Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dominique Wilkins, Color Commentator: ‘Nique Speaks 10/27

Dominique and a microphone: a match made in heaven.
For two seasons I have watched Hawks broadcasts and listened as Dominique Wilkins talked and talked and never really said anything. I can pretty much guarantee you that the most preparation that Nique does for his role as color analyst for Hawks broadcasts is put on his pants before he leaves the house.

He was the Hawks’ king of everything as a player, but listening to him as an announcer really reveals how ridiculous it was that he seriously wanted consideration as a coach when the Hawks eventually hired Mike Woodson.

He offers virtually no insight into the game and generally rambles about how well someone is playing or how nice a move was.

Because ‘Nique is our namesake and unofficial mascot here at DDW, I felt it was necessary to devote my evening to the man named after a highlight film, but who can’t narrate a highlight to save his life.

8:02 – Nique gets his first cliché of the night out of the way early. He calls the start of the Larry Drew coaching era a “breath of fresh air.”

Nique then starts to talk about who the offense is going to benefit the most as a graphic pops up on the screen. The pre-planned graphic features the words “movement” “commitment” and “conditioning” which I’m pretty sure ‘Nique just said were the greatest beneficiaries of the new offense.

8:14 – Nique’s keys to the game: A good start to “set the tone,” and control Zach Randolph, who is the second best player on the team. The first one is an old staple for Nique, who loves tossing out generic keys to the game. Others that we can look forward to this season: Shoot the ball well, Rebound the basketball, Take care of the basketball and Don’t give up easy shots.

Who's that at the door? It's an opportunity type of opportunity.
8:16 – Joe Johnson is the Hawks’ franchise player and has played well for the last four years. Thanks, Nique. He then turns his attention to Marvin Williams. Direct quote: “If you look at the last couple years Marvin really hasn’t gotten the ball in the offense in opportunity type of opportunities for Marvin.”

8:41 – Cliché-fest when during a timeout Nique and Rathbun start talking about last year’s playoff win over Milwaukee. Let’s go to the tape: “You know you’ve got to give that Milwaukee team a lot of credit. They took the Hawks to the limit. But the Hawks showed a lot of character and it came to the surface. When crunch time was there, those guys did what they had to do to hold on.”

8:46 – After Hasheem Thabeet leaves an eight-footer short, gets the rebound then bricks a 2-footer off the backboard about as bad as you can brick a two-footer: “Well, the big fella has no touch around the basket.”

8:52 – Nique goes to the cliché slot machine, pulls the handle and wins a “making his presence felt” for Zaza Pachulia.

9:00 – An almost analysis from ‘Nique, saying that Rudy Gay hasn’t played well against the Hawks in the past few games between the teams. But he stops right there leaving Rathbun to finish the analysis by pointing out that Joe Johnson has been the defensive culprit for Gay’s struggles.

9:02 – Nique pulls off the rare cliché/malapropism double play: Hawks are “clicking on all cylinders.”

9:04 – After a timeout, Nique repeats his "clicking on all cylinders" analysis just for good measure.

9:07 - Sign of trouble on the Josh Smith attitude front. Smith picks up a foul and signals to Drew to keep him in the game. Drew takes Smith out anyway and Smith scowls and gripes all the way to the bench. No mention of this from Nique or Rathbun.

9:11 – Nique invents the word “execellent,” which is his interpretation of the word “excellent.” This is ironic because this is one of Nique’s go-to words. It would be like Mr. Spock stumbling over the word “logic." 

9:34 – Nique’s analysis of Sam Young’s botched breakaway dunk: “Sam Young tried to do a little bit too much right there.” Because trying to dunk when there’s no one within 8 feet of you in any direction and you’re flying toward the basket is too much for an NBA player to try to do.

9:44 – I find myself looking forward to replays and timeouts because that’s when Nique is at his best grasp-of-the-obvious self. Over the replay after Josh Smith blocks a Conley shot: “Terrific anticipation on the blocked shot. Stays with Conley to get a hand on the ball.”

"I don't know what he meant by that."
9:50 – This is the 5-star Nique quote of the night: “Gay’s got to be very careful. He’s doing a lot of reaching and touching down there.”

“Gay’s got to be very careful. He’s doing a lot of reaching and touching down there.”
9:54 – Jeff Teague hits a runner in the lane. Nique’s analysis: “When the offense breaks down, he has to create.” Except that the shot came after Atlanta rotated the ball from one side of the floor to the other, appeared to run the motion offense by the book and Teague got into the lane off of a ball screen by Pachulia. I don’t think the offense “broke down” there. I think it was humming at about 2500 RPMs. But I’m no NBA analyst.

9:56 – “I tell you, if it wasn’t for Conley, Gay and Arthur, I tell you what, this team would be in major trouble tonight.” So basically, a team is going to struggle without three of its starting five players. I tell you what.

9:59 – All kidding aside, the best analysis of the night by ‘Nique. Two straight possessions he keys on the fact that Memphis doesn’t have any scorers on the floor. Their five on the floor? Acie Law, Hasheem Thabeet, Tony Allen, Demarre Carroll and Xavier Henry.

10:18 – Hawks go up 20 and ‘Nique declares that the Hawks have “made a statement here tonight.” In game 1. Against Memphis. A statement. And that statement is, “Don't get excited, but we are a team that plays basketball in the NBA.”

10:26 – 3 minutes left in the game, but it’s never too late for a cliché. “You’ve got to take what the defense gives you.”

That's it for tonight. I'd give Nique a solid B-plus for his overall effort. He did work in one partially insightful basketball comment and gave us the word "execellent."  I'd say he took full advantage of his opportunity type of opportunities tonight.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

For the Atlanta Braves, Next Year Is Going to Be Weird

Neo knows what life without Bobby Cox will be like.
When Neo gets on board the spaceship after being abducted by Morpheus and his pals, he sits in a chair and has to be "plugged in" to the computer program in which Morpheus explains what the hell is going on.

(And if you don't know what movie I'm talking about, then go back to your Commodore 64 and forget about being a part of modern culture.)

When Morpheus gets ready to put the plug in Neo's head, he says, "This is going to feel...[pause for drama]...a little weird."

That's what life is going to be like for awhile on Planet Atlanta Brave now that Bobby Cox is no longer the team's manager.

When Cox took over the Braves for the second time I was in the eighth grade. I now have four children. That's a lot of life phases (puberty, college, realizing that a political science degree is useless) that have been accompanied by seeing Bobby limp up the stairs, put his hand on his elbow and wave to the bullpen, then limp out to the mound to retrieve the idiot who couldn't get three outs.

Next year, Fredi Gonzalez will be occupying that spot.

Bobby Cox was not a brilliant tactician. Timing was not his thing. He was like the city council that waits until after a fatal accident to put up a traffic light at an intersection that everyone drives through thinking, "Someone is going to get killed there one day." (Cases in point: Brooks Conrad, Greg Norton, Mark Wohlers.)

Motivation was his thing. Not the rah-rah, poster board type of motivation, but the subtle, tacit variety that told a player that if he didn't do things right he was letting the team down.

We have a pretty good idea of how Gonzalez will do things. That's why he was hired. But it's going to be strange the first time a player speaks out in the media against him (or, worse, if he speaks out against a player – something Bobby never did).

Bobby Cox in the dugout was the last strand of the old golden guard – the final man in the ongoing curtain call that has now seen all the vital cogs of the glory days exit one by one. It was a cast that included Dave Justice, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Leo Mazzone, John Smoltz, John Schuerholz, Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren, Chipper Jones (if, in fact, his career is over) and now Bobby Cox.

And as anyone who has seen a stage performance can attest, the last man in the curtain call is always the biggest star.

Friday, October 8, 2010

If Mark Richt Goes, Where Does He End Up?

Is there a little similarity there?
I just got through reading a thought-provoking piece on by college football writer Andy Staples. He basically asks the question: Would you rather have Les Miles or Mark Richt? His stance is that they are polar opposites in that Richt is steady, stoic and likable. Kind of like a 1950's sit-com dad. And Miles is the coaching equivalent of a homeless man on a bus carrying on a conversation with the empty seat next him.

He then compares their resumes and basically says he'd take crazy and lucky and a national title over class and underachievement with the occasional conference championship.

That makes sense. I don't know if I agree, but it doesn't really matter what I think. Because the next logical question in this whole thought process is not whether Andy Staples or bunch of non-decision-makers would take Richt, but what football program would take him if he were available? Or to ask the question more generically, how hot of a commodity would Mark Richt be if he loses his job at Georgia?
I think maybe there is.

Of course, we're waaaaaay ahead of ourselves here. We don't even know for sure if Richt is out of a job. But if Georgia continues taking target practice at its feet every Saturday, the question raises an issue that will become very important in the Richt household sometime in February.

Frankly, I think he'd be very high on everyone's list. It's like the story we've heard over and over about the end of Bobby Cox's first go-round with the Braves. Ted Turner fired him then said he needed someone just like him.

I happen to think Georgia should seriously consider Jim Harbaugh. But if that happened where would Richt end up? Stanford? Have two schools ever swapped coaches? What other jobs are going to be available after this season? Well, let's take a look at one team from each BCS conference that A) could have an opening after the season and B) Richt would seriously consider based on a reasonable chance for success.

Here's the list:
• ACC – Clemson: They'd drop Dabo like bag of moldy tangerines if they could get Richt. It's in the south, so Richt wouldn't have to sever his recruiting ties. Makes some sense and it would certainly add some intrigue to the upcoming series between the Tigers and Georgia.

• Big 12 - Colorado: They just beat Georgia, but Dan Hawkins has been on the hot seat for the last two seasons. Plus they might want a big name to take them into the new Pac-12.

• Big 10 - Penn State: Just because Paterno could call it a career at any point and I don't see Richt trying to improve on Ron Zook's mess at Illinois.

• Big East - Pitt: Honestly I think he would have to take a hard look at a few schools in the Big East. As long as the conference is still an automatic qualifier for the BCS, a coach with Richt's resume might look at that league and see the clearest path to a national title. Dave Wannstedt has made the Pitt program relevant again, but we've been hearing whispers about his job security for awhile now.

•Pac 10 – Cal: Jeff Tedford has reached some peaks, but he's been inconsistent. They may start looking elsewhere and Richt seems like a California type of guy. He'd thrive just about anywhere on the west coast.

• SEC – None: The only job that might be open that would take him is at Ole Miss. But I have a hard time seeing him there.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Braves Offense Reverts to Nuisance Status

Yes, Brooks Conrad did something right defensively.
I don't have a very good feeling about this.

The Braves lost 1-0 on Thursday night thanks to a dominant performance by Tim Lincecum, a lackluster defensive effort by the Braves and crucial blown call at second base by Paul Emmel.

The Braves are in deep trouble, not because they got dominated by Lincecum, but because they looked so absolutely helpless in the process. I realize Lincecum is a Major League pitcher, and I'm no professional hitting coach. But it sure looked like every single Braves hitter was trying to win the game with one swing, and they were doing it on pitches that bounced. That approach and a shiny quarter are worth about 25 cents combined.

Watching the Braves' approach to Lincecum I wouldn't be a bit surprised if they become the first team to ever go scoreless in an entire postseason series. We've already had a no-hitter this postseason, something that hasn't happened in 55 years. Is it really that far-fetched to say that the Braves might not score? (Okay, is is far fetched. It's ridiculous actually. Surely they will score at least once in three games. But, good God.)

The Braves had two doubles six innings apart on Thursday. They had one runner reach third base. That's not an offensive threat. That's a nuisance.

The defense was sloppy, but Derek Lowe and the bullpen sidestepped everything except Emmel's blown call in the fourth inning. It was a tough call on a bang-bang play that drew no argument from the man who tagged Posey out. So even Brooks Conrad wasn't sure. Which isn't saying much. But if the call had been made correctly we might still be watching Braves hitters swing at pitches in the dirt.

All we can do at this point is hope that Lincecum was as good as he looked and the Braves were not as bad as they looked. Because if they are, this series – and Bobby Cox's career – will be over on Sunday.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The '91 Atlanta Braves and the '10 Atlanta Braves: More Similar Than You Think

Bobby should be able to celebrate one more time.
The Braves are decided underdogs in their NLDS series against the Giants. Everybody, everywhere on the face of the planet thinks that a snowball will become the president of hell before the Braves win this series.

Sometimes the consensus is right. And sometimes a team that goes 84-78 wins the World Series.

So predictions can be a bit iffy. But the past? That's iron clad. I can tell you exactly what happened in, say, 1991 when the Braves made the playoffs after finishing in last place for the better part of a decade.

I don't have anything to back this up other than my memory because there was no such thing as a "website" back then and I don't have the AJC archives stuffed down my pants right now. But just trust me. Nooooobody was picking the Braves to beat the Pirates in the 1991 NLCS either. Tim McCarver and Sean McDonough's general attitude toward the Braves ranged from "completely dismissive" to "openly rooting against" in their broadcasts, which led to many Braves fans tuning into Skip and Pete's radio broadcasts.

There was a general sense that the inexperienced worst-to-first Braves would be overwhelmed by the postseason environment, especially against the savvy, veteran Pirates.

They were wrong.

The Braves went toe-to-toe with Pirates, who lost because they couldn't get Brian Hunter out in the first inning of Game 7. Which tells you that just about anything can and does happen. If you think it can't happen for this year's Braves team consider the following similarities:

• The 1991 Braves had no stars in their batting order. At the time Ron Gant and David Justice were the only position players who you thought might – might – have a shot at the hall of fame. Their best hitter (Terry Pendleton) was having a career year and finished that season with a batting average of .319. As a team they batted .258 and scored 759 runs.

The 2010 Braves have no stars in their batting order. Brian McCann and Jason Heyward are the only active position players who have even remote hall of fame potential. (Derek Lee and Troy Glaus have had solid careers, but they're not going to the hall.) Arguably their best hitter (Omar Infante) is having a career year and finished with a batting average of .321. And guess what this year's team batted: .258. And they scored 738 runs.

Okay, so surely the pitching was better in 1991 when they had Glavine and Smoltz and Avery.

• The 1991 Braves pitching staff registered a 3.49 ERA as a team. They allowed 644 runs, 563 of which were earned. Based on run differential, their record that year should have been 92-70

The 2010 Braves pitching staff registered a 3.56 ERA as a team. They allowed 629 runs, 569 of which were earned. Based on run differential, their record should have been 92-70.


• The 1991 Braves clinched their spot in the postseason on the next to last day of the season when the San Francisco Giants shut out the team that was chasing them in the standings (the Dodgers).

The 2010 Braves clinched their spot in the postseason on the last day of the season when the San Francisco Giants shut out the team that was chasing them in the standings (the Padres).

On both occasions, the Braves had won their game earlier in the day and waited at the ballpark to find out if they had clinched.

Certainly differences exist between the two teams. Before losing on the last day of the season (after they had clinched) the Braves won eight in a row, and they had to win every one of them just to overcome a two game deficit to the Dodgers. They never led the division by more than two games and trailed by as many as nine and a half.

This year was a game of survival rather than pursuit. The Braves were the hunted all season, having led by as many seven games in a division they eventually lost by six games.

But just because it doesn't feel like 1991 because the Braves limped to the finish line doesn't mean that something special can't happen. I think it will. I think the Braves will beat the Giants (they won the season series 4-3). I think the Reds will beat the Phillies and we'll have an all underdog NLCS. And I think the Braves will get back to the World Series to face the Twins in a redemption series extraordinaire that will rid Atlanta of its 1991 demons and send Bobby Cox out as a world champion.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

So, Should Mark Richt Still Get Another Year?

I was done with Mark Richt after last week's loss to Mississippi State, but the national media and the "leveler heads" seemed to think that Georgia wouldn't make a move until at least the end of 2011.

Is anyone who holds that line of thinking still worthy of being taken seriously at this point?

What possibly could happen this year that would allow Richt to keep his job? If Georgia takes itself seriously as a college that fields a football team, the search for a new coach has to begin now. They don't need to make an announcement or do anything official, but it has to be over, right?

Logic dictates that the depths of this demise go beyond a one-year fix. Yes, Richt won two SEC titles. Yes, if he's let go he'd be a huge target for other schools that are looking for a new coach at the end of the year. But it's over for him at Georgia.

Let's not become Tennessee, where we keep hoping that our long-tenured coach has it in him to turn it around. We should learn from that situation and cut our losses. We're not going to a bowl this year. We are staring squarely at a 4-8 season. (Think that's nuts? So is losing to Mississippi State and Colorado.) I don't care what you did in 2005. That doesn't cut it at Georgia.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Braves Playoff Chances: I'm Going on the Record

This post is for posterity. I just have to get something on the record to clearly show that their magic number is two going into tonight, and the Braves would have to completely dismember themselves below the ankles to not make the playoffs.

I know it's hard to see, but trust me. It says the Braves would have to choke to miss the playoffs.
I've held off on making any sort of prediction one way or another because it has been so tight and all the teams involved have been so unpredictable, especially the Braves.  And just to be clear, I want the Braves to get in. It's not like with the Bulldogs where about 18 percent of me wants Georgia to lose every week so that we can accelerate the time table and possibly avoid another year of Mark Richt Mediocrity.

I'll be on pins and needles this entire weekend until they clinch a spot. It would be an absolute shame for us not to get one last year of watching Bobby Cox manage the postseason like it was a series against the Pirates in June. (There's the negativity we know and love!)

But just in case you're wondering, there is a way that the Braves could blow this.

• The Phillies sweep the Braves
• The Padres sweep the Giants
then the Braves will not make the postseason.

Why would this be a three-day collapse of 3-D blockbuster epic proportions?

• The Braves have not been swept at home all season.
• The Padres just scored five runs in four games and lost 1-0 twice in a four game series against the Cubs, who came into the series ranked 23rd in the majors in team ERA.
• The Padres face Matt Cain (2.95 ERA), and Jonathan Sanchez (3.15) in two of the three games against the Giants.
• The Braves not getting in would mean that not only would they have to collapse, but the Giants, who went 18-8 in September, would also have to catastrophically collapse as well.
• The Phillies will be playing by little league rules – everyone gets an at-bat – in order to rest their big dogs for their first round opponent, who will not under any circumstances be the Atlanta Braves.

Are the Braves going to get in? The Braves magic 8 ball says all signs point to yes.

But if they don't we have it down as possibly the most epic failure in the team's history.