Monday, May 10, 2010

The case why JaMarcus Russell is NOT the biggest NFL Draft Bust

Ever since former Oakland Raiders Quarterback (QB) JaMarcus Russell was released (basically fired), there has been an obsession with him being the "number one draft bust in NFL history". Such a statement is made by people who seemingly forget history. And the fact I need to make a case explaining what players and QB’s where bigger busts (disappointments) then Russell in NFL history is pathetic.

The reason why Russell was drafted number 1 overall in 2007 wasn’t because he really was the best player in the draft that year, but because Al Davis, owner of the Raiders was infatuated with him. The 2007 NFL draft was not a very deep talent draft. The best players in the 2007 draft were Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, and Adrian Peterson. If Peterson was fully healthy, the Raiders might have drafted him while other teams would not have let him fall to the Vikings. The Raiders, because of their interest in Russell, created such hype around him that people assumed that there are high expectations for him.

While Russell may have been the biggest bust of the 2007 NFL Draft, he cannot be labeled the biggest "QB Bust”. Russell was not considered the top QB prospect in the 2007 draft. Russell was drafted number one overall because he was seen as a "special talent". Brady Quinn, who was drafted 22nd overall by the Cleveland Browns, was seen as a better overall QB then Russell. But Oakland didn’t like the fact that Quinn was not a very mobile QB so they zoned in and picked Russell.

The biggest QB Bust of all time, in my opinion, is Ryan Leaf. When you look back at the 1998 NFL Draft, both of the top 2 picks where held by teams who needed great Quarterback to be the face of the franchise. The Colts were actually considering drafting Leaf over Peyton Manning. Looking back we see how nuts that idea would have been because Manning is now a superstar QB and is going to be in the Hall of Fame one day. But some people in the Colts organization at the time liked Leaf's delivery and arm strength better then Manning's. Many people in the NFL in 1998 considered Peyton Manning the number one QB prospect but saw Leaf as a very close second. Peyton was not seen as a sure thing because some viewed him as a player who did not always perform under pressure.

Leaf didn’t just not live up to expectations, but he totally imploded. The man who was supposed to be the alternative to Peyton Manning had issues on and off the field. He blew up on reports, was moody, and did lousy on the field. On the other hand, Russell was seen as a guy who was very raw but could develop into "a real good player". Leaf was seen as a possible great QB. So, based purely on expectations, Leaf was a bigger bust then Russell.

Now let’s consider the biggest number 1 overall drafted NFL bust. That title could go to Ki-Jana Carter, drafter in 1995 by the Cincinnati Bengals. He was considered the next "great running back". You look at five of the next eight picks after him were all players who had solid NFL careers while Carter couldn’t stay healthy. The Bengals franchise suffered for the next several years because they invested so much in him. On the other hand, three years after the Raiders drafted Russell, they have a chance at making the playoffs.

So while the Oakland Raiders made a bad pick when they drafted Russell in 2007, it is unfair to say he is the biggest bust of all NFL picks. Russell’s career is still not over but it is obvious he will never be the player the Raiders envisioned he would become when they drafted him in 2007. Russell lacks the work ethic and genuine interest in football to become a great QB. Maybe when Russell sees he is running low on cash he will get himself into shape, impress a team and get signed to a contract and be given a shot at starting again. Until then, people need to realize he should not be labeled the worst of the NFL disappointments.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Del Negro gone in Chicago; where do the Bulls go from here?

Today ESPN reports the Chicago Bulls are going to announce tomorrow the firing of their Head Coach Vinny Del Negro. Back in December of 2009 there was rumors that the Bulls were going to fire Del Negro but then the team won 9 of their next eleven games and reached the playoffs for the second straight year. Then on March 30th there was a fierce argument between Del Negro and Bulls’ Executive VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson. Paxson, who some consider the “de facto” man in charge of the team, has not been happy with Del Negro’s coaching for some time now, even though Del Negro has only been the Bulls Head Coach for two seasons.

Paxson and Del Negro are both former NBA players who played very passionately and that passion translates to their current jobs. Paxson has done a good job rebuilding this Bulls team, stocking it with talented and hard working players. When he hired Del Negro it was viewed as a controversial hire because some viewed Del Negro as too inexperienced to be made a Head Coach. But the problem had nothing to do with Del Negro’s ability to coach; the clashing between Del Negro and Paxson over basketball philosophy was the real issue. Even though some of what Del Negro has done has had good results, Paxson was still unhappy with the fact that he felt that Del Negro was not getting the best out of the players.

The Chicago Bulls have a lot of potential as a team. They have a Point Guard in Derrick Rose who has the ability to be a perennial All-Star, a Center in Joakim Noah who is a great leader, and a talented Forward in Luol Deng who, if motivated enough, can dominate on offense and defense. The problem for the Bulls is that it always seems like they are a player or two short of being a major contender for the NBA championship. They need another Power Forward/Center to play with Noah who can contribute consistently on offense and defense. They also need a player who can play Shooting Guard who can take the scoring burden off of the shoulders of Rose and Deng.

So now, to use a basketball term, the ball is in Paxson’s court. He first needs to hire a Head Coach who works well with young players and can motivate them to play hard. But it needs to be a Head Coach who is well respected and can be used as a draw to bring in free agents. I suggest either Jeff Van Gundy or Avery Johnson. Both men have experience dealing with a variety of players of different ages, skill levels, and personalities. Both also have shown that their teams play hard, solid defense, and they are respected by their players. The Bulls’ players need a coach who can help get them to play to the best of their abilities as a team and these two coaches have experience doing that.

Paxson also needs to take advantage of the free agent market this summer. The Bulls need another star type player to make an impact on this team. They need to sign a player to say to the core players on this team “We believe you guys can win a championship, here’s the final piece” while saying to the fans “We want to win a championship; just making the playoffs isn’t good enough”. If the Bulls could lure superstar Dwayne Wade from resigning with the Miami Heat to come to Chicago that would be huge. Wade, who grew up in Chicago, has been carrying teams by himself for too long and the players on the Bulls team compliment his style of play. Since winning an NBA Championship with the Miami Heat four years ago, Wade’s team has not gotten close to doing so again. Signing Wade would change the dynamics of how opposing teams have to play the Bulls, causing teams to have to focus so much on Wade it opens opportunities for other players to excel. If they cannot get Wade, I think the Bulls should try to sign either Power Forward Chris Bosh or Shooting Guard Joe Johnson. Both players fit in with the type of players the Bulls have built to be the centerpieces of this team while not disrupting chemistry.

Whatever happens in Chicago, Paxson needs to understand that if he wants to enable this team to have a good shot at winning an NBA Championship that he has the opportunity to make it happen now or he might be fired. Paxson has overseen the evolution of this franchise: from a place where reject type players migrate to play at, into a team that has a lot of potential and a superstar player away from being a major contender. But will Paxson pull the trigger to bring in a great coach and great player(s) to make this team a potential great team for the next five years or will he let this opportunity slip away?