Whitt's End: How Would Dick Motta Judge Luka and Today's Mavs?
Whether you’re at the end of your coffee, your day, your week or even your rope, welcome to Whitt’s End …
*Home, Sweet Sour Home. Despite Wednesday night’s blowout win (game story here), the Mavs are making a momentous mess of American Airlines Center. They are 15-14 at home, flirting with becoming the first team in NBA history to make the playoffs despite a losing home record. It’s beyond baffling.
The Mavs are inarguably one of the league’s best road teams, beating the Philadelphia 76ers (25-2 at home), Milwaukee Bucks (25-3), Los Angeles Clippers (22-5), Denver Nuggets (21-6), Los Angeles Lakers (18-7) and Houston Rockets (19-8). But at home they’ve lost to sub-.500 teams including the New York Knicks, Portland Trailblazers, Sacramento Kings, Charlotte Hornets and Phoenix Suns. More damning, they’ve trailed by 20-plus points at halftime four times this season … all at home.
Barring an epic collapse the last third of the season, the Mavs will make the playoffs. But unless they go 8-4 or better down the stretch at AAC, they’ll enter the postseason with the worst home record of any team in franchise history. The ’16 club went 23-18 at home; the ’85 squad 24-17. Neither won a playoff series. Of the Mavs’ 21 playoff teams, 11 won at least 30 games at home. (The best record is 36-5 in 2004, and they were 29-12 in the 2011 championship season.)
Former coach Dick Motta used to tell us that a team’s “real identity” was road wins minus home losses. “Tough one tonight, boys,” he’d tell his team. “Gotta a plus-7 coming in here.” Using his formula, this year’s Mavs are 18-14 and, therefore, their +4 “real identity” would rank them 11th-best in the NBA.
The old, more traditional adage is that you have to win on the road in the playoffs. In all of sports, it’s never been easier. Consider 2019. In the World Series, the road team won all seven games. Visitors went 5-2 in the Stanley Cup Finals, 5-1 in the NBA Finals and 5-5 in the NFL Playoffs.
In 2019 combined playoff games, home teams were only 8-22. So Mavs fans, take heart?
*Four words that’ll brighten even this dark, dreary, wet, wintry weather: Pitchers and catchers report. I’ll be in Surprise for Texas Rangers’ spring training in exactly three weeks.
*Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys? Look, if “hard work” alone guaranteed enshrinement, the franchise’s all-time leader in receiving touchdowns would have long been in the Ring of Honor. But as former coach Jimmy Johnson shouted at no one in particular during a ’90s training camp practice at St. Edward’s University in Austin, “We don’t need to worker harder; we need to work smarter. Mules work hard. I’m gonna make damn sure we’re better than mules!”
Attempting a comeback from a torn Achilles and a two-year layoff, Bryant is back in the gym, back on the field, back working hard. He’s flooding his social media with “working in the lab” videos and “crazy grind” motivational mantras. He did a sit-down interview the other day with our Mike Fisher that was all about his dream of rejoining his beloved Cowboys.
“I’m where I need to be (physically) right now,” Bryant told CowboysSI.com. “I’m more serious than ever.”
The campaign is on. But ...
While I admire Dez’s efforts, there’s a flaw in his philosophy. His weakness was never work ethic, conditioning nor athleticism, but more so nuance. (And, at times, his sideline and locker room eruptions fueled by “passion.”) He displayed both the strength – and the savvy – of a sledgehammer. Think about your favorite Dez catches. Probably him out-jumping a defender or two, high-pointing the ball and unfathomably coming down with both feet in bounds among a tangled web of bodies. Right? But what prevented him from being the greatest Cowboys receiver – in my book he’s behind Bob Hayes, Michael Irvin and Drew Pearson – was that he diluted making the difficult catch look easy with making the easy catch look difficult.
Sloppy route-running. Drops. Refusing to smoothly “run through” catches on deep balls, instead choosing to inexplicably stop and jump. Great as he was, Dez was always more snatcher than receiver. Now, at 31, he's openly and shamelessly pleading for his old job back. Texting Stephen Jones. Tweeting “let me play with Zeke …” and “Give me the role they gave Witten.”
His last NFL catch – a 7-yarder from Dak Prescott – came in the forgettable 6-0 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2017 finale. His last 100-yard game was Week 10 of 2016. His last 1,000-yard season came way back in 2014. It’s been a long road back for Bryant since the major injury in his first and only practice with the New Orleans Saints in November 2018.
Should the Cowboys sign him for training camp? Sure. But only if he’s smarter. Not just stronger.
*Dead ’n Gone: The Hardline. In 1994, I became fascinated by the new, groundbreaking afternoon sports talk show on 1310 The Ticket. Soon, I grew obsessed. By 1996, I was honored to be a frequent guest. In 2008, I auditioned for the show in the wake of Greg Williams’ departure.
Then, in 2010, I became its nemesis – co-host of a competing afternoon drive show on 105.3 The Fan.
But I go back with The Hardline to R.O. in Cokeville, Microphone Johnson, “You’re on the two-minute drill, Go!” and, my favorite as a sportswriter, Dueling Leads.
Those, alas, were the good ol’ days. When the hosts were Mike Rhyner and Greggo, Gordon Keith was their yuck monkey, Corby Davidson was teamed with Chris Arnold in mid-mornings and Bob Sturm was still enrolled at Liberty University. Rhyner, the Texas Radio Hall-of-Famer and legendary Ticket creator, retired last month and, yesterday, The Hardline as we knew it officially flatlined.
Sturm is moving into Rhyner’s chair alongside Corby, and it will likely be listenable radio. But it won’t be the original: Rhynes & Greggo. It’s like when your favorite band changes its members but keeps its name. (Van Halen II > 5150). The lineup shakeup made me strangely nostalgic. So much so that I picked up the phone and called Greggo, who was my partner for three years at The Fan. We hadn’t spoken since the day we were fired: April 15, 2013.
“Hey, nothing lasts forever,” Greggo said of The Ticket’s tweaks. “I remember thinking no one would ever beat Ron Chapman at KVIL, that Terry Dorsey would never retire from KSCS and that Alabama would win like five consecutive national championships. That said, it’s still sad to me. I’ve felt a connection to that station, and that show in particular, since Day One.”
*Unlike when he admittedly harpooned RAGE at The Fan, Greggo sounds lucid. Apologetic. Rational. He turned 60 recently. Sixty! He lives in Grapevine these days, expecting nothing from nobody. The Ticket last year celebrated its 25 anniversary. Greggo wasn’t invited. As an original cast member that shoved the station on the map – they still play his classic drops, for crying out loud – he certainly should’ve been.
“I don’t think they wanted me there,” Greggo says. “I thought about going but, honestly, I didn’t want to be a distraction.”
If Bobby Knight can be welcomed back to Assembly Hall in Indiana, The Ticket should extend an olive branch to Hammer.
*Caught some of the XFL’s Dallas Renegades debut game in Arlington and didn’t hate it. But neither did I love it. The quality of play reminded me of an NFL preseason game and – with some sort of football on TV for 27 consecutive weekends spanning August to February, I guess just a week after the Super Bowl I wasn’t craving football. Don’t get me wrong, steak is great and all. But after seven straight days of eating it for dinner, I might be inclined to order chicken on Day 8.
*I dunno, I’ve always figured if you fell two stories while on the job your employer would compensate you. But apparently not if you’re a stripper. Genea Sky was working the pole at Dallas’ XTC Cabaret – frequented the scenery there a couple times, guilty – when she awkwardly and violently plummeted 15 feet to the stage.
Despite a fractured jaw, broken teeth and badly sprained ankle, Sky immediately bounced up and began twerking. Because they are considered “contractors”, club owners say entertainers aren’t covered by insurance. Silver lining: Sky has a GoFundMe page with more than $31,000 in donations.
Only in 2020 can the slip-’n-fall be upstaged by the strip-’n-fall.
*Valentine’s Day is utter nonsense. If you need a reminder – or an excuse – to be sweet to your significant other, you’re probably with the wrong significant other. Right, long-time DFW relationship guru Jennifer Styres?
“It’s a 'Hallmark' holiday,” Styres said recently on the Morning After podcast with Ron Corning. “Couples feel so much pressure to make it special, but it’s just another day.”
*Irvin’s juicy gossip be damned, let’s stop with the Tom Brady-wearing-a-star-on-his-helmet stuff. I appreciate CowboysSI.com's deep commitment to analyzing the Dak Prescott-related concept. And I’m not saying Jerry Jones hasn’t made a mistake or two (hundred) during his team’s 24-year Super Bowl drought, but he’s smart enough to know you don’t go building a team around a 41-year-old quarterback.
*Citing the ratings from the last quarter of 2019, a buddy of mine texted me Monday after seeing The Ticket news on social media and newspaper websites.
“Lotta fuss for a 10th-place station,” he quipped.
But The Ticket was (and maybe will again be) a radio dynasty. In an industry where 25 months is a success, it ruled our local airwaves for 25 years. But with retirement-plus-ratings injected into the equation, the station will sound different moving forward.
In my humble opinion, Sturm is too heavy on stats and too light on storytelling. In middays, someone named Jake Kemp slides into Sturm’s old seat next to Dan McDowell. All I know of Kemp is that he’s a guy that criticized me on social media for my writing, but immediately blocked me when I dared to clap back.
Don’t know a thing about his talent, but I can testify that he’s going to need thicker skin.
*With his impending foray into free agency, forever San Diego Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers is being heralded as the “best quarterback to never start a Super Bowl.”
Um, Warren Moon will have something to say about that. As will Hall-of-Famers Dan Fouts and Sonny Jurgensen who somehow never ever led his team to the playoffs.
You know who else belongs in the conversation? The quarterback with four Pro Bowls, 78 wins, 34,000-plus yards, 248 touchdowns and one cushy job in the broadcast booth.
That’s right, maybe-soon-to-be $20-mil man Romo. Behind Rivers, admittedly, but in the Top 10.
*Even before his appearance, newest Mav Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has a legit shot to rank among the franchise’s all-time greats.
To wear No. 9, that is.
He only has to top the modest careers of Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Jae Crowder to be the best Maverick to ever wear the number. (Betcha a nickel he doesn’t threaten DFW ownership of No. 9, currently shared by guys named Modano and Romo.)
Just by showing up and playing hard, Kidd-Gilchrist already leap-frogged the regrettable Rajon Rondo.
*Hey, whatever happened to The Concorde, that ominous immigrant “caravan” or, for that matter, the coronavirus? I’m not making light of a pandemic that’s killed more than 1,000 in China, but the number of newly infected people has decreased for nine consecutive days and now leading epidemiologists are predicting the outbreak will be contained and cured by April 1.
Like SARS, the Bird Flu, Swine Flu, Ebola, Zika and West Nile Virus before it, coronavirus in the U.S. was more fear than fatality. How’s that you say? The Center for Disease Control estimates 56,000 Americans will die in 2020 from the flu. In other words, the garden-variety flu will kill more in one year than all those other supposed pandemics did, combined.
*Watching the Renegades, I was reminded that way before Tony Pollard there was an irrationally popular backup Cowboys’ running back named Lance Dunbar.
*Saw Billie Eilish perform at The Grammys couple weeks ago. Her singing style – low, soft, breathy, mumbly, reluctant, disinterested – was exactly my singing style, just after Mom would poke my arm in “encouragement” at church.
*Mavs gotta lead the NBA in players with hyphenated names, right? Dorian Finney-Smith, Willie Cauley-Stein and now Kidd-Gilchrist. So there’s that.
*Who needs Russia to interfere in our elections when we’re handing new, wonky apps to 70-year-old Iowans accustomed to caucusing in barns?
*To those that say climate change is exaggerated – if not a flat-out “hoax” – riddle me this: Last week, for the first time in recorded history, it was warmer in Antarctica (65) than Los Angeles (64).
*Props to the Mavs for extending and invite and free tickets to Monday’s game against the Utah Jazz to the Lovejoy youth hoops team that recently lost a teammate. Clay Chapman, just 10, died unexpectedly last week. We shouldn’t need Kobe and Clay to remind us to hug our loved ones. Just because.
*This weekend? After three consecutive weekends of tennis league matches, wrapped around countless visits to the hospital in Fort Worth, time for a respite. Let’s recharge the batteries with some Luka Doncic-led NBA All-Star Weekend and chill. As always, don’t be a stranger.