Heat Fans: Take Stock, Give Thanks Heading Into Finals
By Sean Millerick
Ecstatic. Elated. Excited. Euphoric. Would seem a great many words that start with “e” might just describe Heat fans today. With the guarantee of a chance to go for that third title, and the crushing- execution?-of Lance Stephenson, this is more than fair. I would just hope that a couple E words are left out of the conversation this week. Words like “easy”, words like “expected”. Because to do so would be to do the vaunted Big Three an extreme disservice, for what we have had the good fortune here in Miami to witness already has been nothing short of…well exceptional.
Sesame Street lead in aside- yes, today’s article is brought to you by the letter E and the number 3- it is my earnest hope to convince readers like you that we have been nothing short of blessed. Much has been made of whether this season validates “the Decision”, the “Big-Three Era”, as a success. Such talk is ludicrous. In the entire history of the NBA, only seventeen teams have won an NBA title. Just under half of that number- eight- have won three or more. Speaking of the number 8, only 8 teams have won the title since 1984. The Heat is already in rare, elite company. They’ve won the conference four consecutive times, something done be only three teams previously. And if keeping score at home of King James’ extraordinary accomplishments, it would be fair to note that he just achieved something Michael Jordan never did, even if the reason is that MJ took two years off to walk the earth. Just replace Birmingham Baron for bum, and that’s basically what happened.
The point is that even winning one title is extremely hard. Blessed as I am with no athletic ability to speak of, I can honestly say it’s harder than I can possibly fathom. Yes, grabbing three in a row (assuming I’ll have to pay Riles Corp. and Friends if I say phree-teat?) would be amazing. Miami would be the 5th team to have won 4 titles overall, and poised to go for NBA history next year as they pursued the “four-pete’s-sake” (patent pending). But guess what? They lose this, they still get to play for history next year- no modern era team has ever even had the chance to compete for 5 titles in a row. The Big Three were a success half way through Game 5 of the 2012 Finals, when doubters were silenced and Miami’s second title delivered. Again, even one title is hard. They were a staggering success when we were gifted that scintillating series and a third overall title last season, and a chance to underscore our team’s greatness again. Miami has been at the epicenter of the basketball world for four consecutive seasons. Longer if you count a year of discussion about Riley’s grand free agency chase, longer still if we just want to call of this the Wade County Era and acknowledge that the Miami Heat have already played in 60% of the Conference Finals of the last decade. So even if Kevin Durant is able to deliver the Sonic- Thunder (the title club would still be 17- sorry Seattle) and momentarily usurp the throne of the King, the bottom line is all of this was already worth it. So even if Tim Duncan does his best impression of Bane, taking the Spurs on his back and Ray Allen to his knee en route to revenge and spite driven sweep of the Heatles, the bottom line is all of this was already worth it. So by all means, cherish and cheer. Care too much, go nuts. Play this or this over and over-depending how the weekend goes-always good for a laugh. But at the end of the day, everything from here on is just icing on the cake.
June2014: Massive Month For Marlins
By Sean Millerick
Certainly and deservedly, the most pressing matter on the mind of the majority of Miami sports enthusiasts this weekend is whether or not the Miami Heat can defeat the Indiana Pacers tonight at American Airlines Arena, and secure a fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. Should that victory occur, certainly and deservedly will the majority of Miami sports enthusiasts find themselves focusing on the hardwood for a further two weeks. But as we prepare to flip the page on the calendar here in the Magic city, one would do well to not forget the other local sports team playing meaningful games this weekend: the Miami Marlins. And more to the point, the Marlins would do very well to take advantage of the opportunity before them, and not allow forgetting to be an option this time around.
Nearly a third of the way through the season, the Marlins are tied for first place with the Atlanta Braves- the same Braves they play this weekend in Miami. The same Braves that were beaten so soundly by Miami when last they met that they openly contemplated whether or not the Marlins had stolen a page from the Spygate playbook, and had cameras hidden in the home run statue. While absurd, there’s definitely something about Marlins Park, as the club still holds the best home record in all of baseball at 20-8. Put all together, the season starts now for the Marlins. For both this weekend series, and the whole of the June schedule, are seemingly tailor made to earn Miami a seat at the big kids’ table with the Heat and the Dolphins.
First, the weekend. If the Heat close it out at home tonight, then that’s nearly a week of being the only pro team in play. Should the unthinkable happen and the Heat lose either Game 6 or the series itself, there could just be a hometown team in sole possession of first place waiting with open arms Monday morning. As stated in a previous article, sports fans are junkies, and the Marlins would be the only fix in town. For the team itself, this series is easily the most important one they will play until arguably the end of July. Take this series, and Miami enters June at least a game up on the Braves with an extremely favorable schedule before them.
Which brings us to June. Counting Sunday’s series closing matchup, the Marlins play 27 games in June. Of those 27, 21 of them are against teams with losing records. Of the six games against winning teams, four of those in Miami- the odd two game trek to Texas is the Marlins only road trip to a team playing over .500 until the Fourth of July. Of those 27 games, 16 of them are in Miami- where again, the Marlins hold the best home record in the bigs. In terms of seizing the hearts and minds of the city over the summer, this is a perfect opportunity to be playing winning and meaningful baseball all month long. The only snag for gaining serious ground in the division is that the Braves schedule is almost equally easy in terms of quality of opponent; however that is tempered by only having nine home games the whole month, including a road doubleheader. But the chance is there is really turn some heads. With the Nationals beset by injuries, and the Phillies and Mets plagued by the grim reality of being the Phillies and the Mets, the Marlins are in surprisingly good position for having lost the game’s most dynamic young pitcher for the season three weeks ago.
So Marlins- keep the magic going at home. Front office, consider an aggressive tweak if the right opportunity presents itself. Regardless of whether Alvarez is healthy or not, let’s see star prospect Andrew Heaney sooner than later. Miami is a sports town very focused on winning now. Somewhere between three days and three weeks from now, the eyes of every local sports fan will be casting about looking for something to focus on. Let’s make it baseball Marlins.
With Trade Rumors Swirling, Marlins Need To Make Most Of Spotlight
By Sean Millerick
As we celebrate the big 237 this Fourth of July weekend, more and more eyes across the nation will find themselves turning to baseball as the season and the summer heat up. While America’s oldest and dearest pastime is certainly capable of holding its own, July is the one month where it enjoys zero competition for the hearts and minds of local fans from the other sports leagues. While certainly in a bit of a unique spot, that is just as true here in the Magic City as it is in any other. And if there is team in all of American sports that is in need of some one on one time to curry favor with its fans, it’s the Miami Marlins.
In a city fresh off a second consecutive NBA championship, and a frenzied and exciting NFL offseason, the Miami sports fan enters July with quite the hangover of success. All of this has served to make up for the worst two month stretch of play in the majors, that had many projecting that the 2013 Marlins would give the ’62 Mets and ’03 Tigers some serious competition for the worst team ever; and all of that was after one of the largest PR disasters in sports history. But the club that has been the elephant in the room of late down here, while all of Miami was concentrating on the Heat’s title run, did something pretty remarkable in June- win. Very quietly, the Marlins were the third best team in baseball in June, and are off to a 3-1 start this July. Young players, including one or two Cuban defectors, are flashing some serious potential as more familiar faces finally are starting to return to health and to form. Even those determined to turn their back on the team due to abominable ownership choices can’t avoid taking some notice. Sports fans are junkies, and the Marlins are the only fix in town. The team has done their job- when viewed in a Loria-less vacuum, they have become a young, promising team that is exciting to watch develop. But now, as the trade deadline nears, the onus is on ownership not to screw up yet another opportunity. And that starts, and ends, with Ricky Nolasco.
For it is Nolasco for whom trade rumors have been swirling even before the season began. The franchise wins leader, the veteran leader of the pitching rotation. Of course, he’s also a mediocre pitcher that will certainly not be back next season. Miami would have to win at .628 clip the rest of way to go .500, sitting 20 games under despite winning eight of their last ten; that’s how bad April and May were. But they only have to win at .397 clip to avoid the ignominy of a 100-loss season, and need only go .294 to avoid the worst record in club history. Historic misery seemed certain on May 31st; one month later, it seems to be very much avoidable. And for this club to survive in this market, Jeffery Loria and Co. need to appear to care about doing so. On the other hand, they need to appear to be serious about someday winning 90 games again, as opposed to being thrilled if they only lost that many. In short, trading Nolasco isn’t unreasonable, but it would need to be done in a way that maximized return value and at the same time did not seem to damn the club to bottom of the history books. Clubhouse and fan psyche alike need to be considered. And the best way to do that is to remove cash from the consideration. Reports have come out that money has been a snag in a couple potential trades. It cannot be. Loria must very publicly choose between either paying Ricky the remaining five million on his contract to help develop budding aces Jose Fernandez and Jacob Turner, or paying Ricky five million dollars to go have a Cody Ross 2010/Anibal Sanchez 2012 type summer in return for some big league ready pieces. In many ways it’d be a band-aid on a bullet wound, but a move that was obviously just a midseason salary dump would much more likely be a bullet to the head.
Just some brief hits on the weekend’s main action; a thorough analysis of the draft will follow later this week. Partly due to salaried work load, and partly due to the fact I strongly suspect to have a free agent LT to discuss sooner than later.
Game 4: Under no circumstances should Wade play again this series. This opportunity is well worth the gamble being up 3-0. With a win today, the Heat can likely give Wade SEVEN days of rest. Miami will need every bit of his tough, aggressive style to knock off a Bulls team that always plays them tight. This is the last best chance to give him extended rest, and to be honest, Miami might not even need LeBron to close this one out.
As to the draft- likely not what we expected. But the plan is there- and top to bottom- this is a draft about stopping the Patriots. And as a bonus, there’s even a new kicker in town to challenge Dan Carpenter- consider that the Dolphins would have been 9-7 were it not for two critically botched kicks. But every corner and linebacker added has a skill set keyed to either rushing the passer or taking away the middle of the field or both. If these guys pan out, we could be well on our way to having an interesting division race this year should some of those bounces (and kicks) go our way this campaign.
Ignoring the second round- because there really would seem to be only three possibilities: KC caves and takes the pick for tackle Branden Albert, Miami drafts a tackle, Miami drafts a corner. Of course, I thought the first round would be boring too.
But lets focus on those two third round picks. My hope? RB for certain, and either a CB or a QB. The only reason I ever liked Daniel Thomas was the idea of him as a bruising force that, when healthy, could put his head down and push the pile. Thanks to that bit of staggering absurdity dealt out by the NFL rules committee, that’s pretty much illegal now. Plus, he’s a concussion case anyway, and will likely only miss more and more time as those rules get more stringent. Nice guy, but he’s been legislated out of being useful. Giovanni Bernard, or maybe even South Carolina standout Marcus Lattimore, have not. Lamar Miller looks capable, but his hold on the starting job is more a factor of not resigning Reggie Bush than his having earned it; Miami should draft another back and make him do it. It’s a two back league now anyway.
But what about that QB comment? Let me start by saying I completely believe in Ryan Tannenhill. But I also completely believe that teams should draft a quarterback just about every year. There should always be pressure on developing QBs to improve, and there should always be developing QBs learning underneath established stars. QBs are the ultimate currency of the NFL. Now the Dolphins did resign Matt Moore this offseason, giving them one of the best backups in the league. But acquiring someone not named Pat Devlin gives the team the option of developing someone to the point that they can replace Moore or be traded themselves. Look back upon Matt Flynn, Alex Smith, and Kevin Kolb. Look at Miami’s own history with AJ Feeley and Jay Fiedler. Wouldn’t it be great if the Dolphins could be the club in position to get that second round pick than give it up? And that’s why I think Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, or especially NC State’s Mike Glennon, would look great in aqua and orange. Or whatever we’re wearing these days.
WTF- Well That Figures: Fins Send Pick To Oakland, Message To League In Trade Up
By Sean Millerick
Well, that was unexpected. That, at first glance, is putting it mildly. Ireland’s whole tenure with the Dolphins has seemingly centered around a “cult of the offensive line”- with high draft picks or high free agent contracts going out to men that will never put their hands on a football unless they are snapping it to the quarterback. With the organization never seemingly needing a safe and solid behemoth as much as they do now since the Jake Long selection of 2008, it seemed the only way Miami wouldn’t take an offensive lineman in Round 1 was if the top four or five were gone by number 12- in which case they’d grab TE Tyler Eiffert or a cornerback, or trade down for an extra second rounder. A trade up was seen as being both unlikely and costly; it was also seen as only being made for a top three- if not top two- talent at left tackle. So, Dolphin fans, meet DE Dion Jordan. The questions left now are how did we get here, what it means, and should we really be surprised at all?
Before even assessing whether Jordan fits or not, the astounding cost of the trade needs to be looked at. That Oakland is being looked at as an early winner in this trade has way more to do with the vast number of holes they have to fill than Jordan himself. All Jeff Ireland had to do to get the player the entire organization wanted more than any other was swap first round picks this year, and throw in one of our second round selections. That’s it. While partly a reflection of that depth of pretty good/lack of super star talent referred to in our last article, consider that in this same draft, the Rams and Vikings had to give up four picks to make similar jumps. So for just an extra draft pick, the Miami Dolphins now have the rights to an almost universally regarded top five prospect. That’s a win. The issue though is that it doesn’t fill the teams primary need. It’s about as close as the Dolphins have ever come to just taking the best player available this high.
Ireland has traditionally been all about need on the draft board in round 1- the best player at the primary need. But Ireland has also frequently demonstrated a willingness to move around the board overall- and has frequently traded up to get his man outside the first round. If you factor in what would appear to be the team’s most successful free agency period in recent memory, and a relatively strong 2012 draft, it becomes far easier to recognize that the chances of moving up were actually pretty good. The Dolphins definitely have needs- and it needs to remembered pass rusher was one of them-but had less of them heading into this first round than any other under Ireland’s tenure. Having landed Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller, having reason to believe he was right on last year’s pick Ryan Tannenhill, the franchise could almost afford this high profile role of the dice.
And fans should be excited about that. Following a refreshing 2012 campaign, selecting Dion Jordan signifies that the Dolphins’ brain trust is just done rebuilding. You don’t make that move just to win in 2014 or 2015; you make that move to help Cameron Wake right now. Yes, Jordan probably is being viewed as Wake’s replacement when his contract expires- but that should only further excite, because it means the coaching staff believes that much in Oliver Vernon. But that’s down the road. Right now, just take a look at the sweeping recreation of Miami’s defense. Jordan, Danelle Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler added to Wake, Paul Soliai, and Randy Starks. Vernon too. This is a defense designed to take on New England. Keep consistent, heavy pressure on Tom Brady while having linebackers and lineman athletic enough to cover underneath. Can they use some help in the secondary? Yes. Does that matter less if Cameron Wake doesn’t get to be double-teamed every play anymore- you better believe it. That’s the vision. And while it lacks some of the subtle arrogance of New England trading out of the first round again just to build depth, the message is clear. Ireland and Joe Philbin believe that the Day of the Dolphin isn’t just on the horizon; they believe it’s arrived.
For This Draft, Secondary Importance Must Shine
By Sean Millerick
If you’re a fan of the Fins, two storylines have been extremely well documented heading into the 2013 NFL draft kicking off Thursday night at New York’s famed Radio City Music Hall: that the Miami Dolphins have five picks in the first three rounds, and that those same Dolphins have been historically bad at their first round selection. If 2013 is going to truly be the turning point for the franchise, I would suggest that we had better hope that this year one or two of those second and third round selections actually do outshine whomever ends up garnering that seemingly cursed first round selection.
The first round issues are well known to us, they resurface every year. Not a single first round selection remains on the roster that was chosen prior to the 2010 draft. Before the recently departed Jake Long in 2008, you’d have to go back to Daryl Gardener in 1996 to find another first round selection that made a defining impact. And even the Long selection seems destined to live on as the “Not Matt Ryan” pick, no matter how many Pro Bowls Long or Ryan Tannenhill might be selected to over the remainder of their careers. We passed on Drew Brees to select Jamar Fletcher in 2001, which only reminds that we passed on Brees again in 2006. We passed on Randy Moss to take John Avery in 1998, which conjures dreams of a Marino-Moss connection that could have been.
But the 1998 draft is important to note going into this weekend for another reason, for it is the last time Miami drafted a star caliber talent with it’s second pick; while that first selection will haunt forever, the second round bequeathed Pro Bowler Patrick Surtain. The prior year- featuring the spectacular Yatil Green disaster in the first round- was softened by second round selection Sam Madison and third round selection Jason Taylor. You might have heard of them. But since 1998, the teams record in the second and third rounds has ranged from disastrous to mediocre. You are essentially left to debate over who the most dynamic playmaker was: Jonathan Martin or Chris Chambers. Not a single selection from those rounds remains on the team prior to 2010 either. Current GM Jeff Ireland’s record in those rounds since he took the helm in 2008 has actually been an improvement, Pat White (selected at 44) fiasco notwithstanding, compared to the JJ Johnsons and Samson Sateles that made up the ten years that preceded his tenure. But he has yet to unearth a true gem in rounds 2 and 3, a talent that makes you feel confident when he takes the field, that makes you think he might have a Pro Bowl ceiling, based on his NFL performance. That must change. It hopefully has already, as Jonathan Martin and Oliver Vernon have certainly shown flashes of brilliance. But with four picks on Friday, Ireland must hit paydirt and draft a star. Two really, although trading for tackle Brandon Albert would certainly relieve some pressure.
Finding star talent in those rounds is particularly important this year due to the lack of super-star talent in the first round. The draft is remarkably deep at several positions, but it is a draft pool full of pretty goods, with a staggering lack of consensus on just who even the ten best players might be. So Miami, should they not trade down, will more than likely make a safe and solid selection. A capable pass rusher, a promising lineman, someone who will start right away but not necessarily dazzle. Given that the offseason has already seen the addition of some playmaking, game-changing ammunition, that’s acceptable. Most teams will likely follow suit. Tyler Eiffert is the lone exception to that maxim, as his is the only name outside the probable top five that truly excites and inspires in Round 1; see Greg Cote’s and Armando Salguerro’s recent fine work on this star if not convinced of that. But as a result of that depth of talent, Miami must find multiple stars in those next two rounds. Ball hawking safeties and corners, additional speed at receiver, a running back that could challenge Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller- impact players. With the stakes as they are, 2013 will certainly be remembered in the years to come. It is Ireland’s job this weekend to ensure it’s remembered as a model of building a franchise, and not as an exemplar of how to lose one’s job through poor drafting. Otherwise, this franchise that seems so poised to go racing back towards the postseason will find itself where it’s been much of the last decade: stuck in neutral.