Fire Ausmus? Fine. But Blame Avila.

I want to say right off the bat that I’m not going to die on my sword for Tigers’ Manager Brad Ausmus. No playoff wins in 3 full years, only one playoff appearance during that time, and a tumultuous roller coaster of ups and downs that have virtually culminated in, well, nothing. I suppose “nothing” is too harsh. How about “mediocrity”? And if something doesn’t happen soon, this team will be mediocre at best for the foreseeable future. I would argue that firing Ausmus may not be the answer.

Yes, all Tiger fans have the right to be angry, disappointed, sad, furious. But let’s get a few things straight — don’t be mad about the events that are transpiring now surrounding this team. The sweep at the hands of the Mariners, the hapless starting pitching, the horrific bullpen, the lack of offense? That’s right — you can’t be mad about those things. That’s baseball. Miguel Cabrera can’t get around on a fastball, Victor Martinez can’t run or hit anymore. We all saw this coming a year ago, and that’s why so many screamed and hollered for GM Al Avila to sell at the trade deadline last season. The writing was on the wall. The future didn’t look good so sell off parts that will get the rebuild going as quickly as possible. If that happened last July, we wouldn’t be having this discussion now. (And maybe you’d even be in position to keep J.D Martinez.)

If you want to be mad about something, be mad that Brad Ausmus has been given all of 3 (give or take) legitimate options to go to in his bullpen; be mad that it took an irregular heartbeat to get Victor Martinez out of the 4-hole; be mad that the team is still handcuffed with contracts to veterans who are too slow, too old, or too inconsistent; be mad that we as fans were told the team was going to dump payroll over the winter only to come into Spring Training with the same players — only now they’re a year older, a year slower, and a few years past their championship window.

If you want to place blame, send all hate mail to Al Avila.

I get it — fans want blood, they need a face to hate and be angry with. Ausmus is the easy target — not that he doesn’t deserve a fair amount of blame. So go ahead and put his head on a stick and hold it up in the air so fans can feel what ever feelings his firing will invoke in them. It’s irrational mostly — but, like I said, I’m not here to defend Brad Ausmus.

I will make this point, however: firing Brad Ausmus doesn’t change anything. Stick the interim tag on Omar Vizquel or Lloyd McLendon and see if that “lights a fire” under this team. Fine — good luck. Whether it’s Ausmus or anyone else at the helm, they aren’t going to change the roster that they are saddled with. So firing Ausmus now or in 3 months really is inconsequential in my opinion.

If you want to make a real move — a serious move that goes beyond just giving the fans something to hoot and holler about with an Ausmus beheading, then fire Avila. Now. You say how’s that any different than firing Ausmus? You ask can’t the same arguments used for keeping the manger around until October also be used for keeping Avila around for the remainder of the season? I say no.

Avila has had the chance to get this roster straight. He had all winter to find and sweet-talk other GMs into taking Justin Verlander’s contract or Cabrera’s. He could have gotten a deal done to get the contract of Ian Kinsler off the books. He could have set the roster up to either pay J.D. what he’s going to command as a free agent or Avila could have decided to trade him and get prospects that could help solidify the farm system. He had plenty of time, but he failed to do anything that even partially helped this team out. And now Brad Ausmus, the players, and we, the fans, are the ones paying for it.

Give the interim title to assistant GM David Chadd or Scott Bream, who heads up player personnel. Maybe neither get the power to make any significant changes to the roster this season (that’s for Chris Ilitch to decide), but neither could do any worse than Avila.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.

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2017 NBA Mock Draft

Get ready for a topsy-turvy, upside down, not-sure-how-we’ll-end-up-getting-through-the-night NBA Draft. If you thought the flurry of trades and trade rumors was wild over the last few days with Philadelphia trading up to the top spot with Boston and Dwight Howard relocating to his fifth NBA team as he moves to Charlotte, you haven’t seen nothing yet! Thursday night promises excitement, surprises, and some sure-fire head scratchers that leave us all wondering how some of these GMs got their jobs.

So before the big, fun-filled night begins, here’s my two cents on what might happen:

1. 76ers: PG Markelle Fultz, Washington

At least we get to start the evening with some predictability. The Sixers didn’t trade up to take a flyer on someone. They know Markelle Fultz, they like Markelle Fultz, and they’re going to draft Markelle Fultz. Pretty simple.

2. Lakers: PG Lonzo Ball, UCLA

A great passer who should make everyone on the floor better.

3. Celtics: SF Jayson Tatum, Duke

Tatum has been called the “most ready” player in this draft. Add him to a 50-win team? Celtics should be thrilled.

4. *PROJECTED TRADE – Knicks (from Suns): SF Josh Jackson, Kansas

This is contigent on Phil Jackson being serious about trading Kristaps Porzingis — and he sounds like he is. The Knicks like the Kansas star but likely will only get him if they trade up.

5. Kings: PG De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky

Maybe the best point guard in the draft, if you listen to some experts. The Kings are known for doing, well, shall we say “funny” things when it comes to player personnel. Not even they can screw this one up though. Right?

6. Magic: PF Jonathan Isaac, Florida St.

Orlando’s front office will love this pick if Isaac is available. And I see no reason he’s not.

7. Timberwolves: SG Malik Monk, Kentucky

I’m not too sure where Minnesota really wants to go with this selection. I think they’d love to trade it — Dallas or New York seem the obvious suitors. If not, Monk is the pick.

8. *PROJECTED TRADE – Mavericks (from Knicks): PF Lauri Markkanen, Arizona

The player in the draft who has been compared most often to Dirk Nowitzki. No surprise he ends up in Dallas.

9. *PROJECTED TRADE – Knicks (from Mavs): PG Dennis Smith, NC State

This is a position the Knicks must improve at. It’s Smith or the Frenchman, Frank Ntilikina.

10. *PROJECTED TRADE – Jazz (from Kings): SG Luke Kennard, Duke

Perhaps, the best shooter in the draft. Would be a great replacement for Gordon Hayward, if he leaves.

11. Hornets: G Frank Ntilikina, France

This would be a solid selection for Charlotte. Ntilikina could be a nice backcourt mate with Kemba Walker.

12. Pistons: G Donovan Mitchell, Louisville

Mitchell is tough and versatile. The Pistons shouldn’t pass him up. Although, they may choose one of the Collins kids here to add to their front court.

13. Nuggets: F OG Anunoby, Indiana

Denver is one of the best at scouting overseas.

14. Heat: SF Justin Jackson, North Carolina

Jackson can shoot and is versatile, but lacks great athleticism or else he’d be a top-10 pick.

15. Trail Blazers: PF/C John Collins, Wake Forest

Portland can’t keep and pay all their picks in the first round (they have 3). But this is one they should.

16. Bulls: G/F Terrance Ferguson, Australia

The Bulls will need a scorer — especially if Jimmy Butler is traded this offseason (or Draft night for that matter).

17. Bucks: C Zach Collins, Gonzaga

It’s a bit surprising the Zags big man is still on the board. I imagine the Bucks would scoop him up in a heartbeat.

18. Pacers: C Jarrett Allen, Texas

Super talented center, who’s athletic and long. Pacers need to start adding young talent — with the impending loss of Paul George.

19. Hawks: C Justin Patton, Creighton

Patton will replace Dwight Howard and his offensive skill set should have Atlanta very pleased.

20. *PROJECTED TRADE – Clippers (from Trail Blazers): C Bam Adebayo, Kentucky

Blazers will move at least one of their first round selections. I can see the Clippers jumping up to get a guy who fits the mold of the “new NBA center”. This is assuming DeAndre Jordan is shipped out of LA.

21. Thunder: PF T.J. Leaf, UCLA

Leaf is a big kid, who moves around well and can get out to the three-point arc. Should add a nice dimension to OKC’s offense.

22. Nets: PF/C Harry Giles, Duke

Risky pick with Giles’s history of knee trouble. But his talent cannot be questioned. And the Nets need to acquire talent.

23. Raptors: F Tyler Lydon, Syracuse

Toronto will likely need to reload on the wings with Kyle Lowry probably taking off this summer. Lyon can flat out shoot the 3.

24. PROJECTED TRADE – Kings (from Jazz): C Anzejs Pasecniks, Spain

Utah would give up this pick in order to move up to 10. The Kings are unpredictable.

25. Magic: F Semi Ojeleye, SMU

Long, versatile 3 or 4 fits the mold of what Orlando wants on their roster.

26. Trail Blazers: C Isaiah Hartenstei, Latvia

This is a pick that could (and likely would) remain overseas for a another couple years.

27. Lakers: PF D.J. Wilson, Michigan

A stretch 4 who can get his own shot.

28. Lakers: SG Josh Hart, Villanova

Lakers will not be afraid to shoot. Hart will contribute immediately.

29. Spurs: F Jonah Bolden, UCLA

The Spurs need another scorer who can stretch the floor a bit to compliment Kawhi Leonard.

30. PROJECTED TRADE – Kings (from Jazz): PF Jordan Bell, Oregon

His defensive presence and versatility is outstanding. His motor is always going. Although, he won’t contribute much as far as offense goes.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.

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With the Tigers’ Season on the Brink, Detroit Needs to Sell

Many called this at the end of last season. Others waited until the offseason ended with no major payroll dumps or significant changes. And the remaining fans (suckers, perhaps) are finally coming around.

The championship window has closed on the Detroit Tigers. In fact, it slammed shut and is locked without a key in sight to re-open it.

It’s hard to fathom that this team with the core it’s had in place for so long failed to capture a World Series title. But that’s how sports are. The ride was fun — meaningful baseball in late summer is a blast for fans and games in the fall are even better. But when the ride’s done, it’s done. The music fades, the people leave — there’s no sense in loitering around. Can’t help but feel like we’ve over-stayed our welcome — waiting, hoping that the rides picks back up again. But it hasn’t. And trust me, it won’t. (Look no further than the fact that Anibal Sanchez is starting tonight’s game in Seattle.)

I could run through the tangled mess of issues that will prevent this team from contending, but everyone’s heard them all — old age, injuries, gutted bullpen, underachieving starting pitching, out-of-this-world mega contracts to players who are unable to earn that type of money any more. We could all chime in and keep piling on; but what for? We know the problems with this team — and that’s step one. Now for step two, where do we go from here?

I propose a strategy made famous by George Constanza — a commitment to doing the opposite. Everything the Tigers have done for the last 10-plus years has been done with the goal in mind of winning now. Sign big-name free agents, trade for even bigger names at the trade deadline, pay the luxury tax penalty, go for it now!! But times are different and the outlook is as bleak as it’s been here in a while. Mr. I. is passed, the team is not what it’s been, and a change in philosophy is necessary.

So let’s do the exact opposite of what we’ve been doing: rather than buy and spend wildly, we need to sell — and sell everything. Wholesale changes — everything must go. If you’re nervous, that’s ok. But understand that this is the only way this organization will be even close to sniffing respectability within the next 5 years. Trading a piece here or a piece there will not do anything but continue to make the Tigers mediocre (at the very best) for longer than is desired by anyone.

The contracts of Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, alone, make it impossible for the Tigers to do anything flexible when it comes to finances. They have to find a way to convince a couple teams to take on those contracts. The closer we get to the trade deadline, the better chance a contender takes a shot at bringing one of those veterans on. The haul the Tigers get in return, however, will likely disappoint the average fan — but a few prospects and the mere fact of getting out from underneath those awful deals is all you can expect.

Jose Iglesius, Justin Wilson, Nicolas Castellanos, Alex Avila, and Ian Kinsler are all moveable pieces that will free up money and will make the Tigers younger.

Victor Martinez poses a more complicated problem — well, maybe not more complicated, but definitely a stickier situation. With V-Mart’s recent heart ailment, you wonder if retirement now creeps into the picture. That’d be the easy out for the Tigers. If not, though, who’s going to want a DH who can’t run, can’t hit for power (worst DH in the league based on slugging %), has an albatross of a contract, is nearly 40, and now has a bad ticker?

The team will still, obviously, need to figure out what to do — if anything can be done — with guys like Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton.

And if it all works out even halfway like I’m suggesting, the Tigers can position themselves similarly to the 2013 Houston Astros, who sold everything, dumped payroll, and turned themselves into a hapless team that barely won 50 games that year (51-111). It was bad for Houston for a while — got swept 18 times, were shut out in 18 games, struck out over 1,500 times. It was ugly — but there was light at the end of the tunnel. Management was committed to metrics and knew that the darkness was only temporary.

By 2015 the Astros were in the playoffs; and more importantly, the franchise was full of young, affordable talent that gave Houston financial flexibility. And look at them now — best record in MLB and Sports Illustrated’s pick to win the World Series.

I know — it’s all easier said than done. But a firesale is what this franchise needs. It’s the only answer, if the team wants to have more flexibility with it’s payroll and build it’s farm system.

But the longer the Tigers go without committing to that, the longer they will dangle in this state of winless, hopeless baseball, and the rebuild will be prolonged even longer.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.

 

 

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Are the 2016-17 Warriors the Best NBA Team Ever?

Now that the Golden State Warriors have captured their second NBA Championship in the last three years, it’s worth asking the question: Have we just witnessed the greatest single season in NBA history? The ’16-17 version failed to haul in 73 wins like the ’15-16 team did. Yet, when you start digging, the numbers tell a very powerful story.

I have to preface this, first, by explaining that I’m a product of the 80s. I grew up on Detroit Pistons Bad Boys basketball. I hated Michael Jordan (even refused to recognize the number 23 when counting in grade school, if I may hyperbolize). I often watch games today and get annoyed that offensive players are allowed so much freedom and go to the rim without so much as a finger being laid on them. I miss Robert Parrish, Bill Laimbeer, and Charles Oakley. That said, I can appreciate greatness — past greatness and current. And it cannot be denied, the Warriors we just watched represented some sort of greatness.

All I ask as you continue, check your heart and your gut at the door. Everyone already has their own feelings, beliefs, biases when it comes to greatness and debating who’s the best — at anything (me included). Here, though, we’re going to talk numbers. If we’re going to have a real discussion about which NBA team is the greatest of all-time, we can’t ignore our core beliefs and what we’ve seen on the court with our own eyes — I understand that. But numbers are powerful too — and we’d be remiss to not entertain them.

So let’s nail down some criteria:

1. Can we agree that the regular season record does mean something? No team with less than 60 wins can really be in this conversation. Remember, we’re not talking just “great”. We’re talking greatEST.

2. Dominance in the regular season. Strolling through a weak schedule on the way to 65 wins is fine for that particular team and they need not apologize — you play what’s on your schedule. But let’s be frank — tougher schedule means greater respect. We view those teams as a little stronger when you start the discussion of “greatest team ever”.

3. Playoff run. Regular season is one thing — and should count for something. But how a team plays against playoff teams means quite a bit also.

So, now, on to the numbers.

Regular Season

There have been 13 teams win 67 or more regular season games, including the last three Warriors’ teams. Nine of those teams won NBA championships (the ’16-17 Warriors, the ’14-15 Warriors, the ’99-00 L.A. Lakers, the ’95-96 Chicago Bulls, the ’96-97 Bulls, the ’91-92 Bulls, the 85-86 Boston Celtics, the ’71-72 Lakers, and the ’66-67 Philadelphia 76ers.

Seems like a fair jumping off point to start the discussion — 67-plus wins and a title.

Point Differential per Game (PDpG)

Wins and losses don’t always tell the full story. If the league happens to be “watered down” for a stretch, history ought to reflect that when discussing the best teams of that particular era.

Point differential per game (PDpG) is a good indicator how dominant a team was. A measure that takes this a step further is Basketball Reference’s simple rating system (SRS), which takes into account average point differential along with strength of schedule.

There have been only 11 teams in NBA history with a PDpG over 10, and 10 teams with a double-digit SRS — and by the way each of the last 3 Golden State teams are on that list. Add these two components to the formula and the list of 9 teams from above shrinks to 6 — the 2 Golden State teams, the 3 Chicago teams, and the Lakers of ’71-72.

Postseason

To get the full picture of just how dominant a team is often comes from how they perform when the lights are the brightest, the competition is at it’s toughest, and when the pressure is at it’s highest.

So to be the best of the very best, you have to not just win in the playoffs and walk away with a trophy, but you have to dominate the opponents. Historically-speaking, here’s the teams we’re looking at and where this Warriors team stacks up:

Add to it, the Warriors won 16 of their 17 playoff games — which comes out to being the best winning percentage in playoff history. They didn’t end up notching the first ever sweep of the postseason, but their margin of victory is only bested by the ’71 Bucks, who in all fairness played in an era that included only 20 total NBA teams — 3 of which won north of 50 games that year.

What Do the Numbers Say?

The numbers, the stats, the metrics all point to ’95-96 Bulls and the ’16-17 Warriors as the two stand-alone teams that are left when all the criteria gets flushed out. Both teams (1) posted 67 or more wins — which puts them immediately in the top 13 teams of all time as far as regular seasons go; (2) both won NBA titles — now they’re each in the top 9; (3) both dominated the playoffs like no other teams in history — sporting a PDpG of plus-10.

And now let the full-on debate begin: Michael Jordan’s Bulls of ’95-96 versus Kevin Durant and the Warriors of this past season. While the Bulls had the better regular season, the Warriors arguably just ran the playoff table more impressively than any team ever has in NBA history.

This is where we start to get a little nit-picky. The Bulls needed 6 games in the Finals to beat a 64-win Seattle team while the Warriors rolled through the heir to MJ’s throne — LeBron James — in only 5 games.

In the end, this debate has now become a bit more enticing to have. No longer is there an easy answer to this question.

Former Miami Dolphins running back Mercury Morris is known for being very dismissive of undefeated teams — as his 1972 Dolphins are the last to win the Super Bowl without a blemish on their record. He’s often said when asked about a team who’s 10-0, “Call me when they’re on my block”. In this case, the Warriors might be on the Bulls’ porch. Heck, they might own the house.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.

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