Lots of folks have gotten attention as candidates for NBA Coach of the Year. I even said that Larry Brown should get consideration for perseverance
with that crew of misfits in NY without resorting to automatic weapon fire. But one name that I have not heard mentioned is Jerry Sloan in Utah.
That team finished 41-41 this year and that is a 15 game improvement over last season. Utah had lots of injuries during the year and only had Carlos
Boozer available for about 40% of the season. Since Utah is in the lottery, Sloan will get no votes; but somebody must have been doing something
right out there this year.
At the moment, it is fashionable to point to the Orlando Magic and say that their hot finish to this season is a harbinger of success next year.
There's no question that Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson and Hidayet Turkoglu form a decent team nucleus and the Magic does get out from under $24M of
useless salary money paid to Doug Christie and Penny Hardaway next year. However, there is a cautionary note. Last year at this time, the team in
the same position was the Golden State Warriors. They had won something like 15 of their last 20 games last year and then spent money to 'lock in'
their core players. There are 15 teams in the Western Conference; Golden State finished 13th this year and never really threatened to make the
playoffs. In fact, it has been twelve years since the Warriors have made it into the playoffs.
The NBA has made its name marketing its stars and the stars get huge guaranteed contracts. Well, here is a list of twelve stars who are sitting at
home for the playoffs; I'll set an Over/Under line for their contracts for this year and then give you the answer later in the rant. Kevin Garnett,
Tracy McGrady, Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, Paul Pierce, Allen Iverson, Chris Webber, Joe Johnson, Ray Allen, Zach Randolf, Baron Davis and Jason
Richardson. There Over/Under for their combined salaries this year is - - $168M. That averages out to $14M per player. Which way are you going?
Since I mentioned Tracy McGrady in the last paragraph, maybe it's about time that we start to look at him as a fraud. Just what has he accomplished
in his career that makes him a superstar? What team has he led into the second round of the playoffs? Hint: The answer to that last one is that he
hasn't done that yet. Talk about players who take games off and it won't be long until McGrady's name is in the mix. He has four more years to run
on his bloated contract and it won't be long before his is the worst contract in the league.
Here is a baseball stat I ran across that I would never have guessed in a million years. Kenny Lofton leads active major league players in stolen
bases. If I asked you who was second on the list for active major league players, who would you pick? The answer is Barry Bonds and that is clearly
a tribute to his longevity in the game.
Fans have indeed come out to heckle Bonds when the Giants go on the road this year. But visiting clubs seem to have been playing it pretty straight.
Imagine if Bill Veeck or Charles O. Finley still owned franchises where Bonds had to visit. They would have come up with something to bring attention
to their franchise when Bonds came to town. Here's an idea for any club today that might want to get some publicity. When Bonds comes to bat on the
road, have the stadium DJ play a 'special' song to escort him to the plate. My suggestion:
Shot Full of Love by Juice Newton.
By the way, that last suggestion will shock both of my sons because they would have bet that I did not know Juice Newton from Ron Popiel's Miracle
Oh, regarding the Over/Under for those NBA salaries, you win if you took Over. The total salary earned by those twelve players for the 2005/06 season
was $171.3M. So I have to ask the owners of all those teams: How's that working out for you?
About a week ago, I chided someone on ESPN for calling the KC Royals 'hapless' and suggested they were closer to 'helpless'. A reader said that no
matter how you describe them, the team is actually 'hopeless' and that's pretty close to the mark. The Royals are 4-13 this year and when they lose,
they seem to lose big. In 17 games, they've been outscored by 44 runs; that's a huge margin. For some reason, the Royals spent free agent money on
Doug Mientkiewicz and Mark Grudzielanek and Reggie Sanders over the winter. I have to think that the Royals will trade at least one or two of these
guys later this year to acquire prospects because this team is going nowhere as currently constructed.
In the book, Moneyball, there was a tone of gloating from the new wave of general managers as they assembled their teams in this new fashion. The
stats told the tale and the stats they looked for were not the obvious ones so they could assemble teams on an economically efficient basis. Well,
let's just say that the 'Moneyball Model' isn't perfect either. Look at the Oakland A's and their acquisition of Jason Kendall. The A's will pay
Kendall $24.5M this year plus next year. At the moment, his batting average is .224 and his slugging percentage is .265; last year was not
The Blue Jays paid $55M to sign AJ Burnett last winter. I said at the time that was ridiculous for a pitcher that is no better than .500 for his
career and who had a history of arm trouble. Well, surprise of surprises; Burnett is on the DL with a sore elbow and he is visiting the surgeon who
invented 'Tommy John surgery' and who reconstructed Burnett's elbow about 3 years ago. The Blue Jays may be staring down the barrel of the dreaded
Barilla is a company that makes pasta products in your supermarket. For reasons that were never clear to me, Barilla had a marketing/endorsement deal
with Bode Miller back before the Winter Olympics. What pasta and sliding down a hill on wooden planks had in common was never obvious, but they did
the deal. Now that Bode Miller had his 15 minutes of fame and has become a non-person for his abject failure, Barilla announced they will not renew
the endorsement contract that expires in July 2006. The only new endorsement deal that might make sense for Miller is with someone like Jenny Craig
where being a 'big loser' is actually a good thing.
In case you missed it, a film made its debut at the Newport Beach Film Festival last weekend. It is called Sofia: A Documentary About World Champion
Surfer Sofia Mulanovich. I hope it played to packed houses in California; because if this film opens next week in Lincoln Nebraska, I suspect the
audiences would number in the single digits.
Finally, here's an observation from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:
'The White Sox's closer, Bobby Jenks, weighs 270 lbs. You know how they usually play intimidating rock music when closers take the mound? Jenks runs
from the bullpen to the jingle 'Nobody Doesn't Like Sara Lee'.'
But don't get me wrong, I love sports... ... ...