It’s Not About Love Or The Loss But About “Love Lost”

Cavs sword logo I have read and tweeted and read and hoped about the possible acquisition of Kevin Love by the Cavaliers. As any reasonable person would be, I am excited about the prospects of trading for Love and what it will mean for the Cavaliers in the 2014-15 season. Now that the trade seems more likely to occur, I want to put out there my serious reservations why this trade at this time could be a devastating blow to the Cleveland Cavaliers past next year. That sobering fact makes it impossible for me to support this trade (as proposed) at this time. As I promised my adult daughter last night, I will wait for the exact trade and the exact details before declaring it an unwarranted and unreasonable risk. But that is where I fear the Cleveland Cavaliers are headed. Back into oblivion without a life raft. Back to where the powers that be in the NBA would prefer we remain. Even LeBron might not be able to stop it.

What we need to give up is a small part of the equation now but could be a major part in less than a year from now. I have no idea how good Andrew Wiggins can become. I believe there is a high probability he will become an All Star player in the NBA. But there is no way I can be sure of that. What I do know is that he was the number one player taken in arguably the best NBA draft class in the past 5 years. That says a lot about the likelihood of him becoming a star. Anthony Bennett had a horrifying rookie year. He started injured, missed most of training camp, remained injured off and on through the year, never got in shape and never played well at all. Most call him a “negative” inclusion in the proposed Love trade. I think he has turned himself around and will be more than a serviceable player this year and certainly a rotation player with some real potential for impacting the game positively. After that, he might blossom as his talent suggests. I am not happy about losing (probably 2) number one draft picks in addition, but that loss can be overcome with time. The Cavs have 2 extra number ones still owed them from past trades.

Most are making this a debate about “Love vs Wiggins” and ignoring the number one picks and Bennett that, at the least, must be included. But, as I analyze this, my conclusions have nothing to do with how good Wiggins or Bennett may or may not be. I don’t really care honestly. What I do care about, and so should you, is Kevin Love. It is a FACT and not speculation that Kevin Love can only be controlled for ONE year. What Mr. Love does after he opts out and becomes a free agent in 2015 is completely up to Kevin Love. We know he wasn’t going to stay in Minnesota. We know he prefers the West Coast. And there is no credible evidence that he will stay in Cleveland either. I have heard all the arguments about how he “wouldn’t leave a Championship caliber team with LeBron James” and all the similar variations on the theme. I respect those arguments but I believe those beliefs are fool’s gold. And how Cleveland can fall for this serenade over and over again I cannot explain. Maybe it is like a man dying of thirst in the desert who goes back to the mirage time and time again hoping it might finally be real. I am not sure.

Will he be a "Love Lost" after 1 year?

Will he be a “Love Lost” after 1 year?

Kevin Love has worked hard for his free agency. He has suffered through pathetic seasons with a pathetic organization that is about to reverse their trend of stupidity. He wants out. He has demanded a trade. He has established his position. He essentially has said, “Get me out of here and then I will go where I want to go after that.” I seriously doubt that Cleveland, Ohio and even LeBron James will be able to dampen his desire to do what HE wants to do. Did we forget that LeBron left a Championship organization that had gone to the NBA finals 4 years in a row??!! How can we arrogantly think Cleveland will be his “first choice” when so many teams, including the Lakers, will have a ton of cap space to pay him a max contract?

Now the collective bargaining agreement does give the Cavs a slight edge. Because he was traded after three years with the same team, the acquiring team (Cavs) inherit his full “Bird Rights”. Cleveland could sign him to a three year extension right away if he picks up his player option for the 15-16 season. That would be great for Cleveland but would extend him years beyond the expected revenue boost in 2016. So that possibility is unlikely. The best the Cavs might be able to hope for is Love agreeing to pick up his player option for 2015-16 season, which will take him to the year where the large boost is expected. Once he becomes a free agent or agrees to sign with Cleveland, either in summer of 2015 or 16, Cleveland can sign him for 5 years with a 7.5% raise per year. As a free agent, other teams can sign him for 4 years and with a 4.5% raise per year. So, if Love starts at 17.695 million per year, he would get a total contract of 102.781 million in Cleveland. He would get a total contract of 75.702 million with the LA Lakers (for example). That sounds like a huge advantage for the Cavs. But here is the trick of all this. The Cleveland offer is for 5 years. The Lakers offer is for 4 years. If you resign with your desired team (Lakers), your next year salary would be at a MINIMUM 21.706 million. The difference over the same number of years is 5.373 million. And that is likely way more than it really would be because a new free agent contract in 6 years will likely start much higher than 21.706. So the difference might be a few million at best over 5 years. Is that difference enough to make you go away from your preferred location for 5 years? I would say no.

Ironically, LeBron James and Kevin Love will be the number 1 and number 2 free agent targets in the summer of 2015. Will we get them both with so many teams bidding for them? I am not so sure. LeBron looks likely because of his letter and seeming commitment to build in Cleveland. Love looks possible but much less likely. And we will be sweating our butts off for weeks and crashing twitter. Look forward to it because it is coming. And enjoy the rumors that this was all an NBA plot to get Anthony, James and Love in New York together.

So I don’t see this as Wiggins vs Love at all. I see us trading years of control of Wiggins and Bennett for a 1 year test drive of Love. Better hope we enjoy the ride. Because winning an NBA Championship with a 1 year window is tough sledding. This is why I feel that Cleveland must get a commitment out of Love, at least picking up his player option for 15-16 or verbally and publically committing to extending his contract with Cleveland, before Cleveland agrees to such a risky trade.

Hope Love resigns with Cleveland. Hope LeBron resigns with Cleveland. I love the Cavs. I don’t want to suffer a “Love lost.”

The Cleveland Cavaliers – As They Stand Now (UPDATED 7/27)

Cavs are an exciting team RIGHT NOW

Cavs are an exciting team RIGHT NOW

As those who follow me on twitter know, I have been less than enthusiastic about the almost orgasmic lust for Kevin Love. There is no question Love is a fantastic player. And, as Coach K said today, you wouldn’t hesitate a second about trading Love for Andrew Wiggins if that was all that was involved. It’s not even close. However, the price stability and player control situations are just as vastly different as the talent gap. High level star potential players are almost NEVER traded for known commodities when they are in the first year of their rookie deals. Especially when the proven star player has only one year left on his contract before he can opt out. I KNOW there are solid arguments on both sides of this. I have provided one point of view with my post “It’s not about Love or the loss but about Love lost“. As I have thought about this more and more, I want to think of what the Cavs can be as they are currently constituted or by adding a few small pieces. So lets take a quick look at the current Cavs and project toward their 2014-15 season.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are certainly not a complete team now. They probably still need shooters and definitely need a rim protector. However, let me add that more and more NBA teams are going small and there are more than a few teams without a true center. The Cavs will be one of those teams. But I think San Antonio is another one of those teams. Last year Miami was another team without a center, so I am not overly concerned. TT and Andy have proven they can handle the center position even if it is not ideal for either of them. Since no one even knows if Brendan Haywood can play, the Cavs are thin at center. That is why I cringed when I heard we had to throw in Tyler Zeller in the “salary dump” trade. Now I am happy with the result but Tyler will be missed. He isn’t a rim protector, but he is 7 foot tall and could run the floor. I hope the Cavs can find a way to get a back up center but I am not optimistic. Ekpe Udoh might be one possibility as a free agent if he is willing to play for the veteran minimum. There are others but the options are limited since the Cavs are now over the cap and won’t get their full MLE (Mid-Level Exception) or their BAE (Biannual Exception) until next off season.

The Cavalier projected 15 man roster at this time is: Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Andy Varejao, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Matthew Dellavedova, Mike Miller, James Jones, Dwight Powell, Joe Harris, Brendan Haywood, and two spots open. Don’t count the salary fillers we obtained in the Carrick Felix trade, they are only around to provide trade dollars. There is decent depth on that roster and a fair mix of veterans and young players. I think Jones, or Haywood (if not healthy) could be safely moved off that roster if adjustments are made via trade. But, if they sign and trade Jones, the Cavs would torpedo any chance to sign other “tag on” free agents in the future. So I don’t see that happening. So that only leaves Haywood. With a few exceptions, that roster is very athletic as well and should be able to consistently run the floor. The roster, having a distinct lack of lumbering size, is matched well with a constant motion flow offense that does not depend on posting up. If the Cavs do post up, it would likely be with James, Waiters or Bennett. They have the most potential to be able to take advantage of mismatches.

Blatt is proven despite lack of NBA experience.

Blatt is proven despite lack of NBA experience.

David Blatt may be the “X” factor this year for the Cavaliers. He is a proven coach who clearly knows how to win. He might need to make a bit of an adjustment to the NBA game, but I think that adjustment will be short lived. I really liked the way he worked the sidelines and interacted with the players during the NBA Summer League games. He was positive but firm and his expectations were that the players should have fun but pay attention to detail. Take a look at this compilation of Blatt’s timeouts. It will give you the idea. I watched his post game speech on Cavs.com after the last Summer League game. It showed a real compassion and caring for his players. I think that translates well to the NBA where you are coaching men and not boys. But that must be balanced by setting high expectations and making sure the player knows if he is not meeting them. It appears that Blatt has that ability. Only time will tell for sure. What doesn’t seem in question is his commitment to putting an offense in place that will fit the abilities of his players. His variations of the Princeton offense will keep the ball moving, which the Cavs must do to be successful in 2014-15. Take a look at this video for some decent details of Blatt’s offense. This video is slightly dated (before draft) but still very useful.

Your coach on the floor

Your coach on the floor

If Blatt is the “X” factor, LeBron is the “K” factor. The “K” in this case stands for “Killer”. Over the past 4 years, LeBron has attacked the rim with more force than he ever did as a Cavalier. In addition, his mental toughness has markedly improved. His basketball IQ has always been off the charts. That hasn’t changed. These characteristics, along with his immense talent, will allow him to elevate the game of almost every young Cavalier. I don’t project the huge delay in growth that “experts” predict for Wiggins, Harris and Bennett. I think their games will move upward steadily as the season progresses under the watchful eyes of Blatt, Lu, and James. James will help on the court and the coaches off the court. This is not being factored into anyone’s projections as far as I can tell.

The combinations possible with the current Cavs roster are so numerous that Blatt will be able to “match” up with virtually anything another team throws at the Cavs except for size dominated lineups. In those cases, we will need Andy to step up and our offensive flow to stifle any defensive advantage caused by the difference in size. But when the Cavs decide to “go small” with LeBron at the 4 and either Tristan or Andy at the 5, they will be almost impossible to guard. Kyrie, Dion, and Wiggins will be a handful assuming we don’t rely on isolations which reduce our advantage in that lineup. I don’t believe either Blatt nor LeBron will let the team rely on isolation. Throw in Miller for Wiggins and it will be easy to spread the floor and open the middle.

Most national pundits and even our local media severely underestimate the potential growth of both Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett in 2014. I believe that Dion is on the verge of All Star caliber play and, if the Cavs are patient and don’t trade the sometimes feisty Waiters, they will be rewarded with the Dwayne Wade like player that they projected when he was drafted. Bennett is far from All Star caliber but he will be noticeably better than at any time last year. I think he removes the “bust” tag most threw on him last year.

Finally, I am not even adding the “Wig” factor in this analysis. Notice that I do not depend on Wiggins playing like the first pick in a stacked draft in order for the Cavs to be successful. If he does, the Cavaliers will be one of the most potent offenses in the NBA in 14-15. Plus, if he comes through, he improves the Cavaliers defensive potential.

We may never know if the heart of the team’s young stars in the waiting are cut out by Minnesota’s knife. I, for one, hope to see this current Cavs roster be given a chance. If I am wrong and we don’t see the great play I expect, then making a trade near the deadline may make sense. We will see.

The current speculation seems to be that we will get Love at some point but maybe at the cost of Wiggins, Bennett, and some number 1 picks. If so, the team is positioned even better for Blatt’s offense because of Love’s passing and shooting ability. In that scenario, the defense might suffer a bit but Love is an elite player, so we will take our chances. Even if Love is not coming our way, Cavs fans should all be ready for a very exciting year ahead. Either team will be able to compete for a championship but Love improves the odds in 14-15.

LeBron James – Coming Home The Right Way !!

LeBron is willing to take on the challenge!

LeBron is willing to take on the challenge!

If any of you read my earlier article today you will know that I, as many of you, was pretty hurt by the way James left Cleveland. I totally respect him for his right to leave but not the way he left. This link will send you to a video that connects my feelings of the past with the hopefulness of the present. It is similar to many others but I tried to capture the words of LeBron as he wrote them with Lee Jenkins of SI. I narrated the whole essay but it was far too long to use for a simple video. So I shortened both halves to make the length tolerable.

I hope you enjoy it. It was kind of personal to finish it. If I had the video and quality of pictures needed, it would have been far better. But you will get the point. Here it is… LeBron James – Coming Home Narration.

THIS VERSION OF THE VIDEO HAS BEEN FIXED TO VIEW ON MOBILE DEVICES.

LeBron James after Decision 1 – A target of hate … Should he have been?

Will LeBron Take On The Challenge??

Looks like he took on the challenge!!

Here is a letter I wrote to myself and family after the debacle that was “The Decision #1″. I revisit it today because LeBron has come full circle. There are probably some things in this long (my apologies) dissertation that I regret as well. But I think my readers might want to see a before and after view of this from a long suffering and never dying Cleveland fan. Again, I am sorry for the length. I did not want to shorten it for this post. This was written very soon after “Decision 1″. ………..

It has been a few days now. I wouldn’t let myself believe it, but I saw it coming. But he was The King… The Chosen One… I thought he was… I believed he was! As the stats kept building up, I became more and more certain that he would surpass them all. Best of all, he was our King. A King in the city where so much sports heartache exists since 1964. He had to stay with us. This was his home for God’s sake! Never would he desert us in such a heartless and cold-hearted way. He decided to tell us on a live prime time sports soap opera on national TV. How could he stick the dagger in there? Now I know that was the false hope of a Cleveland sports fan who wanted to believe again. I’m not alone am I?

I saw this coming. Why didn’t I think clearly? LeBron was given his crown at a very early age. As often happens for people with such talent, he will spend his entire life trying to live up to the expectations of others. What if he finds out that he is not The King or The Chosen One? This is a very heavy burden for a man not even 20 starting out on this journey. The beauty and danger of all this is that he could come to believe it himself. The beauty of this belief is that when faced with success he would be able to produce wonders that even exceed his talents. Remember 2007? An Eastern Conference Championship for The King with a team barely dotted with talent. Sure there was Z but little else. That LeBron would never leave for Miami. He didn’t need to in order to fulfill his self-prophesized destiny.

Then came the Finals. A superior team playing well crushed the lesser team without breaking a sweat. The King couldn’t stop it or even make it close. His suit of armor was dented for all to see. Saddest of all he could see it. At that time, I’ll bet there was a flicker of doubt that entered the young man. Maybe he couldn’t smite the dragon for the area where he was born?

He is a smart young man and planned for this with his other super friends. If he really wasn’t The Chosen One, maybe he would be a masterful musketeer! So he had already planned to stack the deck if his original plan failed. There was nothing that could stop him from his destiny of multiple championships. He knew that his destiny would only be fulfilled by those championships. Without them his wondrous statistics would be overshadowed by one and he could not sit at the table with Jordan and Bird and Magic and Russell and Kareem and Shaq and even Kobe. He would be placed with the Big O and others whose skills could reach the stars but not a title.

So the seeds of his departure were planted by his short contract and the dent in his armor. As the fog of my emotion clears, I can see the drama unfold. Why didn’t I believe what I saw?

The next year a solid if not spectacular Cavaliers team was beaten barely by a Boston team that had the luxury of home court in game 7. LeBron was excellent throughout and only a brilliant performance by Pierce stopped the Cavs. LeBron knew that he played well and the team with “3 stars” beat him and the Cavs. Boston went on to win the championship with those stars in a year when the Cavs would have had an excellent chance had the Boston series been reversed. I think LeBron had only a small dent in his armor from that series but had seen the power of multiple superstars on one team. Little did we know that “3 stars” had become the new NBA. Would that LeBron have stayed home? I think so.

Finally by fall 2008 the Cavs had added enough pieces to dominate with LeBron. In a magical regular season, we finished with the best record and a legitimate chance to win it all. Some would argue that we didn’t have the best team and they might be right. But we had LeBron! The King… The Chosen One… Certainly a championship was in our midst!

That is when I saw it all come unraveled with my own eyes. Why I chose not to accept what I saw I will never know? As the Orlando series unfolded I saw multiple instances of LeBron looking beat with negative body language and far less joy than his usual playful demeanor. He almost looked sullen. I naively passed it off as his playoff face. Near the end of the series, especially game 6, he looked dejected and disgusted. Another coach might have stopped this from happening, but Mike Brown had no such skills. Although a solid coach, he could not motivate the team or LeBron to believe and overcome. The result was an overall pathetic series where LeBron at times didn’t even play well and could not carry the incredible weight he and others had placed on his shoulders. Another championship opportunity slipped away and one less trophy to sit on his mantle. He was so shaken by it all that he could not even shake hands with Orlando. That LeBron was as good as gone. Why didn’t I believe what I could clearly see?

The Cavs kept trying to add pieces to win it all. Adding Shaq, Anthony and, eventually, Antwan to an already excellent team should have been more than enough. LeBron had the complementary pieces to beat Orlando and legitimately challenge the Lakers. Then came the “big 3” again who had now become the “big 4”. They were aging but all healthy and playing at the top of their game.

When the tide decisively turned in game 5, LeBron checked himself out and never returned. I actually saw fear in his eyes as he struggled to keep focused. He showed flashes of brilliance but only small spurts. We were passing it off as his mystery elbow injury or something else. What really happened was that he had decided like at a pickup game in the neighborhood the other team was better with their 4 stars. When you are outgunned you often play hard in spurts but ultimately save your energy to wait for teams to change. He did. The King and The Chosen One was no more. What was left was a spectacular basketball player with a gut wrenching fear that his destiny was gone if he stayed in Cleveland.

Professionals should never think that way and especially not a King. The lack of fouling at the end of game 6 was the most embarrassing moment I have ever seen in Cleveland sports. I screamed at the TV to foul. We were only down 9 with over a minute. I had seen numerous meaningless regular season games where the team behind fouled over and over until the final horn in these circumstances. Why with the whole season on the line did we not foul! At least lose with honor and effort to the end.

Now we know. Why did I not believe it? LeBron was already gone.

Although I am certain that his emotions kept tugging at him, he couldn’t escape the sad truth that he was not The King. He was not The Chosen One. He had believed it. We had believed it. Most of the country had believed it. The previous three seasons had shattered the legend and shown him the light. Three superstars in the prime of their careers will surely bring him the championships he is preordained to have. The legend can not die! Those championships will sanctify his place in NBA history.

His front runner mentality was developed over many years. How else could you explain his passion for the Yankees and the Cowboys while growing up in Akron? How could I not see this coming? Maybe I was blinded by the hope of the championship I thought he would bring? The signs were there but my eyes were covered.

You see I believe this is the sad, pathetic truth in all of this. If we could ignore the embarrassing, hurtful, and shameful way he treated us in the end, we should all feel sorry for LeBron. It must be very painful for a 25 year old to leave home knowing that his promises were broken. To accept that you are not as great as you thought you were. And to be forced to do everything in his power to avoid being stuck in Cleveland without his preordained championships.

Remember on the playground where the best players always want to play together and beat the pants off of anyone who dares to compete? That is the decision LeBron made last week.

As much as I was lifted by Mr. Gilbert’s letter to us, I think he missed the point somewhat. LeBron was not betraying us. He was simply acknowledging the fact that he needed a super team to accomplish his legacy of multiple championships.

The interesting thing is that this is not the playground and the championships are not guaranteed. Certainly one, maybe more, looks likely in the next 6 years. But if there are no championships ahead, how pathetic and sad will that be. Leave your home. Embarrass your home. Break your promises to your home. And gain nothing in the process! Oh maybe one thing, a big “L” tattooed on his forehead for all to see. We can only hope.

The LeBron “Decision 2″ Craziness is an Experiment in Human Nature

Will LeBron Take On The Challenge??

Will LeBron Take On The Challenge??

The insanity of high profile NBA free agency. The Cleveland Cavalier fans should be first hand experts of the folly of hanging on every report, analyzing every nuance, reading “between the lines”, parsing every tweet, and retweeting fake media account reports. Despite their expertise gained by the fire of a horrific “betrayal”, those same fans are unable to stay away when it all happens again. Maybe it is because James is arguably the best player on an NBA court today. Maybe it is because he was born and raised less than 50 miles away. Maybe it is because the city of Cleveland has not had the joy of a major sports champion since 1964. Those would be the most likely explanations from the national media for sure. Maybe they are the major reasons?

I think it might go deeper than that superficial analysis. I think it is the combination of what most of us imperfect humans do when faced with irresistible intrigue and theater and the irrepressible passion of the Cleveland sports fan. That combination drives normally sensible people to do things they might never consider normally. Things like driving to someone else’s home and parking there just to get a glimpse of something they have no idea will happen. Things like drowning a web site out and crashing it from the force of interested spectators. Things like refreshing the twitter timeline so often that your eyes are blurred and sleep overtakes. Things like looking at pictures of trolling professional athletes who are planting precious “clues” for us to uncover. I think you get the idea.

Don’t you ever wonder why professional athletes, musicians and actors make so much money?? All you have to do is look in the mirror to get your answer. It is all because of you. The undeniable power of entertainment draws us in like bugs to a zapper. And sports, which is the ultimate “reality show”, is most compelling because the end of the story is unknown until the last day of the many days of a long season. It drives us to spend our hard earned money and, ultimately, pay those unbelievable salaries. In the NBA world LeBron James, whether we like it or not, is the brightest and biggest bug zapper of them all. It is that reality that drives the insanity. Or at least part of it …..

In this complex Boolean equation, the fans of Cleveland sports is one of the most unique entities in the universe. Only partially starved by a prolonged championship draught, we exert more passion and fire per square inch than any comparable fan. Clevelanders work hard and play hard. We look at our sports as self-defining. We expect success and keep replaying failure. These characteristics make it very hard for Cleveland fans to ignore one of the most intriguing dramas where they are a central player. So, while those that do not understand us look on with wonder, we dive in full force and we CARE !!! Maybe it is not logical. Maybe it is a bit crazy. But it is ALL CLEVELAND !! Go Cavs !!!

With Blatt, Cavs have proven winner and #1 pick. A great combination!

Blatt is proven despite lack of NBA experience.

Blatt is proven despite lack of NBA experience.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have launched themselves into the realm of innovation and risk to reach for the top. Not by hiring a head coach with no NBA experience but by stepping out of the box and being willing to do whatever it takes to create a championship atmosphere. Naysayers will be everywhere, especially the fans of Cleveland, but the Cavaliers have shown their resolve with this hire. They aren’t going to worry about fan reaction (which I think might be surprisingly good) or national media negativity (which I think will be minimal). They decided to take a chance that a championship coach in Europe can make the clean and rapid transition to the NBA. This coach, American and Princeton educated, can do just that.

Time will tell if I am right, but I believe that his desire and fire will translate to the players well especially because we have a young team. He takes little flack from his players by all accounts and isn’t afraid to withhold minutes to make his point. His players seem to like to play for him despite his “tough love” approach and all of his teams have developed into teams and not a group of individuals. Isn’t that what we wanted as fans of the Cavs??? I think so. We don’t want to follow the usual NBA model of stars running the team. We would like to become like the Spurs, a team with an identity of “team” and not individual accolades. Whether or not Kyrie Irving can handle that transition is yet to be seen. But, if not, he needs to be moved. If so, he needs to be embraced.

That is why I am loath to trade Dion until we see what Kyrie does when offered a major contract with the Cavs. If he balks, then I think Dion becomes infinitely more valuable. If he embraces the deal, then I think we can reconsider the probable underwhelming offers out there for Dion. To give him away at or before the draft is folly unless we can get major talent in return. Certainly not draft picks.

A final point…. Hiring Blatt has immediately placed us in the good graces of the NBA leadership. DO NOT underestimate the importance of that issue. We can hide behind fantasy all we want but the reality is that the NBA “blessing” does make a difference. Silver and the NBA want to blast on the international stage. What better way than to take a proven coach in Europe and have him be successful at the NBA level. It will bring even more international attention to the NBA and that is what they want (no matter what you and I want). So I think Silver and the brass will be secretly rooting for the Cavaliers to do well now. Before, I think they could have cared less.

This is an exciting time to be a Cavalier fan. The number one pick in a very talented draft is coming (at least I sincerely hope so). I personally think that Wiggins is the guy. He can play defense already and is infinitely talented and athletic. Parker would be better faster but I think Wiggins will be a major contributor for any team in 2015. Realistically, that is a year where we could reach for more than just “making” the playoffs.

Johnny Manziel !!!!!!!!!!!!!! Cleveland is finally relevant again: Cleveland Browns Draft Analysis

Cleveland-Browns-Photos1 The Cleveland Browns lit up the 2014 NFL draft by taking Johnny Manziel with the 22nd pick in the first round! ESPN promoted him to the point of letting John Gruden look like a blooming idiot calling for Manziel from the first pick and each pick thereafter until it got so old that by pick 22 he was winding down. The very way that ESPN played the Manziel-hype angle demonstrates what Johnny is to the national media – a toy to play with and a way to sell advertising. Those that think the pick of Manziel makes “Cleveland” relevant have spent too much time in Hollywood or “star gazing” at Hollywood. The Chuck Booms of the world have no perspective about what is relevant to “Cleveland” despite their devotion to the city because that devotion is tainted by “Hollywood” and the lust for media hype that consumes all entertainers.

So, for a life-long fan like myself and blogger, I must and will take this draft completely out of the hype arena and into the reality arena. The very things about this Browns draft that makes the media yawn excites me. I understand the importance of scheme and “fit” and talent on the field. I respect the Cleveland Browns both historically and passionately. I want them to succeed. Specifically, I want Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine to succeed. Because if they succeed, I win as a fan and a commentator.

From a 10,000 feet perspective, it is not certain that “Trader Ray” was necessary to produce this draft or these players. There is significant evidence that Manziel may have still been there at 26 and the other trade-ups might have been unnecessary. Regardless of those speculations, the key is that the players the Browns did take are excellent players for what they are trying to do as a football team. The only exception to that analysis is Manziel but the Browns are making a huge calculated Vegas-like bet on him. So it is very hard to criticize Farmer for doing a bit of wheeling and dealing to get a player left in his “pod” of desired players at key points in the draft, including the trade-up for Manziel.

Also from 10,000 feet, Ray Farmer proved a genius with respect to preparing the team to advance in the long term, while not sacrificing short term needs. The only exception might be his inability to acquire a wide receiver in all of this. But by adding a first, fourth and sixth round pick to next year’s draft, the Browns are ready to roll to acquire what talent is needed for 2015. If you think Farmer sacrificed a Super Bowl appearance by delaying gratification, I admire your optimism.

Now lets analyze the draft pick by pick. We will focus less on the players specific measurables and skill and more on their fit and likely projections to this year’s Browns team.

Justin Gilbert, CB:

By most projections the best cornerback in the draft. His measurables are awesome based on the size and speed necessary in today’s NFL. He is a dynamic player that can do much more than simply cover receivers by dominating special teams with his kick-return prowess. Not sure if that will be used by the Browns, but the skill is there if needed. His fit as a tight man/press corner is critical for Mike Pettine’s defensive scheme. Based on the defensive coordinator coming with Pettine, there is little doubt that the Browns will be basing their defense on the Rex Ryan defensive philosophy. In that scheme, shut down cover corners are essential to allow for the creativity and frequency of blitzing needed in that defense. Gilbert was UNQUESTIONABLY ESSENTIAL to that scheme and this is why the Browns went so far to maneuver the draft to get him. A great pick for talent, scheme and fit.

Johnny Manziel, QB:

By some projections, Manziel was the best QB in the draft. He is also a lightning rod for controversy, scrutiny and another potential “black eye” for the city of Cleveland and it’s sports teams. If you wanted Manziel because he finally “puts Cleveland on the map”, you are in for a rude awakening. He will only put us “on the map” if he succeeds and the Browns win football games. That would have happened anyway if this storied franchise began to win and contend for titles. If he fails (which is a strong possibility), he will put Cleveland “on the map” again for late night jokes and ridicule. So watch what you wish for. It might not be what you think.

That being said, if the multiple flaws translatable to the NFL that Manziel possesses are conquered or controlled, his good traits could make this a draft to remember for our lifetime. He has a quick release, enough arm strength to function at the pro level, enough accuracy on short/intermediate throws to be successful, and an uncanny ability to sense pressure and escape it. Those traits are good a good fit with our scheme and he has enough talent to pull it off. If it weren’t for all of those critical talent/character flaws in his game, his chance of boom would be better than bust. I will outline the flaws in depth in a separate analysis but by way of summary here they are: 1) A sense he needs to escape when he doesn’t and then run 2) Inability to go through full progressions with his reads 3) Predictable methods of pocket escape that places his offensive tackles in “no win” scenarios 4) Questionable accuracy on deep throws 5) Instincts to run before finding open receivers 6) No demonstrated ability to slide and step up in the pocket to throw 7) No demonstrated ability to command the game from behind center – strictly shotgun/pistol 8) Virtually never pitching or handing the ball off on read options 9) No demonstrated ball skills to handle play-action sets and create deception without the ball 10) Serious questions about work ethic, sense of entitlement, ego getting in the way of progress, and willingness to be a student of the game (knowing playbook better than anyone, studying game film of opponent, etc.). I’ll stop there and save the rest for later. As a Brown’s fan, I am hopeful but far away from crowning “Johnny Football” as the savior of Cleveland sports. We did that recently with a much more talented basketball player and it didn’t work out so well.

Joel Bitonio, OG/OT:

A very solid pick based on fit and scheme. He is a very talented run blocker that some analysts described as a “road grader”. The Browns desperately need that type of player on their line. He has a mean streak as evidenced by his game film and can open holes. He is versatile and that is something the Browns need going forward. One source said that he could eventually end up as a Pro Bowl caliber center. That is very positive perspective. Since he has been an offensive tackle, I am convinced his pass protection skills will be reasonable. But, based on the scheme the Browns have revealed with this draft, he looks excellent in the second round.

Chris Kirksey, LB:

This pick seems to me to be based strongly on need vs pure talent. Kirksey was by some accounts worthy of a third round pick, but probably not at 71. Farmer was aware that Craig Robertson has substantial difficulty in coverage. Robertson has the speed and skill set to accomplish the task but apparently not the instincts. Kirksey seems to possess those skills and demonstrated them at the college level. His size and weight does make it difficult for me to see him as an every down linebacker (not quite 6’2″ and 233 lbs), but he should help on special teams right away and as a situational linebacker. I think this was a good pick considering the void we have at middle linebacker along side Dansby.

Terrance West, RB:

This thick muscular yet diminutive runner should be a sight for sore eyes for Browns fans. He immediately fills a gap on our roster that would have been intolerable as the season progressed. Again, going for talent that fits the scheme, Farmer proved that he studied the talent on the draft board while also listening to his coaches. This is a winning combination when drafting. It is clear that the Browns are transitioning from the team with the most passing attempts in the NFL to a team that runs effectively and uses that to set up the passing game. This is the Seattle model and actually fits the Pittsburg model when they have the talent to accomplish it. That model fits especially well in the AFC North.

West did run in a league with far less talent than the NFL and will be challenged at the next level for sure. He runs inside with power but has the moves and elusiveness to evade tackles. With the increased size and speed of defensive lineman, the lower center of gravity and thick bodies of these types of runners have been successful at the next level. I think West will succeed as well. He is not a “change of pace” runner when compared to Ben Tate, but he is complementary to Tate’s style providing consistency for the offensive line. I will discuss the clear changes in the Browns offensive philosophy and how the personnel changes match that change in a later post.

Pierre Desir, CB:

Another great fit and a value pick in the 4th round. Desir can play the press man coverage and was a player in our “top 100″ for the entire draft. He has the size and skills needed to start immediately in the Browns dime packages and probably some nickel packages as well. He is not nearly as fast as Gilbert but should be fast enough for those packages. Plus, he played at a small college level so that doesn’t always translate to the NFL. Time will tell if he has the talent to start on the outside in the future. Regardless, in the fourth round, to provide depth at a critical position in Pettine’s defense is clearly another good pick.

SUMMARY

This draft was very productive for the Cleveland Browns and they clearly are a better team today than they were several days ago. Ray Farmer only picked one player that doesn’t seem to fit the offensive and defensive schemes of the coaching staff. That player, Manziel, could overcome his lack of fit with hard work and dedication. If he succeeds, it will be a historically good draft. If he fails, Farmer will forever be saddled with the albatross of picking one of the most celebrated busts in draft history.

Ben Tate – Elite Running Back or Injury Prone?

There has been a lot of talk in the mainstream media about Ben Tate not being an elite running back. The reason for this has nothing to do with his statistics or ability on the field to follow his blocks and make people miss consistently. It is all about the injuries. Has Ben Tate dealt with nagging injuries throughout his NFL career? Of course and there is no denying it, but he was also never injured in his college career. If you look at it realistically the exception to the rule is a running back who lasts all 16 games of the season without issues. So let’s run down a list of top tier RBs and their serious or nagging injuries (or lack thereof):

Adrian Peterson: Season ending knee injury in 2011. It happened in week 12 so he missed only 4 whole games. If this happened week 2, done for the year.
Matt Forte: Knee injury in 2011, constant ankle problems during the 2012 season.
Jamal Charles: Season ending knee injury in 2011.
Reggie Bush: Only played 2 full seasons since coming into the NFL in 2006.
DeMarco Murray: Constantly injured and has yet to play a full season since coming into the NFL in 2011.
Maurice Jones-Drew: Missed almost entire 2012 season, but otherwise has been relatively healthy.
Chris Johnson, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy: Have stayed relatively healthy throughout their careers and have only missed a few games here and there.

There are a couple players I wanted to mention outside of the basic list. One of these is 49ers running back Frank Gore and the other is Ben Tate’s former running mate Arian Foster.

Frank Gore is a perfect example of a player that almost anyone would consider injury prone coming into the NFL. He tore the ACL in his left knee during the spring (not even in a live game) before his sophomore year and then tore the ACL in his right knee during his junior year. Since then all he has done is shouldered the load of the 49ers running game for the last 9 years without missing any significant time. Lesson to be learned: a player’s luck can change.

Arian Foster has had 3 Pro-Bowl caliber years, and 2 seasons where he couldn’t even get through half the games since coming into the NFL. I don’t think there is a single person that follows the NFL that wouldn’t consider Arian Foster an elite running back. Now I am not saying that Tate is Arian Foster, but like Foster, when he is on the field, he puts up elite running back numbers. In fact, Tate has a higher yards per carry average in his NFL career than Foster. So is Ben Tate an elite running back? Looking at it statistically, the answer is yes.  Time will tell as to whether or not Ben Tate is elite, but having a contract that is heavily performance based is a perfect way to see what he is capable of. The bottom line is it is simply unfair to group elite running back status with the overused and misunderstood term “injury prone.”

Unfinished business: Cleveland Indians with a ton to prove

Our team goes into the 2014 season coming off of a playoff (yeah I know it was one game but that’s the system) appearance, a surprising 10 game run at the end of the season and an off-season of more losses than gains. The baseball world is only focused on the losses in the off-season. Ubaldo is gone and so is Scott Kazmir. Joe Smith is an Angel. Our biggest acquisition David Murphy is a veteran but the excitement of the winter of 2012-2013 is gone. It is easy to predict that the Indians will not beat out Detroit for the tops in the division but most predictors have the Royals finishing a close second and our Tribe taking third.

This team has to love the position they are in. No one outside of the city expects anything out of them. The fans always have high expectations and as you listen to the team talk this spring training they feel like they are ready to make a run as well. If the talent on this team shows through, the Indians will make a run and potentially beat out the Tigers for the division.

Without question the starters performed above expectations last season. Ubaldo came back to his early 2010 self, Kazmir had a rebirth, however more importantly the young pitchers performed very well. A rotation of Masterson, Kluber, McAllister, Salazar and (insert 5th starter here) is not going to be tops in the league but will be more than serviceable. All the pitchers have swing and miss stuff and have had success in the big leagues. More importantly, the entire group has something to prove. Masterson wants to show he deserves Homer Bailey level money. The younger guys are trying to establish themselves as staples in the big leagues. Kluber, McAllister, Salazar and the rest should all have the fire in their belly to make everyone to forget about Ubaldo and Kazmir.

The bullpen was the weakness of the club last season. This season, if Axford can anchor the bullpen and be the reliable closer he can be the bullpen has a shot of being back near the top. Pestano will make a huge difference as well. Allen and Shaw will have to duplicate or improve on their performance from last year. Again, this group is just young enough to have that desire to prove to everyone that they belong. Will that be enough to cement games in the end? Only time will tell.

The lineup is my biggest place of hope. This offense will continue to get better. Carlos Santana not being behind the plate will not only help the team defensively but Carlos hits 40 points higher when he is not behind the plate. The wear and tear and the mental preparation that catching requires obviously effects Carlos’s offense as well. This year as the 3B/DH he should be able to stay strong and hit for a higher average. Swisher, Bourn and Cabrera all performed below their career statistics.  However, they somehow were able to finish 5th in the AL in runs scored.  Yes, the Tribe lacks the 40 HR guy in their lineup but all of the players in the lineup mesh together very well.

The secret ingredient in all of this is the near miss last year and the lack of respect that this team is getting nationally. I don’t think it is something that will ever come up with the media but behind closed doors this team has to be excited about everyone overlooking them. The talent is there and so is the depth. The leadership on and off the field is there. Now, the time has come for the Indians to get everyone talkin’ Tribe.

Today’s Spring Training Indian Player Capsules

Michael Bourn getting ready for big year

Michael Bourn getting ready for big year

More capsule summaries and updates from Goodyear. Enjoy.

UPDATE Josh Tomlin: Super encouraging outing. Very good command and deception with all pitches. Looked like Tomlin at his best before injury. I think two homers at end might have been fatigue. Although we do know Josh is prone to solo homers. He needs to make staff somewhere. If not, first call up when pitching needed.

UPDATE Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw: Sharp again and I am confident baring injury that they can lock down 7th and 8th innings. I assume Shaw 7th and Allen 8th with situational lefty as needed.

David Aardsma: Threw well today and earlier also. He has high level ML experience and is a long shot to make the club. But it would not be completely shocking if he did depending on other factors moving forward. He is solid depth, but I think if Indians cut him he will sign with another team.

Yan Gomes: This young man is fundamentally sound in every way. He has a solid approach at the plate and I think his hitting will be an asset. More importantly, he calls a good game and is awesome at controlling the running game. Thank you Toronto and Esmil Rogers!

Jason Kipnis: Has been sharp in the field and not at the plate. Seems to be struggling with his plate discipline. He goes through stretches like this and it seems to be a pattern. But the flip side is that he gets red hot and hits everything in sight. If you watch Kipnis enough you can see if he is locked in by how many off speed pitches in the dirt he lays off. When he doesn’t swing at those, he is usually hitting well. I am not concerned and I don’t think you should be either.

Asdrubal Cabrera: He looks good and is showing good plate discipline. When he does that, he gets more than his fair share of hits. I expect in this contract year Asdrubal will do well.

Nick Swisher: Hitting the ball fairly well but many are “atom” balls. He did not hit one ball in the games I saw with any power. So that might be a slight concern but it is too early to tell.

Michael Bourn: Struggling at the plate but not in the field. He has shown good speed but still no inclination to steal bases. I still think Michael will come back with a stronger offensive year and more disruption on the bases. He is coming off minor leg surgery so building slowly this spring is logical.

Expect more on Sunday. None for tomorrow. Traveling back home.