TGIM – Bobby Cox

I planned to write this post a week ago, in a longer and more eloquent fashion. The Braves had just pulled out a victory and a playoff berth. However, life and laziness got in the way, and I find myself writing it at a time when Cox’s days as a Major League umpire are now officially over.

Bobby Cox is one of the greatest and most successful managers in MLB history, with most of that career spent with my hometown Atlanta Braves. When we had the worst-to-first season in 1991 (ending in what I still think is the best World Series of my lifetime, even though we lost), baseball became something more for me. It was the long sport. The one that took 162 games and seemingly nine months of the year to play out. It got my team, and its skipper, into my heart for the long haul. I talk about the Hawks more because basketball is my favorite sport to watch, but my heart rises and falls with the Braves because I’ve invested so much time watching and following the sport.

Tonight his career came to an end. He’s retiring as manager of the Atlanta Braves at the young age of 69. His final accomplishment was taking a broke down and beleaguered team to the postseason against all odds. It came down to the final game of the regular season, but Cox and the Braves willed out one more win. Tonight’s loss in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Giants spelled the end. Many were hoping, in our hearts if not in our heads, that Cox would take this team to an improbably World Series berth and end his final game a winner, but it wasn’t to be. No one can call him a loser, tonight or any other night.

Bobby Cox is kind of like a member of my family. Though I’ve never met the guy (unlike Sid Bream, he doesn’t do signings at local computer stores), he’s been a part of my life for more than twenty years. I cried when he reached 2,000 victories. I was happy and I couldn’t help it. I nearly did the same tonight when he tipped his cap to the Turner Field faithful for the final time.

Some will remember his wins, or deride him for failing to win more than one World Series with the Braves. Others will remember the record he’s not that fond of; the MLB record 158 times he was ejected from the game. Some will say that’s because he liked to argue, but that’s not the case. Bobby Cox was a defender. He defended his team. He defended his players. No one I’ve ever seen loves the game of baseball or the men who played it for him more than Bobby Cox. Players from across baseball talked about wanting to play for Bobby Cox. Coaches who came here or moved on spoke of him with an uncanny reverence.

I’m running out of words that I feel actually say what I feel about Bobby Cox. He’s my manager, and he’ll be missed for a very, very long time. No one, regardless of their success, will ever truly replace him in my heart or that Braves clubhouse. He’s the best.

Thank you, Bobby.

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Mark Lovretovich Discusses Dodgeball with Ron Artest

I’ve had the good fortune to play dodgeball the last few years, and on every one of my teams across a few different leagues, one man has been beside me in battle. That man is Mark Lovretovich, aka Mr. Dodgeball, and last week he made something a little different happen.

After following Ron on twitter, Mark saw an opportunity when RonRon offered to spend the day with whoever had the most fun idea. Mark set up an impromptu game of dodgeball between our team, Zankou Chicken Presents Great American Dodgeball Championship Team, and the Tight Supremacists and Ron decided it was the best of more than 600 offers he received. Mark was on ESPN’s First Take this morning to discuss:

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Jordan Crawford and the NBA Draft

I’m not a fan of LeBron James.  It’s not that he’s not a great player.  He is.  It’s just that he does stupid shit, and he’s a dick.  Dancing on the court and asking Nike to confiscate tapes of you getting dunked on by a college player… Just be a man and get over it.  And that’s just for starters.  But we’ll get back to that dunk in a bit.

LeBron James is to the NBA what Brett Favre is to the NFL.  A good player who dominates way more headlines than he deserves.  Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA, and even his awful Game 7 Finals offensive performance (not knocking those boards at all) doesn’t change that.  Why the news begins and ends with LBJ is beyond me.  When he gets a ring, maybe he’ll deserve the hype.  Until then, Wade is a bigger story in my eyes as he’s more important to his team.  This draft was all LeBron, all the time.  It wasn’t about the players being drafted, it was about where he goes in free agency and what that means for the rest of the 2010 free agent class.  And it made for a shitty draft, because it felt like no one really appreciated the players in it (from a media perspective).

I was more concerned about the Hawks in this draft, who aren’t in a position to do as much damage on the open market as other NBA squads, so outside of the first five picks, this draft didn’t hold too much interest.  Smarter people will give better analysis, but I like the way things went.  Teams made the right moves, and while I know Washington can’t pass on John Wall, the legit #1 pick for this year, it’ll be very interesting to see how (if?) he pairs with Gilbert “Agent Zero Ain’t a Nickname I Will Shoot Your Ass” Arenas.  Big contract and potential headcase don’t exactly scream movable asset.

I’ll let you read the whole scenario of how the Hawks did what they did tonight via the AJC, but let’s talk about it.  Jordan Crawford seems like a really solid pick, especially if he can pick up some skills on the defensive side of the ball, but I’m not totally sold.  There are so many guys that can do what he does (see anyone referred to as “Instant Offense”) that I’m not sure why you get this guy and not get the same skill set from a free agent.  You can find a diamond in the rough big in the draft, because there just aren’t as many that you can pry away from other teams.  Not saying I have a problem with the pick, I just think it doesn’t address an immediate need.

When Sund made the trade for 27 (Crawford) and 31, I assumed we’d get one of the “project” centers that had been bandied about, especially with Hassan Whiteside still on the board.  But they opted for Tibor Pleiss, a European project and promptly traded his rights for cash.  Huh?  For a team with size issues, I don’t know why they didn’t try to use the pick, with 2nd round contracts not being guaranteed, to improve the team now or in the near future.  You always need bigs, but maybe Rick Sund knows something I don’t about who can be had on the sly in free agency.

With the Hawks other pick, they drafted Pape Sy, a nearly unknown Frenchman who has been listed anywhere from 6’3″ to 6’10,” though I’m told he’s actually 6’7.”  Always hard for me to speculate on Europeans as I don’t know anything about International basketball, but new coach Larry Drew is apparently hot on him.

Overall:

The Hawks get a bona fide scorer in Crawford, a young version of Jamal Crawford with less passing, and a potentially excellent French big man who no one knows.  Maybe he’s on the team now, maybe down the road.  It seems like as good a draft as the Hawks could have managed with the picks they had and not trading away any other assets.  And they got back $3 million, so I’m sure tickets will be more affordable…

Remember how I said we’d get back to LeBron and getting dunked on?  Yeah, that was Jordan Crawford.  The King can keep polishing his non-existent crown while trying to grow up and ruining SportsCener, but I’ll take the guy who just plays the game.

The Hawks Have a Coach

And if he looks familiar, that’s because he’s been on the bench the last six years under former head coach Mike Woodson.  According to the AJC’s Michael Cunningham, Larry Drew has been named the new coach of my beloved Atlanta Hawks.  After Avery Johnson took the Nets job, the final candidates were Drew, Dwayne Casey and Mark Jackson (the latter of whom has never coached at any level).  Ultimately the Hawks decided to go with familiar rather than flashy.

I don’t know how I feel about this.  None of the names in the candidate search (including Johnson) really impressed me.  I was hoping for an out-of-the-blue choice to come in and be named, but it just didn’t happen.  The Hawks played this one close to home and all I can do is remain optimistic.  This deal is so new the contract is still being worked out, and Drew hasn’t said thing one about his plans, philosophy or what he’s going to do with the rest of the coaching staff.

There’s a part of me that finds the promotion of the assistant troubling.  If they knew this was a possibility, why wasn’t this done at any point during the last 6 years of the Woodson regime?  Sure, the guy had a contract, but coaches get fired all the time, some with longer tenures and better pedigrees.  I feel like this move could have, and probably should have, been made during a season as a trial run.  You have more options in the offseason to conduct your search, but at least you can see how things work out in real situations if you give one of your assistants the reins while things still matter.  Maybe the Hawks were never bad enough to fire Woodson after they got better, but don’t tell that to former Cleveland Cavs skipper Mike Brown.  He was fired a year after being named Coach of the Year and following a second consecutive 60+ win season.

I’m contradicting myself a little bit, but I’m concerned.  Your coach is as big, if not bigger, as any decision you could ever make regarding the roster.  Scott Skiles in Milwaukee is a prime example.  His best players kept getting hurt, and he kept his team winning even into the playoffs against a supposedly superior opponent.  I’ll give Drew his day, but the Hawks need to look at things beyond wins and losses as Drew takes control.

  • Are we more consistent on defense?
  • Does our half-court offense look less anemic?
  • Can we develop Jeff Teague?
  • Is there a bench that can be used?

Drew doesn’t need to win next year, that would be kidding ourselves.  But all the little things that spell out championship basketball (aka fundamentals) need to improve.  That’s how we’ll know if we’ve got our guy or a dud.

Make us proud, Larry Drew.  This is your shot.  Own it.

Over/Under

The NBA season for the Atlanta Hawks has come to an end after being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers. I’m a long-time die hard when it comes to the Hawks. Don’t ask me to explain, except for the fact that they’re the hometown crew, and basketball is my favorite sport to watch. I watched as the team devolved from a championship contender to trading Dominique Wilkins for Danny Manning, Steve Smith for Isaiah Rider, and Jason Terry for Antoine Walker (and later, Antoine Walker in exchange for nothing). Where did that put them? The bottom of the basement, trapped in a barrel underneath said basement.
The true defining moment? An ugly 13- 69 season 5 years back. We’ve improved every year since then, doubling our win total 4 years ago, making the playoffs last season, and becoming the #4 seed this year with 47 wins. But I would argue that we’ve both over and underperformed this year.
We were 28th in free throw percentage. We lost too many one point games. We blew a lot of leads. We easily could have won 50 games (a so-called important number) if not for all of these factors plus injuries to Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Marvin Williams (all of whom missed somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-16 games). And Joe Johnson had a terrible start to 2009, despite being white hot at the beginning of the season. Clearly, looking at the regular season, we’re better than our very frustrating to get 47 wins.
But then the playoffs rolled around. We tore Miami apart in Game 1, holding them to a franchise playoff low 61 points while firing on all cylinders on our end. And then we looked like the worst team in the playoffs in Games 2 and 3. It was an ugly series, but we came out on top in 7 games.
And then the eventual champion Cavs came to town. They exposed every weakness we had. Short bench, no offensive strategy, and a lack of guys who were willing to step up regardless of injuries. They made us look like we had no business being in the playoffs, let alone as the #4 seed. And the worst part is… Cleveland didn’t even play that well.
Did they over perform during the season, or under perform during the playoffs? Which team is the real team?
Each season is a long and arduous one. The Hawks never let me get content that they’re going to do what they’re meant to and just perform at a higher level. They jump, they dive, they sidestep. They never let me know what’s coming next. I guess that’s what being a fan is like.
It’s an interesting summer they’re heading into as well. Bibby, Williams*, Zaza, and Flip are all free agents (*restricted). We have the money to sign them all, I’m sure, but… Does it help the team? And what happens after next season when 3-time All-Star and captain Joe Johnson’s deal is up? And just where was he for most of the playoffs?
I love the Hawks. One day, I hope they’ll return the favor.

TGIM – Hawks Beat Heat in Game 1

Come on… Was there ever any doubt?
Anyone that knows me knows I love the Hawks. I mean the kind of Love where you deal with ten straight losing seasons just to get to the playoffs again (as a sub-.500 team), and you feel justified in never abandoning them. Not even when they met it impossibly hard, like the infamous 13-win season, or when they drafted Marvin Williams instead of Chris Paul…
I love the Hawks. They’re my hometown team, they make bonehead moves, but at the end of the day I still love them. That they’re finally good again, and attempting to make a move into the NBA’s elite makes it all the sweeter. Their next step? Getting into the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs after last year’s surprising 7-game showdown against the eventual NBA Champs, the Boston Celtics. No one gave us a chance, we closed it down on our home floor, and we pushed them to the brink (assuming you don’t look at Game 7 that closely).
We started out the season scorching, 6-0, until we went to Boston to play our old pals the Celtics. Again, we pushed it to the brink, losing on a last second shot from my enemy, the bitchiest and only, Paul Pierce. We didn’t get our revenge on the Celtics (getting swept in the season series 0-4), but we did firmly plant ourselves as the East’s #4 seed. The only team that even made it close was Miami, led by the incredibly talented Dwyane Wade.
Most people are picking the Hawks in 6. My gut told me Hawks in 5. The season is a waste if we don’t get to the 2nd round and get a chance to show ourselves against one of the East’s true elite teams (Cleveland, Boston, Orlando). But everyone keeps talking about how Wade can take over a game (true) and how he has the skill to take over a series (it’s a team sport, so not quite). Imagine my pleasure looking at the final score of Game 1.
It’s a team playoff low for Miami. It’s just the first of many steps in the Hawks’ journey. We didn’t keep up the intensity all game. The fourth quarter was a joke. But man if we didn’t look amazing for a half and solid for another quarter. That’s all we need. One game at a team, one team, one series.
We saw what happens when you let up (us vs. Boston) last year. We’re not going to sleep on Wade or the Heat. But we’re also not going to get pushed around. We have the personnel to destroy this team, and right now that’s the goal. Joe Johnson and Josh Smith are too good for the Heat to handle. And we can hurt them other ways too.
I love it.

Embedded video from NBA Video

Say It Ain’t So, Smoltzy

I woke up late, sick, and got just about the last sports news I ever expected to see.  Especially at this juncture in the MLB’s free agent season.

John Smoltz is leaving the Braves, the only team he’s pitched for in 21 seasons, to join the Boston Red Sox.  The initial report I read thanks to a gmail clip was that Smoltz was “on the verge” of signing.  But the AJC confirms it all official like here.

I’m shocked, quite frankly.  But for a rapidly deteriorating ball club and given the way this off-season has gone, I guess I shouldn’t be.  John Smoltz is the Atlanta Braves.  He’s never been quite as prolific as Maddux or Glavine, and he never made the waves that some other high-profile stars do.  But he was the work horse and the heart.  A multiple time surgery recipient and one-time Cy Young.  A starter and a closer.  And now, we can add ex-Brave to that list.

I’m pretty much speechless over this.  Frank Wren has proved himself to be no John Schuerholz, and I just want my team back.  So long, Smoltzy.  You’re a legend and a class act, and I miss you already.

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As you can see from the above, I’ll definitely be talking some sports up here.  I’m a big ATL sports fans (Hawks, Braves, Falcons), and a general buff.  Feel free to skip if it’s not your thing.