Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Building The 15 - Initial Advice for John Hammond

The 2012-13 Milwaukee Brewers were arguably the most disappointing playoff team in franchise history.  That might seem harsh but keep in mind the Bucks had their most talented roster since the "Big Three left town, but almost everyone saw the Bucks getting swept by the Heat in the opening round of the playoffs.

I don't normally include quotes in my posts but backup shooting guard J.J. Redick, despite joining the team in February from Orlando, summed up the season as succinctly as possible: "We had a losing record. We were the eighth seed and we lost, 4-0, in the first round...If you're taking positives from mediocrity, you're setting yourself up for a major fail in the future. Hopefully, every person takes it upon themselves to get better in the off-season...We'll see what the team looks like, if I'm back, and hopefully, we can be better and gain momentum for this franchise." Well said Redick because as you are about to see, it is time for the Bucks to bottom out instead of lingering as a fringe playoff team.

In case you missed my final player rankings for the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks, take a  quick look because it will help set the stage for how I think Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond should approach next season.  Much like I did in 2011 and 2012, get ready for my advice for Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond for how to approach this off-season.

The Bucks currently have seven guaranteed contracts totaling just $30 million next season: Ersan Ilyasova ($7.9 million), Drew Gooden ($6.7 million), Luc Mbah a Moute ($4.6 million), Ekpe Udoh ($4.5 million), Larry Sanders ($3.1), John Henson ($1.9 million), and Ish Smith ($1 million).

There are three players that are sort of guaranteed to be on the roster for next season.  Pending what happens with two options, the Bucks might be on the hook for another $12.5 million for two players: Monta Ellis holds a $11 million player option and the Bucks own a $1.5 million team option on Gustavo Ayon.  Besides that, Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent, which means the Bucks can match any offer that Jennings receives this off-season.

That leaves fives players that are unrestricted free agents (their salary from last season in parenthesis): Samuel Dalembert ($6.7 million), J.J. Redick ($6 million), Mike Dunleavy ($3.75 million), Joel Przybilla ($1.4 million), and Marquis Daniels ($1.3 million).

With the backdrop set, here is my 10 Point Plan for Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond should approach this off-season:

#10) Pick-up Gustavo Ayon's $1.5 million team option for next season. Worst case scenario Ayon is a super cheap contract (by NBA standards) that turns into a salary inclusion in a trade next season.  Best case scenario, Ayon plays 10 minutes a game as the 4th or 5th guy off the bench.

#9) Amnesty Drew Gooden. I would love to see #AmnestyGooden trend on Twitter. The beauty of the amnesty provision for Gooden is that he would get paid every dollar that he is owed under his current contract: two-years for $13.4 million dollars. As I've said many times, I see Bucks owner Herb Kohl spacing out that bloated contract instead of making it go away, which makes no sense to me since Gooden is the only amnesty worthy player left on the roster. This would allow both sides to move on with the Bucks getting even more salary cap space that they will most likely not use but would open up one of their 15 roster spots to take a flyer on a younger guy that could actually contribute instead of having an aging veteran that will not contribute anything meaningful for the next two seasons.

#8) Offer Marquis Daniels and Joel Przybilla one-year, veteran minimum contracts. That might be a little cheap for Daniels since he started 33 games for the Bucks but paying Daniels anything more than $1.5 million doesn't make sense because there are tons of similar players (i.e. Ronnie Brewer, Daequan Cook, etc). The same cannot be said for Przybilla because he only appeared in 12 games all season, averaging a mere 5.7 minutes so just being offered a contract should be a big deal for Przybilla.

#7) As I said last year for #7, please read my preview of the players the Bucks should target in the first and second round of the 2013 NBA Draft.  No I don't have a big ego, but I do a ton of research on all professional drafts, so Hammond and Company should benefit from that love.

#6) Thank Samuel Dalembert J.J. Redick for their services. Last season Dalembert was suspended and docked pay for "conduct detrimental to the team". To add insult to injury, Dalembert said he could see himself playing for the Miami Heat next season while he was a member of the Bucks as they were getting swept by the Heat in the playoffs. This is a long way of saying I wouldn't even re-sign Dalembert for the veteran minimum, which would be over $5 million less than the Bucks paid Dalembert last season. Transitioning from Dalembert to Redick. For those that don't remember, the Bucks traded Beno Udrih, Tobias Harris, and Doron Lamb to the Orlando Magic for Redick, Gustavo Ayon, and Ish Smith.   I see Redick as more of a complimentary player than a franchise player so don't compound the short-sided trade by offering him a John Salmons-esque extension. Someone will be dumb enough to offer Redick a four or five year deal for seven or eight million dollars a year, just don't let that someone be the Bucks because that is way too much money for Steve Kerr 2.0.  If a sign and trade can get the Bucks a draft pick or an interesting expiring contracts, great.  If not, let Redick leave via free agency.

#5) Offer Mike Dunleavy the identical two-year, $7 million contract he signed before the 2011-12 season. After how well Dunleavy played the last two seasons, he might deserve to earn more but he would only get that from a non-playoff team. I think Dunleavy has three options: sign with one of the Top 5 teams for the veteran minimum to be a deadly shooter that is the 9th or 10th man in the rotation, sign the two-year $7 million deal with the Bucks (or a similarly situated borderline playoff team), or break the bank one last time by signing for what amounts to the mid-level exception with a perennial lottery team.

#4) Let Brandon Jennings test the market. I see Jennings as an entertaining player but nothing more than a third banana on a playoff team, which does not make him worth the max contract that he is seeking this off-season. Last off-season Jennings wanted a big extension like some of his other draftmates signed: Blake Griffin (five-year, $80 million), James Harden (five-year, $80 million), Stephen Curry (four-year, $44 million), DeMar DeRozan (four-year, $42 million), Jrue Holiday (four-year, $41 million extension), Ty Lawson (four-year, $48 million), and Taj Gibson (four-year, $38 million). The Bucks and Jennings never came to an agreement so I see three ways to proceed.  If an NBA team wants to pay Jennings like Griffin or Harden, let him leave via free agency.  If the Bucks can get a sign and trade similar to what I discussed above for Redick, take that for Jennings on his way out of town. If Jennings will take $10 million a year then re-sign him. If Jennings does not garner the type of interest he is expecting, sign Jennings to his one-year, $4.4 million qualifying offer.  I favor trying to get Jennings to sign his $4.4 million qualifying offer because at that price, Jennings would be woefully underpaid but that would give the Bucks a nice trade chip that could hopefully net the Bucks a draft pick at the trade deadline.

#3) Talk Monta Ellis into picking up his $11 million player option. Even before Ellis joined the Bucks I thought he was the perfect irrational confidence fourth banana volume shooter on a contender, which means $11 million a season is way too much to pay Ellis. As a result, Ellis should pick up his $11 million for next season for next season because he will never earn that much in any season for the rest of his career. The beauty of having Ellis for $11 million next season is that he becomes a valuable expiring contract at the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline. If Ellis declines his player option, let him leave via free agency if he wants to be paid more than the mid-level exception (four-year, $20 million deal). We can all agree that $5 million a year is too little to pay Ellis but $11 million is way too much so I know that seems like I am undervaluing Ellis by only authorizing paying him the mid-level exception but you can't afford to overpay for an offense-only point/shooting guard.

#2) Pass on any "marquee" free agents besides Chris Paul. The Bucks took Andrew Bogut with the 1st pick in the 2005 NBA Draft ahead of Marvin Williams (2nd), Deron Williams (3rd), and Chris Paul (4th). Although it is easy to look back and complain about passing D-Will and Paul, the consensus top two players in the 2005 NBA Draft were Bogut and Marvin Williams. Oh dang. The best "potential" free agents this off-season at each position are: Chris Paul (PG), Manu Ginobili (SG), Josh Smith (SF), David West (PF), and Dwight Howard (C).  All these guys will either re-sign with their team or never consider Milwaukee. The next best "potential" free agent this off-season at each position are: Jose Calderon (PG), Kevin Martin (SG), Andre Iguodala (SF), Paul Millsap (PF), Al Jefferson (C).  All those guys look like they are going get paid like franchise players even though none of them are even close to being one of the best 25 players in the NBA.  That is a long way of saying that unless Chris Paul will shot the world to sign with the Bucks, they should sit on the sidelines at the start of free agency. Signing cheaper, short-term deals later in free agency is what the Bucks need to do as a part of bottoming out.

#1) Hire a cheaper, defensive minded head coach as the 13th head coach in franchise history. I generally respect Michael Hunt's take on the Milwaukee Bucks but he missed the mark recently when he said the Bucks should go after former Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy and have current Houston Rockets assistant coach Kelvin Sampson as their backup plan. Van Gundy is a poor man's Phil Jackson meaning he does well meshing big personalities in the locker room but without the rings to show for it. The Bucks have very few big time players on their roster right now so hiring Van Gundy seems like overkill. In terms of Sampson, I think the NCAA rule book is arcane and out of date, but that doesn't change the fact that Sampson was under investigation for rules violations at Oklahoma when he left for Indiana. Instead of cleaning up his act at Indiana, Sampson continued to break NCAA rules thus he was precluded from coaching in the college ranks for rules violations at Oklahoma and Indiana. Leaving two of the Top 20 basketball programs in disarray because of recruiting violations is a character issue since Sampson was the head coach so the responsibility falls on his shoulders. As one of the top assistants in the NBA since 2008, there is no doubt that Sampson deserves to get a head coaching gig in the NBA this year, I just hope it is not in Milwaukee.  According to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski the Bucks narrowed their head coaching search to Los Angeles Lakers assistant Steve Clifford, Atlanta Hawks coach Larry Drew, and Sampson.  Obviously I do not support hiring Sampson and I am indifferent on hiring Clifford or Drew.  As it turns out, only two of the three will be coming back for second interviews because Clifford was already hired by Charlotte Horbobnetcats.  I haven't been involved in the interview process obviously but if I were in charge I  would hire a younger, defensive minded coach such as: J.B. Bickerstaff, Mike Budenholzer (hired by Atlanta Hawks), David Fizdale, Alex Jensen, Dave Joerger, Mike Malone, Robert Pack, or Brian Shaw.

As you can see, I want to see the Bucks bottom out for the next few seasons to build a long-term contender for the next decade so the 14th (or 15th) coach in franchise history can reap the benefits.  Check back as the 2013 NBA Draft approaches to find out my specific thoughts on what the Bucks should do with the 15th and 43rd pick in the draft to start the rebuilding process.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks Final Rankings

The Bucks were 16-16 under Scott Skiles to open the season before they "mutually parted ways".  Assistant coach Jim Boylan took over as interim head coach for Skiles.  The Bucks started 8-3 under Boylan but floundered after that.

I gave Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond advice for how to improve the team at the trade deadline.  Unfortunately Hammond did not listen to my advice, instead he traded for J.J. Redick, which turned out to be a bunt singles instead of the home run that the Bucks needed.  In exchange for Redick, Gustavo Ayon, and Ish Smith the Bucks gave up:

(13, 12) Doron Lamb (20, SG, 6'4", 210 lbs, Kentucky, Rookie): Really thought he had a chance to be Right-handed Michael Redd 2.0.

(10, 7) Tobias Harris (#15, SF, 6'8", 226 lbs, Tennessee, 2nd NBA Season): I will always think of Harris as the guy the Bucks got instead of Kenneth Faried.  No question Faried will have a better NBA career than Harris but since leaving Milwaukee, Harris put up great numbers in Orlando.  Let's relax on Harris being a superstar though, don't forget he put up good numbers on the worst team in the NBA. Let's see Harris do this for a few seasons on a decent team before we start annointing him the next NBA superstar.

(6, 8) Beno Udrih (#19, PG/SG, 6'3", 203 lbs, Slovenia, 8th NBA Season): Thought the Bucks could have used this expiring contract more effectively.  Udrih is a free agent this off-season and would be the perfect combo guard to add if he will play for 25% of $7.4 million he earned last season.

After a hot start under Boylan, the Bucks went 14-25 the rest of the regular season.  I got to see the Bucks play the Thunder in a luxury box thanks to Mama Cheese.  The biggest highlight of the night was Cheesehead Chick singing Ice, Ice Baby verbatim along with Vanilla Ice.  Even worse, the Bucks only won four of their last 16 games to finish the regular season with a record of 38-44, which "earned" them the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The "good news" is that the Bucks made the playoff for the first time in three season.  I say "good news" because the Bucks held their own for short periods of time against the Miami Heat but were swept by the Heat.  The Bucks lost those four games by a combined 59 points and none of them was closer than 11 points.

The sweep of the Bucks was the first time playoff sweep for Miami's "Big Three" (LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh) since they joined forces in 2010.  I look back fondly at Milwaukee's "Big Three" of Sam Cassell, Ray Allen, and Glen Robinson but they look like a Homeless Man's "Big Three" compared to Miami's current trio of superstars.  Add in that Allen is the fourth or fifth banana on the Heat's current roster and absent injury, the Heat are destined to win their second consecutive NBA Title this season.

By virtue of making the playoffs, the Bucks are out of the NBA Lottery while giving them the minimum amount of playoff experience possible, so it is really hard to call the 2012-13 season successful.  Here are my final rankings (mid-season and initial ranking in parenthesis) of the 15-man roster for the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks taking into account contract, age, position, and running in reverse order:

#15 (15, 13) Drew Gooden (#0, PF/C, 6'10", 236 lbs, Kansas, 11th NBA Season):
With 53 DNP-CD and 13 inactives this season, the Bucks need to amnesty Gooden this off-season, it is officially time to get #AmnestyGooden trending on Twitter.

#14 (14, 15) Joel Przybilla (#10, C, 7'1", 245 lbs, Minnesota, 13th NBA Season):
The Vanilla Gorilla was a glorified cheerleader this season, which is a nice way to earn a million dollars.

#13 (12, 6) Samuel Dalembert (#21, C, 6'11", 250 lbs, Seton Hall, 11th NBA Season):
With 33 DNP-CD and a couple of team suspensions, Dalembert went from the starting center to barely seeing the court in the playoffs.  In the ultimate f@%k you to Bucks fans, as the Bucks were getting clobbered by the Heat in the playoffs, Dalembert talked about signing with the Heat for next season.

#12 (11, 14) Marquis Daniels (#6, SG, 6'6", 200 lbs, Auburn, 10th NBA Season):
I know this feels low for a guy that had the 6th most starts on the entire roster but Daniels is set to become a free agent this off-season.  Daniels has an interesting skill sets because he does everything adequately but does not have one elite skill.  Since Daniels does everything pretty well, if he was signed for next season, he would be pushing to break the Top 8.  Although the Bucks took a bit of a leap of faith signing Daniels last off-season, I do not see him returning the favor and re-signing with the Bucks.  Instead I see Daniels signing a veteran minimum deal to be the third or fourth guy off the bench for a contender.

#11 (NR, NR) Ish Smith (#15, PG, 6'0", 175 lbs, Wake Forest, 3rd NBA Season):
A salary inclusion in what some are calling the Harris Heist unfortunately got some playing time in the playoffs where he embarrassed Boylan and himself with how poorly he played.  At merely 6-feet tall Smtih reminds me a healthy version of T.J. Ford, which is sort of a compliment, I guess.

#10 (NR, NR) Gustavo Ayon (#19, PF, 6'10", Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla, 2nd NBA Season):
Is a great example of one of my criticisms of PER.  Ayon averages four less minutes per game than Udoh while averaging about the same stat line but somehow has a better PER than Udoh.  May be this is not the perfect example, but PER has to do a better job of factoring in minutes played.

#9 (5, 4) Mike Dunleavy Jr. (#17, SG/SF, 6'9", 230 lbs, Duke, 11th NBA Season):
Finished second on the team in three point shooting percentage (42.8%) last season, which makes him a valuable commodity because despite being a below average defender, he has one elite skill (shooting).  Much like Daniels, if Dunleavy was under contract for next season he would finish at least a few spots higher because you know exactly what you are going to get from him.

#8 (NR, NR) J.J. Redick (#5, SG, 6'4", 190 lbs, Duke, 7th NBA Season):
Since the Bucks made the playoffs, Redick has participated in the playoffs every year since he joined the NBA (first six with the Orlando Magic and this year with the Bucks).  Redick is usually a quality three-point shooter but he shot the lowest percentage for his entire NBA career (31.8%) for the Bucks.  Redick is a free agent this off-season so I see him pulling a Gary Payton and moving on to greener pastures this off-season

#7 (9, 11) Ekpe Udoh (#13, PF, 6'10", 245 lbs, Baylor, 3rd NBA Season):
This is contract over production because Dunleavy and Daniels were more valuable to the Bucks last season than Udoh but the Bucks have Udoh under contract for next season while Dunleavy and Daniels could be playing elsewhere.  Udoh was the 6th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors, one pick before Greg Monroe went 7th to the Detroit Pistons.  Monroe looks like a franchise center while Udoh looks like the third or fourth guy off the bench for a decent team so Udoh needs to make some big improvements this off-season, otherwise we might be looking at the next Drew Gooden.

#6 (7, 10) Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (#12, SF/PF, 6'8", 230 lbs, UCLA, 5th NBA Season):
The Prince has one great asset, the ability to defend almost any player in the NBA, but lacks any offensive game besides a decent low post move.  The Price should spend the entire off-season working on his mid-range jumpers and corner threes because if he could develop at least one of those skills, not only would he rival Scottie Williams for my favorite SF/PF in franchise history, but he could transform into the most versatile two-way player on the roster.

#5 (8, 5) John Henson (#31, PF/C, 6'11", 220 lbs, North Carolina, Rookie):
The longest wingspan on the roster would also put up the least reps on the bench press of anyone on the team.  Still Henson is hands down my favorite player on the roster because of his potential upside.  The two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year showed flashes of his defensive prowess mixed with some questionable shot selection during his first season in the NBA.  If Henson can focus on adding 10 pounds of muscle in the off-season, any improvements he makes on the offensive end of the court is gravy.

#4 (4, 2) Monta Ellis (#11, PG, 6'3", 185 lbs, Lanier High School, 8th NBA Season):
The scouting report on Ellis has always been that he is a high volume shooter that doesn't play any defense.  There is no question that Ellis was a high volume shooter, last season he lead the team in field goal attempts and scoring en route to some impressive individual performances.  For instance, Ellis scored 25 points in the 4th quarter against the Magic on March 17, which is the most points scored by any player in a quarter this season in the NBA.  Ellis did average 19.2 points this season to finish 11th in the league in scoring but also lead the Bucks in turnovers as well.  For may be the first time in his career though, Ellis actually improved as a defender averaging 2.1 steals a game, which was 4th best in the league.

#3 (1, 1) Brandon Jennings (#3, PG, 6'1", 169 lbs, Oak Hill Academy, 4th NBA Season):
I like that Jennings is confident, but predicting that the Bucks would beat the Heat in six and then getting swept is not a good look.  In retrospect the Bucks erred in not getting Jennings to sign a Stephen Curry-esque four-year, $44 million extension last off-season because he will end up earning at least that this off-season if he decides to sign a long-term deal. Just one season later four-years for $44 million is way too little for Curry but feels just about what Jennings should make because Jennings was a borderline all-star for the first half of the season but struggled after the all-star break.  Lost in all the potential roster turmoil is the fact that Jennings lead the Bucks in assists (6.5) this season.  That shouldn't be high praise since Jennings was the starting point guard, but it shows that Jennings has the ability to be a traditional point guard despite the fact that I ultimately see Jennings being a Rich Man's Mo Williams.

#2 (3, 3) Ersan Ilyasova (#7, SF/PF, 6'10", 235 lbs, Turkey, 5th NBA Season):
Struggled under Skiles and thrived under Boylan.  Somehow Ilyasova still averaged a career beset 13.2 points and 7.1 rebounds.  This season Ilyasova shot 44.4% from long distance, which was 4th best in the league and the second year in a row that he finished in the Top 5 in three point shooting percentage.  Ilyasova is the personification of a stretch 4 and looks like a potential franchise players.  If Ilyasova can improve on the defensive end while continuing to knock down long-range shots.

#1 (2, 9) Larry Sanders (#8, PF/C, 6'11", 235 lbs, Virginia Commonwealth, 3rd NBA Season):
If Henson is my favorite Bucks player, then Sanders is a very close second.  In my initial rankings I said Sanders needed to "make the jump", which he did en route to leading the Bucks in PER (18.8), rebounds (9.5), and blocks (2.8) last season.  Although Sanders is a volatile player (14 technical fouls and five ejections), I honestly think it is because he is such a passionate player.  After game three of the Heat playoff series, Sanders and Ellis reportedly almost got into a fight because Sanders was challenging the team to focus on the playoffs instead of what was going to happen to the roster in the off-season.  That is the kind of leadership the Bucks nee on their roster.  Unless last season was an aberration, it looks like Sanders is a sure-fire franchise player for the next decade.

And with that we can thankfully but the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks in our rear view mirror and look towards the 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks.  Check back Wednesday for my third annual off-season (2011 and 2012) advice for how Hammond should approach this potentially franchise altering off-season.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Birth of New York City FC

The new billionaire owners of Manchester City expect trophies every year so not even reaching the knockout stage of the Champions League, finishing runner-up in EPL, and losing the 2013 FA Cup Final to Wigan made the 2012-13 season feel like a disappointment.  Keep in mind if the aforementioned season happened just a few years ago, the 2012-13 campaign would have been looked back at fondly as one of the most successful in club history, but the new petrol dollars increased expectations.

Almost $100 million of those petrol dollars are going to Major League Soccer since Manchester City and the New York Yankees just became co-owners of New York City FC, the 20th franchise in the MLS that is set to join the league in 2015.

As you can imagine, once I heard that Man City and (gulp) the Yankees were going in as co-owners of New York City FC, I had to do some soul searching. It is one thing to transform from a low-budget domestically competitive club to a big spending global powerhouse thanks to the influx of petrol dollars. It is another thing to actually get in bed with the Yankees, which used to have a marketing relationship with (double gulp) Manchester United.

I wanted to wait a little while before I posted something about New York City FC to see if there would be a silver lining. Thankfully that silver lining came in Claudio Reyna when New York City FC named Reyna as director of football.  Reyna is my favorite Unites States soccer player of all-time and one of the main reasons that I originally started following City. No doubt another one of the big reasons that I originally started following City was that they were the little guy in Manchester, which is obviously no longer the case, so bringing Reyna back into the City family feels like a re-birth of sorts to me.

Thanks to City becoming MLS co-owners and adding Reyna as their first employee, I finally have an MLS team to follow.  As a Chicago resident, I've tried a number of times to follow the Chicago Fire but there are way too many impediments.

For one thing the stadium is too far away from downtown Chicago.  By car you get to sit in gridlock traffic from I-55.  By public transportation you have to take the "L" all the way to Midway airport and then take a PACE bus another 20 minutes just to get to the stadium.  The only relatively painless way to get to the stadium is by party bus from a few local footie bars because you can drink on the bus to and from the stadium.  The stadium is beautiful once you get there, but the commute is painful.

Besides the commute, I've never felt a strong connection to the Fire.  There is scant local media coverage, which makes following the Fire difficult.  If the Fire were more competitive may be there would be more local coverage, but then I would just be a front runner right?  Thus I am getting in on the ground floor of Man City FC.

Once the initial shock of the announcement of New York City FC subsided, the talk turned to where the team will play long-term.  My complaints about the commute to Fire matches is something New York City FC should take to heart. If they follow the Red Bull to New Jersey or build a stadium in a bad location like the Fire, it is hard to leverage the millions of New Yorkers that make that market so attractive to the MLS.

Some people think the Man City/Yankees money is a bad thing for the MLS.  Ironically it is that big money that is keeping the New York Cosmos, the original big money soccer team of yesteryear in the United States, from getting into the MLS because I can't see the MLS putting three teams in NYC.

No matter where New York City FC plays long-term, it will be interesting to see how the petrol/evil empire dollars impacts the MLS. I don't want to rush to judgment, but if they can get a stadium in the city (no pun intended), I think this is a giant step in the right direction for the MLS.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Man City lose 2013 FA Cup Final to Wigan

Rumors swirled before the start of the 2013 FA Cup Final that even if Manchester City beat Wigan, current Málaga manager Manuel Pellegrini would replace current City manager Roberto Mancini.  City lost 1-0 to Wigan, a side that will most likely be relegated from the EPL, so there is almost no chance Mancini will retain his job.

I had hoped to be writing a retro-diary of City defeating lowly Wigan but after City's demoralizing loss I could only muster up giving a recap of all the tweets I sent during the 2013 FA Cup Final:

With increased expectations thanks to the influx of petro dollars, City face an important off-season as they try to re-group to make a legitimate run at "The Treble" (win the UEFA Champions League, the English Premier League, and the FA Cup) like their Manchester neighbors did just over a decade ago. Check back later this month for my thoughts on how management should proceed before the start of the 2013-14 season.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Building The 53 - 2013 Green Bay Packers 1.0

I took an in-depth look at the Green Bay Packers roster heading into the 2013 NFL Draft, following the draft, there are now a bunch of new players added to the roster.  The Packers started the 2013 NFL Draft with 8 draft picks.  After general manager Ted Thompson traded back three times and up once, he added 11 new players to the roster.

Following the draft, Thompson signed a number of undrafted free agents* and offered open tryouts as well**.  Although there is always a good chance an undrafted free agent makes the opening day 53-man roster (think Sam Shields or Frank Zombo), we don't have enough information on those guys yet so I am not going to give any of them one of the coveted 53 roster spots.

I made the same predictions  last year and correctly "predicted" 45 of 53 players that made the initial 53-man roster to start the 2012 season.  I say "predicted" because the point of the post is for me to explain who I would keep on the 53-man roster and why.  When some of those guys don't make the roster, I am not technically wrong, I just have a difference of opinion with Thompson sometimes. 

Keeping that in mind, here are my thoughts on the 53 guys that I would keep today if I were in charge of making the roster decisions for the start of the 2013 season:

Cut: B.J. Coleman
Keep: Aaron Rodgers and Graham Harrell
Analysis: The Packers and Rodgers agreed to a five-year, $110 million extension right as Day 2 of the 2013 NFL Draft was about to begin.  Rodgers is arguably the best player in the NFL so he deserves to be paid that way, but keep in mind since there is a salary cap in the NFL so paying Rodgers that much money will come at the expense of re-signing some quality players currently on the roster.  That said, you can't win in the NFL without a top flight quarterback, so I don't begrudge Rodgers or the Packers.  The real question is whether Harrell or Coleman wins the backup job.  If Harrell plays this preseason like he did to end the preseason last year, he deserves the roster spot over Coleman, but I would keep it an open competition throughout training camp until one of those two guys performs remarkably better.

Running Back:
: James Starks
: Eddie Lacy, DuJuan Harris, Johnathan Franklin, and Alex Green
Analysis: The shocker of the 2013 NFL Draft for the Packers was Thompson drafting not one but two running backs in the first four rounds.  Thompson traded back in round two so he missed out on Wisconsin running back Montee Ball but luckily still got Lacy.  Despite drafting Lacy, Thompson traded up in the fourth round to draft Franklin.  After having a pedestrian backfield for a number of years, all of a sudden the Packers have an impressive stable of versatile running backs.  If healthy, I see Lacy, Franklin, and Green as locks to make the roster just based on their draft position.  That leaves Harris and Starks fighting for the last running back roster spot unless Thompson does the unthinkable and keeps five running backs.  Since Harris was the starting running back to end last season and was generally healthy last season, I gave him the last roster spot ahead of of the talented but often injured Starks.  If Lacy can stay healthy, which is the reason that he fell to the end of the second round, I would give him the first chance to win the starting running back job for the Packers in 2013. 

Cut: None
: John Kuhn
: I am shocked that Kuhn is still on the roster.  Given Kuhn's expensive salary, if any of the tight ends can show the ability to block as a fullback, his days in Green Bay could be numbered.  Let's monitor Kuhn throughout training camp because with the influx of young guys at running back, Kuhn's days in Green Bay could be numbered.

Wide Receiver:
Cut: Jarrett Boykin, Sederrik Cunningham, and Kevin Dorsey
Keep: James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jeremy Ross, and Charles Johnson
Analysis: After Jones, Nelson, and Cobb excelled last year with Greg Jennings out injured for most of the season, the Packers knew they had a nice trio so they let Jennings leave via free agency.  Ultimately Jennings signed with the Queens (Minnesota Vikings). Even with Jennings leaving the Packers, they still have some big decisions to make at wide receiver over the next two seasons because Jones is set to become a free agent after this season and Nelson is set to become a free agent after next season.  Thus it might make sense to keep a 6th wide receiver this year to groom him in case the wide receiver exodus continues, but since roster spots are so scarce, I can't keep a 6th wide receiver at this point until one of the younger guys shows they are worth it during training camp.

Tight End:
: Ryan Taylor and Brandon Bostick
: Jermichael Finley, D.J. Williams, Andrew Quarless, and Matthew Mulligan 
Analysis: The Packers are set to pay Finley $8.5 million this season.  Now that Rodgers and Claymaker are extended, I know it seems crazy, but the Packers should pay Finley even more money this season as a part of long-term deal that lowers his salary cap number in subsequent seasons.  After Finley, the Packers have a ton of questions marks since they let Tom Crabtree leave via free agency, so hopefully one of the younger tight ends can "make the jump" this off-season because the NFL continues to gravitate towards playing two tight ends.

Offensive Tackle:
: Andrew Datko and Kevin Hughes
: Bryan Bulaga, Don Barclay, Marshall Newhouse, Derek Sherrod, and David Bakhtiari
: There are mixed reviews on whether Bakhtiari fits better as a tackle or a guard so that makes me think he would struggle at left tackle, which means the Packers have a glut of right tackles whose last name starts with the letter "B" (Bulaga, Barclay, and Bakhtiari) to go along with two questions marks at left tackle: Newhouse (inconsistent play) and Sherrod (perpetually injured).  Even before the Packers drafted Bakhtiari, I said they said they should open camp with Bulaga at left tackle and Barclay at right tackle.  Even with Bakhtiari in the fold, I still say the Packers give Bulaga and Barclay the first chance at left and right tackles respectively then let the healthiest/most consistent guys get the reps behind them.

Offensive Guard:
: None
: Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, and Greg Van Roten
: Given the quality players the Packers have at guard, I understand not making it a priority in the draft, but when a versatile player like Barrett Jones (can play guard or center) is still available in the fourth round, you have to draft him.  The Packers decided not to proceed that way, instead they are going to roll with Lang at left guard, Sitton at right guard, and Van Roten as their primary backup.

: Garth Gerhart
: Evan Dietrich-Smith and J.C. Tretter
: Despite low-balling EDS with their restricted free agent offer, the Packers still secured his services for 2013.  The question now is whether Tretter can slide all the way from tackle over to center.  If not, the Packers have to consider Van Roten or someone currently not on the roster since Grehart looks like nothing more than a camp body at this point.  The lack of depth at center highlights how silly it was for the Packers not to snag one of the centers available in the third or fourth round of the draft (i.e. Brian Schwenke or Barrett Jones).

Defensive End:
: None
: Jerel Worhty
Keep: C.J. Wilson, Datone Jones, Mike Neal, and Mike Daniels
: I would be shocked if Worthy was able to recover from the horrific knee injury that he suffered at the end of 2012 to be ready just nine months later for the start of the 2013 season.  Luckily if Jones is even 75% of the player that he is advertised to be, it won't matter because early reports are that Jones is Cullen Jenkins 2.0.  The interesting spot to watch is whether Neal or Daniels get cut if Worthy is healthy by mid-season.

Defensive Tackle:
: Johnny Jolly and Jordan Miller
: B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, and Josh Boyd
: The best two defensive tackles on the roster, Raji and Pickett, are set to become free agents after the season so that position has the most uncertainty following next season.  Given their differences in age, I see the Packers keeping Raji even if that means using the franchise tag.  The more interesting case is Pickett.  Part of me thinks it makes sense to give Pickett a two-year extension now, but move all the guarnteed money into this season, so the Packers could cut Pickett in 2014 or 2015 without creating any dead money on the salary cap.  After Raji and Pickett it comes down to keeping Jolly or Boyd.  It pains me to cut Jolly in favor of Boyd but given all of Jolly's off the field problems, the Packers are much more likely to give the benefit of the doubt to a 5th round draft pick from the 2013 NFL Draft instead of a 30-year that hasn't played football since 2009 because he was in jail.

Middle Linebacker:
Cut: Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington
: Desmond Bishop, A.J. Hawk, Robert Francois, and Terrell Manning
: It makes sense that Hawk took a pay cut because otherwise the Packers would have cut him, but I actually think he should have taken more of a financial haircut.  In a somewhat surprising move the Packers cut former starting middle linebacker D.J. Smith before the draft.  Sure Smith is coming off a serious knee injury and is undersized for the position, but given his miniscule salary by NFL standards, it seemed worth keeping Smith around.  If cutting Smith was a shocker, I was even more shocked when I read reports that Bishop was being shopped during the draft.  I know Bishop has a pretty significant cap number, but with him coming off a serious injury that kept him out all last season, I can't imagine the Packers would get much more than a conditional 6th or 7th round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.  Thus why trade Bishop for such a small pittance?  Leaving that aside, the last roster two middle linebacker roster spots will come down to Francois, Manning, Lattimore, or Barrington.  Special teams ability will most likely be the determining factor since none of the four guys just mentioned should regularly play in the base defense in 2013.

Outside Linebacker:
: Dezmen Moses and Micah Johnson
Keep: Clay Matthews, Brad Jones, Nick Perry, and Nathan Palmer
AnalysisI explained my reservations with the extension the Packers signed Jones to earlier this off-season, since the Packers committed to Jones though, he is a lock to make the roster.  Especially when you look at the quality, cheap talent the Packers will have to cut instead of Jones, it seems like bad business.  The Packers continue to cycle undrafted free agents as backups at outside linebacker.  Last season Moses stuck ahead of So'oto.  The early reviews on Palmer is that he has a chance to supplant Moses, so I gave him the roster spot ahead of Moses.  Leaving all that aside, I hope to see a healthy Perry start opposite a clean (?), rich Claymaker at outside linebacker for the Packers to start 2013.

: Davon House, James Nixon and Loyce Means
: Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Jarrett Bush, and Micah Hyde
Analysis: The Packers have a ton of young, cheap talent at cornerback right now (Hayward, House, Hyde, Nixon, and Means) so the Packers have to decide how they want to deal with some expensive veterans (Williams and Bush) because Shields is going to get paid big money this off-seasons somewhere, so how they handle the expensive veteran cornerbacks will determine whether Shields is playing in Green Bay in 2014.  Despite reports that Hyde is going to focus on playing cornerback, he will need to excel on special teams and at least show the ability to contribute at safety, otherwise House might get the roster spot ahead of Hyde.

: Chaz Powell
: Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings, Jeron McMillian, and Sean Richardson
: I am intrigued by Richardson because he strikes me as a rich man's Aaron Rouse, which is a pretty nice player to have as your fourth safety.  The problem is that the marginal talent between Richardson and the second best safety on the roster (toss up between Jennings and McMillian) is not very much.  Thus the Packers still only have one stud safety followed by three guys with a ton of potential.  I wish I knew who was going to emerge in 2013 opposite Burnett but I am confident that one of the trio (Jennings, McMillian, and Richardson) will have a big breakout this season.

:Giorgio Tavecchio (K)
: Tim Masthay (P), Brett Goode (LS), and Mason Crosby (K)
Analysis: Absent injury, Masthay and Goode are locks to make the team.  Despite Crosby's bloated salary and horrific struggles last season, I need to see Tavecchio kick before I can give him Crosby's roster spot.

It is hard to trim the roster to 53 players and that is even without factoring in undrafted rookie free agents, which will possibly mean a few more roster spots will have to be created ,since almost every year at least one undrafted rookie free agent makes the final 53-man roster.  The last five players I cut were Davon House, Ryan Taylor, Dezmen Moses, Johnny Jolly, and Jarrett Boykin but I am sure the roster churn will continue so stay tuned.

With all the Packers coverage in this space lately, I am going to switch gears to other Cheesehead sports for the next few months.  The 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks ended their season with a whimper by getting swept by the Miami Heat, so check back this Sunday for my final rankings.

* =  Matt Brown (QB, Illinois St.), Ben Ericksen (S, Illinois St.), Patrick Lewis (C, Texas A&M), Andy Mulumba (DE/OLB, Eastern Michigan), Angelo Pease (RB, Kansas State), Gilbert Pena (DT, Mississippi), Jake Stoneburner (TE, Ohio State), Lane Taylor (OG, Oklahoma St.), Jeremy Vujnovich (OT, Louisiana College), Myles White (WR, Louisiana Tech), Devin Willis (CB, Northern Arizona, and James Winchester (LS, Oklahoma) - (source).

** =  Cedrick Moore (S, Stony Brook) and Damond Smith (CB, South Alabama) - (source).