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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript: March 21, 2013

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 4:51 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — Greetings, all, from the Land of NO CAFFEINE. Well, they have some, but it's just nowhere near this arena where Pitt and Wichita State will tip off a few feet away in their NCAA Tournament opener.

Oh, and me and the CBS guys in front of me are aghast that the arena people haven't put down any power strips for press row.

Going to be a rough one.

Comment From Curt: I worry that some west coast jobs that could open up might lure Jamie Dixon back home, do you see that happening?

Dejan Kovacevic: The concept of Dixon going “back home” obviously belies the fact that home has been Pittsburgh for more than a decade now, and he's never shown the tiniest trace of being dissatisfied with that. But yeah, USC is obviously there, and Dixon didn't exactly quash the USC speculation with that not-now-please answer to the question yesterday.

Comment From PirateApologist: Morning, DK. How far in advance does the NCAA determine locations for the tournament? When will Consol make its tourney debut?

Dejan Kovacevic: That'll be 2015 at Consol, preliminary round, hosted by the one NCAA school guaranteed never to participate in the tournament.

Hope you have a chance to catch my feature this morning on March Madness that included that and more.

Comment From JoelSteedisaHouse: Dejan, how would you rank Mike Tomlin and staff in three main coaching categories: 1. player development/improvement, 2. advance game-planning, 3. in-game calls/adjustments? It seems like the Steelers will have to have a ton of No. 1 this year.

Dejan Kovacevic: Probably no different than your order, though I'm not sure those are the criteria I'd use to make such rankings. Agreed that developing will be key. Not just Jason Worilds, either. He'll have to step outside his comfort zone by avoiding the temptation, for example, to bring back Willie Gay and Matt Spaeth and other guys just because they know his system and ... wait, they did what?

Comment From Damon: Who do you think will be the Pirates #5 starter to begin the season, and also how will the rotation look in June when they have Burnett, Rodriguez, McDonald, Karstens, Liriano, Morton and Cole?

Dejan Kovacevic: I believe Kyle McPherson was able to hold the Braves to about eight runs yesterday, so it'll probably be him.

No, really, it will be McPherson in all likelihood, but with an eye toward Charlie Morton and/or Francisco Liriano once either of those two is available. By late June, sure, Cole could be in there, but not at No. 5. No innings limit, no need to protect.

Comment From Kevin, Tampa: I recently went to the Consol Energy Center for the first time this past Sunday from Tampa. Why in your opinion is that probably the quietest building in the NHL.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's easy. It isn't. Ask anyone in the building for the big PK and Matt Niskanen's goal the other night. No question the place was quiet at season's outset, and I can only guess as to why. But it hasn't been true for a good bit now.

Dejan Kovacevic: Sorry for the pause. E.J. Borghetti, world-class sports information director for Pitt, just stopped by to say good morning.

Where were we?

Comment From greg: Do you think Penn State can win three titles in a row? Wish you were covering that event, you should go some year.

Dejan Kovacevic: I had to stop and think for a second if you were talking about women's basketball or wrestling, but it's obviously the latter. Agreed on NCAA wrestling final. I've done some bigger-league wrestling than that, but the college atmosphere added to it ... can't even imagine.

As for winning, I wouldn't ever doubt any endeavor in which the great Cael Sanderson is involved. Absolute icon of the sport.

Comment From BigNick: Why did the Pirates bring in John McDonald, I know we didn't really give up anything to get him, But he's 38 years old and will not be a starter. Does the club have no faith in Ivan De Jesus??? And if that is the case this would make the Joel's trade frivolous.....

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, no. The primary acquisition in the Hanrahan trade, for better or worse, is Mark Melancon. You'd like for the rest to pan out, obviously, but De Jesus never had top billing, nor should he.

That said, I've got three responses to McDonald: 1. It's a minor move. In the isolated sense, not a big deal.

2. In the less isolated sense, it's sad that this management team remains utterly incapable of producing a shortstop at any level. This type of transaction really shouldn't be necessary.

3. Generally speaking, those who defend the Pirates' front office for each individual botch — no matter how significant — tend to do so as if each move only counts within itself. In other words, McDonald ... so what? What's the big deal? Again, by itself, not much. But when these moves and mistakes are all over the place, then that's the fairest way to evaluate them.

Comment From Pitt skeptic: Is the heat on Jamie Dixon if Pitt does not get past the second round? And perhaps does that make him look at USC or UCLA?

Dejan Kovacevic: You mean, the heat as in from Steve Pederson, the administration or boosters?

Oh, wow, no. No chance. They love him.

And they should. As I wrote in the Wednesday column, he's a great coach. Big, big part of his job is putting his team into position year after year. He's done that as well as anyone in the country.

Comment From Matt: Does Pitt have enough offensive scoring to make a legitimate run?

Dejan Kovacevic: No, absolutely not. And I don't think they're blind to that, from spending a lot of time in that locker room with players and staff. They realize they don't have even an Ashton Gibbs type on the team to consistently knock down outside shots. But in realizing that, they're stressing — like crazy, actually — defending and rebounding. Brandin Knight pointed out that those will lead to the kind of easy buckets Pitt needs to overcome the problems of the half-court offense.

Comment From Sid: Two weeks until the NHL trade deadline. What does Ray Shero have up his sleeve?

Dejan Kovacevic: As you saw in the Trib, there's still a hope among the Penguins that they can land a forward capable of playing on the top six. I know some have taken that as the end of Beau Bennett or the banishment of Pascal Dupuis or whatever, but I can't be sure that's what it means. Ask me, and finding another player in the mold of Brandon Sutter — who can step into just about any role — is much more the answer. Or even the good version of Tyler Kennedy.

You do want scoring from your third and fourth lines. If that means some new player or even Bennett is playing there, so be it. This team's fourth line isn't championship caliber, and by that I mean solely in the context of what you'd want out of a fourth line.

Comment From PirateApologist: In baseball, you never draft for need as the players are always 2-4 years from being ready. However, here is my plan for the Pirates: Rounds 1-3: draft whomever. Rounds 4-30: all shortstops. I'm joking of course, but how could that be worse than what they have done?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ah, my kingdom to watch all 27 shortstops fail.

Comment From Mark (@mjc4480): Does a .500 season save Neal Huntington and Co.'s job, or is it postseason or fired?

Dejan Kovacevic: Bob Nutting's feeling is that .500 and/or 82 doesn't cut it. He's said repeatedly the Pirates have to contend for a playoff spot. Didn't say playoffs or bust.

Comment From yinzer in va: Dejan, Are we close to being able to say “Even a fire hydrant can score 50 goals playing on Crosby's line.” Dupuis & Kunitz sure are playing their best ever.

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, yeah, which is why you wouldn't say anything of the kind. Both have been independently very good. Look at the goal they set up for Sid a couple games ago against the Bruins. They did all of the work, all of the creativity, and he fired into an open net.

Comment From Tom: Can't believe this is your first NCAA tourney. Why doesn't the Trib cover the Final Four every year like your former employer did. Bob Smizik used to have an awesome seat on the first row of press row.

Dejan Kovacevic: Those decisions are always made on a year-to-year basis, by our paper or any other, depending on logistics, local interest, that sort of thing.

I'm sitting right behind the CBS guys, so my seat isn't too bad, either.

But yeah, first one. I didn't even go to the games that have been in Pittsburgh because I was covering either hockey or baseball as a beat writer.

Comment From Sammy: Will Jeanmar Gomez pitch for the PBC this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: If that question ever becomes pertinent ...

Comment From Kevin Colbert: Does anyone give James Harrison a shot, and if so which team?

Dejan Kovacevic: The fact that Harrison isn't signed yet is much more of an indication that Bill Parise, his agent, has a price tag out there that's unreasonable. There's no way an NFL team wouldn't want his services. The Steelers wanted his services. But Harrison and/or Parise are going to have to grasp at some point that he isn't worth the money of his original contract and make a football decision rather than one driven by ego.

Comment From tim m: we know you talk to other baseball teams gms and player personnel people, are the pirates looked at in baseball like say the browns are in football?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Browns are respected more, and that's even more true with the recent changes. I like what Cleveland's done, actually, in the past few months.

But you can ask that question related to the Pirates and other sports teams, and you won't get a different answer. There's just too much damage been done, and that's just from the stuff that's out there to the public. The amount of talk I heard in spring training alone — from outside baseball teams — was staggering. I didn't print a syllable of it because it couldn't be substantiated, but your question was about outside perception, so I'm trying to answer it that way.

Comment From JamesinNYC: Lemieux was the most graceful dare I say beautiful player to watch. Can you think of anyone close?

Dejan Kovacevic: In hockey or any sport?

If it's hockey, I won't compare anyone to Lemieux, but I'll throw in Igor Larionov simply for the quality of his possessions of the puck. In football, I'll go with Barry Sanders. In baseball, Ken Griffey Jr. In basketball, I'll take John Stockton, whose statue is right outside this very building. And I'll even add one in soccer with the great Carlos Valderrama, brilliant midfielder who could destroy an opponent with the softest of touches.

It's a live chat. I probably could do better with more time, but that's what I've got.

Comment From Naterosboro: Why are people so upset at this “crown of the helmet” rule change for running backs? The NFL has been trying to make it virtually impossible to play defense in recent years. Isn't it good they finally “give 1 back”?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you read the Steelers' comments about it, it's clear that they want a flag thrown only when they see the running back doing something flagrant, even with an intent to injure. I don't think we'll be discussing it as much once the ball is kicked.

Comment From Big Sam: Have you had a chance to see much of Salt Lake City?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not much, really. That's standard for most places I'm sent to work, though I will try to carve out extra time for the special ones such as Winnipeg, San Francisco, Nashville and Dallas (only for the Sixth Floor Museum as a JFK nut).

What I have seen of the city is striking largely in the topographical sense. I hadn't realized that the massive mountains here completely ring the city. It's a jarring sight everywhere you look up, especially given that there are few tall buildings to block the view.

But yeah, nice place.

Comment From Pitt Fan Swissvale: Does Big Kiwi look ready to play?

Dejan Kovacevic: I almost never get that sense from Steven Adams. Always as if he's on some other planet. But that sense might mean absolutely nothing.

Comment From Guest: Hey DK, how many reporters from Pittsburgh are in Salt Lake City? Is the number similar to other media outlets covering the other teams?

Dejan Kovacevic: The two newspapers are here, obviously, and I've seen WTAE-TV here, as well. I really haven't noticed how that compares. Seems to be a good amount from Seattle, Phoenix and even a couple from Canada because of the Gonzaga kids.

Comment From Chris from DC: LETS GO PITT!!!!!.....Your Harrison answer, which makes sense, begs the question of, “What's the likelihood that the Steelers and Harrison can reach an agreement to bring him back?” Steelers want him. He wants to play. Any chance they can meet in the middle and agree to a salary that was palatable to the Steelers previously?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you read Mike Tomlin's cryptic answer about his final conversation with Harrison, that didn't exactly come across as if they got all teary-eyed.

Comment From Mark: How do you see this situation with E. Sanders turning out? You think he'll be a Steeler this upcoming year?

Dejan Kovacevic: I do. From the looks of it, New England really kind of toyed with Sanders in order to get one of their own guys to bite on a lower offer. The Patriots can do stuff like that.

Comment From Guest23: So do you think there was a second gunman?

Dejan Kovacevic: Without a doubt.

Comment From Jim: Is it time for Clint to pencil in Tabata as the RF starter over the “left handed Matt Diaz”?

Dejan Kovacevic: Jose Tabata absolutely should start ahead of Travis Snider. And before you ask why Tabata, ask why Snider? Only fair. Tabata's more talented. Tabata has done what needed to be done in the offseason. Exceeded it, actually.

Comment From Big Sam: Biggest acquisition for Pens this year - Mark Eaton or upcoming?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Penguins' biggest acquisition of this season, unequivocally, has been the reacquisition of the old Paul Martin. But if you're being literal, no, knowing Shero and his history, the guy will go for it.

Comment From Rick in The Evergreen State: Dejan, why is it the Pens think John Steigerwald is better for TV games than Mike Lange? I know you sort of answered this last week but more details would help. Lange just brings so much more than Steigerwalds forced excitement.

Dejan Kovacevic: It's Paul Steigerwald. His excitement isn't forced. It's as genuine as they come. The man bleeds for the Penguins.

Comment From RealDealNeil: Do you think Huntington was over the top in his comments about sending Cole down? Seemed unnecessarily critical about ‘not being ready' when everyone knows it is a move to secure his rights for a longer period of time. Typical ‘too cute by half' on Huntington's part.

Dejan Kovacevic: Yep. And that's a proud and bright young man who I can promise you wouldn't appreciate it.

You're going to love Gerrit Cole, by the way, whenever he gets here and regardless of whoever's in the front office once he does. It's not just the arm. It's not just the pitching smarts. It's that he performs with a chip on his shoulder, a healthy one.

Comment From Damon: If Shero is still looking for a top-6 winger as has been mentioned, other than the usual suspects, who would be someone the Pens could/would target (Sam Gagner, Mike Cammalleri, Ales Hemsky, Loui Eriksson, etc.)?

Dejan Kovacevic: Nothing wrong with any of those names, although Hemsky always has kind of given me the Petr Klima-type creeps. Too perimeter for my taste. But I think you might be warm with some of the other guys, even if they'll cost more than the rentals you seem to have left out.

Comment From Guest: Since Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin evidently,according to many in Steeler Nation have become inept overnight,has anybody bothered to do their homework on the success of other teams draft's that pick as low as the Steelers?? I just feel it's ridiculous to panic and throw around absurdities.

Dejan Kovacevic: It is completely fair to compare the Steelers' drafts against their own, and that's because everything the Steelers do is built upon the draft. That includes their financial methodologies. If the drafts aren't reaping the rewards needed to sustain that system, then a different system is needed.

Colbert's drafts haven't been good enough. The coming one has to be.

Comment From Damon: People seem to be all over the Steelers for not signing anyone major, but I think since they are so strapped for cash, waiting is their best/only option. There are so many free agents still available who's price is dropping as the days pass. Many WRs still available like Laurent Robinson, Brandon Lloyd, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Steve Breaston, Mohammad Massaquoi if we lose Sanders....

Dejan Kovacevic: Agreed. The more time elapses, the more names that seem to be popping up as realistic acquisitions. And that's why I keep stressing to everyone that the Steelers you see now will not be the ones in Latrobe. Many moves to come.

Comment From Panther Paul: If Pitt loses in the first round what does that say about the program?

Dejan Kovacevic: Never mind the program. I think it wouldn't reflect well at all on the team bouncing balls right here in front of me. These players have talent. Don't think anyone would dispute that. If they're not ready to beat Wichita State — which looks a lot smaller from my cursory glance to the right — that reflects on them.

I'd get into the program stuff more down the road.

Comment From Sammy: DK, this is why you get big recruits. Big Kiwi vs Kelly Olynik next round. IF the Panthers can win today, can they beat the Zags?

Dejan Kovacevic: There's no one I've talked to here who doesn't think Pitt can beat Gonzaga. Hard to dismiss a team that's crushed Georgetown and Syracuse this season. But Adams, Dante Taylor and Talib Zanna will ALL have to play the games of their lives.

Comment From Guest23: Is it easy to conduct this chat with all the distractions around you?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes. There's noise and distractions pretty much when anyone in this line of work is doing his or her job. You totally block it out.

Comment From hankpsu: Do you feel Cole should have an innings limit, a la Strasburg?

Dejan Kovacevic: Doesn't matter. He doesn't. Stephen Strasburg was coming off major elbow surgery. Cole's been healthy forever. No point of comparison here.

All that happened in Washington was that a lot of people who know nothing about baseball were exposed to something that's really common in baseball and were confused by it. Never should have been the slightest controversy.

Comment From Joey_Pitt: Would it bother you if an athlete didn't work with the media and strictly used twitter or facebook to address the public?

Dejan Kovacevic: I never care about stuff like that. Doesn't affect my job at all. If I'm relying on any single athlete or coach or manager or whatever to do what I do, I'm failing before I even get started.

Comment From Jack: Hi Dejan, u think it is time to consider a 4-3 defense with the lack of depth at LB,at least part of rotation? At least then we will know for sure what Ziggy and Heyward have and those two plus Keisel and McLendon might not be that bad.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's a pretty dramatic change, to say the least, and it's not one that's forthcoming. Remember, too, that Lawrence Timmons just had a wonderful year from his inside linebacker spot. Not something I'd want to mess with, among other variables.

Couple more today ...

Comment From MrB: In light of two late season collapses, the management and other than it's encoded in my DNA, can you give me one valid reason why I should follow the Pirates this year? A cable baseball package subscription hangs in the balance.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's up to you, my friend. I never advise anyone on what to do with their money.

Independent of your investment, I can think of a whole lot of people who would be interested in paying to watch Andrew McCutchen.

Comment From Mike: Are college athletes difficult to interview? It seems like they usually give confusing or uninspiring answers.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's a fair statement. It takes a little more work, for sure. But there are exceptions.

Comment From Naterosboro: Why aren't you excited that “Big Play” Willie Gay is back? Bringing back Bryant McFadden worked out...

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't mind the Gay move at all. My point in the earlier answer was that Tomlin eventually will need to step outside his comfort zone in terms of acquiring outside players who might not know anything at all about him or his system. Only way the Steelers will improve upon what they've got now.

Comment From Guest: Do the Panthers win today?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll be surprised if they don't. Wichita State is a similarly physical team, but the separator is size. If Pitt's big guys can handle the boards, it won't matter how much or little they score.

Expect a low point total, though.

Dejan Kovacevic: The columns run ... well, every day as long as I'm out here, but in a normal week it's Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday. The radio show is Tuesday, and this here chat is Thursday. The blog is like the Utah mountains, always there, overwhelming at times and sometimes capable of trapping large quantities of pollution.

Thanks to all for participating!

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