Chat With Brett Haber: Wednesday, January 11, at 11 AM

Have a question about one of the local sports teams that you want answered? Send Brett your questions now!

Today is my last full day in the northern hemisphere until February. Tomorrow I’ll ship off to Melbourne to be part of Tennis Channel’s broadcast team at the Australian Open. Do continue to check in here, as I will be writing in this space while I’m abroad with tales from what is known down under as “The Happy Slam”. (Much as New Yorkers love the US Open, I can’t imagine they’d have the nerve to stake a claim to that moniker.) In the meantime, let me answer a few FAQ’s people have thrown at me when I tell them I’m heading to Australia for three weeks:


1) 25 hours and 25 minutes. That’s how long the trip will take according to United Airlines. That includes stops at LAX and Sydney, each under two hours.

2) 20,458. That’s how many frequent flyer miles I pocket for the round trip.

3) 16 hours. That’s the time difference. Oz is 16 hours ahead. So, as we chat here at roughly 11:00am on Wednesday, it is currently 3:00am on Thursday in eastern Australia. This creates the bizarre circumstance, whereby I take off from BWI at around 8pm Thursday and arrive in Melbourne at 11:00am on Saturday. Friday disappears into a mysterious vortex as if it never existed. On the flip-side, when I fly home, Monday will last for approximately a week.

4) 83 degrees. That’s the forecasted high in Melbourne for Monday. You’re welcome.

5) No. Aussies don’t really drink Fosters. It’s primarily an export. Sorry to burst your marketing bubble on that one. Would it make you feel better if I told you they really ate at Outback?

6) 6. Number of suits I’m packing. I’ll be on the air for 14 days. That’s two-plus wearings per suit. I can’t feasibly pack more. I will make ample use of the hotel dry-cleaning service and change up the shirts, ties and pocket squares. Beyond that, if someone refuses to watch the tennis because I’m wearing the same jacket on day 11 as I wore on day 3, they’re golf fans.

With that, let’s chat:

Washington, DC

I’m a very sad Steelers fan this week… what are your thoughts on Tim Tebow, and can you shed some light on what the media sees in him? So sick of hearing about the Tebow bandwagon!

The legend of Tim Tebow is now clearly a runaway train that not even Denzel Washington can arrest. As horrid as Tebow looked in the last three weeks of the regular season, he looked equally masterful against the Steelers. (That 316 passing yardage figure is straight out of a discarded screenplay). The question as to whether Tebow is a viable long-term NFL QB will be debated until he isn’t one. (I believe Elway will bring competitors into camp next summer, but he has no choice but to treat Tebow as the presumptive starter). Not sure if the media coverage of Tebow is mirroring the public fascination with him, or causing it. What is clear is that the country is starving for a sports hero who measures up to their highest ideals. We thought we had it with Lance Armstrong, but blood doping allegations haunt him. Maybe Michael Phelps would be the guy; then photos emerge of the gold medalist smoking weed. Steroids, domestic abuse, dog-fighting, shooting yourself in the leg – you name the mind-boggling transgression, and some athlete has gone there. Tebow now has a five-year public track record of wholesomeness that, so far, appears to be unimpeachable. The public and the media are lapping up the bowls of goodness as fast as number-15 can churn them out

My question is not about his skills; it’s about his self-awareness, for lack of a better term. My friend Howard and I watched the game together on Sunday and he is an unabashed Tebow hater. The reason he gives is that he feels everything Tebow does is with an eye towards burnishing his own image as a pious, wholesome American hero. He contends that nothing Tebow does – from his aw shucks deflection of praise to his one-kneed genuflections – are measured attempts to bolster his stature as being, quite literally, holier than thou. I told Howard I didn’t see it. I asserted that while I’m usually off-put by outward signs of faith from athletes (Michael Chang comes to mind), Tebow hasn’t really bothered me. He comes off as genuine to me, not proselytizing and not pimping his faith fpr commercial gain, which makes me either very accepting or very gullible. I’ve never heard him claim that God wants him to win more than the other team or the other QB. He just talks about his relationship with God, to which he’s entitled, I suppose. Howard says the whole thing smells of calculation. What do you think?


Hi Brett, The Wizards game on Sunday was just painful to watch. I don’t understand this team as currently constructed. Will this be the worst NBA team ever?

Worst ever? The Nets from two years ago were pretty putrid. They started 0-18 and were 3-40 just past the half-way mark of the season. This year’s Wizards only needed 9 tries to sniff the win column for the first time. But your point is well-taken. When the Wizards bailed on Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, we knew it was going to be youth movement, we just didn’t know it would move this slowly. As Michael Lee mentioned in his piece yesterday, the Wizards have the third-youngest team in the league with an average age just over 25. John Wall and Jan Vesley are the only two lottery picks on the roster and the jury is still out on both of them. They should have had a third lottery pick on the roster, but as Lee points out, Ernie Grunfeld traded away the number-5 overall selection in ’09 to the T-Wolves for Randy Foye and Mike Miller. How’s that working out? The Wizards payroll this year is roughly $56M. That’s under the cap and puts them 20th out of the 30 teams in the league (the Lakers are #1 at $85M). Ted is hoping to build the team in the same way he built the Caps: with patience and high draft picks. The problem is: he struck gold with Ovi, Green and Backstrom and it’s hard to imagine the Wizards’ draft picks will yield such high dividends. And on a basketball team, a poor draft pick (or trade or free agent signing) is harder to hide than on a hockey team. As tough as this season has been to stomach, we are going to need to bite the bullet for several years. They need to let their expensive veteran contracts expire (Lewis), let their young players develop and position themselves to sign free agents down the road. Ted needs to make the Wizards into a destination franchise – not just for fans, but for players. Easier said than done.


What’s the deal with Rashard Lewis? He should be happy with Wizards are playing so bad that no one notices the second highest player in the league isn’t even averaging 9 ppg.

So I mentioned above that the Wizards’ payroll is about $56M this year. 39% of that — $22M is going to Rashard Lewis. The only NBA player making more this year is Kobe at $25M. Six of one, half-a-dozen of the other, right? Uyyy. The guys right BEHIND Lewis on the salary chart are: Tim Duncan ($21.3M), Kevin Garnett ($21.2M) and – wait for it – Gilbert Arenas ($19.3M). (Gilbert was cut by the Magic a few weeks ago — Paying Gilbert Arenas $19M to go away may be the best investment in the NBA this year). But back to Lewis. Three years ago Lewis was an 18 and 6 player and made the All Star game. At the height of his powers (circa ’07), he averaged 22 points and nearly 7 boards. At age 32, however, he is a step slower than he was in his prime and far too content to shoot jumpers. The one thing he COULD provide to this Wizards team is leadership, and as of this past weekend, it appears he’s doing the opposite. CSN reported that the reason Lewis didn’t play in Sunday’s game against Minnesota is that he got into a pre-game argument with assistant coach Sam Cassel and refused to play. Hard to imagine a guy making $22M to score 8.7 points per game could refuse to do anything, but there you go. Not exactly the example guys like Wall, Blatche and McGee need to see from a would-be mentor. Perhaps Lewis will get the message. Lewis’ mammoth salary notwithstanding, Flip didn’t start the veteran last night (nor did he start Blatche) and look what happened — Win #1.

College Park

Hi Brett, Do you think the Mike Locksley move will pay off for the Terps? Thanks.

The good news about Locksley is: he’s local he’s from DC, went to Ballou high school, played at Towson and coached previously at Maryland. Everywhere he’s coached he has been credited with aggressively and successfully recruiting the DC area’s top high school talent. This is something Randy Edsall desperately needs on his staff. But two things are troubling about him. First, New Mexico was ATROCIOUS in his 2.5 years there. He went 1-11, 1-11 and 0-4 before he was finally fired amid an outcry from alumni. Granted, he had success as an assistant at Florida and Illinois, but it’s hard to ignore that his total head coaching record is 2-26. The second issue relates to his conduct and a couple of incidents in his past that give pause. In ’09 he was reprimanded for getting into an altercation with one of his assistants. The same year he was the subject of an age and sex discrimination suit by his administrative assistant (the suit was later withdrawn.) It’s hard to understand how Kevin Anderson would have reservations about Mike Leach’s character, but be okay hiring this guy.

JG in DC

Brett, Any chance we see a coaching shakeup with the Skins? Specifically Kyle Shanahan?

In terms of the Redskins assistants, most teams have some turnover each year when it comes to position coaches, so I wouldn’t find that unusual, but let’s talk about the 3 coordinators: I think Haslett is staying. The defense performed well this year in its first legitimate season with the appropriate personnel to play the 3-4. Kerrigan was outstanding as a rookie, Fletcher led the league in tackles, Orakpo was a beast again and the pass rush overall was the best the Redskins have had in years. The corners had dubious showings, but you have to wonder if they wouldn’t have performed better with a healthy LaRon Landry patrolling the middle of the field. On offense, Kyle isn’t going anywhere as long as dad is the boss. That’s the reality. The offense was a disaster on the whole, but the running game was actually improved. The fact that Helu and Royster were interchangeable at the end of the season harkens back to the running attack Shanahan had in Denver, wherein it didn’t matter who the RB was, as long as the O-Line was doing its thing. The one guy I’d be worried about is Special Teams Coordinator Danny Smith. He’s been with the franchise since Moses wore long pants, but I don’t believe Shanahan has any particular loyalty towards him, and let’s be frank – special teams were not good this year. The Skins led the league in blocked field goals and Brandon Banks, who was an eye-popper last season, made little impact this year (to say nothing of porous kick/punt coverage). Danny Smith is a GREAT guy, but if you asked which of the 3 coordinators was in most trouble, I’d say him.


Hi Brett, Ravens v. Texans, who ya got? Thanks.

Ravens/Texans: I think Joe Flacco’s development has slowed down, but I’d definitely rather have him in a playoff game than T.J. Yates.  Plus, I love Flacco’s complementary offensive weapons in Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin. When it comes to defenses, it’s not even close. The Ravens are getting long in the tooth, but in January age translates into playoff experience, and I’d vote for Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, et al in the post-season eight days a week. Reed had just 3 interceptions all year  — does he break out in the playoffs. Ravens move on.


Hi Brett, Does it make sense for the Nats to go after Cecil Fielder? A big bat certainly wouldn’t hurt in that lineup, but would the front office have enough money in the next few years to keep the team together?

If they could get Cecil Fielder, I think they should definitely spend the money. I know you meant Prince. I’m skeptical. On one hand, I applaud Mike Rizzo and the Lerners on wanting to make a free agent splash this off-season after missing out on the “Big name” pitchers (Gio was a very good signing, but not a big name).My problem with Fielder are these: 1) You just spent $20M last off-season on Adam Laroche, who missed all of last year, but was an top-flight first baseman prior to that – especially defensively. Granted, his 20 HR’s can’t compare to what Fielder would give you, but he is a very good player with good make-up and I’d like to see what he can do here. From what I saw at spring training last year, he is a good fit with Zimmerman, Werth, et al. 2) I don’t trust fat guys long-term. I think making a big contract commitment to a guy in that kind of shape is risky. I think the older players get, the more things break down and when you carry that much weight, they break down that much more easily. I just wouldn’t do it.


Did you see Donovan McNabb on ESPN last weekend? They asked him if he was a free agent QB or free agent tv analyst. His answer was just that he was a free agent. Sure looked like an ESPN audition to me, and he did well.

I thought Mac-5 was fine on TV, but having covered him closely and interviewed him many times during his one season in Washington, I can tell you that Donovan will have to be more candid if he wants to succeed on TV. He is very political and cautious when he speaks publically. He doesn’t want to offend. It’s a respectfulness that is admirable when you’re part of the NFL fraternity (and the even smaller QB fraternity), but being a TV analyst requires bold statements and incisive proclamations. These often offend players. If he doesn’t want to do that, he shouldn’t put on the mic and the make-up.

The Phone Booth

Now that the Wizards are in the win column, is there any reason to keep watching?

I shouldn’t get saucy about the Wizards on the morning after they broke the seal on the ’11-’12 win column, but what the heck. They’re horrible. As I’ve said in this space before, If Andray Blatche and Nick Young are your chief scoring options, you’ve got trouble. Neither of those guys has an inkling of what it means to be a team player. John Wall is an exceptional talent, but he needs time and nurturing to develop that talent in a professional context. I would be nervous that this setting is doing him more harm than good. He has already expressed his frustration early this season. If there were strong veteran leaders on this team, that might not be the case. There are some young players to be optimistic about. Chris Singleton has some good defensive instincts. Jan Vesley had a good 2nd game last night (including one insane oop dunk), but all-in-all, prospects are bleak. I don’t blame Flip. I really don’t. He’s been dealt a hand that imminently foldable. He just can’t. Yes, go to a Wizards game to see a good opposing team. Apparently, tickets are plentiful on Stub Hub – some for less than $1.


After 1 1/2 games I am firmly on the Jan Vesley bandwagon. First we had the kiss on draft night, then the quote about his teammates playing badly and then last night he winked at the camera when he came to the bench late in the game. He looked pretty good last night going up and down the court. What should we expect from him the rest of the season?

Here’s the thing about Vesley: He’s 6’11” and yet in his 3 seasons in the Euroleague he never averaged as many 5 rebounds per game. He is big, but not strong. On the other hand, he is big AND quick. He runs the floor with grace (as we saw last night). He only played 16 minutes, but both his field goal attempts were dunks and he made an impact on the game while he was in – that is to say, Toronto had to account for him. Other teams will too. But if he’s going to be that tall and NOT rebound, he needs to knock down shots or somehow become a more reliable offensive threat. They are working on his post moves and working on his short/mid-range jumper. Scouting services like to compare him to Andrei Kirlenko. The Wizards will feel fortunate if Vesley turns into a player of AK-47’s caliber.


Say the Caps just squeak into the playoffs as one of the last seeds. Would that maybe be better for them? No pressure, right?

I don’t think it’s a function of pressure with the Caps. I think it’s a function of defense, toughness and overall team identity. On the contrary, if the Caps were to sneak into the playoffs as a low seed, they’d be forced to play one of the eastern conference’s elite teams in the 1st round and after watching the Winter Classic, I’d hate to see them face either the Flyers or the Rangers without getting their playoff feet wet first. They had a rough mini-swing out west. 10 goals surrendered in 2 games. Dale Hunter seems to get glued to a goaltender and then plays him too many games in a row (Vokoun in this case.) They are still suffering from the absence of some key defenseman (Mike Green and Tom Poti). Their number-1 center Nick Backstrom is day-to-day with headaches and Ovechkin is on pace for another 30-something season in the goal department – good, but not great. We need great. Hunter is still trying to figure out what he’s got. Does he want to go back to the free-wheeling style the Caps played in their early years under Boudreau that saw them score a lot, but surrender almost as many? Or does he want to try to tighten the clamps and play a more disciplined style – at the risk of taking some talented players out of their comfort zone? When the Caps are finishing checks and keeping the puck deep in their offensive zone, they score and win.


Is this the last year for DC United in DC? Any reason for optimism about a stadium?

It would be a massive shame. DC United hasn’t been successful on the pitch lately, but they won 4 MLS Cups early in the league’s existence and provided a pro outlet for the countless soccer fans in a market with a huge international fan base that is hungry for the beautiful game. RFK is a pit. In order to remain competitive, the team needs a modern, soccer-only stadium like many other franchises in the league now have. The DC government is wary about getting into another stadium deal after the perception that the Lerners got the better end of the bargain when National park was built. The team has explored options in Prince George’s County, but nothing has materialized there either. It is entirely possible that the team will move north. The DC fan base has tried to organize to voice their objections, but unless they want to do an “Extreme Makeover – Stadium Edition”, their pleas might be futile.


Thanks for the chat, everyone. Be talking to you from down under. Good on you all.