These Deer Are Staring at Taillights
Artie: Fire 'em all!
Frank: You mean the Bucks or the Brewers?
Artie: Yes! The Bucks have been melting down for months, but the Brew Crew giving up 23 runs in the first three games? I predicted they'd finish ahead of Pittsburgh, didn't I? That looks rather optimistic now.
Frank: The only action I saw from Cincy was the game-winning homer off John Axford. It raised the image of Trevor Hoffman's decline a year ago.
Artie: And it put Axford's ERA somewhere near Prince Fielder's weight. It'll take a while to slim that down.
Frank: We'll have more to say about the Brewers next week after we've seen them in person against the Cubs.
Artie: But it's not too soon to start thinking in terms of new leadership, before that losing mentality really kicks in.
Frank: You're kidding, of course... I think. The 0-3 start left 159 games for recovery.
Artie: That's the kind of thing everyone was saying when the Bucks started badly. They had injuries, new faces to blend in, "It's a marathon, not a sprint."
Frank: In the NBA marathon the Bucks are stuck at a water station. From 46-36 last season, a 12-game improvement, they're in danger of going back to the 34-48 from Scott Skiles' first season.
Artie: They came up one point short against Charlotte and Indiana, the teams they had to beat to earn a first-round butt-whipping.
Frank: In Charlotte they missed, what, their last 11 shots?
Artie: Every loss, it seems, has involved a collapse down the stretch.
Frank: After the Indiana game Brandon Jennings gave the Journal Sentinel some striking quotes. He said, "Some guys have the mind-set of winning on the team and some guys just don't. It's been that way all year."
Artie: He also said the Bucks parted ways last summer with "a lot of pieces I feel like we should have kept." Skiles and general manager John Hammond couldn't have been smiling, ain'a?
Frank: I assume Jennings meant Luke Ridnour, his backup at point guard last season, and Jerry Stackhouse, who was a veteran presence.
Artie: And Kurt Thomas. He's having a nice season with the Bulls.
Frank: The Bucks have been last in the league in scoring and shooting percentage all season. But there's got to be more to this.
Artie: There were injuries to different guys at different times all along. But even when they were relatively healthy they weren't clicking. Recently there was the sudden disappearance of Corey Maggette, who rode the bench for several games. He said, "I know I should be playing, There's really no excuse."
Frank: Maggette made some comments about playing time a few months ago. A while later Andrew Bogut talked about the need for "professionalism." And Jennings recently said that when he gives up the ball, he usually doesn't get it back.
Artie: I think that was aimed at Maggette, who has a history of being a "black hole" where the ball disappears.
Frank: One thing I hadn't really noticed was that Drew Gooden, who was expected to help Bogut a lot with rebounding and inside defense, was out for about two months.
Artie: And Ersan Ilyasova has been out for a while with concussion effects—just like Carlos Delfino was in the early going. Ilyasova was one guy who always showed up with energy, rebounding, defense. And I'm baffled about Chris Douglas-Roberts, who's hardly been used in a lot of games.
Frank: It would be a mistake to simply blame the injuries and think roster changes aren't needed.
Artie: It's going to be interesting. How tradeable is Maggette? He's under contract for $21 million over two more years.
Frank: They won't have Michael Redd's $18 million on the books next year. But any trades or signings are clouded by the possibility of a lockout.
Artie: Plus the draft pool is shallow this year. The Sullinger kid at Ohio State looks like he's going to stay, so the top guy might be 6-11 Perry Jones from Baylor. But he's a question mark with only one year of college under his belt. To me, the only sure-fire guys are Derrick Williams at Arizona and Kenneth Faried of Morehead State, who led the nation in rebounding at 14.5 a game.
Frank: There's no guarantee the Bucks will have the lottery luck to get a shot at them.
Artie: Based on this year's luck, they'll probably draft the next Todd Day.
Frank: Marquette coach Buzz Williams got a nice new deal after his Golden Eagles made it to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.
Artie: A sweet $2 million-plus per year, according to the Journal Sentinel.
Frank: But I was bothered by his comments leading up to it.
Artie: How so?
Frank: I remembered a Williams quote from a year ago, after MU lost in the NCAA first round, I looked it up again: "My title has changed. My W-2 has changed. But my heart hasn't changed. This is a business that's full of egos, full of media-savvy people, full of exposure, full of money, and a lot of time that changes people. I don't want my title, I don't want my income to ever change who I am." And then he said this: "I'll be here as long as they'll have me here."
Artie: OK, he was grateful MU gave him the job after Tom Crean skipped town for Indiana in '08.
Frank: And grateful for his contract, which the Journal Sentinel has consistently described as a six-year "rollover" deal—renewing each year to remain six years. The newspaper said it was worth $1.6 million this season with a raise to $1.7 million scheduled.
Artie: So he got a bigger raise than planned.
Frank: Right. But after MU's last game Williams said, "I've worked under three different contracts. I anticipate... that on Monday we'll begin to work on the fourth contract." To me, Williams has had one contract, not several, and it was still in effect. But he made it sound like there was a necessity to start over.
Artie: You may be splitting hairs.
Frank: I don't think so. And I don't think what Williams said this March jibed with what he said last March. What he could have said was, "I'm under contract and due for a $100,000 raise. I love it here and I'm not going anywhere." But instead he sounded like a businessman who knew he had more leverage than before.
Artie: Leverage, as in the buzz about Buzz for jobs at other schools.
Frank: Right. I'm not saying Williams is a bad guy. He did what Crean did with Marquette at least twice—get more money with the implied threat of going to another school.
Artie: Everybody does it. Economic leverage is what made this country great.
Frank: But a guy ought to be careful what he says from one year to the next. If MU had had a poor season and Williams wasn't in demand, I daresay he'd have considered himself safely under contract.
Artie: Well, MU's used to this. And if Williams stays in demand, it won't be the last time the Jesuits have to re-bid for him.
Frank: Which brings up a bigger issue. A university shouldn't be paying anyone $2 million to coach a team. It's as crazy as the overpaying of pro players.
Artie: I absolutely agree, but that's the system we've got.
Frank: But it's the university presidents who perpetuate the system. When Crean left MU the Journal Sentinel reported that his salary of $1.85 million in fiscal 2007 was more than six times higher than the next-highest salary for a faculty member, about $240,000. That's messed-up priorities.