Sunday, May 30, 2010

Review of 2010 Indy 500

Congratulations to Dario Franchitti, Chip Ganassi, and the Target Ganassi Racing crew on their 2010 Indianapolis 500 victory. What made Franchitti's second Indy 500 win extra special was that it made owner Chip Ganassi the first owner to win the Daytona 500 and Indy 500 in the same year.

Despite the recent economic downturn, the prize money for the Indy 500 keeps going up. Franchitti, who is married to actress Ashley Judd, earned $1,645,233 for winning the 2007 Indy 500. Just three years later, Franchitti earned $2,752,055 of the race's $13,592,815 purse for winning the 2010 Indy 500. It is definitely a Sunday Funday in the Franchitti house...

So why am I covering the Indy 500 on a Cheesehead Sports Blog? Last year Cheesehead Chick and I went to our first Indianapolis 500 with Cheesehead Chick's parents. Cheesehead Chick's dad (a huge Dayton Flyers basketball fan) is very knowledgeable on all sports, but the surprise of the weekend was how much Cheesehead Chick's mom knew and loved the Indy 500. Here is a picture of the great view we had of the start/finish line from our seats at the 2009 Indy 500.

You always hear that there are certain sporting events you have to catch before you die, the Indy 500 has to be in the top five of that group. It is hard to put into words how fast the cars are going when you see them in person for the first time. If you go to the Indy 500, make sure to sit fairly close to the start/finish line at least a dozen rows back from the fence. Those seats are ideal because you can catch all the action at the start/finish line as well as some of the action in the pits.

Helio Castroneves won the 2009 Indy 500, the third Indy 500 victory of his career. Although according to my racing friends, the proper pronunciation is Heelllliiiiooo Castroneves! As usual, Castroneves did his patented "Spiderman" move where he climbs the fence by the start/finish line to celebrate his victory.

Trust me, if you want to have a great sports Sunday Funday, make sure you catch an Indy 500.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Review of Labor Relations in Professional Sports

On Friday, April 14, 2010 I attended The Chicago Bar Association Sports Law Committee Meeting titled "The state and future of management-player relations in the National Football League". The Sports Law Committee put together quite an impressive pro-NFL Players Association ("NFLPA") panel: Nolan Harrison III and Thomas J. Heiden to talk about the current labor strife in the NFL.

Nolan Harrison III is a former NFL defensive lineman. Harrison played college football at Indiana University and was drafted by the Raiders in the 6th round (146 overall) of the 1991 NFL Draft. Harrison played for the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders (1991-1996), the Pittsburgh Steelers (1997-1999), and the Washington Redskins (2000). Check out Nolan Harrison III's blog and tweets.

Thomas J. Heiden is a partner at Latham & Watkins LLP, check out his impressive biography.

As a backdrop to the current NFL labor dispute, the speakers talked about major sports lockouts and strikes since 1980:

NFL Strike of 1987: NFL players went on strike at the start of the 1987 NFL regular season, which resulted in Week 3 of the 1987 NFL regular season getting canceled. At issue in the strike was free agency, drug testing, pensions, and minimum salaries. The owners used replacement players for Weeks 4 - 6. The NFLPA decertified (until 1989) and ultimately returned to work after striking for less than a month.

MLB Lockout of 1990: The MLB owners locked out the MLB players from spring training in 1990 for a little more than a month. At issue in the lockout was revenue sharing, minimum salaries, and roster size. Ultimately the minimum salaries were raised from $68,000 to $100,000.

MLB Strike of 1994-95: The MLB players went on strike August 12, 1994. At issue in the strike was revenue sharing and the salary cap. MLB is the only major professional sport in the United States that enjoys an antitrust exemption. Congress threatened to strip MLB of their antitrust exemption, which jump-started negotiations. The MLB owners tried to impose a salary cap but a federal court ruled against the owners. The strike lasted 232 days (August 12, 1994 to until April 2, 1995) and lead to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series (the first time since 1904).

NBA Lockout of 1998-99: The NBA owners locked out the NBA players in the 1998 off-season. At issue in the lockout was the salary cap, free agency, rookie pay scale, and minimum salaries. The NBA owners got the players to agree to a salary cap so the owners ended the lockout, which lasted 202 days and shortened the 1999 NBA season.

NHL Lockout of 2004-05: The NHL owners locked out the players before the 2004-05 NHL season. At issue in the lockout was the salary cap and revenue sharing. Ultimately both sides agreed to a salary cap but the lockout wiped out the entire 2004-05 NHL season and created a huge public relations nightmare for their already rapidly dwindling fan base.

Current NFL Labor Dispute:
With all of that as window dressing, here is how the current NFL labor disagreement has played out. From 1993 to 2006 the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between the NFLPA and the NFL owners was extended five times. In March of 2006, the NFL owners voted 30-2 (Buffalo and Cincinnati voted against) to extend the CBA.

The CBA contained an "opt-out" clause that the NFL owners exercised in May of 2008. By opting out, the 2010 season became "uncapped" meaning it will be played without a salary cap or salary floor. Although there are some restrictions like the "Final 8 Rule" that keeps owners from spending millions on free agents, it is the lack of a salary floor that should really worry NFL players. Some owners said they are going to cut their payroll in half from 2009 to 2010, so the uncapped year will not result in players getting showered with money as originally anticipated. If the NFLPA and the NFL Owners don't come to a new agreement, the last official thing on the NFL calendar is the 2011 NFL Draft.

How will things play out? Who knows, but the NFL has a great thing going. Although baseball claims to be America's Pastime, the NFL is the most popular professional sport in the United States. Every red-blooded man that likes sports watches football on Sunday. If there is a work stoppage that might all change.

Whether players and owners like it, the average American views a labor dispute between players and owners as millionaires fighting with billionaires. With the recent economic downturn, the NFL can ill afford to alienate fans at the height of its popularity.

For football to be played in 2011, the NFL players are going to have to make concessions. The NFL owners get paid a reported $4 billion under their current television deal whether or not football is played in 2011. That means although it would be devastating to the NFL if some or all of the 2011 NFL season was canceled because of the labor disputes, the owners are able to wait out the players. The players won't get paid a dime without games being played while the owners will get paid billions.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Funday - Cheesehead Sports Nut, Cheesehead Chick, & Sug finished the Chicago Spring Half Marathon

I thought I would go with a non-traditional Sunday Funday post since Cheesehead Chick, Sug, and I ran the Chicago Spring Half Marathon today.

It was a beautiful day to run and a perfect course along the lakefront path, despite the dodgy start/finish line. I knew that the race was going to go well when a spectator held up a "Run for Cheese" sign only a few miles into the race...definitely my kind of crowd...Cheesehead Chick could barely contain herself.

The highlight of the run (besides finishing along side Cheesehead Chick) was running by Soldier Field knowing that Rodgers and Company are going to pound the Bears there on Monday Night Football September 27.

The gold medal for the race goes to Sug with a time of 1:57:22. The shared silver medal goes to Cheesehead Chick and myself since we finished together with a time of 2:03:58.

With 4 miles left in my 11 mile training run last week, I swore that this would be my last half marathon (I have run a total of two, so it is not that big of a proclamation). But today's race went really well. It might not be my last after all.

Time for a bloody mary and a nap! Guilt free laziness...the best part of finishing!

I hope everyone else had a Funday Sunday, too!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

US World Cup 30-Man Provisional Roster

You might be asking yourself, why is there a soccer post on the best Cheesehead Sports Blog on the web? First, I am a huge soccer fan so there will be a bunch of soccer content leading up and through the 2010 World Cup in South Africa which runs from June 11th to July 11th. Second, Jay DeMerit, a native Cheesehead, has a good chance of starting as a central defender for the United States.

After missing nine straight World Cups from 1954 to 1986, the United States is qualified for their sixth straight World Cup (1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, and 2010) drawing Algeria, Slovenia, and England in Group C. Bob Bradley, the United States Men's World Cup Coach, took the first step towards filling his 23-man roster for South Africa by naming his preliminary 30-man roster:

Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, and Marcus Hahnemann

Defenders (9): Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Chad Marshall, Oguchi Onyewu, Heath Pearce, and Jonathan Spector

Midfielders (12): DaMarcus Beasley, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers, and Jose Torres

Forwards (6): Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Brian Ching, Robbie Findley, Herculez Gomez, and Eddie Johnson

The household names that were left off the provisional 30-man roster were Freddy Adu, Conor Casey, and Charlie Davies. Bob Bradley is justified in leaving Adu off the 30-man provisional roster. Adu has never lived up to his hype and is more of a novelty than anything else at this point.

Conor Casey scored two goals against Honduras to help the United States clinch a berth in the 2010 World Cup berth last October. I am not surprised was left off the provisional roster but it is too bad for a guy that scored such crucial goals for the United States.

Charlie Davies was involved in a potentially life threatening car accident on October 13, 2009 and is still not match fit so his exclusion is not that surprising.

The United States plays friendlies against the Czech Republic on May 25th and Turkey on May 29th, which gives Bob Bradley two more chances, besides training, to evaluate the 30 men mentioned above before Bradley has to submit his final 23-man roster to FIFA on June 1. My best guess at the 23-man roster is:

Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, and Marcus Hahnemann

Defenders (7): Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Oguchi Onyewu, and Jonathan Spector.

Midfielders (9): DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, and Jose Torres

Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley, and Herculez Gomez.

Absent serious injury, if I were Bob Bradley, I would play these 11 guys in a 4-5-1 formation against England:

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard

Defenders (4): Steve Cherundolo (RB), Jay DeMerit (CB), Oguchi Onyewu (CB), Carlos Bocanegra (LB)

Midfielders (5): DaMarcus Beasley (LM), Maurice Edu (DM), Michael Bradley (CM), Landon Donovan (AM), Clint Dempsey (RM)

Forwards(1): Jozy Altidore

If you are interested in more soccer coverage, check back over the next few months for more World Cup coverage.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunday Funday - Bill Hall on Mother's Day 2006

Bill Hall is the second most hated person on the 2010 Milwaukee Brewers' payroll behind Jeff Suppan. The Brewers are paying Bill Hall $7.15 million to play for the Boston Red Sox via the Seattle Mariners.

Oh if it were only 2006. On Mother's Day 2006 (May 14, 2006), Bill Hall hit a walk-off home run against the New York Mets. What made Hall's home run so memorable was that Hall hit it with a special pink bat with his mother in the stands.

The bat was later auctioned, only to be bought by Brewers' owner Mark Attanasio for $25,000 as a gift to Hall's mother. Little did Attanasio know that $25,000 was a small fraction of what he would be paying Hall over the next four seasons.

After Hall's breakout season in 2006, the Brewers rewarded Hall with a 4-year, $24 million contract: $3 million in 2007, $4.8 million in 2008, $6.8 million in 2009, $8.4 million in 2010, and $9.25 million or $0.5 million buyout in 2011 (source).

Hall struggled mightily after signing the aforementioned contract. Finally Mark Attanasio and Doug Melvin had enough, they traded Hall to the Seattle Mariners for minor league pitching prospect Ruben Flores.

It is a gift that the Brewers got anything for Hall. If anyone besides Jack Zduriencik (Doug Melvin's former right hand man in Milwaukee) was the general manager of the Seattle Mariners, the Brewers probably would have got nothing in return for Hall.

That said, Zduriencik thought so little of Hall's play that he traded Hall to the Boston Red Sox despite having Hall's services essentially for free.

Sorry Billy Hall that I only gave you a couple of nice paragraphs for your dramatic home run on Mother's Day with the rest of the post discussing what a collosial bust you were after that dramatic hit but with the $24 million you "earned" from the Brewers I think you will be alright.

On a much light note, Happy Mother's Day to all mothers...especially to my Mom!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Final Milwaukee Bucks Rankings for the 2009-10 Season

The 2009-2010 Milwaukee Bucks were picked to finish last in the Eastern Conference by most national pundits but the Bucks defied all odds to make the playoffs as the 6th seed and took the 3rd seeded Atlanta Hawks to 7 games despite missing Andrew Bogut and Micheal Redd. These stats put the Bucks overachieving in perspective:

- The Bucks won 12 more games this season than last season. That 12 game improvement was the largest improvement in the Eastern Conference and the 3rd largest improvement in the NBA (Oklahoma City +27, Memphis +16, Milwaukee +12, L.A. Clippers +10, and Charlotte +9).

- The Bucks shot 43.6% from the field in the regular season, finishing 29th of 30 NBA teams in shooting percentage edging out the worst team in the NBA, the New Jersey Nets who shot 42.9%.

- The Bucks shot 35.6% from three point range, finishing 12th in the NBA.

- Despite their improved record, attendance was down this season. The Bucks ranked 24th in the league in attendance: 619,453 total for an average of 15,108 per game. Down from 630,976 total for an average of 15,389 per game for the 2008-2009 campaign.

If you are short on time, The Sports Guy (Bill Simmons), succinctly summed up the Bucks season in a recent column: "The Exec of the Year: Milwaukee's John Hammond. Dumped Richard Jefferson's contract, picked Jennings, stole John Salmons from Chicago, nailed the Carlos Delfino signing, maintained his cap flexibility going forward, allowed the "Fear the Deer" era to unfold. That was a clinic on how to keep a small-market team relevant. Had Andrew Bogut not Theismann'ed his elbow, the Bucks absolutely would have beaten Boston in Round 1, and my mom would have been saying to me, "What's up with this Fear the Deer thing?" Alas. By the way, Scott Skiles being the 2009-10 Coach of the Year goes without saying. So I don't know why I said it." (source)

With all due respect to The Sports Guy, if you want a much more in-depth recap of the season through the eyes of Cheesehead Sports Nut, please read on...

In my Milwaukee Bucks 2009-2010 Season Preview I posed the biggest questions facing the Bucks:

Will Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd rebound from injuries?
We know the answer to the artist formerly known as Michael Redd. Bogut rebounded from injury but was lost for the season on a freak injury against the Phoenix Suns. That basically is a long winded way to say "sort of".

How will all of the players mesh with each other (seven players on the roster that did not play for the Bucks last season)?
Very well. In fact the midseason additions of Jerry Stackhouse and John Salmons seemed to improve team chemistry and solidify the Bucks for a playoff run despite finishing the season without the services of Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut.

Will Brandon Jennings become a legitimate starting point guard?
Yes he did. If Jennings continues to improve next season and Bogut returns healthy the Bucks might actually be an attractive destination for top-of-the-line NBA free agent heading into the 2011-2012 season. The Bucks will actually have the cap space to make a move because of all the money coming off the books next season (Redd owed $18.5 million and Dan Gadzuric owed $7.24 million). Before you get too excited, there is a very good chance the 2011-2012 NBA season will start with a lock-out. Plus, cap space and young talent is only a small part of the equation. When I say "Milwaukee would be an attractive destination" I mean purely in a basketball sense. Sadly, Milwaukee will never be able to compete with Miami and LA nightlife, scenery, etc...which has a HUGE impact on where NBA free agents sign.

How many players will Scott Skiles use in his rotation?
Once Bogut went down the Bucks struggled with establishing a consistent rotation, especially when their big men got in foul trouble. You know there are rotation issues when Primoz Brezec and Dan Gadzuric are playing big minutes in the playoffs.

Will the Bucks move one of their expiring contracts (Ridnour, Thomas or Elson)?
Yes and yes, John Hammond laid the foundation for trading expiring contracts by admitting that his first pick as Bucks general manager was a mistake. Instead of picking up Joe Alexander's option for a 3rd year, Hammond declined the option and thus allowed the Bucks to include Alexander's expiring contract in a deal for John Salmons. Very Ron Wolfian of Hammond...when you are wrong just admit your mistakes and move on...don't compound the mistake by holding onto "your guy" when you made the wrong decision.

In my five possible trades for the Bucks post, I correctly identified the Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers as potential trade partners but I included the wrong players.

The Bucks traded Hakim Warrick and Joe Alexander to the Chicago Bulls for John Salmons, Chicago's second round draft pick in 2011, Chicago's second round draft pick in 2012, and the option to switch first round draft picks in the 2010 NBA Draft (top 10 protected). This trade looks like a straight salary dump for the Bulls so that they can clear cap space to go after the top free agents (LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson). Some criticized the Bucks for giving salary cap flexibility to a division rival but with how much the Bucks got in return, the trade makes complete sense. Not only did the Bucks get a stud shooting guard, they get to leap ahead of the Bulls in the 2010 NBA Draft and added two second round picks down the road. Yes, this trade might have helped the Bulls clear space to land a marque free agent but it helped the Bucks make the playoffs and gives the Bucks a ton of roster flexibility for the next few seasons.

The Bucks traded Francisco Elson and Jodie Meeks to the Philadelphia 76ers for Primoz Brezec, Royal Ivey, and Philadelphia's second round draft pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Meeks was the 41st player selected in the 2009 NBA Draft. The 76ers picked ended up being the 37th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. This trade will ultimately come down to whether Meeks or the player the Bucks selected #37 in the 2010 NBA Draft turn out to have a better career.

Before I get to the final rankings, here are the players that appeared on previous rankings but did not finish the season with the Bucks:

Joe Alexander - Forward (Midseason #14 & Preseason #14): John Hammond's first pick as Bucks general manager is really his only mistake thus far.

Francisco Elson - Center (Midseason #13 & Preseason #12): I have absolutely nothing to say about Elson so let's just move on.

Jodie Meeks - Guard (Midseason #9 & Preseason #10): looked to be a solid bench guy, possibly a better shooting Desmond Mason. As I said earlier, Meeks will be compared to whoever the Bucks draft 37th overall in the upcoming 2010 NBA Draft.

Roko Ukic - Guard (Midseason #16 & Preseason #11): brief stay with little impact.

Hakim Warrick - Forward (Midseason #6 & Preseason #1): similar to Ron Wolf and John Hammond, when I am wrong I say I am wrong. As you can see, I listed Warrick #1 in my preseason rankings and #6 in my midseason rankings. In my defense, Warrick has a decent mid-range jumper, great length and freakish athleticism. If Warrick can find the right situation he will become a valuable bench player on a winning team. As long as Hammond didn't burn too many bridges I would completely support the Bucks bringing Warrick back on a one-year deal next year.

Final Rankings for the 2009-10 Season:
As a quick refresher, 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. Yes, I know that some of those factors are subjective but that is why they are my rankings.

If you have a ton of time on your hands, take a quick look back at my Preseason or Midseason rankings before reading my final rankings of the 2009-10 Milwaukee Bucks. Get is time for the final rankings!

#15 Darnell Jackson - Forward (Midseason NR & Preseason NR): only appeared in one game (9 minutes, 2 points, and 2 rebounds) after being claimed off waivers from Cleveland. Jackson is only 24 years old and has an NBA power forward body (6'9" and 253 pounds), something the Bucks desperately need. Whether Jackson even gets a chance to play for the Bucks in 2010 depends on who John Hammond selects in the 2010 NBA Draft.

#14 Michael Redd - Guard (Midseason #15 & Preseason #2): as I said in a chat recently with Garry D. Howard, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's assistant managing editor of sports, I don't begrudge Michael Redd for getting paid $90 million by Senator Kohl. I blame Larry Harris and the NBA salary structure.

#13 Dan Gadzuric - Center (Midseason #12 & Preseason #15): it is tough call whether Jeff Suppan, Michael Redd or Danny G is the most hated professional athlete in Milwaukee right now. Although all three have been disappointments since signing huge long-term contracts, it took dumb general mangers to offer those contracts. Make no mistake about, I am not trying to get sympathy for any of the aforementioned overpaid athletes. I am just trying to highlight that Larry Harris and Doug Melvin offered the aforementioned obscene contracts.

#12 Primoz Brezec - Center (Midseason NR & Preseason NR): is a free agent after the season. Despite being 7'1" and 255 pounds, Brezec is 30 years old with limited athletic ability. Good for Brezec that he has played 8 seasons in the NBA. Unfortunately if Brezec plays a 9th season in the NBA then some team is in serious trouble. Yes, I ranked Brezec's carcass ahead of Mike Redd and Danny G. It was NOT in was based on each person's actual value to the team.

#11 Charlie Bell - Guard (Midseason #8 & Preseason #13):: in 39 regular season games Bell averaged 6.5 points on 38.1% shooting and 22.7 minutes per games. In 3 post-season games Bell played eight minutes and did not score.

Bell's biggest impact on the post-season was missing the last team meeting as well as the bus before their pivotal game 7 encounter with the Atlanta Hawks. As a result, the Bucks had Andrew Bogut and his broken elbow suit up for game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks instead of Bell. Bell has two years remaining on his contract ($3.8 million in 2010-2011 and $4.1 million in 2011-2012)...thanks again Larry Harris for screwing the Bucks.

Quick tangent, it becomes harder and harder to decide whether Larry Harris (signing Michael Redd, Dan Gazurich, Bobby Simmons, and Charlie Bell) or Ernie Grunfeld (see my post on the Ray Allen Heist) crippled the Bucks more. Good thing the Bucks are in the hands of a quality general manager finally. What is comical is that Grunfeld is actually still an NBA GM, all be it the guy that grossly overpaid Gilbert Arenas, but still an NBA GM.

#10 Royal Ivey - Guard (Midseason NR & Preseason NR): last season marked Ivey's second stint with the Bucks. At 6'4" and 215 pounds, Ivey is an interesting combo guard. At 28 years old, Ivey is a decent 3rd or 4th guard option off the bench. Ivey might be in the Bucks plans for 2010 if he accepts the veterans minimum.

#9 Jerry Stackhouse - Forward (Midseason #10 & Preseason NR): you can't underestimate the impact Stackhouse had on the Bucks after signing in mid-January. The Bucks were sorely missing a veteran presence outside of Kurt Thomas and Michael Redd this season and once Redd went down, the Bucks wisely moved to add Stackhouse. In the regular season Stackhouse averaged 8.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 20.4 minutes in 42 games. In the playoffs Stackhouse averaged 7.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 20.6 minutes in 7 games. Stackhouse reminds me a lot of Craig Counsell (utility infielder for the Milwaukee Brewers). If Stackhouse is willing to accept the veterans minimum, the Bucks should bring back Stackhouse purely for his leadership...any production he provides is just an added bonus.

#8 Luke Ridnour - Guard (Midseason #5 and Preseason #9):: was a great mentor for Brandon Jennings and a huge spark plug off the bench for the Bucks this season. Ridnour struggled in the playoffs firing air balls left and right. Turns out the air balls were justified since Ridnour was playing with a broken bone in his left wrist most of the playoffs.

Ridnour made $6.5 million last year and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Although Ridnour was a big spark off the bench, Ridnour turns 30 next season and is on the downside of his career. The Bucks are contemplating whether to offer Ridnour their mid-level exception for next season. If the Bucks can sign Ridnour to a one-year deal at the mid-level exception then it is worth bringing him back. If Ridnour is looking for a multi-year deal then as hard as it might be, the Bucks should let Ridnour walk similar to how they let Ramon Sessions and Charlie Villanueva walk last offseason. As John Hammonds knows much better then his predecessors (Harris and Grunfeld), sometimes the best contracts are the ones never offered.

#7 Kurt Thomas - Center (Midseason #11 & Preseason #7): when Bogut went down at the end of the season, Thomas stepped up big. At 37, Thomas is no spring chicken but his tenacity is undeniable. In a couple of the Bucks playoff games in Atlanta. Thomas was mixing it up with the crowd. Much like Ridnour, Thomas becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Bogut is expected to be fully recovered next season but Thomas would be a great back-up center option, especially if he would agree to return for less than the $3.8 million he made last season.

#6 Luc Richard Mbah a Moute - Forward (Midseason #3 & Preseason #4): is the perfect hybrid small/power forward in Scott Skiles' system. The Price (Google it if you don't get the reference by now) doesn't take a lot of shots and plays lock down defense. As a result, The Price routinely draws the best offensive non-center on the opposing team. I almost put The Prince higher for his defense alone but as you will see, the Bucks had a quality top 5 last season.

#5 Ersan Ilyasova - Forward (Midseason #4 & Preseason #8): despite looking eerily similar to an over-sized alien, Ilyasova flat out produced this season in his NBA return. One of the only positive things Larry Harris did as general manager of the Bucks was draft Ilyasova #36 overall in the 2005 NBA Draft (same draft Larry Harris took Bogut #1 overall).

As a rookie in 2006-07 Ilyasova averaged 6.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 14.7 minutes in 66 regular season games (started 14). Ilyasova went back to Europe to work on his game, which turned out to be a wise move. Ilyasova had an NBA coming out party in 2009-10 averaging 10.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 23.4 minutes in 81 regular season games (started 31).

Ilyasova earned $2.1 million last season in the first year of a three year deal that pays him $2.3 million in 2010-2011 and $2.5 million in 2011-2012. That is an absolute steal by NBA terms if Ilyasova continues to play like he did last season.

#4 Carlos Delfino - Guard/Forward (Midseason #7 & Preseason #5): speaking of bargains, Delfino is almost as big of a steal as the Ilyasova. Hammond acquired Delfino from the Toronto Raptors in a one sided sign-and-trade. Delfino signed a three year deal worth $10.5 million as a part of the deal. It is not that surprising Hammond wanted to acquire Delfino because Hammond was in the Detroit Pistons front office when they drafted Delfino in the 2004 NBA Draft.

Delfino, a 27-year-old from Argentina, averaged a career bests in points (11.0), rebounds (5.3), assists (2.7), and steals (1.1) while appearing in 75 regular season games (starting 66). Much like Ilyasova, if Delfino continues to put up numbers like last year, he will be grossly underpaid by NBA standards.

#3 John Salmons - Guard (Midseason NR & Preseason NR): as I discussed above, the Bucks acquired Salmons from the Chicago Bulls on February 18, 2010. Salmons went on to average 19.9 points in 30 regular-season games with the Bucks, leading the team in scoring 16 times. The Bucks went 25-12 (including the playoffs) with Salmons in the fold and made their first playoff appearance since 2006. In 7 playoff games, Salmons averaged 17.0 points despite being limited to 8 and 11 points in his last two playoff games.

Salmons has a unique body and game for a shooting guard. At 6'6" and 207 pounds, Salmons length creates match-up problems for other teams because he is a shooting guard that is as big as a small forward. The only knock on Salmons is that he turns 31 next season, which means he is probably on the downside of his career at this point. Unfortunately Salmons is not Steve Nash who is like a fine wine that keeps getting better with age.

Salmons holds a $5.8 million player option for next season which gives him the right to opt out of before July 1st. Here are some choice quotes form Salmons, you be the judge whether you think he will opt out:

- "Milwaukee has been great and the teammates have been great. In my eight years in the league, this is probably the first team I felt like was 100% a team. I felt like we played as a team."

- "I felt like the coaching staff was great, one of the best I've had. We played hard. I feel like this is one of the only teams where there wasn't a lot of agendas on the team; everybody played together. Everybody knew their role and did their job.

- "We got wins like that and it was fun to play on a team like that."

If Salmons does opt out, the Bucks would lose the exclusive negotiating status they now hold. Based on Salmons impressive play after joining the Bucks, odds are he will opt out to sign an extension before a new CBA changes the salary structure in the NBA. The only way I see Salmons refusing to opt out is if the Bucks offer a healthy extension. Current rumors are that the Bucks offered a three year, $27 million extension which would lock Salmons down for four years at $32.8 million...may be a little rich since he will be 35 years old at the end of the deal but probably still worth it.

#2 Brandon Jennings - Guard (Midseason #2 & Preseason #6):: burst onto the NBA scene with a 55-point performance in only his 7th professional game, which were the most points scored in an NBA game this entire season. For a reap of Jennings' historic performance, check out my post on it here.

Jennings started all 89 Bucks games this season. For the regular season Jennings averaged 15.5 points, 5.7 assists, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.28 steals. For the post season Jennings averaged 18.7 points, 3.6 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.14 steals.

When the Bucks drafted Jennings #10 overall most NBA pundits thought that it was a reach but if the NBA gave a redo on the draft he would probably go 4th or 5th overall. Despite his injury, Blake Griffin would still go #1 because of his upside. Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry would go next. The only question is whether a team would take Ricky Rubio or Brandon Jennings next.

Jennings was criticized for his lack of maturity before the draft but with a season under his belt, Jennings is already speaking like a veteran:

- "The day I got drafted, I said I wanted to make the playoffs. You probably looked at me like I was crazy, but I back up a lot of stuff I talk. Just the fact that we got here makes me want to work harder. Winning is everything to me."

- "This summer I'll work out, get stronger and come back a totally different player."

#1 Andrew Bogut - Center (Midseason #1 & Preseason #3): had his best season averaging 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game (second in the league). Although Bogut was robbed of an all-star appearance this season, he got an even higher honor when he was named third team all-NBA. Bogut was the first Buck to make an All-NBA team since Michael Redd was third-team All-NBA for the 2003-'04 season.

For a more in-depth look at Bogut, look at my previous Wednesday What Happened - Andrew Bogut's Season Ending Injury from April 7, 2010. Much like Redd, Bogut's season was cut short for the second straight year. Redd disappeared after his injury, while Bogut stayed in Milwaukee to be the ultimate teammate/cheerleader. Furthermore, Bogut said all the right things after going down with another season ending injury:

- "There are still a lot of areas in my game to work on. I want to work on my jumper and be consistent with it because I think it will open up the game."

- "I want to take the next step next year and hopefully become an all-star."

What's Next?
John Hammond has some big decisions coming up:
- Should he offer Salmons an extension?
- Should he offer Ridnour, Stackhouse, Thomas, or Ivey contracts?
- What should he do with three draft picks in the 2010 NBA Draft (#15 instead of #17 because of the option acquired in the Salmons Trade, #37 acquired from Philadelphia, and #47 the Bucks original second round pick)?

With baseball kicking into high gear I am going to shift to more Brewers coverage but check back in June when the off-season starts to heat up for the Bucks for full coverage of free agency and the 2010 NBA Draft.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Young Challengers to Tiger Woods

Sunday was truly not a Funday in Cheesehead land. The Milwaukee Bucks got eliminated from the NBA playoffs and the Milwaukee Brewers continued to struggle so I thought I would mix up the regular Sunday Funday article. Instead of highlighting a big moment in Cheesehead sports history, I am going to look at the potentially monumental shift that occurred in professional golf today.

Let's rewind two days to Friday, April 30, 2010. On Friday, Tiger Woods missed the cut at the Quail Hollow Championship. Tiger shot his highest 36-hole total (153) of his career to miss only his sixth cut of his entire professional career. While Tiger was floundering, three potential golf superstars won professional tournaments around the world.

Alvaro Quiros (31st in the world as of May 2, 2010):
At the tender age of 27, Alvaro Quiros won the Spanish Open at the Real Club de Seville in Seville, Spain. Quiros defeated English rookie James Morrison on the first playoff hole to claim his 4th European Tour Title. Quiros shot a final round 2-under, 70 to finish at 11-under, 277. As if winning the Spanish Open in his native country was not enough, Quiros pocketed €333,330 or $444,000 (according to currency conversion rates on May 2, 2010) for a weeks work.

Ryo Ishikawa (38th in the world as of May 2, 2010):
18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa became the third player* to shoot a 58 on a major professional tour. Going into Sunday, Shigeki Maruyama lead The Crowns at the Nagoya Golf Club by 6 strokes. Ishikawa shot a historic 12-under, 58 in the final round of The Crowns taming the the Nagoya Golf Club (Par-70 that measured 6,545 yards).

Ishikawa finished the weekend at 13-under for a total of 267 strokes to win $255,000 and The Crowns by 5 strokes. Sunday's victory was Ishikawa 7th title on the Japan Golf Tour. Ishikawa recorded 12 birdies (on 9 of his first 11 holes and holes 14-16) and no bogies. To put Ishikawa's 58 in perspective, 59 was the best round recorded in a competitive tournament on the Japan Tour (Masahiro Kuramoto), PGA Tour (Al Geiberger, Chip Beck, and David Duval), and LPGA Tour (Annika Sorenstam).

Rory McIlroy (9th in the world as of May 2, 2010):
Two days before his 21st birthday** the treasure of Northern Ireland, Rory McIlroy, won the Quail Hollow Championship and $1.17 million in Charlotte, NC.

On Friday, the same day that Tiger missed the cut, McIlroy was two shots over the cut line with three holes to play. At the tender age of 20, McIlroy could have folded to miss his 3rd cut in a row. Instead, McIlroy eagled the next hole and made the cut right on the cut line.

McIlroy shot a 66 on Saturday to put him in striking distance, but no one could have predicted McIlroy's magical final round. On Sunday, McIlory faced a 40-foot putt on 18 knowing a 3-putt would probably secure victory. As a result, McIlroy could have lagged the putt but instead he nailed the putt to win in style.

McIlroy shot a course record 10-under, 62 (beat the previous record by two strokes) in the final round. McIlroy also became the first person since Chris Couch in 2006 to be on the cut line and go on to win a PGA tournament. McIlroy finished the week at 15-under for a total of 273 strokes. The Quail Hollow Championship was McIlroy's first PGA Tour victory (won the Dubai Dessert Classic last year on the European PGA Tour at the age of 19).

Final Thoughts:
While I still think Tiger Woods will eclipse Jack's record of 18 majors, with PGA stalwarts (Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els) finding the fountain of youth and the aforementioned young studs setting records...the PGA Tour is getting more interesting than the details of Tiger's extra-marital affairs.

* In 2000, Shigeki Maruyama shot a 13-under, 58 in a U.S. Open qualifier at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, MD. In 2001, Jason Bohn shot a 13-under, 58 in the final round on the Canadian Tour to win the Canadian Tour Bayer Championship at Huron Oaks Golf Club in Sarnia, Ontario.
** Tiger Woods was 20 years old, 10 months when he won the Las Vegas Invitational in 1996 at the TPC Summerlin, Desert Inn in Las Vegas, NV