Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Milwaukee Bucks 2009-2010 Season Preview

I am sure that everyone has read at least one or two previews of the upcoming season for the Milwaukee Bucks. To put it bluntly, things do not look promising according to the "experts". Sports Illustrated picked the Bucks to finish last in the Eastern Conference. InsideHoops.com ranked the Bucks the 29th best team in the NBA narrowly edging out the Minnesota Timberwolves. ESPN.com's season opening power rankings have the Bucks listed 27th team in the NBA ahead of only the Memphis Grizllies, Minnesota Timberwolves and Sacramento Kings. The silver lining is that the Bucks will have a hard time moving down on any of those lists. That means the only place the Bucks can go is up.

All Milwaukee Bucks fans know the questions coming into the season:
- Will Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd rebound from injuries?
- How will all of the players mesh with each other (seven players on the roster that did not play for the Bucks last season)?
- Will Brandon Jennings become a legitimate starting point guard?
- How many players will Scott Skiles use in his rotation?
- Will the Bucks move one of their expiring contracts (Ridnous, Thomas or Elson)?

All of these questions have been dissected by a number of publications. Instead I am going to rank the players on the Milwaukee Bucks current roster from 15 to 1. There are a number of factors that determine each player's value: short term expectations, long term expectations, salary, relative strength at each position and swagger. I know that some of those factors are subjective but it is my list. I will update this list throughout the season but without further ado, here is the initial list:

#15 - Dan Gadzuric (Center): his hustle earned him a six-year, $36 million contract. That contract will go down as the second worst contract in Bucks history behind the Anthony Mason debacle. There are two season remaining on the contract at $6.75 million for 2009 and $7.25 million for 2010. Gadzuric would not be worth $1.4 million over the next two seasons let alone $14 million.

#14 - Joe Alexander (Forward): Bucks GM John Hammond made a number of shrewd trades to rid the Bucks of bloated contracts since he took over for Larry Harris in 2008 but his first draft pick as Bucks GM has been a bust. Hammond choose Joe Alexander #8 overall in the 2008 NBA Draft. Alexander played sparingly as a rookie and is out 8 to 12 weeks with a hamstring injury to start the 2009-2010 campaign. He has a relatively cheap contract but is in danger of have his team option declined for next season (a VERY rare move in the NBA) meaning the Bucks would give up on him after only two seasons.

#13 - Charlie Bell (Guard): speaking of bloated contracts, the Bucks have Bell under contract for the next three season for an average of a little less than $4 million a year. That makes Bell the 6th highest paid player on the Bucks roster when he is not even a lock to make their rotation.

#12 - Francisco Elson (Center): old back-up centers are a dime a dozen in the NBA. Elson should get limited minutes and is really not effective as Gadzuric but ranks ahead of him because he costs the bucks $5 million less than Gadzuric this season.

#11 - Roko Ukic (Guard): he was "the other guy" in the Carlos Delfino/Amir Johnson trade with the Toronto Raptors. Ukic could be a good point guard down the road but is a raw talent at this point. Ukic holds a player option for 2010/11 for $1.45 million which might be good value since the Bucks only point guard locked up long-term is 2009 first round pick Brandon Jennings. Former point guard and current Bucks coach Scott Skiles is going to have a hard time finishing minutes for Ukic though with an already crowded backcourt.

#10 - Jodie Meeks (Guard): the Bucks choose Meeks in the second-round of the 2009 NBA Draft. The Bucks hope that Meeks will follow in the footsteps of Michael Redd. Meeks has a chance to make the biggest move this season of anyone not named Brandon Jennings. Meeks scored a University of Kentucky record 54-points last season against Tennessee. If Meeks broke the Kentucky scoring record against an inferior opponent it might not mean as much but he did it against a formidable opponent. Whether that firepower translates to the NBA remains to be seen.

#9 - Luke Ridnour (Guard): the writing is on the wall, the Bucks are trying to move him to make way for rookie point guard Brandon Jennings. Ridnour has one season remaining on his contract for $6.5 million. Look for the Bucks to move Ridnour if they can.

#8 - Ersan Ilyasova (Forward): after playing in Europe for a few seasons he rejoins the Bucks at a very reasonable price three-years, roughly $9 million. The Bucks opted to bring back Ilyasova at 20% the cost of Charlie V and thus far that looks to be the right move. Ilyasova will get a lot of minutes off the bench at both forward positions.

#7 - Kurt Thomas (forward): looks to be the starting power forward for the Bucks this season but at the age of 37 he is not their long-term answer at that position. He has a palatable contract at $3.8 million this season but as the season draws on look for Warrick and Ilyasova to take over at power forward.

#6 - Brandon Jennings (Guard): he is the first player to forgo college and opt to play in Europe for a season to satisfy the NBA rule of being out of high school for one season before entering the NBA. The Bucks selected Jennings #10 overall in the 2009 NBA Draft. Most experts consider the 2009 NBA Draft Class one of the weakest in a number of years (besides Blake Griffin) and outside of Ricky Rubio, Jennings might be the biggest boom/bust pick the draft. Luckily the Bucks have a former point guard as their head coach, look for Skiles to be the perfect mentor for Jennings.

#5 - Carlos Delfino (Guard/Forward): GM John Hammond got his former player back. While in the front office at Detroit, in the same draft that Detroit passed on Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade for Darko, Hammond was part of the brain trust that selected Delfino #25 in the 2003 NBA Draft.

#4 - Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (Forward): for how much of a bust Joe Alexander has been, the Bucks looked to have struck gold in the second round of that draft with Mbah a Moute. Bucks coach Scott Skiles preaches defense and that is what Mbah a Moute provides. The versatility that Mbah a Moute provides at both forward positions makes him quite an asset at his paltry salary of $750,000.

#3 - Andrew Bogut (Center): in a recent article Forbes claimed Bogut is one of the NBA's most over paid players. The Bucks have Bogut under contract for five years for roughly $60 million. If Bogut provides double digits points and rebounds on a consistent basis he will prove Forbes wrong. If Bogut continues to struggle with back issues then he will "earn" the title of over paid.

#2 - Michael Redd (Guard): he has gone from a second-round pick in the 2000 NBA Draft (43rd overall) to the face of the Bucks franchise. Redd spurned the Cleveland Cavs (and the chance to play with Lebron) to sign a max contract with the Bucks in 2005. Although he is coming off knee surgery that limited Redd to only 33 games last season, he looked like his old self in the preseason. The Bucks are on the hook for $17 million this year and Redd holds a player option for $18.3 for 2010/11 that he should exercise ASAP since there is no way he would get paid anywhere close to that next season. Many people claim Redd cannot lead a team, that he a quality "second banana". This season Redd has a chance to prove all those people wrong.

#1 - Hakim Warrick (Forward): the Memphis Grizzlies decided not to offer the talented former first-round pick a contract in the offseaon. The Bucks jumped at the chance to get Warrick because he is one of the most athletic players in the NBA. Warrick is playing for a long-term contract after signing a one-year contract with the Bucks worth roughly $3.5 million, which always translates into a motivated and productive player in the NBA.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Preview of Week #7 of the 2009 NFL Season - Packers/Browns

NFL teams have 53 players on their active roster. By NFL rule, only 45 of those players can suit up each week. The Browns usually do not have a problem deciding who to suit up for their games, the problem is their lack of talent in the guts they suit up. As a result, the Browns are a team that lack both talent and depth, it took me a long time to come up with 10 players to include in the Cleveland Brown's "Top 10 List". As you will see below, the Browns are in a transition. They hired a new coach and general manager. Their general manager happens to be a close friend of their new coach, which creates an incestuous relationship in the front office. This season alone the Browns traded two players that drafted in the first round (Kellen Winslow #6 overall in the 2004 NFL Draft and Braylon Edwards #3 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft) for future non-first round draft picks. Without further ado, here are the best players currently on the Cleveland Browns:

#10 - Derek Anderson/Brady Quinn (QB): it is a sad state of affairs when you get benched (I am talking about you Brady Quinn) for a guy who has gone on to be the lowest rated passer of any starting quarterback in the NFL (take that JaMarcus Russell, there is someone worse than you starting in the NFL). In the Browns only win this season, Derek Anderson completed only 2 of 17 passes for 23 yards and 1 interception. That means Anderson completed only three passes the entire day and somehow the Browns beat the Bills 6 to 3 on the road. Part of Quinn's benching is money related, ESPN recently reported that by starting Derek Anderson this week Brady Quinn will likely lose out on $11 million in appearance bonuses over the next two seasons (source: here). Neither quarterback seems worthy of starting in the NFL, which means move over Tim Couch, there are worse QBs in Cleveland now. You play coach, here are the stat lines for Anderson and Quinn in 2009, who would you rather start?
- Anderson: 48 of 108 for 506 yards, 2 touchdowns and 6 interceptions for a quarterback rating of 41.7.
- Quinn: 45 of 74 for 400 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions for a quarterback rating of 62.9.

#9 - Jamal Lewis (RB): is a former Raven so by proxy a former Brown and now current Brown is starting the "Running Backs Over 30 Decline". Lewis ran for 1,000 yards in seven of eight seasons in the NFL. In 2005 he missed 1,000 yards by less than 100 yards and in 2008 he made 1,000 by 2 yards. Lewis is on pace for 900 yards this season and has yet to reach the end zone. All of those statistics add up to being out of the NFL soon. As with most punishing running backs like Lewis, their career literally and figuratively comes to a screeching halt. The physical running style of Lewis (attempting to run over every tacklers) does not lead to many carries after the age of 30, Lewis might be able to find an employer for the 2010 NFL season.

#8 - Cleveland Brown's 2010 1st Round Pick: I hate to do this, but the 2009 Cleveland Browns lack talent. Trading away Kellan Winslow and Braylon Edwards forced me to put their future 1st Round Pick as their 8th best player. The Browns are projected to pick in the top 5 in the 2010 NFL draft, although there are a ton of horrible teams in the NFL right now; St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Detroit, Kansas City, Oakland and Washington I am talking about you guys. All of these teams are fighting for a top 5 pick with each other. With that said, a top-5 pick does not necessarily translate into success. The Browns have had some colossal busts in the first round since 1999, who can forget such talented players as Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, Gerard Warren and William Green.

#7 - Alex Mack (C): after trading down in the first-round of the 2009 NFL draft 22 times (not quite that many time but close), the Browns finally drafted Alex Mack. The Browns have been trying to solve their center issues since 2006 when they lured two-time pro bowler LeCharles Bentley away from the New Orleans Saints with a six-year, $36 million contract. In an attempt to upstage the aforementioned Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, Gerard Warren and William Green; LeCharles Bentley joins some rarefied air to go down as the biggest bust in Cleveland Browns history. Although Mack looks to be their center of the future they will always be haunted by the next two players selected after Mack in the 2009 NFL Draft Percy Harvin (by the Minnesota Vikings) and Michael Oher (by the Baltimore Ravens). Mack will be an adequate center but Harvin and Oher have a chance to be "special" players.

#6 - Kamerion Wimbley (LOLB): is the prototypical outside rushing linebacker in the 3-4. Before the trading deadline I thought the Packers should have tried to trade for Wimbley since the Browns are giving away first round picks (remember Braylon Edwards and Kellan Winslow). Wimbley has enough speed and size to rush the passer add drop into coverage. If the Packers plan to keep Kampman at outside linebacker they might want to look at how Wimbley plays the position.

#5 - Shaun Rogers (NT): is getting up there in age but at 30, Rogers still anchors the middle of the Browns 3-4 defense. The success of a player like Rogers is not based solely on the stats that he puts up, it is also based on the opportunities he creates for his teammates. Rogers still commands a double team which creates opportunities for Browns linebackers.

#4 - Eric Steinbach (LG): left southern Ohio for northern Ohio in 2007 when he agreed to a seven-year, $49.5 million contract ($17 million guaranteed) to join the Browns. Steinbach has been the anti-Bentley and makes up half of one the best left sides of an offensive line in the NFL.

3 - Eric Wright (CB): no I am not talking about the deceased Eazy-E (Eric Lynn Wright), I am talking about Eric Andrew Wright. The old saying goes, two out of three ain't bad. The Browns drafted Wright in the second round of the 2007, the same draft they got stud left tackle Joe Thomas and back-up quarterback Brady Quinn. The background on Wright would have ended there but Wright rolled his car at 2:10 a.m. Friday morning and hurt his shoulder (source: here). Let me get this straight, he was out at 2:10 a.m. a few days before a game? It is good to see that Wright was back at practice after the crash.

#2 - Joe Thomas (LT): possibly one of the best young left tackles in the NFL, absent injury, the Browns have an anchor on the left side of their line for the next decade. Thomas is one of the classier plays in the NFL too. On draft day instead of getting caught up in all of the hype that ESPN creates for the NFL Draft, Thomas went fishing with his dad in Port Washington, WI (on a boat that I caught a 20 pound king salmon I might add).

1 - Joshua Cribbs (Everything): he is their punt returner, kick returner, wide receiver and wildcat specialist. About the only thing that Cribbs does do for the Browns is play defense. Cribbs is a former four-year starting quarterback at Kent State but but does not have that accurate of a throw as evidenced last week when he was picked off by Pittsburgh on a badly thrown ball. Cribbs is a threat to return any kickoff or punt for a touchdown, similar to Dante Hall and Devin Hester in years past. With good reason the Packers have undoubtedly spent most of their film time this week on Cribbs.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ahman Green back in Green and Gold?

Reports are swirling out of Green Bay that Ahman Green is going to sign with the Packers this week. Green is second on the Packers' all-time rushing list, 45 yards behind Packer Legend Jim Taylor (source: here). The Packers worked out Green and Dominic Rhodes on Monday; initial reports out of Green Bay suggested that Green was offered a tryout mostly because he lives in the Green Bay area (source: here). During that workout Green must have shown some promise because Green told two ex-teammates that he received a playbook and would start to workout with the team this week (source: here). Green's agent said nothing is set in stone with the Packers, which leaves open the possibility that the Packers will not sign Green (source: here). In order for Green to join the Packers, someone on the 53-man roster would have to be cut or put on injured reserve. The most likely candidate for being placed on injured reserve is often injured backup running back DeShawn Wynn unless backup fullback Korey Hall's injury is much worse then initially reported. Wynn ended the 2007 season on injured reserve but did not agree with the medical staff's decision at the time. The Packers also have running back Kregg Lumpkin on the practice squad (source: here). Lumpkin was on the Packers active roster in 2008 but did not make the team in 2009 and signed with the practice squad.

The Packers' ground attack is marginal at best but is Ahman Green the answer? In 2007, the year after former Packer head coach Mike Sherman joined the Houston Texans as an offensive assistant coach, he lobbied the Texans to sign Green as an unrestricted free agent. Reports were that the Texans offered Green a 4 year contract worth $24 million. That contract was way too expensive for the Packers so Green signed with the Texans. Green had two injured riddled and unproductive seasons with the Texans before being cut in 2008 (source: here). Green is 32 years old, which means he crossed the notorious line of "running backs over 30" line. Despite what Brett Favre is doing at the age of 40 in Minnesota, 30 is usually where running backs start to have a remarkable decline in production. Some notorious examples are Shaun Alexander (source: here) and Marshall Faulk (source: here). Furthermore, Ahman Green was one of the hardest runners in the National Football League. Analysts loved to talk about how low he got his pad level to help him run over defenders. At the age of the 32, Green will have a hard time replicating that running style. The Packers need a backup running back but Ahman Green is not the answer. Green had one of the most successful careers as a running back in Packers history but his production on the field will not be better than Grant, Jackson, Wynn (assuming he is healthy) or even Lumpkin at this stage in his career.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Potential Moves for the Packers at the 2009 NFL Trade Deadline

I think Ted Thompson will stand his ground instead of making a blockbuster trade before the NFL trading deadline. That said, here are a few hypothetical trades that I would support:

#1) Trading Aaron Kampman. Trading Kampman makes a lot of sense because he seems like a fish out of water in the 3-4 defense. If the Packers are going to play strictly a 3-4 defense, Kampman is not in their long-term plans. The Packers should try to mix in some 4-3 defense with Aaron Kampman & Cullen Jenkins at defense end and Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly & B.J. Raji at defensive tackle but that does not seem likely since they are transitioning from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4 defense this year. The Packers could get a big return for Kampman, may be a 1st round pick OR a 2nd & 4th round pick OR even a player if they are willing to absorb a high priced salary. Two player that make a lot of sense for the Packers are Julius Peppers of the Carolina Panthers and Adalius Thomas of the New England Patriots. Peppers is franchised so the Packers are not tied long-term to him if he does not work out. Thomas was a healthy scratch last week in favor of Junior Seau for the New England Patriots which is never a good sign but Dom Capers worked for the Patriots last season so his input would help Ted Thompson make the final decision. The Packers have the cap room to absorb a hit by trading Kampman and taking back a large contract such as Peppers or Thomas. Furthermore, Kampman is an unrestricted free agent in the offseason with an uncapped year in the NFL looming. Ted Thompson likes his own guys so he will not chase Kampman. Plus at the age of 30, Kampman is going to cost a bunch for a player that is nearing the downside of his career. I know it sounds crazy because of how much production Kampman has had for the Packers over the last three seasons but the Packers have depth at outside linebacker with Clay Matthews, Brady Poppinga, Jeremy Thompson, Brad Jones and Spencer Havner. Mark my words, if the Packers do not trade Kampman, they will put the franchise tag on him in the off season and try to trade him then. As such, if Ted Thompson can get what he wants now for Kampman, make the trade and deal with the public relations fallout now while in season.

#2) Try to get something for Desmond Bishop. For some reason the Packers do not want to play Bishop. It comes down to the amount Bishop is getting paid vs. the rest of the middle linebackers on the Packers roster. If A.J. Hawk was not one of the highest paid Packers, he would give way to Bishop or might even be cut. The only reason to keep Bishop is if the Packers are not going to re-sign Brandon Chillar. With the way the Packers play Chillar in the "Big Okie" defensive formation where they put Chillar at safety along with Collins, the Packers will most likely resign him. As a result, get a player that can fill gaps for the Packers now, ideally a backup offensive tackle or defensive lineman.

#3) Get any viable running back available. Ryan Grant tackles himself plus Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn can't stay healthy. The Packers need another reliable running back for the impending cold weather in Green Bay. There are a number of backup running backs that should be available for a late round draft pick. I know Ted Thompson likes to build through the draft but the Packers have so many young players on the 53-man roster there isn't really any room to add that many guys in the 2010 draft. The Packers might as well pick up a guy that can help the team now. A home run would be a guy like Fred Jackson but it seems highly unlikely the Buffalo Bills would move a guy getting paid almost league minimum with that much upside. A single would be picking up a back up with potential such as Justin Forsett on the Seattle Seahawks.

Ted Thompson will most likely not make any of the moves mentioned above. If Thompson does, the Packers will be a better team not only the day after the trade but for the next few seasons. One of Thompson's strengths as a general manager is that he does not mortgage the team's future for short terms returns. All of the trades mentioned above fit that criteria. As Thompson knows, you have to trade assets when they are at their highest value. Right now Aaron Kampman and Desmond Bishop are at their highest value. If Thompson waits until the offseason, teams can address their needs through the draft and free agency which will reduce the value of both Kampman and Bishop.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why the Green Bay Packers Should Sign Mark Tauscher

Various media outlets reported that the Green Bay Packers worked out former Packer Mark Tauscher on Tuesday and that both sides look close to reaching an agreement (source: here). Tauscher was the starting right tackle for the Packers from 2000-2008 but he tore his ACL on December 7th, 2008 and has been rehabbing ever since. The Kansas City Chiefs had Tauscher in for a workout last week but did not sign him.

All along, October 1st was the earliest date for Tauscher to return to action because that is 10 months from when he tore his ACL. The timing of this could not be any better for the Packers. Not only do the Packers have a bye week, which would give them time to re-acclimate Tauscher, they are currently $18 million under the cap. The Packers just placed Will Blackmon on injured reserve after he tore his ACL against the Vikings so the Packers have a spot on their 53-man roster for an "ACL swap."

Last week against the Vikings, for the second week in a row, Chad Clifton was unable to go at left tackle so the Packers started Daryn Colledge. When Colledge got hurt during the game, the Packers were forced to insert rookie T.J. Lang at left tackle. Lang looked wildly over matched, just like the rest of the offensive line.

Unless Tauscher's workout was horrible, the Packers should sign him immediately. Tauscher would provide the Packers with some much needed veteran depth at tackle. Although Tauscher strictly played right tackle for the Packers, inserting him into the starting offensive line gives the Packers options. First and foremost, it allows the Packers to give Allen Barbre reps at left and right tackle. Taushcer helps hedge against another injury because it gives the Packers a proven backup at each position: Barbre at tackle, Spitz at guard and Wells at center.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Why Declare Clifton Out Early?

The Green Bay Packers stated that it is "very unlikely" that left tackle Chad Clifton will suit up against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night (source: here). Outside of how much this hurts the Packers (no pun intended) chance of beating the Vikings on Monday Night, I am baffled by this disclosure on Saturday morning on two levels. First, General Manager Ted Thompson and the Packers usually do not disclose ANY information. Thompson is the master of keeping his thoughts to himself. Second, Thompson and the Packers would not be breaking any NFL rules as long as they disclose Clifton's practice status as mandated by the NFL. Barring a miraculous recovery, the much maligned 2009 Packers Offensive Line looks to be even weaker on Monday Night against the Minnesota Vikings if Clifton is unable to play.