Tag Archives: LeBron James

Winners and Losers NBA Finals edition

I wrote a few days ago about Lebron in the internet age.  I have to admit it got me to thinking about how the Finals, and his entire career has been a no-win situation for him since he got here.  Hyped since day 1, it was impossible for him to be what everyone wanted him to be.  Why did we love Jordan?  Because we didn’t know we needed him to be the standard until he became it.

After winning game 6, the Cavs have forced a game 7 in the NBA Finals.  This will be the 18th Game 7 in NBA Finals history.  The last Finals to go 7? Lebron remembers- that was in 2013 when the Heat were saved by a miraculous 3 by Ray Allen in the final minute in Miami in game 6 against a talented Spurs team to win the second of their back to back titles.  The last team to overcome a three games to one deficit were the 1966 Lakers who took the series to 7 until ultimately losing to the Boston Celtics.

People have tried to force the buy into the dislike that the Warriors have for Lebron and vice versa by hyping up every back and forth between the two teams.  Want trash talk?  Red Auerbach announced before the season that he would retire after the season was over giving his haters one last shot at him in 1966.  After an emotionally uplifting come from behind victory in Game 1 by the Lakers, Auerbach pulled yet another one of his classic psychological chess moves by announcing that Bill Russell would succeed him as head coach becoming the first African American head coach in the NBA all but destroying any momentum the Lakers had going into game 2.  The Celtics won the next three by an average of 13 points and eventually won the series.

In 1951 The Rochester Royals went up three games to none against the New York Knicks.  The Knicks won the next three to force a Game 7 in improbable fashion…and then lost game 7.

What does this mean?  It means that doing what the Cavs have already done is ridiculously difficult.  Just so everyone’s on the same page, they are facing the greatest regular season team in the history of the NBA, the defending NBA champions.  They also have a lineup called the “lineup of death”.   They also employ the reigning two time defending NBA MVP who still has not had a signature game and there’s  an unsettling inevitability that it will happen.

Last night’s victory had wives losing their minds, then there were the psychological tricks the Cavs were supposedly playing on the Warriors family and friends bus.  But the Cavs didn’t win Game 6 in Cleveland for any other reason than Lebron James willed them there.  It got me to thinking about who could be the biggest winners and losers here once Sunday’s Game 7, not just within this series but in the NBA as a whole.  Here’s my list:

WINNERS (if Cavs win):

  1. Lebron James- If the Cavs manage to pull off what no one else has done in NBA history, which is win a Game 7 on the road, against the greatest regular season team in NBA history, after being down three games to one, it would catapult Lebron into a whole other stratosphere.  Songs would be sung about him, babies named after him, and streets too.  Historically, the significance of it would make him unlike any other athlete that has ever graced this game and hopefully would even give the Lebron haters some chill, though I doubt the Curry household would.  Also Lebron the GM would get a huge boost.
  2. Cleveland- This city hasn’t won a championship in so long, and has been starved for some real hardware that I don’t know if there will be a city left to do a parade on Monday morning.
  3. Kyrie Irving- He’s done more in these last two games to answer questions about his ability to lead a team than ever before.  Not at the level of James, but his Game 5 performance will be difficult to duplicate.  Shooting 71% and hitting some of the highest degree of difficulty shots you’ll ever see.  Also being called champion will help Kyrie shake the stigma of being a good player on a bad team.
  4. NBA- A small market like Cleveland winning will only make the NBA look better.  Even if I’m stirring the conspiracy theorists with this idea, the NBA needs to go into the next lockout having had a team from a small market win to prove that their current financial system has NOT kept small market teams at a disadvantage.
  5. Ty Lue- Taking over a team in midseason after a questionable coaching change which was rumored to be a Lebron power play and Lue has been admirable in not being the center of it all.  You can tell the Cavs players enjoy playing for him and go all out.  Even if we have no idea how to gauge his ability to coach because he’s coaching a stacked squad, Lue will have NBA champion on his resume as head coach and player and that’s a feat not many have accomplished.  In fact here’s the list: Rick Carlisle, Pat Riley, KC Jones, Phil Jackson, Billy Cunningham, Tommy Heinsohn, Bill Russell, and Red Holzman.  That’s some elite company no matter how much you give him credit for.

LOSERS (if Cavs win)

  1. Warriors being the greatest team in NBA history- The obvious choice, but really its their place in history.  It ain’t no thing if you ain’t got that ring.  Being the greatest regular season team of all time is a good accomplishment but nothing to write home about.  The Bulls will pop champagne, and those other teams like the 86 Celtics, 87 Lakers will all rest easy and have the right to puff out their chest and say they were better too.  If they lose Game 7, the Warriors will have lost as many games in the playoffs as they did during the entire 82 game regular season.
  2. The Curry’s- This is now the second Finals where he’s gone MIA.  Yes, he scored 30 points last night but it was the quietest 30.  He also fouled out of a game for the first time and showed un-Steph-Curry-like undisciplined behavior.  He’s the reigning two time MVP but if they lose this series after being up 3-1, Steph will bear a lot of the blame and for the first time in his career face criticism.  That should make for a fun summer for the Curry household.  Continuing in the Curry household- her twitter rant after Game 6 will be discussed incessantly until Game 7.  If they don’t win, I’m sure Warriors fans will support Ayesha’s thoughts and complain about how the NBA doesn’t want the Warriors to win.  This will harm the Curry brand which was really beginning to take off.  NBA and other corporate sponsors can’t be too happy about her flying off the handle.  They don’t take too kindly to being called names by wives or part of the crew types calling their product or company into question.
  3. Draymond Green- The nut job as I’m calling Game 5 will rank as one of the weirdest suspension/momentum turners in NBA history.  Green’s value is immense to the Warriors, but his play and attitude were limited in Game 6 as he played with the thought that any kind of brash play would likely see him get suspended for an all important Game 7.  I’m assuming he’s saving all that rage for do or die Game 7.
  4. Knicks fans/Celtics fans or any fan base that wants a superstar off their team and Kevin Love on it-  If the Cavs win, the push or Kickstarter campaign to trade Kevin Love will take a huge hit.  No complicated three way deal that will net the Cavs Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks draft picks they desperately need to continue the rebuild or no superstar Kevin Love to join the revolution in Boston.
  5. NBA refs- If the Cavs win, tape of Game 6 will be studied as closely as the Kings/Lakers series in 2002 and the Heat/Mavs series in 06.  Tim Donaghy’s legacy will be safe and secure.

WINNERS (if Warriors win)

  1. Steph Curry- No one stands to gain more by his team’s success than Steph Curry.  I’m not saying he’s a product of that system- you can’t make that argument for Steph when he’s undoubtedly the greatest shooter this sport has ever known.  But he’s pretty much been non-existent in the NBA finals for the second consecutive year and the internet notices shit like that.  I’m expecting a 30+ point effort, but I think the Cavs have allowed Steph to get his 30 albeit working hard, but he may have been exposed defensively.  Steph has to be aggressive in Game 7 and if he does, he can secure his legacy.
  2. Klay Thompson- It seems people discuss Steph and Draymond when it comes to this team, but Klay does as much as Dray on the defensive side of the ball (look at his assignments during each round of the playoffs, Harden, Lilliard, Westbrook and now Kyrie) and has done more than Steph on the offensive end.  The Warriors do NOT force a Game 7 against OKC without Klay’s insane 40 point game.  He loves being in the background which tells you why the Warriors have so much success because all of their stars are uncharacteristically unselfish and genuinely like playing with each other.
  3. Kevin Love trade mongers- Knicks fans/Celtics fans will be spending countless hours on the trade machine to try and figure out how to get Kevin Love to Boston and the Knicks with a few draft picks.
  4. Joe Lacob- His NYT article probably turned off a number of people.  It made him out to be the arrogant douchebag we’ve all come to expect the rich to be.  If the Warriors win, those people can all suck it.  Many of his enhancements have enabled the Warriors to become the standard for front offices to aspire to and Lacob will have engineered one of the greatest turnarounds for a franchise in sports history.
  5. NBA tweeners entering the draft- The shift in thinking about how to employ players like Draymond has changed.  Every league is copycat so many teams will look at players who fit that description during the draft and may reach to grab them in hopes of getting the next Draymond Green.  Denzel Valentine’s draft stock is already flying high and I’m sure teams will be paying close attention to shooters who can stretch the floor.  There will be teams trying to fit square pegs in round holes in hopes of duplicating the Warriors success.

LOSERS (if Warriors win)

  1. Lebron James- Because he’s Lebron and no matter what, the haters will come out.  That’s the burden he bears and whether right or wrong, fans will forget the back to back 41 point games and herculean effort to force a Game 7, only done twice before in NBA history in order to troll the King.
  2. Kevin Love- Second to Lebron, the NBA will collectively ponder the future of Kevin Love in Cleveland.  Since he got to Cleveland, it hasn’t been a clean fit and his play in Game 6 was everything you needed to know.  He picked up 2 fouls in the first three minutes and saw most of the second half from the bench.  This was a top 15 player in the NBA two years ago but things have NOT gone well.  Love will likely have to leave Cleveland and be put up on the pantheon of hated athletes in Cleveland.
  3. Old Guys- All the Hall of Famers who have opened their mouths about a jump shooting team winning will have to admit that they were wrong.  Which they still won’t do, but maybe next time we won’t pay attention to click bait articles about a quote from an 80’s player that discounts the Warriors success.  They can stop the whole Kurt Rambis would’ve stopped Lebron and Draymond from entering the lane.  Seriously you think THIS GUY is stopping Lebron from getting in the paint?
  4. Harrison Barnes Free Agency- Barnes had a chance to step up in the Finals and take a $100M contract even if everyone would be screaming that its a bad contract.   This Finals has only proved what we all knew.  This guy isn’t worth the money and while its still entirely possible that Barnes can go off in Game 7, and the cap is so crazy high and every team has so much money that they may throw money at him- I can’t see him being the star and Steve Kerr sat Barnes down for a majority of the second half while the Warriors were trying to make a comeback.  Kerr thought a clearly hobbled Andre Iguodola was a better option.  Ouch.
  5. City of Cleveland- It bears noting that no fan base is more prepared for defeat and gut wrenching loss than the City of Cleveland.  No fan base has seen their hopes dashed in the way this city has.  I will say that this team right now has very 2004-Red Sox feel to it to me.  Take it as you will.




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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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Where is this all headed?

lebron-james-heat-1280x1024Its been a while but I just had a few thoughts on the Miami Heat and their streak going into Friday’s game against the Chicago Bulls where everyone has these grandiose dreams and expectations.

The Lebron conversation has been one of the most fascinating in all of sports over the last three years going back to the final game in a Cleveland Cavs uniform where he walked off the court, scratching his head, taking off his Cavs jersey and entering what would end up being the single biggest PR disaster of an offseason that anyone of his ilk has ever undertaken.  Since that time, Lebron has been to two Finals series, won an MVP, on his way to what should be a unanimous second consecutive MVP, won a ring, been humbled, has gone on the longest streak of consecutive wins since the ’71-72 Lakers who won 33 consecutive, and has regained his status as the most popular athlete alive.

Nike recently released an ad stating the obvious and perfect summation of what those much wiser and those who had spent more time on earth said way back in those early months: “winning takes care of everything.”  And win he has done.  You can read Zack Lowe of Grantland fame for the nitty gritty details about how Miami’s offense has evolved into the crisp machine that it was.  Lowe’s recent article detailing the Miami juggernaut says that the Heat stumbled upon the Lebron as the 4 in the most productive of Heat line ups as the single biggest reason for it but I think mentally a hurdle was jumped over that number crunchers even as great as Zack Lowe can’t quantify.

There’s something to be said to how much confidence one can gain from passing your greatest test.  A sense of relief?  Sure.  A confidence that is soaring and unable to be restrained? Definitely.  But what happened on that night that Lebron realized he was NOT going to win an NBA championship to secret rivals, the Dallas Mavericks had to have been the turning point.  The summer of 2010 was one of turmoil and constant roadside attractions that did more to take away from Lebron’s brilliant decision to team up with good friends Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to form the super Trio, than actually enhance it.  Why was the public so aghast at the idea that Lebron needed help?  Michael Jordan admits on nearly every occasion that he wouldn’t have been as successful if he didn’t have Scottie Pippen.  Magic and Bird had stocked teams to the max.  Isiah Thomas won with one of the five greatest rebounders in NBA history, Dennis Rodman, and Shaq won with Kobe, and Kobe won with Pau and Bynum.

His summer of 2011 was vastly different.  He went into a hole, some had surmised brought on by his humiliating defeat at the hands of Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.  The Mavs partied on their turf all into the wee hours and for a majority of the NBA fandom who had grown tired of arrogant Lebron who had promised not five, not six, not seven rings in a parade that the Heat threw to announce the arrival of impending doom on the rest of the NBA (Which i’m sure 29 other fan bases and teams saw and didn’t really appreciate), it was a sweet victory for everything that is good.  Bad guy Lebron left that building understanding one thing: he needed to work harder, and keep his mouth shut.  So we didn’t hear a peep from him or the Heat during that summer of the lock out.  They would tweet out workout pics on occasion.  They would put up quotes of inspiration, more for themselves.  And when the season opened, nobody was more prepared for the grind of a lockout shortened season than them.  They played at a pace that was vastly different and superior to a majority of the competition.  But they still weren’t the dominant team that everyone expected and feared.

Then something happened in the playoffs.  I call it the Neo moment.  The Neo moment happens to a player in every generation in each sport or walk of life.  Its that part in the first Matrix movie (the only one really worth watching, though I give a thumbs up to the second Matrix movie too even if its not cool to do so), when Neo having been shot, gets up and stops the bullets and finally understands and takes on the responsibility of his immense talents instead of running away from his potential.  That moment happened in Boston, in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals when Lebron, tired of losing to the Celtics in every big spot and moment since 2008, decided that the Heat were not going to lose.  He dominated the game in the same way that Magic Johnson announced himself to the NBA world in 1979 when he led the Lakers to a championship by playing center and scoring 42 points in a game six win.  He scored 45 points pulled in 15 rebounds and the Celtics had virtually NO SHOT from there on out and neither did the rest of the league.  For the first time, Lebron let himself know that he was the best player on the court and he could dominate when he wanted to.  When his team needed a basket he could pull up and hit a three.  When his team needed him to facilitate, there he was to throw the right pass.  When his team needed him to crash the boards and eliminate second chance opportunities there he was again beasting and flying way above the heads of anyone and everyone to pull the loose balls down.

He was a man possessed and nobody, and nothing was going to stand in his way.  This season’s consecutive wins streak is a manifestation of that belief.  If this isn’t impressive to the casual NBA fan, then nothing will do it.  If this doesn’t signal that Lebron is competing against ONLY his own shadow at this point then nothing will do it.  Its not just his belief, its his teammates belief that no matter what the situation, being down double digits in Boston late in the 3rd quarter or being down 17 against the Knicks in the third quarter or going down by 20+ in Cleveland, where even their vitriol seems to have slowed to a halt (it may have something to do with the fact that Lebron left the door wide open for a reunion with his home town in 2014 when he may have accomplished everything he wants to in South Beach), it doesn’t matter.  At this point, Lebron does what he wants when he wants.

Tom Haberstroh another wise sage of the stat kingdom, spoke about the vertical spacing that Chris “Birdman” Anderson gives to the Heat.  But the point is, it all starts with Lebron.  It all ends with Lebron.  He’s the single greatest athlete alive in sports and everyone that doesn’t believe that is just foolish.  I’m old enough where I’m not as anti-greatness as I was back when Jordan was around.  I hated MJ for the routine beat downs he would put on my beloved Knicks and though my fandom overtakes me from time to time where I’m foolish enough to think that my Knicks have a chance against Lebron’s Heat, its just dumb.  Its the kind of talk that’s reserved for a few beers in me, while watching the Knicks dispatch the Celtics in Boston talk.  Its just all talk.  Lebron is a man amongst boys and when athletes come along and dominate on this kind of level you just wonder how anyone can compare?

Like most people my age, we hold on to this memory of Michael Jordan as the single greatest player ever, but I can say without any hesitation that we’ve NEVER seen anyone like Lebron.  Never.  Not a single person has combined his athletic gifts with a superior knowledge of the game in such a package.  And that package is rolling.  Its steamrolling through what looks like diluted NBA competition.  Its not making any pit stops, its just coming to a town near you, taking care of business and moving on.  Seeing the eternal glory that history can give to his team, Lebron has done the right thing.  He’s set his sights even higher.  He sees Michael’s six.  He sees his legacy and the player he’s always compared to for whatever reason we choose to do it, and he wants to beat it and good for him.  I’m tired of stubbornly refusing to engage in that conversation.  I’m ready to say it.  I’m ready to do it.  Lebron James is heading towards that lone spot on the mountain top.  Good for him.  Its time that a successor came to the Jordan reign.  We though we’d never see another Russell or Wilt, then Kareem came.  We thought we’d never see another Oscar Robertson and Jerry West till Magic and Bird came.  We thought we’d never see another Jordan and then Lebron came.  Yeah I’m saying it.  No hesitations.  If he continues down this path, he WILL BE THE GOAT.  PERIOD.

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Thoughts on the NBA Finals

Game 3 thoughts here. I haven’t posted my feelings on game 1 and 2 but those are sooo last week. So let’s get on with my feelings on the series thus far.

– its been fascinating to see the public clamor over a Lebron James vs. Kevin Durant Finals when it’s merely a subplot. It’s a subplot to the bigger picture of Lebron’s career which includes validating his greatness with championship trophies that he promised the citizens of Miami the moment the “big 3” came. James is the biggest star and the villain once again in his third trip to the Finals and second in the black and red of the Miami Heat uniform. This is his second consecutive trip to the Finals and yet he by himself has earned the Yankee treatment: anything short of a championship trophy would be a failure. The pressure put on his shoulders makes us, those hoping Lebron fulfills his destiny- Star Wars style- the ridiculously overbearing parent who chides his child whenever he does something wrong. Who ridicules him when he misses a key free throw in the late stages. Who scream obscenities at him when he passes the ball to a teammate who is surprised by the pass because of his own expectation of Lebron. It’s a fascinating case study on the way we root for the best players in the game.

It’s interesting personally for me, who grew up bitter during Michael’s spectacular run through the NBA Finals during the 90’s because he made it his personal mission in life to eliminate the Knicks. Little did I know that he made it his mission in life to destroy everyone who stood in his way.

As I grew up and got older my feelings about Jordan changed. Age had brought me wisdom I suppose but it brought me perspective. My eyes were more open to the other Jordan. The brand. The shoes. The sheer greatness that I had witnessed and never got to relish because when you’re young you don’t appreciate shit unless your team wins. I couldn’t like Jordan. My blue and orange blood wouldn’t allow it. Of course that wisdom hasn’t allowed me to appreciate Pat Riley after he left since he continues to stick it to the Knicks even a decade later.

But now I look at Lebron and see a lot of the animus and bias I had when watching Jordan come to fruition in the shape of Lebron James. Yes, his story is far different from the glorified Michael Jordan years, but the NBA is still the same: market the heck out of the biggest star. Hope he makes good decisions and leverage the player’s greatness to global branding profits. More than any other sport: basketball markets the crap out of its players and makes no apology off profiting from that. The lesson here: we’re gonna make money off you, if you want to make money you’re more than welcome to.

And alot of the financial cache translates to on court favoritism. Though it was said in jest, the Jordan rules were very real. Ask Byron Russell how much of Jordan’s game 6 final shot in a Bulls uniform was push off and how much was good basketball move. Much of it is still alive in Lebron. He is now the financial cash cow that the league exploits and in turn allows to play under a different set of rules.

To say the referee missed the call standing five feet away in game 2 would be tough enough but throughout the playoffs the instances of favoritism are too numerous to mention. The argument then becomes: isn’t that what is supposed to happen? Shouldn’t superstars get favoritism anyway? Yes, but then how do you reconcile Kevin Durants foul woes? My favorite response is: Durant hasn’t paid his dues. Why? Because he’s 23? Is he pledging a fraternity? Is he climbing the corporate ladder? Perhaps he is. Maybe this is his rite of passage. Durant is only going to enter his prime in 4 years which should also begin Lebron’s decline. A perfect passing of the refereeing baton and the NBA’s full scale global push.

So this series isn’t just Lebron vs Durant, it’s the NBA doing what it does best: putting its star in a position to shine; he need merely to take the baton and run with it.

– The biggest loser here is Russell Westbrook. The Heat’s biggest problem these last two years has been its inability to figure out its power chart. Lebron came to Wade’s team. Lebron is the better player so why isn’t he the defacto leader? So I found Dwayne Wade’s admission that he was in fact deferring to Lebron as a calculated moment of catharsis. No superstar of Wade’s ilk admits that without there being some deeper motive behind it. And usually it’s organizationally endorsed. It tells me more about Lebron and how sensitive he is to the question than anything.

So why is Westbrook the loser? Because he wants to be the man. He is physically gifted enough to be fooled into thinking he could be the man. But it’s so clear that Kevin Durant is the man. Westbrook is in a lose lose situation. Shoot and miss and feel the wrath of a fan base that ONLY wants you to pass to the other guy. Shoot and make it and the fans are just happy they got away with it. It’s a thankless job for one of the game’s brightest young stars.

It will be interesting how deep the emotional scar will be if the Thunder lose this series. This is clearly Kevin Durant’s team and their success will ultimately be at his feet while it’s failure will be laid at the footstool of the point guard who refuses to subjugate himself to the amazing powers of Kevin Durant. How long will Westbrook carry the baggage of being a lackey? Will he yearn to be the man somewhere? He’s been playing good sport for a while now but it’s clear he wants to be the hero and who knows if sometime in the future it leads to discord and a request to be traded. Its not inconceivable.

Remember also that James Harden emerged as a better secondary option than Westbrook who is miscast as a point guard. The looming decision of whether to sign Harden to an extension could mean that Westbrook has to take a backseat even more.

Which is why as important as this championship is for the future of the Miami Heat, it could be equally important to the future of the Thunder.

– Scotty Brooks rejecting a 3 year $11 million extension seems bizarre given Sam Presti’s ability to get the best deal at the end of the day. The gears in my brain started working and I put Phil Jackson’s recent comments regarding the Knicks and rejuvenation his chance to re enter the fray as a coach. His penchant for entering already established teams is well known. What about the triangle for OKC? It’s a nice thought but lets be honest: Phil would have to take a pay cut to come to OKC. I don’t see Presti handing out a contract upwards of $40 million to a coach approaching 80 but we know Phil’s ability of handling egos and managing young talent and bringing it all together to win a championship. Apart from the Laker job, I can’t see any other job catching his interest. Miami makes sense purely from a basketball point of view but he and Pat Riley don’t seem be a good fit. Riley would take over that team before Phil ever came to town.

I believe he had real interest in the Knick job but given James Dolans lack of common sense being a huge deterrent to winning championships rather than box office I believe Phil will stay away. I think it was in poor taste for Jackson, not to say what he said but to say it the way he did. Calling them clumsy seems more like a personal attack on the regime than the players. Saying Carmelo is a ball stopper or that Amar’e and he don’t fit are not moments of epiphany for Knick fans. This is something we painfully found out despite suspending our common sense over a season. Thats just sour grapes over the Knicks not even giving uncle Phil a courtesy call. That was admittedly dumb on the Knicks part but my suspicion is that the Knicks went cheap and refused to give Phil his money. The cheap shot may be Phil’s way of further driving up his price and letting the Knicks know: thanks but no thanks. Which is what he could’ve done from the beginning but…..

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Its a team game

The adage is simple: you let a team as crafty and veteran as the Boston Celtics lay around they will find a way to beat you.  And that’s what happened last night.  With every single minute passing and Miami unable to pull away on one of its patented runs that usually destroy lesser teams, the Celtics looked up at the scoreboard.  Never panicked.  And then put a few baskets together and cut the lead.  Again and again, everytime the Heat tried to pull away the Celtics reeled them back in and it was almost amusing at times to watch.

The Miami crowd, if that is even a real thing, was shocked at the end of the game and rightfully so.  They are not a basketball crowd.  They are a bunch of stray cats that had nothing better to do than be lured into a big arena.  They were given free t-shirts and told to make noise when given cue.  They were told by several green shirts peppered into the crowd that those guys with the jersey number six and 3 were good and that number 1 hadn’t played in about two weeks because of an abdominal strain.  They were given this information under the premise that they should cheer the boys in white and boo the men in green.

But last night’s game wasn’t simplistic enough for the novice to understand fully.  To appreciate what had just occurred.  The Boston Celtics have been the better team since they first left Miami.  They have played harder.  They have played tougher.  And they have controlled the tempo.  One of, if not THE BEST, players in this series is a man going on 37 who everyone forgets had a reputation for not being clutch.  Don’t act like everyone forgets the Minnesota years.  And it wouldn’t be ridiculous for one to ask: how is that possible?

Every single announcer made it sound as if the Celtics had zero chance of beating the Heat.  Everyone figured five games would be enough for the Heat to vanquish the Celtics.  Its not their fault.  Supernatural talent makes people forget logic.  Dwayne Wade and Lebron James’ performance against the Indiana Pacers had us all convinced that the Heat were going to steamroll their way into the Finals and the inevitable matchup against the Spurs- who they themselves have fallen on hard times.  Lebron is the best player on the planet.  Dwayne Wade, aka Prince Charming, is one of the five best players in basketball and they both play for the same team.  This is a star heavy league and teams with superstars win championships.  One can argue that with two superstars of almost equal talent (if this series has proven anything- that’s not even true, Lebron is far away a better player than Wade), they should be better than an old, aging group of veterans.

But the blinding light of talent has clouded our judgement about the fundamental premise of a team game.  Its a team game.  Its five players playing as one.  Knick fans that grew up in the late sixties and seventies will NEVER EVER forget those Knick teams because they were the embodiment of team.  No superstars.  No one hogging the ball or wanting more attention.  Just a collection of very skilled basketball players who understood that in order to beat the mighty Lakers or Celtics or anybody you had to play for each other and as one.  That there couldn’t be star gazing or standing around.  Everyone had a role and last night, Doc Rivers crystallized that when he declared Rajon Rondo as the leader of the Boston Celtics and gave us one of the best quotes that symbolize the difference between a good coach and a great coach.

“I think they kind of understand that Rondo’s the leader everybody else plays with Rondo.  Kevin is still a great player, and Paul is still our best scorer. But they’ve gotten out of each other’s way with roles. I think all the new guys have added a great competitive energy to our basketball team. So, early on when we were losing, I kept saying people were getting conditioning messed up with age. They kept looking at our team and saying, ‘We’re too old.’ I kept saying, ‘No, we’re out of shape and let’s find out how good we are later.’ Sometimes, as a coach, you have a feel about a team. I don’t know how good this team is. I’ve said that, but I know it’s a team. We can play with anybody.”

So Rondo is our leader.  Kevin is a great player and Paul is still our best scorer.  The three best players on the Celtics and all have clear distinctive roles on the team.  Rondo leads.  Pierce scores.  And Garnett is just great.  All different in their own ways but all come together to form a great team.  Yes, Paul Pierce hit the dagger three pointer- because that’s what he does.  Right in Lebron’s face even.  Yes, everyone will talk about Chris Bosh’s four minutes of game time in the second half despite playing decently for a guy who missed the last eight games.  But it was Mikael Pietrus who hit critical threes. It was Rondo who continuously tapped the ball into the waiting hands of green jerseys.  It was KG who enforced the middle as a no fly zone for Miami’s gifted scorers.  It was KG who kept his defender honest by knocking down 20 footers with consistency.  All three with great performances individually but under the umbrella of their role.

That is the definition of team.  A group of players playing with a common purpose.  A control of all things even as the game gets late and the situation gets tense.  Its not that they have been here before literally.  Yes, they have been together as a group playing under this kind of pressure but never in this specific situation.  But great teams ultimately control their circumstances.  Great teams forgo the individual pressure that they carry and know when to strike.  They know that the situation calls for someone to step up and they all know who it is without even talking about it.

I had a discussion on Facebook a few weeks back when Lebron James passed a three pointer over to Mario Chalmers who had a decent look and we debated the decision of Erik Spolestra to use Wade and Lebron as expensive props for Mario Chalmers to get a chance at a three pointer.  Most believed that it was the right play.  And yes, the computer will spit out that in that specific context giving the ball to your best 3 point shooter is in fact the right call.  But my common sense couldn’t help but think to ask this simple question: if Lebron James and Dwayne Wade are your best players and you have lavished upon them boat loads of money based on that logic, how then can you possibly NOT include them in the final seconds of a game where it means win or loss.  Those are the players you want deciding the game.  Mario Chalmers missing IS NOT the point.  I’m not insinuating that Lebron or Wade would’ve definitely made that shot because we can’t possibly know that.  But what I can know is that you have entrusted them with this belief that they are the best players on the team, how then can you possibly leave the outcome of the game to your fifth, sixth or seventh best player?

The name of the game is team.  A team who understands each player’s role within the context of the situation and the moment.  Its ok if this were game 23 in the middle of the season but the Heat lost a playoff game because Mario Chalmers missed a three pointer at the end of regulation.  That could’ve been disastrous.  That’s what I want people to understand.  How can you possibly say that this team knows itself when they don’t know what to do at the end of a game?  Poor execution because they are defended well is one thing, but poor execution because the play selection was terrible and the play was stupid is something else entirely.

The Celtics don’t need to be reminded.  That quote personified what they are.  They have been honest with themselves this entire season.  Doc Rivers has a feel for this team because he’s locked in just like every player is right now.  Ray Allen didn’t moan or piss about Avery Bradley being the starter when he returned, it was all part of the bigger plan.  Rivers doesn’t have to mind his words or hope that what he says won’t destroy the confidence of his players.  He says what he wants because it needs to be said.  He lashes out because things need to be lashed at.  Because the Celtics are a team, not a collection of individuals.  The best quote on twitter, often a forum for great creative one liners, was that  last night an NBA team beat an AAU team.

The Heat can still win this series.  But they have to figure out what they are exactly.  They have to get the ball into the hands of their best players at the end of games.  Even the young OKC Thunder figured that out.  Kevin Durant scored 16 in a row at one point during OKC’s victory in game 4 because they understood that he’s their best player and when he’s starting to hit circus shots that you MUST feed him the ball and get him as many touches as possible.  The hierarchy must be present.

For the Heat to be successful now, everyone must fall into line.  Lebron must realize he’s the top dog and make sure that everyone follows him.  The Heat will go only as far as Lebron will take them, but not when everyone, including themselves are unsure if its he or Wade doing the leading.


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The Writer and his script: the story of game 4 of the Heat/Pacer series

Maybe this was what was needed.  The superstar that is supposedly incapable of taking over.  The other superstar who had disappeared and then reappeared like the ghost of christmas past to spook his coach into making some cockamamie excuse for him post game and for his antics.  Maybe it was Lance Stephenson, the former prep phenom, becoming an internet sensation for the first time in his career delivering a choke sign hand guessture as Lebron James missed critical free throws in game 3.  Maybe that’s what allows the giant to come out.  Maybe that’s when enough is enough and great players assert themselves in a way that we expect them to.

The thing is, with Lebron and Wade and this Heat collabo, we’ve pre-written the story.  Well you can make the case that with the signing party they threw for themselves in Miami, they wrote their story.  We figure that this will all end in champagne and the inevitable “Here we go”  articles professing allegiance to the Lebron bandwagon fearing death if you resist.  We’ve been waiting for Lebron to show us what he’s capable of and he did that in game 4.  Call him whatever you want, but if there was anything about Sunday it was this: it was great.

It was greatness that we had all but given Lebron yet hadn’t seen in quite some time.  You see, Lebron is in the unenviable position of being born with otherwordly talents that we all can see.  There are plenty of people that dissect his performances and give grades based on complicated mathematical formulas that convinced me that if I had to understand this math crap, those guys had to hear Fran Drescher reading a book to you as you tried to sleep.  But the fact is, greatness is seen with two eyes and two ears.

The best is when it happens at someone else’s court.  I fondly remember the moments that Michael Jordan used to tear out the collective spirit of the Madison Square Garden faithful during the nineties or when Reggie went on his scoring barrages.  Or when Lebron went Cleveland (as the kids are calling it) on Detroit by scoring the final 25 points in what was essentially the first GREAT Lebron performance.  The crowd tries and tries to will its team but the look on the players faces tell it all: helpless, tired, and incapble of finding any answers.  Then you look out at the fans who have no answers.  Who have their hands on their heads.  Mouths are usually open.  Hearts are broken.  Tears are fighting to come out except foolish pride is keeping them in.  These are the expressions of futility.  Its a force of nature that you can’t stop and you hope it goes away without doing any more damage.

The Pacers had played from the tail end of game 2 till the second quarter of game 4 against a flawed Miami Heat team.  Basically they played against the Knicks.  A superstar heavy team with no other role players to speak of and basically 2 other guys you could semi-trust in a crucial spot.  The Pacers had enjoyed competing against this team because they knew they could beat this team but its funny when two of the five best players suddenly come out of the doldrums, realize what they are and act like it.  At one point during the third, and going into the fourth the dynamic duo had scored 38 consecutive points.  They came to the understanding that if they were to lose, it would be on their terms and not by any one else’s.

I had a foolish conversation the other day about the play that had Miami draw up a three point shot for Mario Chalmers.  The logic was sound: you give the three point shot to your BEST three point shooter.  Except, that’s if you do things by the books.  There’s an older book that must be brought into play whenever you have to make crucial decisions.  When you have the greatest player in the world, right now, you HAVE to allow him to win or lose the game.  Game four was proof.  There is no way you allow the ball to wind up in anyone else’s hands EXCEPT his.  He’s the force of nature.  He’s the carrier of his destiny and the one who shall write the script of how it all ends.

There is nothing to stop Lebron James and Dwayne Wade except themselves.  They pre-wrote their own script.  The only question that remains to be asked is: who wrote such a shitty game 3 episode?

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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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The Star problem

I decided that instead of doing a sports roundup for today I’d address a pretty major relevant topic this morning in a ranting format.  ESPN’s TrueHoop blog which has become mandatory daily reading for me,  has an article up written by Henry Abbot, who I began reading daily thanks to his excellent lockout coverage and most of all his common sense perspective, in which the title and point is that stars act like stars because they are…wait for it, STARS.

The Chris Paul furor on twitter/radio/national landscape has been unbelievable.  I admit I’m a Knick fan first and foremost.  I admit also that barring Imam Shumpert is the second coming of Isiah Thomas*, the Knicks don’t have anything remotely resembling an enticing package to trade to New Orleans for Chris Paul.
*= Where by I would argue then that the Knicks shouldn’t trade for CP3 and should focus on who I believe SHOULD be their primary target and that’s Dwight Howard. 

Ok, I get all that.  But why all the hatred?  The entire twitterverse has been raging over on beat the Knicks down testosterone as if the competition hasn’t been doing that for years.  Its these same know it all critics that confidently pointed out that the Knicks didn’t have enough to trade for Carmelo Anthony* and well we all know how that turned out.  I’m not saying they are wrong here.  I’m just alarmed at how angry these fans/”objective journalists” get when they talk about the Knicks having no shot at getting Chris Paul.
*= Which I STILL think was a mistake because now we’re here.   

Aside from the no-assets argument, they say that Chris Paul would NEVER leave money on the table, a reported $26 million if he doesn’t sign with a team that owns his Bird rights.  But this was all a reaction to a Yahoo Sports report that his agent, Leon Rose who also represents Carmelo Anthony for CAA, notified New Orleans management including GM Dell Demps that he would not sign an extension in season and requested a trade to the K nicks.  Suddenly groans were being bellowed and sarcastic (and actually funny) remarks were being made that Melo had orchestrated this whole thing and that all the leverage that the owners talked about taking back had just been virtually erased with one fail swoop from a superstar’s agent.

What?  The owners didn’t destroy their leverage, they worked on getting more of it with this new CBA.  The whole point of this was to gain competitive balance which is a hypothetical fantasy land filled with fairies and gnomes.  That place only exists in the minds of those who read numbers and conjure up arguments to support that case.  Competitive balance is the understanding that a system is in place that allows EVERY TEAM To fairly compete in an economic landscape.  But our society in general doesn’t have that so why should sports be any different?  If we relate NBA teams to everyday status roles, the Knicks and the Lakers are the rich kids while the Hornets are the orphans and Oklahoma City is the middle class.  New York and LA will always hold major advantages over other places because they can.  They have the most financial opportunity.  They have the most wealth and its not even close.  If its a competition why should New York and LA forego their advantages because everyone is throwing a hissy fit?

But now, Chris Paul is the latest superstar diva trying to screw over a small market team with his grandiose dreams of making it in a big city.  So, if I have this straight he SHOULDN’T leave money on the table to go and play for a team that employs one of his best friends but he’s also a scumbag because of how he’s deserting a small market?  Huh?  Come again?

Make up your minds.  He’s either a greedy person and stays with the Hornets currently owned and operated by all 29 franchises.  Or he’s not greedy and is destroying the NBA by creating a superstar alliance of his own in New York.  There’s a good/bad side to everything I guess.

Somewhere, signals got crossed and this became a moral argument.  It began with Lebron and ended last year with Carmelo and begins anew with Chris Paul.  And its a wonder why they are such close friends.  Suddenly superstars were beholden to teams and supposed to stay in their lanes.  No one would’ve had a problem with Lebron staying in Cleveland.  I’m not absolving him from how he announced it and I agree that it didn’t help his public image.  But he did something even greater than all that albeit in spectacularly stupid and insensitive fashion.  He let the NBA and his fellow superstars know that THEY, and not the powers that be that run their teams or the CBA have the power.  If you are willing to give up a little in terms of compensation from your teams, you can dictate the terms.  That’s real power and that’s real forward thinking.

We were all kind of blind to the situation when it happened but I get it now and moreso when Carmelo asked for a trade.  His intent to go to the Knicks was known and it became front page news in Denver and New York when it leaked that his destination of choice was New York.  He had roots there and wanted to play under the bright lights of a big city.  He was exercising his God-given right to do what he pleased and you want to know why the Nuggets listened?  Because he’s a superstar.  Because he holds weight and if he says he wants to go somewhere he will find a way to get that done regardless of whether it makes sense.  Its that kind of power that makes Kim Kardashian continue to have her show picked up by E!  Its their talent and ability to draw that gives coked up former Hollywood heavyweights the ability to continue making million dollar deals.  No matter what, you can’t ignore talent and can’t tell talent what to do if they know they have the leverage.  And players have always had the leverage and always died to exercise that leverage and no one of Lebron’s stature had done anything close to what he did when he made the Decision.

But the NBA and namely David Stern has been creating this beast slowly but surely over the last 30 years.  The NBA moreso than any other league is star driven.  You don’t come to see the Lakers, you come to see Kobe play.  You don’t come to see the Heat, you come with your Lebron Haterade filled signs and come to see Lebron and D-Wade.  Stars run this league and rightfully so.  Would you pay the high ticket prices to come see Eddy Curry?  No.  You’d ask the Knicks to pay you to see that garbage.  Stern has enabled players to become the superstars and earn the high priced endorsement deals outside of basketball and has given them unseemly amounts of leverage.  It was a calculated risk that worked in the 90’s and its working today in albeit a different form.

The problems ratifying a new CBA this year was linked to Lebron’s Decision from last year for the following reasons: small markets were complaining that this new precedent and formation of super teams would make it impossible for them to convince their star players to stay.  But let’s study the real facts here.  Lebron was drafted by Cleveland in 2003.  Took it to the Finals in 2007.   Got them the number one seed twice in the East.  Gave them seven transcendent seasons and it became a problem that he was leaving.  Seven seasons of dominant basketball, no title, no sign of cap space to sign an extra piece and yet this was Lebron’s problem?  Dirk Nowitzki proved this season that if you surround your superstar with enough good talent you will win.  Lebron’s late game heroics aside, the Cavs only came close ONCE.  Did Lebron quit the last two seasons in Cleveland during inopportune times and did he shrink during the Finals again last year?  Yes.  But the fact remains he does not get the lions share of the blame for him wanting to explore his options.

But it became an even bigger issue when Carmelo Anthony, another 2003 product and close Lebron ally, told Denver management that he wanted to be traded.  The Nuggets as a team have never preached defense during their time and only ONCE did they find a team capable of escaping the first round of the playoffs and yet the blame was laid on Melo’s lap because that’s the gift and curse of the superstars.  In their failures they are given the blame and during their best times they are given the credit.  But for seven seasons with no change in sight suddenly Melo was wrong in wanting a scene change to somewhere he’d rather be.  And now CP3 is asking for virtually the same thing.

I don’t get the villainry angle that is slowly emerging.  Why are they wrong for wanting to do what they want?  Would you be blamed for wanting to better your situation?  Wouldn’t you find it odd that people criticize you for wanting a job at a bigger company?  Are you supposed to be at the same company you were at from the time you entered the workforce forever?

Stars sustain this game no matter how you want to look at it or love it.  The Knicks will always have the advantage of being from New York.  Their failures like the Heat will be displayed on billboards for all to see.  This country loves its underdogs yet it doesn’t remember that they are the big dogs.  They are the world’s bullies.  In much the same way, the NBA’s small market teams like to see itself as underdogs in this situation when they were the bullies that almost torpedoed the season and wound up costing the fans, vendors, local businesses 16 games worth of experience and revenue respectively.

The point is, this whole argument against a player wanting to exercise his lawful right to explore his options is beyond hypocritical.  If you want to criticize someone, do it because Chris Paul is poisoning his team.  He isn’t.  He’s working out with his teammates and trying to keep a level head.  Don’t heap this all on his head and make him the face of this new NBA where players still have the leverage and proclaim it to be a bad thing.

He’s either greedy and a loyalist for staying with the Hornets and taking the biggest contract possible OR he’s another spoiled rotten superstar who gave up the largest possible contract to play for considerably less but be where he wanted to be.  So he’s damned if he does and damned if he don’t.

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Sports Round up 12/2/2011

Despite the uncertainty of free agency, its almost a certainty that Chris Paul will become a New York Knick.  The time frame of that deal is a little shaky and there are no shortage of detractors and those who believe this deal may happen.  Alan Hahn of Newsday  believes its an inevitability no matter what.  Zach Lowe of SI says there is a gaping loophole that could even get Paul that $100 million deal.  Chris Paul’s agent Leon Rose informed the Hornets that he would not sign an extension and wanted to be traded to the New York Knicks as was first reported by Adrian Woj and Marc Spears of Yahoo.

Regardless of how you feel, small market or big, the eventuality of Chris Paul’s determination to come and join his friend Carmelo Anthony in New York makes it a done deal.  Will Chris Paul become a Knick?  Most likely yes.  However, do I think that Paul will be traded to the Knicks this season?  No.  In fact, I can see teams colluding to keep Paul away from the Knicks as long as humanly possible.  Is it out of sheer jealousy?  Sure.  What else could be the reason to not grant a superstar’s wish?  Teams will view this as just the beginning.  If the new CBA was to have one guarantee in it, it would be to keep superstars in their small markets but unless you get a player like Kevin Durant who absolutely abhors the spotlight and would rather stay in the low key environs of Oklahoma City or Derrick Rose who’s brilliance is appreciated and is beloved in his hometown of Chicago (a big market), its hard to keep these players who believe they are stars from the big stage.  Very few markets can offer these stars that limelight and that kind of opportunity.  It doesn’t hurt that one of Paul’s good friends is Carmelo Anthony, a player who faced the same dilemma a season ago and convinced the Knicks to basically strip itself of parts just to get him to NY so he could get his max contract.

The one question I ask is this: if he were so concerned for his friend and he wanted to make sure that Paul would get his fair market value, wouldn’t Anthony have come at the end of last year as a free agent instead?  The Knicks only have Chauncey Billups expiring contract and other uninspired players that would not nearly be close enough value for one of the league’s top 15 players.  The Knicks would be giving the Hornets a poo poo platter of players, the same raw deal they handed the Hornets.  Dell Demps did a pretty good job last year in swinging trades to make New Orleans competitive so don’t expect him to automatically succumb to the pressure of placating his star player, but expect him to explore EVERY possible scenario in which he can get Paul to another team and make him their headache.  But who will send him great prospects when they know he WON’T sign with them long term?  Demps is going to be stuck in the same predicament that Masa Ujiri was last season: give his superstar the deal he wants and try to get the best possible one from the team he wants to deal with, make a deal with a team and land prospects in hopes that they won’t mind his reluctance to sign a long term deal in whatever spot he lands in, OR hold on stubbornly and hope to dear God that the Hornets make a run which convinces Paul to stay.

Either way, I wouldn’t want to wake up Dell Demps OR Chris Paul this morning.

Speaking of big time free agents making moves, Deron Williams, through his agent of course, has informed the New Jersey Nets that he has no intention of signing an extension midseason with them and will opt out to explore free agency according to the Bergen Record.  Williams tried to appease Net fans on twitter by saying: “don’t know why people are tripping just because I’m opting out doesn’t mean that I won’t resign with the Nets! W/new CBA it makes sense!”  

And then there’s that.  This has to be troubling for the Big Russian and Hov to think that the one superstar they acquired in really shocking fashion, hours after Anthony was traded to the Knicks after they doggedly pursued them, has all but stated his intentions to explore free agency.  He’s right, with the new CBA he could resign with the Nets and as explained in Zach Lowe’s article he could get his $100 million max contract from the Nets if he chooses to stay with them by opting out of free agency.  In fact, the ball is moreso in the Nets favor.  IF they somehow pull off a deal for Dwight Howard and they make a run, both could opt out and resign with the Nets and get their max deals.  According to hoopshype.com, they only hav 36 million in committed salaries, 7 of which would almost definitely be freed via the amnesty clause on Travis Outlaw.

The one thing that the owners did not write into the CBA which I’m sure they wish they had is a designated franchise tag which would’ve allowed small market teams to keep their superstars and hold leverage over them.  Of course that would add to the whole slavemaster analogy wouldn’t it?  I’m not in favor of a franchise tag by itself.  I do like how the NFL does it, guaranteeing the player an average of the Top 5 salaries at that position for the player giving him equal value.  But the players would ask for that stipulation added in to the franchise tag but that discussion has to be tabled until the next set of labor talks which won’ t be happening for a while.  You can’t force these players onto teams that they don’t want to play for and you shouldn’t blame it on small market/big market.  If so, Lebron would’ve came here in the summer of 2010 and every big time free agent would either be pining to play for New York or LA.  This fact was brought up in twitter and I completely agree: the teams that originally drafted these players have on average six to seven years with these players.  If they can’t bring home a championship or don’t ever come close how can you expect a player as uber competitive as some of these guys are to stay and not explore what their options are?  Because for six or seven years you had them, and you didn’t know how to complement them with the role players they needed to win championships and now suddenly they are being demonized for leaving?  That’s hypocritical and ignoring the real elephant in the room: that team has been unsuccessful.  No team should feel entitled to its superstar’s services.  Count them lucky for having them for this long.  Certain players don’t grow on trees (which is why I’ve been hoping and praying that the Knicks go hard after Dwight Howard rather than Paul, no offense to CP3 fans) but every so often teams with one established star and a bunch of role players can win you a title.  All you need is last season’s Mavericks for perspective.

Speaking of which, there seems to be some uncertainty surrounding the amnesty clause.  The good folks at ESPN’s TrueHoop blog have concocted a list naming players they feel would be the best play for the amnesty clause for each respective team and given us some information regarding the amnesty clause.   A list they update constantly. 

As I understand it, the amnesty clause can only be used ONCE during the life of this current CBA and for a player that was on the roster as of July 1st.  The point is that this amnesty clause is meant to protect teams from past mistakes, not so they can create future ones and be saved from them too.  So whoever you have on your roster that you absolutely want to get rid of from the cap right now, most likely will have to be run off within the next year or two since most contracts don’t run that long.  Either way, it will be interesting to see who gets amnestied and who winds up on the free agent market.  As for what happens to the player once he’s amnestied?  He then gets put up on waivers and teams bid for their services and the team with the highest bid gets him.

The most talked about name in that group of amnesty clause hopefuls is Brandon Roy.  Roy is the oftinjured almost superstar who can tantalize you with his potential for being an x-factor and yet destroy you by his x-ray.  His knees are basically damaged goods and the idea that he will be healthy for the life of that long term contract is slim to none.  I would agree with most people that amnestying Roy immediately would be the dumbest thing that the Blazers can do.  The biggest cap hit they will take is only two years down the road.  The Blazer fan base, one of the most devoted in the land given that the Blazers are the only professional outfit in the Portland, Oregon area to root for, loves him and still believes he has one more good run in him left.  Why not take a chance that his final run on those knees of his will boost that team?

Of course, the team doesn’t have a GM and their owner is a crazy fool ready to sell to the first person who asks so all bets are off when it comes to predicting what the Blazers will do next.  Roy is worth a look for the Knicks if he gets amnestied seeing as how he’s owed that huge contract which he will be guaranteed and can take a low salary and sign on to whatever contender he wants.  He would be an excellent addition and he offers that clutch scorers role that most teams otherwise lack.  I would hate to see him in Los Angeles simply because I believe Kobe has the tools and the gravitas to unleash the beast in a player by riding him, in Miami because other than D-Wade he would be the second clutch option which would be devastatingly convenient for Lebron to further shy away from the spotlight which he desperately wants and Chicago which is looking for ANYBODY to help ease the fast man’s burden for Derrick Rose.

USA Today had an interesting open mike question they posed to its readership: Should networks keep on-air analysts who are possibly taking jobs within the sport they are covering, on air?

Its an interesting question for sure.  Consider an on air analyst’s qualifications: he has to have had experience playing in the sport they are going to be covering.  So its inevitable that they would look to get back into their field.  Networks hire these analysts knowing that they can leave at any time.  I would think the objectivness can be compromised if they are trying to get back into the coaching world because they won’t criticize or say anything bad about anyone like Jon Gruden does all day.  There are plenty of negatives to having a person on staff that openly admits to pining for another one because it ruins morale and creates an open door policy which I’m sure networks won’t always want to accomodate but look at what happened with Terry Francona.  FOX jumped at the opportunity to give Francona, the former manager of the Red Sox who famously choked its division and wild card lead during the final month of the season, an opportunity to sit in a play by play booth during the biggest games of the season while its lead analyst Tim McCarver was out.  How many candidates in house could’ve filled that job capably?  Plenty.  But the ratings spike of Francona promised that viewers would tune in to see if Francona would say anything about his last month in a Red Sox uni and so the gamble was worth it even in the short term.  The network television business is funny so there are always hidden agendas but the one motivation is always ratings.  The higher the ratings the more they can charge advertisers.  Sports IS a business after all.

Too little too late?  The Giants will find out this Sunday when they host the unbeaten Green Bay Packers.  Ralph Vacciano of the New York Daily News says that the defense is going to try and make a stand for coordinator Perry Fewell who was animated at Thursday’s practice.  

So let’s add Perry Fewell to the list of people walking out of Metlife stadium trying to light a fire under the Giants defense.  Michael Strahan made a house call this week as well getting into his former linemates to bring the pressure.  The biggest disappointing part of last Monday was how soft the Giants looked.  The Saints punched them and the Giants just kept taking it.  They didn’t do anything to hit back and looked vulnerable on every part of their defense.  Their offense showed up somewhat but were not helped by a revolving door defense that escorted Saints into the end zone at times.  I don’t care what people say about how prepared they were, if that was prepared, I don’t want to know what unprepared is.

The one thing I will say about this team: it responds to criticism.  If ever there was a time to motivate and run the table it would be now.  The Packers began their run last year after Thanksgiving and the Giants certainly have the offense, its the defense and their vaunted pass rush that now must respond.  If another week of being shut out at the dinner table happens, you can believe some will be trying to eat elsewhere next season.  Including the head coach.



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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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