FRIDAY MEDIA COLUMN; (Twitter: @flasportsbuzz)
The conversation has played out a couple times on TNT in recent weeks – Charles Barkley insisting Dwyane Wade “is not the same player,” and Shaquille O’Neal responding with a stern “Leave Dwyane alone.”
Speaking in the TNT green room before Game 1 Wednesday night, both NBA legends tackled the Wade topic from different perspectives, this time without the glare of the cameras.
For starters, Barkley wants to make one thing clear: “I have nothing against Dwyane" -- his former partner on T-Mobile ads. "But I’m going to do my job.”
And? “He’s not the same explosive player he was a couple years ago,” Barkley reiterated, adding it “annoys me” when people criticize him for saying that.
“You’ve only had one good three-minute stretch in the playoffs,” Barkley said of Wade, who is averaging 13.7 points, 5.3 assists and 4.9 rebounds this postseason while battling through a knee injury. The Heat obviously would disagree with that assertion.
“And he’s hurt all the time," Barkley added. "That tells me Father Time is kicking in…. That’s one of the reasons I don’t like these reporters in Miami. You can’t say anything about these guys without them over-reacting.
“Kobe Bryant is not the same guy. Tim Duncan is not the same guy. They don’t whine like the Heat does. One thing about these fans and the media here, they’re a whiny bunch.”
(In a matter unrelated to Wade, Barkley said on air an hour later that the Heat tends “to over-react anytime you don’t kiss their [butt].”)
Making a point not to whine, I mentioned to Sir Charles – who won a Sports Emmy for studio analysis earlier this month – that Wade still averaged 21.2 points and shot 52.1 percent this season.
“That’s because he’s playing with LeBron James,” Barkley said, adding that Wade is still a good player “but LeBron covers up all their flaws.”
Is Wade still an All-Star in his opinion? “If he played well enough to be an All-Star,” Barkley answered. “I don’t give those lifetime achievement awards. I do it every year.”
But Barkley -- who picked the Pacers to win this series in six games -- worries that “once you start getting hurt, I don’t think you ever get healthy again.”
(Barkley, on Dan Le Batard's radio show Thursday, said Wade "played very well" in Game 1 but "didn't look explosive to me.)
Shaq, meanwhile, looks at his former teammate and says: “D-Wade still has it. He still has the same skill set and same mindset. He’s smart enough - because I helped team him – to pace himself. The last five minutes of the Chicago series, it was explosive basketball.”
O’Neal says James’ presence “is going to add two years” to Wade’s career: “Now he doesn’t have to do as much.”
### Game 1 on TNT was viewed in 24.4 percent of Miami-Fort Lauderdale homes with TV sets (396,000 homes) – the highest local cable rating since Game 7 of last year’s Heat-Celtics Eastern Finals generated a 25.0… Nationally, Game 1 drew 8.2 million viewers, dwarfing the 4.7 million average for the first two games of the Western Finals.
RIP-JOB ON FINS
The Dolphins couldn’t have expected the rip-job that NFL Network and Fox analyst and former Miami fullback Heath Evans unleashed recently against general manager Jeff Ireland and his personnel decisions on an appearance on WINZ-940’s Dolphins-owned radio show.
“This might end up being a nightmare for Jeff Ireland, in every single one of these decisions,” Evans said. “GMs I talk to around the league saying, ‘This is Jeff Ireland being Jeff Ireland throwing around monopoly money.’ That’s not the way to win championships.”
Evans is entitled to his opinion, but a couple of his comments were irrational or unsupported by fact.
Perhaps the most head-scratching was this remark about Dion Jordan: “Anytime he’s in the game, he’s a liability. I don’t care if he gives you 18 sacks next year. The negative impact of him on the field for most of true football situations is scary to me.”
I must interject here: If Jordan has 18 sacks, nobody will be calling him a liability. And besides his obvious pass rush skills, he was effective in coverage on tight ends and running backs at Oregon and wasn’t overwhelmed against the run.
Evans added of the Jordan pick: “[That] messed my mind up. I get the potential, but potential will get you fired in a heartbeat. With the struggles Jeff Ireland has had making wise decisions through the draft across the board, this is a reach. He’s still 6-6, he’s still 240. “As soon as you see him in the game, even 3rd and 3, we’re thinking we still have a very good chance to run the ball. The Patriots’ run numbers on third down last year were the highest in the league. They didn’t get better with the Dion Jordan pick and they aren’t closer to beating the Patriots with that pick.
“Dion Jordan is not the type of player that frustrates Tom Brady. Cam Wake is not the type of player that frustrates [Brady]. It’s middle pressure. It’s what Baltimore is able to do to him.” (Miami has some of that inside pressure with Randy Starks and Jared Odrick when he moves inside.)
### On the moves at receiver, Evans said: “Was there anyone that was going to pay Brian Hartline that (five years, $31 million)? Was there anyone going to pay Mike Wallace that (five years, $60 million)? The Steelers have insider trader information on people.
“Yes, we know Wallace’s ceiling is high, but the floor is equally low. This is a guy that’s going to throw your quarterback an interception [and] that’s going be lazy in his routes. You talk to the Steelers, this is a guy you can’t count on in crunch time. For a young quarterback, you need a guy you can count on in crunch time. The numbers don’t add up.”
Evans must have missed that the Steelers offered Wallace a $50 million deal before last season, albeit with far less guaranteed money than Miami offered. But a big contract nevertheless.
### We’ll see if Evans is right in criticizing the decision to replace Karlos Dansby with Dannell Ellerbe at linebacker.
“[You want] middle pressure? It’s not Ellerbe,” Evans said. “Dansby is one of the more gifted athletes. We know very little about Ellerbe. We know a guy that had a lot of super natural talent around him. You had a decade of knows with Dansby. You have nine starts with Ellerbe.”
During the interview, Dolphins employee and former linebacker Twan Russell told Evans: “I think you’re very mistaken” about his criticism. Evans conceded he “might be wrong” about Wallace. When Evans left the air, Russell said he didn’t appreciate Evans’ analysis.
But the Dolphins have not issued any edict saying Evans cannot be invited back on WINZ.