Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It's a power play

Want to get a real good inside look at what's happening with LeBron James' dalliance with NBA free agency? Read Yahoo!Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowksi's latest piece entitled "Team LeBron Reaches for Prominence."

The insightful columnist writes about the tug-of-war for James' emotions and services between Maverick Carter, who head LeBron's team in Cleveland, and William Wesley, the famed World Wide Wes, who is trying to wrest away LeBron from Carter.

Wesley wants James anywhere but Cleveland, according to the piece. That way, he becomes the most influential man in the superstar's life. If LeBron chooses to remain with the Cavaliers, Wesley's power base crumbles.

It comes down to a power play between Carter, the former Akron high school basketball star, and Wesley, an interloper whose power base seems to be built with smoke and mirrors. Carter is the genuine product whose whole life has been spent in Northeast Ohio. Wesley is not.

It will be interesting to see who most influences James' decision in the next 10 days -- there can be no official free-agent signing before July 8 -- with the loser slinking intro the background.

So who does LeBron listen to? His heart? His head? His girl friend? His mother? His children? His high school buddies? Warren Buffet? Larry King (just kidding)? Who?

If he chooses to leave Cleveland, he will be vilified and considered a traitor. Those seven outstanding seasons he gave Cleveland's basketball fans will quickly be forgotten.

Will it be Art Modell-like? No way. Modell left and took an entire franchise with him. James will take only himself. Some folks might argue that's like taking away the franchise. And they wouldn't be totally incorrect because the Cavaliers will never be the same if he leaves.

LeBron has achieved iconic status in Cleveland and the sports world. That status is now in jeopardy unless Carter can somehow climb into the mind of his good friend and convince him that there's no place like home.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Getting serious

The countdown has begun in earnest. The day Cavaliers fans have dreaded is just days away. The day the franchise teeters in the wind as LeBron James decides where he's going to play his basketball.

Early next Thursday, a minute after the stroke of midnight to be exact, the anointed one becomes a free agent and the scramble begins. Only three serious players in this little slice of theater: The Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls and New York Knickerbockers The others are either pretenders and/or have no chance.

The Cavs, if LeBron is to be believed, are the frontrunners, but not by much. His unabashed love of Akron and the comfort he enjoys living in that part of the world, work in Cleveland's favor. That's the strongest card the Cavaliers hold. In fact, it's the only card they hold.

LeBron knows he's going to get a lot of money wherever he lands. Again, if he is to be believed, money doesn't matter at this stage of his career. He's got enough to last several lifetimes.

He wants to win championships. And who could blame him?

He watches as Kobe Bryant rings up title after title and he's jealous. That should be me, he most likely says to himself. I'm just as good as he is and yet I have nothing to show for it. I'm a championship type of player. I need to hold that big trophy some day.
I'm sick of watching Kobe doing it.

The Bulls have shrewdly placed themselves in a position to help Lebron achieve the one goal that has eluded him. By trading Kirk Hinrich on draft night, they have opened up enough cap space to afford two high-profile free-agent signings. The latest rumor has them going after LeBron and Chris Bosh to go with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

In some corners, it'a almost a fait accompli. Yahoo!Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski, referencing Lebron guru and advisor William Wesley, writes: To listen to World Wide Wes, LeBron will never look back on Cleveland. “He’s up out of there,” is the way he tells it to people, but LeBron’s Akron crew has to tsk-tsk such public talk because they all live in Northeast Ohio, and maybe always will. “We’re going to Chicago,” William Wesley tells people, “and Chris Bosh is coming, too.”

Sounds ominous for Cleveland and Akron. If that's the case, then all the words LeBron has uttered were nothing more than lip service.

If he does wind up in Chicago, he's got to understand that no matter how well he does there or how many championships he wins, he will never begin to win over the Windy City like Michael Jordan did. There is only one Michael Jordan. Winning there would amount to a hollow victory for LeBron.

It wouldn't be nearly as hollow in Cleveland should he remain and raise a championship banner or two there. In Cleveland, he would be embraced and worshiped. Much like Jordan was -- and still is -- in Chicago.

If Wesley is correct, however, it will signal the beginning of the end for the Cavs franchise as we know it. Nick Mileti's dream of 40-plus years ago will slowly -- and sadly -- fade away.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

It's about time

News: National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell says his league no longer needs four exhibition games.

Views: What in the world took him so long to come to the realization that the fans and players have been against all those exhibitions for years?

"We really don't need (four practice games) to make it a better game," Goodell said recently. "So we have to evolve just as we did two decades ago when we went from six pre-season (NFL speak for exhibition) games to four."

Check up on your history, Mr. Commish. The NFL went from six exhibitions to four in 1978. That would make it more than three decades ago. That's 32 years of bilking the paying public, which has to take exhibition games as part of the season ticket package. They have no other choice.

Fans don't like paying full price for tickets to a game in which starters play maybe half the game, if that. And players don't like playing meaningless games for $1,100 a game.

Peeling back on the exhibitions and adding to the regular season present problems, however. Like the increasing likelihood of mounting injuries, necessitating the possibility of adding another bye week. Injuries most likely also would have an impact on the size of the roster.

Even worse, existing contracts would have to be torn up and redone to factor in the larger number of regular-season games. That could prove a logistical nightmare if and when the change is made.

From coaching standpoint, playing only two exhibitions makes it that much more difficult to make roster decisions and would severely alter the method by which they get their starters ready to roll in the regulars season.

Goodell is a commissioner who usually gets what he wants. He understands the complexities involved in such a move and is willing to take on the NFL Players Union in hopes of correcting a wrong. And the union does not seem averse to at least discussing it. A good sign in stressful times as the possibility of a lockout next season looms.

In the end, the fans and players will be the big winners. But one has to wonder why it took so long.

Who's next?

Here we are about halfway through the LeBron wait and the picture is no more clear than it was two weeks ago. No one knows, maybe not even LeBron James, where the superstar is going to play basketball for at least the next three years.

And we still don't know who is going to replace Mike Brown as the Cavaliers' head coach. We do know it won't be Tom Izzo, who wisely chose to remain at Michigan State in a move that surprised some. It will be a move, however, that Izzo will not regret. He was the kind of coach the Cavs did not need. Thanks again for saying no, coach.

As it stands, rumors are flying that the job is Byron Scott's if he wants it. Problem is Scott doesn't know if he wants it. That's because the job he really wants, at least if you believe all the reports, is the Lakers' gig. And who could blame him. Consecutive NBA titles, a core group that could add maybe a couple of more rings.

Phil Jackson, as it turns out, has the fate of two teams in his hands. How he charts his immediate future will impact on the Lakers and Cavaliers. If the Lakers coach decides to stay despite having his $12 million contract practically halved, Scott most likely turns a much more covetous eye toward the Cavs.

And why wouldn't Jackson remain? He has one more goal despite the fact he has coached more NBA champs than anyone in league history. It's strictly a matter of numbers.

The big fella took the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships. He has only five title rings in L.A. One more and his name will be immortalized in the annals of the NBA, as if it weren't already. But the symmetry of six rings in Chicago and another six in L.A. cements the legacy.

So right now, the Cavaliers most likely are holding their breaths in hopes Jackson decides to helm the Lakers one more time and free up Scott. If that's the case, however, they had be ready to ante up big for his services.

If I'm Byron Scott, I'm asking for $3 million a year minimum. If Izzo can fetch $6 million per annum from Dan Gilbert, Scott should be worth at least half that. After all, he's done something Izzo hasn't: Coached in the NBA. And successfully.

Furthermore, I believe Scott is the only coach LeBron would feel comfortable playing for. His four championship rings is ample enough proof that he knows what it takes to win championships.

And isn't that what LeBron is all about?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Newsflash: Five Cleveland Browns restricted free agents sign their tender offers hours before the club deadline.


Well, not really.

Did anyone in Browns Nation actually believe the recalcitrant quintet (Jerome Harrison, Lawrence Vickers, Matt Roth, D'Qwell Jackson and Abram Elam) would opt to allow the club to dramatically reduce their contracts if they didn't sign tenders by midnight June 15? In some cases to what amounted to minimum wage (NFL style)?

They threatened, they postured, they remained on the sidelines (with the exception of Harrison) during OTAs and minicamp, but in the end, they capitulated. Leaving significant amounts of money on the table is not the most prudent of moves.

In the end, however, the Browns have five angry young players with whom to deal. They are not at all sanguine with being forced to sign the tenders. And some of their agents made certain the public knew about it.

"This will not sit well with D'Qwell," said Brian Mackler, Jackson's agent. Ooooh. Scary. But Mackler stopped short of saying his client would play below his talent level. "D'Qwell is . . . looking forward to having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. . . . he's excited to get back on the field."

Drew Rosenhaus, who speaks for Roth, Elam and Vickers, suggested to SportsBusiness Journal that malcontents in the work place translates into lesser performance. "Players are not machines," he said. "They are human beings and they have emotions and it affects their performance. When you go to work and you are not happy, you don't perform as well."

But they are also professionals playing a game of extreme brute force. Giving less than their best effort lands players on injured reserve. Football is not a contact sport. Dancing is. Football is a collision sport.

If a Jackson or a Roth or an Elam show up with their B game or C game, they also risk damaging their reputations as well as their bank accounts.

Perhaps it might occur to them along the way that if they outperform their contracts, there is a very good chance the financial reward they seek won't be as difficult to come by as they originally thought. All they need to do is look toward the locker of one of their most successful teammates.

Joshua Cribbs lobbied long and diligently for a financial reward that matched his talent and productivity. He didn't bitch and moan. He just went out and became a record-setting kick returner and valuable contributor to the offense. And he was amply compensated.

That behooves Vickers, Elam, Roth, Harrison and Jackson to suit up and prove to the Browns they are worthy of multi-year contract extensions. If they have any pride, that's exactly what they'll do. Anything less and they'll have no one to blame but themselves.

Monday, June 14, 2010

So what else is new?

Let's see now. It mid-June, the Browns are in the midst of completing their off-season programs and getting ready for training camp next month.

And no one knows for certain who enters that camp as the starting quarterback. You know, the guy who most likely will open the season on Sept. 12 in Tampa Bay. The guy on whose shoulders rest the hopes and dreams of millions of fans.

That's because coach Eric Mangini, after all the OTAs and a minicamp, has declined to name a No. 1 quarterback. Not that there's a closeness in the competition. Hardly the case.

There's no question that Jake Delhomme will be the man against the Buccaneers when the regular season commences. He is clearly the No. 1 guy.

So why is Mangini being coy? That one's easy. Just another case of Eric Mangini being Eric Mangini, a Bill Belichick wannabe who loves to keep people guessing. Belichick gets off on stuff like that and Mangini, still worshipping at the throne of his former boss, hasn't outgrown it yet.

He did it last season, too. Remember the great mystery about who would start at QB when Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn waged that silly competition during exhibition season? Reps were split so evenly that neither man was ready for the regular season. And just about everyone knew Anderson would get the nod.

Mangini fancies himself as smarter than the average bear. He's not. And his arrogance will prove his downfall.

If he lasts half the 2010 season, he'll be lucky. When the Browns emerge from the bye week in early November, Mangini will be unemployed. And Rob Ryan will join brother Rex in the head coaching ranks. If he's half as good and half as brash as his twin, Rob can't help but have a bigger impact on the Browns than Mangini.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Making the right decision

The Cavaliers, in their 40th year of existence, are teetering on the brink of a major development. And the future direction the NBA team takes depends on the decision of a veteran college basketball coach.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has put enormous pressure on Tom Izzo to leave Michigan State and become Mike Brown's successor in Cleveland. Izzo's final answer will determine the course of the franchise in the near future.

If he says yes, the guess here is that LeBron James will use that as an excuse to leave the Cavaliers as he seeks to become a world icon. Why opt to play for a college coach who has never graced an NBA bench? Why decide to stay and play for a man whose neophyte approach to the pro game would be detrimental to the club's progress?

Gilbert is blinded by Izzo's wonderful college coaching record and the fact Gilbert is a Michigan State alumnus. He'd be much better off concentrating on Byron Scott, a man who knows what it's like to win championships; a man who knows how to handle star player; a man who knows the ins and outs of running an NBA team.

This is not a learning-on-the-job situation. The Cavs, their window to the NBA championship still wide open (pending, of course, LeBron's decision), need someone to take them to a higher level. Izzo can't do that. Players will stop listening to him quicker because he hasn't traveled down the same road with them.

Now if Izzo says no and stays in East Lansing, then the odds on LeBron staying (especially if Scott is the choice) rise significantly.

This is a time when clear heads should prevail. The lure of coaching in the NBA no doubt has to be intoxicating to Izzo. Doubling his salary is another enticement. But pulling down $3 million at MSU ain't too shabby.

If Izzo's answer is yes, fans can look at this as the beginning of the end for the Cavaliers. LeBron will bolt, the franchise will take a decided turn for the worse and the Gilbert will eventually sell the team or move it to another city.

Count on it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Plausible deniability

You've got to hand it to Dan Gilbert. The Cavaliers' owner made it sound so believable the other day when he vehemently denied rumors that LeBron James was involved in the process of selecting the club's new head coach.

“The concept that LeBron James has been involved in any way, shape or form with firing our head coach, involved in the transition to general manager Chris Grant and will be involved in future coaching decisions and hires is totally, 100 percent and patently false,” he said. “It’s unfair to him. It’s unfair to the franchise.

“He is a basketball player and a great one and his interests are aligned with our interests, but this concept that this franchise has been handed to a player who is running it and making the decisions is just completely and totally false. He’ll tell you that and Chris will tell you that and I’ll tell you that. The truth is the truth.”

The truth is the truth . . . except when it's not the truth. It flirts with the truth, but it's not the truth.

How can Gilbert expect at least a few of us skeptics to believe LeBron is not involved in selecting the new coach? C'mon. LeBron is the Cavaliers. Without him, the club is just like most other mediocre teams in the NBA. Goodbye LeBron, hello ordinary basketball in Cleveland. Without him, the worth of Gilbert's franchise plunges.

Of course LeBron is involved. Perhaps in an oblique way, but he's involved nevertheless. Perhaps it's through back channels, through intermediaries. But you can bet he knows everything Gilbert is thinking. That's the way it has to be if the owner has any chance of keeping his prized possession.

Whoever gets the coaching job will know well ahead of time whether LeBron remains or bolts. And there's only one way that can eventuate.

So despite all the strong denials by Gilbert, it's hard to swallow the notion that LeBron is on the outside looking in. His disavowing words fall under the category of plausible deniability.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Please say no

Rumors are rampant that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has offered the club's head coaching job to Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. If so, the worst thing Izzo can do is say yes.

For himself, for the Cavs franchise and for Michigan State.

Izzo has declared that he wants to win another NCAA championship at MSU before moving on. Stick to your guns, Tom. Make it happen in no less than five years. Coaching in the NBA is not for you.

Gilbert, who has strong ties to Michigan State, is acting out of emotion. Yes, Izzo is a terrific coach. And yes, he's had success everywhere he's been. But making the jump from head coach in the college ranks to head coach in the NBA is seismic. Especially with the Cavs, a team that has championship ambitions.

What the Cavs don't need is a wet-behind-the-ears coach who has never sat on an NBA bench, let alone run it. They need an experienced leader, someone who has been through the gauntlet, someone who knows what it's like to win championships.

Doug Collins coached the Chicago Bulls in Michael's Jordan's NBA infancy and turned out some pretty good teams. But it wasn't until Phil Jackson came along that the Bulls were able to crash through and win championships. He took Collins' team and elevated it to championship status.

That's what the Cavs need. Izzo, much more comfortable recruiting and guiding college youngsters, would be out of his element in the NBA, where coaching is as much massaging egos and personalities as anything else. That and surrounding yourself with a competent coaching staff.

In the NBA, unlike the college ranks, players handle coaches, not the other way around. I can't remember the last time a successful college coach dipped his toes into the NBA waters and became a success. A vast majority of successful NBA head coaches were either players or top-notch league assistant coaches.

The Cavaliers are on the precipice of something special. They need that veteran steady hand to guide them toward their avowed goal. And Gilbert, looking more and more every day like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, is sauntering down a perilous path.

Yes, he owns the team. That doesn't give him license to act like a dictator. He appears to rely less and less on his basketball people. That will win him nothing. All he has to do is look at what Jones has accomplished in Dallas since Jimmy Johnson left. One Super Bowl title with Barry Switzer coaching Johnson's club.

And you can bet LeBron James is watching closely as Gilbert ponders his next move. It will be his, count on it, not that of Chris Grant, his latest sycoph, er, general manager. If Gilbert fails to bring in a veteran NBA guy to run the bench, the feeling here is James has played his last game for the Cavaliers.

So, Tom, please say no. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Boundless optimism unwarranted

'Tis the season to be hopeful. And the season to look at the glass as half full. At least that's the way most Browns fans approach the 2010 season.

Jolts of realism can wait. Until maybe, oh, the sixth game of the season. That's when large doses of what actually is rather than what is hoped for kick in. That's when the light goes on and fans begin to realize that only the names -- in the front office and on the back of the uniforms -- change.

The reason for the optimism? Everyone looks good at the OTAs in Berea. Never mind that the club works out in shells, shorts and a helmet. Everyone, for goodness sakes, looks good at this time of the football year.

Jake Delhomme, a latter-day Tim Couch, is piling up lots of brownie points as he struggles to resurrect his career with the Browns. Confidence is his game. Front-office types can't gush enough about his leadership abilities. Runs a tight huddle. Great in the locker room.

He's the acknowledged leader of the offense. Not like the last two seasons when Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn adopted passive approaches to their job as the club's offensive leader. And he has more than shown that leadership on the field as well, displaying more accuracy than his predecessors.

Never mind the fact that Delhomme was an interception factory in his farewell season in Carolina. Aberration, Browns President Mike Holmgren must have thought as he waited in the weeds while the Panthers contemplated the quarterback's future. He can't be that bad. Can he?

Delhomme operated behind a decent offensive line in Carolina with better-than-average receivers and a strong running game. He won't have that luxury in Cleveland, although he has looked good in the OTAs. Very good. Almost too good in fact. Can't stress that enough for the optimists.

And that brings us back to looking good in shorts and shells with little or no pressure from the defense. It is so easy to fall in love with the Browns at this time of the season. Fickleness knows no seasonal boundaries.

But when Delhomme struggles with his receivers in the regular season -- and that 's not if, it's when -- that's when it will all kick in. That's when fans will realize there's a good reason the Panthers decided to part ways with the veteran quarterback. He will make Couch look like an All-Star by comparison.

That's when fans will unleash cries for Colt McCoy. That's also when Eric Mangini will be forced to make a command decision that could weigh heavily on his job security, assuming he's still around at the time.

Holmgren has stated that McCoy will not play in his rookie season, although he later amended that by declaring that if McCoy "is the man, he'll play." But if he turns out to be the man, then Holmgren has made a serious error in talent judgment with Delhomme.

But you must admit he looks awfully good in shorts and shells.