Tag Archives: Kobe Bryant

NBA Season Preview Part II (Teams from 30-16)

The NBA season is upon us and with that, its time to preview the season.  You can find part one here.  For this preview I decided rather than write some long winded thing about how Kobe Bryant is ruining the Lakers franchise (more on that later), I would rather structure it in a crowd pleasing way: go reverse order in rank of all 30 NBA franchises heading into the season and list one player to watch and one subplot over the course of the season.  Hope you enjoy it and hope you learn and hope you care enough to curse me out over the internet and tell me I don’t know crap.  Here is part I:

30. Sixers logoPhiladelphia 76ers-

Player to Watch- Nerlens Noel (C)- Noel is in his second year out of the NBA training academy in Kentucky known as the Wildcat collegiate program.  He’s a long armed, afro-d rim protector sent to the Sixers to play with the emotions of players hoping to score in the paint.  Obviously this season is lost in the midst of the biggest, most open tanking party known to sports (as the NBA Twitteratzi will have you believe), so the most important story on the court will be Noel’s development along with MCW’s development playing with Noel and then maybe if we’re lucky we may even see a Joel Embiid sighting!

Major Subplot of the Season- Tankapalooza- Technically the Sixers won their first game of the season when major lottery reform was shot down by a vote of 17-13.  Zach Lowe of Grantland expertly outlined what was at stake for this vote.  The NBA and its righteous police will surely devote thousands of words and twitter memes to symbolize what a horrible thing this is, but I’m all for any careful, thought out process of becoming good again.  Fans will come back once the team starts winning.  Suffer for a few years, but beware when the tag of losers are ripped off.  That’s when the fun starts.

29. jazz symbol Utah Jazz-

Player to Watch- Dante Exum (PG?)-  I put a question mark because the Jazz and rookie coach Quinn Snyder will likely use him in a variety of roster spots.  But he’s a natural point guard.  Exum is the baby of a youtube highlight clip, reared by Twitter GIF’s and raised by the blessing of the NBA Twitterverse.  Which is to say he’s a completely digital creation.  Now comes the human element: actual games.  I like what i’ve heard, and I’m more intrigued by the few highlights I’ve seen from Jazz preseason games.  I’m not going to venture a guess on his ceiling because nobody knows, but a point guard that can fly and has court vision?  Should be fun.

Major Subplot of the Season- How Toure Murray and Steve Novak will save the Jazz!  Young and the Restless- The Utah Jazz have the youngest roster in the NBA.  Twelve of the 15 players that will suit up for the Jazz are 25 and younger.  Talent wise, they have three Top 5 Picks (Exum, Kanter, and Favors), six lottery picks (+ Hayward, Burks and Burke), and nine first rounders (+Booker, Hood, Govert), pedigree which suggests they should be good.  They are like Philly three years into their tanking program, but the feeling is that there will be more losses piling on for the Jazz.  They play in the ultra-competitive West where there are legitimately 10 teams vying for the 8 playoff spots.  So it gives Utah liberty to continue piling on assets before they have to make their first big move, which likely will mean either Kanter or Favors is on their way out.  Bet on Kanter, but definitely lay money on the fact that the Jazz will look very Spurs-ian on offense (don’t we all aspire to) while running exciting rotations which should keep hoop nerds in the East up long hours watching this young 20 something line up explore themselves like a young teenager watching porn for the first time.

28. Lakers-Logo Los Angeles Lakers-

Player to Watch- Kobe Bryant (SG)- C’mon, as if there was anyone else.  I honestly don’t know how Kobe’s season will play out but after this article by Henry Abbot (a journalist of the highest order) where he lists anonymous sources within the Lakers organization who believe that Kobe is the reason they are bad and will continue to be bad.  Not helping matters was Jeannie Buss going all Steinbrenner-ish by publicly criticizing these anonymous sources and calling any player who doesn’t want to play with Kobe a loser anyway, I can’t help but feel uneasy about predicting anything but a ton of back and forth between Kobe’s fan base (long one of the most fierce in NBA history) over Twitter that could get nasty.

Major Subplot of the Season- Byron Scott and the National Advanced Stats legion- Not only are advanced stats here to stay, but they have crept into every crevice of NBA operation and major NBA writing which will likely skew your thoughts on the matter.  Fact is, Byron Scott is wrong based on all the statistical evidence we’ve seen (see!  its happening to me!).  To be fair, Scott came to Cleveland on July 2nd, 2010.  We all know what happened on July 8th when Lebron tap danced on Cleveland fans hearts and went to Miami.  Well, he comes to Los Angeles, the place of his greatest trumps RIGHT as Kobe is entering a “prove you’re still great” season where he’ll launch a ton of shots while playing a bunch of one on two or threes and giving below average defense and demanding minutes.  Also, the best free agents the Lakers got were Jeremy Lin, who will now be pushed into more minutes with Steve Nash being done for the season, and Carlos Boozer who’s biggest contribution the last few seasons was this.  Things could get bad in Tinseltown fast.  But hey, at least they will sell out!

27. bucks logoMilwaukee Bucks-

Player to Watch- Jabari Parker (SF)- Carmelo Anthony clone.  Number two draft pick in a loaded draft.  Thought to be a franchise player.  There’s tons of things here to like, but let’s call it what it is.  Here is the season for the Bucks right here:

Major Subplot of the Season- Jason Kidd dealing with a young roster- In Brooklyn he was a rookie coach trying to get the most out of a veteran roster.  He flipped the script, jumped ship (there’s really no other way of saying it) and went to a team with a bunch of young pieces.  Kidd had plenty of lows in Brooklyn but the fact is, he did it his way which is how you can accurately describe his NBA career.  He’s a natural leader and he will be the voice the players turn to when they are down in a crunch time situation and youth and inexperience will drive them to the Fountain of Kidd.  This may not be a good team, butut expect them to be hungry and give teams a good scare down the stretch.  Expect them also to be very busy come trade deadline.  Shoutout to John Henson who I saw give everyone elbows because he still hasn’t figured out how freakishly long his limbs are.  You can’t teach that.

26. Magic logoOrlando Magic-

Player to Watch- Elfrid Payton (PG)- Many expect Payton to challenge Jabari Parker for the Rookie of the Year.  Payton is that mix of rangy athleticism with a good body that compares well to Exum, only he played in the States.  While he did play in the Sun Belt Conference, the experience of playing States-side players is very critical when seeing how he projects and he’s proven in both Vegas (7.2 APG) and in 27 MPG in the preseason (5 APG) that he’s up for the challenge.  It also helps that everyone has been glowing about how mature and wise beyond his years he is.

Major Subplot of the Season- They can play but can they shoot though?- The stats suggest not.  Jacque Vaughn is in a weird spot.  They already have lost Victor Oladipo for an extended stretch when he broke his orbital bone.  They brought in Channing Frye to help spacing but you can almost make the case that 60% of their starting lineup not only can’t shoot, but are historically bad.  Aaron Gordon doesn’t project well as a shooter, and neither does Tobias Harris who the Magic have to make a decision on whether to extend.  How can you create space for Payton to drive, or Oladipo to drive or Gordon to roll to the basket if NOBODY is afraid of them from 10 feet and beyond?  That’s the question for them to  ponder.

25. CelticsLogoBoston Celtics-

Player to Watch- Rajon Rondo (PG)- In my 10 bold predictions for the upcoming season, I wrote that Rondo would not be traded and that Jeff Green would be.  Most may think I dislike Rondo which is far from the truth.  I love Rondo.  I think having a competitor like him can only help your team and he has the playoff chops to take your team over the top.  Even if he isn’t a fit in the triangle, I would welcome him to my Knicks.  But this season the Celtics, who drafted Marcus Smart specifically to take over the mercurial yet talented point guard of the Celtics mantle that Rondo held firm for so many years,  are continuing their rebuilding and transition.  They have quality pieces to give away in trades and Rondo being the big chip.  I just don’t see it happening, unless the Celtics find a very anxious bidder who’s willing to overpay which is exactly how Danny Ainge wants to play it.  But Rondo isn’t the cookie cutter and he comes with hard edges that will make him a very tough add to any team hoping to add Rondo to their team easily.

Major Subplot of the Season- Can Danny find a home for Rondo?- I realize I’m doubling up on this but let’s face it, the Celtics will try like heck to trade him.  Getting back value will be completely up to Danny Ainge.  Will he hold on to Rondo even though he knows retaining him will take repairing their relationship?  We still have yet to see Rondo and Brad Stevens collaborate in an 82 game season which is something that could be fascinating.  But Ainge’s responsibility first and foremost will be to trade Rondo and get back draft picks, salary relief, and young players.  I don’t know that he will accomplish that goal but the season will likely be in limbo until Ainge either trades him or pays him. You know who’s the x-factor on how this plays out?  Rajon Rondo.  Who knows if he wants to stick it to Celtic management?  Who knows if there’s resentment or bitterness on how the Celtic saga ended with the smearing campaign when Ray Allen left?  Coming to NY won’t help that but you can see how a change of scenario will help.  If Ainge has Rondo after the trade deadline, all the leverage will return to Rondo and that’s the scenario that Ainge does NOT want to see played out.

24. Timberwolves logo Minnesota Timberwolves-

Player to Watch- Andrew Wiggins (SF)- He said all the right things about how he was looking forward to the challenge.  How he’s motivated.  How he wants to play for a team that wants him.  Those are all fine and well.  He and Anthony Bennett will be compared in the impossible microscope of the Kevin Love trade.  That’s tough for any rookie, no matter how heralded.  Now comes the proving ground.  There’s no question about the defensive ability already.  His offensive game still needs a lot more work and he will get plenty of minutes to develop it.  Now’s the time rook.  Now.

Major Subplot of the Season- How does Flip Saunders deal with making a good deal?- Look, when you’re losing the quality of big man in Kevin Love, the fact is, there is no such thing as equal value.  So reality has to set in and accept the best deal possible.  Saunders did as decent a job as he could given the position the team was in.  They got a guy in Wiggins who could wind up being a generational talent, another number one pick who could be who knows what, and wound up with a quality NBA big man in Thaddeus Young.  Its not perfect, but its something.  They drafted Zach Lavine.  The Love departure will open up minutes for Gorgei Dieng who in limited minutes and then in international competition opened eyes.  There’s plenty to like about what the Love trade did for the franchise, but really it opened things up for a young group.  Now, Flip has to make sure Flip can coach them up.  This is the roster Flip gave Flip.  This is the roster that Flip will die with even if Flip doesn’t like it.

23. Kings logoSacramento Kings-

Player to Watch- Boogie Cousins (PF/C)- Count me in on the Boogie bandwagon.  The question becomes: is he a franchise player?   The Kings extended him, but that’s a referendum on a small market team desperately holding on to its best talent by offering him the most any team can offer, rather than the seal of approval by a brand new ownership/front office.  Talent has never been the question.  Its his inability to keep his emotions in check or be a leader that folks can draw from.  Well, I’m all in on the Boogie breakout season, which is saying something because he’s one of 5 players to average 20 and 10.  I’m all in on the goal of ONLY drawing 5 technicals.  Let’s go Boogie.

Major Subplot of the Season- Does Mike Malone have the pieces and/or time to make this work? Malone was a highly regarded assistant and son of Brendan Malone who served as a Knicks assistant in the Warriors when Vivek Ranadive, majority owner of the Kings, was a minority owner in Golden State.  So, it seems curious when the Kings head honcho came out and said now its about wins and losses. Regardless, the Kings will struggle by sheer virtue of geography (maybe they should’ve moved huh?).  They won 28 games and while improvement would be winning 30, that’s not the kind of improvement this Kings team wants.  Their cap is pretty clean and they have all their draft picks which is the good news.  The bad news is again, they play in the Western conference.  Dave D’Alessandro, the Kings GM, has turned this roster over aside from two players, and sees the turnover as a way to get better.  Losing Isaiah Washington was tough but I understand them not wanting to devote too much cap room for too many years to him.  Rudy Gay posted some of his best numbers playing alongside Boogie and they didn’t want to kill each other which is a major plus.  The Kings are a match for the Celtics if they are looking for draft picks and salaries to throw in a trade without too much of a long term commitment.  Add in the fact that Rudy Gay and Rondo are buddies, there’s definitely smoke there to start a full on fire.  But adding Rondo without the assurance of a contract being signed would be silly.  But with an edict like the one given to the Kings from ownership- do they have a choice if Ainge comes calling?

22. Hawks logo Atlanta Hawks 

Player to Watch- Al Horford (PF/C)- He’s quietly been one of the best PF/C’s.  People forget that he came from back to back national titles in Florida playing alongside Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah on those great Gator teams.  But he’s playing on a team that has been playing for the 6th-8th spot in the league since the days of Iso Joe offense.  Horford is due $12M this year and the next.  It will be interesting to see how both the Hawks and Horford play contract negotiations after a terrible winter.

Major Subplot of the Season- Change is coming- The Hawks under Danny Ferry have done a good job in retaining flexibility while signing solid veterans to decent deals.  How Danny Ferry’s racist rants and owner Bruce Levenson’s racist email plays into the Hawks future is clear: change is coming and its going to come quick.  Once Levenson’s email was leaked, and audio of Ferry making racist remarks were made, the clock officially began on their collective tenure expiring in Atlanta.  But this is a particularly interesting case.  Atlanta is a semi-big market that players love coming to because of its, umm, night life, and when the salary cap explodes in two years, this will be a team with almost 3 max salary slots available- one of them that will likely be filled by Horford unless something funky happens during negotiations.  There will be plenty of offers from more rich white guys (including a group headlined by Chris Webber) and a presence by Dominique, the former Hawk great, which is all but a certainty given how much positive press that would generate for any incoming group.  Until there is a new owner, plenty is up in the air about this franchise.

21.Pistons logoDetroit Pistons-

Player to Watch- Josh Smith (PF)- With Stan Van Gundy as the head coach and GM, its likely that Josh Smith will really have to mind his P’s and Q’s.  But here’s where Stan Van has the edge.  He’s already dealt with Josh Smith’s old pal Dwight Howard and knows how to get the most out of a talented big man who may just need direction.  Smith signed a 4 year contract worth $54 million last year when Detroit threw money around like a 24 year old with daddy’s new Black card.  Smith will be asked to play closer to the basket which goes against Josh Smith’s version of events that sees him as a stretch 4.  Of course real world statistics don’t bare that out, and that’s Stan Van’s mission: to convince Smith of who he is. There are talks about putting Smith as a sixth man In the end, this is more about developing Smith so that Stan Van can develop Andre Drummond into Dwight 2.0, only one that’s nicer to Nickelodeon stars they have relations with.

Major Subplot of the Season- Can Stan Van the exec agree with Stan Van the coach? SVG has long been regarded as one of the brightest minds in coaching.  His looks and personal style have left much to be desired but we haven’t minded.  He singlehandedly outed Dwight Howard as the biggest D-bag on the planet after we were duped with all the stories of farting and those big smiles that made us all think he was a swell guy.  So he has a history in player management.  But a coach can convince himself that he can right a player.  This is Stan’s first go-round as the top of the food chain.  No longer will he be told from execs within the organization about a player’s dislike of him, the information will have to be funneled through him.  Don’t think that teams won’t reach out to pull a fast one on him either.  Greg Monroe signed a qualifying offer but only because nobody else came calling with a max offer which shouldn’t shock him.  Nothing about Monroe’s game screams max-contract guy.  His skill set takes a backseat to the stylings of Andre Drummond and Monroe may seek greener pastures elsewhere where teams don’t have an Andre Drummond to shine light on his physical failings.  Bringing him in as a sixth man to help spacing, which was discussed as well with Josh Smith, could be the final nail unscrewed to make Monroe walk through the door, but there’s reason to believe he was headed out anyway.  Plenty of decisions for Stan Van the coach and Stan Van the GM, but can they both agree to help the team?

20. Pacers logoIndian Pacers-

Player to Watch- Paul George (SF) Roy Hibbert (C)- Last season’s fun ride and good times stopped because Roy Hibbert forgot how to be Roy Hibbert from the Knicks series.  The Great Wall of Roy who swatted everything with ferocity the likes of which had not been seen since Patrick Ewing roamed the center position for the Georgetown Hoyas.  So it goes without saying that this season will be extremely important to his development.  This season will likely feature Hibbert a whole lot (possibly in hopes that they can deal Hibbert for some financial freedom).  Frank Vogel may even run the offense through him.  If he wants to procure a big contract during the suddenly scorching Summer of 2016- he had better develop this year into the guy he showed in the Knicks series in 2012.

Major Subplot of the Season- Will the band be broken up?  My guess is that they will trade pieces, go for the lottery and then try their luck with a young piece next to a recovering Paul George.  George is their everything.  So if they go this route, it will allow Indiana to bring George back slowly rather than rushing him back.   They have seen in their division how a roster full of complementary pieces without a bona fide superstar and a very good coach can only achieve so much in the Chicago Bulls. It remains to be seen what it would do to a fan base that was only beginning to fill up the stands again, but its understandable and in my opinion the right move.  My guess is that David West gets moved and they shop Hibbert  as well, dangling George Hill with both players to net the best possible return.

19. Knicks logoNew York Knicks-

Player to Watch- Iman Shumpert (SF)- Phil likes him.  We know this because he told Charley Rosen as much.  Shumpert’s athleticism helps him play on both ends.  His defense is at times overrated and his offense is nowhere near where it is.  Last season his minutes began to get slashed because of some reported rift between he and Coach Woodson so its important that he get off on the right foot with rookie head coach Derek Fisher.  Entering Restricted Free Agency, Iman could play himself into bigger bucks, a trade that could bring back a huge package or an enigma that has the tools to be great but none of the actual stats to back that up.

Major Subplot of the Season- Will the Triangle be a success in NY?- There are enough questions about Derek Fisher being able to handle the media spotlight of New York, and handle a star laden lineup that features several players that think they should have the ball a lot, but implementing a system that has been a failure everywhere else but when the current GM was the coach?  I worry for Fisher.  He played in Los Angeles which is a different type of pressure than the one that New York presents.  But if Fisher is going to be successful, and believes 100% in the triangle, and I believe he does, he will have to be patient.  Yes, players are who they are and many won’t change, some like JR Smith may even find the transition a lot more difficult than they ever thought,  and there are others in the basketball community who believe that it isn’t about system that its about the players at the end of the day.  All are true and a reality of the Knick season.  How quickly they adapt to the system will be the true test.

18. nuggets logo Denver Nuggets-

Player to Watch- Jusuf Nurcic (C)- He’s 20 years old, from Boznia and he’s got the Nuggets fan base buzzing along with several personnel folk.  Zack Lowe gave a shoutout during the Grantland NBA hour.  He’s intriguing enough but this speaks more to the rest of the roster more than Nurcic’s potential.  There’s so many B+ guy with one A- in Ty Lawson that its tough to pinpoint one player, so we go with the unknown here in the spot.  At some point these Eastern European giants will put together a season right?

Major Subplot of the Season- Is now the time to break up the roster or do we keep playing this game that the Nuggets can be a contender in the West?- Judging by the level of snark in that sentence you get the sense of where I’m going with this.  I don’t think so.  As a matter of fact, I think that the Nuggets with all of their traceable pieces could go so many different directions.  They could make a trade, and still be a mid-tier contender status.  They could trade a Gallinari and Foye for a pick that could eventually be a lottery pick if things end up right.  There’s so many different ways this could play out for the Nuggets a.k.a. the Knicks of the West, but the truth here is that in a stacked Western Conference, it will be very difficult for THIS version of the Nuggets to make noise.  Just so its clear, I tried really hard NOT to put Wilson Chandler and Danilo Galinari in the players to watch section.

17. Brooklyn-Nets-logo Brooklyn Nets-

Player to Watch- Brook Lopez (C)- No team’s destiny is tied to one player’s health like Nets to Lopez.  If he’s healthy, and the rest of the roster, this is a playoff team that can give a top 4 seed a scare in the East.  They have a solid front line in Garnett, Lopez and Plumlee that can cause problems.  But if Lopez doesn’t play, this is a lottery team.  Again, the Eastern Conference is chock full of mediocre to below average teams that could eventually make this a moot conversation.  But Lopez’s health will ultimately decide the fate of the Brooklyn Nets.

Major Subplot of the Season- Are there bigger shakeups in store?-  They don’t have the assets to get a big superstar so they may have to stand pat.  But there are enough signs that point to a major shake up of the entire organization including rumors popping up that Mikhail Prokhorov has begun gauging interest in selling the team in the wake of Steve Ballmer paying $2 Billion for the Clippers. I don’t blame him.  He has political aspirations for 2016 and sees the NBA’s latest TV deal as a sign that he could fetch a very healthy sum for his team.  Add that to reports that the Nets lost $144 million due to operating costs and there’s motive.  Prokho has been silent for some time which leads people to believe that he’s already planning his exit.  If so, it could potentially lead to large scale changes.  Billy King might be asked to sell off assets to make the books look a lot cleaner than it is and who knows what could be had and for what.  King has never struck me as an awesome deal maker, save for the Deron Williams trade which was an all time hammer move.  Either way, Brooklyn’s activity come deadline time could be a sign of potential ownership changes to come.

16. Suns logoPhoenix Suns-

Player to Watch- Eric Bledsoe (PG)-  All that needs to be said.  And to think, they were playing a staring contest over a contract extension:

Major Subplot of the Season- Can a two point guard system work full-time?  The Suns are betting on it.  Big time.  They re-signed Eric Bledsoe.  They signed Isaiah Washington, and drafted Tyler Ennis.  Initially you could’ve said that the last two moves were in case Bledsoe left, but when the restricted market was a dry patch of pavement, Bledsoe came back to the Suns at a reasonable price for both sides.  Looking at that contract from the perch of a huge TV deal that could make the salary cap explode to close to $100M that means the Suns could be major players for free agents with all the assets they have and the cap space.  Consider they still have Minnesota’s 1st rounder protected 1-12 in 2015 or 2016 and the Lakers 1st round pick protected 1-5 in 2015 and 1-3 in 2016.  Add to that the miracle workers that is their training staff, and a young smart head coach its easy to see why this can be a destination for would be free agents or a good trade partner for teams trying to get young guys and unload veterans. The Suns who streaked their way 48 wins running a fast paced offense surrounded by shooting might want to look at the advanced stats that show that when Bledsoe or Dragic played with Miles Plumlee, Channing Frye, PJ Tucker, and Gerald Green, their offense flew.  Maybe they see another market inefficiency that they can exploit and try and go two point guards and pick up the pace.  Either way, Hornacek’s rotations, coaching and outright defiance against tanking have led me to lay upon them the unenviable title of my favorite Western Conference team.  Let’s see how this plays out!

Part II coming soon.



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NBA Season Preview Part I (10 bold predictions for the 2014-2015 NBA season)

With the NBA season on the horizon I figured I would take a stab at the foolish exercise of making 10 bold predictions rooted in reality as I could.  This is part I of the NBA season preview.  These are ten reasonably based yet bold predictions I’m guessing will come to pass after staring at that crystal ball I have:

1. The Celtics won’t trade Rondo, but will trade Jeff Green- I’m working without any knowledge of how the television deal will affect the salary cap moving forward but I expect an announcement will come midseason.  The trade deadline will either be super busy with teams absorbing big salaries from teams trying to add cap space for the future, or teams hoping to gather assets to make a bigger trade down the line.  In theory, most teams could use a Rondo.  When healthy and motivated, he can hold his own with the best the league has to offer and is NOT afraid of the spotlight.  You can thank Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen for ultimately helping him flourish.  However its clear that his time in Boston is about to come to an end.  He may go to New York or go to Sacramento, or even Houston who would love to add Rondo as their third star, but the question remains who will bite the bullet to trade for such a mercurial spirit Rondo?  Boston’s asking price for the point guard is pretty high and teams have shied from giving up future number ones without any assurances Rondo would re-sign with them.

Green on the other hand, is owed $9.2M this season and next.  His salary would definitely make a team bite on an expensive asking price and I think the Celtics could get back more.  When Green is on, he’s a force that can play big and constantly attacks the rim.  The Cavs are all in for the next few seasons so trading away future first round picks will be nothing for them.  I think the team that makes the most sense for Green in the East would be Atlanta as Al Horford insurance and another quality big to help space out for Budenholzer’s scheme to have every person on the court be a threat from deep.  Atlanta perpetually maintains flexibility and they have picks to throw at Boston too.

2. Dwight Howard will re-emerge as an MVP candidate- Howard has gone from superstar center, perennial defensive player of the year candidate, and Top 3 player to, not even mentioned at all in these kind of discussions.  The popular name to throw into MVP discussions is Anthony Davis, the soon to be best player in the league in 3-4 seasons.  But I think Dwight is poised to have a breakout season in his second year in Houston.  For the first time in three seasons, he’s not exploring ways to skip town or avoid Kobe’s death stare or playing on a bad back.  Howard’s entering age 29 where he should be at the peak of his powers and playing on a team that will likely boast at least two to three players at a time that shoot 35% or better from beyond the arc.  That was the kind of roster he played with in Orlando.  When Dwight is playing regular minutes without any distractions, he’s a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.  I’m betting on Dwight to have a big year.

3. The Indiana Pacers will NOT make the playoffs and subsequently will trade David West- Technically this is TWO bold predictions for the price of one.  Consider yourselves lucky.  The Pacers lost their best offensive threat when Paul George went down in a scrimmage for Team USA and Lance Stephenson took his services to Charlotte to play for Michael Jordan.  My guess is that when Paul George starts practicing with the team, he won’t recognize 40% of the roster.  The fact is, the Pacers are still a very solid defensive unit but I think Larry Bird, Kevin Pritchard and co know that the best way to make this right is to start over.  HIbbert will be off the books after 2016 and chances of him signing a long term deal for big money are slim; the Pacers just aren’t built that way.  They have enough smart people to know that they don’t stand a chance this year with the roster as constructed.  Wanna know how I know?  They basically gave the keys to the offense to Rodney Stuckey.  West is their best trade asset and every playoff team will be angling to get him.  The Pacers will likely take a bad contract back if they can recoup a decent draft pick.  A team like the Suns, with extra first rounders may make a play here if they are in contention.  When he initially signed with Indiana, he was coming off a torn ACL- and he’s mostly answered his injury concerns with solid play over the last few seasons as the heart, soul and muscle of an Indiana team that for most parts of last season looked like the best team in the East and a top 4 squad.  But if Indiana is willing to take a lesser deal, he could shift the balance in either division.

4. The Top 4 in the East will be Cleveland, Chicago, Washington and Toronto- in that order.  I had a hard time picking between Washington and Charlotte.  Bradley Beal is set to miss the first month of the season at the least after breaking his wrist, and I’m STILL picking the Bullets to win the division.  I don’t trust Toronto’s young guns to take a step forward and I don’t expect them to make a crazy trade, even with Masai at the helm.  Cleveland, and Chicago will be the toast of the Eastern Conference and my hunch here is that Chicago will limit Derrick Rose’s minutes.  Knowing Thibs that means someone else will feel the whip and I”m guessing its Jimmy Butler.  Lance Stephenson vaults Charlotte into serious consideration for one of the top 4 spots in the East but that transition will take some time and losing Josh McRoberts will hurt.  I think Miami is a lock to make the playoffs as well.  That’s six spots with the remaining two to be fought between Brooklyn, the Knicks, Atlanta, and the Pistons.  If I had to pick two today, I think the two New York teams round out the eight but don’t sleep on Stan Van Gundy and the Pistons, and I could be totally wrong on the Pacers.

5. Kobe will be top 10 in scoring this season- Have you seen the Laker roster?  Have you heard that ESPN ranked him as the 40th best player in the NBA?  Shockingly Kobe took neither thing very well and there’s little doubt that Kobe will shoot himself into some conversation.  Whether its the analytics folks talking down to Kobe as a black hole of efficiency or the Kobe fanatics flooding ESPN’s comments sections with not so polite things to say about ESPN’s columnists and their lack of basketball wisdom, trust and believe that Kobe will shoot through the season with no remorse.  I want to see Byron Scott try and make a power move on Kobe and try to bench him for not making the extra pass to Jeremy Lin in the corner.  I want to see it.  Even if it happens, I won’t believe it.

6. The Knicks will trade Iman Shumpert- I don’t think this is a crazy bold prediction but one that will surely make Knicks fans upset.  Look, I like Shump.  I think with his physical gifts, he can grow into a very good sixth man and defensive stopper but he is also an asset.  He and Hardaway are the two guys that everyone asks for with the Knicks but I believe the Knicks love Hardaway’s offense more than they love Shump’s defense.  In the end, he will be the one traded and it may be to a Western conference team looking for a guy to guard the wings in the West and who knows what Uncle Phil will look for when it comes to trade time.  I do know that if the Knicks trade anyone Shump is going in the deal and that includes an Amar’e or Bargnani trade that would rid the team of an expiring contract which recently hadn’t been something teams were willing to do but now would be the quickest way to free up the most amount of money in anticipation of the Summer of 2016.

7. The top four in the West will be the Spurs, Clippers, the Warriors, and the Thunder- in that order.  I like the rivalry brewing between the Clippers and the Warriors and I think that battle will come down to the final three weeks.  Losing Kevin Durant for at least a month and a half will slow the Thunder down in that race and the Spurs know how to get to 55 wins in their sleep.  Its the Warriors I’m extremely high on who I think will make a play to be one of the best teams in the entire league.  I think Steve Kerr is a bright coach and he comes into a great situation with a loaded team.  The one thing that worries me about them is when they go through an extended slump or an injury and then the Kevin Love what-if scenarios start playing out in post game questions.  This is a team full of young guys with a rookie head coach.  Expectations will be high for a young head coach and as easy as it is to talk about doing the right thing, its another thing to coach it.  Let’s see what happens.

8. Four head coaches will be fired this season; and one of them in season- My guess on the coach who will see the ax midseason?  Mike Malone.  Which is fascinating because Vivek Ranadive the majority owner of the Kings knows him from his time as a part owner of the Golden State Warriors and took him to Sacramento.  But Ranadive hired him before hiring a GM which can make for an uneasy co-existence.  Add to that the quote recently by the owner that the “team will be judged by wins and losses,” and you can already see that the stage is being set.  One can only wonder how much time will be given to coaches to make their mark here but it won’t be long.  The other three?  I think Jacques Vaughn in Orlando will get the heave ho.  I also see  Brian Shaw getting the early ax as he has two more guaranteed years remaining and in a tricky ownership situation Mike Budenholzer getting the pink slip once new ownership group gets settled but that likely won’t happen until after the season.  Budenholzer will naturally go back to San Antonio to make a great coaching team even stronger.  Awesome!

9. The Nets will be sold- Based on everything I”ve read, and the fact that Mr. Prokhorov has already tested the waters, and the promise of a huge payday given how much the Clippers were sold for (THE CLIPPERS!), Prokho may already have five people blowing up his assistant’s phone chomping at the bit.  The fact is, the new television deal makes owning an NBA team even greater than it already was and with a market like Brooklyn behind it, its easy to see why the possibility of an insane bidding war would make Prokho look at this as the best possible time to sell everything and move!  Once he realized he wasn’t winning a title anytime soon, you have to figure that the White Russian basically lost all interest and had his sights set on selling it.  This would be the best time to sell.

10. The Minnesota Timberwolves will be the 2014-2015 version of the Phoenix Suns-  The Suns were the biggest winners of last year when given the amount of draft picks they had, rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek installed an ultra aggressive two point guard system that scored at a crazy pace.  This year, Minnesota has the young guns to run up and down the court for days.  While Flip Saunders isn’t my idea of a great head coach, his handling of the Kevin Love situation was something I agreed with.  He got Andrew Wiggins and drafted Zach Lavine who’s more than just a dunk show freak.  Look for them to make noise for the 8th seed, but fall short.

I should get extra points for not writing the names of Lebron James or Kevin Love at all in this article about the upcoming NBA season.  OH wait…

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Daily Rounds 12/29

The Knicks were tied heading into the fourth quarter but lost 92-78 to the Warriors.  Mike Vacarro says that the Knicks are still working out the kinks and so it may look like this for a while.  Mark Jackson got the last laugh against the team that almost hired him says Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News.  Howard Beck of the New York Times says that IF the Knicks superstars could’ve saved them they would have.  Meanwhile the Knicks newest import found the court yesterday and Jeremy Lin’s journey has been tumultuous to say the best in the last 18 months but at least he didn’t have to travel far to reach his newest team, says Howard Beck of the New York Times.  

Howard Beck touches on exactly what was wrong with the Knicks.  If the stars aren’t hitting their shots, it will be almost impossible for the Knicks to win.  That’s the problem in a nutshell.  The Knicks don’t have a playmaker that can create offense for the team.  There isn’t a point guard on the team that will create shots for other players.  This team will look better when Iman Shumpert returns and Baron Davis too.  Those two guys slash into the basket and create offense for themselves or others.  They don’t have that kind of athleticism right now.  Amar’e is a pick and roll player.  Melo is a pick and pop player.  The Knicks don’t have the player that will generate offense right now.

Like I wrote in my post game report early this morning, Toney Douglas’ progress as a point guard has been non-existent.  He’s a few seconds late seeing almost everything which means he’s not a natural floor leader.  More and more I see him the more and more I have an appreciation for true point guards who have such excellent court vision and can see a play develop before it happens.  Good point guards can see things happen before they do and I’m rethinking this whole “we need Dwight Howard over Deron Williams” argument that is developing.

Unfortunately for the Knicks, all they need is a semi-reasonable point guard who can play the position and run a simple pick and roll.  A pick and roll because that’s ALL Amar’e needs.  That’s all Carmelo needs.  Someone to hit the man as they are running right to the hoop.  The Knicks are too much of a half court team and settled for far too many jumpers while the Warriors were getting to the hoop with regularity.  Tyson Chandler got into foul trouble and without him the Knicks were a layup line again.

There was far too many troubling signs on offense that continue to plague them  If the Knicks superstars aren’t hitting their shots nobody is trying or attempting to grab the offensive rebound and nobody is trying to initiate any offense.  The limitation the Knicks have is that too much of the offense depends on Melo and Stat.  Stat is not an offensive initiator.  He took far too many double teamed and contested shots instead of finding the open man.  Too many isolation situations where there was NOBODY willing to pass off.  It was too stagnant while on the other end, the Warriors were putting on a clinic.  This time an average point guard dominated the Knicks.  It was kind of sad to watch and its troubling that the Knicks don’t have any kind of sustained defensive intensity right now.  I get that they need more practice time.  I get that they need more time to get used to one another and the defensive schemes of Mike Woodson.  I get all of that, and I see some improvement from Amar’e but again, its not a sustained effort throughout and that’s what they need.

The Knicks will need to work on how to run plays on offense that consist of more than one guy being isolated and everyone standing around watching.  Now granted there will be few games like this where the Knicks have both stars off their games.  And right now the Knicks have two guys capable of dropping 30 on any given night and so the Knicks will overcome and have rare games like last night but here’s the good news:  The Knicks had a pretty terrible day shooting and yet they still led through three quarters of the game.  Their defense kept them in it and they were great in keeping their hands actively in passing lanes.

The final verdict:  these games will be far and few between.  The Knicks will play better.  They just need to keep their defensive intensity alive for longer stretches.  Slow and steadily the Knicks are getting better.

Osi Umeniyora returned to Giants practice right in time for the G-men who will need the waves of pass rush to stop the Cowboys and it appears, according to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post, that he returned faster than ever.  Jorge Castillo of the Star Ledger reports that amidst the thrill of victory was the reality that the Giants passing attack has suffered in the last two weeks and will be depended upon to play well Sunday night.  

Osi is going to be key for the Giants but I agree with Jorge, the passing attack has been average.  Eli has been good, however but the receivers haven’t been making plays.  Apart from that 99 yard play, the Giants have been uneven.  I think it has to do with the reshuffling of the line.  I liked Mitch Petrus at Guard and Kareem Boothe at Center.  If the Giants hope to fly they need Jake Ballard back and they need Travis Beckum to finally show some kind of skill.  They need Hakeem Nicks to catch passes again.  They need Mario Manningham back in the line up.  They need guys to step up on offense.

The defense is tough to figure but it can only get better having Osi in it.  Osi figures to get plenty of pass rush and in the report, it says that he will probably only see action during obvious pass rush situations.  Which would move JPP into the interior and give the Giants four really good strong defensive players on the line.  That line would cause massive mayhem and given that the Cowboys will have Sammy Morris and a banged up Felix Jones, the Giants will need the athleticism to get pressure on Romo.  Add on to the fact that Romo will have a banged up arm its not looking good for the Cowboys.

Which is what scares me about Sunday night’s game.  Add on to the fact that the Giants are playing at home which has been anything BUT good.  Like I said earlier: this game is so evenly matched that it can literally go EITHER WAY.  Ugh.

The Miami Heat were in their second close game in a row and they found a way to win.  And for the second consecutive game, crunch time buckets went to player not named Lebron James and that will get plenty of the attention if its a trend that continues.  Tom Haberstoh of ESPN’s TrueHoop (who’s been fantastic by the way) covers the Heat and said that the bucket that Wade hit to win it for the Heat should not have counted according to Rob Mahoney.  On a night full of close games, another one came down to the wire between the Thunder and Grizzlies and Kevin Durant won the game for the Thunder, but it wasn’t without conflict.  According to Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman, Durant and Westbrook got into a fight where both had to be restrained.  This is bad news for the Thunder.  

These are two of the most talented teams and the two that most of the expert crowd predict to make the Finals this year.  But this shows the problem with having too much talent in two different ways.  Last year, the Heat struggled with who would get the crunch time scoring opportunities and especially who WOULDNT.  The Heat this season have played 2 close games out of three and are already hearing the whispers of superstars who can’t get it done.  And again, Chris Bosh is quietly having monster games in which both Lebron and Wade are expected to step up.  Regardless of what happens, the Heat are facing similar pressure to show up every night.  In front of a sell out crowd, the Heat got the opposing team’s best game.  The Bobcats played tremendously last night and came close to pulling off the upset had it not been for the general excellence of Lebron and Wade.  Lebron had the monster game.  Wade wasn’t nearly as effective and Bosh was having a really good game as well.  The Bobcats put forth their best effort and yet the Heat’s three man team were too much for the Bobcats to handle.  Of course it didn’t help that Paul Silas chose to not play his two most effective scorers in Byron Mullens and Kemba Walker (I already know what you’re thinking, Kemba who right?) down the stretch.  But its interesting that the Heat still play in that rock star atmosphere where every single game they play they get the very best from the competition and they are surviving on pure talent.  The point though comes down to what exactly was the rationale behind giving a cold D-Wade the look at the final shot OVER Lebron who had 35 points OR Bosh who had 28 points.  Wade who was troubled by an ankle sprain that kept him out for most of the third quarter came back in and defensively played great blocking a few shots and coming back in transition to finish a few more.  But offensively the night belonged to Lebron and yet the coach decided to draw up a play for a cold D-Wade who finished the night 5 for 13.  So why would the coach give the ball to Wade if Lebron had it working last night?  And that’s the question that will be posed to Lebron every time a game comes down to the wire and the Heat require someone to hit a clutch shot or make a clutch decision.  That’s the price of being given such uncoachable talents (I promise that’s not an insult and that’s a compliment).

On the other end, this brotherly blood feud between Durant and Westbrook was eventually bound to happen but it appears that the schedule is not the only thing that’s being compressed.  With only 66 games, it appears the drama is fitting itself in pretty early with this team.  After finishing a stinking 0 for 12 and with no regard to his team’s position in the game, Westbrook kept shooting and I kept thinking to myself “uh oh”.  To me, and this is just me, Westbrook has the higher ceiling than Durant.  Durant is a phenomenal scorer and he can make plays happen and he’s a willing passer but Westbrook has the ability to be it all.  Scoring/defensive/slasher/playmaker and thus I’d rather take Westbrook’s upside more so than Durantula.  I think Durant just works on his shooting and becomes automatic like Dirk in the coming years while, if Westbrook dedicates himself he can become a much better player.  Which is why I floated the possibility of the Lakers making a run at Westbrook instead of Chris Paul.  I love Paul and to me he’s the best (pure) point guard in the NBA today BUT if they added Russell Westbrook and Kobe took him under his wing, how awesome would he be for them?  He’d give them the kind of jump athletically they haven’t had in quite some time and for Kobe having that second superstar on his team would help his old legs because he could resolve himself to be that pop and stop shooter.  Kobe’s getting up there in age and the Lakers are asking him to be the focal point of the offense and while he can manage that on some nights, its not something he can do on a nightly basis.  Its also interesting that I see a lot of parallels between Kobe and Russell Westbrook.  Westbrook has the talent to be a great, not good player in the NBA.  He just needs guidance.  Something he will NOT get in OKC.  He’s as untouchable as Durant and while Durant is more highly regarded among front office people, Westbrook is like I said more talented potentially than Durant and so keeping him in a Thunder uniform is of utmost importance.  But imagine the Lakers offer them Andrew Bynum for Westbrook and Nazr Mohammad.  Imagine what that does to the Thunder?  That front line would be beastly.  Kendrick Perkins and Bynum down low and Durantula playing the three.  AT 6 feet 11.  How tough a match up would that be for opposing teams?  Meanwhile the Lakers get a good developing young player WHILE still preserving precious cap space for Dwight to supersize their front line WHILE still having Pau Gasol for next year.  Imagine THAT team in LA.  How does this not work out well for both teams?  Please.  Someone tell me?  Oh wait.  You can’t.

Aside from the issues that Durant and Westbrook have, which are real and exist and were eventually going to reveal themselves, the fact is the Thunder have a problem that most teams would love to have.  How Scotty Brooks handles that will be something to watch.  Remember, this is what Phil Jackson used to do really well.  Great coaches know how to handle egos and massage them while making the co-existence workable for the betterment of the team.  Embedding that team philosophy in guys who clearly are looking out solely for their own stats is tough but a necessary evil in this profession.  At some point, Durant and Westbrook will have to face the prospect of putting aside their issues and working out an understanding.  Westbrook will be told he’s the playmaker and Durant will be told to shoot because that’s how this will work.  Until Westbrook can be trusted on a nightly basis to keep the plan, this situation bears watching.  How long can you trust Westbrook to set aside his ego?  How long can you expect Durant to play Mr. Nice teammate?  How long before it becomes painfully obvious to everyone involved (Sam Presti, please) that the Thunder NEED to get some value for Westbrook now before it becomes impossible to get anything good for him? People may say its too early but let’s be real, the path to a championship has been cut to 66 games and now is a better time than any to make that run start to count while you still have a chance to.

Ken Davidoff of New York Newsday finds common ground for A-Rod and the Wilpons.  Kinda.  

This shady German operation has me thinking about aging superstars and their constant need to compete with their younger competition.  Whatever happened to aging gracefully?  Speaking of gracefully has anyone put those sad puppy Coupons out of their misery yet?

Mike Pereira went postal on Jon Gruden in this FoxSports column.  

Me and Mike Pereira are FOREVER cool after this.  Does anyone else feel like Jon Gruden likes almost everything on the planet?

Finally, if women EVER wanted to understand why they feel they are being objectified on television.  They had better hope that THIS never gets shown in front of a nationally televised audience.  

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Daily Rounds 12/12/2011

First off let me apologize for yesterday’s second part not being put up.  Unfortunately technology let me down and erased my entire 2200 word post as I was finishing it up.   Not too proud of that but hey, in this business you move on to the next one and here we are.  More NBA.  More player movement.  More on the Ryan Braun positive test front.  But first we begin with football and boy is there a lot to talk about.

In a must win game that was essentially for the season and keeping their playoff hopes alive.  The Giants were down 34-22 with 5:41 left in the game.  The Giants scored two touchdowns and a two point conversion to go ahead 37-34 with :46 left.  Romo helped drive the Cowboys the length of the field setting up Dan Bailey for a game tying field goal.  He had hit two from 40+ deep already in the game.  He kicked it, and it went through….only, Tom Coughlin called the timeout prior to the kick and so the Boys had to kick it again.  Wouldn’t you know it, Jason Pierre Paul gets his long arms on the ball on the second kick and the Giants end up winning the game 37-34.  Mike Vacarro says JPP deserves a lot of the credit for this win.  Tom Rock of Newsday says its no wonder Brandon Jacobs had his best game of the season against the Cowboys: he hates them.  Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star Telegram found out that not even Tony Romo’s 4 TD 0 INT game could save the Cowboys from its porous defense.  

Forget arm chair analysis.  Forget Monday Morning QB.  The Cowboys AND the Giants defense were clueless and giving up yards in bunches.  Eli Manning threw for 400 yards.  Romo threw for 321.  Eli threw for 2 TD’s and 1 INT, and Romo threw 4 TD’s and 0 Int. The Giants rushing game had 110 yards, and the Cowboys had 139.  The Boys gave up 510 yards and the Giants gave up 444 yards.  This was not for defensive purists.  Two times you saw the Giants and Cowboys with defensive lapses leaving receivers wide, wide, wiiiiide open.  But when both defenses needed plays only ONE guy from either side stood out and he wore Giants blue Sunday.

Jason Pierre Paul was a man amongst boys yesterday in so many ways.  Let’s count how many game changing plays he had ok?  He had a safety on Tony Romo.  He had two sacks that forced the Cowboys to punt on both occasions.  Six tackles including a critical stop on second down on Felix Jones which forced the Cowboys into a critical third down.  His pressure on that next play made Romo throw a hurried pass that JUST, and I mean JUST miss Miles Austin.  When I tell you that the game is over if Austin catches that pass, I mean it, he was led perfectly, he had four yards on Aaron Ross and if he catches it, he’s gone.  Touchdown.  Game.  Season.

But the pass dropped two yards in front of Austin’s outstretched arm because of Romo being hurried.  Because of JPP’s pressure.  Then on the game tying field goal, after icing the kicker, JPP comes right through the middle and blocks the FG attempt.  What an amazing play.  What an amazing game.  What an amazing player.

On the same field with Justin Tuck, DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, the best player on the field was a young second year player who JUST started playing the game five years ago.  Not professionally, I mean started playing the game of football.  He’s doing this all from pure physical talent.  Once he learns scheme and the little tricks that all the greats know, this kid is going to be among the best in all of football, earning annual trips to Hawaii.  If he didn’t earn it with yesterdays game alone, I dont know what you have to do, to get it.

Most of the narrative this morning will be on Eli’s come from behind heroics as it should be.  The Giants have had little to no running game.  The Giants defense has given up points in bunches.  The stress on Eli to make plays and correct decisions has gone way up this year and he’s responded with the kind of game that you didn’t expect as a Giant fan.  Why?  Because you’ve seen the throws like the one that got intercepted by Sean Lee, the ones that leave you scratching your head and wondering WHAT Eli saw.  Some of the playcalling was questionable as well.  How many times did they run that draw play to little to NO success?  But Eli made some terrific throws including on a 3rd and1 in the fourth quarter, he lofts a pass off his back foot (traditionally a troublesome thing for ANY Giant fan and had me screaming NO ELI NOOOO) which make its way to Victor Cruz who somehow, someway knows where to be when Manning needs him to be there.  I love the trust that he has in his receivers.  He’s been working Cruz into the game plan.  He goes to Manningham, and trusts him even after what could’ve been a critical drop.  Anyone miss Kevin Boss?  No, because Eli has built up Jake Ballard in much the same way.  Then there’s Hakeem Nicks who the Giants know is an elite receiver.  Eli picks and chooses when he goes to Nicks and you can see if he’s got one on one matchups with Nicks the ball is going to be up there and will find his way to him.  There’s a built in trust there and that’s what elite quarterbacks do.  No need to get into that conversation right?  I mean we can put that one to bed can’t we?  Ok good.

Now comes the bad.  Aaron Ross is a liability on the secondary.  Romo knew exactly WHO to pick on when it came to crunch time.  Prince Amukamara is still a liability.  He has the speed to keep up with fast receivers but he doesn’t have the scheme down yet.  Antrell Rolle and Deon Grant are both better when they are in the box making plays.  The Giants were missing Kenny Phillips who by definition is their best coverage safety.  But he’s their ONLY coverage guy in that group and he’s lost a lot of his elite speed thanks to a chronic Knee arthritis which will always have him lacking that speed.  The Giants front line need to do a better job on the run.  The Cowboys lost DeMarco Murray but Felix Jones, who historically has played the Giants VERY WELL, ran the ball up and down the field on them with nothing stopping him.  The Giants were not playing the run well at all much of the game and that’s a weak area.  They are so focused on rushing the passer that they open up lanes for runners and that’s problematic for this team.  They aren’t disciplined in their gaps and constantly leave gaping holes.  Let’s not congratulate the running game yet.  We’ve yet to see Brandon Jacobs run with that kind of purpose, though to the offensive line’s credit, a much maligned group, they opened up HUGE holes and Jacobs obliged to run through those lanes, but it was no surprise it was against the Cowboys, whom he HATES.  If you need any evidence you can just watch that video of his celebration.

It was funny watching that game because the Cowboys and Giants have so many similar issues its like looking in the mirror.  Its no wonder that both have the same record and have the same question marks moving forward.  Victory masks alot of the bad as Trent Dilfer said in the post game and that’s true.  Romo converts that third down with 2:12 remaining in the game and its all over.  JPP doesn’t make the block then we’re headed to overtime and who knows what happens there?  Either way, the Giants AND Cowboys have much to improve upon if they have any dreams of making a run in the playoffs.

Knowing they have to win out, the Jets can rest a little bit easier this morning as they got some help and now control their own fate.  The Jets bludgeoned the Chiefs 37-10 yesterday in what was their most convincing win of the season, next to that Jags game in week 2.  Mark Cannizaro of the Post says that Rex’s message was loud and clear.  Manish Mehta though reported after the game that Jim Leonhard was lost for the season with a knee injury marking the second consecutive season in which the very important member of their defensive secondary goes down.  

The Jets were comfortably out in front by the fourth quarter and yet for some reason Mark Sanchez was still in the game.  These are the moments where Rex scares me.  You have to know to TAKE HIM OUT.   The Jets also, opened the game by having the wrong personnel grouping and had to call a very embarassing timeout, six seconds into the game.  Something I had never seen before.

Those were the TWO negative things I took from that game.  The Jets played unbelivably.  The Chiefs had 4 yards in the first half.  Total.  Yep, you read it right.  The crazyness of that statement can’t be overstated.  The Jets defense was confident they would have their way with the Chiefs and they played that way and were able to win the game in the first half scoring 28 points, the first time they’ve done that in about 5 years.

The best part of this game?  Shonn Greene rushed for 129yards.  The Jets are undefeated when he goes over 100 yards which tells you that when Greene is going, the Jets are rolling.  He looks stronger and healthier than I’ve seen him all season and he seems to be getting better as the season wears on which bodes well for the Jets.  They are going to rely heavily on that running game much like they did for the last two post seasons and will depend on Greene to get those hard fought yards.  In the playoffs the Jets face rush defenses of the Steelers and Ravens who don’t give you yards, they give up inches.  Those are the times when the offensive line has to man up and right now they are manning up for the Jets.  Wayne Hunter had his best game of the season in my opinion.  Looks like Mangold is fully healthy and the Jets seem to be getting more conservative in their playcalling and working their offense through the running game.  Everybody knows about their passing weapons, once the running game gets rolling, those receivers will look MUCH more open.

Yes, Tim Tebow did it again.  Down 10 with more than 6 minutes left in the game, he drove them  the length of the field and got a touchdown.  Then a huge running gaffe by Marion Barber to get out of bounds which conserved time for the Broncos set Tebow up and Matt Prater made a 59 yard field goal.  Woody Paige of the Denver Post says that God’s plan continues.  The magic of Tim Tebow continues to grow, and its in Denver’s locker room where they believe they can’t lose says Mark Kiszla.  Want debate?  Here’s Frank Bruni of the New York Times wondering if God can win games and Chuck Klosterman of Grantland.com takes a look at the people who hate Tim Tebow.  

We’d like to believe that sports statistics can tell you a reason for everything.  Every stat purist, which is the in thing now in sports, and new stat purist believes that the numbers don’t lie. In fact ESPN has a show everyday with that moniker and in 99 out of 100 cases that’s true.  Meet the 1 case in which it isn’t.

Tim Tebow is THE most polarizing athlete of our generation.  Why?  Because he challenges our perception of everything we know to be true.  A QB with his mechanics CAN NOT succeed.  That’s what we’ve been told as ardent football fans.  3-16 through three quarters?  Overthrowing receivers by five yards?  Running a college style offense because your coach doesn’t really believe in you?  The critics of Tebow are many and they are all based on reason.

We can’t find a reason to believe he’s going to be successful.  But how to explain those fourth quarters?  You can’t.  You can’t explain why Marion Barber steps out of bounds.  You can’t put into numbers how you absolutely knew heading into overtime that Chicago had absolutely NO CHANCE of winning that game.  You can’t put into words why you felt confident in Matt Prater hitting that 59 yard field goal.  You can’t tell people why you knew that Barber was going to fumble that ball when they were in field goal territory already.  If you saw that play, if Barber breaks free that tackle which he was close to doing, he’s going to the house.  Done.

But the Broncos believe in Tebow.  The world believes in Tim Tebow.  Somehow receivers get open in the flat and get to go out of bounds.  The Red Sea opens up and pushes these players to play harder than they ever have.  That catch by DeMayrius Thomas was unbelievable.  There are no numbers that do this man justice.  There’s only the result on the field.  7-1 record.  Six straight victories.  Another fourth quarter comeback.  Look at John Elway.  During the first five weeks of this he was firmly against the Tebow momentum that was building.  These last three he’s been firmly aboard.  He’s hi-fiving and smiling and wondering exactly what he did to deserve this fate.  You can’t explain to anyone exactly what is going on with Tim Tebow, but what you can do is say you’re having a great time doing it.

Will Carroll of SI.com and author of the book “Juiced” explains in wonderful detail why the Ryan Braun positive dope testing must be taken with a grain of salt. 

Sunday, when everyone found out the usual statement came out from the Braun/Brewer camp: be careful to judge.  As Will explains, the positive sampling could’ve just been a trigger as part of  the B testing.  We must know if the A testing had a positive test to make the report even true.  As he explains an “A” test positive would trigger further, deeper look at “B” testing which would then be unequivocal.  There were reports coming out that Braun’s tests were OFF THE CHARTS positive which would be damning to him.  Alarming for the reigning MVP.  Braun’s reputation is basically smoked if the aggressive appeal that his camp is preparing doesn’t go through.

But in the court of public opinion, its over.  They have decided.  Braun is guilty.  And no matter what comes out next, even a sliver of doubt will hover over his career.  Its sad that a mistake could’ve cost him this.  Putting supplements that even he had no idea what was inside of them, into his body was a bad idea and may have cost him his reputation.  Its sad, but unfortunately in today’s day and age, an initial positive is a HUGE permanent negative.

On the heels of this morning’s news that the Clippers have submitted a multiplayer deal to the league with the Hornets in exchange for Chris Paul, Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN writes that fate is changing in Clipper land but it all depends on what the Clips can stomach in a deal and if Paul will opt in on an extension for one more season.  The Lakers meanwhile completed their deal to send Lamar Odom to the Mavs, but the compensation was interesting and something that made Kobe VERY unhappy according to Mike Breshnahan of the LA Times.    Kevin Ding is still wondering why they traded Lamar Odom, oh wait that’s right, its the money.  Meanwhile in Orlando, Dwight Howard appears to be pulling a power move and he isnt happy that his suggestions weren’t heard according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.

I’ve held on to the belief that the Clippers HAD to make a move.  For either Dwight OR CP3.  For the sake of keeping Blake long term they had to prove they were serious.  They are.  Oh boy they are.  This deal that includes PG Eric Bledsoe, former All Star Center Chris Kaman, Al Farooq Aminu, and most importantly the unprotected first round pick of the Minny-Ha-Ha Timberwolves as Peter Vecsey lovingly calls them is a deal that NEEDS to be made.  Of course the caveat and catch here is that CP3 opts into his final year.  That’s the deal breaker and we’ll see how badly CP3 wants to leave and how much he’s in love with Southern California and the obviously talented young nucleus of the Clippers who on promise alone offer more than the Lakers ever did.  The Lakers offer a legacy, star power and tradition.  The Clippers meanwhile have a history of being morbid and terrible.  A history that this team can change and that has to be alluring for any competitive person.  Unless you’re Lebron James and you just decide to bolt your hometown who’s been sick for ANY kind of title since the Paul Brown days.  But I digress.

The Dwight Howard situation seems teneable.  He wants to go to New Jersey.  Go figure.  But the Lakers pulled a move to get a first round pick and a trade exception which would allow them to swallow a contract of say a Hedo Turkoglou.  Now its on Otis Smith’s lap.  The offer of Brook Lopez and two first rounders or Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and a first round pick for Dwight and Hedo’s bad contract.  I dont know that the Lakers automatically send both but its possible now that Gasol and Bynum know they are expendable in the Laker’s eyes.  IF the Lakers don’t do this trade and wind up with them on the court, trust me when I say this will come back to bite them in the ass.

Phil Jackson famously punched Gasol in the chest, openly questioning his heart without ever uttering a word.  Now Gasol is going to have to man up and realize that this is JUST a business.  An interesting option that was opened up by the Chicago Tribune yesterday is the chance that the Bulls tell the Magic to pick any grouping of players not named Derrick Rose.  Would Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and a first round pick be enticing enough?  Would they have to include Omer Asik?  Probably.  But if you’re the Bulls, don’t you do that trade?  There are rumblings that Dwight wouldn’t resign there so there is that problem.  Without any assurance of that happening how can the Bulls ever truly think they could keep him.

Also the problem with Howard’s request to move to Brooklyn via New Jersey, is that Deron Williams has openly stated he plans on opting out and testing free agency.  Suitors like his hometown Mavs will have cap space now to pursue him and that would be a very enticing option for Deron.  Why would Dwight go to New Jersey knowing that there’s a chance that they don’t resign Deron?  Which means that Dwight will be a free agent at the end of the year.

My prediction?  Dwight doesn’t get traded.  Lakers DO trade Pau Gasol for picks, young players and cap relief and try to win with Kobe and Bynum (no chance of that happening) and then reload next summer.  Dwight would love to come to LA as most predict but who knows what can happen.  What I do know is that the Clippers NEED to do something to combat their current legacy which stands as a major roadblock against them.

Its wait and see time.

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Sports round up 12/1/2011

So we’re gonna try this daily newsfeed thing again for however long I can convince myself that this is a good idea.  I figured why not have a re-release date of December 1 and try to keep it up for as long as I could.  So here goes nothing.  Basically I check out noteworthy sports stories (hey that rhymed) and give you my take on them.  I can’t get every story I know but I will try to be as national as I can but I’m not going to lie, my East Coast bias will be very difficult to mask in light of the fact that New York makes enough stories.

Bobby Valentine has his fair share of enemies.  But as Bob Hohler writes he has his fair share of supporters as well.  His charitable works are well known around his hometown of Stamford, Connecticut and he’s a well traveled man as we know.  He now takes over a Boston Red Sox team who frankly aren’t too thrilled with the idea of Bobby V in their clubhouse, but as ESPN Boston’s Joe McDonald writes, the Red Sox players who may have problems with it have only themselves to blame.  Joel Sherman of the New York Post believes that Bobby V’s hire makes the AL East the new Big East, you know since we won’t have a Big East after next year.  

Look, I’m not gonna lie.  I’m very jealous of Boston right now as a Met fan because I was always a huge Bobby V. fan.  In 2007 when the Mets collapsed I said this would’ve never happened under his watch.  Even in 2008.  2009 I said even through injuries Bobby would’ve found a way and in 2010 the same.  That’s because the structure in the clubhouse was never there that was so crucial to the Mets.  They had the talent and the skill players from 2006-2008 to compete for a title, but never had the right man leading them.  Here’s what we know.  He’s well prepared, analytical, a thinking man’s man and a person who will not stand for the kind of stuff that reportedly went down in that clubhouse at the end of last year while the Red Sox were collapsing.  He’s a disciplinarian and frankly I think Red Sox players look at this as management’s way of punishing them which if that’s the case means there’s a LOT more work to do in that clubhouse.  Veteran or not, the Red Sox needed a shake up and more than that, a guy who would not be afraid of managing in Boston under the limelight and the pressure.  That’s Bobby V.  Plenty will be waiting for the first sign of trouble to begin playing the old “He’s wearing out his welcome” card but I predict this move will either be a tremendous success OR colossal failure.  Either way, it will be how the players respond to him that will ultimately decide that.

The Collegian’s Courtney Pruitt sat in on the Town Hall forum held on the Penn State campus which had many of the University’s power structure on hand to take student questions.  Many wanted answers to questions they had but more so this was an attempt at setting minds at ease and promising that the university will be held to a much higher standard from here on.  Don’t look now, according to Kevin Johnson of USA Today, there’s a new accuser who has filed suit.  Speaking of well renown coaches who may soon be taken down by disgusting long time assistant coaches, Aman Ali of Reuters wire services reports that Bernie Fine, former assistant head coach of Syracuse, had a visit from the feds and his house was searched by them.  Meanwhile Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports says that Jim Boeheim’s comedy routine during his first press conference after his long time assistant coach’s firing was in poor taste.

I lump the two together not because I believe that the two are linked somehow but that’s how it will be viewed nationally.  That’s how people will see it while it plays out because these are both assistant head coaches who served on the staff of two iconic head coaches in the college ranks and if Joe Pa was the head cheese in Penn State and didn’t do the right thing here by those children, and got fired for it, then don’t we need to hold Jim Boeheim to the same standard?  Won’t they deserve the same penalty in the end?  And if Boeheim is pretty much done at Syracuse, where he is an institution, should the Big East really care that they are losing these programs when they still have UConn to represent them nationally?

It is however comical that Boeheim who as soon as Fine’s allegations emerged came to his defense so vigorously and made such a passionate statement against the alleged victims that it seemed as though he were somehow pleading for his own innocence and let’s be honest, with just cause.  Because as soon as Jerry Sandusky’s violations became public, the attention turned to Joe Paterno and how much he knew and when the charges came out that Paterno was notified years earlier and did virtually nothing the cavalry came and escorted Paterno out of his throne.  The biggest difference here is that the investigators are only putting together charges now while the Penn State charges from Pennsylvania’s DA came like a thief in the night and shocked just about everybody.  Pat Forde was not impressed by Boeheim’s answers but not for the reasons you think.  He was more let down that Boeheim was Boeheim in the midst of this investigation because this case will now be followed nationally by scribes and types that don’t know his personality and will view his attitude and overall demeanor as insulting while a pedophilia case, a charge that will never have a grey area to it, is going on especially when the nation just went through what it went through with Penn State.

My only thing is, where’s the NCAA in all of this?

Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press was his namesake in this column as he was unimpressed by Commissioner Goodell’s soft sentence of 2 games for stomping on a Packers offensive lineman’s exposed arm.  Ndamukong Suh is appealing the suspension and a hearing will take place today.

Ndamukong Suh is one of my favorite players and Drew Sharp brought up some really good points that need to be brought up.  The fact is, Jim Schwartz came to change the culture of losing in Detroit by building a tough, hard nosed defense.  We know this because that’s what he did.  He has given the Lions relevancy but he’s enabled guys like Suh who’s crossed the line a few times with his actions and was in need of a tougher, stiffer penalty.  Instead, he is now facing a two game stint which may not affect his availability for Sunday’s game against the Saints because of his appeal.  I have a problem with this for two reasons, one because Roger Goodell advised that Suh appeal the suspension knowing that it would allow him to play Sunday and two because Goodell knew that it would be the flexed Sunday night game on NBC, a nationally televised game in which he needs Detroit to have compelling figures in it as well aside from Calvin Johnson the too good(y, goody) receiver and Matthew Stafford to oppose Drew Brees and Sean Payton and the super nova Saints coming off their 49-24 waxing of the Giants on Monday night.  It seems Goodell is playing both sides of the fence: wanting compelling action for his national television partners while doing a disservice to his position as authoritarian of the NFL by giving Suh a free pass.  Its a double standard which I don’t like.  Don’t EVEN get me started on the ridiculous $10,000 fine on Stevie Johnson for his TD celebration mocking Plaxico Burress.  Give me a break Commissioner.

Before we get into NBA trade rumors let’s get into one interesting one in baseball which came up: Are the Cubs REALLY interested in Albert Pujols?  Like fo real?  Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports thinks that it could bring collateral benefits for MLB not just the Cubs, but Bernie Miklasz of St Louis Post-Dispatch says don’t believe the hype, this is Pujols’ agent trying to drum up interest in his client.

I’m more Bernie than Jeff on this one.  Everyone loves to think about the possibility of Albert Pujols pulling a Lebron and leaving behind his old team, a team he led to two world series titles (unlike Lebron), to go and get the riches of a big market (like Lebron).  But this is all a mirage.  This is an agent trying to get somebody to bite on his client and who can blame him?  No one sees Pujols leaving the Cardinals and all the big market teams like the Yankees, and Red Sox have their first basemen tied up in long term contracts.  Meanwhile the two that don’t, the Mets and Dodgers, are so broke that Pujols would probably be asked to help out with payments.  I’ve always seen the Angels as a possibility but Arte Moreno talks a big game but never pulls out his wallet when its right to.  The Cubs though are a possibility but Theo knows he will need more than a star 1st baseman to resurrect this moribound franchise from its doldrums.  He’s trying to build from within and so putting a $25 million per year contract for Pujols probably doesn’t make all the sense in the world when you see his priority list.  It will be interesting to see where the Cards and Pujols draw a fine line and compromise to bring him back. The timing couldn’t have been better for the defending world champions given the financial shape of all the other teams that would’ve made the list had they not had their own issues/players locked in to deal with.  Score one for the small market guys.

– Ok NBA fans, want your trade rumor fix?  Here it is:
Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated lists the Pacers, Warriors, Hornets and Wizards as possible destinations for two time All Star David West.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports lists The Nuggets, New Jersey NetsGolden State WarriorsHouston RocketsIndiana PacersLos Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers as possible destinations for Nene. He also delivers on news for Nick Young, who Mike Wilbon of ESPN Chicago agrees would be a perfect fit for the Chicago Bulls who may need to get creative to fill the slasher/scorer need they clearly have.
Finally, Darren Arnovitz of ESPN’s TrueHoop blog poses the real question that needs to be asked for all the Dwight Howard rumors: would a Lebron for D-Howard deal make sense?

I purposefully left out the two bigger rumor mill deals being floated.  The Celtics front office is having serious discussions about trading Rajon Rondo in a deal that would ultimately net them CP3.  They have the financial room considering that other than Paul Pierce they won’t have anyone else making any big dollars as Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will come off the books for 2012-2013 season and they could make a run at two of the top 3 free agents.  Only problem is sources are saying that this deal is contingent on Paul signing a long term extension which would be 3 years for traded players and he’s not going to do that which rules any trade out unless he changes his mind.  The most obvious rumor is that he wants to come play for the Knicks which it looks like given their lack of prospects would have to come after this season doesn’t hurt Paul in any way other than the fact that he won’t make as much money as he could in the previous CBA which we all know.  The next two years will be cap friendly for the Knicks as the stiffer luxury tax penalties won’t come until year 3 of the CBA so the Knicks can take on payroll for this year and the next.  

The Dwight Howard rumor mill begins and ends with the Nets who have been trying to pair Deron Williams with a superstar to convince him to stay.  IF the Nets get Dwight Howard over here in a trade and ESPN’s Marc Stein is supremely confident that the Magic WILL trade their superstar Center before December 9th, then there’s a good chance that next year the Nets will have their superstars in place to make a strong run and Howard will be able to play in the big market which he’s always dreamed about and hinted at.  Of course rumors are circulating that he will ONLY look at the Knicks and Lakers who I think will make a strong run at acquiring Dwight Howard so they won’t see Kobe’s last run at a championship go unfulfilled with lackluster role players.  Most disconcerting has to be Pau Gasol’s disappearance at the end of last season.

One interesting trade rumor I’ve heard is the Lakers making a run at CP3 AND Dwight Howard where the Lakers would give up Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and 1st round draft picks in two separate packages for the aforementioned superstars so they can pair them with Kobe.  The Lakers just signed a mega TV deal with Time Warner which gives them $150 million EVERY YEAR for the life of the agreement.  That’s before a single ticket is sold so just imagine the benefits of that?  By comparison the Knicks make $64 million and that’s because Cablevision owns the Knicks.  So they could afford the luxury tax hit and go all Yankees on us.  BUT, the problem is CP3 seems more comfortable in taking the Knicks offer which would be equivalent to anything the Lakers can give him.  So how about the Lakers, instead of trying to get CP3, make a run at Russell Westbrook and bring back the former UCLA star to his old digs?  Kobe could rein in Westbrook and supervise his development and give them the slasher/disher/scorer and have the young PG that they so crave and the Thunder could firmly give the team over to Kevin Durant.  News leaked that there may be a power struggle in the works between Westbrook and Durant and let’s face it, the only person who can’t see that this is Durant’s team is Westbrook and the only guy who can put him in his rightful place on the totem pole may be Kobe.  Now obviously people would look at this as the OKC giving up their star player to the Lakers for an aging Gasol OR an injury prone Bynum but Bynum is a young guy who’s health can improve given the right medical treatment and Gasol can be a number 2 as he’s displayed during his time in Los Angeles playing back up singer to Kobe Bryant.  This trade works out on all fronts because the Lakers can get the star PG and pay him and OKC can afford to trade Westbrook because they have James Harden who they believe will emerge this year as a true number 2 scoring option behind Durant.  Don’t be surprised if this deal happens.  Sam Presti, OKC’s general manager is known to be creative and will do what’s best for the team in the long run.  They can’t afford to pay Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka etc and so I believe the best thing to do is trade Westbrook to the Lakers and get back what you can, including a few first round draft picks, something he loves to get and knows what to do with.  


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New York and the NBA after “The Decision”

New Yorkers are incredibly resillient.  That much I’m sure of.  So recovering from the mess that was Lebron took only a few hours.  We’re a city that moves so quick that tourists complain about our rudeness.

We’re not walking fast, you’re just walking slow.

So no wonder that yesterdays press conference to announce 4 new players to the Knicks roster was met more with answers of what was to come than what wasn’t.

Allan Houston, the Knicks GM-in-training, knows about defeating the Miami Heat.  He lives on in New Yorkers hearts for his teardrop shot to shock the Heat during the 99 season. A season where an 8th seed like them beat a 1 seed like the Heat, a scenario that the Knicks could find themselves in this season.

Projected records so far have the Knicks winning between 38-42 games which would be, at best, a 12 game turnaround.  Its entirely possible that the Knicks could be the surprise team if you buy into all the doomsday theories of the Knicks going back to irrelevance now that Le-Bum spurned New York’s advances.  If we had anything over the past two years, it was hope that Lebron was on his way like a knight in shining armor to save the day.

But that prince turned into a frog instead.  He became Hollywood Hogan and went AWOL on the good guy list.  Now he’s the villain universally.

My question is..was that…a good thing?  Hear me out Knick fans.  Maybe I’m just sipping from the kool aid a bit too much but I’m thinking pretty clear, I promise.

My points are all purely circumstantial so I have nothing to stand behind but a hunch.  What if Chris Paul’s reported announcement of his own big 3 wasn’t all talk?

If you haven’t read the newest rumor to drive Knick fans crazy, here it is.  Marc Berman, the Knicks beatwriter for the New York Post, said that in a speech during friend Carmello Anthony’s wedding, which James was also in attendance for, said he, Melo, and Amare would form their own Big 3 in New York to challenge the one in South Beach.

How much truth lies in that statement remains in question.  Remember Knick fans, Lebron started flirting with coming to New York two years ago too.  So let’s hold our horses and not get set up again.

Ok, so let’s start imagining a scenario I’ve been thinking about since this newstory leaked.  What if this Big 3 forming in Miami sparked an idea in the minds of all free agents to be that the only way to assure yourself of greatness is to be teamed with a really good squad and form your own super team?  What if guys like Chris Paul and Deron Williams (both free agents in 2012) want a championship badly enough that they would let statistics be damned and join forces to make it happen?

It makes sense now that the discussion on the superstars are changing.  If stars no longer care about competing against each other then expect more super teams to come together.

So now the only relevant topic left is to scout potential landing spots for that kind of star power and all signs point to New York being the last glamour spot left in the NBA for stars to really shine on a huge stage.  The Knicks and Nets can basically play up the image part of being a champion in New York now that its become clear what this generations stars are after.  Its not about individual glory.

Which brings us to David Stern’s comments regarding Lebron’s exit strategy.  He said his decision making was poor and he wished he had informed Dan Gilbert, the crazy owner of the Cavs, sooner than he had about him leaving as opposed to a nationally televised audience.  The interesting part is how Stern views this shift.  Its bigger than you think.

Stern’s marketing made his stars huge.  In the early 80’s basketballs ratings were so poor that the Finals were shown on tape delay on CBS.  Magic and Bird brought the NBA back with their rivalry and MJ took it to a whole other level.  Basketballs popularity skyrocketed with MJ’s emergence.  The marketing job they did on Jordan and helping take his accomplishments and multiply its importance was and remains why we view Jordan the way we do.  Stern always had a star to build around.  Like the sun to the rest of the planets orbiting around it.

Its why when Jordan left, the discussion was where the NBA would find its next Jordan.  How could you follow that act up?  It took years and years before fans were able to accept that there was no next Jordan.  Remember Harold Miner? T-Mac? Vince Carter?*  All good players but never nearly as great as we as fans thought they’d be.
*= I especially hate Vince Carter because I was almost positive he was the next best thing.  He came from Jordan’s alma mater, North Carolina, and he had all the easy athleticism that made Jordan so enjoyable to watch even though he was beating my franchise down.  But his injuries never seemed genuine and he quit on the franchise that invested in him.  I just had very little respect for a man who I felt was wasting his talent and not using it which is why I suppose this Lebron “Decision” irks me too.

If championships are the only category to worship then Russell is the champ.  If its scoring ability its Kareem.  But because of his flair and the commercials and the aura he built with the marketing dollars, we all ceded that it was Jordan.  I believe Jordan was the greatest because you just knew when you were watching him that you were going to be treated.  A singular talent like him shined brightest on the bright stage as if he did it without a supporting cast, as if there was no Pippen.

Need a more contemporary example?  Everyone that watched the Finals know that Gasol outplayed Kobe in game 7, but Kobe, with a 6/24 shooting performance won the series MVP.  Why?  Because Kobe is the biggest star.  Kobe basically had to show up in order to win the MVP.

The NBA is a star’s business and Stern was a master in pushing his sports top athletes.  He understood that and he made it profitable.  So when he sees Lebron make a business decision personal to join friends in search of championships, he’s seeing his biggest meal ticket ruin what could be millions more in branding and other things.

Now Stern has to sell the team to fans as opposed to two separate entities.  He can’t just market Lebron by himself.  He has to market him with Wade.  Wade and Lebron are close enough to assume sporting headlines in matchups against each other.  Remember the NBA on NBC ads? “Jordan and the Bulls vs Ewing and the Knicks.” Who but the Lakers can match in star power?

Stern’s anguish was evident during the press conference.  He looked like he went to happy hour a few hours prior to the presser.  He looked tired and stressed like he’d been on multiple conference calls to sort out the mess that he knew he was in.  Imagine having crafted your business one way and now having to change it even slightly not because of your customer base but because of your employees.

Stern doesn’t have his heir apparent to Kobe.  It could be Wade but he had Lebron fitted for that crown.  Now its up in the air and Stern has to wonder what it means for the future of his stumbling league if stars are leaving smaller market teams to join together and form super teams then Stern will have an even bigger problem.

Guys talking about joining together publically?  The biggest star in the game coming out of this with more trash flying at him than Hulk Hogan when he made the heel turnV  Stern now has a PR and business problem at hand.

But Stern’s loss may end up being New York’s gain.  What if the summer of 2010 ended up shifting the thinking among young stars.  If a guy like Lebron cedes he can’t lead a team by himself then everyone may begin feeling the same and by the time your done in a few years you have 5 or 6 really really good teams and a bunch of bad ones.  Its natural to assume that the NBA will be in trouble and Stern should be worried about how this summer has gone but you think Miami Heat fans are worried about the state of the NBA?  Well if it benefits New York then neither should we.  New York is resillient, we will get through the hate.

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For Kobe: this title was his most personal.

6 for 24. Its going to sit there, weighing heavily on his mind. Eighteen field goals missed in a game 7 that went down to the wire. Sure the Lakers won, but that’s not the point.

Kobe Bryant had four championships prior to this past Thursday night’s triumph. But he was playing a totally different team. This title was certainly his most difficult. Most satisfying? No. It can’t be. It was a repeat title, the first to do so since, those Shaq led Laker teams did when they three-peated.

You remember Shaq don’t you? Big fella who came to LA and teamed with Phil Jackson and a young Kobe to win three straight championships? Kobe does. He hasn’t forgotten Shaq. Judging by his post game comments, he never let himself forget. Even while Shaq through twitter offered up congrats, Kobe was unwilling to be as gracious. How else could he justify these last 3 years of hard fought, unending preparation for that moment. He couldn’t let it go that quick. If you were looking for a nice Kobe you probably were more suited to get his thoughts a few days later when he’s not so caught up in the moment.

“I have one more than Shaq. You can go to the bank with that. You guys know I don’t forget anything.”

Those were the quotes. Do you blame him? If you thought he sounded bitter in the midst of such a sweet moment, forgive him. Mj sounded the same way during his Hall of Fame speech. Its in their blood. Kobe was never facing the Celtics. He was never being guarded by Ray Allen. He was playing for that one up on Shaq. He was fighting for that step up to the hill top where MJ sits in the pantheon of basketball gods like Zeus. He was playing for his own legacy as a Laker. I know his because of that one quote.

But 6 for 24 will sit with him. He will watch the tape and see a scrambling Kobe trying too hard to take his shot instead of playing the good teammate and kicking it out of double teams. He will scream at the TV and say what were you thinking there? Throwing up prayers and trying to will it into the hoop was Kobe in the first half. The great quandary of MJ’s career was when would he learn to trust his teammates? When he did learn to wisely trust Scottie and Horace and later Rodman and Harper, he was unstoppable. He won titles and earned the glory he now has.

Its tougher than you think. I’m not the best at anything, but on this fathers day I remember my dad. Me and my dad fight over how much I pull my weight around the house, though to be fair I’m pretty heavy so that’s not all that easy. My dad asks me why I don’t help him with chores outside the house like weed pulling or cutting hedges, yet whenever I go to try to offer assistance, my dad watches me for two seconds, sees my incompetence in such areas and he tells me to move away and I end up sitting there just watching him. He can’t help it, he’s a perfectionist. He wants it done a certain way and if its not done that way then he doesn’t want anyone but him to take care of it.

MJ and Kobe are cut from the same cloth in that respect. They are perfectionists that need to do things themselves. Thus Kobe needed to set the tempo for the game. To show his opponents and his critics that he COULD rise to this huge occasion like they all expected him to. To review, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players ever. That was never in doubt, but Laker fans and Kobe fans and even Kobe himself was hoping for that penultimate game. That singular perfect performance that would cement his legacy and allow him to stand before the court of public opinion and allow him to stand almost toe to toe with Michael Jordan for all-time everything.

To be honest, I think we take this MJ thing too far. Everytime a player comes into the league and shows some promise, instead of allowing him to grow, we compare him to that player and if he doesn’t live up to the comparison, then his career just hasn’t lived up to the hype. You know, the hype we created. Its unfair. I do think that at some point we will see a player come along and break MJ’s records and win a bunch of championships and like the old people who defiantly hold to the “Bill Russell or Jerry West is better than Jordan” argument, we will carry on that “Jordan was better than so and so.” We will never allow ourselves to admit that a new generation of kids growing up saw a better basketball player than the best player of our generation.

But guys like Kobe and Jordan won’t publically admit this but it matters. Their goal was never just to win a championship. It was always to win multiple championships. Its not to be one of the greatest players, its to be the best. Its what drives them to compete and what gives them reason to train as hard as they do.

So Kobe had 6 for 24 in a game 7. Don’t think he forgot. Only two finals MVPs compared to Shaq’s 3. Nope. MJ had six titles to Kobe’s fifth. There are still more mountains to climb. Still more things left to do. Still more miles to travel. Kobe hasn’t forgotten, the great ones never do.

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