Wednesday night. With Arizona protecting a 2-1 lead, Young reached over the centerfield wall to rob Ty Wiggington of a home run and the D-backs went on to win the game.
It was a sensational play but one in which broadcaster Mark Grace said "was a routine play" for Young. He is just so good defensively that we expect him to make all the plays.
So good that when he makes a game-saving catch like that we don't give it much thought. It's just CY being CY.
Who can forget him robbing Mike Cameron of a grand slam in San Diego in 2007. The Diamondbacks have a lineage of great defensive centerfielders, it started with Devon White then became Steve Finley and now Young. Players who covered a lot of ground in spacious Chase Field and who made the difficult plays look routine.
But saying CY is just a great defensive centerfielder is selling him short. He is a leader, he is respected. He works hard and he cares.
So what that he doesn't hit for average. I can live with that as long as he is playing the type of defense that saves runs. Arizona will find offense in other areas.
Right now the best baseball teams are going to be strong up the middle. And not many teams are stronger in centerfield than Arizona.
Friday, May 20, 2011 @ 9:11am
While Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are bigger names on the Oklahoma City roster, it is becoming very evident in these NBA playoffs not only how valuable, but how good former Sun Devil James Harden is. In Thurday night's Game 2 victory over the Mavericks, Harden had 23 points and seven rebounds, including a crucial three-pointer with 7:37 left to give the Thunder a 91-87 lead and a shot-clock beating long jumper to put them up 10 with 3:15 left.
Harden left Arizona State after just two years, but he left an impression. He was the Pac-10 player of the year, a two-time first-team All-Pac 10 selection and led the Sun Devils to the NCAA tournament in his second season. He went 5-0 vs Arizona and was the first consensus 1st-team All-American in the school's history.
That the Sun Devils got a second year out of Harden was a good thing, he could have bolted after his first-season when he was the youngest player in the league and been a first-round selection. Instead he stayed two years and entered the 2009 draft where he was selected third by Oklahoma City right after Blake Griffin and Hasheem Thabeet.
The basketball landscape here is dominated by the University of Arizona. The Wildcats currently have the most players in the NBA of any program in college basketball. So it's nice to see the Devils getting their due because of Harden.
He has excelled in Oklahoma City and is on the verge of giving the Thunder a Big 3 of their own (Durant, Westbrook, Harden) once they decide to put him in the starting lineup which is inevitable. Harden is versatile. He led the team in rebounds, assists and steals last night and only Durant, who scored 24, had more points.
In his first season in Oklahoma City, Harden averaged 10 points and 3.2 rebounds in 23 minutes. This year he averaged 12.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 26.7 minutes. But he has taken on a much bigger role since the trade that sent Jeff Green to Boston and his emergence in the playoffs has been crucial for a young Thunder team.
Harden has had games of 18 points and 5 rebounds vs Memphis and put in games of 21 points; 19 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists; 14 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists and 17 points vs Memphis. And now this vs Dallas.
Harden is a low maintenance guy. He is not complaining about his role off the bench. He knows his time is coming, he has only been in the league for two years. Even at Arizona State Harden, for being a superstar, was low maintenance. ASU never had issues of agents hanging around or of Harden not going to class. He was business like all the time, approachable, likeable. He was not a follower, but a leader. Even now in the NBA Harden has no tattoos. He just isn't the type of kid to do what everyone else is doing. He is going to have a big payday in the NBA because he is earning it.
He is going to go down along with Alton Lister, Fat Lever and Byron Scott as one of the most successful Sun Devil basketball players of all-time. And if you are one of those people who complain about attendance here in Arizona but never saw James Harden play at ASU, than shame on you. Because Harden was always worth the price of admission.
Friday, May 6, 2011 @ 9:46am
We all knew the Pac-12 would be getting a nice new television deal. We never could have imagined that they would have got a deal that trumped that of the SEC and Big 10.
Yes, the new Commissioner Larry Scott is now every Pac-12 athletic directors best friend because the conference is now out of the old deal that was worth $60 million a year and now have a 12-year $3 billion dollar deal that will net the conference a whopping $250 million a year.
Scott negotiated a deal that quadruples what the previous deal was and that money is going to come in handy to each and every team in the conference.
The reality is that some of the money, roughly $100 million will go towards starting up the Pac-10 network. Nonetheless, when you divvy up $250 million 13 ways - the conference gets a share and when you take out the money being used for the new network - each school will be bringing home roughly $16 million, which is a mind boggling $11.5 million more than what they had been netting each year. Eventually after the network fees and other expenses are paid each team is expected to net $19 million.
For athletic directors they will now have the luxury of putting together a need list of things to do with that money. Arizona State is one of many schools in the nation operating at a deficit, so first thing is to wipe that out, which is estimated at slightly more than $1 million.
After wiping that out, ASU Director of Athletics Lisa Love can work on facility upgrades - which will most likely be the first priority. The tennis courts, track and field complex, baseball stadium and swimming pools are all in desperate need of upgrades. The press box at Packard Stadium hasn't changed since Barry Bonds was swinging a bat for ASU. And ESPNU and the Pac-12 Digital Network plan on broadcasting a lot of softball games, so it wouldn't be a bad idea for ASU to have a press box -- something they currently don't have. After that, money needs to go into Sun Devil Stadium and Wells Fargo Arena. So facility upgrades will be high on the list when it comes to spending the extra money.
Let's also not forget that the cost of doing business is not going down. ASU has 21 sports and 19 of them lose money. The cost to travel continues to rise. And with the bag fee's that most airlines now charge just imagine how much ASU must pay to send its baseball team on a road trip. A pole vault costs $200 to ship to every track and field event. The swim team takes over 30 athletes to Seattle for the Pac-10 Championships. Plus fundraising and advertising is down for all sports so an added infusion of cash will also help the university catch up to its projections.
Arizona State has had to cut its athletic staff in recent years, letting go secretaries and administrative assistants. Also, like other state universities Arizona and Northern Arizona forcing employees to take furloughs. There has been a freeze on salaries inside the ASU athletic department for the last five years. But coaching salaries continue to climb and you must assume that the next football coach is going to cost quite a bit more than the $1.5 million Dennis Erickson is currently making. Same for the next men's basketball coach as Herb Sendek makes $1.2 million.
Arizona State will reap the benefits of this new television contract just as every other school in the conference will. But it won't have Athletic Directors making it rain and writing blank checks. The Pac-10 was undervalued in its television deal for years and that hampered the universities in the conference. Now they are on equal terms with the other power conferences and even a little ahead. And while the money is first and foremost on everyone's minds, let's not forget the importance of the exposure that this new television contract will bring.
In many ways that exposure is priceless.
Monday, May 2, 2011 @ 8:18am
We all expect Patrick Peterson to be a flat out stud in the secondary, a true shutdown cornerback. So for that this draft is a success. But for this to be a truly great draft at least three maybe four of the other picks need to pan out and by panning out I mean becoming impact players.
The Arizona Cardinals success in 2008 and 2009 are deeply rooted in the drafts that netted them Darnell Dockett, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle, Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Gerald Hayes and Antonio Smith. That was a three-year span of making some quality picks that brought instant success on the field.
What has happened in the previous five drafts, four of them under Ken Whisenhunt, is nothing to write home about. Four of those drafts have failed and the fifth which was last season is incomplete this early but has some potential.
Let's run some of the names by you in the last six years - 2006 -- Matt Leinart, Leonard Pope, Gabe Watson, Brandon Johnson, Jon Lewis, Todd Watkins are the failures. Only Deuce Lutui worked out in that draft. In 2008 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie became a starter, Calais Campbell and Tim Hightower have been OK and Early Doucet, Kenny Iwebema, Chris Harrington and Brandon Keith have not made impacts. Let's go to 2009 where only seventh round pick LaRod Stephens-Howling has made an impact. Beanie Wells, Cody Brown, Rashad Johnson, Herman Johnson, Will Davis and Trevor Canfield have flopped. Greg Toler is a good role player.
As you can see the reason for the Cardinals 5-11 record last year has a lot to do with the failures of the past drafts. Hopefully this one will net some good football players.
The key to this draft is simple. In my opinion the Cardinals should have drafted Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph in the second round and Georgia defensive end Justin Houston in the third. If they wanted a running back that high they could have grabbed DeMarco Murray from Oklahoma in the third. But I would not have passed on drafting the best tight end in the draft in the second round, especially over a running back with major question marks in Ryan Williams. Williams was hurt much of last season with a hamstring injury and was only productive in a couple of games.
If Williams, who was chosen in the second round and tight end Robert Housler, who had 73 catches in four years in college, work out then the Cardinals did the right thing. If they flop and Rudolph and either Houston or Murray end up making an impact than Arizona blew this draft. As good as Peterson is, one player does not make a draft. Arizona needs to nail the second, third and even fourth round picks - Texas defensive end Sam Acho was the fourth rounder.
The Cardinals took some gambles in this draft. For their sake they better pan out. Any grade this early should be incomplete but for the sake of argument right now I would give them a C + because they did look to get some value in the later rounds.
Friday, April 29, 2011 @ 8:31am
It would be fun if we could debate the Cardinals fist selection in the 2011 draft, but there really is no debate.
The Cardinals had no choice but to select Patrick Peterson with the fifth overall choice. Peterson wasn't only the best player in this draft, he was the best fit for what ails the Cardinals the most - and that is stopping the pass.
A ridiculous number of wideouts -- seven -- put up 100-yard receiving games against Arizona last season. Seven! Mark Clayton of the St. Louis Rams had 10 catches for 119 yards, Louis Murphy of the Oakland Raiders had 5 catches for 119 yards, Mike Williams of the Seattle Seahawks had 4 catches 105 yards, Percy Harvin of the Minnesota Vikings had 9 catches for 126 yards, Seattle's Williams again with 11 catches 145 yards, Dwayne Bowe from the Kansas City Chiefs had 6 catches 109 yards and Miles Austin of the Dallas Cowboys had 6 receptions 115 yards.
Bottom line, Arizona couldn't stop the pass or the run last season. The Cards defense gave up 434 points, ranking 30th in the league. They also gave up 373.6 yards per game, ranking 29th in the league. This team needed defensive help in the worst way. And those stats should tell you all you need to know about why Peterson was the perfect pick for Arizona.
The truth is that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is not a number one, shutdown cornerback. He is good but not great. This pick of Peterson will make him better because now he doesn't have to cover the top receiver. And in this day and age of the National Football League, where teams are throwing the ball an astounding 60% of the time, you need two good cornerbacks to survive.
Peterson was beat for one touchdown last season in the SEC. Just one. He will come in and make an immediate impact for Arizona, which is exactly what you have to have from a pick that high. Now Arizona has a solid cornerback tandem and that will make things difficult for NFC West offensive coordinators.
Friday, April 22, 2011 @ 12:07pm
Phoenix is not a great sports town.
There, I said it. You know it's true.
At times, Phoenix is not even a good sports town. If we are being completely honest with ourselves, it's a decent sports town.
Yes, decent. Not bad, not great, just decent.
The one good thing about this place is at least the fans support you when you win. But like many sports towns, this place doesn't show a lot of love to the local teams when they are not winning.
We know Phoenix is a transient city. Many of us come from somewhere else and have brought our hometown loyalties with us.
For many of us the Suns, Diamondbacks, Coyotes, Cardinals and ASU are our second favorite teams. For a lot of us, we want to root for the local teams, but we want them to give us a reason to root for them - and lately they haven't done that.
The Diamondbacks lost 97 games last season, the Suns failed to make the playoffs, the Cardinals went 5-11, the Coyotes just got embarrassed in the first round of the playoffs and Arizona State football went a ho-hum 6-6 and failed to make a Bowl game - again. I won't even mention how bad ASU men's basketball was as I am trying to forget the season Herb Sendek's squad had.
So you can imagine how much support the local teams had this year with all that losing. Not much.
The Cardinals sold out all of their games last year, but football is king and they were coming off a playoff season the year before. This year, the NFL thought so much of the Cardinals they are a member of the Forgotten Five - one of only five teams without a primetime game. The Rams, Seahawks and 49ers all at least play one primetime game, but not Arizona. And I'd be surprised if the Cardinals don't have their first blackout in the new stadium this season.
Friday, April 15, 2011 @ 11:52am
There usually isn't much you can take out of a 15-5 loss. But on Wednesday night as I sat in the press box of Chase Field watching Arizona get drubbed by the St. Louis Cardinals, I saw something that got me pretty excited about the future of the Diamondbacks and of their prized right fielder.
Justin Upton had been destined for stardom from the day the D-backs selected him first overall in the 2005 draft. He was the five-tool player that was going to become the face of the franchise, hit 30-plus home runs every year, drive in 100 runs each season and carve out a Hall of Fame career in Sedona Red.
He made it to the majors at 19 years old in 2007 and just two years later he was an All-Star. He hit .300 in 2009 with 26 home runs and 86 runs batted in. The sky was the limit.
Sure there was still work to be done to make him a complete player. He was drafted as a shortstop and in the big leagues he was now a right fielder. He had issues with his fielding, a lack of hustle at times and had some alarming strikeout numbers.
Nonetheless the D-backs gave him a six-year extension for some $50 million and had a section in right field called "Uptown".
Maybe all that money was too much to bestow upon a 23-year-old before he had really earned it. Maybe it was too much to ask him to carry a bad baseball team considering his lack of experience and too much to ask him to lead when he had no leaders to mentor him. Maybe it was too much to ask him to be the face of the franchise when his face was so young.
For all those reasons and more, Upton slumped last year to a .273 average with 17 home runs, 69 RBI and an alarming 152 strikeouts. This past off-season new General Manager Kevin Towers even put Upton's name out on the trade block, wanting to see what the market would fetch for his services.
Towers didn't really want to trade Upton; he just wanted to see if there was a team out there that was willing to completely overpay for him. There wasn't.
The reality is that the bad season, trade rumors and frustrations of losing 97 games last year has driven Upton to reach his potential. He came into spring training determined to get his career back on track and to be the ballplayer that not only the fans and the organization expect him to be, but that he himself expects to be.
During spring training, I talked to Upton about giving away at-bats. He admitted that at times he would do that and vowed to correct it.
The D-backs were a bad baseball team in 2010. They were blown out of a lot of games, beaten down by one of the worst bullpens in history.
It is completely understandable that Upton was frustrated with the season. But what separates a good player from a great player is a player's ability to approach each at-bat, no matter the circumstances, as if that at-bat is the most important at-bat of his life.
Easy to say right? How can an at-bat matter when your team is down five, seven, 10 runs late in the game? For Upton to be great he has to understand circumstances -- when to hit the ball to the right side to move a runner over or when to shorten up his swing and take the sacrifice fly that drives in a run. It's the little things that win baseball games and most great players can do the little things.
Most great players also cherish each and every at-bat they have. That was something that Upton didn't do last year.
Let's fast forward to Wednesday night. Arizona was down 15-5 with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The outcome had already been decided. The D-backs were not coming back from down 10 in the ninth inning. Time to go home, get some rest and get ready for the next game.
Not for Upton. He looped a ball into right field and hustled out of the batter's box, not stopping until he reached second base.
Meaningless double right? Heck no. That double said a lot about the maturity of Upton from last year to this year. Last year it would have been take some hard hacks, try to drive the ball out of the ballpark and striking out would have been no big deal.
This year it's about playing the game the right way. It's about making every at-bat matter and that every kid in attendance left knowing that he never gave up.
Upton is batting .295 with three home runs, eight RBI and only seven strikeouts in 44 at-bats. I know it's early but his projections are 44 home runs, 118 RBI and just 103 strikeouts.
What does this mean? It means Upton is off to a great start. It means last season is but a distant memory. It means the sky is once again the limit for this talented baseball player.
And, to me, it means Upton is playing the game the right way, where every at-bat matters.
Friday, April 8, 2011 @ 12:08pm
Now that the Phoenix Suns have been officially eliminated from playoff contention it is time to start working on next season.
The Suns will not be a major player in free agency because they won't have the cap space available. Even after buying out Vince Carter for $4 million the Suns are expected to be at around $50 million in payroll for next season, assuming they re-sign Grant Hill.
Somehow some way, the Suns will need to add two major pieces in order to get back into the playoffs next season. So here we take a look at the five pressing issues the Phoenix Suns have this off-season:
1) Move Steve Nash or keep him?
Nash will be entering the final year of his contract and the Suns have never had any intention of trading him nor has Nash ever gone to the organization and asked to be traded. Nash is the face of the franchise and still one of the premier point guards in the league, even at 37-years-old.
The Suns have an obligation to the fans to put a good product on the court and keeping Nash means the Suns will at least be competitive.
Teams called on Nash at the trade deadline this year but no names were ever discussed because the Suns basically said that they were going for the playoffs and needed Nash to get there. This off-season may be different.
The Suns owe it to themselves to explore trade options if presented and at least listen to what value Nash has. If someone offers a high draft pick and a young player with talent for Nash, then maybe it's time to pull the trigger.
If Nash does ask to go to a contender for the final year or two of his career, Phoenix will explore trades. If no quality trade presents itself, Nash stays in Phoenix.
2) Replacing Amare Stoudemire.
By bringing in a bunch of wing players, the Suns failed to do that this year. The priority this off-season must be to get a power forward who can demand a double team, rebound the basketball and take the pressure off of Nash with the screen and rolls.
One name to keep in mind early is Morehead State power forward Kenneth Faried, the top rebounder in NCAA modern history. Faried could and should be a Suns draft target.
3) Get a quality two-guard.
The Suns need someone who can score the basketball. They missed Jason Richardson's scoring ability after the Orlando trade, simply because Vince Carter was such a big disappointment.
A scoring two will not come easy though. The Suns may have to take a flier on a player, which is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle.
Michael Redd, who's coming off a six-year, $91 million contract, might be worth a look.
He's had major surgery on his left knee twice and has only played in 57 games the last three years, but he will be looking for an opportunity to play. The Suns have a great medical staff and if you can get him cheap, it might be worth rolling the dice. He is only 31-years-old, after all.
4) Find a taker for Robin Lopez.
Clearly Lopez needs a change of scenery after his miserable year. The assumption is that someone will trade for him because of his size and because he is only 23-years-old.
He never responded after the Suns traded for Marcin Gortat and instead of fighting for his playing time, he seemed content to toil as the backup and play sparingly.
The lack of desire to compete means he must go.
5) Make decisions on Grant Hill and Aaron Brooks.
The Suns want Hill back and if he wants to play another year here in Phoenix, they will make that happen.
Brooks is a different story.
The Suns traded a first-round pick and Goran Dragic for him and he's going to be a restricted free agent this summer. Houston jettisoned him out of town because he wanted Mike Conley-type money, which was $40 million for five years.
It's highly unlikely any team will touch that number, but what is his value? Is it worth it to attempt signing him for, say, $5 million a year as insurance for Nash? Do they let him walk? Or try a sign-and-trade?
Brooks has played OK in Phoenix: good at times, bad at others. Phoenix knows he is not worth a long-term contract so if another team offers him a decent deal, he is gone.
Friday, April 1, 2011 @ 9:08am
It's Opening Day and with it brings eternal optimism for the baseball fan. Here in Arizona there is hope that the Diamondbacks will be competitive.
After losing 97 games last season they really can't be any worse then they were last year, can they?
The answer to that is of course not.
For starters, Arizona won't strikeout 1,500-plus times as they did last season. Mark Reynolds and Adam LaRoche are both gone and with it goes a whopping 383 strikeouts.
They also lose a 57 home runs and 185 runs batted in with those guys, but the reality is that sacrifices had to be made.
Too often last season the Diamondbacks gave away at-bats. There is such a thing as a productive out and a strikeout is not included in it. When you strikeout 1,529 times you are not moving a runner over from second to third, not driving in a run on a ground ball to the right side with less than two outs, not bringing in a run on a sacrifice fly and not putting pressure on a defense to make a throw.
Productive outs are vital to any team that expects to have success and Arizona just didn't have many productive outs last year. So with the strikeouts being gone there will be more of an emphasis on doing the little things that win ball games and less on the long ball.
Another area that will improve is the bullpen. Arizona's bullpen ERA of 5.74 was one of the worst in the history of baseball -- sixth worst since 1953. Gone is Bobby Howry, Chad Qualls, Blaine Boyer, Cesar Valdez and Leo Rosales, who all contributed to that disaster of a pen. The Diamondbacks may very well have the best closer in their short history in JJ Putz, who had a 2.85 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 54 innings last season. The bullpen improvement alone should be the difference in 5 to 10 games in the standings.
Arizona also added experience and you can't underestimate the difference late in a game of having a Willie Bloomquist, Geoff Blum, Henry Blanco, Xavier Nady and Russell Branyan coming off your bench compared to last year when you had Rusty Ryal, Tony Abreu, Cole Gillespie and John Hester, among others. Veteran players know how to work the count and make a relief pitcher work. Arizona should have a much improved bench.
The rotation is young, no question about that, but it has talent in Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy and Barry Enright.
Quality starts and innings will be crucial for this team to have any success this year. And big years from Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, Miguel Montero and Chris Young could go a long way to making up for the loss of power.
The Diamondbacks will have their issues. They are strong up the middle but could be weak at first base, third base and left field where they will be employing stop-gap bridge type players, especially at third base with Melvin Mora.
Another key issue is addition by subtraction -- not having Chris Snyder and Qualls on this team is a major plus as both were extremely negative and bad clubhouse guys.
For a D-backs fan, you should be optimistic. The real question is how optimistic.
Arizona is building something special here, especially with the talent they have in the minors like Jarrod Parker and Tyler Skaggs. But for now it would be nice to see Arizona be competitive and put a good product on the field. I think they can do that.
While Arizona is not a playoff team there is reason to believe that they could have a 10-15 game improvement over last season, putting them somewhere between 75 and 80 wins. I think it is realistic to expect this type of improvement because despite what the spring training results showed, there is some talent here. My prediction is Arizona finishes 80-82 and that there is a lot more enjoyment at Chase Field this season.
Friday, March 25, 2011 @ 8:38am
With the first pick in the NBA draft the Cleveland Cavaliers select Derrick Williams, forward, Arizona.
Going into Thursday's game against top-seeded Duke, Williams was in discussion as a top-5 pick in the draft.
Now, he will be the consensus #1 pick.
How can he not be?
Williams torched Duke for a career-high 32 points and grabbed 13 rebounds (6 offensive) and single-handedly kept his team in the game in the first half before the Wildcats took the Blue Devils to school in the second half.
It's easy to overreact after watching a performance like that but I've had a few minutes here to digest this. This kid is the real deal. He can handle the ball, shoots lights out, is a beast on the boards, has a motor that doesn't stop and a heart like a Lion. He can play power or small forward at the next level. He is versatile enough to do it. Heck he can even play point guard in a pinch, he's that good!
That Arizona beat Duke really is no surprise. Arizona is a good basketball team. A really good team. They won the Pac-10 regular season championship. But it's the way that the Wildcats beat the Blue Devils that was simply amazing. The only word that came to mind for me was blitzkrieg.
Duke never knew what hit them in the second half. They had no answers for Williams, MoMo Jones, Solomon Hill, Jesse Perry, Jamelle Horne and Kevin Parrom. They couldn't keep up with the Arizona fastbreak. They couldn't contend with the Wildcats on the boards after intermission.
The truth is that you don't see many Duke teams get blown out of the building like that. But I did see it happen this year, which is why I truly thought Arizona had the ability to pull this off.
No, like every other fool I didn't pick them. But I certainly spent most of my day on the radio Thursday talking about the fact that Duke is beatable, that Duke has lost numerous times in the Sweet 16 since 2000 and that Arizona was very capable of beating them. Plus, I saw St. John's clobber Duke 93-78 on January 30th at Madison Square Garden.
Granted Duke played a terrible game that day but having watched that game from start to finish I knew that this Duke team was good but not special. And good teams can be beat.
The question now is how far can Arizona ride this wave. They are sky high right now. They have all the confidence in the world after winning two games by three points and then just blowing out the top-seed. A great player can carry a team through a tournament. And while Williams is a superstar at this level he has a great supporting cast.
I can't imagine anyone left in the field saying they want Arizona. No way. In a season in which there is no great team, only a bunch of good teams, Arizona certainly is capable of bringing home another national championship to Tucson. They are three wins away.
No matter what happens on Saturday or maybe even next week, this much is certain -- unlike some of the players before him, mainly Jerryd Bayless and Marcus Williams, Derrick Williams has cemented his legacy at Arizona. He has a legacy!
Not just because he is the Pac-10 Player of the Year but because he has led this team to the Elite 8.
What did Bayless do at UA -- nothing.
What did Marcus Williams do at UA -- nothing.
Most fans can remember little if anything about their time in Tucson. Everyone will remember Derrick Williams and this team because they are special. They have accomplished something very special.
And they are not done yet!
Friday, March 18, 2011 @ 8:30am
I think it is safe to say that after a four-game losing streak that included two losses to teams they are now chasing in the race for the 8th and final playoff spot that we can stick a fork in the Phoenix Suns.
For Phoenix to overcome Memphis, New Orleans and Houston and take the 8th seed they would not only need those three teams to falter down the stretch but they would likely have to go 12-4 in their final 16 games. And that is something that the Suns are just not capable of doing.
After 66 games the Suns are what they are - a .500 team. No better. No worse. And it is completely unrealistic to think that a team that has played .500 ball for 80% of the season can now play .750 ball. And especially not with Steve Nash playing hurt and Channing Frye still out of the lineup.
Make no mistake that ownership, management and the players wanted desperately to get to the playoffs. Getting to the playoffs generates excitement, extra revenue, gives fans a good feeling about their team and gives the players pride in accomplishing something over a grueling 82-game schedule.
But there is a silver lining. By not making the playoffs the Suns will get to keep their draft pick, which was lottery protected, instead of giving it to Houston as part of the Goran Dragic for Aaron Brooks trade. The Rockets instead will get the pick that Phoenix acquired from Orlando in the blockbuster trade that sent Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark to the Magic for Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and Vince Carter.
I know it may not seem like much now but when draft day comes you will be much happier with Phoenix picking 12th or 13th instead of 22nd or 23rd, barring a lottery miracle. The difference in picks between Phoenix and Orlando will likely be around 10 or 11 draft spots. That's a big deal in terms of getting a better prospect.
And it's not like the Suns would have made the playoffs and shocked the world by knocking off San Antonio again. They in all likelihood would have been a first-round out type of team. So is it better to make the playoffs and pick in the low to mid 20's or miss the playoffs and pick 12th to 14th?
This upcoming NBA draft is supposed to be one of the worst in recent memories for true talent, but there are always gems in every draft and maybe, just maybe Phoenix can find one.
The Suns competed hard this season, they just never were able to overcome the loss of Amar'e Stoudemire. It's hard to lose a star player, replace him with role players and not take a step back. Just look at Cleveland without LeBron James, Toronto without Chris Bosh and Utah without Carlos Boozer this season. Right now none of those four teams that lost star players in the offseason would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.
Whether they like it or not Phoenix is in a transition phase, trying to be competitive and make the playoffs while rebuilding at the same time. And if you are rebuilding having a better draft slot certainly should help.
So while playoff fever will skip Phoenix this season, at least there is a consolation prize.
Friday, March 11, 2011 @ 9:29am
Let's, just for argument's sake, say that you are the head coach of a football team that just went 11-2. Your team is coming off a season in which they won the Rose Bowl by beating Oregon 26-17. You beat five 10-win teams this season. And you have most of your key starters coming back, including your quarterback. By the way you enter the next season as preseason #2, so you have a real legitimate shot at winning the National Championship.
Then some of your kids do something stupid. They sell memorabilia that is theirs to some guy who owns a tattoo parlor, which if the NCAA finds out about will deem it illegal and punish the kids and the university. You get a tip about what your players are doing in the form of an email from an attorney.
What you are supposed to do is to tell your athletic director and the school's compliance office about it. But you know that by doing so your quarterback and some of your players are going to be suspended. You have no idea how long they are going to be suspended for, but you know it's likely going to be several games.
Friday, March 4, 2011 @ 10:29am
I never saw the late Duke Snider play, but I knew all about him. Same for Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Al Kaline, Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial, Hank Greenberg and so many of the all-time great baseball players.
I caught the tail end of Willie Mays' career when he was with the Mets and a shell of his former self. I remember watching Hank Aaron in his last few years as well. Same for Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson. Somehow I knew the entire Brooklyn Dodgers lineup of the mid 50's by heart, even though they left New York and Brooklyn 9 years before I was born. There was Gil Hodges at first base, Jackie Robinson at second, Pee Wee Reese at shortstop, Junior Gilliam at third and Roy Campanella behind the plate. The outfield was Sandy Amaros, Carl Furillo and Snider. Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine and Johnny Podres are the pitchers I can recall.
Why I still to this day remember that team is beyond me. But the passing of Snider this past week at the age of 84 brought back some great baseball memories of growing up in a baseball crazed state. I spent a lot of time in Brooklyn as a kid, but Dem Bums were long gone by then and the Mets of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack had taken over New York, especially after the 1969 World Series. Nonetheless, I still knew the Brooklyn lineup like the back of my hand. Maybe it was my visits to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame. Maybe it was my grandfathers' love of baseball and him always taking me to games at Yankee and Shea Stadium when I was just a boy. Maybe it was baseball cards, which I collected frantically as a kid, mainly to scale them and flip them and sometimes to put them in the spokes of my Schwinn bicycle. I'm not really sure why, but knowing the history of baseball seemed like a necessity where I grew up. I wasn't alone mind you, all the kids I hung with knew baseball past and present.
I remember when playoff baseball games were in the daytime and my elementary school teachers put the radio on in class during the classic Yankee-Royals playoff series in the mid 70's so we could listen. Learning about math took a back seat to hearing Ron Guidry's strikeouts on the AM dial.
The main debate I remember as a kid was on who was better, Yankees catcher Thurman Munson or the Red Sox Carlton Fisk? Or on the National League side, who was a better pitcher, Seaver or Carlton? But when we talked baseball, we always referred to Willie, Mickey and the Duke and this was a few years before the "Talkin' Baseball song". Why couldn't Bobby Murcer carry on the tradition that passed down from Ruth to Gehrig to DiMaggio to Mantle? That was a classic conversation. And the old-timers would always tell us how special Willie, Mickey and the Duke were. They told us about a great time in baseball when three center fielders dominated the game and the back pages of the sports sections.
I guess in many ways not knowing about baseball's past back then would be like today's generation of kids not knowing about the Brew Crew's Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, the Wizard Ozzie Smith of the Cardinals, the Twins Kirby Puckett, the Red Sox Jim Rice and Fred Lynn, San Diego's Tony Gwynn, the Royals George Brett, Oakland's Rickey Henderson, the Phillies' Mike Schmidt, Cubs' Ryne Sandberg, or the Reds Johnny Bench and Pete Rose. Every teenage boy knows who those players are, don't they?
I think it is imperative for parents to teach their kids about the history of baseball. I think it's more imperative for baseball to put more games on in the day so kids can actually watch them, especially playoff games. I think baseball cards should go back to being .25 or even .50 cents a pack with a stale piece of gum in the middle, that way kids can collect them. I think players should sign autographs each and every chance they get. I think every kid should know how to play dice baseball at home and keep a scorecard at the game. I think every team should have a real yearbook that costs no more than $5 bucks. I think every ballpark should have hot dog guys that put sauerkraut on your dog. I think every team with a retractable roof should have it open on any day the temperature is less than 100 degrees.
And I think every young baseball fan should know 'em all from Boston to Dubuque. Especially Willie, Mickey and the Duke.
Friday, February 25, 2011 @ 8:37am
This is supposed to be a sports column. Something about the Suns trade, the upcoming NFL draft, the Coyotes recent win streak or the Diamondbacks upcoming season. But I don't want to write about sports. Over the weekend sports took a backseat to almost everything in my life. Even my kids soccer games on Saturday and Sunday meant little if anything to me. It's all kind of a blur now. I can barely recall the scores of the games even though I was there. And I'm not sure what exactly, if anything, I watched on television.
You see my life is so blessed in so many ways. I get a chance to entertain people every single day on the radio by talking about sports and life. I have done this now here in Arizona for 14 straight years. I love my job. I appreciate the listeners, the advertisers, the athletes I cover and I respect the people I work with who understand that while it seems like an easy job to turn on a microphone and talk about sports for four hours, it's really a lot more detailed than that. Not that I'm complaining, like I said I love my job.
One of the things I take great pride in is giving back to the community. Ash and I have raised roughly one million dollars over the years for the 100 Club of Arizona, benefiting the families of fallen and injured firefighters. Just this past October, I had a small part in helping to raise over $1 million dollars for the Phoenix Children's Hospital through our annual radiothon.
During the radiothon I had this amazing opportunity to deliver teddy bears to some of the children at the hospital thanks to the loyal support of our listeners who donated money. I got to walk the floors of the hospital with Larry Gaydos of News Talk 92.3 and we went around and met some amazing kids. There was something special about putting a smile on a kids face by giving them a teddy bear.
When I got home that night I told my family about this amazing 13-year old girl I met named Breanna Pena. I only spent five minutes with Breanna but she made some impression on me. She had leukemia and was having a tough day, going up and down to ICU with fevers. I showed my family pictures of her and the video the radio station made of the event that day. My wife and daughters were amazed at how beautiful she was. Now Breanna had no hair, but it didn't matter, her smile lit up the room and she was full of life.
My kids wanted to meet Breanna bad, real bad. So I called Steve Schnall, the Vice President of the Phoenix Children's Hospital, to set up a time we could go meet her. One of his assistants called me back and told me there were rules and regulations that prevented us from doing that. Something about not being able to visit only one child, we would have had to do the whole floor.
So we put it off for a few months and figured spring break would be a good time to go to the floor meet some of the kids and of course Breanna. My kids would be off from school then so it would be a perfect time to do it. And besides, Breanna made such an impression on me I just wanted to be a part of her life and watch as she beat cancer, got back to school and went to college to, as she said, "make a difference in the world"
Well, Breanna made a difference in the world all the way up until the day she lost her battle with cancer and died on Friday. I found out the news just minutes after my show ended and I cried the entire 40 minute ride home. I had to email my wife the information because I was too distraught to call her and tell her the news. I broke down telling my children that they were not going to get to meet Breanna, that the damn leukemia had won the battle and taken a life that had so much living still to do.
They say time heals all wounds but I am still hurting every time I think of Breanna. I only spent five minutes with her but it was an amazing five minutes that I will never forget. What I would give right now to have had my children meet her. She was special. I knew it from the second I met her.
I lost a sister once when I was a child and having gone through that I know there is no greater pain in the entire world than burying a child. But I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. I believe there is a heaven and a hell. I believe Breanna is in heaven, I know she is.
I just wish heaven could have waited before Breanna became an angel. I will never forget you Breanna - NEVER.
Friday, February 18, 2011 @ 9:44am
He was and always will be my favorite Suns player of all-time. Thursday night when he returned to the U.S. Airways Center, a place he once called home for nine years, it was a blast from the past. It brought back so many good memories for me of the man they called the Matrix. Granted, the Suns have had a slew of good players come and go over the years, but Shawn Marion ranked above them all for me.
It's hard to believe that three years have passed since the trade that sent Marion to Miami along with Marcus Banks for what was supposed to be the final piece -- Shaquille O'Neal. It was hard to see Marion go at the time because I had so much respect for him as a person and as a player. But he had grown tired of hearing his name in trade rumors over the years and even admitted just before the deadline that it was time for him to go. There had been talks of him going to Boston, Los Angeles and even Utah. But in the end after some deep soul searching by then General Manager Steve Kerr and with the blessing of then head coach Mike D'Antoni, the trade to Miami went down.
Phoenix had no interest in giving Marion the 3-year, $60 million extension he wanted. And they desperately wanted to rid themselves of Marcus Banks' ridiculous contract. Shaq was struggling in Miami, not playing much because of injuries, and some even thought he was tanking it. But the Suns thought a change of scenery would motivate him, which to a certain extent it did. But the trade didn't bring a championship to Phoenix and Marion's time in Miami was short lived, as he played parts of two seasons with the Heat before being traded to Toronto for half a season and eventually ending up with the Dallas Mavericks as a free agent in a sign and trade deal following the 2008-09 season.
In Phoenix Marion was a four time All-Star and easily the most versatile player the Suns had. He could guard anyone -- point guard, small forwards, power forwards, shooting guards and sometimes even centers. He could guard Baron Davis one night and Dirk Nowitzki the next. He was a great defender, a great rebounder, shot blocker and he came up with a lot of steals with those quick hands and anticipation. He could shoot the three-pointer, run the fast break and score in transition. Sure he had that ugly shot and you never really knew how that jump shot went in, but it did.
In nine years with the Suns the Matrix averaged 18.4 points, 10 rebounds, 1.89 steals, 1.35 blocks. He shot 48.1% from the floor, 34.2% from 3-point range and 82.4% from the free-throw line. When he left he was among the Suns all-time leaders in almost every statistical category -- second in minutes played, 3-pointers made, rebounds and steals, third in blocks and fourth in points.
He was a 6-foot-7, 228 pound, jumping machine. My radio partner Mark Asher called him the best re-jumper he had ever seen. Not that re-jumper is a real word, but the Matrix could get up and down and then back up again faster than anyone. Somehow it made sense.
There was always a knock on him that he disappeared in the playoffs which I never bought. Marion had to exert so much energy guarding the opposing team's best player that he sacrificed some of his offense for his defense. At that time he was really the only Suns player who could play defense so there was a lot on his shoulders. Nonetheless he averaged 17.1 points and 10.9 rebounds in his 65 postseason games with Phoenix.
What he did on the court wasn't the only reason I was his biggest fan. Marion got my respect by always being at his locker after every game, win or lose. He spoke to the media about the good and the bad. He never once turned down an interview request from me to come on our show. Marion wasn't the best interview on the team and, at times he struggled with getting his point across, but he never let that hold him back. He wanted to be liked and respected in Phoenix and at the end he wasn't getting the attention he craved. Some players need it and others don't, the Matrix was a player that wanted it.
He never felt like ownership and management gave him the credit he deserved and felt more like the third wheel on the team, which in some ways he was behind Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. But Marion did all the dirty work those players couldn't do. Phoenix was paying him on a six-year maximum contract, which made him the highest paid Suns player. So in many ways that should have been a sign of respect to him. But he wanted that extension and at the age of 29 he wasn't going to get it.
The Suns have missed on a lot of draft picks over the years, but they hit the jackpot in 1999 when they made Marion the 9th overall pick in the draft. His career is winding down but I'm glad to see him doing well in Dallas and still playing the game he loves. Some day I hope the Suns organization recognizes him for what he meant to the team.
There is no doubt that Nash and Stoudemire will end up in the ring of honor. It would be a shame if Marion isn't there with them. He put nine years of his heart and soul into this organization and I for one will never forget what he meant to the team. He was one of a kind. He was my all-time favorite Sun.
Friday, February 11, 2011 @ 10:26am
John Lennon once wrote "Give Peace a Chance." That was in 1969. Now, 42 years later, I write give Babby and Blanks a chance.
I'm not sure how the lyrics would go if I turned it into a song. Maybe something like 'Everybody's talking about Gortat, Dowdell, Dudley, Orlando's first-round pick and all we are saying is give Babby and Blanks a chance'.
OK, maybe I'm no song writer and I am clearly stealing lines from the Beatles. In all honesty not many people are talking about those guys but the message should still get through. Lon Babby is the Suns President of Basketball Operations and Lance Blanks is the General Manager. The duo came to the Suns organization after the Suns let Amare Stoudemire walk, signed Josh Childress, Hakim Warrick and pulled off a trade for Hedo Turkoglu. So whatever issues anyone has with those moves don't take it up with Babby and Blanks. They had nothing to do with them.
The moves that they did orchestrate were the re-signing of the do everything small forward Jared Dudley to a cost effective 5-year, $22.5 million dollar deal. That move locked up the popular Suns role player at a very reasonable price. They also pulled off the trade that sent Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark to Orlando for Marcin Gortat, Mikael Pietrus, Vince Carter and Orlando's first-round pick, which right now would be the 22nd pick in the draft. That move is proving to be a very good trade as Gortat is a quality young center who is only 27-years-old and is signed through 2013-14 at a very reasonable salary that averages around $7 million a season. The Suns also saved some money long term as Gortat is making roughly $4 million less per season than Turkoglu is making giving the Suns some financial flexibility moving forward.
Zabian Dowdell was signed for the rest of this season and has done a nice job filling in for the injured Goran Dragic at the backup point guard spot. Dowdell has impressed the Suns thus far and very well could be the backup point guard next season pushing Dragic for the job.
There have been three moves made thus far by Babby and Blanks and all three have been solid. The duo is expected to resist any temptation of getting 50-cents on the dollar for Steve Nash and Grant Hill and will likely do very little at the trade deadline in two weeks. The Suns have two first-round picks this year and after next season, barring doing something stupid, will have only $28 million committed for the 2012-13 season making them a player in free agency and trades.
After the February 24th trade deadline passes the next big test for Babby and Blanks will be the draft. This year's draft is not considered a great one, with no one player considered a lock to be a star. But it is deep at point guard and power forward, two areas the Suns expect to address. Unlike the last two years, Phoenix absolutely must come out with something to show for in this draft.
What Babby and Blanks have is a game plan. What they need is time to execute it. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will a championship team in Phoenix.
The Suns era of '7-seconds or less' is over. The Suns run of success over the last six years is finished. They are no longer a contender for an NBA championship. What they are is a good team that will battle for a seven or eight playoff seed and talented enough to make a deep run if they do get in. The transition period is under way and what the two LB's should be judged on is what they do over the next 2 to 3 years to get Phoenix back to contending for a title.
Blanks is determined to build a more conventional team with a true center, Gortat, and power forward. He knows the end is near for Nash and Hill and how the Suns transition from their two stars will ultimately decide the success or failure of the Suns new men in charge. Ultimately what the goal needs to be is to somehow, someway, get a star player in his prime to Phoenix.
Without a star player there will be no championship. Gortat and Dudley are nice complimentary pieces but unless there is a star here to follow Nash, mediocrity is likely.
The three ways to get a star are No.1 hit the jackpot in the draft. No.2 clear enough salary cap space and convince one to sign here. No.3 pull off a trade for a disgruntled star who wants out of his current situation. It's not easy to find superstars in this league. They don't grow on trees and it's not easy to find them in the draft. To some extent first-round picks are overrated. See last year's NBA draft.
While the Suns have given the fans a ton of enjoyment over these last 6 years, the reality is that there could be, and I expect there to be, a few lean years ahead. The Suns could find themselves in the draft lottery the next couple of years, including this one, as they rebuild. What Babby and Blanks don't want to do is mortgage the future to try and stay competitive now. If they can stay competitive over the next few years while rebuilding great, but don't sacrifice any part of the future to settle for mediocrity.
It's no fun being the 7th or 8th seed. They can't panic to appease the fan base that is used to winning and contending. That includes the Suns owner who wants to win very badly and hates to lose.
Robert Sarver is not cheap. You can certainly question how he spends his money but you can not question the fact that he spends it. So getting him to buy into a 2-3 year plan may be difficult to do, but it is necessary.
Babby and Blanks will ultimately be judged by what they do over the next few years. Can they rebuild the roster and turn it back into a contender? Only time will tell. But they need the time to do it and they may have to take a step backwards before taking two steps forward.
So far you have to like the moves they have made, while not earth shattering, they are good moves. What they accomplish more than anything is proving to the owner, the organization and its fan base that they have an eye for talent and the ability to change over the roster.
Now all they need is for everyone to give them a chance.
Friday, February 4, 2011 @ 8:56am
News moves fast in the social media world. It didn't take long after I mentioned on air Thursday that I thought Ben Roethlisberger was a better quarterback than Kurt Warner before Warner himself was getting tweets about it and responding on Twitter that he wants a chance to come on the show and defend himself. Within five minutes of him sending out his tweet and after getting my text message telling him to call in, a fantastic debate on the greatness of two quarterbacks erupted on the show.
Now, before you condemn me and sentence me to be put under the first train out of town, understand that I said Kurt Warner was a great quarterback, top 5 in our era. I just thought that, in my opinion and I am certainly entitled to it, that Roethlisberger was better.
For argument sake I am considering this era post-Aikman. Meaning after Troy Aikman retired and in the last 10 years. It's easy to figure out who the top two quarterbacks in the era are - Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. I gave the nod to Brett Favre, which I think most people would agree. Now came the hard part. Who is the fourth best quarterback of this era? Warner? Roethlisberger? Brees?
I went with Roethlisberger. Now again, hear me out before taking the homer approach. You all love Warner and so do I. He was a sensational quarterback who is headed to the Hall of Fame and the Cardinals are finding it impossible to replace him. The same way Pittsburgh had a hard time replacing Terry Bradshaw, Miami replacing Dan Marino, San Diego replacing Dan Fouts and Denver with John Elway.
Now let's be realistic here, my choice on Roethlisberger has nothing to do with his behavior off the field. Just like when he gets a chance to go to the Hall of Fame five years after he retires nothing he did off the field is taken into consideration, only what he did on the field.