Hornswaggler | The culture, the humor, a bit of the sports, not so much the politics, and the workplace distraction

Hornswaggle is an alternate spelling of hornswoggle, an archaic word that means to bamboozle or hoodwink. I take my pronunciation from the late Harvey Korman in "Blazing Saddles" --

"I want rustlers, cutthroats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, conmen, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswagglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass kickers, shit kickers and Methodists!"

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Philly Sports Update

Why is it that whenever I haven't blogged in awhile and I have 10 million things I want to write about, I always screw over my now very occasional readers and write about sports? There are so many things going on. I'm aware that this is the Web site of broken promises, but I have thoughts to share very soon on Iran, the Jessica Alba film "Into the Blue," which I saw on a recent Caribbean vacation (after which I started my new job, at a local paper on the Peninsula called the Palo Alto Daily News which, sadly, does not print its articles online) and a whole host of other things I can't remember right now. (For me, remembering what I intended to blog about is like going to the video store and forgetting all the dozens of movies you wanted to see and leaving the store empty-handed, which incidentally is one of the reasons Netflix is so great.)

The Phillies

[UPDATE: Friday, April 21. On cue, the Phillies lost a home series against the D.C. Gnats, winning just one of three games, taking losses of 10-3 and 10-4, giving up a total of 26 runs and dropping their record at home this season to 2-7.]

On the eve of the season, I was about to write a post about how excited I was about this Phillies team, despite the questions surrounding their starting rotation and bullpen. But I didn't get around to it. Then they came out of the gate 1-6, and I was all set to write a post about the typical f'ing Phillies and what the hell is wrong with this team, but I didn't get around to it, and now they've righted the ship and they're 5-7 with the Nats coming to town for a home series.

So they've stopped the bleeding, much like Jack Bauer applying a tourniquet to Audrey's arm in last night's ridiculous yet entertaining episode of "24." Three randomly selected thoughts about the show and I'll move on. Anyone noticed how odd and crooked the actress who plays Audrey's nose is? I'm not saying it's ugly; it's just kind of fascinatingly contoured and one wonders how she resists the impulse late at night to take a pair of scissors and snip off the end, sticking out the way it does.

"24" point number two. Are they ever going to do away with all the dark, subterranean passageways at CTU? That would be my first priority, if I were tasked with eliminating the innumerable security breaches there. First, some lights. And I would do away with that backroom where there's that laptop conveniently set up so moles, or even Chloe, can type away in secret.

Third point, and don't worry about spoilers here, I'm not really giving anything away -- don't you think that the defense secretary's two security guys might have wanted to put Jack and Audrey in a place where they could keep an eye on them, rather than sequester them in some backroom where, for some reason, they can't be all the time, such that one of the guys has to come around every couple of minutes to check and see if his high-priority captives are still there, tied to the pole together, where they can work in concert to escape? And were there really just two people on that entire plane? Was there at least a pilot? If it had been me guarding Jack Bauer, I would have put him on the floor in the middle of that hangar, stripped him naked so that he couldn't hide any weapons, and stood 15 feet away with a gun trained on him, for as long as it took to help arrive. But that's just me. I'm not a professional.

Anyway, looks like Audrey, if she survives this season, is going to be missing an arm.

As for the Phillies, I really like this team and will enjoy watching them, even if they don't make it the playoffs. 1B Ryan Howard is a flat-out stud, as is 2B Chase Utley. SS Jimmy Rollins is playing the best baseball of his career. Aaron Rowand is a defensive upgrade in CF and a good locker room guy. Bobby Abreu is a bit of a robot who doesn't seem to deliver in the clutch as much as you'd like, but he's one of the best RFs in baseball. Pat Burrell is a solid power guy in left field, having slowly recovered from that disastrous season a couple years ago.

New GM Pat Gillick couldn't find a number-one pitcher this offseason, but he was right not to panic and overpay for someone who's not that good. There's always next year. In the meantime, he quickly solved the Jim Thome-Ryan Howard logjam at first base, a conundrum that seemed to have put old GM Ed Wade in the fetal position, and got rid of two guys who were problems in the locker room in pitcher Vincent Padilla and backup outfield Jason Michaels, who some say was a bad influence on Burrell.

As long as the Phils are competitive, that's all I ask for.

The Flyers

[UPDATE: Friday, April 21. Was forwarded an email from someone back home who is very, very optimistic about the Flyers' chances this spring and thinks they can go on a run. I don't know if I share his bright outlook, but I admire his commitment and enthusiasm. Hard-core Flyers fans, incidentally, are immune from the pessimism that surrounds the Eagles and Phillies. I'm not sure why that is, but it's a good thing.]

I hate to admit it, but I'm kind of a bandwagon fan with the Flyers right now. If they start to play well in the playoffs, I'll pay attention. But there are justifiable reasons for this. First of all, the missed season last year really kind of dissipated what little enthusiasm I have for watching the sport, even though playoff hockey (when you have a rooting interest) is just about as good as it gets. Second of all, the hockey season is just too damn long. I don't know how all these players aren't injured all the time. It's got to be almost as brutal as football, as far as the pounding your body takes, yet these guys are playing like 60 games a year, instead of 16. And then there's the playoffs, which lasts two months and is basically a whole other season. It's insane. Both hockey and basketball should cut their regular seasons by a third. In the case of the NBA, it might actually make players care about the games and want to play hard. But of course this will never happen, because it would mean a loss of revenues.

The Flyers-specific reason for my apathy about the club is the torturous reign of GM Bobby Clarke, who for 15 years couldn't get it through his thick skull that you don't win Stanley Cups with a roster full of players who a) can't skate and b) can't pass. Plus there was the yearly drama of our latest goalie finding a way to choke.

This year, it looks like the lightbulb finally went off for Clarke. Peter Forsberg is amazing and the team is filled with talented and, dare I say it, agile players, not a bunch of Paleolithic zombies swinging tree branches at the puck. But the team has been plagued by injuries and has not played well at all down the stretch.

If the team is healthy and starts to pick up some steam in the playoffs, though, I'll give it my full attention.

The Sixers

Oy. First of all, I'm going to need a lot of space for this. Second, Billy King is the most overrated GM in basketball. He stinks. Third, it's good that the Sixers didn't make the playoffs, because now they're under no illusions that this team is in anything approaching good shape.

If Allen Iverson ends up leaving, there will doubtless be more commentators writing about how what happened in Philly proves that you can't build a championship team around AI. Really? What if you had a half-way competent GM? Iverson has never had a second All-Star to play with. Webber at this point is still good, but he's not a physical low-post presence at all, if he ever was, which leaves us without any toughness on the interior.

Championship teams always have multiple players who, if they're not All-Stars that year, have been in the past or are on their way to that status. The best team over the past few years, the Spurs, have a superstar in Tim Duncan and two stars in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, plus a roster filled with quality players, from Robert Horry (who saves his effort for the playoffs but then inarguably delivers) to Michael Finley.

The Pistons are stacked. Chauncey Billups has emerged as arguably the most clutch player in the NBA, and I won't even waste my breath running down the rest of the roster.

The Lakers had two flatout Superstars in Kobe and Shaq.

The Sixers, on the other hand, have always had Iverson, a cast of chumps, mostly, and a second guy who was supposed to be star but fell somewhere from pathetically to laughably short, including Keith Van Horn and Glenn "Big Dump" Robinson.

What if, say, the Sixers had been lucky enough to draft Amare Stoudemire? A beast who could score inside and scare the daylights out of people on defense and on the glass? Don't you think a half-way decent GM could find a way to build a championship team with that nucleus?

The first step for the Sixers is to find a back-court complement to Iverson (and this is the case regardless of who's in the post.) Iverson is a great player, but he has a few qualities that you have to consider when finding someone to play with him: 1) He shoots a low percentage from the field. 2) He's a combo guard who handles the ball a lot but really plays the two position, which means that he is undersized. 3) Because of the size issue, he's a two guard who guards the other team's point guard.

All this means that you must complement Iverson with a guy with size who can handle and shoot the ball and who can guard the other team's shooting guard. Eric Snow filled this role when the Sixers went to and got iced in the Finals five or so years ago, but though he could handle the ball and was a great defender, he couldn't hit the broad side or in fact any side of a barn from outside.

As I look around the league, the first player who comes to mind as a good fit for the Sixers is Kirk Hinrich of the Bulls. And Ben Gordon too, to a lesser degree. What would I have to give up to get one of those guys? Well, if I, as the GM, after careful analysis think Andre Iguodala has hit his ceiling offensively and won't ever develop into a bona fide scorer, maybe I pry one of those guys away with him, with one or two other guys on either side to even things out. If, on the other hand, I evaluate Iggy and think he still has a chance to develop a Scottie Pippen-esque game, then he's untouchable. Maybe the Sixers could use their first-round pick this year as party of a deal to land one of Chicago's guards.

Now, let's say the Sixers are able to find a guard to complement Iverson, a combo guard with size who can handle the ball and shoot. (They drafted one in Larry Hughes, but of course traded him away before he developed, because of Larry Brown's impatience; Hughes took awhile to develop and is spotty as a shooter, but the point is that this was one of many instances of the Sixers trading away young talent and winding up with nothing.) What do they do in the low post?

The front court is all screwed up because Webber, though he gets some rebounds, is a finesse player and the Sixers choose to complement him with Samuel Dalembert, who is a decent player and can block shoots but is thin as a reed, leaving the Sixers without any muscle whatsoever up front. Ideally, the Sixers would have someone big at center, a physical presence, and could add a Kurt Thomas-type guy at PF who can rebound but also step out and drain a 15-18 footer. As it stands now, if the Sixers are going to stick with Webber, then they need to deal Dalembert and find someone else. What about Iguodala for Jamal Maglouire? To really fix the roster, they're going to have to deal either Iggy or Dalembert.

But Billy King can't even identify the problem with the Sixers, let alone fix it.

Here's how bad a GM he is. The big problem with the NBA, as Bill Simmons will tell you, is guaranteed contracts, which result in players getting their $10-million per year contract and then mailing it in the rest of the way. If you go to the Hoops Hype Web site, you can look at the highest-paid players in the league, and it barely corresponds to who the best players are. Allan Houston is the second-highest paid player in the NBA, right ahead of Chris Webber. Brian Grant is number 10. Anfernee Hardaway (!?!), Grant Hill and Jalen Rose are all in the top-15.

So you have a lot of players in the NBA who are overpaid, you have a lot of players who get huge contracts and pretty much don't care about anything the rest of the way (Vince Carter comes to mind), you have teams that get locked into huge contracts for mediocre players (the Sixers in recent years have given big deals to PF Kenny Thomas, PF Brian Skinner and SF Greg Buckner, all of whom, thankfully, were later traded) and wind up with dead salary all over the roster.

Check out the Sixers. The 76ers have the third-highest payroll of any team in the NBA, again according to hoopshype.com, at $83 million. Who's it being paid to?

$20 million a year goes to Chris Webber, who, though still a good player, is not one of the 25 best players in the league. $10 million this year is going to Jamal Mashburn, who is retired. $6 million is going to Todd MacCullough, who retired due to foot problems. $6 million goes to Aaron McKie, also retired. And $6 million apparently is still going to Greg Buckner, who plays for another team.

I don't know what Billy King can do with this mess he created. Webber apparently has an option to pick up next year's contract, while Mashburn and MacCullough don't come off the books until 2007. If the Sixers keep Iverson, then they have to decide whether Webber should stick around. Maybe the best thing to do is to just keep him around until he hits free agency or retires, rather than make a bad situation worse with a trade that would bring in more bloated contracts.

If the Sixers decide to go with Iverson and Webber, than they need to fix the pieces around them. Iguodala is the best trade bait they have. Maybe trade him for a good combo guard (I think it's time to get rid of John Salmons and/or Willie Green too), then trade Dalembert for a center with some bulk, though there aren't many around. However they do it, the bottom line is they need to get bigger at center and find a guard who can really complement Iverson. They need to get more athletic and better on defense.

Looking at the mock draft at hoops hype, both Villanova guard Randy Foye and Memphis SF Rodney Carney will be available around where the Sixers are set to draft. Carney could replace Iguodala, if he's traded, while Foye could be the guard the Sixers need to complement Iverson.

Okay, I'm spent. That's enough on the Sixers. They're a mess.

The Eagles

The signing of DT Ed Jasper was yet another underwhelming offseason pickup, but what it does is give them flexibility when they pick in the draft. If a defensive tackle isn't there when they pick, then they don't have to reach. A lot of mock drafts have the Eagles picking DT Broderick Bunkley or OT Winston Justice or LB Ernie Sims. I'd be happy with any one of those guys. Justice doesn't fill as much of an immediate need, with respect to getting back to the playoffs and contending, but certainly would be a smart pick long-term.

Lots of people are talking about how the Eagles need to dramatically upgrade the defensive tackle position but, frankly, the situation there doesn't bother me that much. As long as we have a decent amount of talent and some able bodies. The problem with the Eagles' D last year wasn't that they couldn't stop the run. They've always had problems there. And their run D was good enough to win the Super Bowl two years ago, were it not for turnovers on offense and bone-headed coaching down the stretch. The Eagles, philosophically, don't like to draft meaty DTs. I disagree with them, but that's the way it is.

Where the Eagles got killed last year, for the first time in recent memory, was pass defense. They were incapable of putting pressure on the quarterback. And I think the signing of Darren Howard really addressed that. Plus Trent Cole should continue to get better. And with a pass rush, the defensive backs won't be left exposed.

I firmly believe the Eagles can contend for the Super Bowl this year. I'm not saying they will, but they can. Everyone always talks about how this is a league of parity, and it is, and how teams can go from bad to good in a hurry, but still I hear that because the Eagles had an off year, that they're all the sudden at the bottom of the NFC East (which should be the best division football, admittedly). Bullshit. The Panthers came back last year and went to the NFC Championship after an abysmal, injury-plagued '04 and the Eagles can do the same.

One key to the season will be the play of WR Reggie Brown, who now moves to the top of the depth chart. I think Brown can become an elite receiver, but he doesn't jump out at you as an insane athlete, tall and big and fast like TO or Randy Moss or Chad Johnson, or small and deceptive and blindingly fast like Santana Moss or Steve Smith. But in trying to envision how Brown could become a Pro Bowler, Marvin Harrison comes to mind.

Brown and Harrison have a similar body type -- about 6-feet tall and lean. They're both fast, though Harrison might be a touch faster. No one runs routes better than Harrison, but Brown is no slouch and has more athleticism after the catch than Marvin. And though Harrison's hands are on a Cris Carter level, Brown doesn't seem to drop the ball. I'm not saying Brown will be as good as Harrison, who if the Colts win a Super Bowl will make it to the Hall of Fame, but looking at Harrison provides what I think is decent blueprint for how a guy with Brown's physical tools can become an elite receiver. Plus he's smart, and he seems to be a good guy.

And for everyone's sake, I'm going to stop now.

.: posted by hornswaggler 10:46 AM

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