Terry Pluto rips Dion Waiters

Terry Pluto is rarely this harsh, but he has some tough words for Dion Waiters, and it’s hard to argue with him.

But the message should be clear: Waiters needs to shape up physically and mentally. He has the arrogance you find in some East Coast playground legends. Listening to Dion Waiters, you know that he thinks Dion Waiters is the greatest player he’s ever seen.

Now, he should know better. And the Cavs probably know why Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim stayed on Waiters, even bringing the guard off the bench despite saying Waiters was the most talented player on the team.

No doubt, coach Byron Scott will deliver some stern lectures and serious challenges to Waiters. The Cavs say he “lives in the gym.” Well, he better do just that before the regular season starts.

If nothing else, this should stop all of the wild comparisons to Joe Dumars, Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade.

I’m not too worried at this point. All indications were that Waiters showed his explosive first step in Las Vegas, and the cold shooting is not a big deal at this point.

It’s obviously disappointing that he wasn’t in shape, but I’m sure Byron Scott will make him pay for it.

The ego could become an issue, but cockiness isn’t the worst quality for an NBA shooting guard expected to get to the rim. The kid is young and obviously a little immature, and Pluto makes some great points, but I expect him to shape up under Byron Scott. I’d be much more concerned if he didn’t appear as athletic as advertised.

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Corner or receiver . . .

University of Alabama quarterback TC McCarney (8) runs for a first down past Louisiana State University cornerback Patrick Peterson (7) during their NCAA football game in Baton Rouge, Louisiana November 6, 2010. LSU won the game 24-21. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Patrick Peterson is getting stiff-armed above, but many consider him to be one of the best players in the 2011 NFL Draft next week. He’s big for a corner, has tremendous ball skills and runs a 4.3.

I think Tom Heckert will take him if he’s there at #3, barring some other big surprises. I suspect the have Marcell Dareus at the top of their board, and he wold be the easy pick if he slid to #6, but that’s not happening. The other big wild card involves the receivers. I suspect both A.J. Green and Julio Jones are high on the Browns’ draft board. If Green and Peterson are both there at #6 (highly unlikely), then the Browns will have a tough decision. Von Miller also has to be high on their board, but he’s expected to be gone as well.

All of the defensive linemen after Dareus seem to have question marks. Robert Quinn seems to be on their radar and Terry Pluto thinks he might be the pick, but I suspect the Browns think they can pick up linemen later and they can’t pass on stud talents like Peterson, Green or Jones.

That said, they might have a chance to trade down depending on what happens with the quarterbacks in the first five picks.

The aftermath . . .


Photo from fOTOGLIF

Last night we “witnessed” one of the worst performance’s of LeBron’s career in Cleveland, and the entire team wilted in the face of the onslaught from the aggressive and disciplined Boston Celtics. I was there, and it was painful to watch.

Naturally, we’re hearing all sorts of reactions today. It’s hard to argue with any of them, as last night’s performance makes no sense following the incredible performance in Game 3. That said, there are several possibilities to consider.

-LeBron’s elbow. This is as good a reason as any. Maybe it hurt him again, and maybe that frustrated him when he couldn’t make any jump shots. The team responded by folding as LeBron folded.

-LeBron’s Killer Instinct. Maybe he just doesn’t have it, or he just can’t summon it consistently. Michael Jordan was a jerk, and he doesn’t have a gracious bone in his body, but he was a winner. It’s impossible to imagine him ever putting on a lackluster performance in the pivital game of a tough series when he’s looking for his first championship. He could have a bad game like anyone, but not in a way where people were questioning whether he wanted to be there.

-Something else. Who the hell knows what it could be, but perhaps something else was bothering LeBron, and he couldn’t find a way to shake the funk he found himself in.

With that backdrop, we also have the issue of Mike Brown. In one sense, you can’t blame any coach if the superstar player shows up and acts like he’d rather be somewhere else in a Game 5 situation. On the other hand, it’s clear Mike Brown isn’t maximizing LeBron’s performances, or the team’s performances, during the playoff run.

There have been all sorts of reactions. Terry Pluto has written an open letter to LeBron, telling him it’s time to show what he’s made of. James made some strange comments following the game, and Pluto calls him out.

After Game 5, you strangely said: “I spoil a lot of people with my play. When you have a bad game here or there, you’ve had three bad games in a seven-year career, then it’s easy to point that out. So you got to be better.”

LeBron, it’s not just about a “bad game” or three. It’s not about people picking on you, or not appreciating what you’ve done for the franchise. Most fans are still putting the primary blame on coach Mike Brown and the other players for the Cavs being down 3-2 in this best-of-seven series.

The “I spoil a lot of people with my play,” sounds as if you’re feeling sorry for yourself. It’s time to realize that more is expected of you because so much more has been given to you — be it in terms of pure physical blessings, or an owner willing to try and outspend the government to stimulate a championship in Cleveland.

Study the tapes of the last four games of the Boston series. Imagine you are watching Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan or any other franchise player wearing your No. 23. What would you say about their approach to those games?

Brian Windhorst explains that Mike Brown has had real problems dealing with the rotation now that Shaq is back, and the players are starting to grumble about it. But, the real problem is LeBron James and the strange way he’s approaching things.

Beyond Brown, however, there are other responsibilities. It lies with the captains and that means LeBron James. While he will be the first to tell you that he’s a leader and you can see that his teammates are fully invested in that situation, he has not seemed to act like one during much during this series.

First off, he’s undermined his coach by acting lax after losses when Brown has been sounding alarm bells. It is James’ personality not to be too worried about anything and it was not expected that he’d be throwing people into lockers and such. But his “we’ll get ’em next game” philosophy has clearly backfired. With the exception of Game 3, despite all the handshakes and nonsense, the Cavs have been knocked on their heels in every game.

It has further become problematic that James has been disengaged during the games. Not only has he fallen into the trap of “letting the game come to him,” but he’s been increasingly distant. In huddles he’s looking at the ceiling or into the distance. It is not the James anyone on the team knows and his teammates and coaches have seen it. More problematic, they can’t explain it and that is making the entire locker room uneasy.

On Tuesday it was Zydrunas Ilgauskas and O’Neal that actually were more proactive. They were showing more leadership than James both on the floor and off the floor.

Windhorst elaborates further in his podcast, discussing how LeBron can be very moody at times, and how that’s creating real problems as many in the locker room have no idea what the problem is. He really calls out LeBron James and makes the charge that LeBron has not been mentally tough in this postseason. It’s a tough charge, but it’s spot on.

Naturally, many are focusing on how this may have been his last game in Cleveland. There will be plenty of time to discuss that after the season ends, and at that point we’ll find out if there’s any character in LeBron to go along with his incredible talent. There’s no use trying to interpret his actions now, as he’s a two-time MVP struggling in the playoffs, and he’s saying strange things.

James kept to himself in the locker room, momentarily popping out of the back room to drop his iPad on the empty chair in front of the spare locker next to his own, a “How ya doing?” being returned with an unexpected “Great.”

Great?

On this night, James was as far from great as he has been at any major moment of his career. The odd thing was, he didn’t seem overly distressed or disturbed by the predicament he and his team now find themselves in.

It was all kind of just too weird.

Leave it to Bill Simmons for some of the most dramatic analysis following the game.

Assuming the Celtics clinch the series on Thursday in Boston — a game in which LeBron James and the Cavaliers will have more pressure on them than any team in the history of the second round, and also a game that could determine how the next 12 years of NBA titles unfold and possibly assassinate professional basketball in Cleveland — we could end up remembering Game 5 as LeBron’s Last Cleveland Home Game Ever, One Of The Best Five Nights In Knicks History and/or The Game We Realized That LeBron Was Really The Next Karl Malone. So what happened? How did things fall apart completely, totally and (possibly) irrevocably in less than two hours?

The Karl Malone reference is classic Simmons.

Then he gives is a little perspective.

Of course, because of the stakes — you know, the future of a Cleveland dynasty hanging in the balance and all — it felt like one of the weightiest “Awful Big Games” by a great player in NBA history: 3-for-14 shooting, 0-4 on 3s, little urgency and a Mailman-like Botox game face (and he was at home!). He was perplexingly and memorably awful. As I tweeted, the “Kobe is better than LeBron” demo reacted to the game like Don Shula’s house after the Tyree Catch. It’s the trump card they desperately needed — they can always throw Game 5 in any LeBron defender’s face. Just remember, Kobe has laid more than a few big game eggs as well (see sidebar to the right). It happens.

Then he addresses the fans.

You just witnessed, quite possibly, the most damaging two minutes of the LeBron Era in Cleveland: Boston grabbed control and got Rondo going; LeBron’s shooting touch officially abandoned him; and the Cleveland fans turned on their team. Look, I’m all for booing your boys when the game has been decided — at some point, you have to let them know, “What just happened was NOT acceptable.” But doing it that early only makes the home team more skittish/nervous/urgent than they already were; it’s not like they’re thinking, “Crap, we thought we could get away without trying! They’re onto us! We gotta pick it up!” Booing makes everything worse. There’s no upside.

And yet, I can’t totally blame those fans because there was so much at stake; it transcended the game, the series and the season. Like, you could see yourself looking at LeBron in a Knicks jersey six months from now and saying, “I remember the moment I knew this would happen: Game 5, Boston-Cleveland, third quarter.” Every Cavs fan in that building probably had that creepy, stomach-turning vision and thought to themselves, “COME ON! WE CANNOT LET THIS HAPPEN!!!!!!!” “(The ominous sight of LeBron’s buddy John Calipari sitting courtside probably wasn’t helping, especially when he’s rumored to be the next coach of a Bulls team that has summer cap space.) Throw in their coach’s abominable performance, LeBron’s no-show, and Boston gaining steam by the play, and what do you do? I don’t know. Cleveland chose to boo. Lustily. I can’t kill them on it … just pointing out that it didn’t help.

There’s really no point in analyzing this. The game spun out of control, the defense kept breaking down, so many in the crowd got frustrated and started booing. That’s it. If this frustrates LeBron and has any impact on his future decisions about staying, then he’s a big baby. I don’t think that’s the case. The Cavs stunk up the joint, and some fans booed. Big deal.

I’m not really looking forward to Game 6, but we also know this series can turn on a dime if LeBron James gets inspired again and turns in another classic performance like he did in Game 3. Until then, I’m putting aside all the talk about his future. The future is now, and let’s see how LeBron and his teammates respond.

What should Mike Holmgren do with Eric Mangini?

Most of us are assuming that Mike Holmgren is going to accept the position of football czar with the Cleveland Browns. Naturally I’m relieved, as it’s painfully obvious that owner Randy Lerner is incapable of managing the Browns organization. His only hope is to pick a smart, experienced guy like Mike Holmgren and pray that Holmgren can do it. Lerner adds nothing to the mix, other than his willingness to write checks, which is obviously an important factor.

If Holmgren comes to Cleveland, we’ll find out soon what role he intends to play. Despite the speculation that he will want to coach the team as well, I’m assuming for now that he intends to run the show but have someone else be the head coach on the field. Which then brings us to Eric Mangini.

The season has been a complete mess, but it’s clear that the team has not quit on Mangini, and he deserves some credit for winning the last two games. So, many are asking the obvious question – should Holmgren keep Mangini?

Terry Pluto suggests that Holmgren ought to consider keeping Mangini.

Yes, the Browns need changes. Yes, they need impact players. Yes, Mangini made mistakes, his biggest being the failure of his friend George Kokinis as the general manager.

Where he needs help is with the draft and acquiring players to fit an overall vision for winning formulated by a front office and coach working together. Picking the right players is a full-time job, one that often has been done poorly since the Browns returned in 1999.

Holmgren should concentrate on making the roster stronger, the scouting staff better, the organization run more efficiently. Because on the field, the Browns are a well-disciplined and determined team. They could easily have quit during a season that started 1-11 amid reports that the coach would be fired when it was over.

These are good points, and generally I agree with Pluto about Holmgren’s role. But, can he work with Mangini?

On a personal level, none of us have any idea. The two men both like having control, but they both work hard and it’s clear they have mutual respect. Until they get together and discuss it in detail none of can know the answer here.

The two men, however, have very different football philosophies, and this is where I think there’s no way Mangini stays without making some significant adjustments.

First, Holmgren is one of the premiere experts on the West Coast offense. Mangini is from the Belichick/Parcells coaching tree and I can’t think of any coach from that group who has ever used the West Coast offense, let alone embraced it. Under Mangini and Brian Daboll, the Browns offense has been a joke. I defy anyone to explain the philosophy behind this offense. The emergence of Jerome Harrison is exciting and infuriating at he same time, as Mangini squandered game after game with Harrison on the bench, or worse yet on the inactive list.

It makes no sense to make Mike Holmgren the football czar and expect him to pick players for an offensive system that is new to him. The first order of business would be to see if Holmgren and Mangini could agree on a new coaching staff on offense that would run the West Coast offense. This obviously would be an adjustment for Mangini, but he’s the one with the 3-11 record and one of the worst offenses in recent memory. Without an agreement here, Holmgren should let Mangini go.

Some might argue, as Holmgren even acknowledged, that this isn’t fair. As Pluto pointed out, Mangini has restored discipline and the players are playing hard despite a poor record. But have we ever seen a Mike Holmgren team that lacked discipline or didn’t play hard? Doesn’t Holmgren know practically every coach from the Bill Walsh coaching tree? I would expect him to find a coach that would be inclined to enforce discipline, so this factor shouldn’t carry the day.

The offense should be non-negotiable. With Holmgren’s system, he’ll know which coaches to hire, which free agents to sign, which players to keep and which college kids to draft. More specifically, he can make a decision on Brady Quinn. I suspect Quinn would do better in a West Coast offense, but would anyone question Mike Holmgren’s judgment? Can you think of anyone better to make that assessment?

If they can get past this hurdle and come to an understanding regarding the offense, then Holmgren should seriously consider keeping Mangini. Despite the problems on defense this year, there have been some good signs, and Mangini’s expertise is on defense. Also, the special teams have been excellent this year.

Regarding personnel issues, Mangini has made plenty of mistakes, but he’s made up for some of them as well. For example, David Veikune looks like a bad pick, but the Browns picked up Matt Roth on waivers who looks like a steal. Mangini has found ways to use a number of different players on defense, and the team seems to be making progress in that area. Most of the Jet players have been solid contributors, if not Pro Bowl players. Everyone ripped Mangini for getting old players, and now everyone is surprised to see the team playing hard. Isn’t it possible that the former Jets helped Mangini set the positive tone?

Also, Mangini resisted the urge to go after high-profile free agents, as he’s clearly taking the long view with the Browns. I still think the decision to draft center Alex Mack was a good one. He gets better every week, and the offensive line deserves much of the credit for Jerome Harrison’s monster day yesterday. For years everyone in Cleveland wanted to Browns to draft linemen, but Mangini got little credit for the kind of move that helps the team in the long run. This move saved significant cap space and the Browns are in a good position on that front. Guys like Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow were shipped off as well. Again, these are moves that hurt the Browns in the short term but should help in the long term.

Holmgren is a smart guy, and he’ll see the positives. He won’t be distracted by the record. He’ll dig deep and see the good along with the bad. If he and Mangini can settle on a strategy on offense and forge a working relationship where they compliment each other, then this marriage just might work out well for the Browns. The good news is that Lerner will be putting Holmgren in charge, and Holmgren will not hesitate to cut his losses if the marriage doesn’t work. That’s the critical issue. We can’t count on Lerner to oversee the situation, so one of the two has to be the ultimate boss. If that guy is Holmgren, then he has to have the final say on Mangini and everything else about the Browns.

UPDATE: It’s official. Mike Holmgren has accepted the position of team president and he will not be coaching the team.

Z is a class act

Zydrunas Ilgauskas was allowed to play tonight and was given the chance to break the Cavs record for most games played. For a man who has endured numerous foot injuries, it’s quite an accomplishment. Z spoke briefly after the game and clearly didn’t want to dwell on Mike Brown’s brain fart the other night when Z got the first DNP-Coach’s Decision of his career.

When he finally stepped on the court, breaking Danny Ferry’s Cavaliers record for games played, the fans rose and clapped, giving Ilgauskas a standing ovation for the full duration of the Cavaliers’ offensive possession. They stood and screamed and yelled out “Zeeee” in deep baritones from every corner of the arena, from the floor to the rafters.

“That was one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in my life, and also the closest I’ve probably come to tears on the basketball floor,” Ilgauskas said. “I very much appreciate it and thank them.”

*****************

“Obviously I was very disappointed that I didn’t play in the last game,” he said. “I know I’m a good player. I think by me playing in that game, I would not have affected the outcome of the game. What made me more disappointed and upset were the acts that followed. This whole mess that has been created.

“I’m not going to go into any details. Once again, I’m going to be a bigger man and walk away from this. I know when I go to bed at night, my conscience is clear. What I’m going to do is continue to do my job. I love this team, I love my teammates; they’re like a family to me. I’m going to come every day to work and try my hardest, win some games and hope to bring a championship to this city because they deserve it.”

Z has always been a class act. Hopefully he and the others can win a championship for the city.

Terry Pluto looks back on how the Cavs found Z back in the day in a nice profile.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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