Tuesday, April 22, 2008


---written at beginning of offseason---

Laurence Holmes (from 670 The Score) emailed me the other day with a three-step plan for fixing the Bears. While on the surface it may appear that it takes more than three steps to fix a 7-9 team, it's not really that far-fetched.

Coming off the 13-3/Super Bowl year in 2006, I knew things would get tougher for the Bears. When I first saw the 2007 schedule, I predicted 10-6--based solely on the toughness of the schedule itself. Add on top of that the unrecoverable losses of Mike Brown and Dusty Dvoracek for the season, as well as injuries to Tommie Harris, Nathan Vasher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Greg Olsen, Rex Grossman, Brian Griese, and many others...in actuality a 7-9 mark sounds about right. And that's what they ended up with.

But that aside, 7-9 really isn't that much different than 10-6. It's a dropped pass here and a first down there.

And just as the 2006 team probably wasn't as good as 13-3 would indicate. The 2007 season wasn't as bad as 7-9 showed. So in those terms, you're not that far away from a 10-6 2008 campaign. And that sounds pretty good right now. That might win the division in 2008.

"We don't have a quarterback, we don't have a running back!!!" Bears' fans couldn't wait to replace Rex Grossman and Cedric Benson this offseason. I have a better plan. Replace everything BUT your QB and your RB.

The offensive line was embarrasingly pourous. Fred Miller (class of Baylor '96) is my favorite player on the Bears. But I couldn't stand his play this year. Yuck. When he wasn't false starting, he was leaky. Get rid of him. The QB and the RB didn't have a chance this year with that kind of offensive line play. No time to throw and no room to run. I think the jury's still out on Rex and Cedric. Fix the line first. THEN see if you need to complain about your skill players.

And while you're at it, get some WRs who will fight for the ball and help out your QB. I love Muhsin Muhammed, but he's no longer fit to line up with a first team offense. And Bernard Berrian will make the highlight reel a half dozen times a year. But he won't fight for the catches you have to have to keep your offense on the field when it matters most. Fix the receivers and line. THEN complain about Rex and Cedric.

The three steps that Laurence mentioned were: 1). Sign Alan Faneca. 2). Draft one of the highly touted left tackles so you can move John Tait back where he belongs. 3). Sign Michael Turner.

I think Michael Turner kind of played himself out of the limelight after LT went down in the playoffs. (But I know what he meant...Turner's a Chicago kid ready for his own gig). But I do like the first two steps. Overhaul the O-line. With just two changes, you can affect the entire unit because moving Tait back to the right side is a big deal at this point in his career.

The Bears didn't sign Tait to play on the left side. He's done a respectable job over there, but drafting a left tackle would essentially cure both sides of the line. Then, if you're lucky enough to land Faneca on top of that, then you are talking dominance. Faneca would be a very un-Bear-like move, but it's fun about which to think.

And so very quickly--with just a couple tweaks--the offense begins to have a chance at success. Rex might be able to actually focus on what he needs to do. The running game might actually be able to set up the passing game from time to time. That was non-existent in 2007. And yes, improve the receivers. No, don't go get a number one (when was the last time the Bears had an actual number one WR anyway??? Not in my lifetime). But go get a veteran who can continue to mentor Devin Hester, and can help out his quarterback. Something tells me Marty Booker might be available this offseason. Sign him.

What's more...the tight end position can only continue to improve. I was listening to Mike and Mike late last summer, and they had on John Clayton. They asked him about what he was the most impressed from all the NFL training camps. His answer? The Bears offense. He said the early chemistry between Grossman and Greg Olsen was eye-popping. He expected huge things. So did I. A pass-catching TE would change everything.

Unfortunately, Olsen got hurt at the beginning of the season. And by the time he came back, Rex was in and out of the lineup. They never even got close to using Olsen correctly. But now...as a healthy sophomore...Olsen could transform that offense with his big play capability. I think people underestimated the impact of not having him at full strength last year.

And yes, I do want to focus almost primarily on the offense. I know the defense was particularly embarrasing at times (see the Minnesota game[s]) last year. But this is one time I think you can expect better things if players get healthy. No I won't count on Mike Brown this year. That's one I'll give up. But the Bears defensive unit wasn't healthy and together for one single game last year. I think just a little better luck on that side of the ball this year will cause that squad to return to near-2006 status.

Like I said, a play here and a play there and the Bears were a winning team last year. They needed ONE more first down against the Giants at home late in the year to beat the eventual Super Bowl champions. They were one (improbable) Ryan Longwell field goal away from forcing overtime at home with Minnesota. They were only blown out once. The Dallas Sunday night game. Every other game was extremely winnable. And that leads me to believe that they're closer than the Chicago media would like to believe... Here's to another genius draft from Jerry Angelo.

Monday, April 21, 2008

San Jose Sharks Logo

I remember when the Sharks first unveiled their logo as an expansion team. I loved it. I immediately thought it was one of the best logos in all of sports.

Now they've tweaked it. And managed to make it even more awesome. They really preserved the spirit of the original image, but updated it dramatically. It's great.

Obviously I'm a lifelong Blackhawk fan, but they're not in the playoffs this year. The Sharks have their game seven in the first round of the NHL playoffs tomorrow night. Here's to them advancing and eventually giving J.R. a shot at his first cup this year. That would be very satisfying....

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Welp, the Bulls end their season tomorrow night. Wow. Couldn't come soonly enough. And that's strange for me to admit. I love the Bulls and still realy like the NBA. They won (and scored 151 points) last night, but lost the game before that. So that means that even if the Bulls beat the Raptors tomorrow, they will have gone the entire season without having won three games in a row. That is downright humiliating. Especially in the East. Yuck.

I've never been more at a loss as to what happened to a team in my life. The Bulls have been known as a good, young, hard-working, overachieving team over the past three years--building toward something special. Two offseasons ago they added Ben Wallace to their young and talented core. That was a nice piece. They went out and turned in a reasonably good regular season last year, but looked most impressive in sweeping the Heat in the first round of the playoffs, then chasing the Pistons to six games in the second round.

So...this past offseason. A little addition by subtraction by getting rid of P.J. Brown, Mike Sweetney, and Malik Allen, etc. Replace those names with big men Joe Smith, Joakim Noah, and Aaron Gray, and you get worlds better. Instantly.

Smith was a former number one overall pick, and brought experience and maturity to the team. Beyond that, by signing he promptly became the only legitimate offensive threat down low for the Bulls--something they lacked the previous year. So you filled that hole.

And as for Noah and Gray...I blogged last year about John Paxson's brilliant plan to build a team of winners and successful college basketball players (see Duhon, Hinrich, Gordon, Deng, Thomas, etc.) And he only added to that last offseason.

Joakim Noah was a guy I loved to watch play in college, and a dream get at number nine in the 2007 draft. After he won his first National Championship at Florida two years ago, he was instantly projected as the number one overall pick in the draft. He instead returned to school, and shared more of the load last year with Al Horford and company. So his stock fell a little. And the Bulls basically got a top-of-the-draft caliber guy at number nine. I remember after Florida's first championship, my basketball-fan-friend Matt wrote to me, "This Noah kid is something else. What an atypical athlete. His speed and ball handling skills at his size are amazing." So to be able to add a piece like that to the mix was to good to be true.

And then Aaron Gray. After Pitt's 2006 NCAA run, Gray was projected to be a lottery pick in that summer's draft. But like Noah, he elected to return for his junior season. He ended up having a bit of a down year, and fell all the way down to the Bulls in the second round! You talk about a dream draft. One guy who would have been the top pick and another who would have been a lottery selection. You can't fault Paxson's ability to draft, no matter what.

So here the Bulls were...young, still on the rise, playoff-tested at last, very very deep, and they had finally plugged some holes. They were ready. More than one preseason publication picked them to represent the East in the NBA finals. A Bulls/Suns finals seemed to be a popular prediction. And why not? There was absolutely no reason to believe the Bulls weren't poised to take that next step after the playoff success they tasted the year before.

But the problem was, the season began and the Bulls were bad. A bad basketball team. Very bad. Like...they probably turned in their worst season in franchise history. Oh there were years with fewer wins, but even the post-Jordan era was less embarrasing than this year's squad.

I remember in the lean years after Jordan...you knew the Bulls would be horrible. But I still hung in there. I still loved to listen to them every night and cherish every win. (Part of that was probably because John Paxson was doing the radio color. To this day he's the best color guy I've ever heard in any sport in any medium. I learned more about basketball in two or three years of listening to Pax do the Bulls games than any other source in my life. He was a natural. As good of a GM as he is, he was better at radio. And I hated to see him go.) But still, you could lock in and follow the team. And believe.

But this year? This year just tasted bad. Oh I still tried to listen to almost every game, and I caught them every time they were on TV. But there was nothing of which to grab ahold. I kind of went through the motions in my Bulls' fanship this year. I'm nothing if not loyal to my favorite teams, so I don't fear fairweatherness in this case. I actually can't quite put my finger on it. It was bad. Very very bad.

Even about a month ago...when the Bulls were part of the cluster of teams hovering around the eight seed--about 2 games out. It still looked like they were the most likely to get it. With the talent on the roster, you had to figure a five or six game winning streak was around the corner at any time. Even Greg from The Zone on 950 (no Bulls fan himself, to say the least) picked the Bulls to emerge and separate themselves from the mediocrity. But it flat out never got any better. Not even a little bit.

There were no offseason losses. Nobody got old. Nobody is past their prime. There were no key injuries (until later in the season with Gordon and Deng). Simply put, it boils down to this. The Bulls were good at basketball in 2006-07. Then they added some key pieces. Then the Bulls were bad at basketball in 2007-2008. It's as simple as that.

I almost equate it to the Colts or somebody for this upcoming year. They had a good year last year but lost in the playoffs. They're returning all their key pieces for 2008. What if they show up for this upcoming season and are just bad??? Not going to happen, but it's almost as inexplicable to that to me. (OK maybe an NFL team is a bad example because of the "parity" on which the NFL prides itself...and the playoff turnover in that league. And yeah, the Colts actually have won a championship recently...) But still...the Bulls were on the rise. All signs pointed to the best being yet to come.

People who blame John Paxson for this mess are absolute fools. Paxson did everything to make sure this roster was in sparkling condition for a run this year. His ONLY mistake was not coming down to actually coach the team after Scott Skiles was relieved of his duties on Christmas Eve. I still believe with all my heart that if Pax had taken over at that point, the Bulls would have been the five or six seed in the East.

Instead he inserted lame-duck interim coach Jim Boylan, and it spiraled from there.

I love Kirk Hinrich. But he was brutal this year. I was really hoping he could lead this franchise back to greatness. I wanted it to happen with this core. I love Deng and Duhon and Gordon, and Nocioni. But it didn't happen. The window has passed. It's over.

Please keep Hinrich. That's all I ask. Anything more than that would be greedy on my point at this point. But keep Kirk.

The Bulls have consistently been in the NBA lottery in the past few years. Partly because of picks they earned themselves, but more recently because of Paxson's GM wizardry in prying lottery picks from others.

So here we are...in the lottery again. And NBAdraft dot net has the Bulls taking Russell Westbrook. Really? Another guard? Let's see...you have Hinrich, Duhon, Gordon, Thabo Sefalosha, Larry Hughes, Shannon Brown, JamesOn Curry, and others. But then again, they're kind of deep at every position by this time. I guess I don't care what they do in the draft really. I just need it to get better. And fast.

But either way...for now I still trust Paxson, and will do so until I'm given a real reason why I shouldn't.