It's no secret. The professional sports landscape in Northern California has seen better days.
The San Francisco Giants are entering the post-Bonds era - a time that for many Giants fans is refreshing, but also terribly dull. As for the A's, Billy Beane's trade of ace Dan Haren has Oakland in rebuilding mode after its first losing season since 1998.
The 49ers are in complete disarray with Mike Nolan and Alex Smith behaving like they're in a bad soap opera. Then again, the coach-quarterback tiff is more interesting than the Niner offense has been this season. Lane Kiffin seems to have the Raiders headed in the right direction, but how far can they go with Al Davis running things?
Like Kiffin, the young and energetic Reggie Theus has the Kings overachieving, but that roster is a long way from being playoff-caliber. Ironically, the Bay Area's most inept franchise of the last decade - the Golden State Warriors - is the only one worth getting excited about right now. Of course, that could all change with one Baron Davis injury.
In the spirit of the holiday season, here's my Christmas wish list for the area sports teams - with some wishes more realistic than others.
Stay healthy! Stay healthy! Stay healthy! There's really nothing more to it than that. No NBA team can suffer significant injuries to key guys, but if the injury-prone Davis or Stephen Jackson go down, things could unravel in a hurry. Stay healthy and a trip to the conference finals is not entirely out of the question. With the Jazz and Rockets scuffling, Golden State could work its way up to the fifth seed. Those chances will only increase if Chris Mullin can trade for a power forward who can keep up with Nellie's fast-paced style.
Beno Udrih, my man! Despite injuries, suspensions and an overall lack of talent, this is a feeling-out season for Sacramento that's had a lot of pleasant surprises. The addition of point guard Udrih, 25, has been unexpectedly successful, and the competitiveness of the Kings on a night-in-night-out basis has been downright stunning.
Mike Bibby can't get back soon enough, though. Not to help the team, but to be showcased as trade bait. If Sacto can somehow rid of Bibby and Brad Miller (anyone, anyone? Bueller? Bueller?) in exchange for expiring contracts, the Kings can start building around their young core.
Elton Brand can opt out of his contract with the Clippers this offseason - so can Ron Artest, but bear with me. How would a starting five of Udrih, Martin, Artest, Brand and Spencer Hawes sound?
Where do you start? The additions of Nate Clements and super-rookie Patrick Willis have been outstanding, but after that - blech. If Nolan is going to stay on as head coach, his general-managing duties must be revoked immediately. After that, hire a competent offensive coordinator (Dolphins coach Cam Cameron could soon be available - don't laugh) and send Trent Dilfer into the broadcast booth. Re-sign Shaun Hill (maybe), lure quarterback Derek Anderson, a restricted free agent this offseason, from Cleveland (no chance) and let Smith battle it out with those guys for the starting job. More likely, you sign unrestricted free agent Josh McCown on the cheap. (Hey, he's better than what they have now.)
In the draft, grab the best pass rusher available with the first-round pick from the Colts and use the rest of the draft picks on wide receivers. (One of them has to pan out, right?)
Put in JaMarcus! Why is he not starting yet? Unlike the 49ers, JaMarcus Russell gives the Raiders a potential franchise quarterback the fan base can be excited about. So put him in, Kiffin! Let's see what the kid can do.
Beyond that, if the Titans don't slap the franchise tag on defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, throw the bank at him. Yeah, he stomped on a guy's head during a game last season, but how many D-linemen have been mentioned over the years as MVP candidates. Besides, Warren Sapp isn't getting any younger.
In the draft, the Raiders can trade down from a top-10 pick to the mid-teens, where they could pick Cal wide receiver DeSean Jackson. He could be the playmaker Russell needs.
Don't trade Joe Blanton! I couldn't stand to watch another young stud A's pitcher moved. The Haren trade is understandable, but I don't think Beane could get nearly the same value back for Joey B. As of right now, the Angels and the rest of the American League are just too good for Oakland to compete. It's hard not to trust Beane, given his track record, so maybe the Haren deal will look brilliant in a couple years.
In the meantime, why not sign Bonds for a season? Sure they're not going anywhere - and Barry claims he wants to play for a contender - but it will make them a lot more interesting to watch in 2008. And hopefully by the time they move into their new stadium, owner Lew Wolff will finally spend the money it takes to lock up their young talent long-term. It'd be nice to see what Nick Swisher, Travis Buck, Huston Street, Daric Barton, et al. could do post-30 in an A's uniform.
Don't do anything! Brian Sabean should take a page out of Beane's playbook - no, not the trade your ace pitcher for another team's farm system. Instead, Sabean should keep all the young players on the roster and let them have their shot at the big-league level. Find out what Kevin Frandsen, Dan Ortmeier, Nate Schierholtz, Freddy Lewis and Rajai Davis can do and go from there.
The Aaron Rowand signing was a good move, but nothing the Giants do this offseason can help them contend in what has become the National League's best division. And unless you're getting an Alex Rodriguez in return, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are untouchable. Mr. Sabean has thrown away enough young talent in his Giants tenure. Now he needs to build around that starting staff to regain the admiration, or at least respect, of Giants fans.