Reggie McKenzie/Al Davis/JaMarcus Russell/Rolando McClain; Stephen Curry/Rick Barry; Joe Lacob; Chris Culliver
RAIDERS GM Reggie McKenzie opened a pre-draft session with the media yesterday by saying,
“I know you guys want information for your stories and you know I’m not going to give you that.”
The only surprise in that statement was that he made it. No general manager will give the media any specific information at this point because (1) He doesn’t want to reveal his plans; and (2) He doesn’t know what’s going to happen on draft day, or just before.
In McKenzie’s case, the Raiders are sitting with the third pick in the draft but, though McKenzie only hinted at this, would like to trade it to get back the second-round pick that Hue Jackson gave up in the trade for Carson Palmer. He said he wasn’t initiating calls from other general managers but was getting them. Nobody was making any specific offers. That will come when the draft starts tomorrow, perhaps just before. A deal will have to be made quickly, obviously.
McKenzie gave no hint about what kind of deal he would require – again, he wouldn’t want to tip his hand, and he wants to see what’s out there.
He did say some interesting things. One was that much of the information out there is false, and even those who make a living out of predicting drafts don’t have the complete picture. That jibes with what I’ve learned from my own experience over the years. I doubt that anybody in the media was ever closer to a decision-maker than I was to Bill Walsh in the ‘80s, but Walsh never even gave me a clue to his drafting intentions. He often surprised others in the NFL with his maneuvers, on one hand drafting Jerry Rice, on the other trading down repeatedly to get multiple picks in 1986 – and still winding up with the top players he wanted. (Walsh would have loved this draft, which is deep without the star quality, meaning quarterbacks, at the top of the charts.)
So, all the mock drafts, whether in the regular media or by the bloggers, are only rough estimates of what will happen. There are some sure things – it was common knowledge that Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin would go 1-2 last year – but that’s a rarity. If the Raiders do make a trade, that will turn the draft projections upside down immediately.
What McKenzie did say was that he wanted, as often as possible, to draft “game changers” and build around them. He also wants to build a team of players who really want to be Raiders, not just mercenaries for hire. Though he didn’t say so, that’s exactly the 49ers model, too, and they’re much further along with it, as they’re systematically locking up high draft choices with extended contracts.
Interestingly enough, McKenzie said that he didn’t think the draft process was either too fast or too slow, but the period immediately after the final round, when teams try to sign undrafted players they had spotted earlier, can get very frantic. McKenzie and his scouts found a keeper last year in receiver Rod Streater.
McKenzie’s challenge is a formidable one, as a comprehensive article in Sports Illustrated last week by NFL writer Jim Trotter, showed. I’ve known for a long time that the operation had turned sour in Al Davis’s final years, but I didn’t know exactly how bad it was.
All power was in Davis’s hands, which I knew and wrote, and the only ones who survived were the ones who kissed the ring regularly. One of those was Amy Trask, an extremely smart woman but who could be as vicious as Davis. She’s still there, running the non-football operations and doing a very good job. I thought her idea of closing off some of the seats to make it easier to get close enough to a sellout to be on home TV, was an excellent one. Mike Taylor was another one, the official PR director who remained only because he would make the calls when Davis wanted to scold a writer or TV reporter for something critical of the great man. Those covering the club always went to the assistant PR man when they needed something. Taylor is still there, sending out announcements about public service events, but the Raiders now have a well-staffed and professional public relations department.
The real sign that the Raiders were operating in quicksand was when Michael Lombardi was fired. Lombardi – now working for NFL.com – was a real professional. I talked to him off-the-record because any employe who was quoted would almost certainly be fired, but Lombardi was speaking up privately, so Davis could not have that.
I was critical of Davis for not looking at the character of his high draft picks, but I didn’t know that he wouldn’t even look at the psychological profiles the NFL had drawn up of potential early round picks. Had he done that, he might not have drafted JaMarcus Russell. On the other hand, he might have still done it. He always believed his judgment was superior to everybody’s. The Raiders also did not subscribe to the NFL scouting service, and his own scouting staff deteriorated in size and judgment.
McKenzie inherited this mess – and a payroll that was a league-high $31 million over the cap. He has had to get rid of 38 of the 53 players who were under contract at the time.
Some writers have been critical of McKenzie. I am not one of them. I think he’s going about this in the right way and that he will build a winning team. And we won’t be reading about his players in jail. He got rid of Rolando McClain just in time
THE WARRIORS seemed to be doomed when they lost their star power forward, David Lee, to injury in the loss to Denver in the opening round of the playoffs but they rebounded nicely in the second game in Denver, behind the deadly shooting of Stephen Curry, a bigger contribution from rookie Harrison Barnes and a revised lineup that had Jarrett Jack as small forward, with Barnes at Lee’s position. Basically, it was a three-guard system.
That reminded me of Don Nelson’s playoff teams with the Warriors. Nellie always seemed to come up with a strategic wrinkle that baffled the opposing coach, mostly because most NBA coaches just roll out the basketball for the players. To say the NBA is a players league is understating it.
Nelson’s strategies seldom seemed to work beyond the opening round, though, because his teams always had a basic flaw: without a strong presence in the middle, they couldn’t stop anybody on defense.
At least potentially, this Warriors team is better defensively, when Andrew Bogut is in the lineup. Bogut gives the Warriors the type of inside presence on defense they haven’t had since Clifford Ray and George Johnson were dividing time on the 1975 championship team, the one and only NBA title the Warriors have ever won.
But no, I’m not predicting that this year’s team will win the title. In fact, despite their win in Denver, I still think the Warriors will lose in this round of the playoffs, though I think they’ll make it exciting to the end. Stephen Curry was other-worldly in the win last night and, though Curry is very good, he can’t be that good in every game. He’s not Rick Barry, who was at the absolute top of his game in 1975.
What’s important for the Warriors at this stage is that they build on this year’s success with solid drafts and sensible trade/free agent moves. That’s how general manager Bob Myers did it this year, and I’m sure from his comments last week that he’s already thinking how he can improve this team.
SAVE THE BAY: San Franciso politicians, fearful that the monstrosity that Warriors owner Joe Lacob wants to build on the waterfront will be stopped by more sensible people, are trying an end run. A bill proposed by San Francisco assemblyman Phil Ting would 1) Give the State Lands Commission a pass on having to approve the project: 2) Modify the rules to make it harder for the environmentally sensitive Bay Conservation and Development commission to veto the project; and 3) Make it tougher for neighborhood opponents to challenge the project in court.
This is very bad legislation on many fronts. San Franciscans have been environmentally conscious since the plan to build a freeway cutting through the city from north to south was defeated in the ‘60s. San Francisco would be a much different city, and not nearly so attractive, if that freeway had been built. All in the name of progress, of course.
When the Embarcadero freeway came down, it opened up the waterfront and that whole area now is a wonder, with people walking, cycling, driving through it. When the new Bay Bridge is ready – if ever! – there will be another visual sight with the artistic light display on the bridge.
So, why is this monstrosity being built to block out the view?
There was an Op-Ed piece in The Chronicle last week describing the Marina. There is nothing taller than two stories on the edge of the Marina and, of course, the Marina Green is wide open, which affords a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The writer envisioned by east shore of San Francisco mirroring that, with a park where the piers are now on which Lacob wants to build his monument to himself.
Earlier in San Francisco’s history, in the ‘50s, a group of well-connected women fought the plan to fill in the bay, so more houses could be built on the fill. Progress, of course. Can there be anyone in the Bay Area now who thinks that would have been a good idea?
I’m hoping the State legislators will realize this move by Ting is not only bad in itself but sets a terrible precedent. There have been many assaults on the environment in the name of progress. We don’t need another, especially since there are other areas in San Francisco where this structure could be built, without damaging the environment.
BASEBALL STREAKS: One of these writers who doesn’t seem to look very deeply at the statistics he’s viewing downplayed the Anaheim Angels bad start this year, pointing to several streaks, winning and losing, for teams last year which had little effect on the teams’ standing.
We all know that it’s always true in baseball that teams will have long winning or losing streaks that don’t mean much. The longest winning streak of all time was 26 by the 1916 New York Giants – who finished fourth in an eight-team league, seven games out of first place.
But, there’s another factor with the Angels’ slow start: This is exactly how they started last year, when they failed to make the playoffs.
This year, owner Artie Moreno made another big splash by signing Josh Hamilton, but he again failed to bolster his pitching staff significantly. Apparently, he didn’t notice that there was nothing wrong with the Angels’ offense last season. Adding Hamilton was really overkill, and it may even be counter-productive because Hamilton seems to be overswinging, trying too hard to justify his contract.
Meanwhile, the A’s have a payroll that is higher only than Houston and Miami, whose owners make the Lew Wolff/John Fisher ownership look good in comparison. Or, perhaps not so bad is a more accurate description. General manager Billy Beane has done a very good job of finding good players and pitchers at a reasonable price. And, though some wondered about the wisdom of bringing Bartolo Colon back, that move looks pretty good at the moment.
I just wonder what Moreno will do if the Angels fail to make the playoffs this year. He apparently blamed the media for their woes last year, so he moved the press box to an upper level location down the right field line, where some of the field cannot be viewed. What’s next? The parking lot? Look in the mirror, Artie, if you want to know who’s really to blame.
BAD NEWS CHRIS: The 49ers young and shockingly immature cornerback, Chris Culliver, found himself in the middle of another controversy last week. Apparently he hasn’t learned anything from the backlash from his pre-Super Bowl comment that he wouldn’t want gay teammates. Last week, he tweeted messages that several times referred to women as “Hos” and “Bitches.” What rock did this guy crawl out from under? The 49ers should cut him immediately, and the NFL should make him enroll in sensitivity training classes before he can return to the playing field. Yes, there are legal issues here, but the NFL should be on the right side of an issue for a change.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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