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My friend and colleague Thom Loverro opened his column in Monday’s Washington Times with this quote:
“The Wizards may be entering that no-man’s land that defined this franchise in the 1980’s – winning 40-plus games a season, always making the playoffs, but never being quite good enough to be elite, or quite bad enough to be in position to get the next young star to take them to that level.”
That quote came from Thom Loverro – last year. Yes, he was quoting himself about the Wizards prospects as they prepared to face the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the playoffs. In fact, the Wizards lost the series in six games and ten months later, they appear to be in that “no-man’s land” that Thom wrote about.
Saturday the Wizards beat Detroit to get to 34-26, but they blew a 21-point before putting away the Pistons late. And the win followed a six-game losing streak, which included back-to-back losses to Minnesota and Philadelphia, two teams that are a combined 26-91!
Thom wonders if the Wizards over the last two years resemble the Gilbert Arenas teams that, “never won more than 45 games, made four consecutive playoff appearances from 2004 to 2008 and made it past the first round once.”
Actually from an age standpoint, these Wizards may be more like those 80’s teams, who were then the Bullets. In the 1970’s, the Bullets made the finals four times – the last three with Elvin Hayes teaming up with Wes Unseld. But following the 1980-81 season, the most successful era in franchise history was clearly over. Unseld retired and Hayes was traded to Houston. Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry told owner Abe Pollin that the only way to get good again was to have some down years and load up with high draft picks. Abe wouldn’t have it and told Ferry to keep a competitive team on the floor.
Ferry did. Over a seven-season period between 1981 and 1988, the Bullets made the playoffs six times, but won only one playoff series – a best-of-three gamer against New Jersey in ’82. And check the names they did it with:
Player Seasons Age in Last Year
Spencer Haywood 1981-83 33
Jim Chones 1981-82 32
Kevin Porter 1979-83 32
Tom McMillen 1983-86 33
Gus Williams 1984-86 32
Dan Roundfield 1985-87 33
Moses Malone 1986-88 32
Bernard King 1987-91 34
Those are some great names. Malone is one of the best of all time, but all had left their best years behind by the time they came to Washington. Now check some of the names and ages on the current Wizards roster:
Paul Pierce, 37
Marcin Gortat, 31
Kris Humphries, 30
Rasual Butler, 35
Drew Gooden, 34
Pierce, Nene, Gortat and Humphries either start or play significant minutes and Butler was a key contributor when things were going well at the beginning of the season.
And it’s not just age that’s led to this post-All Star Game swoon. Thom points to the loss of Trevor Ariza to Houston, where he signed a $32 million free agent deal and assistant Sam Cassell splitting for a job with the Clippers as problems. Ariza’s 3-point shooting and defense have been missed and Cassell has been credited with developing John Wall and Bradley Beal.
We can all sit and hope that Kevin Durant will come home when his contract with the Thunder runs out at the end of next season. Of the thirtysomethings, only Gortat and Humphries are likely to still be here. But if it doesn’t happen, if KD doesn’t show up, are we just in the middle of another era in “no-man’s land”?
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It started with a tweet from Comcast Sportsnet executive Joe Yasharoff (@jyash), who wrote “I’m thinking Melo Trimble could be the 2nd best freshman in Terps’ hoops history. Joe Smith being #1 of course. @kevins980 (Kevin Sheehan) discuss.”
Kevin responded with “@jyash Brad Davis and Adrian Branch in that conversation.”
I decided to butt in (@andypollin1) with “Fellas! Do you know how good John Lucas was? Freshman year went to Elite 8. Lost to Ernie D team (Providence) that went to Final 4.”
And so it went until all three of us, bucking the trend of twitter wars, agreed that if we had to pick one, Joe Smith would be the pick. That got me interested in comparing Smith to the other great freshmen who played basketball at Maryland.
First you have to recognize three great players who never got the opportunity to play varsity as freshmen. It wasn’t until 1972 that freshmen eligibility was reinstated by the NCAA. Gene Shue, who played in the early 50’s and Tom McMillen and Len Elmore, who played in the early 70’s, weren’t allowed to play varsity as freshmen. All three became All Americans and played at least a decade in the NBA.
Now let’s put up Smith’s freshman numbers:
1993 – 94 19.4 ppg, 10.7 reb, 73% ft
A year later Smith was the consensus National Collegiate Player of the Year and became the number one overall pick in the NBA draft.
Here are Trimble’s numbers so far as a freshman:
2014 – 15 16.1 ppg, 3.1 asst, 88% ft
Mentioned as being in “that conversation” by Kevin:
1974 - 75 12.6 ppg, 58% fg, 82% ft
1981 – 82 15.2 ppg, 76% ft
Offered by me:
1972 – 73 14.2 ppg, 54% fg, 70% ft
Lucas was the point guard on the team that included McMillen and Elmore as juniors. In their senior year and his sophomore year, the Terps may have had their best team ever, but lost a classic overtime game to North Carolina State in the ACC Final. Only the conference tournament winner went to the NCAA Tournament in those days. NC State went on to win the National Championship. Maryland stayed home. The following year the rules were changed to allow at-large teams.
Now for some other names that should be included in the conversation. If you’re thinking Len Bias and Juan Dixon, think again. Though Bias is regarded as the best Maryland player ever, and Dixon isn’t far behind, both were role players as freshmen. Each averaged just over seven points a game. But here are some others who deserve a look for their freshmen years:
Albert King, who was the number one recruit in the country when he came out of high school in Brooklyn:
1977 - 78 16.7 ppg, 6.7 reb
Buck Williams, who joined King a year later, was the number three pick of the NBA draft in 1981 and went to an 18-year pro career:
1978 – 79 10.0 ppg, 10.8 reb
1999 – 00 7.0 ppg, 6.1 asst
Not much on the scoring end for Blake, but he quarterbacked a team that had plenty of scorers. Juan Dixon, Terrance Morris and Lonny Baxter all averaged at least 15 points a game. That team went 25-10, lost to UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and was ranked 17th in the final AP poll.
Finally, I’d have to agree with Joe (@jyash), who offered the final word in our tweet up: “Melo is definitely top 5. As high as #2. Smith has the top spot for me.”
But what about the rest? Here’s how I’d go:
- Joe Smith
- Melo Trimble
- John Lucas (showing my age I guess)
- Buck Williams (double digit boards is a great stat)
- Brad Davis (played in a 3-guard offense with Lucas and Mo Howard)
- Albert King (didn’t quite live up to his hype, but really who could?)
- Adrian Branch (one of only two Maryland players with NBA championship rings)
- Steve Blake (the last pro left from the 2002 National Championship team)
1974 – 75 Moses Malone. Attended only one class at Maryland, never played a game in college and broke Lefty Driesell and every Terps fans’ hearts by going to the ABA. But hey, we can dream of what might have been. Right?
Additions? Disagreements? Let me know at @andypollin1.
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Don’t even bother with a bar room debate on who’s the best guard in the history of the Bullets/Wizards franchise. Earl Monroe ends the discussion. He was an all star in two of his four seasons with the Bullets and is considered to be one of the great guards in the history of the NBA. It’s a shame that a contract dispute drove him out of town after he helped take the Bullets to the NBA Finals in 1971.
After “Earl the Pearl”, however, picking the second best Bullets/Wizards guard is worth a look. Let’s first throw out the greats that came here at the end of their careers like Dave Bing, Mitch Richmond and even Michael Jordan. Their best years were not in Bullets/Wizards uniforms. Rod Strickland was considered one of the top point guards in the league, even leading the NBA in assists during the 1997-98 season, but he never made an All Star Game and had difficulty with things like alarm clocks and schedules. Even somebody who answered to the name, God can’t be included. God Shammgod, who was briefly with the Wizards in the 90’s, had an interesting name, but not much of a game.
I think it comes down to three names; Phil Chenier, who starred for the Bullets in the 1970’s, Gilbert Arenas, who was quirky to say the least, but was a star for the Wizards last decade and the guy we’re watching now – John Wall. Chenier was a shooting guard, who played without the 3-point line most of his career. He made the All-Star team three times over a four-year period between 1973 and 1977. Back problems shortened his career, but Chenier was a great player and worthy of having his number 45 hung from the rafters at the Verizon Center. I don’t know what’s taking so long for that to happen. And Arenas for all his destructive behavior, including the guns in the locker room incident, was a star. He was an all star three straight years between 2004 and 2007. He’s remembered more for his antics and the mistake of the big contract, but on the court, Arenas was great.
That brings us to Wall, who was voted as a starter in this week’s All-Star Game and played well, scoring 19 points with seven assists and three rebounds. But Wall can’t seem to get into the same conversation that Chenier and Arenas did in their days. “Often-criticized and injury-riddled” was a description hung on him in his first couple of years in the league and he can’t seem to shake it. Never mind that he’s an MVP candidate this season on a team that will make it back to the playoffs.
So why doesn’t Wall get his due?
Dan Steinberg tackled that last week in the Washington Post. He quoted several talking heads including ESPN’s Stephen A Smith, a supposed basketball insider. Stephen A described Wall as, “a scoring point guard,” failing to note that he leads the NBA in assists. But Steinberg also quoted Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who does know the game and has coached against Wall. SVG says, “I don’t think John Wall’s good enough to be the guy that you build around. I haven’t seen any indication that John Wall is a great decision maker.”
Van Gundy’s comment is troubling, but could even an NBA coach be guilty of what so many others are – judging Wall on perception rather than reality? What you commonly hear about Wall is, “He’s dramatically improved his shooting and all-around game.” It’s true that his shooting percentage has gone from 42% as a rookie to nearly 50% this year. He was a terrible 3-point shooter early on. Wall’s second year he attempted 42 from behind the arc and made only three. Three! Last year he shot 35% on three’s. Steph Curry, the best in the business shot 42%. And this year while he is leading the league in assists at 10.1 per game, it’s less than two more a game than he had as a rookie. It’s not like Wall was headed for Bust-ville as rookie when averaged 16.4 ppg and 8.3 assists. He was good when he came here and continues to get better.
How is it that the number one overall pick of the 2010 draft, with now two All Star Games on his resume, still hasn’t emerged from the cloud some want to hang over him?
The best answer probably comes from Matt Jones, the founder of Kentucky Sports Radio, who tells Steinberg he believes that Wall’s association with his former coach John Calipari and the one-and-done phenomenon made critics predisposed to find fault in his game. I would add that a less than effervescent personality hasn’t helped his image either.
But don’t be fooled by the critics, John Wall may be already the second best guard in franchise history. And if he isn’t, he’s well on his way to getting there.
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About six years ago, when my son was on his high school basketball team, I was talking to a friend who’d been an excellent athlete. He’d gone on to play college football at Tennessee and Maryland. I told him that Jeremy gave it everything he had, but just wasn’t talented enough to get many minutes. He told me something I’ll never forget, “It’s okay, by the time we’re 35, we’re all All-Mets.”
We all know guys who embellish their past sports accomplishments. It’s part of growing old. And it’s fairly harmless. But when embellishment crosses over into your career, the consequences can make one look like a fool.
We’re about to find out what misstating the facts will mean for NBC anchorman Brian Williams. He’s apologized for his inaccurate account of his helicopter being hit by grenade fire while reporting from Iraq in 2003. He said he “conflated” his memory of the helicopter he was traveling in (that one not damaged) with one on the ground that had been hit. Now we have reporting that says Williams may have played with the facts during his award-winning coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He said in a video chat after accepting the Peabody Award that he’d witnessed a man committing suicide by falling out of the upper deck of the Superdome. The National Guard confirmed a suicide, but said the man didn’t fall from the upper deck. Williams also talked about seeing a body floating past his hotel window. As the Washington Post reported Saturday:
“A 2008 Louisiana report that mapped all Katrina-related fatalities does not indicate that any bodies were found near the hotel (where Williams stayed).”
NBC’s investigative editor, Richard Esposito, is looking into it. As Ricky Ricardo might say, “Brian Williams has some splaining to do.”
In sports, we’ve seen a slew of truth-stretchers. And they almost always end badly. A few examples:
1999 – The Toronto Blue Jays fired manager Tim Johnson after it was revealed he’d made false statements about serving in Vietnam and being a high school All-American basketball player before choosing professional baseball over a basketball scholarship to UCLA. About Vietnam, Johnson told his team about having to shoot a young girl. In fact, Johnson had served in the reserves and had helped to train soldiers, but never went to Vietnam. And yes, there was no record of his high school basketball exploits or an offer from UCLA. Though he’d shown promise as a rookie manager in 1998, going 88-74, the Blue Jays felt Johnson had to go. He has not managed in the majors since.
2001 – After a successful run at Georgia Tech, George O’Leary accepted his dream job, coaching football at Notre Dame. He’d claimed on his resume that he lettered three times in football at the University of New Hampshire. Sensing a good local angle to the story, a reporter from the Manchester Union Herald called UNH to find out more about O’Leary’s playing career. It turned out he’d never appeared in a game. A further check of the resume showed O’Leary earning a masters degree from “NYU-Stony Brook”. Not only does such a school not exist, it turned out that O’Leary had taken only two masters courses at SUNY-Stony Brook. Five days after being hired, Notre Dame asked O’Leary to resign – earning him the nickname “Oh Really?” After a couple of years as an assistant with the Minnesota Vikings, O’Leary resurfaced as the head coach at the University of Central Florida, where he’s been for the last 11 seasons.
2011 – As Yale quarterback Patrick Witt was weighing whether to play in his final college football game against Harvard or attend a scheduled Rhodes scholarship interview, Yale coach Tom Williams said he was qualified to offer advice. How was he qualified? Williams said he too had been a Rhodes scholarship finalist. A quick check revealed that Williams had never even applied for the award. Witt decided to play in the game, Yale was clobbered and Williams was fired.
2014 – Manhattan basketball coach Steve Masiello accepted an offer of more than $1 million a year to take over at the University of South Florida. Because it’s a public school, USF requires its coaches to have a degree. That seemed to be no problem since the Manhattan media guide said that Masiello was a “2000 graduate of the University of Kentucky with a degree in communications.” One problem – Masiello never graduated. USF withdrew the offer. He lucked out when Manhattan agreed to take him back, pending the completion of his degree. Masiello took care of that last summer.
One thing about telling the truth, it doesn’t come back to bite you and you don’t have to worry about how it might, as Brian Williams says, “conflate” your memory.
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The first syllable in his last name accurately describes what Roger Goodell has been for the bottom line of the NFL owners who employ him. He’s been damn GOOD for business. And the NFL has been damn GOOD for Roger Goodell. Those owners pay him $44 million a year to be the conductor of their money train. As Gabriel Sherman wrote in a recent profile of the Commissioner in GQ Magazine titled, “The Season from Hell. Inside Roger Goodell’s Ruthless Football Machine”:
“By one measure—money—Goodell has been the most successful commissioner in the history of the league. Since landing the gig eight years ago, he has made the NFL more powerful than ever. Total league revenues have grown about 65 percent; the value of franchises is at an all-time high. (Goodell has told the owners that he wants to increase revenues to $25 billion over the next dozen years.) Last year, he persuaded the owners to settle the concussion lawsuit with more than 5,000 former players for $675 million. "God knows what the owners thought they were liable for," a veteran league executive told me, suggesting that they were prepared for the possibility that they might have to pay more. "They look at it as a cost per team: So we're capped at what, $25 million each? That deal alone should solidify Goodell's legend." (The deal was so good, in fact, that the judge in the case later ruled that the cap was unfair to players and threw it out.)”
When the money flows like that, nobody wants to turn off the spigot. But there’s more to leadership than wringing out the last short-term dollar for what could be damaging long-term results. And Sherman asks the question, “is Goodell the right man for the job.”
It’s a job Goodell coveted most of his life. One of the more eye-opening parts of the story reveals that Goodell told the owner of the bar he worked at during his college years that he intended to become commissioner of the NFL. Aiming high isn’t usually a bad thing, but if your lifetime goal before the age of 21 is that high, it’s fair to wonder if he did whatever it took to get there.
He aggressively worked his way into the league as an intern in the public relations department and quickly rose through the ranks. The NFL, like any business, wants the highest possible revenues. Goodell obviously and accurately saw the way to the owners’ hearts was through their wallets. Nothing got in his way as he rose to the top and now that he’s there, the almighty dollar seems to be his only concern.
But this past season, the dollar sign tunnel vision has been threatened. Nothing like the Ray Rice domestic violence case to kick off the year. And Goodell fumbled that kickoff – badly. As Sally Jenkins wrote in the Washington Post:
“Commissioner Roger Goodell first decided that knocking out your fiancée was a two-game suspension; he then decided when the whole world could see it was an indefinite suspension. That was about as clear as it gets: Harming your partner is one thing; harming league image is much more egregious.”
There were other abuse cases this past year, including Adrian Peterson whipping his four-year-old son with a stick – bad enough to make his genitals bleed. For a man who said in his annual state of the game address on Friday that he has a “responsibility to protect the integrity of the game”, it sure doesn’t look like he’s done that part of his $44 million a year job. The recent “Deflategate” controversy is just another brick in the wall.
I attended Goodell’s first state of the game news conference the last time the Super Bowl was in Arizona. The Patriots played in that one as well and were also embroiled in controversy at the time. Almost every question was about Spygate and every answer had little nutritional value. Most galling was his reason for burning all the evidence that the Patriots turned over. He said that way if anything else surfaced, he’d know the Patriots hadn’t been forthcoming with everything. Way to be transparent Comish.
At this past Friday’s news conference, it was suggested to Goodell that if most of us had a year like he’d had, we’d be asked to resign or be fired. Goodell said he couldn’t imagine either one. But it obviously takes time for things to sink in with him. Goodell talked about 2014 being a year of “humility and learning.” He said he learned about domestic violence by visiting shelters for battered women. Interesting that a man who just celebrated his 56th birthday needed to visit a shelter to understand that muscular football players punching out women is bad.
Another Super Bowl will bring record television ratings with 30 -second commercials sold out at $4.5 million apiece. And as Goodell contiues to bungle along, the owners, led by Bob Kraft of the Patriots will continue to defend him. Business is good.
But take it from Goodell’s former mentor Paul Tagliabue, commissioner from 1989 to 2005, the almighty dollar at any cost may not be worth in the long term. As he told Sherman about Goodell’s practices in the GQ story:
“If they see you making decisions only in economic terms, they start to understand that and question who you’re all about. There’s a huge intangible value in peace. There’s a huge intangible value in having allies.”
Not surprisingly, Tagliabue says he no longer has a relationship with Goodell.
The college kid who aspired to be king and became one, has allies in the 32 owners who’s pockets he lines. But as the integrity of the game further decays under his watch, we’ll see how long those allegiances last.
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So now that Bill Belichick has gone part Bill Nye the science guy and part Roger Ebert with a “My Cousin Vinny” reference as he defended his team in Deflategate, it’s time to look back on a coach who really did cheat – and got away with it.
His name was George Allen, father of current Redskins president Bruce Allen and coach of the Skins from 1971 to 1977. As a matter of fact, George once denied knowing Bruce when a referee wanted to give the Redskins a 15-yard penalty because Bruce was on a spot on the field he shouldn’t have been. But that was only lying, not cheating.
The cheating was so blatant, 40 years later, the most amazing thing is how George Allen got away with it, not to mention the chutzpah to even try it. Author Jonathan Rand laid out the story quite well in his book, “300 Pounds of Attitude”, a collection of behind-the-scenes stories of the NFL. Rand writes:
“In his first six months with the Redskins, Allen acquired 15 players and four draft picks. He made 19 trades before his first season, and 81 during his seven years in D.C.
Before his first season, Allen twice traded his second, third and fourth round picks for 1973. He used his legitimate second rounder to compensate the Jets for the signing of free agent Verlon Biggs. He then traded that same pick again to the Rams for Richie Petitbon. The two other picks went to Buffalo for Ron McDole. And he used those picks again to get Speedy Duncan from San Diego.
The Redskins made the playoffs before Allen was caught double dipping. Caught red handed like George Costanza, Allen tried ignorance as an excuse (I threw in the Seinfeld reference). Said the coach without the slightest bit of regret, “There was no intent to deceive. It was just a matter of a million and one things to do with a team we had just taken over and trying to do them all at the same time.”
Commissioner Pete Rozelle didn’t buy that explanation. He said Allen had traded draft choices twice when he coached the Rams, but wasn’t penalized because his trading partners would always agree to quick settlements. Rozelle fined the Redskins $5,000 dollars, made Allen compensate the Bills and Chargers with legit draft picks and dressed down Allen at an owners meeting in New York.”
Even then, five grand wasn’t going to break the Redskins bank. And what the heck, Allen never gave a damn about draft picks anyway. Biggs, Petitbon, McDole and Duncan were all big contributors to the Redskins Wild Card spot in ’71 – their first trip to the playoffs in a quarter of a century. I’d call it a win, win for King George.
Espionage was another favorite tactic for Allen. Besides bringing a bunch of his Rams players with him soon after arriving in Washington (they called them the “Ramskins”), Allen brought his own security guy from the west coast. Ed Boynton was his name. They called him “Double O”, a reference to James Bond. Boynton’s job was to circle the practice field both at training camp and at Redskins Park to make sure nobody was spying on the team. Though he was in his 70’s, “Double O” made his rounds on a bicycle.
But while Allen may have been paranoid of being spied on, he didn’t mind doing some spying of his own. And he got caught, too. Before the Cowboys moved into their current training facility that they call Valley Ranch, the team trained at a spot on the north side of Dallas. A high-rise hotel faced out on to the practice field. As I was told when I worked in Dallas in the early 80’s, one year, the week before playing Dallas, Allen had one of his scouts check into a room that had a view of the practice field. Furious Cowboys coach Tom Landry got wind of it and tried to get Rozelle to do something about it. Apparently there were no rules in place forbidding scouts from certain rooms in certain hotels. For the rest of the time Allen coached in Washington, every time the teams played, the Cowboys would buy out all the rooms that faced the field.
Allen’s been dead for nearly 25 years. Somewhere he must be laughing about all this fuss over deflated footballs. He must think it’s so minor league.
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