Archive for December, 2009

The Braves: Serious about saving $$$, less so about winning

Melky Cabrera: The latest in a serious of cost-cutting imports. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Melky Cabrera: The latest in a series of cost-cutting imports. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

The Braves just traded the man who might well have been their Opening Day starting pitcher for an outfielder who might not start on Opening Day. Think about that.

Think also about this: The Braves just traded a man who finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting because he was making too much money. And here’s how much Javier Vazquez is scheduled to make in 2010 — $11.5 million. That’s not even half what CC Sabathia, his new Yankee teammate, will earn. And that tells us all we need know about the Braves.

They keep making noises about contending for division titles, but it’s just noise. They can’t afford to do real business any longer. From the day the 2009 season ended they were looking to dump a starting pitcher, ostensibly to add a power hitter, but Melky Cabrera isn’t a power hitter. He was the eighth-best position player on the Yankees. He might not beat out Nate McLouth in …

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Presenting 5 top storylines for Atlanta sports in 2010

Santa Claus will be comin' to town soon enough. Will the Eastern Conference finals follow? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Santa Claus will be comin' to town soon enough. Will the Eastern Conference finals follow? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

1. Will the Hawks reach the Eastern Conference finals? Step by inexorable step, this team keeps moving. It made the playoffs in 2008 and won a series in 2009. Can it do what the Hawks haven’t done since 1970 — when they were based in the West, not the East, and you needed only one series victory fo reach the conference finals — and play for the right to go to the NBA finals? Bradley’s prediction: Yes, they can. Yes, they will.

2. Will Ilya Kovalchuk re-up with the Thrashers? This isn’t so much about a player as it is a franchise. The Thrashers have made a bright start to the season, but all that goes poof if Kovalchuk won’t agree to stay. It has been a decade-long struggle to sell hockey in this Southern city, but if the franchise player leaves, will the franchise itself be long for the A-T-L? Bradley’s prediction: Kovalchuk stays, simply because Don Waddell …

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Worst thing I saw all year? This Vazquez-Cabrera trade!

I guess it’s not a bad a year when it takes until Dec. 22 to happen across something really awful. And that was our lot in Atlanta sports. Even with Willie Martinez and Dave Wommack misdirecting defenses; even with Jason Elam developing a case of the yips; even with Greg Norton whiffing and Paul Hewitt wrangling timeouts … even then, it took until the penultimate week of the calendar year to find something that made you throw a shoe at yonder wall.

And here it is, and here goes said shoe.

Javier Vazquez for Melky Cabrera. The Braves’ best pitcher for the Yankees’ eighth- or ninth-best player. The anchor of a good rotation for a guy who isn’t really a big bopper.

I’ll have more to say on this later and at greater length, but for now I leave you with these words:

Frank Wren = Epic Fail.

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The best thing I saw all year: Bowden, lightning and a theft

Mojo is a music magazine published in England, and it’s great for many reasons, one being its year-end review. In addition to the usual best-of listings, Mojo asks various big-name musicians to name the best thing he/she has heard all year. Because I just finished reading the latest Mojo — Tom Petty picked the Leonard Cohen live album — and because we’re coming to the close of  2009, I’ve stolen appropriated the idea for posting purposes.

The best sporting moment I witnessed personally this year had to involve Georgia Tech football virtually by default. The Hawks won a playoff series for the first time in a decade, but it was a crummy playoff series that featured blowouts in every game, Game 7 included. Nothing happened in local college basketball, and Georgia football just posted its worst season under Mark Richt. The Braves and Thrashers didn’t make the playoffs. The Falcons won’t make the playoffs. (Though they did play in a postseason game on Jan. 3, 2009. And lost.)

No, …

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Casting a cold eye on the not-so-hot Atlanta Falcons

Stop the presses! Here's John Abraham! With an actual sack! (AP photo)

Stop the presses! Here's John Abraham! Sacking the quarterback! (AP photo)

The Falcons aren’t what we — and they — hoped they’d be, but they’re where they belong. They’re 7-7. They haven’t beaten a team that holds a winning record. They’ve lost only once to a team that carries a losing record. (Carolina is 6-8, and the losing in Charlotte on Nov. 15 stands as the day the season went from promising to disappointing.)

They haven’t been beaten by repeated bad bounces. They’re 3-2 in games decided by seven or fewer points. Of the two close losses — the Giants in overtime and the Saints here — they surged from two touchdowns behind to tie. They haven’t had a single game that they dominated snatched from them at the end. Sorry to say, they dominated only one game since early October.

Even with a more arduous schedule, we — and maybe they — figured this would be a better team than it was a year ago. (A better team with perhaps a worse record, but better still.) It was not. It was …

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A glitzy new roster plays like the same old Georgia Tech

Freshman sub Glen Rice Jr. hoists one of his shots. (AP photo)

Freshman sub Glen Rice Jr. hoists one of 10 shots. (AP photo)

Late in a close game, Georgia Tech’s football team figures its coach will think of something. Late in a close game, Tech’s basketball team is pretty much on its own. Because Paul Hewitt won’t have any timeouts to call, and even if he did, what’s he going to say?

How many times have we seen the same game that played out at Tech on Sunday? Heck, we’ve seen it three times over  two calendar years against Florida State alone. Tight down the stretch, plays to be made … and darned if Leonard Hamilton’s guys don’t make them every time. Coincidence?

In December 2007 Tech lost to FSU here on a length-of-the-court drive even though the Seminoles were missing all their big guys that night. In the ACC tournament in March the Jackets lost when Hamilton drew up a beautiful inbounds play for the winning layup. This time it should have been different — the Seminoles no longer have Toney Douglas and Tech has a passel of gifted …

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Live from Tech-FSU hoops, along with 25 NBA scouts!

One of the 25 clubs represented here today. (Photo by M. Bradley)

One of the 25 clubs represented here today. (Extremely artistic photo by M. Bradley)

The press section is jammed today, and not with press. Twenty-five NBA scouts have been credentialed for today’s game — Georgia Tech is playing Florida State — and there are only 30 NBA teams. I conclude from this that the absent five are simply slackers.

The scouts are coming to see three big men who could wind up in 2010 first round — Solomon Alabi of FSU and Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal of Tech. Indeed, DraftExpress has two in the lottery. Favors is No. 2 behind John Wall of Kentucky, and Alabi is No. 14. And Lawal sneaks into Round 1 at No. 29.

Nine games into his one and surely only collegiate season, Favors hasn’t disappointed. He’s not going to be voted the freshman of the year nationally — Wall, who’s not just the best freshman but the best player in the land, will be — but that’s because Tech hasn’t needed him to score big every night. Lawal actually leads Tech in scoring and …

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A glimmer of light in the UGA hoops darkness

Mark Fox at work aganist Illinois. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Mark Fox at work against Illinois. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

A month ago, you’d have sworn this was another 20-loss season waiting to happen. Now you’d have to say Georgia should be able win enough games to make this a respectable losing campaign, and no, that’s not an oxymoron.

The Bulldogs beat a pretty fair Illinois team in the Arena in Gwinnett on Saturday, and it was a night that began as an embarrassment. There seemed to be more Illini fans in a building that was more than half-empty — “It may seem like a road game,” Georgia coach Mark Fox told his men beforehand — but those in red wound up yelling last and loudest.

Georgia wasted a lead in the final minutes but snatched the game back at the end. “A great win for the team and the program,” Fox called it, and darned if it didn’t seem pretty huge. It kept the Bulldogs from falling below .500 — they’re 5-4 — and should serve to bolster them for SEC play.

Fox: “When you beat a good team, it makes you feel good. And we beat …

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The Hawks need to keep Mike Woodson. Yes, really!

Mike Woodson: Good coach. Seriously. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Mike Woodson: Good coach. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This will sound strange coming from the guy who wanted Mike Woodson fired a half-dozen times, but here it is: The Hawks need to offer Woodson a new contract today. He has earned it, and there’s no reason to let a smooth season be roiled by uncertainty.

Woodson’s contract expires June 30, 2010. General manager Rick Sund has said he’ll wait until the season ends to begin negotiations. This wouldn’t have been a big deal three years ago when the Hawks were awful and Woodson was sitting on a career record of 69-177. But it has the potential to become a big deal — or non-deal — now.

Because folks around the NBA don’t see Woodson as the guy who was 100-plus games under .500. They see him as the coach who rode out the 13-69 of 2004-2005 and now has the Hawks on pace to go 61-21. They’ll see him as a coach  who held things together long enough for talent to gather around him and who knew what to do when finally he got it. (Which …

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UPDATE: Koenning to Illinois! No, to UGA! No, wait!

I lived and worked in Lexington, Ky., which was the rumor capital of the world. One summer I heard that every single Kentucky basketball player was transferring. (None did.) After I left, I’d hear from afar that, whenever Kentucky had an opening for a basketball coach, somebody knew somebody who Knew For A Fact that Al McGuire had already bought a house in Fayette County. Which also never happened.

But this was before Al Gore invented the Internet and somebody else — Tipper, maybe? — came up with Twitter. And now things are off the ol’ hook. If you were following the Tweets of ESPN’s Joe Schad on Thursday night, you got this:

• That Vic Koenning had backed out of his commitment to become the Illinois defensive coordinator and “was close to a deal” to become the defensive coordinator at Georgia.

• That Vic Koenning would not become the defensive coordinator at Georgia but would “land in Illinois after changing his mind twice.”

Got that? We straight?

At some point someone …

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