Saturday, December 22, 2012

How the Eagles lost their wings

Not a soul can pinpoint exactly when or how it happened.  Did it happen after the Eagles gave the Cowboys their first playoff win in umpteen years and in doing so being the first time the Reid-McNabb regime went one-and-done in the playoffs?  Did it happen upon trading Donovan McNabb?  Keep in mind that McNabb is still the last Eagle quarterback to win a playoff game.  Did it happen after inking Michael Vick to a rather substantial contract?  What about that "dream team" blather being uttered by back-up QB, Vince Young?  I believe it was a combination of all of these events and then some.

The End of an Era

I to this day believe there has been no quarterback who has received more undeserved criticism than Donovan McNabb.  From the day he was drafted he was booed which would eerily foreshadow what was to come.  I get it, the guy didn't get it done.  He didn't bring a Super Bowl to the City of Brotherly Love, but there is no doubt McNabb had a positive impact (much more positive than negative) on that franchise.  You talk about a man who was the subject of an abundance of criticism throughout his career that one could think that he was a criminal.

The 1-4 record in NFC Championship games are well-documented.  The throwing up in the Super Bowl is well-documented.  He didn't get it done.  It's simple and I get that, but at the end of the day, the man was responsible for a gargantuan amount of regular season success.  Sporting a 98-62-1 regular season record, won nine playoff games (9-7), won four NFC East crowns (not including 2006 led by Jeff Garcia), and he did it all with respectable numbers.  There is no telling what the Eagles could have done if he didn't have multiple seasons derailed by injuries.  He also made the Pro Bowl six times.  This was by no means a scrub.

The guy could play professional football yet at the end of the day, it was never enough.  He couldn't get it done and was eventually ran out of town after a defeat at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys.  It wasn't just that the Eagles lost, it was the fact that they were blown out by a team who hadn't sniffed a playoff win in over a decade and at the same time was the first time ever Reid and McNabb went one-and-done together.  The marriage was over and they would trade him to Washington Redskins.  In hindsight, it appears as if the Eagles made the right decision seeing as how McNabb's career would end, but I don't believe Washington and Minnesota were good fits for him.  I believe McNabb had another good two years left in him had he spent them with Philly.  However, Philly seemed to believe that Kevin Kolb was their savior so they turned to him.  Which I believe was one of many mistakes and contributed to the fall of the Eagles.

The Return of Mike Vick

Vick literally bailed out the Eagles in 2010 and it started in Week 1 after Kolb was injured against the Packers and Vick would engineer a near-comeback win.   A season mired by injury, Kevin Kolb would be relieved by Mike Vick who would go on to go 8-3 as the Eagles starter.  He would have by far the best season of his career.  Leading them to an NFC East crown.  Finishing with a 21:6 TD:Int ratio with over 3000 yards passing, over 600 yards rushing with 9 rushing TDs, and a 100.2 QB rating.  Although it wouldn't end well seeing as they lost to those same Packers again in the Wildcard.  The Packers would go on to win the Super Bowl and Eagle fans were left wondering 'what could have been' once again.  It would lead to an offseason that would once again end up being a huge mistake.

Trying to Buy a Championship

Over the years it's been proven that you just can't buy championships.  The Washington Redskins have proven that and so have the Dallas Cowboys.  Building through the draft (or undrafted free agents) has always been the blueprint to building a championship team.  The Eagles would add themselves to that exclusive list of trying to buy a championship and failing.  Not only did they give Mike Vick a huge payday, but they would give a huge contract to Nnamdi Asomugha.  They also handed out contracts to Cullen Jenkins, Vince Young, Ronnie Brown, and Jason Babin.  It seemed as if every time you looked up, the Eagles landed a coveted free agent.  In hindsight, it has proven to be a mistake just as it happened with previous teams.  Trying to buy a title can lead to chemistry issues and guys being handed starting jobs without truly working hard for it.  Competition within camp is always the best way to build an organization and when you are bringing in high-priced free agents, it's hard to achieve that.

As it also happens, Mike Vick came down to earth from his 2010 season.  In 2011, he looked nothing like the Vick from the previous season and he couldn't stay healthy either.  The wheels had already fallen off after 2011.  Vick's downward spiral would continue into the 2012 season, and now he's lost his job because he was predictably injured again and even when he was healthy, he was turning the ball over way too much.


What ran rampant in the preseason of 2011 was a certain dream team remark by Vince Young.  As a diehard Cowboy fan, I know all about entitlement.  You think you have a team good enough to win a Super Bowl so you become entitled and think you deserve it.  Completely disregarding the fact that you have to go out there and win football games.  That's been the Dallas Cowboys for years.  Thinking that just because they are America's Team and have a storied history, that teams will just lay down and the championships will just continue to pile up.  The Eagles thought because they had one of the most talented teams in the NFL and were due for a Super Bowl run, meant that they should become some sort of a dynasty.  This is the NFL and the other teams just happen to be professional too.  This isn't a watered-down sport and it's any given Sunday.  It may not have been Young's intentions, but he put a huge target on the Eagles back and put unrealistic expectations on the shoulders of men who weren't ready for it.  Not only that, but Vick's comments regarding a dynasty was over the top as well and it illustrated once again that this team had a sense of entitlement.


Through it all, I believe the fall of the Eagles happened mainly because of trading McNabb, trying to buy a championship, and their sense of entitlement.  Not only that, Andy Reid's firing has been long overdue.  It's not that Andy Reid isn't a great coach because he is.  Only God knows where the Eagles would be had he not signed on to be the head coach in 1999.  The bottom line is you just can't keep a job in this league as long as Andy Reid has without getting it done on the big stage.  It's just the way it is.  I'll be the first one to tell you that I'm not a big fan of coaches being fired, but it's time for a change in Philly.  The Eagles have lost their wings in the way the Cowboys did after Jimmy Johnson.  Making bad personnel decisions, having bad drafts, giving out bad contracts, and walking around with an undeserved sense of entitlement.  But at least with the Cowboys, they won Super Bowl rings before they fell off a cliff.  The Eagles didn't win a single Super Bowl after winning the division six times since 2001, going to four straight NFC titles games (2001-2004) and a Super Bowl berth (2004), not to mention another NFC title appearance in 2008.  It's just a damn shame, and now the Eagles will fly off to irrelevance for an extended period of time.  Fly, fly, fly, fly.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Orlando sends a huge message to the Lakers

It wasn't just that the Lakers lost to Orlando, it was in the manner that they lost.  Dwight hilariously misses 12 free throws.  Kobe tries his best to carry the Lakers to a victory and fails yet again(And by the way, his defense is absolutely atrocious now).  The Lakers get a 40 spot hung on them in the 4th quarter.  A quarter where a team that aspires to win an NBA championship, should absolutely out-execute a lottery team.  What makes this loss so alarming is this is the Orlando Magic.  Yeah, that team who sent a flustered Dwight Howard in a 4-team trade to the Lakers while getting almost nobody of substance in return.  On this night, it seems as if they made the right decision.  Ironically, Arron Afflalo(you know one of the main pieces they got in return) absolutely destroyed the Lakers.  The Lakers tonight got a nice dose of karma if you ask me. 

That game couldn't have possibly played out any more perfectly if you are a Magic fan.  The Magic use the Hack-a-Howard strategy that was successful late in the game.  Howard misses his FTs and the Magic follows that up by making 3s on the other end.  Through it all, Pau Gasol was watching from the sidelines down the stretch in which I believe was an absolutely horrible coaching move.  Love D'Antoni, but there is no way you can justify to me that Antawn Jamison is superior to Pau Gasol.  He just can't.  Even more shocking considering they were intentionally fouling Dwight down the stretch.  Pau is one of their best players.  I don't care how bad he's playing, there's no excuse for playing the career-loser Antawn Jamison over him.

This is easily the worst loss of the season for the Lakers and easily Orlando's best win.  The game perfectly illustrated what I've been saying about the Lakers all along:  Kobe is too old to carry this team as evidence of the Lakers being 1-6 in games where he scores at least 30 points this season.  Dwight's maturity is in question and he can't knock down free throws to save a child's life.  There was no defense in sight once again.  You can thank D'Antoni for that.  Nash will not fix this team.  He will only assuage the problem by helping them win more regular season games, but it won't translate to playoff success.

The Lakers are in huge trouble and the fact that they lost to this team of all teams sent a huge message.  Christmas came early for Orlando and the nightmare season for the Lakers continues.  A loss that comes merely two days after having one of their best offensive performances of the season.  My head is telling me that they will turn their season around and win over 50 games, but what they can do in the playoffs is all that really matters in the grand scheme of things.  My opinion hasn't changed, this team is a second round exit at best and I'm seriously leaning towards a first round exit.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Dwight Howard must mature for the Lakers to be a title contender

Dwight finished with a 28-20 line against the Nuggets Friday.
Amid the Lakers shooting clinic against the Nuggets in Friday's night's late game, I noticed something:  Pau Gasol put up another yawn-worthy line and Kobe Bryant was almost a non-factor aside from passing.  A brilliant shooting performance from beyond the arc assuaged real problems that the Lakers have.  Pau Gasol's lack of production is a combination of aging and not fitting well in D'Antoni's offense, and Kobe won't be able to carry them night in and night out.  You could see Kobe was playing with dead legs despite the fact that he had multiple days off to shake the flu and get ready.  Granted, Kobe will try his best to carry them when they need him to and if he has the energy to do so, but I don't believe he will be able to when they need it most.  That was evident in the loss against the Indiana Pacers at home when he scored 40 points w/ 10 turnovers in a losing effort.  With all due respect, if Kobe is scoring 40 points, the Lakers have no business losing.  Not when you have Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard on the same squad.  So, they lost to a Granger-less Pacers squad with Kobe, Pau, and Dwight?  That is unacceptable.

Tonight's hot shooting performance will certainly calm down some antsy Laker fans and it gave a glimpse as to what this offense has the potential to be under D'Antoni but make no mistake about it, this is not a championship caliber team. When you bring in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to go with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, you are supposed to be poised for a title run.  The Lakers clearly aren't ready for a title run.  Hell, they aren't ready to make it past the 2nd round.

Certainly, the jury is still out on what this team could do because Steve Nash has yet to lace em up since D'Antoni took over, but you can clearly see the flaws they have.  Tonight was a lot of theatricality and deception, masking the deficiencies that this team has.  Deficiencies that were exposed in the aforementioned battle against the Indiana Pacers.  The lights-out shooting with an abundance of three-point attempts are something we have all grown accustomed to with a D'Antoni offense, but what has his scheme ever led to in the grand scheme of things?

They can't guard the paint even with a dominant defensive presence like Dwight.  Point guards are breaking down their defense way too easily, Kobe is not the defensive player he once was, Metta World Peace is gambling for steals too much, and Pau Gasol almost looks as if he's playing goalie defense waiting for the ball to come to him instead of going to it and contesting the shot.  So when you bring back Nash, who can't guard a door, things could get much worse.  No-defense basketball doesn't win in the playoffs and D'Antoni has proven that and with Nash leading the way.  I don't care if Nash comes back and averages 10 assists a game, Kobe scores his 27 a game, Dwight gets his 20 and 10, Pau gets his 15 and 10, Peace gets his 12-15 points, Jamison gets his 12-15 points, and they average over 120 points a game, it still won't translate in the playoffs.

And just in case you didn't notice, the players I just named off excluding Dwight are only 38, 34, 32, 33, and 36 years-old.  (No kidding).  You think those guys can run at this pace for a full season and still have enough gas in the tank for the playoffs?  This must be some kind of sick joke, right?  Absolutely not.  Anyone with an IQ above room temperature can see this Laker team is not going far in the playoffs with the way this roster is assembled.  They can compete in the West and with luck could win the West, but they are not beating the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.  No way no how unless something drastically happens.

The drastic I'm talking about is Dwight Howard maturing.  Not only physically, but mentally.  If you watched tonight's game, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  He looked as if he was having a little too much fun out there.  Acting like a goofball, shooting a 3 at the end of the game, and generally just behaving like a little kid on the court.  That's Dwight for you.  Yes, he had an outstanding game, but Dwight always has those big games.  This is nothing new.  Those games are nice, but we saw from tonight is not what the Lakers need. 

The Lakers need Dwight to be a bully.  They need him to be mean.  To play with some seriousness.  To play with a chip on his shoulder.  To play like someone who just hates the world.  To play like he hates everybody.  To play like he thinks everybody is after him and trying to impede him from getting where he wants to go.  That's what the Lakers need from him.   Being nice is cute, but that doesn't win championships.  You are in LaLa land now big guy.  The time for playing is over.  They expect championships down there.  You are a long way from Orlando.  If he thought the media storm in Orlando was something, he hasn't seen anything yet.  It wouldn't hurt if he would make some free throws either.  The guy has been flat out atrocious from the line this season.  If your free throw percentage is lower than your field goal percentage, it's time to have a Come-To-Jesus-Meeting.  Also, he needs to eliminate the careless turnovers, and they need him to become a consistent passer out of the post instead of a blackhole.

These same things have been said about Dwight for years so unfortunately for the Lakers, this probably will never be who Dwight is.  Dwight just wants everybody to love him.  He's a fun-loving guy who's a big kid at heart.  Nothing is wrong with that, but he needs killer instinct if he wants to win a title with this team.  Think back to Shaq's early days.  He was the same way.  Having too much fun, being immature, tearing down basketball goals during games and just trying to dunk over everybody.  When Shaq started winning championships, he mostly cut out the immaturity.  Yes, he would still play and joke around off the court, but on the court, he became a bully.  He would foul people hard intentionally, and he would use his big frame to get away with fouls that no player should get away with.  He would even take shots at teams like the Sacramento Kings by coining the "Queens" phrase.  Shaq became a mean player, an adept passer, and most importantly, he knocked down his free throws when he needed to.

That's what the Lakers need from Dwight, because Kobe at the age of 34 on bad knees with a boatload of playoff games on his legs isn't carrying this team to a title.  Pau is declining and the offense doesn't even suit him to begin with.  Jamison doesn't know what it takes to win considering he's always been on losing teams.  Metta World Peace is a walking ticking time bomb.  Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake will only give them so much.  Nash plays no defense whatsoever and he's already experiencing injuries since leaving the Suns, who famously have one of the best medical staffs in the league.  He has missed 14 games for the Lakers.  That's noteworthy considering he missed only 37 games from the time he joined the Phoenix Suns in 2004 and left last season.  By the time Nash comes back, he will have missed nearly 20 games.  Which means he would have already missed nearly half the amount of games for the Lakers than he did his entire time as a Phoenix Sun.  Certainly, age is a contributing factor, but also not having that outstanding medical staff is making a difference as well.

The Lakers have a lot of things going against them:  Age, chemistry, maturity, and a coach with no emphasis on defense whatsoever.  It's hard to see this Laker team making it past the second round.  Wouldn't be at all shocked if they were a first round exit.  The only way the Lakers can go far is if Dwight matures and becomes a meaner and smarter basketball player.  There is nothing wrong with everybody hating you.  That is something Dwight needs to understand.  If nobody is hating you, then you aren't doing something right.  Make them hate you to the point where they have no choice but to love you.  That's what Michael Jordan did.  That's what Magic and Bird did.  That's especially what Bill Russell did at a time where civil rights was in question.  Russell made the city of Boston love him despite his skin color, and he did it by winning.  If he can do it during a time like that, then why can't Dwight do it now?  Just win, Dwight, just win and they'll love you forever.  No matter what it takes.