Saturday, February 18, 2012

Open mouth, insert foot

LeBron James just doesn’t know how and when to keep his mouth shut.

The other day, he hinted there’s a chance he’ll return to play for the Cavaliers somewhere down the road. Yes, he did. Right there at a shootaround the day before his Miami Heat dismantled the Cavaliers.

He wasn’t specific in his remarks. All he did was nudge the door open to the possibility of a return to his beginnings as a basketball player. In doing so, he toyed with the emotions of basketball fans in two cities.

“I think it would be great,” he said of a possible return to Cleveland. “It would be fun to play in front of these fans again. I had a lot of fun in my seven years here. . . . If I decide to come back (to Cleveland), hopefully the fans will accept me.”

Here he is one season and about half of the next into his career with the Heat and he’s already hinting that Cleveland could be in his future plans. He might look like a 27-year-old man, he might play the game as well as the greats, and he just might be the best player on the planet right now.

But when it comes to thinking things through, he too often lets his mouth precede his brain. That gets him in trouble. And now, he’s been forced to talkback his earlier words.

“The question (at the shootaround) was asked of me, could I see myself playing back here,” he said following the game Friday night. “I said yeah in the sense of I don’t know what my future holds and I don’t want to stake that out. I love the fans of Miami. I’ve got everything invested in this team. I’m looking forward to the years to come.”

He answered the original question as wrongly as possible. Instead of bumping that door open, he should have said something like, “Look, I’m a member of the Miami Heat now. I can’t be thinking about anything else other than winning a title with this team.

“I’m in Miami now and I love being there. Returning to Cleveland and playing for the Cavaliers is the farthest thing from my mind. To answer a question like that any other way would be foolish.”

How difficult would that have been? It would have cleared up any doubts. It was obvious he did not anticipate such a question and was totally unprepared.

Fact is he should not be taken seriously by Cavs fans, many of whom would rather see him play out his career anywhere but in Cleveland. The resentment at what he did and how he did it remains too strong. The animus is still there.

Some people will buy LeBron’s pabulum and honestly believe his return is a mere few years away. Word to the wise: don’t. All he’s trying to do is resurrect his image, his brand, his reputation after it was so badly beaten following his departure.

He wants to be the good guy again, the guy who led the Cavaliers from the depths of the National Basketball Association to elite status. He wants to be liked, not vilified.

He loves northeast Ohio. He maintains his home there. He just doesn’t like Cleveland. He said Akron, not Cleveland, was his hometown as if Cleveland was hundreds of miles away instead of 30 miles.

He says he likes Miami with its warm weather, humidity, bugs and no state taxes. Who can blame him? It’s the path he chose to take. The Heat and their fans are stuck with him for at least the next couple of years.

Chances are this little scenario will be revisited down the road, especially when LeBron returns to Cleveland. By then, he might have finally learned how and when to shut his mouth.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Chilly praise

So Mike Holmgren props up the Browns’ new offensive coordinator on the team’s radio mouthpiece the other day.

Well, then it must be so.

Sliced bread has nothing on Brad Childress, who has had a shirttail relationship with the club president for about 20 years. Is it any wonder Holmgren would be so praiseworthy of his newest hire?

“I’ve known (Childress) a long time,” Holmgren said. “. . . I thought he did a really good job in Minnesota (as a head coach) in an unusual set of circumstances at the end. He came close to going to a Super Bowl.”

What else did you expect him to say? He was in the spin room. Of course, he’s going to praise Childress in an effort to sell more tickets this season. Just more pabulum for the naysayers like yours truly.

The odd part of this interview is that it was conducted on radio. The tried and true method of introducing someone as important as a coordinator is with a news conference before the assembled media. Inquiring minds want to know.

Sitting in a radio studio with a stooge asking questions will fetch the kind of answers the front office wants the fans to hear. Wouldn’t be surprised if Holmgren was shown the list of softball questions before the mikes were turned on.

In reality, the only real connection Holmgren and Childress had is that Brett Favre played quarterback for both men. That’s it, other than Childress used his role as Holmgren protégé Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator in Philadelphia as a springboard to get the Minnesota job.

Holmgren said it is tough for a head coach to take a lesser role, especially in this case taking that role under a former assistant. Browns head man Pat Shurmur was a position coach for Childress in Philadelphia. “He (Childress) is excited about that,” Holmgren said. “It’s going to be good for Pat.”

Translated, Childress is excited about being employed once again after sitting out the 2011 season. And Shurmur still will call the plays, although there is no official word on that.

As for the two trusting one another, Holmgren said he is not worried. “Pat and Brad worked together in Philadelphia or a long time,” he said, “so they know each other, they trust one another.”

Let’s see how long that trust lasts when – not if – the Browns stumble out of the gate in the coming season.

Regarding the upcoming season, Holmgren said, ”My hope is that we have to take a pretty big step this next year.”

That’s right, he said hope. That sounds awfully defensive. He momentarily lost his politically correct grip on the situation. Does he know something we don’t?

Improvement should not be something you hope for. It should be something to expect after ringing up records of 5-11 and 4-12 in your first two seasons as the team president. Hoping is for losers.

If that’s the attitude emanating from 76 Lou Groza Blvd. this season, then it’s going to be yet another long campaign.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Say no to Peyton

It appears as though Peyton Hillis wants to return to the Browns next season. And reportedly, the Browns appear willing to at least take steps toward welcoming him back.

Big mistake.

The Browns have too much at stake to risk re-upping a mercurial personality who definitely marches to the beat of his own drum. Simply put, you never know what you’re going to get from Hillis.

Is he the pounding, punishing runner of 2010 who surprised just about everyone in the National Football League with a sensational season? Or is he the enigmatic, injury-hampered running back of 2011 who can’t be counted on from game to game?

After being the major player in a soap-opera story line that lasted more than half the 2011 season, a healthier Hillis managed to rip off a couple of decent games down the stretch when the Browns were hopelessly out of contention and changed a few minds.

His Jekyll/Hyde behavior, which angered his teammates and severely disrupted the Browns’ offensive scheme all season, should raise a red flag for Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert Jr. At best, he is unreliable. He can’t be trusted.

But that doesn’t seem to matter to coach Pat Shurmur, who was impressed with his exit interview with Hillis at the end of the 2011 season.

“I’ll tell you what,” Shurmur told the media, “Peyton and I had a great conversation. He’s an all-star player who was dealing with an injury in the middle part of the year and then came back. I really liked what he did at the end of the season.”

And then there’s this little nugget dropped by Hillis after a 112-yard rushing effort against Baltimore in the penultimate week of the season:

“I’m a Cleveland Brown at heart. Since I’ve been here, I fell in love with the fans and the city and the people that live here. They’ve been nothing but 100% supportive through everything when I talk to them. And it’s good to have a second family backing me like that.”

Oh brother. What tripe. A con man in a football uniform.

Sadly, some people buy into that. And those are the fans who will be disappointed the most. Those are the same fans who defend his actions, but fail to see the young man’s warts.

Hillis most likely will turn out to be a one-year wonder who had a chance to be more than that but blew it when he became – to borrow an old-fashioned term – too big for his britches.

So now, the Browns’ brain trust has a decision to make. And it could have an impact on what the club does in the first round of the college football draft in April with Alabama’s Trent Richardson most likely on the board when the Browns are placed on the clock.

If the Browns buy Hillis’ line about coming back to Cleveland to play for the Browns and wind up signing him, then they deserve what they get. But if they think this through and realize the running back brings more to the table than they can handle, they’ll end up making the correct decision.