Archive for June, 2009

Bloggers demand a Braves’ change, and Bennett obliges!

Never think for one moment the ol’ blog is lacking in power. On the live chat from Game 2 of the Yankee series, Jeff Bennett was a source of much conversation/consternation. I’m quoting here:

Varodrunner, 8:53 p.m.: You cannot put Bennett into that situation and expect anything different outcome – Bobby is INSANE.

Ross, 8:54: Why the FREAKING HELL is Bennett in the game??????? What is WRONG WITH COX???

Kris in NC, 8:56: Time to go watch something else. Why in the world do you bring in Bennett? Medlen was doing fine. Bennett was the same guy who came in and gave up the walk off HR to none other Nick Green on Sunday. Now he gave up a 2 run RBI to A-’roid.

Greg, 8:56: Seriously…why haven’t they demoted Bennett yet? there’s got to be SOMEONE else…

Norris, 9 p.m.: How can we put our worst pitcher in the game to pitch against AROD with the bases loaded. Bobby Cox is an absolute idiot for that move. Bennett has no business in the majors much less coming in the game in that …

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And it’s a flying start to this pivotal Hawks’ offseason

I’d have preferred Eric Maynor, but I’m not going to gripe. The Hawks took the guy they liked at the position of greatest short- and long-term need, and at this point I’m disposed to give Rick Sund and his chief aide Dave Pendergraft the benefit of every doubt.

The Hawks greeted the week not knowing if they’d have anyone to handle the ball next season. They’re covered now. If Mike Bibby and/or Flip Murray signs somewhere else, they’ll be OK. If Bibby stays, they’ll be better than OK. Heck, if they handle Marvin Williams properly, they just might catch and pass Boston as the third-best team in the NBA East.

Jamal Crawford was an inspired acquisition, one of those there-has-to-be-a-catch coups: A guy who scored almost 20 points a game last season for two guys who barely played. And Jeff Teague was only the slightest of reaches with the draft’s 19th pick.

Maynor, who went one spot later, is older and more refined and a truer point guard, but Teague is the greater talent. He …

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A modest proposal: Flip free agency and the NBA draft

Rick Sund makes a good living, OK? (And he’s doing a nice job, OK?) But Rick Sund is an NBA general manager, and NBA general managers have it tough, logistically speaking. They have to draft players to fit a team that might not be their team at all.

The Hawks have the 19th and 49th picks in Thursday’s draft. In a perfect world, the GM would target positions of need. But the Hawks also have four key players who will become free agents July 1. One’s a backup center. One’s a starting small forward. One’s a starting point guard. One’s a backup combo guard. How can you fill so many potential holes with two picks? How can you know which potential holes will become actual holes?

Even with Jamal Crawford apparently on board, if Mike Bibby (starting PG) oe Flip Murray (backup combo) decide to sign elsewhere, the Hawks will need another guard. But, as Sund said Monday, “Let’s say Zaza [Pachulia] doesn’t re-sign with us and Al Horford gets hurt next year. In hindsight, I’ll be wishing I …

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The Hot Button: Why the Hawks still must pluck a PG

It became clear the moment Mike Bibby arrived from Sacramento: This is how it’s done. You find a point guard and put the ball in his hands and live happily ever after. And that’s why, in a draft deep in nothing except point guards, the Hawks should take one with the 19th pick tonight.

Let’s assume the Jamal Crawford trade is consummated, and let’s even assume the Hawks re-sign Bibby: Even then, there’d always be a need for a distributor, and no team knows it better than the one that passed on Chris Paul and Deron Williams in 2004. It took the Hawks until February 2008 to find a real point guard, and once they did they were never the same.

With Bibby on the floor, they were transformed. They were creative. They were properly positioned. They were, for lack of a better word, good. They took the Celtics to Game 7 that spring, and they were even better in 2008-2009, winning 47 games and a Round 1 series. They know now what they should have known all along: Unless you have a …

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The Shaq deal: He’ll make the Cavaliers worse, not better

At the risk of offending the Mayor of Cleveland yet again … I don’t share the Cavs’ enthusiasm for Shaquille O’Neal. At this stage in his career he’s more comedian than competitor. He’s 37. He can barely move. He can’t shoot free throws. He’s not the Shaq of 1995 or even 2002. He’s just a guy bouncing from team to team, looking for one last ring.

Yes, he’s a better low-post threat than Zydrunas Ilgauskas. (Spud Webb was a better low-post threat than Big Z, who’s a jump-shooting center.) But he’ll also clog the lane in a way deleterious to the game of one LeBron James, who’s the franchise in that charming Ohio city.

The Cavaliers won 66 games because, by putting shooters around him, they spread the floor for LeBron. Shaq will coagulate things. Shaq down low means more standing around and less drive time for LBJ. Shaq down low means Cleveland must pay lip service to the concept of low-post basketball even when Shaq isn’t capable of ruling the low post anymore.

He’s not what we …

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Why the Yankees and not the Braves? Mariano Rivera

We forget it now, but they ran neck-and-neck for a while in the ’90s, each trying to outspend the other, each making the playoffs every year, but it wasn’t until 1998 that the Yankees became imperial and the Braves began to recede. It wasn’t until Mariano Rivera settled in as closer that the Pinstripe People lapped the field.

Watching last night at Turner Field, watching Rivera work a four-out save with all four outs being strikeouts, I was reminded of how much difference one man can make. The Yankees found their Rivera and have been winning ever since. (No, not always titles, but winning nonetheless.) The Braves never quite found theirs, and they paid the price.

Postseason baseball comes down to bullpens, and the Yankees always out-bullpenned everyone else. First Rivera was the set-up man to John Wetteland in the 1996 championship run, and the next year he became the closer. That was 12 years ago, and he’s still as great as he ever was, which means he’s still the all-time …

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A great move by Sund, another step upward for the Hawks

Are we believing this? The Atlanta Hawks, acting boldly? Acting smartly?

We should be believing. Because this long-tormented franchise just took another step up in class.

They won 47 games and a playoff series last season. They should break 50 next time. Trading for Jamal Crawford — assuming the deal goes through, and there seems no reason it shouldn’t — gives them more flexibility than the Hawks have had … well, since Bob Pettit and Cliff Hagan were hoisting hook shots back in St. Louis.

Crawford doesn’t mean Mike Bibby is necessarily a gone goose — obviously the Hawks can’t keep both him and Flip Murray now — but it means the Hawks enter the 2009 draft and the even-more-important summer free agency bazaar knowing they have cover. Crawford isn’t a true point, but he can play the point. And he can score.

He has averaged 15.7 points over the nine seasons since he left Michigan, and he averaged 19.7 for Golden State last season. Think of him as an upgrade on Flip, and think of …

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Live from the ballyard: A flip-flop explained, A-Rod eyed

It was only a week ago I suggested the Braves’ season could be finished, at least as a vibrant entity, by the Fourth of July. Today I wrote there’s a way they can win the NL East. And now you’re saying, “There Bradley goes again, flip-flopping like a flounder on the dock at Fisherman’s Wharf.”

And I say, in my fishy defense: Things change.

The Braves are playing better. The Phillies lost six in a row. The Mets are hurting. Winning the division seems infinitely more do-able today than it did June 17. But — and you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you? — they can’t stop playing.

They’ve split their first four games against the Red Sox and Yankees. They have five to go, and then three against the Phillies. These eight games will determine the course of July and beyond.

Go 5-3 or better and the Braves will have proved something to themselves and the watching world. Go 3-5 or worse and they’ll have given their doubters — which I, on occasion, have obviously been — further …

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Face Off: How the Braves can — repeat, can — win the East

They were 9 1/2 games back at the All-Star break in 1991, not even in second place. I know, it was a different time and a better Braves team, but still …

Can it happen? Sure it can.

The Braves are four games out of first place. They’re lucky to be that close, but sometimes you get lucky. They’ve played better these past six days, and there’s a chance they’ll play better in July than they did in June. Because they can pitch, and starting pitching has an aggregate effect. Good innings prop up a team, just as bad innings drag it down. Look what’s happening to the Phillies, who have almost no pitching.

Philadelphia is 27th among 30 big-league teams in ERA, and a team cannot win a division that way no matter how hard it hits. The Braves are sixth in ERA, which means they can. They’ll have to hit a little better and hope the Mets, who remain the most gifted team in the NL East, don’t get healthy. (Carlos Beltran just joined Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado on the disabled list.) But …

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More kudos for the Falcons: Is it all too much too soon?

It was just a year ago we weren’t sure the Falcons would win a game. Now they’re all the rage. From Mike Smith being ranked the league’s eighth-best coach by RealScouts to five Birds being listed among Peter Schrager’s top 99 NFL players on FoxSports.com to Roddy White being named the fourth-most indispensable player by Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders

And now this: Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com rates the Falcons’ coaches the best staff in the NFC South. Which, given that Sean Payton has taken New Orleans to the NFC title game and John Fox has led Carolina to the Super Bowl, is saying something.

And part of me thinks it’s great. It’s been a while since anybody had nice things to say about this franchise, and the folks in charge are good people. But another part of me — the part that says, “You know, this organization still hasn’t had consecutive winning seasons” — wonders if it’s too much too soon.

The 2008 Falcons were a delight because nothing, almost literally, was …

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