Wednesday, November 6, 2013

49ers reinforcements on way for second half

The 49ers kind of quietly finished off their first half of the season by roasting Jacksonville in London last weekend, and will start their second half Sunday vs. the Panthers with a solid 6-2 record.

Perhaps the biggest news for the 49ers though will be the return of three key players they've been without for most or all of the 2013 season thus far. First off, Aldon Smith, who was sentenced to a 30-day rehab stint after week 3, has been re-instated with the team and should be a go for a full work load Sunday. The return of Smith will drastically improve the 49ers defense, especially their front-7, as they'll be getting back the most dynamic pass-rusher in the league. Despite missing 5 games, I expect Smith to show up ready to rock and provide a big impact in Sunday's game. The other guy the 49ers are hoping makes an impact upon his return this Sunday is wide receiver Mario Manningham. Unlike Smith, Manningham hasn't stepped on the field yet this season, missing the teams first 8 games in recovery from last seasons ACL-tear. However, Manningham has been practicing for a few weeks now, and all indications are pointing towards him being in solid condition and ready to make an impact right away.

While Aldon Smith is obviously key as the teams most dominant pass-rusher, Manningham is crucial because the 49ers simply do not have many receivers who have been getting the job done this season. Outside of a few nice outings from Anquan Boldin, 49ers receivers have been one of the worst units in the league. If your wondering why Colin Kaepernick's passing numbers were so pedestrian in the first half, that's played a big role (take away the opener vs. Green Bay and he's downright bad in the air). Not far behind Manningham will be the return of Michael Crabtree, Kaep's number one receiver and the guy that should really open up and complete this offense. He was activated from the PUP list this week, and should make his debut at some point towards the end of November or early December. He'll be the real difference maker to this offense when he gets back, assuming he gets up to speed in a timely fashion and avoids setbacks. Untill then, Manningham will give Kaepernick a viable #3 option in the passing game for the first time all season and thus alleviate some defensive focus off Bolden and Davis. The 49ers' offense, which almost appears as if they've been held back a bit by the conservative calling since week one, is really set to unleash in the second half.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Warriors Extend Bogut for 3 Years, $36 Million

It's been a while since we've delved into the NBA here at the BASJ, but with opening night just a few days away, and the Warriors catching headlines yesterday with their signing of Andrew Bogut, I thought it would be a good time to shift gears into basketball mode a bit more.

If you haven't heard yet, the W's extended the oft-injured but multi-talented big man on Friday, that will keep him in a Warriors uni for this year and the 3 seasons to follow. We got a glimpse of what a healthy Bogut can bring to the table late last season and numerous times in the playoffs, and the Warriors are only hoping continued health will breed some consistency. Last year, the Warriors were limiting his minutes, rarely having the big man play beyond the 25 minute mark, but I expect to see them cut him loose a little bit more this year. They may take a cautious approach out of the gate just to make sure everything's a go, but after a few weeks, I would expect to see the Aussie playing 30-35 minutes per night, healthy permitting of course. With those kind of minutes, Bogut should easily provide double-double ability, with a healthy amount of assists and blocks to go with. He's still pretty young and with all the rest he's accumulated on the sidelines the last several years, should have plenty of good basketball left in him, but again, the bottom line with him will come down to health. If he's able to play in 75% or more of the Warriors games the next few seasons, this deal will be a good one. If he's playing 50% of the time over the next few seasons, this deal won't be looking so swell.

All in all, I do like the risk/reward aspect of it. You don't come along 7-footers with Bogut's skill-set very often, and like I said, he's still young enough to be a core piece and a guy you can build around. And with Bogut enters the best Warriors team, at least on paper, in quite some time. Not only are they rock solid throughout their starting-5, but with Harrison Barnes' move to the bench, it has given the team some talented depth. They did lose Jarrett Jack, a key contributer to last seasons surprise run, but Andre Iguodala should more than pick up the slack Jack left behind. I also liked the additions of Marreese Speights and Jermaine O'Neal to add some quality depth up front. It seemed like Mark Jackson was only able to use a 7, sometimes 8 man rotation confidently last season, this year, the Warriors look like they have at least 10 guys on that roster that should get significant time. There's the starting five (Curry, Thompson, Iggy, Lee, Bogut) then O'Neal, Speights, Draymond Green, Tony Douglas and Harrison Barnes. Obviously there won't be enough minutes to get all the reserves 15-20 per night, but the hot 3-4 out of that bunch will definitely get their looks.

Aside from the depth, further improvements from Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, coupled with the hopeful steady health of Andrew Bogut and veteran savvy influence of Andre Iguodala is why I could see the Warriors getting as high as the #3 seed in the Western Conference this year. We'll have a Pacific division preview coming up later over at The Warriors Rundown, so check that out for further NBA preview talk.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

At 2-2, 49ers Have Plenty to Work On

Sure, after two horrendous loses in week's 2 and 3, the 49ers looked like the team we expected them to be in week four as they laid a beating on the Rams, 35-11. After their huge win weak one, the 49ers have not quite been the same and have some obstacles to overcome in order to catch up with the first place Seahawks.

First off, I know everyone is fretting about the defense, and what's going to happen with the Aldon Smith situation. Who's going to make up for his pass rush? Will he be the same player when he rejoins the team next month? Well, we really won't know the answer to the 2nd question until he does finish his rehab stint and rejoins the team, but the 49ers did do some things on defense in order to get after Sam Bradford Thursday, and they're going to have to keep getting creative over the next few weeks in order to keep that same type of pass rush. Although they're improving little by little, the Rams are still one of the easier teams to beat in the NFL, and a team the 49ers have just owned over the last few years. Seeing them take care of St. Louis like that, while re-assuring, is hardly a sign of this team being back on track after their disastrous week 2 and 3 performances. The one thing the 49ers do have working in their favor though, is they don't have an extremely tough schedule over the next 6 weeks. After they host Houston next weekend, they have a string of games vs. teams they should handle. However, I thought they'd handily Indy with ease at home in week 3, and we all saw how that turned out, so we can't jump ahead of ourselves too much.

Despite the apparent defensive fall off the 49ers have suffered in 2013, it's been the offense which has garnered much of the concern through the first quarter of the season. Colin Kaepernick looked like he was ready to join MVP discussions after shredding the Packers week 1, but since then, he's looked like an average/below average signal caller. In 3 games since that victory, Kaep has thrown for a total of 434 yards, 4 interceptions and just 2 touchdowns (both coming in Thursday's win). Despite all the success the young QB has had early in his career, we still must remember that this kid has only started 14 regular season games total. Sure he lit it up in the playoffs, but he's still a young guy with some learning to do, so I wasn't nearly as panicked after those two blowout losses as most were. I also wasn't overly impressed with his play vs. the Rams on Thursday night. I think he'll only get better, but my concern here is the offensive weapons around him. Vernon Davis has been a bit banged up and hasn't been able to go full-out since week one. Opposing defenses are really starting to zero in on Anquan Boldin too, which is going to force other players to start making plays and right now there just aren't many getting the job done.

On the positive side, the 49ers should be getting Mario Manningham after week 6, which should be a huge boost, but if I'm Trent Baalke, I'm taking a long look at the trade market to see if there are any wideouts available that could come in and make a difference.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

49ers Ready to Kickoff Preseason

It seems like it's been a year since the 49ers came up just short of their 6th Super Bowl tittle in franchise history, but finally the clock starts ticking towards kickoff 2013 as the 49ers start the preseason Thursday night vs. Denver.

There really aren't many changes to the 49ers starting lineups (at least yet) from last seasons squad, but the ones that have changed are significant. Although it will likely be for just a series or two, we'll finally get our first glimpse of Anquan Boldin in a Niner's uniform and see what kind of chemistry he's building with young Colin Kaepernick. Boldin has the most pressure of any 49ers newcomer as he's being asked to fill the shoes of 2012 breakout star and #1 wideout, Michael Crabtree. Of course, the 49ers are still hoping Crabtree could be ready to help them down the stretch in the season's final month and hopefully the playoffs, but for now, Harbough is planning to go the distance with the guys he has. Although Boldin isn't quite in the same league as Crabtree, he's a more than capable wideout and I think he'll be utilized much better in San Francisco than he was in Baltimore. The other significant change to the starting lineup is on the defensive side, where rookie Eric Reid will be asked to take over the free safety spot from the departed DaShon Goldson. Of course we all saw the 49ers secondary torched in last years Super Bowl, a big reason why they came up short, and the Niners are hoping the LSU standout will step in and make as seamless of transition as possible.

Again, Reid is a rook and will likely see a lot more time than Boldin in tonight's game, but those are the two guys I'll be watching on every play at the start of this thing. I'm also curious to see what kind of shape Nnamdi Asomugha shows up in. Will he be the all-pro caliber corner we saw across the bay for so many years, or will he be the flop that got overpaid by the Eagles the last two seasons? My guess, as I said when they first signed him, is he's no longer the corner he was in Oakland, but certainly better than he showed in Philly. It wouldn't surprise me to see him win a starting job with a strong preseason, and I expect him to see a lot of work in tonight's game. The other new 49ers cornerback, Eric Wright, got placed on the non-football injury list upon his signing yesterday, so unfortunately we'll have to wait at least a week or two to see his 49er debut.

I'm also curious to see how the rookies from last years squad do as they start their sophomore campaign. A.J. Jenkins was a basic no-show in terms of production last season, so he's got to do better and he's a guy I expect to see out on the field a ton this preseason. Last preseason, it was clear he wasn't ready to match-up with NFL corners and beat them off the line, but he's supposedly made strides this camp and I'm anxious to see how that's gone. Then there's LaMichael James, who did make an impact at the end of the year and showed the 49ers that they may have themselves a nice little secret weapon type player moving forward. James can obviously catch the ball out of the backfield, return kicks and run the wildcat/QB option plays with Kaepernick, but he also showed he's not scared, and quite able to run between the tackles too. I'm looking forward to seeing what an offseason of growing and strengthening has done for the kid as he could wind up being Frank Gore's primary backup.

Friday, July 19, 2013

49ers Add Eric Wright to Cornerback Competition

After identifying cornerback as an area in which this team could improve after last season, the 49ers have been proactive in doing just that. They brought in former pro-bowler Nnamdi Asomugha earlier this offseason and have just now completed a trade with the Tampa Bay Bucs that landed them Eric Wright.

All the Niners had to part with in order to obtain Wright was a conditional late round pick in next April's draft, so on the surface, it looks like the 49ers could come away with a steal. Wright had a big year in 2011 in which he recorded 73 tackles and 4 interceptions with 16 PD's. However, he was suspended for PED use and missed 6 games in 2012 which resulted in an off-year (34 Tackles, 1 Int). Much like Asomugha, Wright will be trying to get back to his career norm with the fresh start in San Francisco, and I definitely think it was a good add. Not to mention, he restructured his deal with Tampa earlier this summer and his salary figure for 2013 is just $1.5M guaranteed. I'm just a little curious as to why Tampa was willing to dump him so cheaply. His salary base for next year wasn't large, he's a free agent after the season and he was slated to line-up opposite of Darelle Revis to compose one of the better CB duo's in the league. Either way, it's a risk I think the 49ers were well off in taking.

Now, what does this do to the 49ers already growing depth at corner? Again, they brought in Asomugha earlier this summer and if he plays anything like he did when he was across the bay in Oakland, then he's a sure fire #1 corner for this team. The same can be said for Wright. If the season started tomorrow, I'm sure Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown would get the nod, but Jim Harbough has this competition wide open and if the two newcomers play up to their standards, then they should be starting come September. There's also Chris Culliver (who looked like a budding star at times last season), Parrish Cox and Tramaine Brock who all played significant roles in the 49ers Super Bowl run last season. The 49ers secondary was certainly a weakness as the season wore on last year, and was exposed badly in the Super Bowl by a team that wasn't considered a top passing squad. Now they'll be asking rookie Erick Reid to step into the departed DaShon Goldson's spot, which is going to be huge shoes to fill for the first rounder, so it's going to be key that this team is strong, and deep, at the corner position.

The one guy who could become expendable now is Carlos Rogers. His play deteriorated down the stretch last season and he was nowhere near the player he was for this team in 2011. Plus the Niners could clear $5 million in cap space by releasing him. However, he was the teams top CB in 2011, and they may roll the dice on the chance of him bouncing back to that form. Either way, it should be a situation to monitor closely in the coming weeks.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Warriors Get Their Man in Iguodala

Andre Iguodala had been on the Warriors radar for the past few seasons and this week they were finally able to obtain him, though it did come at a price.

On the surface, when looking at the players the Warriors let go in order to clear the space to give Iggy his 4 year, $48 million deal, you'd think Golden State came out with a flat out steal. They were able to convince the Utah Jazz to take on the expiring contracts of Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush, none of whom played a significant role in the Warriors playoff run last season. Rush probably would have been a key cog had it not been for the injury that knocked him out before the season even began, but Jeff and Biedrins were hardly used throughout the '12-'13 campaign. However, the Jazz weren't just going to take on those bad contracts without the Warriors giving up something, and they were able to get two future Warrior first round picks, and two second rounders as well. Know, the Warriors brass is hoping that this is the beginning of some sort of dynasty that will put the Dubs in the playoffs for years to come, as they've built a sound young nucleus and should only get better over the next couple of years, but still, two first rounders could end up being a steep price to pay. Nonetheless, I give the move an A because they were able to turn that cap space into a player that makes this team a whole helluva lot better.

Though they still get out and run, and can put points on the board, the Warriors have changed their identity under Coach Jackson as one of the tougher defending teams in the league. With the direction Jackson has this team going, Iguodala makes perfect sense. He's an all-league defender, in the prime of his career, and certainly has the ability to get out and run and knock down the 3-pointer, all qualities which should play greatly with this young Warriors squad. Just look at what he did in the series between Denver and Golden State in April: 18 ppg, 8 rpg, 5.5 assists, 2 steals and a 48% mark on 3-point attempts. With the Warriors brass already interested in him, I'm sure his showing in that series just pushed him over the top in their eyes. The only question the 'Dubs now have to deal with though, is how exactly they'll divide playing time between Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and their new $48M weapon. There had been rumblings of the Warriors possibly including either Barnes or Thompson with Andrew Bogut in a trade with the Lakers to get Dwight Howard, but with Howard landing in Houston, that's no longer an option.

It's hardly a bad problem to have though if your the Warriors. Most likely, someone will have to come off the bench in a 6th man role, but either way, all 3 of those guys should be getting 30+ minutes a night. I'm sure that whoever the hot hand is will see a little more PT, but my guess is that Iguodala would be the Warriors 6th man if there are no other significant moves made with the returning starting 5. This signing also precludes the Warriors from being able to retain Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry which is a bit of a blow to the overall team depth, especially the way Jack played down the stretch and in the playoffs, but one thing the Warriors have had success with over the years is finding suitable backup point guards and I think
Bob Myers will do that again this summer.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bobcats Interested in MKG for Barnes Swap?

Things have been extremely quiet on the Golden State Warriors front ever since their surprise run ended vs. the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semi-finals last month. However, the NBA draft is just 2 days away, and rumors surrounding the Warriors have started picking up.

The latest piece of news to hit the net has the Charlotte Bobcats dangling the 2nd overall pick from last years draft, Michael Kidd-Gillchrest, and apparently targeting Golden State's Harrison Barnes as their top choice. I could definitely see why the Bobcats would have interest, as Barnes was star for UNC and is coming off a better rookie year than MKG. That being said, many feel like MKG is still the better prospect, and despite his up-and-down rookie campaign, he'll turn out to be a more well-rounded player than Barnes. I just can't see the Dubs offering up Barnes right now though, especially after his excellent play in the postseason. With the Warriors down David Lee, they needed to find consistent offense from another source and Barnes answered the bell. MKG is still considered the superior defender and athlete, but Barnes is further along in his development and has the skills to become a plus offensive player in the league for years to come. I don't think I do a MKG for Barnes deal straight-up if I'm Golden State, but if Charlotte sweetens the deal a little bit, I'd certainly listen to offers.

The Warriors don't have a pick in the first round of this years draft, and probably won't be too involved in free agency, meaning any changes they make this summer will likely come via trade. Their top priority right now though should be to get everyone healthy and on the same page by the fall. They had a nice run this season and did it without having Bogut for much of the year, without Brandon Rush and with a bunch of rookies playing integral roles. Those rookies should only get better though, and the improved health of Lee, Bogut and Rush should also make this team a powerhouse right out of the gate for the 2013-14 season. Again, I don't see a reason to make a move unless it's clear upgrade that helps the roster right now and I don't think a MKG-Barnes swap does, at least not in the short term.