Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Death of the 2009 Cavaliers and Hope for the Future

I'm supposed to be beside myself right now. How does a veteran 66 win team with an indestructible player just go catatonic in the Eastern Conference Finals and lay down to a gimmicky team from a crappy sports town like Orlando. This wasn't supposed to happen. We were supposed to at least have the opportunity to give the Lakers our best shot. This team had been different all year. They played together, they outhustled people, they never panicked, they cheered for each other from the bench . . . where did all of that go?
Given the ride that we've all been on with this team for the last 8 or so months, it's hard to rationalize what just happened. Based on the comments I've seen and heard so far, the most common reaction that people seem to be having having is a desire to label this collapse as another classic Cleveland choke. They're pointing fingers at Lebron, Mike Brown, Mo Williams . . . pretty much anyone who could possibly be made to take the fall for this heartbreak. In a way, people seem to want to pull the covers of their heads, curl up in a ball, and wallow in the familiar and strangely comforting misery that is Cleveland fandom.

Listen, I'm as hurt as anyone right now. The greatest season since the 95 Indians just ended with a thud. We basically have nothing to look forward to as fans for another 12 months or so when the Cavs will possibly have a chance to avenge this loss. All we can do now is mope around and stare out into Cleveland sports abyss. For a lot of people, myself included, who depend on our teams to be a source of entertainment and happiness, the situation that we are presently facing is daunting to say the least.

With that in mind, if you just can't stomach any Cavs analysis right now, I encourage you to stop reading. What I am about to say might piss some people off but after a great deal of thought, I'm comfortable that it's an accurate statement: THE CAVS DID NOT CHOKE. The Cavs were a fatally flawed group that came up short against a team that was playing exceptionally good basketball and beat them straight up in six games. That's what happened. Yes, the Cavs blew some close games. Yes, the officiating was atrocious, but equally so on both sides. Yes, certain players (I'm looking at you Mo) played poorly throughout the series. Yes, Orlando had some guys play way above their heads. Still, if you consider the Cavs' full body of work this year, I don't think you can call what they just did a choke job.

Against both Orlando and the Lakers this year, teams that can play both inside and out, the Cavs were pretty helpless. Their ancient frontcourt combined with an undersized backcourt made it impossible to match up. It's not like the Cavs weren't aware of this throughout the season either. It's exactly why they were considering taking on Shaq's ungodly contract at the deadline. In the end, they decided to roll the dice and play with what they had. I don't want to come off like I'm second guessing that decision. At the time it was made, given the players available and the financial ramifications involved, it was perfectly defensible. At the same time, there is a chance that it just cost the Cavs the title.

I know that the Cavs won 66 games. I know that they swept the first two rounds of the playoffs. I know about the MVP, coach of the year, second all-star on the roster . . . I know. It doesn't change the fact that the Cavs had an elephant in the room all year that we all just collectively decided that there was nothing we could do about so we just left it alone in the hope that it wouldn't be our undoing. Well, it was. And even if we'd survived Orlando, it probably would've been our undoing against L.A. You can't go 6'1 and 6'2 in the backcourt if you only have one viable frontcourt defender. Lebron can make a lot of deficiencies disappear but against a team like Orlando, even he can't overcome the problem. It was just physically impossible to match up. If you double Howard, they'll shoot right over top of your small guards. If you don't double Howard, he'll just eat you alive. Solve that one for me.  What exactly were the Cavs supposed to do? Orlando made the shots that the Cavs had to give them. It's as simple as that.

I don't want to dwell on this. It's going to take some time but eventually, we're going to have to just let it be and look ahead. It's hard to think about it now but the Cavs are in really good position to address their deficiencies this offseason. Between re-signing Varejao and getting rid of Szczerbiak, they won't free up all that much money (they're over the cap anyway but I'm sure they'd prefer to lower the payroll a bit) but they will still have Ben Wallace as a major trading chip (If he's going to retire, they could trade him and let another team buy him out) in an environment where plenty of teams will be looking to shed payroll. I think if the Cavs can add one of the following three things this summer, they will be the prohibitive favorite to win it next year:

1. Lengthy wing defender: Hopefully a two-way player but if not, maybe someone like Dahntay Jones. Basically I'm looking for a non-retarted Sasha Pavolvic.

2. Big body down low: See Perkins, Kendrick. We need one of those.  They're hard to find.  This could be a problem.  

3. Second fiddle: Sorry Mo but you came up small when it mattered most. You're a nice complementary player but everyone out there that told us all year that you weren't the real Robin was right. If he's out there, the Cavs need to use Ben Wallace's contract to acquire another reliable scorer.  Oddly enough, given the current economic climate of the NBA, it will probably be easier to add this piece that to find a reliable low-post defender.

That's all I've got for now. Keep your heads up everyone. I hear the Browns are going to be really good this year.
Read the rest of this article

Thursday, May 21, 2009

It happened, We're Over It, We're Moving On

Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts. The sky is not falling . . . .

I attended game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals last night expecting to be treated to another 48 minutes of Cavalier poetry. Needless to say, 24 of those minutes fell a bit short of my expectations. I left the Q hoarse, angry, and exhausted.

I'm not going to recap the game. I'm not going to point out all of the obvious and ridiculous things that the Cavs botched, both in their execution and strategy in the second half. All I'm going to do is offer a few suggestions that I think might help the Cavs handle a team that they just don't match up with particularly well; and yes, I'm well aware that "don't stand around on offense" is probably near the top of the list of adjustments that need to be made, but we're going for a few things that are a little more subtle:

1. Take 75% of Szczerbiak and Gibson's minutes and give them to Sasha. Keep in mind, I am not a Pavlovic fan. But I just don't see how you can justify playing a guy a) whose feet are glued to the floor, or b) who is undersized and brings nothing to the table right now, over a guy who is 6'7, agile, and can also put the ball on the floor on the offensive end. Listen, I'm well aware of Sasha's deficiencies. I just think that with both Lewis and Turkoglu out on the floor, when the Cavs decide to change things up by going to the bench, the should do it by bringing out a big perimeter player who can bother Orlando's shooters a little bit.

2. Increase Lebron's minutes. I know, this sounds a little bit ridiculous since he only sat about 90 seconds in the 4th quarter but part of what has made the Cavs such a tough playoff out for the last couple of years is that the team becomes significantly better when Lebron is playing 48 minutes. I thought it was a costly mistake to put him on the bench to start the 4th last night. Playoff leads are too hard to build. It is senseless to have a guy work all game to build and maintain a lead just to let it slip away so that he can get a quick blow. There are no back-to-backs in the playoffs. The TV timeouts are endless. Lebron can go 48 minutes without a problem. Let him do it. At the very least, eliminate the rest at the start of the 4th. The Cavs can't afford to take him off of the floor for defensive reasons, let alone offense.

3. Give Andy a crack at Howard. I completely agreed with the strategy of forcing Howard to beat single defenders to win the game. Boiled down to its simplest form, in a pure pissing contest between Howard and Lebron, Howard loses 99 times out of 100. He just doesn't have the offensive arsenal to score every time down the floor like Lebron does. That said, having Z guard him all game is making things a little too easy. At least Andy might be able to stay in front of him and draw a cheap charge or two. I'm not saying the Cavs should do it all game because they can't afford to have Varejeo in foul trouble but he definitely needs to spend a little more time on Howard, if only to force him to make a few more baby hooks. Obviously, if the Cavs do this, it means more time for Wallace and Joe Smith because one of them is going to have to guard Rashard Lewis. I'm fine with that (assuming they stop screwing up the switch-offs on the sideline pick and roll). I love Z but unless the Cavs are going to run offensive set through him in the low post (which they won't as long as Howard is down there), then there isn't much reason to have him out there all game.

4. Stick Lebron on Alston and leave him there until somebody else gets hot. I'm not sure why the Cavs switched the assignment last night when Orlando's perimeter players were quiet in the first half. Plus, having Lebron on Alston gives him a little more flexibility to be a helpside defender down low. I'm not saying he can just go roam and block shots, but it's not like Turkoglu or Lewis where helping equals instant death.

5. Stop making Z show on screens 30 feet from the basket.

6. Push the perimeter defense out even further out. I know, it sounds absurd but Orlando can't win games with 2 point shots. On that last possession, I wished Varejao had just waved Rashard Lewis by him and made him make an uncontested 8 footer. I know, putting guys in a position to beat you off the dribble forces defenders to help and causes things to break down. Still, I'd rather take my chances with that than allow Lewis and Turkoglue to get good looks at the rim all game. The Cavs defenders need to be up in Lewis and Turkoglu's chests swatting at the ball trying to make their lives difficult and disrupt their shooting motions.

Aside from the aforementioned, there are a host of other obvious adjustments that need to be made (e.g. Mike Brown not doing his best S.V.G. impression by pissing his pants and overreacting to his opponent's play by abandoning his gameplan) but I have confidence that the Cavs will make them. The Cavs are a 66 win team. The Magic are a team that is built to succeed one night and fail the next. The sky is not falling. The Cavs have spent 8 months convincing us that they're the best team in the league. One bad half doesn't change that. Keep the faith everyone. This series is going to be a roller-coaster but I still believe the Cavs will prevail.
Read the rest of this article

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Guide to the Josh Cribbs Contract Saga

Time to take on the Josh Cribbs contract situation through some Q&A:

Another selfish athlete who just can't seem to live on a million bucks a year. Don't we deserve to be outraged?!

Well, you can be outraged if you'd like but don't be mad at Cribbs. Think about this: He may make $1 million a year but he's an NFL kick and punt returner who also serves as a special-teams gunner on the kick coverage teams. Basically, aside from kamikaze pilot, he's got about the most dangerous and physically destructive job you can think of. He'll turn 26 next month which means he has maybe three or four more good years left in him. Basically, the money he makes over the next few years is going to have to last him for about the next 50. Yes, I understand he has a Kent State degree but without sounding too . . . I don't know, condescending, I have my doubts about Cribbs' ability to add substantially to his fortune in any post-football business endeavors (unless of course one of the major networks decides to syndicate "Josh's Cribbs," which is highly likely). So, while you may bitch about your 40k a year, remember that you can probably continue to earn that for the rest of your life. Cribbs, on the other hand, has to make bank now or deal with the very real possibility that the money is going to run out some day. $1 million a year is a lot of money but when you can only make it for a few years and then you have to live on it and support your family on it for decades, it isn't quite as much as it seems.

But Cribbs willfully signed his contract! Nobody forced him to sign for six years!

A fair point, and in any other sport, that would be the end of the argument. In football, however, it isn't quite that simple. For the most part, football deals are what the law calls "illusory" contracts. They contain virtually no mutuality of obligation. Most NFL players, aside from the select few that get gobs in signing bonuses and guaranteed money, are at-will employees. The franchises, on the other hand, can control players' rights for years without really promising anything other than a set salary contingent upon the individual team's desire to have the particular player on the roster for that year. It's a very one-sided way of negotiating which is why you don't see it in the other major sports.

So then we should feel bad for Cribbs for being forced to sign this contract of adhesion?

Nope. NFL players have nobody to blame but themselves for being stuck in situations like this. If they don't like the way the current system works, then they need to get a better union. Everything that happens to a player like Cribbs is a product of the collective bargaining efforts of the NFL Players Union. Unfortunately for Cribbs and many others like him, the NFLPA is by far the worst union of any of the three major professional sports. That's why even though football players subject themselves to the most occupational danger, they're the only ones without guaranteed contracts. It's also why rookies make 100x more than valuable veterans and aging players don't have adequate health coverage or decent pensions. For years, the Union was run by guys like Gene Upshaw, who cared more about backroom handshake agreements with player-agents than about protecting the interests of the players who really make the game special. If NFL players don't like their current predicament . . . if they're tired of a system that pays Matthew Stafford about $41 million more in guaranteed money than a pro-bowl player like Josh Cribbs, then they need to get off of their asses and elect better Union leadership.

Ok, I get it: The NFLPA is horrible. But with that aside, didn't Randy Lerner promise Cribbs more money?

Who knows, but it certainly sounds like a very convenient thing to say when you're trying to get gain the public's support to put pressure on the owner. Randy Lerner throws around millions of dollar on free agents every year without even batting an eye. He knows he's already on thin ice with the fans and media in Cleveland so do you really think that now of all times, he would decide to renege on a promise to one of his best and most liked players for the sake of saving a little cash? It's not out of the question but I highly doubt it. And I also doubt that Mangini and Kokinis showed up and told Lerner not to pay the man. Again, it's not out of the question but it certainly sounds farfetched.

So what should the Browns do to resolve the situation?

Well, there are two competing forces that deserve consideration here. Force 1 - Leverage: Simply put, the Browns have all of it. As stated, the clock is ticking on Cribbs as a valuable NFL player. Once his speed goes or his body starts to break down, it's over. He can't afford to sit on the sideline all year and miss 16 game checks. What's more, unlike a player on the cusp of free agency, he can't just hold out for 10 games and then play the last six to get credit for the year. Basically, he's stuck. The Browns hold all of the cards. Now, I know some of you are probably thinking, "Well sure, the Browns can turn this into a standoff but then they'll risk being without one of their best and most popular players." I understand this argument, but unfortunately, it doesn't really matter. The Browns are going to be bad with Cribbs or worse without him. What exactly are they risking by having him hold out? Going 5-11 as opposed to 6-10? It's not exactly like we're gearing up for a Super Bowl run this year. As for Cribbs' popularity with the fan base, if you haven't figured it out by now, Randy Lerner could go around taking dumps on the front stoops of the homes of every single Browns fan and it wouldn't deter them from spending money to support the team. Demand for the Browns, as insane as it seems, is completely inelastic. They'll sell tickets and merchandise with or without Cribbs.

Force 2 - Goodwill: NFL teams don't usually get very far by alienating their own players. As an organization, you have to strike a delicate balance between holding players to the letters of their contracts and taking care of your own. Cribbs' market value is certainly more than what he's getting paid and god knows the Browns waste tens of millions of dollars every year on carpetbagging manslaughterers like Donte' Stallworth. Would it really kill them to take care of Cribbs? No, it wouldn't. It would make Cribbs happy, it would make the fans happy, it would improve the team's image, and it would preserve the peace within the organization.

I'll ask again: What should the Browns do to resolve the situation?

Well when you weigh the two aforementioned forces against each other, I think the answer becomes that the Browns should seek a middle ground with Cribbs. He's going to show up and ask for Devin Hester money at the very least: 4 years, $40 million, $15 million guaranteed. The Browns, rightfully, should laugh at the demand given that they have ALL of the bargaining power. At the same time, an olive branch in the neighborhood of a couple million dollars a year in extra base compensation would probably be appropriate. Cribbs and his agent may put on a tough face and continue to hold out, but in the end, he has no choice but to accept the offer. He can either have a year in the prime of his career where he makes $0 or he can show up for work and make 2 or 3 times what he initially thought he would be earning. He wouldn't be completely satisfied, but at the very least, he could return to the team without completely losing face. In the end, I think this is probably the best solution for all parties involved.

So now that we know what the Browns should do, what do you think they will do?

Based on the front office's response today, it seems like they're going to go the route of publicly calling Cribbs a liar, refusing to negotiate with him, and making the organization look completely foolish yet again. They wouldn't be the Browns if they didn't turn ever morsal of discontent into a full blown public relations debacle. Hopefully, they'll come to their senses and reach a compromise with Cribbs, but for some reason, and by some reason I mean everything I've come to know about the Browns, I just don't see them resolving this one peacefully.
Read the rest of this article

Sunday, May 17, 2009

It's Orlando: The Road to the Finals Just Got Harder

And so ends the reign of the Celtics . . .

I can't help but feel a little disappointed. There were so many reasons to want the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals: The inflated media hype they generate, the cliche' "team of destiny" storylines that would've inevitably developed, the fact that they're completely finished and would've probably been pounded by the Cavs in 5 games, the revenge factor associated with embarrassing an aging and decimated Celtics team . . . It would've been a lot of fun.

With that said, I guess I can appreciate the silver lining in the Celtics' defeat: This was absolutely the end for them. Garnett may come back but he's never going to be the defensive enforcer that he used to be. Paul Pierce has crested the hill and is rapidly crashing back toward earth. Did you see him trying to take guys off the dribble in these playoffs? He looked like he was running in sand the entire time. Ray Allen? Entering the Reggie Miller "I can only contribute on a great team that can create wide open looks for me" phase of his career. The Celtics are done . . . for a while. Of course, when their cap situation improves, they are bound to land a marquee free agent or two. Players are always going to want to play in Boston. It's a decent town that gets a ton of media attention and the Celtics have a fantastic basketball tradition. But before the Celtics rebuild, they're going to have to pay the bill for the Championship they (along with Kevin McHale) won last year.
Another silver lining from the Celtics' failure: With Garnett going down, Glen Davis got to show just enough for someone (hopefully the Celtics) to wildly overpay for him this Summer. As a Cavs fan, you have to appreciate that. Sure, we may have our own bill coming due with Varejao but at least he's a legit 6'11 and can play center when called upon. The Celtics are genuinely screwed. Seriously, they're probably a 50-55 win team next year. It's our time now.

Bring On Orlando:

Before I can start breaking down the Magic as a team, I have to address a major subplot to this upcoming series that the networks are sure to miss. You may not have known this but Magic Center Dwight Howard has a real thing for porn stars; and not just any porn stars. He likes porn stars that poop in hot tubs. The sight of a floater cruising along in a steaming whirlpool really turns him on. Don't believe me? Follow the link below:

Some highlights:

-Howard invited his porn star friend to a Magic game but insulted her by giving her crappy tickets.
-The object of Howard's affection seems to enjoy defecating and menstruating in hot tubs.
-Howard cornered Ms. Carey in a bathroom and whipped it out.
-Howard is a devout Christian.

You stay classy Superman.

Ok, so I've been waiting to post that for about, oh, I don't know, two years. Now that I've gotten it out of my system, lets talk basketball. Just for fun, we'll break down this matchup Terry Pluto style:

Can the Magic beat the Cavs?

Yes. Orlando is extremely dangerous but very little of that has to do with Dwight Howard. Howard may be able to protect the rim and hammer the glass but there's only so much damage he can do by himself. Rather, it's Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu that really present the problem for the Cavs. Both are 6'10 and can be extremely dangerous from the outside. If one or both of them get hot, there won't be a ton that the Cavs can do about it. When you're giving up that much size on the perimeter, closing out on a shooter will only protect you to a certain degree. The Cavs' defense thrives on packing the paint and making teams beat them with jump shots. Orlando is one of the few teams in the league that can actually win that way (hence the reason they were able to beat the Cavs twice by double-digits this year).

Can the Cavs pound Orlando like they did Detroit and Atlanta?

Yes. Here's the thing about Orlando: They may punch harder than Boston, and they may present a greater danger of knocking us down (aka, winning at the Q) but they don't have Boston's jaw. If we hit them hard in the mouth early in the series, they might just hit the canvas for good. This is a team that is a) inexperienced, b) built around the 3-point shot, and c) coached by a guy who is prone to freaking out in big moments. If the Cavs had taken games one and two at the Q against Boston, the Celtics would've come back and fought hard at home. However, if the Cavs really take it to Orlando Wednesday and Friday, the series might be over early. Orlando may have more talent than Boston but they don't have the Celtics' leadership, experience, or intestinal fortitude.

So what's the game plan?

Well, I'm sure with as much time as they've had off, Mike Brown and his staff know exactly how they're going to handle the Magic. If it were me, I'd make it my number one priority to contest EVERYTHING from the outside and take my chances with Howard. If nothing else, the Cavs have enough big men in Z, Varejao, Wallace, and Smith that they can just foul the shit out of him and make him beat them from the line. I'll take my chances with Howard shooting lots of jump hooks and free throws.

The Magic will win if:

They have an absolute lights out shooting night in either games 1 or 2 and steal one from a stunned Cavs team at the Q. Then, they go back home, take advantage of their crowd, and beat a still somewhat bewildered Cavs team twice more to go up 3-1. Then, they come back to Orlando for game 6 and finish it.

The Cavs will win if:

They can keep Orlando from penetrating. It sounds counter intuitive to worry about penetration when you're talking about a team with a dominant center and a bunch of 3-point shooters but realistically, it would be tough for the Cavs to lose 4 times unless they're getting beat off of the dribble. Howard might be good for one Orlando win on his own. Turkoglu and Lewis could win two more with hot shooting nights. Still, I don't see Orlando getting to 4 unless Alston and the other perimeter guys can break down the Cavs' defense allowing Howard to dominate the glass and get easy second-chance points. If the Cavs can stay in front of their men, I like them to win the series.

The good news for Orlando is:

The Cavs might have to rely heavily on Sasha Pavlovic in this series. Aside from Lebron, he's the only guy with both the size and quickness to bother Orlando's big shooters.

The good news for Cleveland is:

Lebron might just assassinate Orlando by himself. This isn't the same player we've seen in years past. He is now good enough not only to win games by himself, but to win entire series by himself. Then again, even if he doesn't, the great thing about having the home court is that you can count on your complimentary players to show up for at least 4 games in the series.

More good news for Cleveland:

Orlando's point guard is Rafter Alston. He is, uh . . . let's just say unreliable.


If you're betting against the Cavs at this point then you're insane. Orlando is capable of giving the Cavs a very tough series, and even capable of beating them if everything breaks just right for them. Still, if you're playing the odds, the Cavs have to be a pretty good favorite in this series. I'd say with the homecourt and the extended rest, they could probably beat Orlando in 7 series out of 10. That's why for my prediction, I'm going with Cavs in 6.

Wednesday can't arrive soon enough.
Read the rest of this article

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Power Rankings: Make Way For Intangibles

As the Cavs continue their throat slitting tour through the Eastern Conference and the Indians continue to "fade into Bolivian," it seems like an appropriate time to reshuffle the Power Rankings a bit. My first inclination, and one that has been supported by a few members of the CMRC faithful, is to automatically ban all Indians from this list for trying to ruin summer in Cleveland.

As much as I would've liked to act on this impulse out of spite and pettiness, in all fairness, I couldn't do it. Is Sizemore off to a pathetic start hitting .227? Yes. But the power rankings are supposed to be a reflection of the comprehensive feelings that fans have on a daily basis about the players in this city. Cleveland fans might be upset with Grady right now because he strikes out every time he comes to bat, but they still love him, they still haven't forgotten how good he can be, and he's still the second most famous athlete in Cleveland. Similarly, Victor Martinez may be on the verge of irrelevance (at least until we hear his name start popping up in trade rumors), but he's still beloved in this town and he's still hitting at an absurd .374 clip. The fact that he was moved down in the power rankings is more a reflection of the fact that fans will begin to forget about him with the Indians being so terrible, because unlike Sizemore (and rather inexplicably since Victor has twice the personality that Grady has), he doesn't have the star power to keep himself in the Cleveland conscience with the team out of it.

In addition, I had to move Varejao up right now. He's beloved, he's playing insanely good basketball, and this team is starting to build a lasting legacy for itself in this town. The same is true for Delonte who, after months of not being the same guy he was at the beginning of the season, finally appears to be back at full strength. He's playing inspired defense, picking up the scoring load when needed, and endearing himself to the Cavalier faithful. He deserves a spot in these rankings.

Falling off the list is Shaun Rogers, not because of anything he did, but because with Browns fans resigned to the fact that the Browns are going to be bad again this year, nobody is going to give a damn about the veteran players. All of the focus will be on Quinn and our sexy high-octane young rookies like Brian Robiskie and Alex Mack (shaking head).

Just missing this list: Dave Dellucci, Rafael Perez, Lorenzen Wright

That's it for now. GO CELTICS! (and if you don't get why I'm saying that, you don't know the NBA)
Read the rest of this article

Sunday, May 10, 2009

LeBron's March to the Sea

I haven't written about the Cavaliers in a while because truthfully, I haven't felt like it. Now I know what you're thinking: I only chime in when I have something to complain about, but please, allow me to explain . . . .
When I watch the Cavs right now, I don't have to think. I don't have to worry. I don't have to do anything. Right now, being a Cavs fan is the most relaxing and enjoyable experience that you could possibly imagine. I watch the way they play the game, and my body experiences this indescribable euphoria, the likes of which I have never approached through any other (legal) activity.

Generally, I get motivated to write about one of my teams when they're doing something that requires some sort of analysis. What exactly do you want me to analyze about the Cavs right now? They're playing at a level that only a handful of teams in NBA history have ever played at. They do everything right. They never take games off. They never shit the bed. They just go out there every game and please me. That's what they do. Why ruin that by trying to engage in some long-winded analysis. For the first time since maybe the '95 Indians, one of my teams requires no explanation or commentary. As a fan, I can only sit back and enjoy them. In a way, they're like a beautiful sunset. If I try to deconstruct their beauty instead of just enjoying the moment, I'll ruin the experience. I would encourage every blogger to take this approach with the Cavs right now. Don't tell me how they're doing what they're doing. Just let me sit back, relax my brain, and enjoy the breathtaking show that they put on every time they take to the floor.

Given the feelings I've just expressed, I'm not going to offer much in the way of Cavs analysis. All I will say is that right now, Lebron is doing more damage to Atlanta than any man since Sherman. I mean he could literally beat the Hawks with four NBADL stiffs around him right now. He's playing at a level that's higher than anyone since maybe '96 Jordan and even Jordan couldn't hold a candle to the type of efficiency numbers that Lebron is generating right now. I've been watching him for six years and I'm just flat out in awe. He does whatever he needs to do whenever he feels the need to do it. The floor is his. Everyone else, especially the opposing team, is just there for decoration.

It won't always be this easy. Certainly, there are a few teams out there that could challenge our juggernaut. But right now, I don't want to think about them. I just want soak up all the love and positive energy that the Cavs are sending in my direction. For once in my life, I want to enjoy the fact that I don't have to work to be a fan.
Read the rest of this article

Friday, May 1, 2009

Alvaro's Afterthoughts: Tribe In Desperate Need of 'Relief'

I'm pissed off. I should be basking in the glow of the Cleveland Cavaliers as they march towards their inevitable championship destiny. I should be drinking my annual Browns' delusional punch, convincing myself the team has any semblance of finishing above .500. I should be admiring Terrelle Pyror's new tattoo.

Instead, evening after painful, predictable evening, I am forced to endure the pathetic excuse for a team, currently masquerading as the Cleveland Indians.

In the past, this site has been accused of taking a somewhat cynical and critical view towards our Cleveland sports franchises. However, I refuse to be further subjected to and to blindly cheer for a Cleveland Indians team which is both boring to watch and mind-numbingly frustrating to follow. A wildly inconsistent offense, coupled with a gasoline and matchbox carrying bullpen, and a team devoid of leadership, has lead me down the fandom path of anger, despair and that oh to familiar Cleveland feeling of apathy (really a disguised mixture of anger and despair).

For the past few seasons, the Indians have been the media's sexy preseason sleeper pick, the team which all the pundits love to purchase a season upon the bandwagon. What these pundits fail to perceive, is that Tribe as currently constructed, is an inherently flawed baseball team. A bandwagon with three broken wheels and no horses isn't going anywhere.

1. The Bullpen

The hands-down, biggest culprit for the Indians' failures thus far this season is the bullpen. Look, no one expected the bullpen to be this bad. In fact, coming into the season, the bullpen appeared one of the strengths of the roster. Picking up Joe Smith and Kerry Wood only seemed to cement a relief corps which finished last season strongly. Instead, the team has the league's worse bullpen - a group who seemingly cannot retire a batter between them.

How many of you out there, when watching Indians' games feel that any lead is safe? Not me. I don't care if the Tribe is up 7 runs in the 9th inning with two outs, as this point in the season I have absolutely zero confidence in any of our relievers.

The Indians relievers with the lowest ERAs currently are Tony Sipp (3.60 - who gave up 2 runs in a .1 inning of work in his last appearance) and Aaron Laffey (3.60). The fact that the Indians had to move their most consistent starter to stabilize the bullpen indicates just how bad things have gotten. Not to mention that the supposed reliable members of our pen, Wood, Jensen Lewis and the Raffies have been giving up runs at an alarming clip (like every single game). Jensen Lewis especially has been serving up home runs like a pedophile handing out candy to tricker-treaters.

Perhaps the bullpen's struggles can be attributed to the off-season dismissal of Luis Issac. Perhaps moving Laffey to the pen, demoting Raffy Perez, calling up Matt Herges to replace Vinnie Chulk, and the potential pick up of Luis Vizcaino will turn things around. All I know is that's hard to win ballgames when you can't protect leads. And, as a starting pitcher, it has to be demoralizing to leave with a sizable lead, only to see the pen crap away the game. I'd rather the Indians get blown out of a game, rather than see the team continually give games away in the latter innings.

2. The Tribe has No Personality/ No Leadership

A second problem I have with this team is that has absolutely zero personality. Watching the Indians play this season, it's clear that they are one of the most vanilla teams in baseball - the team identity falling somewhere between Ben Stein's portrayal as Ferris Bueller's teacher and a pet rock. Gone are those carefree yesteryear days of pies in the face, ala Trot Nixon. In their stead, we find a team without an identifiable captain or even a viable mouthpiece.

The problem seemingly starts at the top with Eric Wedge. I've always been on the fence with Wedge as a manager of this team, which in of itself is a characterization of the overall identity problem with the team. Wedge has always been so bland in spouting off trite baseball sound bites after games, that it's nearly impossible to form an opinion of his either positively or negatively because he's so robotic. His players seem to respect him, if only because he protects from the media and his usual refusal to say anything negative about them.

On the other hand, Wedge spends most games staring off into the distance, with a look of utter disinterest and disdain plastered across his face. It's only been recently, with the Tribe's season circling the drain, along with Wedge's future employment, that we've begun to see any life and fight emerge from him. In fact, one of my favorite moments so far this season was when Wedge finally showed some emotion arguing that swinging strike and that foul ball in the Red Sox game, getting himself tossed. The Indians were so moved by their manager's unusual display of emotion that they rallied themselves into another losing effort.

While I'm not a huge Ozzie Guillen fan, I can't help but think that an underachieving team like the Indians might be better served by having a fiery manager like Ozzie at its helm. I'm thinking along the lines of perhaps a Tony Pena - he has managing experience and he's even smacked one of relief pitchers in the head with a glove before.

But despite Wedge's unwavering demeanor for the most part, no player has stepped up into the leadership role on the field - gaps left by the departures of Casey Blake and C.C. Sabathia. Usually, a team's most talented players will find themselves in the leadership role, if only because their abilities on the field seemingly earn them the respect of their peers. On the Indians, two players who would appear to be in leadership type positions are Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez. And honestly, neither of them strikes me as a vocal leader of this group.

Sizemore especially would seem to possess all the qualities necessary to be a dynamic clubhouse voice for the Tribe - -he plays the game hard, he seems to enjoy himself and his teammates seem to respect him. Unfortunately, he seems to have no interest in filling that role. It's typically unusual for a younger player to be the mouthpiece of a team. Having someone like Lebron James in our backyards (who is such an impressive team general) can blind us to the fact that it's typically the older veterans who set the tone for how a team approaches the game or responds from hardships. Grady just doesn't seem to have the type of personality who is going to rally teammates in the dugout or pat someone on the back after a hard game. Maybe as he matures, Grady will fall into to such a role, but presently it might not be fair to expect him to do so.

On the other hand, Martinez seems to have both the talent and the desire to be the leader of the Indians. As a catcher, Victor would seem to demand respect of the pitching staff and as the team's most polished hitter, it would be natural for him to set the tone in the lockerroom to the other hitters (hopefully preaching patience). I do think Martinez is probably the silent leader of this ballclub. I think Victor's personality appears that he's not so much an outspoken leader, as much as he leads by example.

The problem with Victor serving as the leader of this ball club is that he also currently the team's most tradable asset. As Biff discussed in one of his earlier posts, with the organizational glut of catching prospects coupled with Victor's inevitably move from behind the plate to first-base, if the Indians continue to tank, their apparent leader of the Tribe may be out of here by July.

Interestingly, Ryan Garko was recently asked on the radio who he thought was the emotional leader of the Tribe. His response - David Dellucci. Hmmm - the leader of the Tribe is someone who's been absent from the team for the majority of the season? Perhaps Wedge knew something about the makeup of the Indians when he essentially assured Dellucci a roster spot in Spring Training. If Dellucci truly is a team leader, maybe his value to the team is greater than most Indians' fans realize.

3. The Indians Offense Strikes Out Way Too Much

Finally, the Indians' offense, as constructed, essentially has to get lucky to succeed. As a team, the Tribe has marignal speed and and for the most part is forced to mainly play station-to-station baseball. We're not going to see the Indians manufacturing a load of runs. The problem with this philosphy, is that the Indians have to rely on clutch hitting to score runs. And the Indians strike out. A lot.

Take for example, Jhonny Peralta. In 101 ABs this season, he's struck out a whooping 32 times. Grady Sizemore has struck out 1 out of every 4 ABs. DeRosa and Choo - 1 out of every 5 times. Kelly Shoppach? 48 ABs and 20 Ks.

The point is - when a team, which doesn't have a lot of speed isn't even putting the ball into play 20% of the time, hits aren't getting strung together and runs aren't getting scored. Furthermore, it's hard to ever string together any kind of big inning or rally - it's inevitable someone's going to come along and strike out in a big moment. (And I know that the Indians' have had some huge innings this year, like against the Yankees).

With the Tribe's lack of plate discipline, the Tribe has a knack for letting opposing pitchers off the hook, prolonging their appearance in the game and avoiding getting to another team's bullpen. Our hitters make the other team's job easier. And my job as a fan much harder.

So - what we have is an organization with no leadership, a team with no plate discipline and a bullpen which can't get anyone out? How would I fix these problems? I think the roster moves (bringing up LaPorta and Valbuena) are a start - placing those underachievers on the roster on notice. I think it might be time to bring in a new coach - as I said above, perhaps someone with a little bit more fire in the likes of Tony Pena. I think it might be time to take the next relief pitcher who gives up a lead out back and shoot them. Same for the next player who strikes out with runners in scoring position. Other than that, I see but one solution. GO CAVS.
Read the rest of this article