The Basketball Package Deal.

Picture Taken From Coach Cal's Facebook Wall.

A lot of decisions [will be based on] what other players are willing to do and what other guys want to do. So it’s not just a ‘me’ situation here. We all have to look and see what each other is thinking.

That’s a quote from Dwayne Wade in the Chicago Tribune.  It’s paired with a story I’m sure you’ve already seen today that describes how Wade has been in contact with other free agents (Notably LeBron James and Joe Johnson) about their own intentions.  This isn’t necessarily news to me.  Ever since this mega-free agent class materialized there was a thought a couple of the big names could get themselves together and make it a package deal.  Let’s go to (fill in the blank city) and win multiple championships together.  For guys like Chris Bosh and James, who might already be searching for a title, despite their young age, it makes some sense.  It’s also a great reminder of how much power the players have.  Owners, of course, aren’t permitted this type of collusion.

I know the package deal exists elsewhere in sports.  There’s the less talented sibling that gets the scholarship as long as their superstar brother or sister comes along.  High school athletes help recruit their friends, there was the famous story of the AAU team with Erick Barkley, Ron Artest and a couple other guys that were all going to go to St. John’s, but then Elton Brand stiffed them for Duke.  Baseball players call free agents to try to sell them on their city, all of this happens, and yet for some reason, the package deal in basketball just seems so flagrant.  And while I suppose there’s nothing really wrong with it, it bothers me.

I hate the notion of players being closely tied to coaches.  One of Kentucky’s recruits for the coming year said something along the lines that he had told Coach Cal in the 8th grade he’d come wherever he was coaching.  We all remember Dejuan Wagner, Cal’s first big recruit to Memphis, and his father that came along for the ride.  You hear outlandish rumors about a team hiring Coach K, who will then bring in free agents based on the relationships he built with the National Team.  The rumors swirling around the Nets, Bulls and Cavs head coaching positions all appear to have some type of chain reaction in mind.  We hire this coach so we can get this player, which will lead to the next player.  I almost feel like it is a learned mentality in basketball.

I was joking with someone the other day that the NBA should disband its current structure.  If the coaches and players have so much influence, go ahead and give them all the power.  Have them organize themselves into teams, and then they can just sell themselves to whatever city wins the bidding for their services.  So, it’s not the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s the Phil Jackson and Kobe Lakers, who happen to be playing this year in Los Angeles, but in a couple of years they might sell out for Brooklyn, who knows?  Obviously I am blowing things out of proportion, but this is kind of the feeling I get watching the basketball business from afar.

These guys have every right to go where they want, it’s the essence of free agency, and I suppose if they can bring a coach along for the ride, more power to them, I guess it is just a little too mercenary for my taste.  It’ll be interesting to see who ends up where, and if the packages stick together or if ego, greed and money get in the way.  I don’t actually think Wade and LeBron could co-exist, but I could be wrong.  It’s the NBA off-season, always more exciting than the actual games.

Flyers Taking the Heat Off.

Phils Aren't Shading in Many Diamonds Lately.

For the last few years any time the Phillies have been in season, they’ve been the lead story.  Perhaps a one day blip here or there, but Philadelphia has been firmly in the hands of the Phillies.  Or at least it was until the Flyers started the comeback against the Bruins.  Since then we’ve been reminded of a couple of things.  The first is that the core group of Flyers fans is incredibly passionate, and second that passion is very contagious.  You needn’t look any further than the impromptu parade down Broad Street on Monday night to realize how much fun the city is having with the guys in Orange and Black.  It’s a good thing too, because while the hockey team has reached a high water mark, the Phillies have slowly eased into a disconcerting slump.

I wanted to think about what these back to back shutouts meant for a little while before I jumped to any rash conclusions.  My first instinct was to brush it off, but then I hear a stat like they’ve scored in only one of the last 38 innings, and I realize it’s a little more serious than I thought.  The excuses are right at hand.  The Phillies are prone to these short slumps, it happens every year, they had to face back to back knuckleballers.  All of that is true, but it doesn’t make it comforting.  It’s more than the knuckleballers too, the offense hasn’t really done a thing since the first night Pittsburgh was in town.  Not only that, but the starting pitching has been average across the board, and injuries have turned the Phillies’ “American League” style lineup into something unremarkable.  Last night the bottom of the order was Francisco, Valdez and Schneider.  The problems…

Injuries:  We hope this is a short-term issue.  Rollins, Happ, Ruiz, Lidge.  Aside from Lidge, all these guys are key parts to this team, and everyone still hopes that Lidge can contribute in some way.  We’ve got the full gamut here.  Ruiz’s nagging shoulder, J-Roll’s recurring calf strain, and Happ’s lingering arm trouble.  This whole list is expected to be back, although there’s still no time-table on J.A. Happ, but in theory, the Phillies will be healthy again.  The first time Rollins went down, they survived.  So far this time, it’s been pretty ugly.

Hitting Left Handers:  This is a real problem, a problem that’s been around for a few years now.  This year has been particularly bad, and you don’t have to look any further than last night.  That clown the Mets trotted out there wasn’t exactly Sandy Koufax, but the Phils were hopeless.  From struggling against left-handed starters, to being especially vulnerable to situational relievers with the Utley/Howard block in the late innings, this is a real concern.  Does this team have enough right-handed hitters to get the job done?  Here’s another spot where a healthy Rollins helps, but it’s more than that.

The Offense in General:  Since the were almost no-hit by Daisuke, you’d think the Phillies have traveled back in time to the dead ball era.  Despite that, and despite real problems against lefties, the offense isn’t a problem that will hurt them during the regular season.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Phillies turned it around today against Mike Pelfrey.  He’s a guy they’ve had plenty of success off of, and that may continue tonight.  If not, the Phils will have to turn it around against some decent pitching.  A trip to Florida will bring Josh Johnson, and then it’s on to Atlanta to face their staff.

The Starting Rotation:  A real problem.  We’ll give the bullpen a little reprieve, seeing as the Phils can’t even get a lead lately.  The starting pitching, even with no run support for a week, hasn’t been good enough.  From the top, where Roy Halladay is probably suffering from Ubaldo Jimenez envy, to the bottom where Joe Blanton can’t get successfully into the sixth inning, there has to be almost across the board improvement with these guys.  Halladay will be fine, and another good start out of Cole tonight would be a sign he’s possibly turned the corner, but the six innings/four runs club, captained or grandfathered by Jamie Moyer is maddening.  With no immediate signs of help on the horizon, I guess they’re just going to have to pitch better, but part of me hopes that they struggle enough to force a move.  The other day the Phillies pitching line read, Kendrick, Herndon, Baez.  Is that a post-season team?