Thursday, June 29, 2006

It's Been a Long Time, I Shouldn't Have Left You
By Zach

Folks, it's been a crazy six weeks since I graduated from college. As such, I've had limited time to devote to posting. I'd like to thank T-Bone and Ben (as well as the rest of the crew) for carrying things while I've been busy. I'm not quite out of the woods, but I can see the end, so hopefully I'll be back soon...with a vengance!

Anyhow, there's so much to say about the world of sports, but here are a few things that are on my mind:

-Before the season, Ben told me the Mariners would be a .500 team. I was far less hopeful: I figured they'd be slightly better than last year but not much. Well, as of today they're 40-39, 2 games out of first place in the AL West, and they have the best run differential in the division. They're on a serious roll at the moment, having won 18 of their last 25 games. The offense has been on fire in June, as Adrian Beltre is finally playing like the guy the Mariners thought they were getting, Kenji Johjima and Raul Ibanez are streaking as well, and Ichiro is, well, Ichiro!. Plus, the Mariners have perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the bullpen in the AL with Rafael Soriano (10.8 K/9) and JJ Putz (13.5! K/9, 1.38 FIP).

The concerns are as follows: Richie Sexson is still underproducing, though he too has been better in June. Carl Everett is a gaping hole in the lineup, as is Jeremy Reed. The starting pitching is not very good: Felix has been good in June, but beyond that you've got the 43-year-old Moyer, the mediocre Washburn, a slightly-better Gil Meche, and the atrocious Joel Pineiro. Plus, there's the fact that the same group of guys played pretty poorly for the first two or so months of the season, which means it's certainly possible that they could regress down the road.

But the fact is, both logic and stats combine to tell you that this team is a contender, at least for the AL West crown. More to the point, it means meaningful baseball in June and July for the first time in a few years. Plus, with so many young players stepping up (Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt, among others), it feels like this is merely the beginning for the Mariners.

-God I love the NBA Draft, especially when it's as unpredicatable as yesterday's was. I thought Portland made out very well, considering they got the top two players on my draft board. Yes, it cost them Sebastian Telfair to get Brandon Roy, but he's more ready to play at this point than Telfair. He and Aldridge will contribute right away, though it remains to be seen if the Blazers will be much better than last year.

My Sonics, on the other hand, took Saer Sene, a seven-footer from Senegal with a 7-8 wingspan who just learned how to make layups a year ago. Considering we've taken raw seven-footers with our first pick in each of the previous two drafts, I'm a bit uncertain about this one. Yes, the top tier of players was gone, but I'd have been happy with Ronnie Brewer or Rodney Carney, either of whom could fill an immediate need. They did grab the intriguing Denham Brown in the second round, and he may have a chance to earn a bit of PT as Ray Allen's back-up. But I can't be the only Sonics fan who was disappointed that they didn't draft Villanova's Allen Ray...come on, the potential for amusement was so great.

And then there's the Knicks: I was chanting "unknown Euro, unknown Euro" as David Stern stepped to the podium...and I was half right. I'm sure Knick fans can sum up their rage better than I can, but when at most 2% of the people in your fan base knew who this guy was, and he played four years of college basketball in a major conference, I think you maybe made a bit of a reach. Even better, no one on the ESPN broadcast even tried to defend the pick.

While we're on the topic of Isiah Thomas, two thoughts: first, the Knicks will be better than 23-59 last year. As Ben and I have mentioned numerous times, the talent level on the team is too high for them to play that poorly, which means the blame rests with Larry Brown more than anyone else. Of course, that doesn't mean Isiah has done a good job. What's he's done is created a team that, with the right style of play could be a poor man's Phoenix Suns, which means they can compete for the last playoff spot or two in the Eastern Conference. The problem is, there's no room for growth beyond that because even the Suns have yet to get over the hump and they have three players (Nash, Marion, and Stoudemire) who are better than anyone on the Knicks. Isiah has merely locked the team into a future of mediocrity, but at least he'll have them play the way they were meant to, based on the talent they assembled.

Second, am I the only one who thinks that Michael Jordan is the next Isiah Thomas? First, look at his resume with the Wizards: traded Rip Hamilton for Jerry Stackhouse, mostly because Hamiliton wasn't endlessly deferential to MJ. Drafted Kwame Brown then undermined his confidence before he turned 20. Taking Adam Morrison was decent enough, but there's a reason that so few star players get involved in coaching and/or management. It's one thing to be able to control the game on the court, but as a GM you have to realize that just because you were a great player doesn't mean you can dominate the league off the court. Jordan was notorious in DC for lowballing players and coaches, and for letting his ego do the thinking. His competitiveness made him a great player, but you have to work with people in the front office to make things work. Something tells me that by the end of his dalliance with the Bobcats we're going to think differently about Jordan then we do now.

-Finally, we're reaching a crossroads here at Sportszilla as we look to determine our future direction. If any of you regular readers out there have any suggestions about features you'd like to see, or questions you'd like answered, feel free to either leave a comment or drop an e-mail to sportszilla at gmail dot com.


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