Archive for May, 2010

The world waits for LeBron to leave, but he’ll stay

This is what passes for architecture in downtown Cleveland.

This is what passes for architecture in beautiful downtown Cleveland, Ohio.

As I type, there are 42 days, 16 hours, 18 minutes and nine seconds until LeBron James becomes a free agent. I know this because ESPN.com has unveiled its LeBron Tracker. I know one thing more: By the time LeBron does choose, the Worldwide Leader’s four-wall coverage of Terrell Owens and Brett Favre will be seen as comparative models of understatement.

It is, we must concede, a topic of major weight. Taking a break from coaching his Celtics against the Magic, Doc Rivers called it the biggest story since he has been in the league and likened it to what we’d have seen had Michael Jordan filed for free agency. Two things, however: LeBron isn’t quite Michael, and there’s a chance we’ll all look up two months hence and see that the as-yet-uncrowned King hasn’t gone anywhere.

A month ago the runaway consensus was that LeBron would remain a Cavalier. Today the new consensus holds that he’s had enough of …

Continue reading The world waits for LeBron to leave, but he’ll stay »

LeBron, Calipari and the man of mystery Worldwide Wes

He has been described as the most powerful man in basketball, and if William Wesley can bring off the epic parlay of getting one friend (LeBron James) to play for another (John Calipari), he’ll deserve the title. Right about here, you might be asking, “Who’s William Wesley?” And therein hangs a tale.

William Wesley is known as Worldwide Wes. Everybody in basketball knows who he is, but nobody is quite sure what he does. He just shows up. He was famously photographed helping to break up the infamous brawl at the Palace involving Ron Artest. According to the New York Times, he stayed on the Queen Mary II along with the U.S. Olympic basketball team in Athens, Greece.

Of interest now: Worldwide Wes is buddies with the world’s best player, who’s about to become a free agent. He also has a close relationship of long standing with Calipari, who coaches Kentucky. When Calipari jumped from Memphis to UK, the question was how long it would take for WWW to surface around the Big Blue. …

Continue reading LeBron, Calipari and the man of mystery Worldwide Wes »

Eric Hinske stops sitting and the Braves start hitting

Eric Hinske homers off Mike Pelfrey in Monday's loss to the Mets. (AP photo)

Eric Hinske homers off Mike Pelfrey in Monday's narrow loss to the Mets. (AP photo)

He arrived as a utility man, and in seven weeks he has become the starting left fielder. He’s Eric Hinske, and he has more extra-base hits in 54 at-bats than Chipper Jones does in 99 or Brian McCann does in 103.

“He’s swinging great,” Bobby Cox said Monday night, speaking after Hinske had provided a double and a homer in the Braves’ 3-2 loss to the Mets. “He’s brought a lot of life to the lineup.”

What did Cox think he was getting when Frank Wren signed Hinske over the winter? “A good bench guy — he can play first, third, left and right.”

And, given that Hinske is hitting .389 and has 18 RBIs (tying him with Martin Prado for third among Braves), would Cox consider keeping him in the everyday eight a while longer? “Yeah, we are,” he said. “For sure.”

The late Chico Ruiz, who did the utility thing for the Cincinnati Reds in the 1960s, once got so hot that he played his way into the lineup. This …

Continue reading Eric Hinske stops sitting and the Braves start hitting »

Chipper Jones: ‘I know it’s coming down to the end’

This homer on April 7 beat the Cubs. Chipper has hit one since. (AP photo by Rich Addicks)

This homer on April 7 beat the Cubs. Chipper has one since. (AP photo by Rich Addicks)

Chipper Jones isn’t sure when his playing days will end, but he’s sure of this: When it comes, the end won’t be ugly. “The one thing I don’t want to have happen,” he said Monday, speaking before the Braves’ game with the Mets, “is the spats between player and management that have happened here.”

The reference was to the acrimonious departures of John Smoltz and Tom Glavine in 2009. Both fences have since been mended, seeing as how the Hall of Fame pitchers are now Braves broadcasters. But Chipper doesn’t want even the hint of discord to accompany his leaving.

“I’ll take all the burden on me,” he said. “I’m not going to stick around and collect a paycheck — a big paycheck — if I can’t do it anymore. I’m not going to hamstring this organization or hamstring the next manager, whoever he is after Bobby [Cox]. There are too many things I love other than baseball pulling at me.”

This isn’t to say …

Continue reading Chipper Jones: ‘I know it’s coming down to the end’ »

Avery Johnson wouldn’t be my choice to coach the Hawks

Avery Johnson is good on TV and good at motivating people. (As a player, he was known as the Little General.) He’s from New Orleans, and Saints coach Sean Payton has had Johnson address his team. Indeed, when the Saints beat the Falcons in September 2006 in the first post-Katrina game in the Superdome, Johnson accepted the game ball on behalf of the people of New Orleans.

That said … I’m not sure Avery Johnson is the coach for the Hawks.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is reporting that Johnson will be granted the first interview in the Hawks’ coaching search. (As reported in this space yesterday, Dallas assistant Dwane Casey will also be interviewed.) And that’s understandable: Johnson is a big name, and he’s an obvious man to see.

But here’s what sticks with me about Avery Johnson: He presided over two of the greatest flops in NBA history. His Mavericks lost the 2006 finals after leading 2-0 in games and by 13 points with six minutes left in Game 3. The team that undid Dallas, the …

Continue reading Avery Johnson wouldn’t be my choice to coach the Hawks »

SI’s Peter King looks at the Falcons and sees mediocrity

Mike Smith reacts to the news that Peter King ranks the Falcons No. 16. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Mike Smith reacts to news that his team is the 16th-best. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Perhaps you noted during minicamp that Matt Ryan said to the world’s worst journalist — that’d be me — that he believes the Falcons are “a lot closer to 12 or 13 wins than to eight.” Twelve or 13 wins would make this a really good team. The esteemed Peter King of SI.com, however, regards it differently.

In his newest power rankings, Mr. King ranks the Falcons 16th in a 32-team league, which would be the utter definition of mediocrity. He also sees the Falcons as the third-best team in the four-team NFC South, behind both New Orleans (No. 5) and Carolina (No. 8).

That’s correct. He has the Panthers, who historically are the NFL most’s overrated bunch, eight spots ahead of the Falcons. Mr. King believes dumping Jake Delhomme and will propel Carolina onward and upward, which it might. But still: A team with an unproven quarterback (Matt Moore) and a potential lame duck of a head coach (John …

Continue reading SI’s Peter King looks at the Falcons and sees mediocrity »

Could the Hawks have beaten the Cavs? Or Boston?

Would Round 2 have been any different against LeBron's bunch? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Would Round 2 have been any different against LeBron? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

You probably shouldn’t pay attention to a word I say, given that I’m the astute commentator who picked the Hawks to beat the Magic in seven games. But I must report that within the Hawks’ organization there lingers a feeling the team was the victim, among other things, of an unfortunate draw.

The NBA changed its playoff seeding three years ago. Under the old method, the three division winners were seeded 1, 2 and 3. Under the new, division winners aren’t automatically the top three seeds. That’s how the Hawks, who finished second in the Southeast, wound up No. 3 to Boston’s No. 4 even though the Celtics took the Atlantic Division.

We debated this at length during the regular season, and I have to say I waffled big-time. My first inclination was that the Hawks were better off finishing fourth and playing Cleveland in Round 2. Then I decided they’d be better being No. 3 and playing the Magic and …

Continue reading Could the Hawks have beaten the Cavs? Or Boston? »

The Braves’ April slumber yields to a show of May lumber

Martin Prado gets a high 10 on a day when his team scored 13. (AP photo)

Martin Prado delivers a high 10 on a day when the Braves scored 13. (AP photo)

Glass-half-full time: The Braves are no longer in danger of getting no-hit every single game. Martin Prado took care of that Sunday by leading off with a home run, one of his four hits, two of which cleared the fence. As Bobby Cox noted afterward, speaking of Eric Hinske: “It’s good to look at the scoreboard and see somebody hitting .340.”

Not long ago, the Braves deployed a lineup that could have been dubbed Loiterers’ Row. As many as four of the everyday eight were hitting below the dreaded Mendoza Line, and only Prado and Jason Heyward carried averages of big-league worth. But it is, as we know, a long season, and May has been much kinder.

Said Chipper Jones: “After April, things could only go up. It was pretty slim pickings.”

But now the Braves have won 10 of 15 and drawn within a game of .500 and climbed past the Mets into fourth place in the five-team National League East, and everybody’s …

Continue reading The Braves’ April slumber yields to a show of May lumber »

Update: Hawks are given permission to interview Casey

The Atlanta Hawks have sought and received permission from the Dallas Mavericks to speak with Mavs assistant Dwane Casey regarding the Hawks’ coaching job, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Through team spokesperson Arthur Triche, Hawks general manager Rick Sund declined to comment.

The Hawks made their request Saturday, one day after announcing they would not offer Mike Woodson a contract extension. The request was granted by Dallas GM Donnie Nelson.

In Sunday’s edition of the New York Daily News, Mitch Lawrence identified Casey as the favorite to succeed Woodson. (Lawrence also reported that the Hawks are up for sale, which would be major news.)

Casey worked under Rick Sund as an assistant to Nate McMillan for five seasons when the Hawks’ general manager was GM of the Seattle SuperSonics. Casey interviewed for the Hawks’ coaching job in 2004, when then-GM Billy Knight chose Woodson instead.

Casey was the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves for a season …

Continue reading Update: Hawks are given permission to interview Casey »

Live from Braves-Snakes: The climb to .500 starts anew

Nate the Great draws a bead on Justin Upton's fly ball. Whoops! (AP photo)

Nate the Great draws a bead on Justin Upton's fly ball Saturday. Whoopsie! (AP photo)

Here I was thinking today might be the day the Braves clambered above .500 for the first time since April 22. They were 17-18 entering Saturday’s tilt, and you had to like that matchup — Tommy Hanson versus Rodrigo Lopez — and had they won they’d have been poised to be 19-18 with a victory today.

Alas and alack. The Braves lost 11-1. Hanson wasn’t very good and Nate McLouth, Friday’s hero, lost a fly ball in the lights and Jesse Chavez made a mess of the ninth inning, and now the climb to break-even starts again.

To their credit, the Braves are playing better. (Then again, they could scarcely have gotten worse.) They’re 9-5 since the epic nine-game losing skein, and the numbers on the lineup sheet no longer show four guys hitting below .200. (Today’s batting order features only one — McLouth.)

The team batting average has climbed to .242 — that’s what a series against Milwaukee will do — and …

Continue reading Live from Braves-Snakes: The climb to .500 starts anew »