Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Love for D-Wade

I have a feeling Tommy Heinsohn would not approve of this post because he thinks Dwayne Wade never gets fouled. As ardent of a Celtics fan as I am, I am willing to admit the man knows how to take the ball to the hole. I'm surprised he didn't drive even more due to the black hole that was the Celtics' paint defense last night.

Watching him put a dagger in the Celtics in the fourth quarter with a long 3-pointer gave us some indication as to how much his range has improved. Not only is he doubling his career average for attempted treys (3.3) but he is shooting his highest percentage (.314) as well. Wade has always been devastating with short jumpers and bank-shots but being a threat from down town has taken his game to a whole new level.

Such improvement to an already stellar set of tools brings us to the obvious question: Since when is the leading scorer in the NBA such a dark-horse candidate for the MVP? Wade is averaging 29.7 points per game with 7.7 dimes and 5.1 rebounds and somehow is seen as a distant third runner in the race for hardware in May.

The argument that Lebron James and Kobe Bryant are more deserving because of their teams' records doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. If Wade replaced either Kobe or Lebron in their respective lineups I doubt there would be any sort of drop off. Why am I so confident in that opinion? Wade has been playing with rookie Mario Chalmers and Chris Quinn as his point guards this year, neither of which are exactly John Stockton when it comes to court vision and passing ability. Lebron can feel D-Wade's pain and I gave him the same type of love last year when he was forced to initiate offense by himself. Now he has an elite point guard in Mo Williams to get him the ball and take some of the scoring pressure off of him. Kobe has Derek Fisher to get the ball to him in spots where he can score, which seems more simplistic than it really is but Fisher is a veteran, pass-first guard who is a huge upgrade over either of the Miami point guards.

If you read any of my summer postings, I said it wouldn't be a shock to see the Heat back in the playoffs this year as a five or six seed. Wade served notice during the Redeem Team's dominant run that he was indeed back to being the same player who had the greatest finals ever back in 2006. He had to have been in the subconscious of any basketball fan who watched the Olympics when they were predicting awards in the pre-season. My point here is that it's not as if he's coming out of nowhere or that anyone had forgotten about him.

It's nonsensical to say this is "Lebron's year" because he hasn't won the MVP before in the same way it was "Kobe's year" last year. Chris Paul was the MVP last year but because Bryant hadn't received his lifetime achievement award he was snubbed. Dwayne Wade is the NBA MVP.

Oh yeah and my answer to last night's ESPN poll that broached the question of who among James, Wade and Bryant would you want to take the last shot of a game? My answer would be reigning Finals MVP Paul Pierce.

-Clay Buchholz's road back to dominance is a bigger deal than most people are making it out to be. Much in the same way the Blue Jays did with current ace Roy Halladay, the Red Sox started from square one with Buchholz. As I said the other day, I'm not sure where or when his delivery problems arose but the Sox should have caught them sooner. I've only seen him in limited action thus far so I'm not able to go into too much depth but he does seem to be far more consistent with his motion.

Another knock against Buchholz last year while he was struggling was his tendency to not trust his fastball at times and at others give in too easily in hitter's counts. For someone so outwardly confident, it's ironic that he lost his bravado with such ease. Even if he doesn't make the rotation to begin the year, there will be a place for him eventually. And, no, I do not want them to use him as a chip to acquire Jarrod Saltalamacchia. If Joe Mauer is on the other end, I'd include him in a heart beat but Salty is a future first baseman whose ceiling isn't as high as some scouts seem to think.

-I can't believe I'm saying this but the Patriot secondary should be viewed as a strength for the first time since 2003. Not only are Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden two solid starting cornerbacks but Ellis Hobbs is where he should be, which is placed as a number two or a nickel back. The presence of Deltha O'Neal as insurance with far less pressure on Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite to perform well make this secondary deep. Bill Belichick knew he would need to address corner back situation with his defense suddenly unable to consistently create a pass-rush. Do we look at Bodden signing as Vrabel's replacement with a guy like Jason Taylor waiting in the wings (move to linebacker?) Give Bill credit; he is on his way to revamping this team. This wasn't an easy thing to do considering it went 18-1 two years ago and nearly made the playoffs last year without Tom Terrific behind center.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Once Again Coach Bill Confuses the Masses

Patriots fans, we've been down this road before.

The Pats said good-bye to Ben Coates and Bruce Armstrong back in 2000 when Bill Belichick took the reigns in Foxboro. Lawyer Milloy, the undisputed heart and soul of the 2001 Super Bowl champs was giving his walking papers after a 2002 season in which he didn't force a turnover. At this point it was starting to become clear there the Patriot brass was not going to be known for its sentimentality.

In the cases of Deion Branch, Adam Vinetieri, Roosevelt Colvin (the first time) and others, the reasoning for their departure was clear: value. Either they weren't worth their salary or the Patriots simply thought they were done. In each of those cases there seemed to be some sort of explanation where we could see the line of thought for letting go of key members of title teams. That's why trade the Patriots made yesterday in trading Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel for a second round pick (34th overall) is hard to make sense of even from an objective standpoint.

For all the talk of comparing the situation that Patriots were in with Cassel to what the Packers received for Matt Hasselbeck, the Falcons received for Matt Shaub or the Vikings received for Duante Culpepper, I'm not upset about the compensation they got for Cassel. Mike Reiss put it well in today's Globe when he said this situation was different in that the Pats really had no leverage. It's either trade Cassel or take on close to $30 million for two quarterbacks next season on a team that needs to shore up a defense that was porous at times last year. This could be a valuable pick and it gives the team four picks in the opening two rounds.

The way they included Mike Vrabel as a throw-in is what stunned me and is leaving me with questions. Why trade a player who only accounts for $4 million against the salary cap who can incontrovertibly still play? Sure, he went from 12 1/2 sacks in 2007 to 4 last year but I chalk a great deal of that up to injuries (none of which he talked about) and injuries to the defensive line that limited opportunities. Vrabel has been an absolute rock for this team since coming here in 2001 and could be considered a borderline Hall-of-Fame candidate. I just can't fathom why he would be cast to the side when you consider Teddy Bruschi was on the field enough to make 75 tackles last year and will be returning for 2009. This is the same Teddy Bruschi who has forced 2 turnovers since 2004. I'm not trying to dig into Bruschi; I just can't believe this move was due to on-field performance nor was it due to monetary concerns.

I was not of the belief that the Chiefs were the sole bidder for Cassel and the reports of the squashed three way deal from Friday night between the Buccaneers, Broncos and Pats that didn't involve Vrabel lead me to believe this didn't need to happen. Acquiring the Vrabel would not have been a deal-breaker for other teams and it's unfortunate the Pats jumped the gun too early.

This is the time where we wait for the other proverbial shoe to drop and see what Belichick has up his sleeve. There have been times where he had a plan (Rodney Harrison waiting in the wings for Milloy) and times where he had clearly made a mistake (Fernando Bryant for Asante Samuel).

I'm not going to speculate on trying to acquire Ray Lewis or Derrick Brooks because I really don't see that happening. The Patriots are going to have to replace Vrabel from within and, to be frank, the well is pretty dry. The idea of Pierre Woods or Tully Banta-Cain starting on opening day scares the hell out of me. Other than Adalius Thomas and Richard Seymour who can create a consistent pass rush?

For a team who was 26th in NFL in third down defense, problems at linebacker are the last thing it needs when you consider its deficiency at both corner back and safety.