Monday, December 29, 2014

Man City Report - January 2015 Transfer Window Advice for Manuel Pellegrini

Following our last check-in, Man City played four EPL matches from mid to late December and found out their opponent for the knock-out stage of the Champions League.  Unfortunately Man City drew Barcelona in the knockout stages of the Champions League for the second year in a row.  You know that you support a club that is (almost) out of problems when the biggest complaint you have is about facing another world super power in the most prestigious club tournament in the world.  This kind of challenge for Man City, if they somehow best Barcelona in their home-and-home fixtures, is exactly what Man City needs to jump from an impressive domestic club (won two the last three EPL titles) to a a true world super power.

Man City continued their winning streak since my last recap in the first of those four EPL matches with a gritty 1-0 road victory over Leicester City. Apparently winning begets winnings because Man City followed that up with a 3-0 victory at home over Crystal Palace and a 3-1 victory on the road over West Brom.  Just two days later Man City hosted Burnley armed with the knowledge that if they won, they would join Chelsea at the top of the table since Chelsea tied Southampton 1-1 earlier in the day.  Man City went up 2-0 just over a third a way through the match but somehow conceded two goals to tie Burnley 2-2 at home to close out 2014 two points behind EPL leaders Chelsea.  10 out of a possible 12 points seems great but given the competition and the fact that Man City was up two goals on Burnley at home, they really should have taken a maximum of 12 points from those four fixtures.

Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini did a ton of business in the summer transfer window to help the club balance their books to comply with UEFA's Financial Fair Play Rules, which left Man City with only three and a half strikers with EPL experience.  I say three and half because youngster José Ángel Pozo played decent up top in his first team appearances but does not look like a threat to actually score in the EPL yet so I only count him as half a striker at this point.  Injuries to strikers Sergio Aguero and Edin Džeko forced Pellegrini to start midfielder James Milner as a "striker" since Stevan Jovetić was only available as a substitute since he is (again) rehabbing an injury.  That means Man City will need some help at striker till Aguero and Džeko return.

In Pellegrini's summer business he loaned out striker Alvaro Negrado to Valencia, which was the move that I was most skeptical about.  I know Negrado had a broken foot at the time but Negredo made 11 appearances for Valencia from late October to late December: five starts and six appearances as a substitute.  Sure Negrado only has one goal for Valencia so far this season but last season he had an amazing ability to find the back of the net as both a starter and a substitute for Man City.  Since Negredo is no longeran option, let's look a Man City's other striker options to acquire in the transfer window.

The most common striker targets linked with Man City are Christian Benteke (Aston Villa), Wilfried Bony (Swansea), Mario Mandzukic (Atletico Madrid), and Paul-Georges Ntep (Rennes).  The price tag on Ntep is reportedly $10 million while Benteke, Bony or Mandzukic would most likely be three or four times that amount.  If money were no object, Man City would have just kept Negrado and possibly still even signed Bony but money is an object because of UEFA's Financial Fair Play Rules.  The other drawback to Bony is that he will be at the African Cup of Nations, which is a bi-annual tournament between the best African countries, from mid-January to possibly as late as mid-February if Ivory Coast makes it to the final.  That is exactly when Man City would need Bony's services given the injury issues for Aguero and Dzeko.  Plus, once Aguero and Dzeko return from injury it could create a locker room issue to have Benteke, Bony, or Mandzukic as the 3rd or 4th striker option depending on how management feels about Jovetić.  As a result, I would add Ntep in the hopes of buying low on a long-term prospect that can be loaned out next season to a Championship side.  My guess is that Man City ultimately adds Bony and I have no doubt that he will perform well for Man City in the long-term, I just think that is not the most fiscally responsible move.

No matter what happens at striker, Man City definitely need to extend midfielder Frank Lampard's loan from their MLS "sister" club New York City FC because Lampard has been an absolute revelation for Man City.  When New York City FC loaned Lampard to Man City it looked like it was simply a way to keep Lampard in shape before he joined New York City FC for their inaugural season in the MLS.  Instead, Lampard went on to score an number of important EPL goals for Man City including the equalizer against his former employer Chelsea to give Man City a 1-1 tie at home and the only goal against Leicester City to give Man City a 1-0 victory.

Lampard's form is something that Liverpool should keep in mind as they are trying to decide whether the extend midfielder Steven Gerrard's contract, which is due to expire at the end of the season.  Sure some teams would rather move on a year too early than a year too late but not when you are talking about a club icon that icon goes on to thrive in the same league against you the following season.  Besides Lampard's impressive form, don't forget that Yaya Toure will be away from the club for almost a month at the start of 2015 for the aforementioned African Cup of Nations.  That leaves Man City with Fernandinho and Fernando as their only other true central midfielders.  Sure the likes of Milner and David Silva could fill-in but Lampard is the perfect offensive compliment to Fernandinho or Fernando.

The last couple years Man City has been reserved in the January transfer window but they've also been relatively healthy during the previous January transfer windows too.  Whatever young play-maker is doing well is always linked to Man City because of their deep pockets but again UEFA's Financial Fair Play Rules make it too risky to try to add a winger like Ross Barkley from Everton given that his price tag would be in the $60 to $70 million range.  The price always seems to go up whenever Man City is involved because of their deep pockets.  Sure Barkley would be nice to have given that he is a better winger than James Milner, Jesus Navas or even Samir Nasri but I am actually not sure Barkley is an upgrade over David Silva so sometimes the deals you don't make turn out to be the best ones.  Given the winger depth that Man City currently possess, I hope that Man City does not make any other expensive, borderline irrational move for a guy like Barkley or even Bony for that matter despite Man City's need for a healthy striker.

No matter what Man City actually does in the January transfer window, make sure to check back for full coverage in this space.  If Man City doesn't do any business, which would be shocking to me given their lack of depth at striker and the need to extend Lampard's loan stay, make sure to check back in the space for my thoughts at the close of the January transfer window.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Building The 15 - NBA General Manager Buyer's Remorse Day

Despite front offices becoming much more savvy in the last decade thanks to the use of advanced stats, there are still NBA owners (I'm looking at you Vivek Ranadivé) and general managers (I'm looking at your Billy King) that cannot help themselves from making short-sided draft picks or handing out ridiculous free agents contracts.  The number of owners and general managers that fit the description just provided is decreasing each year, which is too bad because those folks make a number of decisions that I love to second-guess.  December 15th marks the first day that teams can trade a player they signed in the off-season.  Although mulligans are not allowed on these deals, NBA teams love to trade bad contracts for bad contracts in hopes that one man's trash is another man's treasure.  As a result, I thought I would help Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond wade through some of these bad contracts.

Although it seems like these bad contracts are going away, let's not forget that the NBA's revenue will dramatically increase in a couple years when their new nine-year, $24 billion national television contract kicks in, which means the salary cap will sky rocket too, so I hope NBA owners and general managers will revert back to their old ways of giving out more ridiculous contracts.  There is a very good chance that will happen given that some estimates have the salary cap going up as much as $21 million between the 2016-17 and the 2017-18 season from $66 million in 2016-17 to $87 million in 2017-18.  Besides being great economic news to NBA players and agents, this will also provide more silly decisions for people like me to second guess.

Here are a couple outlandish trades for Hammond to consider that involve players that signed a free agent contract last off-season:

Bucks trade Ersan Ilyasova (PF) & O.J. Mayo (SG) to the Phoenix Suns for Eric Bledsoe (PG/SG) and Archie Goodwin (SG):
Hammond would make this deal even if it meant giving up a future first round pick, something I rarely sign-off on doing, just on the off chance that he could steal a potential franchise player in Bledsoe.  Sure Bledsoe has a checkered injury history and is signed to what looks like an expensive long-term deal (five-years, $70 million) but given the impending increase in the salary cap, Bledsoe's deal might NOT be that expensive in a couple seasons.  Hammond will get very few chances to add a player of Beldsoe's caliber so he honestly has to take it.  Plus, I have a soft spot for young shooting guards that under perform when they first get into the NBA so getting Goodwin as a part of this deal is the cherry on top that allows the Bucks to acquire another cost-effective contract.  Although I wish this trade were possible, even if the Bucks include a future first round pick, realistically they will need to give up a better player to acquire Bledsoe.

Bucks trade Brandon Knight (PG) & Ersan Ilyasova (PF) to the Phoenix Suns for Eric Bledsoe (PG/SG) and Archie Goodwin (SG):
This iteration of the trade most likely alleviates the need for Hammond to throw in a draft pick to make the deal work but it also means the Bucks give up two of the three best players in the trade.  Despite the fact that the Suns just signed the Morris twins to contract extensions, Ilyasova seems like the perfect stretch four that can shoot well from anywhere on the floor (I know he has struggled with his shot this season but I blame all the injuries he has had to with with) to round out their roster.  The problem with this working in practice is that Knight is due a huge contact extension that might be as large as Bledsoe's deal after this season so although the Suns move Bledsoe's five-year, $70 million contract, they are actually taking on even more long-term money in this deal.  Clearly the Suns would say no first to this deal, which probably makes it a non-starter but still fun to think about especially if you are a Bucks fan.

Bucks trade O.J. Mayo (SG) to the Charlotte Hornets for Lance Stephenson (SG):
The ghost of Ray Allen has hung over the franchise for nearly a decade since the artist formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics stole him from the Bucks, which is why I continually search for a franchise shooting guard for the Bucks.  My buy-low candidate the last few years was Eric Gordon but thankfully that never worked out for the Bucks since Gordon's injury issues make Bledsoe look like the healthiest player in the NBA.  With Gordon no longer in my sights, I think it makes sense to turn to Stephenson.  At one point last season there was talk that Stephenson could be a max contract guy if he hit free agency.  That was a cute thought if you were Stephenson or his agent but the rest of the NBA knows that he is an absolute head case, which ultimately lead to his departure from the Indiana Pacers via free agency.  In terms of comps, Chandler Parsons signed a three-years, $46 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks.  That felt like it was the floor for Stephenson but he ultimately signed a three-year, $27 million contract with only the first two years guaranteed so the third year is a club option.  I know this next statement makes me captain obvious but boy did the market fall out for Stephenson in the last year, I just wonder whether it was too big of a fall or a proper market correction.  Even though Mayo is playing much better this season than last season, this is essentially a $2 million gamble (Mayo earns $8 million each of the next two seasons while Stephenson earns $9 million per year) on getting a franchise shooting guard.  Don't forget the Bucks acquired the perfect veteran in Jared Dudley, which could actually help keep Stephenson in check.  I know that is a tall order for Dudley but let's not forget that Stephenson is just 24 years old too so there is an outside chance that he could still mature.  Despite all of Stephenson's issues both on and off the court, this is the kind of swing for the fences trade that I know Hammond will never do but would love to see him at least entertain.

Bucks trade Jerryd Bayless (PG/SG) to the Sacremento Kings for Ben McLemore (SG):
ESPN's NBA Trade Machine does NOT allow you to include draft picks but the Bucks would have to part with at least one of their multitude of extra second round picks from the next few draft to make this trade work.  Keep in mind that the Bucks still have all of those extra second round picks even though they threw away two when they acquired head coach Jason Kidd.  I say threw away because although Kidd has been a much better coach this season than I ever thought he could be, it was clear that the Brooklyn Nets wanted Kidd out so they might have even fired Kidd before the Bucks showed interest.  For real NBA junkies, which you clearly have to be if you are reading this post (or a member of my immediate family), had a great behind-the-scenes look at the 2014 NBA Draft for the Sacramento Kings.  I love their new owner, the aforementioned Vivek Ranadivé, repeatedly "asking" if Nic Stauskas was the right pick and getting the entire room to say "Nic Rocks" on their welcome conference call with him after they foolishly took him over Elfrid Payton.  That means McLemore's days in Sacramento are numbered even though he is their starting shooting guard this season.  Bayless and a second round pick may seem like a low-ball offer but NBA teams see the writing on the wall with McLemore so it might be better for the Kings to get something for McLemore if Stauskas is truly the person they envision as their long-term shooting guard.

There is less than a 1% chance that any of the trades above happen but it is still fun to speculate.  If Hammond actually does make a move, make sure to check back for full coverage in this space.  If Hammond doesn't make a move, make sure to check back in early 2015 for my updates to The 15.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Building The 53 - Gaston & Banjo In, Robinson & Lattimore Out

The Arizona Cardinals are currently the top seed in the NFC thanks almost entirely to their defense.  Sure their offense doesn't turn the ball over but they also don't score a ton of points either given that they are currently trotting out Ryan Lindley at quarterback after they lost Carson Palmer for the season and Drew Staton until at least the start of the playoffs.  Why all the discussion of the the Cardinals you ask?  Well after the Green Bay Packers pounded the Atlanta Falcons in the first half on Monday Night Football, their defense struggled in the second half and almost gave the game away.  Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones finished the game with 11 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown.  Every time Jones caught a pass I was having uncomfortable flashbacks to wide receiver Plaxico Burress (11 catches for 215 receiving yards) torching the Packers in the 2008 (following the 2007 NFL season) NFC Championship Game.  Unfortunately for the Falcons, Jones missed the end of the game with an injury, which helped the Packers hold on.  If the Packers are going to make a Super Bowl push, they need to clean things up on the defensive side of the ball.

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson made two moves on the defensive side of The 53 in the last week.  Unfortunately I don't think either move neither of which will help prevent another Jones-esque performance though.  First, Thompson placed defensive tackle Luther Robinson on injured reserved and replaced Robinson on The 53 with defensive tackle Bruce Gaston.  Second, Thompson placed linebacker Jamari Lattimore on injured reserved and replaced Lattimore on The 53 with safety Chris Banjo.

Robinson was an unlikely member of The 53 that made five appearances and registered just 2 tackles.  Robinson's most notable play as a member of the Packers came in his first game on The 53 against the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday Night Football when his pressure lead to a hurried throw by Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by outside linebacker Julius Peppers.  I know this will seem like I am asking a ton but the Packers clearly need another 3-4 defensive lineman that can play the run and pass.  Given Robinson's lack of playing time despite that glaring need shows he is not in the team's long-term plans.

The Packers started the season with A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones as their middle linebackers.  After Jones struggled in the season opener in Seattle, the Packers turned to Lattimore.  I honestly thought Lattimore had a chance to become a difference maker in the middle for the Packers because he showed flashes of being the violent presence in the middle that the Packers sorely need.  Unfortunately those flashes were surrounded by tons of nondescript, average play.  Given that Lattimore is set to become an unrestricted free agent, how well Barrington plays to close out 2014 will have a huge impact on whether the Packers bring back Lattimore next season. No matter what, hopefully Sam Barrington and A.J. Hawk can turn into a formidable tandem at middle linebacker for 2014.  Given this is most likely Hawk's last season in Green Bay that will give the Packers a chance to build around Barrington and someone else in 2015 and beyond.

In Gaston, the Packers added a 6'2", 310 pound run stuffing rookie out of Purdue.  Gaston was cut by the Cardinals following training camp and spent time with the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins before he returned to the Cardinals as a member of their 53 before he was was cut and resigned to their practice squad.  Thompson rarely signs players that were member of other team's rosters but clearly Gaston was too good to pass.  Hopefully some of the Cardinals' defensive mojo will come to Green Bay with Gaston.

Last season Banjo spent the entire season on The 53 mostly because of how thin the Packers were at safety.  After the Packers drafted Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft and moved cornerback Micah Hyde to safety, all of the sudden that became one of the deepest positions on The 53 with Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha, Hyde, and Sean Richardson in the fold.  Given all that depth at safety, Banjo did NOT make The 53 to start the season but was singed to the practice squad where he spent the entire season until he was signed to The 53 earlier today.  Banjo was a special teams ace last year when he finished second on the team with 10 special teams tackles.  Hopefully that is the only place that Banjo plays this year unless he gets some garbage time snaps on defense with the Packers up big, otherwise that means the Packers suffered a rash of injuries at the safety position.

As I alluded to above, I can't say I am too excited about any of the moves that Thompson made because it basically shuffles the deck at a couple backup spots on defense. I know it is borderline impossible to add a game changer to The 53 in the middle of December but the Banjo move seemed so uninspired.  The Packers know what they have in Banjo and he might actually make The 53 in 2015 if Richardson leaves as a free agent so why not give another player a look.  The Packers do not yet know what they have in Gaston, which makes that move the most intriguing because if Gaston preforms well, it could spell the end of B.J. Raji's tenure in Green Bay

If Thompson makes any more moves, make sure to check back for my full breakdown in this space.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Man City Report - On Fire Thanks to Six Wins in Six Matches

Following the third international break of the season, Man City had six matches from late November through early December: four EPL matches and two UEFA Champions League group stage matches.  Man City won two of the last three EPL titles so the next logical step for them to become one of the most successful clubs in the world is to win the Champions League, which is why the sixth of those six matches was the most important on the road against Roma in the Champions League.

The international break did some good for Man City because in the first of their six matches following the international break they beat Swansea 2-1 at home in the EPL.  Man City's Champions League chances were kept on life support thanks to a hat trick by Sergio Aguero to beat Bayern Munich 3-2 at home.  That qualify form carried over into the EPL as Man City trounced Southampton 3-0 on the road to jump leapfrog them into second place in the EPL standings.  Man City followed that up with another road victory in the EPL, this time 4-1 over Sunderland.  Man City returned home for a hard fought 1-0 victory over Everton in the EPL just hours after Chelsea lost to Newcastle to narrow Chelsea's lead in the table to just three points.  Man City not only won their sixth match in a row with a 2-0 road win over Roma in the Champions League but thanks to a CSKA loss to Bayern Munich, Man City improbably qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League thanks to taking 6 points in their last two Champions League matches after they earned just two points in their first four matches.

Here are my updated player rankings for Man City following their best six match stretch (so far) of the 2014-15 season:

6) Samir Nasri (M, LR 7): If Man City are somehow able to win the Champions League this year, there is no doubt that Nasri's howler that put Man City up 1-0 over Roma will go down as one of the more important goals in club history.  Last year I was bummed that Man City finished second in their group to Bayern Munich because it mean that they faced Barcelona in the knockout stage.  This year, I am just happy to see Man City progress to the knockout stage.  Given Champions League knockout stage rules, since Man City finished second in their group they will face one of the eight group winners but cannot face the team from their group (Bayern Munich) or another club from their country (Chelsea), which leaves six other teams that Man City could face in the knockout stage.  Here are my rankings of the match-ups from best to worst for Man City: FC Porto, AS Monaco, Athletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, and Real Madrid. It is all gravy in the Champions League at this point given how dire things looked just two matches ago in the group stages.  As long as Man City do NOT have to face Real Madrid or Barcelona in the knockout stages, I like their chances to move onto the quarterfinals and one step closer to a Champions League title.

2014-15 Player Rankings 3.0
1. Sergio Aguero (F, LR 1)
2. Vincent Kompany (D, LR 2)
3. Yaya Toure (M, LR 3)
4. David Silva (M, LR 4)
5. Pablo Zabaleta (D, LR 5)
6. Samir Nasri (M, LR 7)
7. Edin Dzeko (F, LR 6)
8. Joe Hart (GK, LR 8)

9. James Milner (M, LR 9)
10. Jesus Navas (M, LR 10)
11. Eliaquim Mangala (D, LR 15) 12. Stevan Jovetic (F, LR 13)
13. Aleksandar Kolarov (D, LR 11)
14. Fernandinho (M, LR 12)
15. Fernando (M, LR 14)
16. Gael Clichy (D, LR 16)
17. Martin Demichelis (D, LR 17)

18. Bacary Sagna (D, LR 18)
19. Willy Caballero (GK, LR 19)
20. José Ángel Pozo (M, LR 23)
21. Dedryck Boyata (D, LR 20)
22. Scott Sinclair (M, LR 22)
23. Matija Nastasic (D, LR 21)
24. Sinan Bytyqi (M, LR 24)
25. Frank Lampard (M, LR 25)
26. Richard Wright (GK, LR 26)
18) Bacary Sagna (D, LR 18): Given that Gareth Barry and Javi Garcia were sold this summer, I really had to stretch to find a current member of Man City besides Frank Lampard that looks likely to play for Man City's MLS "Sister" club New York City FC.  Despite the fact that Sagna joined Man City on a free transfer from Arsenal this summer, Man City signed Sagna to a three-year, $235,000 a week contract.  That weekly contract is way too rich for a striker as a designated player, let alone a right back so I would be shocked if Sagna left for New York City FC till after his contract expires after the 2016-17 season.  This is really an elaborate ruse to recap New York City FC's expansion draft results couched under a description of a current Man City player so instead of trying to continue this ruse, let's just look at New York City FC's expansion draft results.  Subject to a number of rules, Orlando and New York City FC were each able to select 10 players in the expansion draft.  Here are the players that NYCFC selected: Ned Grabavoy (M, Salt Lake), Patrick Mullins (F, New England), Jason Hernandez (D, San Jose), Daniel Lovitz (M, Toronto), Tony Taylor (F, New England), Mehdi Ballouchy (M, Vancouver), George John (D, Dallas), Thomas McNamara (M, D.C. United), Sal Zizzo (M, Kansas City), and Chris Wingert (D, Salt Lake).  I will do my best to brush up on the list above because before today I had never heard of any of those guys besides Mullins and John.  I am the same guy that gets up at the crack of dawn on the weekends to catch EPL matches so I am not sure if that is more of an indictment on me or the MLS that I only know two of the ten MLS players selected by New York City FC in the MLS expansion draft.

20) José Ángel Pozo (M, LR 23): With Sergio Aguero out until at least the start of 2015 and possibly longer, the third striker available to Pellegrini is Pozos, which seems downright crazy given that Man City is one of the richest clubs in the world.  Some referred to Pozos as "Mini Messi", in the words of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers R-E-L-A-X.  Sure Rodgers used relax differently than I am using it here but let's keep in mind that Pozos is only 18 years old while Messi is arguably the best club striker of all-time even though he is only 27 years old.  Before you get too excited, note the use of the word "club".  I know Messi has NOT won a World Cup with Argentina, which is why I said he is the most successful club striker.  If Messi were to somehow win a World Cup in 2018 in Russia or 2022 in Qatar, with all due respect to Pele, he will go down as the best striker of all-time.  Back to Pozos, the fact that he is the third option at striker with Aguero out is exactly the reason that I did NOT support Man City's decision to loan out striker Alvaro Negredo to help comply with UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations.  Let's hope that Pozos can grow up fast or Aguero can recover from injury sooner rather expected, otherwise Man City's title chase could be over before the start of 2015 because of Man City's packed but relatively easy EPL slate for the rest of 2014: road against Leicester, home against Crystal Palace, road against West Brom, and home against Burnley.  That does NOT mean Man City should get complacent though because anything less than 12 points will be a disappointment.

Check back following Man City's match at home against Burnley for my thoughts on how Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini should approach the January transfer window.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The 15 - So Far, So Good

At the start of the season I was more bullish on the 2014-15 Milwaukee Bucks than most given that almost everyone outside of the organization viewed the Bucks as a lock for the lottery and most thought they would be one of the five worst teams in the NBA while I viewed them as a playoff team with an outside chance at the 5th or 6th seed.  With the Bucks currently 10-8 in the underwhelming Eastern Conference you would think I would be even more confident about my preseason pick but I am not quite ready to say I told you so given that most of their wins are over lackluster teams.  Of the 10 wins so far this season, their only impressive wins were at home over the Memphis Grizzlies and on the road over the Miami Heat.  There is no doubt that long-term the Bucks will only go as far as The Greek Freak and Jabari Parker take them but the more interesting thing is that some of the guys that I had low expectations for going into this season performed much better so far than I expected.  Here are my updated rankings to The 15:

5) Ersan Ilyasova (PF, LR 6): I've always been a fan of Ilysova's game, which is why I've affectionately referred to him as The Poor Man's Dirk but even in my wildest dreams I would not have predicted that Ilyasova would lead the team in PER at 18.6.  What makes that number even more impressive for Ilyasova is that he is an offense first stretch power forward that doesn't pass or rebound all that well so he can't even pad his PER with cheap rebounds or assists.  The reason that Ilyasova has such a high PER is that he is actually shooting over .500 (currently .503) from the field and .333 on three-pointers so far this season.  I am under no grand illusions that Ilyasova will turn into an All-Star but we are starting to see him thrive on the offensive end as his defensive liabilities are sufficiently covered up by all the other long/athletic guys on The 15.  Given how well Ilyasova played so far this season, it might make sense to sell high on him sooner rather than later.

The 15 2.0 for 2014-15
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (SG/SF, LR 1)
2. Jabari Parker (SF/PF, LR 2)
3. Brandon Knight (PG, LR 3)
4. John Henson (PF/C, LR 4)
5. Ersan Ilyasova (PF, LR 6)
6. Larry Sanders (C, LR 5)
7. O.J. Mayo (SG, LR 11)
8. Jared Dudley (SG/SF, LR 9)
9. Khris Middleton (SF, LR 7)
10. Kendall Marshall (PG, LR 12)
11. Nate Wolters (PG, LR 8)
12. Jerryd Bayless (PG/SG, LR 10)
13. Zaza Pachulia (C, LR 13)
14. Johnny O'Bryant III (PF, LR 14)
15. Damien Inglis (SF, LR 15)
7) O.J. Mayo (SG, LR 11): The conventional wisdom is that when professional athletes are in the last year of their contract they have an incentive to preform to earn a contract extension but once they sign that extension their incentives can go out the window so they don't perform as well in the first season of their new deal.  Last off-season Mayo signed a three-year, $24 million contract and did just that.  The season got off to a brutal start for Mayo when he showed up out of shape and barely even played himself into shape by the end of the season.  I am not sure whether Mayo is preparing for his contract year next year but this season he not only showed up in shape but it looks like he worked on his game on both ends of the floor.  Suffice to say, Mayo's improvement is the biggest surprise on The 15 so far this season given that I would have traded Mayo for a bag of balls before the start of the season. Instead Mayo started a couple games recently and is currently 4th of the team in scoring, averaging 10.8 points per game.  Much like Ilyasova, I am torn on whether the Bucks should try to trade Mayo now to sell high on him.  Given all the back court depth on The 15, I would actually be more inclined to move Mayo than Ilyasova.

15) Damien Inglis (SF, LR 15): The Bucks are currently under the salary cap so they are NOT able to use the Disable Player Exception on Inglis even though he might not play for the Bucks this season.  I mention this because I've long taken issue with the fact that NBA does NOT employ a disabled list like they do in baseball.  Inglis is a great candidate since he is out with a broken foot until at least early 2015.  Although only 12 players can dress for each game, the Bucks were recently without Zaza Pachulia's services too, which meant the Bucks only had 12 healthy guys.  If anyone else got hurt that would leave the Bucks short.  I've long thought that NBA teams should be able to temporarily go above The 15 when they suffer a number of injuries, the question is when will the NBA actually do something about it?

Monday, December 15, 2014 is an important day on the NBA calendar because that is the first day that a player signed on or before Monday, September 15, 2014 can be traded.  It should actually officially be called NBA General Manger Buyer's Remorse Day.  We might even be able to get it sponsored by Christal or some other luxury good that NBA players blow money on once they sign a lucrative contract extension.  I will do my best to cobble together a couple realistic trades for Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond for NBA General Manager Buyer's Remorse Day.  I presume that advice will be ignored but if Hammond does make any moves on or before then, make sure to check back in this space for full coverage.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Building The 53 - Tretter & Perillo In, Meredith In then Out, Sherrod & Dorsey Out

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson is churning the bottom of The 53 due to injuries that backups suffered at offensive line, tight end, and wide receiver.  Sadly the most notable of the churn is offensive lineman Derek Sherrod who joins wide receiver Terrance Murphy as a bust*.  I put the * after bust because neither of them had a long injury history in college before a freak injury early in their NFL careers ended them essentially before they started.  All busts are NOT created equally though.  Juxtapose Murphy and Sherrod with defensive lineman Justin Harrell who had a long injury history before Thompson drafted him with the 16th pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.  As a result, I will give Thompson a pass on Murphy and Sherrod but not on Harrell.

After spending just a couple weeks on The 53, Thompson placed wide receiver Kevin Dorsey on injured reserve.  Rookie Jared Abbrederis's season was over before it started after he tore his ACL in the preseason.  That means that the Packers have now put two wide receivers on injured reserve this season.  Hopefully both guys will push each other in the off-season to get healthy for 2015. Thompson drafted Abbrederis in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft while Thompson drafted Dorsey in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft so given that Thompson drafted Abbrederis higher and more recently than Dorsey, it looks like Abbrederis will be given a better chance to make The 53 in 2015.  In terms of their specific skill sets, they are similar players although Dorsey is slightly bigger than Abbrederis.  Despite the Wisconsin connection, I like Dorsey slightly more than Abbrederis given how many injuries Abbrederis suffered throughout his decorated collegiate career at Wisconsin and his brief professional career so I hate to put too much stock in such an injury prone guy.

Thompson does not often sign guys that played for other NFL teams but let's not forget that offensive lineman Jamon Meredith started his career in Green Bay before he spent time with the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Indianapolis Colts before he returned to the Packers.  I viewed adding Meredith to The 53 as a positive move mostly because he is more NFL ready than the backup offensive lineman on The 53 (Garth Gerhart, Lane Taylor, and J.C. Tretter) or anyone on the practice squad.  As it turns out, Meredith's stay on The 53 was one of the shortest in team history so Thompson did not share my view.

Thompson added tight end Justin Perillo from the practice since the Packers only had two healthy tight ends on The 53 in Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers given that Brandon Bostick is currently injured.  Some thought Perrillo deserved a spot on The 53 to start the season after how well he performed in the preseason.  I am not sure I would go that far but now Perrillo has a chance to prove me wrong.

Thompson activated offensive lineman JC Tretter from injured reserve designated for return.  Apparently the Packers view Tretter as a Don Barclay-esque backup given that he is reportedly getting reps at all five offensive line positions.  Given that Tretter has been hurt since Thompson drafted him in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft, I would have him focus on one or two spots where the Packers currently have the least depth (either tackle position) instead of overwhelming him with limited reps at all five offensive line spots.

You can rationalize each move to The 53 in a vacuum but not when you look at The 53 as a whole since none of the moves to The 53 address the lack of bulk along the defensive line, which is problematic given that the defensive line is the biggest reason why the Packers allowed the most rushing yards in the NFL so far this season. Along the defensive line the Packers have leaned heavily, no pun intended, on Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion.  After that Josh Boyd and Datone Jones (when healthy) have been the 3rd and 4th options.  That leaves Mike Pennel and Luther Robinson bringing up the rear.  Both Pennel and Robinson are nice stories but they've yet to produce any real tangible results outside of Robinson's pressure that lead to a pick-six by Peppers.  This season the Packers have used more athletic, lean guys along the defensive line and it has lead to a porous rush defense.  That is a long way of saying that the Packers could use another run stuffing body in the middle so if Thompson is open to adding former Packers, how about bringing Johnny Jolly back?

Hopefully injuries do not force Thompson to make any more changes to The 53.  If Thompson is forced to make changes, check back for full coverage in this space.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Man City Report - Derby Win & Not Much Else

Following the second international break of the season, Man City had seven matches from mid-October through early November before their next international break: four EPL matches, two UEFA Champions League group stage matches, and one Capital One Cup match.

In the first of those seven matches, Man City picked up where they left off in the EPL with a 4-1 win at home over Tottenham thanks to four goals by striker Sergio Aguero.  Man City's Champions League struggles continued with a 2-2 tie on the road against CSKA in an empty stadium on a shaky late penalty for CSKA. The match was played in an empty stadium because of racist chants fans sang at previous matches.  Unfortunately Man City's struggles in the Champions League spilled over into their EPL form with a 2-1 road loss to West Ham.  Just when it looked like things couldn't get any worse, October ended in horrid fashion as Man City crashed out of the Capital One Cup with a 2-0 loss at home to Newcastle.  Thankfully November started out better than October ended as Man City beat Man United 1-0 at home against a 10-man United side that deserved to lose the first Manchester Derby of the 2014-15 season.  Those positive vibes could NOT carry over to the Champions League as Man City lost 2-1 at home to CSKA to put their hopes of advancing to the knockout phase of the Champions League on life support as they finished the match with nine guys after midfielders Fernandinho and Yaya Toure were both given red cards.  Man City tied QPR 2-2 on the road in the EPL in their final match before the third international break of the season.

Following their most uneven set of matches in over a calendar year, here are my updated player rankings for Man City:

2014-15 Player Rankings 2.0
1. Sergio Aguero (F, LR 2)
2. Vincent Kompany (D, LR 3)
3. Yaya Toure (M, LR 1) 
4. David Silva (M, LR 4) 
5. Pablo Zabaleta (D, LR 5)
6. Edin Dzeko (F, LR 7)
7. Samir Nasri (M, LR 6)

8. Joe Hart (GK, LR 9)
9. James Milner (M, LR 11) 
10. Jesus Navas (M, LR 10)
11. Aleksandar Kolarov (D, LR 15)

12. Fernandinho (M, LR 8)
13. Stevan Jovetic (F, LR 13) 
14. Fernando (M, LR 12)
15. Eliaquim Mangala (D, LR 14)
16. Gael Clichy (D, LR 16)
17. Martin Demichelis (D, LR 17)

18. Bacary Sagna (D, LR 19) 
19. Willy Caballero (GK, LR 18)
20. Dedryck Boyata (D, LR 21) 
21. Matija Nastasic (D, LR 20)
22. Scott Sinclair (M, LR 22)

23. José Ángel Pozo (M, LR 23)
24. Sinan Bytyqi (M, LR 24)
25. Frank Lampard (M, LR 25)
26. Richard Wright (GK LR 26)
1) Sergio Aguero (F, LR 2): So far this season Aguero has 12 of Man City's 22 EPL goals and no one else scored more than two EPL goals
.  I am not sure what the NBA Jam equavalent of "on fire" is in soccer but whatever it is, that is what Aguero is right now.  In fact if Aguero fails to score in the EPL, Man City usually loses.  Take Man City's four EPL matches discussed above: 4-1 win over Tottenham (four Aguero goals), 2-1 lose to West Ham (zero Aguero goals), 1-0 win over Man United (one Aguero goal), and 2-2 tie with QPR (two Aguero goals).  I never thought I would love a Man City forward from Argentina more than Carlos Tevez but Aguero's flair for the dramatic goals throughout his Man City tenure (remember his 2011-12 EPL title clincher against QPR!?!?!) OFFICIALLY makes him my favorite Man City forward from Argentina of all time.

9) James Milner (M, LR 11): I've long hailed defender Pablo Zabaleta as the most versatile player on the roster despite the fact that he only plays right outside back for Man City because of how well he defends and seamlessly counters-attacks.  Milner's performances so far this season is giving Zabaleta a run for his money given that Milner lined up at every midfield position and even played right back in a pinch earlier this season.  Other than Milner's impressive work rate there is nothing else that stands out about his game as exceptional but that alone gets him well deserved appearances for Man City even though there are many more technically skilled passers and finishers that could line-up ahead of him in the midfield for Man City.  Milner's contract runs out at the end of the season.  I hope Man City are able to retain his services because if Milner leaves not only would it be on a free transfer but Man City would also be forced to spend roughly $25 to $30 million in the open market to get a versatile midfielder like Milner.

12) Fernandinho (M, LR 8): I found the Fernando signing over the 2014 Summer Transfer Window curious.  Sure that signing looked like a straight replacement for Javi Garcia but Fernando's presence made me worry about Fernandinho's spot in the team.  Fernandinho started the season slow following an emotionally and physically draining World Cup Cup in his home country of Brazil.  Thankfully Fernandinho looked more like himself as of late till he was sent off in the Champions League against CSKA.  Last season Fernandinho and Yaya Toure formed one of the most dynamic central midfield tandems in club history but that spark has just not been there this season.  Each guy deserves some blame for the tandem's collective dip in form.  It certainly will be interesting to see how the duo performs in the next couple months given all the fixtures in such a short period of time.  If the tandem struggles, look for Fernando to move ahead of Fernandinho.

21) Matija Nastasic (D, LR 20): Apparently Nastasic is NOT in Man City's long-term plans, which is a shocking fall from grace for Nastasic given that Man City paid Fiorentina roughly $20 million for his services in the 2012 Summer Transfer Window and they signed him to a five-year contract that runs through the 2016-17 EPL season.  Unless Nastasic is a locker room cancer, it makes no sense to me for Man City to give up on Nastasic given that he is still just 21 years old.  I know Nastasic has been perpetually injured during his Man City tenure and is currently 4th on the central defender depth chart behind Kompany, Demichelis, and Mangala but young defenders like Nastasic are hard to find.  In fact they are valued so much by clubs that Man City paid $50 million for Mangala's services this summer.  If healthy, I say give Nastasic some FA Cup starts.  Worst case, you pump up his transfer value.  Best case, you rediscover the central defender you thought your purchased a couple years ago to give Man City some much needed depth at central defender for the first time in a very long time.

Man City has a ton of matches from mid-November through mid-January so make sure to check back for my next Man City Report once Man City's fate in the group stage of the Champions League is decided in mid-December.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Packers & Head Coach Mike McCarthy Agree to Contract Extension

The Green Bay Packers extended head coach Mike McCarthy's contract through 2018 to mirror the same length that general manager Ted Thompson is under contract with the Packers.  There is no doubt that the Green Bay Packers have been a very competitive, fun team to watch during the McCarthy/Thompson tenure since 2006 given that they've made six playoff appearances in eight years.  This may seem overly simplistic but let's also not forget that the starting quarterbacks for McCarthy's tenure have been either Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers.  When Rodgers wasn't under center for seven games last season, the Packers posted a 2-4-1 record with Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien, and Matt Flynn as their starting quarterbacks.

That gets to the heart of my biggest beef with extending McCarthy.  I honestly think McCarthy's success has more to do with Favre and Rodgers given that his "vaunted" quarterback school has produced very little fruit.  Just think, besides Rodgers, Flynn had one big game for the Packers and flamed out everywhere else he went in the NFL (Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, and Buffalo Bills).  Last time I checked B.J. Coleman, Graham Harrell, and Vince Young are not lighting up the NFL.  Sure the new NFL CBA restricts how much time McCarthy can spend with quarterbacks and when healthy, Rodgers clearly gets most of the in-season practice snaps under center.  With all due respect to the aforementioned Flynn and Scott Tolzien, I honestly can't name another quarterback that even looks like a serviceable backup at this point besides Rodgers that learned under McCarthy

While we are in full bash McCarthy mode, I also question how innovative McCarthy's offenses have been.  Other NFL offenses like the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks added interesting wrinkles to keep NFL defenses off-balance while the Packers continue to run a mostly conventional offense.  Sure consistency is good in the NFL but sometimes change is good.  Lately the Packers have lost some assistants (Joe Philbin) but by and large there has been very little turnover in McCarthy's tenure, which worries me because getting some new ideas within the organization is helpful in the NFL. The way I see it, the longer that McCarthy is in charge, the less likely he is to add someone that will rock the boat or come up with innovative ways to approach the game.

This is McCarthy's ninth season in Green Bay, which is tied for the 4th longest current tenure in the NFL if you do NOT count New Orleans Saints Sean Payton's suspension for the 2012 season.  That leaves just Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots since 2000, Marvin Lewis with the Cincinnati Bengals since 2013, and Tom Coughlin with the New York Giants since 2004.

McCarthy is only the 14th head coach in franchise history and will most likely surpass legendary coach Vince Lombardi for the 2nd most wins as a Packer head coach by the end of the season.  McCarthy would need to coach into his 70's to surpass Curly Lambeau for most wins in franchise history given that Lambeau won 212 games over his 29 seasons in charge.  Take McCarthy passing Lombardi with a grain of salt though because the NFL regular season only had 12 (1959 and 1960 NFL seasons) or 14 (1961 through 1969, sans the 1968 NFL seasons) games during Lombardi's tenure while McCarthy has always had 16 regular season games.

My last beef with McCarthy is how he handles things on gameday.  McCarthy's inability to make in-game adjustments or even make simple decisions like when to challenge plays makes me wonder whether he is doing too much on gameday as a head coach that calls the offensive plays too.  McCarthy's challenge in the Packers/Jets game earlier this season is one of his many challenge gaffes on his resume.  For an example of McCarthy's inability to make in-game adjustments, think back to the Packers/Lions game from earlier this season.  The Packers struggled offensively in the first half.  Instead of making changes at halftime, the Packers looked no different in the second half.  I know sometimes the Packers will just have a stinker of a game start to finish but I had zero confidence that McCarthy would make any useful changes at halftime, which is hardly the kind of coach you want to lock-up long-term.

McCarthy is about to turn 51, which makes him a little more than 10 years younger than Thompson.  Now it looks like McCarthy and Thompson will work together through at least 2018.  These two are currently the longest tenured coach/general manager working for the Packers since 2006, unless you count Belichick as a two-headed coach/general manager.  Hopefully now that McCarthy has more job security he will shake some things up with his play calls (try some read option with Rodgers), in-game decisions (go for it on 4th down in short yardage situations and figure out when to challenge plays), off-season quarterback school (please produce something besides Rodgers), and his assistant coaches (might be time for defensive coordinator Dom Capers and/or special teams coach Shawn Slocum to go).

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The 53 - Packers are 5-3 & Looking (Pretty) Good

It has been an interesting three game stretch for the 2014 Green Bay Packers since my last The 53 post.  The Packers won on the road over the Miami Dolphins thanks to a 4th quarter comeback engineered by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and followed that up with a blowout win over the Carolina Panthers.  Everything was looking good for the Packers as they went on the road to play the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football before their bye week given the fact that the Saints were just 2-4 heading into the game while the Packers were 5-2.  The turning point of the game was when Rodgers pulled up gimpy with a hamstring injury.  Before that, the Packers and Saints traded offensive blows but with Rodgers hobbled, the Packers ended up losing by 21 points.  Unfortunately that sent the Packers into their bye on a sour note.

The bright side is that their bye week gives Rodgers time to let his hamstring heal.  Given that the 2014 NFL Trade Deadline came and went without any consequence, I thoughts I would drop the rankings of The 53 and just highlight a few players of note on The 53.  Without further adu, here are my thoughts on certain players on The 53 with half of the 2014 regular season in the books for the Packers:

Eddie Lacy (RB): Rodgers missed almost half the season last year in Lacy's impressive rookie season so it seemed like a healthy Rodgers and Lacy would give the Packers their best quarterback/running back combo since Brett Favre and Ahman Green. Oddly so far this season Lacy has been less effective in his second year in the NFL despite the fact that Rodgers has been healthy for the entire first half of the season.  Through eight games Lacy has just 428 rushing yards (17th in NFL) on 105 carries (tied for 29th in the NFL) for a 4.1 yard average.  Lacy only found the end zone on four carries (tied for 12th in the NFL), which is somewhat surprising given how much he can move the pile in short yardage situations.  Juxtapose that with last season when through eight games Lacy had 669 rushing yards on 158 carries for 4.2 yards rushing and four rushing touchdowns.  There is no question that Lacy has earned every single one of those 428 yards this season thanks to his punishing running style and the fact that his longest run of the season is just 29 yards.  Although Lacy has not put up huge rushing stats this season, on the surface it looks like he has improved catching the ball out the backfield with 209 yards receiving on 21 catches (4th most on team) for a 10 yard average but take that total with a grain of salt because one of Lacy's receptions went for 69 yards and he has yet to catch a touchdown pass from Rodgers. Lacy's biggest improvement has been in pass blocking, which has limited the number of snaps given to backup running backs James Starks and DuJuan Harris as well as fullback John Kuhn since Lacy is no longer subbed out on third downs.  Starks has just 193 rushing yards on 44 carries for a 4.4 yard average.  I know the Packers want Lacy to be a three-down back but I would like to see Starks get some more touches.  Relax fantasy owners, I have Lacy on my fantasy team too but I like the Packers a million times more than my fantasy team, which is why I would like the Packers to keep Lacy fresh by giving Starks some more touches.  Plus, I actually think that is a good thing for Lacy and Starks given Lacy's punishing running style and how injury prone Starks has been in college and the NFL.  Starks is signed through 2015 and Lacy's rookie contracts runs through 2016.  Sharing carries might be the only way Lacy and Starks see another contract with the Packers.  If I were in charge, I would aim to get Lacy and Starks between 25 and 30 touches combined per game with Lacy getting 70% of the touches and Starks getting 30% of the touches.  For whatever reason the Packers have gotten away from using the screen for the last couples seasons.  Whether it is Lacy or Starks, I would make sure to add that back into the game plan for at least a couple plays each game.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S): I support all things Cheesehead sports related, which makes me a Wisconsin Badger fan but Lacy and Ha Ha are trying to retroactively turn me into an Alabama fan.  Sure that would make me look like a front runner since they've won three of the last five national championships but I can't underscore how important it is that the Packers got Lacy and Ha Ha in the last two draft.  Lacy and Ha Ha not only are two of the younger and more physical players on The 53 but they help fill specific positional needs of The 53 at just the right time.  There is no question when everyone is healthy that the Packers view Morgan Burnett as their best safety.  The real question is whether Ha Ha or Micah Hyde will cement their place next to Burnett.  So far Ha Ha has played more snaps (422) than Hyde (354) this season.   Ha Ha currently has the third most total tackles on the team with 43 while Hyde is nipping at his heels with 41 tackles.  The difference is on big plays since Ha Ha has a sack, a tackle for a loss, an interception, and a fumble recovery while Hyde's only impact play is a tackle for a loss.  Ha Ha wears 21, which is Charles Woodson's old number but Ha Ha actually reminds me more of a blend of Atari Bigby and Nick Collins.  I know that seems like a pretty lofty comparison given that Ha Ha is just a rookie but I say that because so far Ha Ha looks like a thumper (Bigby) that can create turnovers (Collins).  As a result, I see the floor for Ha Ha as a very rich man's Bigby and his ceiling as a healthy Collins.

Corey Linsley (C): Offensive lineman JC Tretter was nominally named the starter at center after general manager Ted Thompson let former starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith leave via free agency.  Tretter was injured before he could even play a single regular season down so the starting center job fell to Linsley, a guy Thompson drafted in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft.  Linsley has been a rock in the middle of the offensive line given that that he is the only offensive player to play every snap this season.  Its one thing to show up healthy every week, it is quite another to preform well every week too.  So far Linsley has graded out as one of the best centers in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus so even if Tretter can return healthy after the bye week, the Packers better stick with Linsley.  The center position has been a revolving door for Rodgers since he took over as the starting quarterback from Scott Wells to Jeff Saturday to EDS almost to Tretter and finally Linsley.  As crazy as it sounds, even though Linsley is just a rookie, he looks like the best of the bunch so absent injury it looks like the Packers have their starting center settled for the rest of Rodgers's tenure.

Davante Adams (WR): In two of the last three games Rodgers made a conscious effort to get Adams the ball, including targeting Adams in very important spots.  Remember Adams was the target when Rodgers pulled a Dan Marino-esque fake spike and throw in their last minute go-ahead drive on the road against the Dolphins.  Usually defense lineman and wide receivers struggle in their rookie seasons but Adams looks very comfortable lining up outside.  The Packers continue to use the same hurry up package with three wide receivers, a tight end, and a running back.  At the start of the season Jarrett Boykin was the third wide receiver behind Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in that formation but Adams started to show more and more in practice to supplant Adams as the third option.  Adams has played 333 offensive snaps so far this season (66.7%) while Boyikn has only played 139 (27.9%).  Through eight games Adams has 263 receiving yards on 24 catches and two touchdowns.  Clearly Adams is becoming another one of Thompson's second round wide receiver gems to go along with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb.  In fact, besides outside linebacker Clay Matthews, no one is poised for more of a breakout in the second half of the season than Adams.

Davon House (CB): When every cornerback on The 53 is healthy the depth chart is Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, House, Casey Hayward, Jarrett Bush, & Demitri Goodson.  That doesn't even account for the fact that sometimes Micah Hyde lines up as a slot cornerback instead of as a safety.  That gives the Packers six, or seven if you count Hyde, viable NFL cornerbacks.  That makes it seem like the Packers are all set at cornerback but Williams, House, and Bush are set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.  Just a few weeks ago it looked like House was going to break the bank at the end of the season given that he is the youngest of the three but Williams found the fountain of youth this season and Bush continues to be the captain of special teams so if House continues to play well I could see him pricing himself out of Green Bay because he is NOT worth what Shields got (four-years, $39 million) but will most likely command something close to that in a contract worth at least $6 million a year on the open market.  Quick side note on Bush, he played the most special teams snaps (169 or 77.5%) of anyone on The 53 this season. The only other non-kicker/punter that played more than 50% of the special teams snaps is safety Sean Richardson (153 plays or 70.2%).  If Richardson can stay healthy, it will be interesting to see if he leads to the end of Bush's tenure in Green Bay given that Richardson is five and a half years younger than Bush.  Back to House, if wants to be paid like a number one or number two cornerback then the Packers should place the franchise tag on him and see if they can get a second or third round pick for his services in a trade.  If House is willing to be paid like a number three cornerback (e.g. three or four million per year) then the Packers should lock House up long-term despite having the young trio of Hayward, Hyde, and Goodson behind him.

Sam Barrington (MLB): For all the talk of the two middle linebacker spots not being very important in the 3-4, the Packers are proof that you still need at least slightly above average play.  When healthy, which is essentially all the time since Hawk has only missed two games in his nine year NFL career, his spot on the field in the base 3-4 defense is secure mostly because he lines up the defense. I've been one of Hawk's harshest critics for his on-field performance but every time a Packer defender is asked about Hawk they say how important he is to the defense.  I've come to accept that Hawk will never produce highlight reel plays that you expect out a player drafted 5th overall but his steady hand is a plus for the defense even though he routinely gets beat by running backs out of the backfield on wheel routes and fails to get home whenever he blitzes.  With Hawk lining up the defense and thus occupying one of the two MLB spots in the 3-4, now the Packers need is a disruptive force that can make big plays at the other MLB spot.  So far this seems like a review of Hawk but that is all meant as a set-up to Barrington because he is the third guy that the Packers have tried next to Hawk this season.  So far Brad Jones played 111 snaps, Jamari Lattimore played 281 snaps, and Barrington played 94 snaps.  It looks like Jones is 4th on the depth chart at middle linebacker but it is hard to tell whether Barrington or Lattimore is #2 on the depth chart given that Barrington started the last two games next to Hawk but Lattimore served as the dime linebacker last week.  If Barrington struggles, unless the Packers make a radical position change, the only other option they have on The 53 is rookie Carl Bradford.  Before you get too excited about Bradford, keep in mind that he is moving from OLB to MLB so I would be shocked if he actually plays MLB this season.  Unless Barrington or Bradford show that they can be that disruptive force, the Packers need to rebuild the MLB position this off-season because if Jones plays another defensive snap for the Packers that will be too soon and Lattimore's star has faded lately.

The Packers have a couple important games coming up following their bye: home against the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles followed by a road game outside (you read that correctly) against the Minnesota Vikings that I will miss because of the birth of my first child.  Those are all a prelude to a potential Super Bowl XLIX preview when the Packers host the New England Patriots.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The 15 - What else is there besides Jabari & The Greek Freak?

The 2014-15 Milwaukee Bucks start the seasons on the road tonight against the artists formerly known as the Charlotte Bobcats.  Although it is just a season opener on the road, today could go down as one of the most important moments in franchise history given that for the first time in almost a decade there is real hope that the Bucks will actually be relevant at a national level.  With all due respect to long time former Bucks owner Herb Kohl, most of that optimism stems from the fact that the Bucks have new majority owners in Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry along with ton of local minority owners that seem to want to build a long-term NBA title contender, even if that involves some non-playoff growing pains, instead of just being an occasional fringe playoff contender.

We are less than a year into the new ownership group's tenure but the team already looks in great shape given that Bucks general manager John Hammond added two potential franchise players via the last two drafts.  Hammond drafted The Greek Freak with the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and Jabari Parker with the 2nd pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.  Sure the new ownership group stubbed their toe when they acquired Jason Kidd as their new head coach without involving general manager John Hammond in the process but if that is the biggest misstep of the new ownership group, the Bucks are in good hands.

There are nine guys on The 15 for the Bucks to start the 2014-15 season that were on The 15 at the end of the 2013-14 season: Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, Khris Middleton, Zaza Pachulia, Larry Sanders, and Nate Wolters.  That means there are six guys from the final 2013-14 team that are no longer with the organization: Jeff Adrien, Carlos Delfino, Miroslav Raduljica, Ramon Sessions, Ekpe Udoh, and Chris Wright.  Hammond replaced those six guys with six other guys via trade (Jared Dudley), free agency (Jerryd Bayless), a waiver claim (Kendall Marshall) and the 2014 NBA Draft (Damien Inglis, Johnny O'Bryant III, and Jabari Parker).  I gave a detailed breakdown of my thoughts all the moves above in late August and I've seen nothing since to change my thoughts other than that I am liking the Dudley trade more and more everyday.

Sure The Greek Freak and Jabari will ultimately determine whether the Bucks actually turn into a perennial playoff contender but there are some other very talented guys on The 15 too so here is my look at a couple of other players on The 15:

3) Brandon Knight (PG): There is a school of thought that unless you have a potential Top 5 point guard (Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, John Wall, or Russell Westbrook) that you do NOT overpay point guards because the difference between the sixth and twenty sixth point guard is not that big.  I have no grand illusions that Knight will turn into the best point guard in the NBA but given his diverse sill set, I do think he is a player worth paying fairly big long-term money.  The question is how much money will Knight command.  Based on last season, it looks like Knight could be a franchise point guard with a decent chance to be a Top 10 point guard.  Worst-case scenario, Knight is a combo guard that is a 3rd or 4th option on a really good playoff team.  Knight can become a restricted free agent this off-season.  In terms of potential comps for Knight's extension, a couple of good comps on the low end are Jeff Teague's four-year, $32 million contract and Mike Conley's five-year, $40 million contract.  A couple of good comparisons on the high end are Jrue Holliday's four-year, $41 million contract and Ty Lawson's four-year, $48 million contract.  Since I am not related the Knight, I would much rather see the Bucks get Knight signed to a deal like Teague's or Conley's but if Knight performs well this season I could see him pushing for a much more expensive extension and possibly even a max deal.  Yeah, you read that correctly that Knight might be a max player, especially given the upcoming spike in NBA revenue thanks to their new national television contract, which will result in a huge jump in the salary cap.  Knight bet on himself by not agreeing to long-term extension before the season with the Bucks.  My guess is that the Bucks and Knight ultimately work out a long-term deal in the off-season, the question is whether Knight has a below average season to hurt his market value or a great season to push his value into the max stratosphere.

The 15
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (SG/SF)
2. Jabari Parker (SF/PF)
3. Brandon Knight (PG)
4. John Henson (PF/C)
5. Larry Sanders (C)
6. Ersan Ilyasova (PF)
7. Khris Middleton (SF)
8. Nate Wolters (PG)
9. Jared Dudley (SG/SF)
10. Jerryd Bayless (PG/SG)
11. O.J. Mayo (SG)
12. Kendall Marshall (PG)
13. Zaza Pachulia (C)
14. Johnny O'Bryant III (PF)
15. Damien Inglis (SF)
5) Larry Sanders (C): Speaking of expensive contract extensions, this is the first year of Sanders' four-year, $44 million extension.  Sanders is tied with JaVale McGee as the 16th highest paid center this season. Right now, based on how Sanders fought off the court and played on the court last season, he is no where close to being the 16th best center in the NBA yet the Bucks received a number of calls to see if Sanders was available last off-season.  I don't know what teams were offering but my guess is that teams were trying to buy low on Sanders given how far his stock fell.  Given Sanders's impressive defensive skills and his improving offensive abilities, if he can keep his head on straight he might turn into a steal at $11 million a season.  That or Sanders could continue to get into trouble off the court, which will hamper his growth on the court.  If that happens, Hammond will not only regret that he signed Sanders to an expensive extension but he will be even more disappointed that he double-down when he didn't move sanders when he had the chance.  Hey now Larry, the ball is in your court.

12) Kendall Marshall (PG): I thought it was a no brainer to claim Marshall off waivers from the Los Angeles Lakers given that he would cost the Bucks a mere $915,243 for his services this season.  That seems like a pittance by NBA standards for a backup point guard.  The Bucks decided to guarantee Marshall's contract at the start of the season despite the fact they could have held off till January 10, 2015 to guarantee his contract for this season.  Sure the odds are low that the Bucks would have cut Marshall this season but why not keep the flexibility until early 2015 in case there are a ton of injuries that would necessitate making a move since the Bucks already had 14 guaranteed contracts on The 15 before they guaranteed Marshall's contract.  I guess now The 15 should be called The (Financially) Guaranteed 15.  Given that everyone on The 15 is expendable besides The Greek Freak and Jabari Parker this move seemed borderline ridiculous.  That was until I realized that Marshall’s agent is Alex Saratsis.  I've never heard of Saratsis until today and the only reason that I learned about Saratsis is that he is The Greek Freak's agent so that move was clearly a courtesy by the Bucks to get in the good graces with Saratsis given that the Bucks are going to have potentially franchise altering negotiations with him over the next few years.

I am not a huge fan of season predictions but feel an obligation to make a quick one given that this is a season preview of The 15.  Despite the fact that almost everyone thinks the Bucks are going to be one of the worst teams in the league, I actually think they will fight for the 5th or 6th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.  If Hammond makes any moves, make sure to check out my thoughts in this space, otherwise check back in a month when I have my updated rankings for The 15.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Building The 53 - Robinson & Dorsey In, Mulumba & Taylor Out

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson made some interesting moves in Building The 53 so far this season.  The most curious decision was keeping just 52 healthy guys on The 53 for almost two weeks.  This all started when outside linebacker Andy Mulumba suffered a season ending injury in the Packers/Jets game.  Thompson waited five days to place Mulumba on injured reserve, which opened a spot on The 53 just a few days before the Packers traveled to Detroit to face the Lions.  Despite having 10 guys on the practice squad, Thompson left an open spot not only for the Lions game but also for the next week on the road against the Chicago Bears.

Thompson finally filled every spot on The 53 when he promoted defensive lineman Luther Robinson from the practice squad to The 53 just hours before the Packers hosted the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday Night Football.  Thompson was essentially forced to promote Robinson to The 53 from the practice squad because he only had five true 3-4 defensive lineman on The 53 and defensive Josh Boyd was not healthy enough to play against the Vikings.  That meant that if Thompson didn't add Robinson to The 53, they would have faced the Vikings with just four healthy defensive lineman.

I've long advocated for a better short-term injured reserve set-up, for The 53 in the NFL because without it there is a negative waterfall effect on The 53.  A perfect illustration of that phenomenon is Thompson's most recent change to The 53.  Thompson cut tight end and former special teams standout Ryan Taylor in order to add wide receiver Kevin Dorsey to The 53.  With Taylor no longer on The 53 that leaves just three guys drafted in the 2011 NFL Draft still on The 53: offensive tackle Derek Sherrod, wide receiver Randall Cobb, and cornerback Davon House.  That also leaves the Packers with just three tight ends and six wide receivers.

Some might find that odd that Thompson would decrease the number of tight ends on The 53 but that is all due to wide receiver Jarrett Boykin's health.  With Boykin hobbled the last few games that left the Packers with just four healthy wide receivers.  There is chance that Boykin will be back next week but given that the tight end position has been marginalized this season without Jermichael Finley, clearly Thompson wanted to add a wide receiver to The 53 even if it came at the expense of a tight end.  Besides Dorsey, Thompson also had the option to add wide Myles White from the practice squad to The 53.  I am sure that White is bummed to lose out to Dorsey but I would have a hard time choosing between Dorsey and White too.  Back to my original point.  If the Packers could have put Boykin on a short-term injured list they would have promoted Dorsey to The 53 till Boykin was healthy and then tried to pass Dorsey through waivers to resign him to the practice squad again.  Instead Thompson was forced to cut Taylor, which hurt the depth that the Packers had at the tight end position The 53.

With the moves to The 53 out of the way, let's close with my thoughts on the practice squad.  The Packers lost cornerback Jumal Rolle off the practice squad when the Houston Texans added Rolle to their 53.  You could make the argument that Rolle deserved a spot on The 53 ahead of rookie cornerback Demetri Goodson.  Leaving that aside, even though Thompson signed cornerback Tay Glover-Wright to the practice squad to fill Rolle's spot, the Packers still only have eight of their ten practice squad spots filled.  I am not sure if Thompson is becoming a penny pincher but I would hope that he keeps The 53 and 10-man practice squad filled for the rest of the season.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Man City Report - So Far So Good...NOT Great...Just Good

It has been an interesting start to the 2014-15 season for Man City.  After a great start to their EPL title defense (beat Newcastle and Liverpool), Man City got a very tough draw in Group E (Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow, and Roma) of the Champions League group stage.  A few days after my look at Man City's tough Champions League group stage draw, Man City went into the first international break of the season with a whimper thanks to a 1-0 at home loss to Stoke.

Man City didn't do much to improve their roster in the 2014 Summer Transfer Window, instead they tried to clean-up their books to comply with UEFA's Financial Fair Play Regulations.  Coming out of the first international break, Man City had seven matches in September and early October before the next international break: four EPL matches, two UEFA Champions League group stage matches, and one Capital One Cup match.

In the first of the aforementioned matches, Man City tied Arsenal 2-2 on the road in the EPL.  Man City followed that up with a loss on the road 1-0 to Bayern Munich on a goal by former Man City defender Jerome Boetang at the death in their opening Champions League match.  Man City returned home to notch a 1-1 tie against Chelsea in the EPL thanks to a strike by former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard.  Man City followed that up with a 7-0 home win over Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup where all seven goals were scored in the second half.  Man City righted the ship in the EPL with a 4-2 win over Hull City on the road.  Man City closed out September with a 1-1 tie at home to AS Roma in their second of six Champions League group stage matches.  Finally Man City beat Aston Villa 2-0 on the road in the EPL to head into their second international break on a high note despite a couple uneven performances in September.

Here are my initial rankings of the roster for Man City at the second international break of the 2014-15 season:

1) Yaya Toure (M): In the off-season speculation swirled that Toure might leave the club after he was less than please with how Man City recognized his 31st birthday on May 13, 2014.  Keep in mind that happened just two days after Toure helped Man City win their second EPL title in three much for enjoying their EPL title.  For how well Toure played in the EPL last season when he scored 20 goals, he started the 2014-15 EPL season with a hangover.  Still Toure's ability to dictate the pace of an entire match makes him one of the most irreplaceable players in the world, which means Man City need to sort out how they are going to fill their central midfield spots when they lose Toure for almost a month for the African Cup of Nations in early 2015.

2014-15 Player Rankings 1.0
1. Yaya Toure (M)
2. Sergio Aguero (F)
3. Vincent Kompany (D)
4. David Silva (M)
5. Pablo Zabaleta (D)
6. Samir Nasri (M)
7. Edin Dzeko (F)
8. Fernandinho (M)
9. Joe Hart (GK)
10. Jesus Navas (M)
11. James Milner (M)
12. Fernando (M)
13. Stevan Jovetic (F)
14. Eliaquim Mangala (D)
15. Aleksandar Kolarov (D)
16. Gael Clichy (D)
17. Martin Demichelis (D)
18. Willy Caballero (GK)
19. Bacary Sagna (D)
20. Matija Nastasic (D)
21. Dedryck Boyata (D)
22. Scott Sinclair (M) 

23. José Ángel Pozo (M)
24. Sinan Bytyqi (M)
25. Frank Lampard (M)
26. Richard Wright (GK)
9) Joe Hart (GK): When manager Manuel Pellegrini purchased goalkeeper Willy Caballero for $10 million from Malaga before the season, Hart must have wondered how secure his spot was as Man City's starting keeper.  In just the 3rd EPL match of the season Hart conceded a horrible nutmeg goal to Stoke for Man City to lose 1-0 at home, which really put his starting spot in question.  In an odd twist, just a few days later Hart signed a five-year contract extension with Man City, which had to give Hart some security.  Needless to say, the last few months have been a roller coaster for Hart.  If I were Pellegrini I would ride Hart at all cost but given that Pellegrini spent $10 million on Caballero, he is clearly not ready to ride Hart at all cost despite signing him to a five-year contract extension so it will be interesting to see how the starting goalkeeper position plays out this season for Man City.

14) Eliaquim Mangala (D): Man City have been searching for a central defender to slot next to Vincent Kompany for almost five seasons.  In my review of the 2014 Summer Transfer Window for Man City, I wondered how long it would take Mangala to perform well in the EPL. If Mangala's performance against Hull City (conceded an own goal and fouled a player in the box to concede a penalty) is any indication of how he will perform for the club over the long haul then Mangala picked up where Jolean Lescott and Matija Nastasic left off.  Sadly at this point that means that Martin Demichelis is a better option than Mangala next to Kompany.

25) Frank Lampard (M): My ranking of Lampard is a good illustration of how these rankings work.  Clearly Lampard is much more talented than 25th on the roster but he is on loan from Man City's MLS "sister" club New York City FC, which severely decreases his value since Man City has almost zero chance of keeping him long-term.  Lampard scored a goal against Chelsea to help Man City gut out a draw against his former club.  In a touch of class, Lampard did not celebrate his goal against Chelsea, which makes sense given that he scored the most goals in club history for Chelsea despite not even being a striker.  Lampard followed up that goal with two more against Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup and scored another goal against Hull City in the EPL.  Given Lampard's age, Man City can ill afford to start him regularly.  Instead they can use Lamard as a "super-sub" of sorts so they can get him into almost every match.  Once Lampard scored against Chelsea, the rumor mill of keeping Lampard on loan past January started and went into over drive after his performances against Sheffield Wednesday and Hull City.  I would be surprised if New York City FC was so accommodating to Man City unless they could get an outlandish fee from Man City for Lampard's services through the end of the 2014-15 EPL season, which doesn't seem likely given all the pressure Man City is under to comply with UEFA's Financial Fair Play Regulations.

Unless something major happens, make sure to check back after the next international break in early November for another Man City Report.