It’s not often you get to commend the Washington Wizards for smart basketball decisions. But by trading away the remaining core of their best players, sabotaging their immediate future and helping their biggest rival become Finals eligible, call me crazy but I kind of like it. I didn’t agree when they gave $111 million to a guy with no agent and one good knee. I didn’t agree when they traded last year’s top five draft pick for a pair of reserves and I hated it when they fired coach Eddie Jordan after 11 games to start last season.
I could always throw in the Kwame Brown thing, but that would be just going for the jugular there. However, I do like what Washington did in last week’s fire sale though. It’s going to be hard seeing ex-Wizards Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison in opposing colors and somewhere in some local barbershop right now, there’s still an angry mob spewing verbal shots at Wizards president Ernie Grunfield.
But, you have to understand the courtesy of the Wizards moves, not the lunacy. Grunfield didn’t just close the book on the Wizards. He paid salute to the long serving members of a steadily sinking ship by offering them first class life preservers out of town. Jamison, Butler, Brendan Haywood and to a lesser extent, DeShawn Stevenson, have been depositing their services to a bank that’s been closed for years now and it’s time for them to cash out.
Through all the disappointing losses, questionable decisions and lackluster attitudes from their teammates, they were the constant. They were the unvarying factors you knew you could count on nightly. You knew Jamison and Haywood would churn out double-doubles game in and game out. You knew Butler would find a straw to chew on and leave his heart out on the floor in the process. And you knew Stevenson would miss about six threes before fanning his face when the seventh dropped in. You knew this!
You respected it, you appreciated it and you still wondered why Washington couldn’t beat the Indianas, Milwaukees and Minnesotas of the league, Gilbert Arenas or no Gilbert Arenas. By shipping Haywood, Butler and Stevenson to Dallas and Jamison to Cleveland, Grunfield basically said: “Thanks for everything guys, sorry it didn’t work out here, now go enjoy the remaining years of your prime playing for contenders.”
It was a classy move by Grunfield and probably the only thing he could do after Arenas tied his hands behind his back. But Arenas isn’t the sole one to blame here. His penchant to emulate Rambo wasn’t the deciding factor that ruined the Wizards season (they were 10-20 and in last place in the Southeast Division at the time). Things were never all that great when Washington’s big three were in their hay day and it was foolish to expect things to get better after three surgeries to Arenas’ knee and another three years on Jamison’s driver license since Arenas went down initially.
Washington’s big three were never going to outlast Boston’s version. Haywood was never going to be able to handle Orlando’s Dwight Howard and Washington was never going to trump the King in Cleveland. So Grunfield blew it up. And although he’s gone on record and committed to Arenas returning next year (hold the phones before you invest your 401 into that), with $80 million remaining on Arenas’ contract, he might not have a choice.
The Wizards and their fans will now look towards newcomers Al Thornton and Josh Howard for inspiration. They’ll cheer for holdovers Andray Blatche, Randy Foye and Mike Miller. And they’ll pray the light comes on for Nick Young and JaVale McGee.
They’ll do all these things while wishing Arenas would get his life together and wishing nothing but the best for their parted players. Because no one around here hates any of the guys that just left town last week. We’ll just follow Grunfield’s gesture and pay homage to those men who produced some fine years of service during their time in Washington. Thanks gentlemen.
For the last game of the NFL season, I’m trying something a little different. I’ll be butting heads with my sports colleague Perry Green of the AFRO-American Newspaper for the rights to claim the title as Super Bowl predictor. My record stands at 6-4 for the postseason and 30-18 on the regular season in my picks. Not bad for my first year but improvement is always the focus.
So Mr. Green and I sat down this week and debated for a few minutes on who was going to win the Super Bowl and why. Instead of balling up our fists and heading outside to settle this debate like real sports followers should, we decided to put our argument on paper in the most constructive way possible, so we came up with the following:
Mr. Green has this crazy obsession with the Colts Peyton Manning so he’ll never pick against good ole number 16. Me on the other hand, I think Manning is great but have no problem going against the grain. When the Saints and Colts both claimed their conference titles two weeks ago, I originally predicted Indianapolis to win but that was before I discovered that Dwight Freeney would possibly miss the game with an ankle injury so…
Nevertheless, this year’s Super Bowl matchup should be an exciting one as two of the most explosive offensive units in the NFL will face off in the battle of the best. There’s history on the line for both teams. If the Saints win, it will be their first NFL championship in franchise history, which would be astonishing for a city still in the process of rebuilding following the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2006. If the Colts win, head coach Jim Caldwell will become just the third African-American head coach to win the Super Bowl in the league’s 70-plus-year history.
Here are three factors—per team—that could decide the outcome of this matchup:
I say the Saints will win because of…
• Drew Brees
For New Orleans, it starts and ends with the talented signal caller. Brees has thrown for 68 touchdowns and nearly 10,000 yards in his last two seasons alone. If Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is the clear-cut best quarterback in the league, then Brees is certainly right behind him. The four-time Pro Bowler has fared well against some pretty formidable defenses this year and he’ll get another tough test Sunday against Indianapolis’ underrated unit. But Brees has all the weapons needed to be successful against a defense that is already missing several key players and could be without their leading pass rusher.
The Saints offensive line is one of the best in the league, giving up only 20 sacks this season, and their receiving corps is deep and fast. Counting the playoffs, Indianapolis has won a total of 16 games this season but have yet to play against a quarterback and offense like they will see this Sunday. If Brees has time to sit comfortably in the pocket… well, just look at his numbers for the last two seasons and that should give you a hint as to what will happen.
• Dwight Freeney’s Health…
Although Dwight Freeney headlines a dangerously fast Colts defense, he’s been listed as questionable for the Super Bowl and his absence would be vital for the pass-happy Saints. It was announced on Jan. 31 that Freeney has a torn ligament in his right ankle and has been in a walking boot since sustaining the injury against the New York Jets on Jan. 24. Freeney is arguably the top player on Indianapolis’ defense and his 13.5 sacks tied for third-best in the NFL this past season.
A healthy Freeney would’ve been beneficial for Indianapolis since New Orleans will be starting backup left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who has been in the lineup since starter Jammal Brown was lost for the season with sports hernia and a hip injury early in the year. Freeney’s backup, Raheem Brock, has had success in this league and would be a serviceable fill in but he’s no Freeney.
• Darren Sharper
The last time Peyton Manning faced off against an elite free safety, he was intercepted twice by the Baltimore Ravens’ Ed Reed in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. Although Reed fumbled on one of his interception returns and his other was nullified because of a defensive penalty, Manning may not be so lucky again if he doesn’t account for the league’s single-season interception return yards leader. Sharper has been outstanding in his first year with the Saints and tied for the league lead in both interceptions with nine and return touchdowns with three. Sharper’s stints in Green Bay and Minnesota have allowed him to practice against the likes of Brees and Brett Favre so a date with Manning shouldn’t be too monumental for him.
The Saints will likely split Sharper’s duties between roaming deep center and covering Colts’ top-option Dallas Clark. Whatever Sharper’s role, Manning must account for him. Although the Packers’ Charles Woodson took home defensive MVP honors this year, Sharper could’ve easily snagged the award for the impact he has had on a notoriously lame Saints defense. Sharper’s presence alone has transformed this unit into a respectable one which has made New Orleans the most complete team in football. 28-24 Saints
Perry Green says the Colts will win because of…
• Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning proved years ago that he can put up spectacular numbers with talented and experienced receivers. But this season he showed the world he can produce and win with unproven receivers as well. Manning has transformed young receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie into household names after successfully installing them into an offense that he has engineered since 1998. It doesn’t matter who the receiver is, Manning will find him if he is open as he has passed for 4,500 passing yards and 33 touchdowns on the season. If he finds his rhythm against the Saints defense early in the game, it may be a high scoring affair for fans to witness.
• Colts’ cover-two tames Brees’ passing attack.
When Indy last took on New Orleans in 2007, Drew Brees and the Saints’ high-octane offense was limited to only three points. The Colts run a cover-two defense, placing two safeties deep down the field to cover any receiver looking to make a long catch. Since their game in 2007, Saints coach Sean Payton has come up with ways to counter the cover-two scheme which has become popular amongst many teams in the NFL. But the Colts are one of the best teams to employ the defensive scheme, so the Saints will need to be patient passing down the field, or Brees could end up committing crucial turnovers and giving the Colts more opportunities to score.
• Run-stoppers are the show-stoppers.
If the Colts are successful at slowing down Brees and the Saints’ passing game, New Orleans will look to explosive tailbacks Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas to take on more of the offensive load. But Indy has been very impressive against stopping the run this postseason, limiting Baltimore Ravens star tailback Ray Rice to only 67 yards in the divisional championship round. They followed that performance by holding the New York Jets young runner Shonn Greene to only 40 yards. Colts linebacker Gary Brackett has been outstanding in tackling runners this season. He’s received much aid from defensive lineman Eric Foster, who helps clog up running lanes at the line of scrimmage. Both Brackett and Foster may be equally important as Manning in the Colt’s triumph. 34-20 Colts