Archive for June, 2009

Should Braves need a manager, I’d consider these guys

Today’s discussion of Bobby Cox leads inevitably to another discussion: If not Cox, then who?

Were I running the Braves and in the market for a manager, I wouldn’t feel bound to recycle the usual names. (Jim Riggleman, Jerry Narron, et al.) Unless I could convince Terry Francona to leave the Red Sox — and I don’t think John Henry and Theo Epstein would let him — I’d look to two coaches.

Neither of them is Terry Pendleton, and here’s why: I think he’ll be a very good manager someday, but I don’t think the man coming after Cox needs to have apprenticed under Cox. (This also applies to Fredi Gonzalez and Ned Yost.) There’s a sense of sameness about the Braves — how could there not be, this manager having been in place 19 years? — that I wouldn’t be sorry to see dissipate. I’d look outside. I’d consider:

Brad Mills, bench coach, Boston Red Sox: He has worked alongside Francona, who was his college roommate, in both Philadelphia and Boston, and I consider the Sox the new model …

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The Hot Button: Do the Braves need a new manager?

He’s the best manager I’ve ever seen. He’s the best manager I’ll ever see. That said …

I’m not sure Bobby Cox is the best manager for what the Braves have become.

They’ve gone from being great over 15 seasons to being not very good the past 3 1/2. There’s still a aura of assurance around Turner Field, a feeling that, “Oh, we’re the Braves and we’ll figure out something,” but the Braves haven’t figured out much since Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur were rookies. No, the manager hasn’t stopped managing, but this sort of team needs more managing than Cox likes to do.

He’s a player’s guy, now and forever. He loves his players and treats them like men. The Braves of the ’90s were indeed men, even those who arrived as rookies. They were serious about the game and serious about winning for this manager. I’m not sure what some of these Braves take seriously.

Who can reach Yunel Escobar? Who can instruct Jeff Francoeur in the art of plate management? Who can break the news that Kelly …

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A few short words about Rennie Curran, little bitty Bulldog

On his list of the 25 best players in college football, Matt Hayes of Sporting News Today places three Florida Gators (you-know-who is No. 1), three Oklahoma Sooners, two Oklahoma State Cowboys and a Yellow Jacket (Georgia Tech’s Jonathan Dwyer is 13th) — but no Bulldogs. And I know what you’re saying. “Where’s A.J. Green?”

Well, the dauntless Georgia receiver missed the cut. (Alabama’s Julio Jones made it, though. He’s No. 15.) Green isn’t even included in Hayes’ 10-man batch of honorable mentions. And that shouldn’t bother anybody. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, et cetera …

But — you knew a “but” was coming, didn’t you? — I have a hard time believing there are 25 (or 35) better players than one particular Bulldog. And I don’t mean A.J. Green, though he’s really good, too.

I mean Rennie Curran.

He’s a little bitty linebacker — OK, so he’s listed as 5-foot-11 — who doesn’t look like much until he starts making every tackle, and then you start thinking, “How is this little …

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Sad to say, this Braves’ season could be over very soon

Folks, the Braves could be finished by the Fourth of July. They’re 30-33, no longer even in third place in the NL East. Of their next 15 games, not one is scheduled against a team under .500.

There’s no reason to think they’ll make a big move in the standings this next fortnight. They haven’t since the season’s first week. There’s a basic reason for that: They’re just not very good.

The starting pitching is solid but not 1990s-era solid. The relievers are so-so. The offense is awful. They’ve already made one major trade, and they’re 4-7 since Nate McLouth arrived. There’s not much more they can do to better themselves except play better, and at this point it doesn’t appear they’re capable.

Where will the Braves be in 15 games?

  • Closing in on the Phillies.
  • Running in place.
  • Fading fast.

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They’ve scored 37 runs in the 11 games since the McLouth acquisition, and even those numbers are misleading. Seven times in those 11 games they’ve …

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Face Off: Say goodbye to Marvin, hello to Caron Butler

Read Jeff Schultz’s view: Hawks need to get the point — and it’s Rafer Alston

Marvin Williams is the least essential Hawks starter. He scores points and takes rebounds but seems to leave no imprint on games, and one of the reasons Joe Johnson gets the ball with three seconds on the shot clock — or, worse, Josh Smith gets it 25 feet from the hoop — is that Marvin, four years a pro, still won’t assert himself.

I want to see Marvin not assert himself elsewhere next season. I want the Hawks to re-sign him — he’s a restricted free agent — and ship him and Acie Law to Washington for Caron Butler and Javaris Crittenton. The Wizards are looking to cut salary, so that part would work for them, and they’re also looking to get younger. Williams turns 23 on Friday; Butler is 29. (See ajc.com photo gallery.)

Butler is a small forward with deep range and — key point — a ton of self-assurance. He wants the ball when the clock’s ticking low. He averaged 20.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.3 …

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The Falcons are stacked — on one side of the ball, anyway

The good news: The Falcons have five really good players, according to Peter Schrager of FoxSports.com. The not-so-good: Only one of them is a defender. That’d be John Abraham, ranked 92nd.

The others: Roddy White is 56th, Tony Gonzalez 47th and Matt Ryan 43rd. And Michael Turner is the highest-rated Bird at No. 38, which seems low for a guy who tied for second in the MVP voting. And I was surprised to see Turner rated below DeAngelo Williams, Jay Cutler and Carson Palmer. But quibbling isn’t why I’m here, at least not today. I come to highlight a theme.

The 2009 Falcons will be outstanding on offense, less so on D. The defense is young and reworked, and that’s not bad in and of itself. Last season’s unit was no colossus. (Remember third-and-16 in the desert? Yow.) But, if it was time for Keith Brooking and Michael Boley and Lawyer Milloy and maybe even lovable Grady Jackson to leave, it will nonetheless take time for their replacements to settle.

I see some 40-37 games coming …

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Smoltz won’t start against the Braves, and I am … not sad

I’ve been steeling myself since January. John Smoltz would make his triumphant return to the big leagues at Turner Field against the Braves in June and I’d be there to cover it and he, being John Smoltz, would throw a no-hitter and force me to write something nice about him and in the process grind my teeth to nubs. I’d even embarked on a course of meditation and aromatherapy to help me prepare for the moment.

And now comes word from Boston: No Smoltzie in the A-T-L.

And I say, “Whew.”

I’d borne my burden in silence for a dozen years, but two weeks ago I was moved to confess: I don’t much like Smoltz, and he really doesn’t like me. When duty called, I put aside my feelings and afforded him his due — I was there in 2007 the night he beat Greg Maddux and the Padres and there again 15 days later when he beat Tom Glavine and the Mets for his 200th victory — but those came when he was pitching for the Atlanta Braves. And I do cover sports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

But …

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If the Hawks trade Josh, they lose me. (Unless it’s for Kobe.)

The annual Josh Smith trade rumors are swirling (ESPN.com link requires registration), and they make less sense than ever. The Hawks are getting close to something good, but they must negotiate a summer in which four of their top eight players are free agents of some stripe. Josh Smith is under contract through 2013. He’s not the immediate problem.

On the contrary, he’s a massive part of the solution. He’s a very good player bordering on greatness. He’s 23. He has already had his free-agent summer. He’ll be the best player on this roster in two years, and that’s even if Joe Johnson sticks around. Josh isn’t the guy you move. He’s the one you keep.

Last month Rick Sund, the Hawks’ general manager, said: “I like our club. The only reason I say that is that there’s still growth from within.” Of Smith in particular, Sund said: “I think Josh is going to continue to get better — every year he’s gotten better.”

And he has. And he should continue to do so for at least three more …

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Shocker! Bold Bulldogs play rugged non-conference slate!

I’m 53. (Note graying hair in otherwise flattering photo above.) I’ve followed sports since 1968. I’ve worked for newspapers since Jan. 8, 1978. I have, in sum, been around. But I’m about to quote for you a sentence I have never before seen written:

“Georgia’s non-conference schedule is the best in the nation.”

The writer: The extremely perceptive Matt Hayes. The publication: The always delightful Sporting News Today. The source: A breakdown of SEC teams’ non-conference regimens.

Georgia’s non-conference schedule is:

  • Too tough.
  • Too soft.
  • Just right.

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Georgia, as you doubtless know, plays four non-conference games: At Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech, with Arizona State and Tennessee Tech at home. By any measure, that’s a testing slate. (Contrast it with Florida’s: Apart from playing Florida State, the fearless Gators take on Charleston Southern, Florida International and Troy — all in The Swamp.)

But by Georgia’s standards, these …

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Bradley’s Buzz: ESPN damns Georgia Tech with faint praise

When last we encountered Chris Sprow of ESPN.com — and if it seems like just yesterday, that’s because it was — he was saying nicer things about the 2009 Georgia Bulldogs than you’d expect regarding a team ESPN ranks No. 16 in the land. Well, guess who ESPN ranks No. 15?

Aw. You guessed.

The same Mr. Sprow takes on 15th-ranked Georgia Tech (link requires registration) and — wouldn’t you know it? — gushes less about the Jackets than about the Bulldogs. (Let the record reflect that ESPN’s ratings were done not by Sprow but by esteemed former colleague Mark Schlabach, who’s a Georgia grad.) And a magnifying glass isn’t required to read between Sprow’s lines: He wonders if Paul Johnson’s option-based spread is really all that.

As was the case with the Georgia preview, extensive quotation will be done. (Because ESPN’s Insiders is a pay site, and I’m Clark Howard.) So here goes:

• “What [Tech coach Paul Johnson] should do is put the ball in the hands of star tailback Jonathan …

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