Saturday, November 12, 2011

UFC on Fox review

I thought UFC's debut on national television was a success.  The production aspects of the show were spectacular.  The set looked great and I thought Curt Menefee, Dana White, and Brock Lesnar did a great job with their pre-fight and post-fight commentary.  The show had a pretty good flow for only broadcasting one fight.  As far as the fight goes, it went almost exactly as the experts predicted.  Unfortunately, I thought it was a little disappointing though.  With Velasquez being out for over a year and Dos Santos claiming to be less than 100%, neither guy seemed to be at the top of their game.  It wasn't terrible, but it was far from what I think they would deliver if they were both 100%.  On a normal night, it wouldn't be that big of a deal.  But I think the fighters being less than 100% was exacerbated by the fact that it was the only fight on the broadcast.  If the show had been a half-hour longer, allowing the Guida-Henderson fight to be air on television, I think the show would've felt much stronger.  It's one thing for the fight to not deliver the quality expected.  It's another for it to happen as the only fight airing on TV.

But that's what happens in unscripted sports.  Not every fight delivers every time out.  The important thing for the UFC is that they delivered on the things they could control.  The production was great, they crowned a new heavyweight champion, and they promoted their next two big heavyweight fights (Lesnar-Overeem and the winner taking on JDS).  Which is why I consider the show a success, in spite of the fight not being as good as it would be under different circumstances.  I look forward to the day Velasquez and Dos Santos cross paths again and I look forward to many more UFC broadcasts on Fox.

Velasquez the underdog?

I was reading Sherdog’s “Pros Pick” article for tonight’s heavyweight title fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos and I was surprised to see that 12 experts picked Dos Santos to win, while only 4 picked Velasquez.  I wonder why they favor Dos Santos so much.  He didn’t finish Roy Nelson or Shane Carwin, what makes them think he’ll finish Velasquez?  Do they think he has a weak chin?  If memory serves, he did get a little rocked in his fight with Cheick Kongo, but he seems to have a pretty good chin.  Besides, Carwin got a little rocked in his fight with Gonzaga and he wasn’t finished by JDS.

Or is it because Cain hasn’t fought in over a year?  Are they banking on Cain having ring rust?  Because if Cain’s cardio is close to normal, and Dos Santos can’t finish him before the championship rounds, then this fight is Cain’s to lose.  Basically, Dos Santos has to do what he couldn't do to Carwin or Nelson or he's in big trouble.  I’m not saying JDS doesn’t have a shot, but I’m surprised he’s the favorite.  Regardless, these guys are the two best heavyweights in the world and it doesn’t matter to me who wins.  Should be an excellent fight.  It's about time the UFC debuts on national television!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

NFL ramblings

Vernon Davis' fantasy value:
I was listening to a fantasy football podcast from ESPN and a remark was made about not being that high on Vernon Davis because he has Alex Smith throwing to him.  In the last two years, Davis has put up 1,879 yards and 20 TDs.  And who was his quarterback for 20 of those 32 games?  Oh that’s right, Alex Smith.  Then again, Alex is entering his seventh year in the league.  You’re usually a worse quarterback in your seventh year than in your fifth or sixth, right?  Especially if you’ve replaced the worst head coach in the league, who knew nothing about offense, with an offensive minded coach.  And if you’ve added another weapon on offense, in the form of Braylon Edwards, that opposing defenses have to account for.  But yeah, this year Alex is really going to have a negative effect on Vernon.

Arizona's preseason ranking:
Most preseason rankings had the Arizona Cardinals finishing in second place in the NFC West.  Unless Kevin Kolb is the second coming of Kurt Warner (which I’m going to guess he’s not), how do they foresee that happening?  Since Arizona last won the division, they’ve lost Warner, Anquan Boldin, Antrel Rolle, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Karlos Dansby, Tim Hightower and Steve Breaston.  They’ve added Kevin Kolb, Kerry Rhodes, Joey Porter, and Patrick Peterson.  Kolb, Rhodes and Porter are downgrades from Warner, Rolle, and Dansby and Peterson’s just a rookie.  Now, I’m not saying it’s impossible that Arizona finishes in second.  But if you’re just looking at their team on paper, how on earth do you project them to do well?  Their roster looks seriously downgraded from their previous playoff teams.  And while they beat Carolina, they also gave up almost 500 yards to them.  Anything can happen, but I just don’t get why people think Kevin Kolb makes up for all the other roster changes.

Peyton Manning's value:
I was listening to Mike & Mike last week and they talked about what kind of effect that Manning being out for the year would have on the Colts.  They mentioned that it would have a more drastic effect on the team than the one Brady had when he missed the whole year.  That parlayed into saying that Manning is more valuable than Brady.  The problem I have with using this scenario as a comparison between Manning and Brady is that it’s not really about them.  It’s about their back-ups.  The man who stepped in for Brady that year was Matt Cassel.  The man who will step in for Manning is Kerry Collins.  One, it turns out, is a starting caliber quarterback who had been in the system for three years prior.  The other is a just-retired player who has been in the system for three weeks.  You don’t use the drop-off from Manning to Collins or Curtis Painter with Brady’s drop-off to Cassel to compare Manning and Brady's value to each other.  That isn’t a commendation of Manning.  It’s an indictment of his back-up.  The true value of Manning and Brady should be done by comparing Manning and Brady.  Not by comparing how the Patriots do with Cassel versus how the Colts do with Collins/Painter.  Saying Manning is more valuable because his back-up is of less quality is meaningless.  The Colts are worse off than the Patriots because they have a worse back-up quarterback.  Not because they have a better starting quarterback.

Manning's injury may be Luck-y:
With news that Peyton Manning had a third neck surgery, people have suggested he just shut it down for the year.  Not only would that be the best thing for him, but it could benefit the team long-term if it put them in a position to draft Andrew Luck.  I hope that doesn’t happen.  Since they’ve had Peyton, they’ve put no time into developing a backup quarterback.  If that backfires on them while Peyton’s out, they deserve that.  You can’t put all your eggs in one basket and not expect disaster when that basket breaks.  But if that were to land them the best QB prospect out there, because it happened to be the year Luck was coming out, that would just be ridiculous.  The best QB in the draft should go to the team that needs it in the near future.  A team with a starting quarterback of Manning’s caliber should have to develop a quarterback that could eventually take over.  Just like the Patriots did with Cassel and are doing with Mallet while they still have Brady, what the Packers did with Rodgers while they had Favre, and even what the Eagles did with Kolb while they had McNabb.  Not have one fall in their lap while their star quarterback is injured.

Record-breaking Week 1:
On a positive football related note, the NFL had a very strong opening weekend.  Not just in quality, but record breaking as well.  Rodgers and Brees set a record for each having 300+ yards and 3 TDs with no interceptions during the same game on opening weekend.  Ted Ginn Jr. became the first player to return a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the first game of the year.  Cam Newton threw for 400+ yards, the most by a rookie in his first game.  Sebastian Janikowski tied the NFL record with a 63-yard field goal.  Dallas lost for the first time in history when leading by 14+ points in the 4th quarter, bringing their overall record to 241-1-1.  And Brady threw for 500+ yards, which is a team record.  There's definitely worse ways to kick off a new season than with half a dozen historic happenings.  Should be a good year.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

NFL Predictions 2011

For fun, I thought I'd make some predictions about the NFL season.  Here are my guesses on who will make the playoffs, who will advance to the Super Bowl, and who will win MVP.

Playoff Teams:
I think the AFC playoff teams are the easiest to predict, as it will look pretty similar to last year, with the Patriots, Steelers, Jets, and Ravens all returning.  The only differences I see are the Chargers and Texans replacing the Chiefs and Colts.  With Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson not holding out this year and the possibility that Ryan Mathews stays healthy, the Chargers offense could be even more explosive than last year.  And the defense should stay solid, if not improve, with the additions of Takeo Spikes, Travis LaBoy, and Bob Sanders.  I think the Texans have a couple things going for them.  One is that Peyton Manning may miss a couple games (or more), presumably removing the Colts from their usual playoff spot.  The other is that their defense should be improved, with the signing of Johnathan Joseph and the hiring of Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator.  With the regression of the Colts and the strengthening of their defense, Houston should walkaway with the division.

Like the AFC, I see four NFC teams returning to the playoffs from last year: the Falcons, Eagles, Packers, and Saints.  The most obvious newcomer to the playoffs this year should be the Rams.  The Seahawks QB situation appears to be abysmal.  The Niners have a new coaching staff.  The Cardinals have upgraded the QB position.  However, they're now without Hightower, Breaston, Rodgers-Cromartie, and Joey Porter's a year older.  I think the worst case scenario for the Rams is that they end up tied with the Niners going into their week 17 match-up.  And since that game is in St. Louis, it's safe to assume that they advance to playoffs even in their worst case scenario.

The final NFC playoff team is trickier to predict.  I think Chicago and Tampa probably take a step back, I think the Lions are probably a year away from the playoffs and the Giants look decimated by injuries.  Contrary to most people's opinion, I actually think the Vikings have a shot.  They no longer have drama surrounding the head coach and I think McNabb is an upgrade over Favre.  He had a decent season in Washington, which he should be able to outperform that with the likes of Peterson, Harvin, Schiancoe and Jenkins surrounding him.  The question for the Vikings is whether or not their defense will slip, with the subtractions of Pat Williams and Ray Edwards.  The other candidate to make the playoffs is the Cowboys.  Their offense should improve, if Romo can stay healthy.  And while I don't trust their defense, it's not like there's much room to regress.  I think the Vikings will be better than people think, but Dallas has an easier schedule (and probably even division, at this point).  So I'm going with the Cowboys to make the playoffs.

Super Bowl picks:
I think the Rams and Ravens are long shots and I don't think the Cowboys or Texans will have good enough defenses to make it to the Super Bowl.  That leaves the Packers, Steelers, Eagles, Falcons, Saints, Patriots, Jets, and Chargers.  Most teams don't make it to the Super Bowl two years in a row, so it would be tough to pick the Packers or Steelers.  The Eagles are the most talented team in the league.  In a normal year, they'd be a near lock to make the Super Bowl.  But with limited time to jell, it's hard to pick them.  The Falcons are a very good team.  They would probably be my favorite to win the NFC, if it weren't for the Saints.  Not only are the Saints a very good team, but they're two years removed from the Super Bowl (so no hangover) and they have the most continuity and stability in the league.  Which, following a lockout, historically bodes well for not only a Super Bowl appearance, but a win as well.  Who do the Saints play?  I think it comes down to the Patriots, the Jets, and the darkhorse Chargers.  The Patriots are supremely talented, but their last two playoff appearances have been shaky.  The Jets have been to the AFC Championship game two years in a row, but they're starting to feel like the team that gets really close without ever getting over the hump.  Therefore, I'll pick the Chargers to make a surprise Super Bowl appearance.  I might as well pick an underdog, since the Saints seem like the safest pick in football.  Regardless of who comes out of the AFC, I think the Saints will win the Super Bowl.

Final rankings for Super Bowl Favorites: Saints, Falcons, Eagles, Packers, Cowboys, Rams for the NFC and Chargers, Patriots, Jets, Steelers, Texans, and Ravens for the AFC.

MVP:
I sort of feel like it's Michael Vick's award to lose.  But while that may give him a head start, I think it also leaves little room for error.  So I'm guessing that it comes down to Philip Rivers or Matt Schaub.  Both could have monster years.  Will Schaub benefit from the narrative of taking his team from third place to first place?  Or will he suffer from the possible narrative that it took a Peyton Manning neck injury for the Texans to make the playoffs?  I went into this thinking it would be the former, and that I'd pick Schaub, but I'm going to guess that Manning's storyline will compete for attention with Schaub's production.  So I'm going with Philip Rivers to be the MVP.


No matter how right or wrong my predictions end up, it should be an exciting year of football.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Contract Disputes: Loyalty or Business?

Due to a labor dispute, it's been awhile since I've posted anything.  That's right, I was holding out for more money.  Okay that's not true, but it seems to be a common occurrence these days in the world of sports.  Following a lockout filled summer (one big contract dispute), there's been individual contract disputes with some players.  Probably the most publicized contract dispute, currently going on in the NFL, is Chris Johnson's.  Personally, I've never been a fan of contract disputes.  I think my perception of them has always been that they only happen out of greed.  These guys make millions of dollars.  Why do they need to holdout for more money?

But then there's the current situation with Frank Gore.  He wants a contract extension before the start of the season.  Instead of viewing a potential contract extension as a reward for being one of the best RBs in franchise history, I've read comments from fans saying it that would be a bad business decision.  Since he's not likely to produce at a high level for more than two years, they feel that the Niners should just let him walk at the end of the year.  It's just business.

Just business?  Those fans may say it's just business now, but what if Gore had a contract dispute three or four years ago?  Would it have been just business then as well?  Last year, Vincent Jackson's holdout lasted long into the season.  Was that just business?  Or what if Chris Johnson's holdout leads to him missing games this year?  Would that be considered just business?  Or is it just business because Gore is on the back end of his career?

It seems like fans have contradictory opinions on contract disputes.  If a player is in their prime, people may question their loyalty to the team or think they're greedy.  But if a player is past their prime, then it's just business.  In reality, contract negotiations either involve loyalty or they don't.  It's irrelevant where a player is at in their career.

Now this isn't to say that loyalty should trump business entirely.  Teams shouldn't hand out ridiculous contracts just to keep a player.  But if someone looks at the Gore situation and the idea of loyalty doesn't enter the conversation, then it shouldn't when Chris Johnson or any other players holds out for money.  If you expect the players to show loyalty to their teams, then you should expect the teams to reciprocate that loyalty.  But if you don't get mad when teams treat the players in a business manner, then you can't get mad when the players do the same.  You either expect loyalty or you don't.  You either view it as "just business" or you don't.

But you can't expect the owners to treat the players like a business and expect loyalty in return.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Greater Yankee: Jeter or Rivera?

A couple months ago, ESPN New York put together a list of the "50 Greatest Yankees".  What caught my eye was the rankings of Jeter and Rivera.  Jeter was ranked 7th and Rivera was ranked 5th.  Rivera over Jeter?  That struck me as odd.  How can a guy who plays a fraction of games be greater than a guy who plays full games on a regular basis?  Jeter has played 2,358 games in pinstripes.  Rivera has played in 1,183 innings.  Jeter's played twice as many games as Rivera's played innings.  Not only does Jeter play more, but he also contributes on both sides of the ball.  He's won five gold gloves and his career BA is .312.  Jeter's four hits away from being the first Yankee to have 3,000 hits and he's fifteen away from being in the top 25 of all-time.

The case for Rivera is that he's the greatest closer of all-time.  While that's certainly true, closers aren't as valuable as they're perceived to be.  According to Joe Posnanski, teams haven't been more successful with the modern idea of a closer than they were before.  He writes, "Teams held 95.5% of their ninth-inning leads in 2010. Teams held 95.5% of their ninth-inning leads in 1952."  That's not to say Rivera doesn't make a difference.  Since he joined the Yankees, they have held a lead "97.3% of the time when they lead going into the ninth inning."  So he does make a difference, but how much of a difference?  If 97.3 is probably the best (or close to it), and 95.5 is the average, that would mean the worst team holds the lead about 93.7 percent of the time.  It's definitely a difference, but is it really enough of a difference to say he's greater than Jeter?

I would say no.  One guy brings value to the offense and defense for the entire game.  The other guy brings value to the defense for one, maybe two, innings.  The difference in value is evident in their Wins Above Replacement, with Jeter having 70 and Rivera having 54.4.  This isn't to say that Rivera isn't one of the best Yankees of all-time. I just don't see how he can be greater than an all-time great that plays day in and day out.  Would you rather have a HOF shortstop and an All-Star closer or a All-Star shortshop and a HOF closer?  I'd choose the former.

I'd rather have greatness everyday than greatness occasionally.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

NBA: Looking Forward

After a fantastic season, the NBA now finds itself in an unfortunate situation: a lockout.  I'm not going to discuss the specifics of the lockout (there's plenty of articles around that can do that).  All I'll say is that it needs to be resolved before the start of the season and the league needs more revenue sharing.  I'm not just saying it needs to be resolved before the start of the season because I want to watch basketball.  It needs to be resolved before the start of the season because if the league cancels games next year, they could very well undercut all the momentum they built this past season.  And it would be a shame for the league to take a huge hit while it's rising in popularity.  As far as revenue sharing goes, I think the league needs more of it because a well-managed small market team shouldn't have less financial flexibility than a big market team that's horribly managed.  The current system basically punishes small market teams that do too well at drafting and assembling teams.  Oklahoma City should be able to afford keeping Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Harden etc. at their market value.  The same goes for Memphis.  As a basketball fan, I would love to see Memphis be able to keep Randolph, Gasol, Gay, Mayo, Conley, Allen, Arthur, Vazquez and Battier.  That's a championship caliber team that should be able to remain intact.  If the Lakers or Knicks would be able to afford keeping that team together, then Memphis should be able to as well.  Bigger payroll flexibility should be the result of quality draft picks and good management, not market size.  Personally, I'd prefer if the teams with the highest payrolls were the teams that were built organically (like Memphis and OKC).

Another big thing that could make the NBA even more enjoyable next season is less foul calls.  After the horrendous flopping by Wade in LeBron in the third and fourth game of the Finals (which I previously wrote about), the refs refrained from blowing their whistle on every hint of contact during the final two games.  Somewhat surprisingly, the games were noticeably better when the refs let them play.  I wasn't surprised that the games were better with less foul calls, I was surprised by how much better they were.  It made a huge difference in the quality and flow of the game.  Now I understand the league's desire to keep things in control and civilized on the court, but that doesn't mean the refs need to blow their whistle on every smidgen of contact.  If the league cracked down on flopping and the refs weren't so whistle happy, the quality of the games would improve tenfold.

In addition to the practical things listed above, I also have a wish list of players I'd like to see moved around that I think would make the league better.  But before listing those, I'd like to address some trades that did happen before the lockout.

J.J. Hickson to Sacramento-  This was a surprising trade.  I assumed that Cleveland didn't draft Derrick Williams because of they already had Hickson, then they go and trade him for Omri Casspi.  I'm not really sure why Cleveland made this trade, but it could be a really big steal for Sacramento.  I think Hickson and Cousins could be a really formidable frontcourt duo for years to come.

George Hill to Indiana-  I like this move for the Pacers.  Hill is a good (presumable) replacement for Ford, not to mention he's younger and cheaper.  The main piece given up by Indiana was Kawhi Leonard.  Leonard is probably more useful backing up Jefferson than he would be backing up Granger, so I think it was a good trade for both parties. 

Rudy Fernandez to Dallas, Andre Miller to Denver, Raymond Felton to Portland-  This was a fantastic trade.  Fernandez should fit in perfectly with Dallas.  He's a good shooter that I think could be very productive in Dallas' offense.  Miller is a good pickup for Denver.  Instead of having both Lawson and Felton in their primes, they get a veteran who's better suited to be a backup.  And Miller should be a good locker room leader as well.  Finally, I think Portland gets the best pickup of all with Felton.  Portland needed to get younger at the point and Felton is a quality player in his prime.  Portland now only has one guy on their roster over the age of 30.  I really hope Roy and Oden can stay healthy and contribute next season, because I think that would make Portland a title contender.  Felton, Matthews, Wallace, Aldridge, Oden, Mills, Roy, Batum and Camby is a very good rotation.


Now next season is already in position to be really good, but I thought it would be fun to explore some roster moves that I think would make it even better.  Some are dream scenarios and some are more practical that I think should happen:

Aaron Brooks to the Lakers-  Most people think the Lakers need a big overhaul to return to contention.  I think they'll be fine with a longer offseason and a renewed motivation.  The one area of their roster that they could address is the point guard position.  I think Aaron Brooks would inject some athleticism to the team that's in serious need of it, especially at the point.  This is a practical suggestion, but one unlikely to happen with Blake on the roster.

Kevin Love to the Heat-  This is the most unlikely scenario of all.  Part of me is resistant to Love leaving, because he's a franchise player that's only 22.  Minnesota can still build around him; it's not like he's rotting away there yet.  But the other part of me is thinking about how perfect Love is for Miami.  He's a fantastic rebounder and is the best outlet passer in basketball.  He's the perfect player to spark Miami's fast breaks.  Also, he doesn't need the ball in his hands, like Bosh does, to be effective on offense.  Instead, he's a great 3-pt shooter that would stretch the floor.  If Love were to go to Miami, I'd like to see Bosh go to Milwaukee.  I think he would form a nice trio with Jennings and Bogut.  As much as I wouldn't want to see Love end up in Miami (making them deadly), it would be fascinating to witness such an explosive team.

Kevin Martin to Chicago-  Chicago needs a second scorer and Martin would fill that role nicely.  Instead of wasting his prime on a team that's rebuilding, it would be better if he were able to contribute to a contender.  Since this is unlikely to happen, and might cost the Bulls to give up too much, the more realistic scenario I'd like to see is Marcus Thornton going to Chicago.  He's a RFA with the Kings, so Chicago would only have to offer a good amount of money - and not have to part with valuable players - to bring him in.  Thornton is starter quality and could be the secondary scorer Chicago is lacking.  Maybe Chicago can't win a title with Boozer as its second scorer, but I think they could with him as their third or fourth scorer (behind Rose, Thornton and maybe Deng).  I'd rather see Thornton be a starter on the Bulls than to presumably come off the bench behind Evans in Sacramento.

Marcin Gortat to New York-  Gortat's a quality center that isn't as valuable to a sliding Suns team as he would be to a rising Knicks team.  I think he'd fit nicely with Stoudemire.  He would provide good interior defense and wouldn't clash with Amar'e on offense.  He'd definitely be an upgrade over Turiaf and I think a Billups-Fields-Anthony-Stoudemire-Gortat starting lineup would actually be able to win a playoff game.

Al Jefferson to Boston-  This is the trade I'm least confident in how successful it would be.  But I think Jefferson could provide a scoring presence down low that Boston is lacking and, at the very least, would be an upgrade over the geriatric centers they had last year.  I'm not sure that Jefferson is Utah's franchise center of the future (especially now that Williams is gone), so I don't think they'd be losing a critical piece.  It would also be interesting to see Jefferson return to the team that drafted him.

Chris Paul to Orlando-  This one comes with a prerequisite: that Chris Paul will leaving New Orleans.  I don't want to steal Paul from the Hornets; but if he's going to leave anyway, I'd like to see him end up in Orlando.  Why?  Because it gives Howard the All-Star sidekick he needs to win a championship. Paul's a great 3-pt shooter (which is practically a necessity in Orlando's offense) and I think a Paul-Howard pick and roll would be the lethal.  I think it would be the best big man-guard combo since Stockton and Malone.  Another addition I'd like to see is Grant Hill joining the Magic.  He's a good defender and 3-pt shooter, and it would be good to see him return to the team where he missed so much of his career.  Paul and Hill would be defensive upgrades over Nelson and Turkoglu.  I'd like to Richardson returned, albeit at a cheaper price, because I think a Paul-Richardson-Hill-Anderson-Howard lineup would be championship caliber.  And how good would the ECF be with that team against a Chalmers-Wade-LeBron-Love-Anthony lineup?  If Orlando's dream scenario and Miami's dream scenario both came to fruition, I think "where amazing happens" would actually be an understatement.


Unfortunately, most of those are unlikely to happen.  I wish they would, because I think they would make those teams better without really hurting the teams giving up players (with exception of Minnesota and New Orleans, which is why I'd only do those assuming that the future of those teams with Paul and Love were bleak).  And no, I'm not just favoring big market contenders.  I didn't suggest anything for small market contenders like Portland, Memphis, or OKC because I think they already have championship caliber teams.  The trades I listed above address weaknesses.  I don't think Portland, Memphis, or OKC have any (assuming Roy and Oden can stay healthy, Gay doesn't have to be traded, and Durant establishes himself as the leader of his team).  If those teams stay the way they are, the league cracked down on flopping, officials called less fouls, the league increased revenue sharing to keep small market teams (like Memphis) in tact, Chicago got a quality shooting guard, Boston and New York got quality centers, the Lakers played motivated, and Dallas re-signed their FAs, the league would be so much better next season.

Whenever that will be.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

NBA: Season in review

What a great year of NBA basketball.  It wasn't the same old teams doing well and it wasn't a completely new set of teams on top.  There was the perfect mix of established teams and new blood.  The Lakers, Spurs, Mavs, Celtics and Magic all won 52+ games and there was the addition of the Heat, Bulls, and Thunder to the top tier.  Add in Amare and Carmelo going to the Knicks, Kevin Love's Double-Double streak, and Blake Griffin's endless highlight reel of dunks and there were so many intriguing teams and storylines to follow this year.

The regular season was very entertaining, and that would continue in the playoffs.  Here's what I think are the highlights of the first three rounds:

Most Memorable Series Performance: Chris Paul
Chris Paul put on a clinic against the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.  He averaged 22 points, 11.5 assists, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game, while shooting 55% from the field and 47% from beyond the arc. His performance was even more impressive, considering that almost all of his regular season numbers were down across the board after having knee surgery last season (he averaged just 15.8 points and 9.8 assists per game).  It was great to see Paul return to form and hopefully he can carry that over to next year.

Honorable Mention: LeBron James.  LeBron had a great series against the Bulls in the ECF.  He averaged 25.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 2.4 steals and 2 blocks per game.  And he did that while guarding the MVP of the league.  Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Rose's averages were 28.8 points, 8.2 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 42% from the field.  With LeBron guarding him, he averaged 23.4 points, 6.6 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting just 35% from the field.

Most Memorable Game Performance: Brandon Roy
With less than 40 seconds to go in the 3rd quarter, the Blazers trailed Dallas 67-44.  To that point, Roy had 3 points and zero assists.  Then he took over.  He finished the 3rd quarter with an assist to Aldridge and a 3 that bounced in at the buzzer.  He followed that up with one of the greatest 4th quarters in playoff history, finishing with a game-high 24 points and a game-high 5 assists.  In and of itself, it was an amazing performance.  But like Chris Paul, it was made even more amazing considering that Roy was coming off of double knee surgery that caused him to miss almost half the season.  Last year, Roy was arguably the third best shooting guard in the league.  But after a knee surgery last year during the playoffs and double knee surgery this year (supposedly making his knees now inoperable), it's unknown how long he'll be able to play basketball and how good he'll be able to be.

Now Roy's performance wasn't the best of the first three rounds, that honor would have to go to Dirk's 48 point masterpiece against OKC (12 of 15 from the field and 24 of 24 from the line), but it was the most memorable for me.  Part of that is because I unfortunately missed most of Dirk's amazing performance.  But the other part of it is the circumstances surrounding Roy's performance.  One of the best players in the league has career-threatening injuries and is relegated to the bench, then leads his team on one of the best comebacks in playoff history in front of one of the best crowds in the NBA and then delivers an excellent postgame interview.  Words don't do it justice, so just watch this excellent recap of the game.  And watch this video (at least the last two minutes) for the raw footage of his performance, to really get a feel for the atmosphere of the game.  It's definitely a performance I'll never forget.

Most Memorable Game: Memphis vs. Oklahoma City- Triple OT
I think this is pretty obvious, seeing as it was triple OT.  Big shot after big shot.  Great crowd in Memphis.  Just a fantastic game.

Most Memorable Series: Memphis vs. Oklahoma City
The only playoff series to go seven games.  It included the best game of the playoffs, and a team (Memphis) on one of the most memorable playoff runs that I can remember.  Most people knew Memphis was better than an eighth seed, so I wasn't shocked to see them beat San Antonio in the first round, but I was pleasantly surprised by how good they actually were.  They were very impressive in the postseason and gave the Thunder a run for their money.  It was just a great series with two young, energetic teams battling to advance in the playoffs.  It had great offense, great defense, hot crowds, and stars in the making (Durant, Randolph, Westbrook, Mayo, Harden, Gasol, Conley).  Would anyone complain if this was the WCF in the future?  I know I wouldn't.


After a great regular season and a great start to the postseason, is it any wonder that the Finals was one of the best Finals of all-time?  Other than going 7 games, could it have gone any better?  Game 2 featured one of the greatest comebacks in Finals history and games 3 and 4 were decided by a total of 5 points.  You had the most hated team in the league going against a team led by one of the easiest superstars to root for.  Dirk Nowitzki is just incredible and so fun to watch.  It was awesome to see him finally get a ring, and even better to see it come at the expense of the team that beat him five years ago.  There was not a better team for Dirk to beat in the Finals.  It was a storybook ending.  Dallas got revenge on Miami and proved that it takes more than talent to win a championship.

Side note: It's stupid for anyone (*cough* Dan Le Batard) to say Miami would've won if LeBron just played like LeBron.  You can't point that out and ignore that Dallas' second best player never suited up.  Or that Brendan Haywood's injury limited him to three minutes total after game 2.  Yes, LeBron didn't play up to his ability, but Dallas still won with Cardinal, Stojakovic, and Mahinmi playing instead of Butler and Haywood.  Dallas deserved to win.

All in all, it was a fantastic series that was a fitting end to a fantastic season.


*stats provided by http://www.basketball-reference.com/
*Blazers-Mavs recap provided by http://espn.go.com/nba/playbyplay?gameId=310423022&period=0

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Winning Personality? LeBron needs a little Magic.

At the end of this season, two things happened that has sparked an interesting question: Is there a personality type best suited for winning?  The first thing that happened was Shaq's retirement.  As Shaq's career came to a close, people talked about all that he had accomplished.  But they also questioned whether or not he could have accomplished more.  Shaq touched on this in his retirement press conference, when he talked about how he would have scored more points than Wilt if he hadn't missed so many games and so many free throws.  This is true.  Shaq missed a total of 351 games over his 19-year career (an average of about 18 games per year).  If he played in just 100 more games, at his career average of 23 points per game, and shot just 65% from the stripe, he would have finished above Wilt and Jordan.  If he would've been more committed to staying healthy and practicing free throws, he would have finished his career 3rd all-time in scoring instead of 7th.

Shaq is one of the funniest, most entertaining guys to ever play basketball (maybe even the most).  While that translated to him probably having the best relationship with the media of any player ever, did it hurt his career?  Was he too gregarious to maximize his talent?  Is someone who's naturally outgoing and fun-loving going to be as hard-working as you need to be to fulfill your potential?  It's an interesting question, and one that came up again following LeBron's lackluster Finals performance.

Is LeBron's personality more Shaq than Jordan?  If so, is that holding him back from reaching his full potential as a player?  I would say so.  I think there is truth to fun-loving guys being "underachievers" (in that they could be great players, but not as great as they could have been).  Shaq isn't the only example of this.  I think Barkley is similar.  He has an outgoing personality and is someone who wasn't always in premium shape.  Kevin McHale is another one.  In The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons states that Kevin McHale "was the funniest Celtic of all time."  He also mentioned that Bird thought McHale underachieved.  He writes:

"People always assumed they were friends - you, know the whole 'two big goofy-looking white guys' factor - but they rarely mingled and McHale was the only teammate Bird always avoided praising, partly because of their friendly rivalry, partly because Larry resented the fact that basketball didn't consume McHale like it consumed him. He praised Parish and DJ constantly but never seemed to have a compliment for McHale that wasn't at least a little backhanded. Even after their careers were over, Bird bemoaned the fact that McHale never drove himself to become the best player in the league, saying that his teammate could have become an MVP had he 'really wanted it.'"

There does seem to be some type of connection with personality and fulfilling your potential.  Bringing this back to LeBron, should he strive to have as much fun as possible, while looking to achieve success, or should he put all his energy into having as much success as possible?  Should he follow in Shaq's footsteps or Jordan's?  I think neither.  I can think of one guy who balanced both fun and success and, ironically, it's the guy LeBron's most often compared to: Magic Johnson.  Magic was exuberant, but I don't think that he feels like he left anything on the table, like Shaq may, and he didn't need to be pathological like Jordan to do it.  So I don't think LeBron needs to model himself after Jordan.  But if he doesn't want to end up leaving something on the table, he needs to evolve somewhat (like actually learning to play in the post).

LeBron doesn't need to be like Mike to achieve success.  He just needs a little Magic.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

O'Brien or Oscar?

Someone needs to tell LeBron and Wade that June is about winning the Larry O'Brien trophy and that the Oscars happened back in February.  While flopping and exaggerating fouls has been a growing problem in the NBA for awhile, it has now gotten completely out of hand.  Here's an example of Wade's acting ability from game 3.  Not to be outdone (like he has been when it actually comes to basketball), LeBron put on his own performance in game 4.  At least he's stepped up part of his game from the ECF.  He's gone from over-exaggerating to completely fabricating (maybe he got some pointers from Bosh).  Awhile ago, I wrote about how Wade and LeBron need a history lesson. The way they flop only reinforces that.  You would never see Magic, or Bird, or Jordan flop at all, let alone the way Miami's stars do.  LeBron has now entered into the soccer player territory of flopping and it's a disgrace to the game.

If the players don't have enough integrity to respect the game themselves, then the league is going to have to step in.  First, I think they should have officials brush up on physics.  If a player falls faster and harder than the contact, it's a flop.  Unfortunately, while that may help a little, the game is too fast for the refs to make the correct call every time.  Therefore, the league is going to have to implement an incentive for the players to not fake getting fouled.  What they need to do is review games and fine players.  If a player clearly flops, fine him ten or twenty thousand dollars.  If that doesn't work, start handing down suspensions.  That might sound harsh, but the penalties should be harsh.  There's no reason for this crap to continue.  If players don't want to lose money, all they have to do is not flop.  If they want to flop, they can take the penalty or go play soccer. 

I want to watch basketball.  If I wanted to watch basketball with acting, I'd watch Coach Carter.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Necessary Danger?

I wanted to write about the Posey situation right after it happened, but I held back.  I held back because I didn't want to write a purely reactive piece.  I wanted to let it sink in and think about it rationally.  If I was going to say that baseball should make changes, I wanted it to be because I thought it was needed and not because I had just seen Posey get run over a thousand times on TV.  So I took some time to take a step back.  In that time, I've read opinions saying that baseball should get rid of home plate collisions and I've read opinions saying that it's just a part of the game.

The reasons for why they should take it out have been pretty compelling.  Grant Brisbee's article noted that "it's the only element of contact in a non-contact sport. It's like the NFL using Scrabble to decide games that are tied after regulation -- it's the exact opposite of how the rest of the game is played."  An article written by Dave Cameron noted, "Major League catchers already endure enough wear and tear on their bodies as is. They break down in their early thirties and have the shortest careers of any position on the field. Why should we also expect them to have to stand in and take hits that no other player on the field has to take? Why do they have to be football players when everyone else gets to play baseball?"  That Cameron article also included a hilariously ironic quote from Kevin Millar about the A-Rod interference play from 2004.

As compelling as those reasons are, the reasons for leaving collisions in persuade me just as much that they're not necessary.  Basically, because I've yet to really find any good ones.  Here are the reasons for why things should stay the same: Because "it's just a part of the game," the catchers wear protective gear, and because scoring a run is on the line.  "It's just a part of the game" is the dumbest reason there is.  That's not a reason.  It's just a statement.  An observation of how things are is not a justification for why they should stay that way.  The catcher wears protective gear?  Is that really a valid reason to use, when a catcher has had a season-ending injury - as the result of a collision - for the second year in a row?  It sure is protective....just not from serious injuries.  Now we come down to the issue of a run being on the line.  The problem with this reason is that, technically, a run isn't always on the line.  A collision can happen when the catcher has the ball or is fielding the ball.  If you're colliding with a guy who he hasn't even secured the ball yet, wouldn't you have most likely scored anyway?  And if you're colliding with a guy who has secured the ball, wouldn't you most likely be out anyway?  How many times has a guaranteed out been undone by a collision? 

The problem with collisions is that they can be done "in case".  Plays happen so fast that a runner is not always going to be sure whether or not a collision is necessary to score, so they could end up running over the catcher "in case" they were going to be out.  Should we really allow catchers to get run over, because the runner may have been out otherwise?  Or when they could be out anyways?  A runner should risk a lot of harm for the little chance that it may benefit his team?  Is it really necessary to subject a catcher to a collision, where an out could stay an out or a run could stay a run, for the small chance an out could become a run?

Frankly, it seems like most of the arguments for leaving things the same are more of a resistance to change than a resistance to the results that the change would actually have.  What would the adverse affect be, if no home plate collisions happened?  What would the game lose?  If catchers couldn't obstruct the path to the plate and the baserunner was mandated to slide into home (when there's a play at the plate), how different would things actually be?  And any change that would happen, would it really be so much so that it negates the benefit of not subjecting the catchers to unnecessary punishment?

Player safety should be more important than this idea that somehow baseball would lose something if home plate collisions never happened.  People should stop focusing on the idea that baseball would be changed and focus on how things would actually be different.  If they did, I think they'd realize that they're fighting for way less than they think they are.  How often is a player at risk of injury during a collision?  Always.  How often is a collision unequivocally necessary to score?  Hardly ever.  Why on earth are people supporting such a high risk, low reward play?

The rarity of success that a collision brings should not be more important than the widespread danger it entails.  Make baseball safe.  Throw collisions out.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Heir to Air?

Even though I believe Scottie Pippen's remarks were blown out of proportion, they still re-aggravated a longstanding question: Who's the next MJ?  Out of every player that has been compared to Jordan, only two are realistically within that realm: Kobe and LeBron.  This has led to a seemingly endless discussion of who's better than who.  Who's better: Jordan or Kobe?  Jordan or LeBron?  Kobe or LeBron?  The problem with these discussions is that they often blur the lines between past, present, and future.  People will use Kobe's legacy as reasoning for why he's better than LeBron currently, or they'll use LeBron's current production as reasoning why he's better than Kobe all-time, or they'll compare Jordan's career to what LeBron may do in the future.  Inconsistent parameters lead to a senseless discussion.  If you're using what Kobe did in 2006 to say he's better than LeBron in 2011, you're being foolish.  Analytical comparisons should stay in the same time frame.  Compare currently to currently or all-time to all-time, but don't go randomly between them.  With that said, let's sort through the Jordan-Kobe-LeBron debate.

As of right now, how do they compare all-time?  I'd rank them Jordan, Kobe, then LeBron.  Jordan's clearly number one, for obvious reasons.  Kobe's second because he already ranks among the ten greatest players to ever play the game.  He has the most compelling "next MJ" case of anyone in the last decade plus.  Despite what most people would like to believe, his resume stacks up nicely to Jordan's.  It's very similar, but does fall a little short.  LeBron is behind Kobe because his accomplishments don't match up.  Not just in championships (which I think is a pretty inadequate way of comparing individuals), but also in overall recognition (All-NBA Teams, All-Defensive Teams etc).  Kobe's the most skilled player in the world and was the best two-way player in the game for the better part of a decade (at least the best two-way wing player, depending on where Duncan fits in).  LeBron's track record just isn't long enough to surpass Kobe, at this point.

How do they rank currently (obviously excluding the retired one)?  I'd put LeBron above Kobe.  I think Kobe being injured in the postseason makes it feel like there's a bigger gap between them than there may be, but I'd still give the nod to LeBron.  One guy is 32 and has played 15 years in the league and the other is 26 and has only played 8 years in the league.  One guy's exiting his prime, while other one appears to be reaching his apex.  Putting Kobe above LeBron would be like if Jordan had continued playing into Kobe's career and someone said a 37-year old Jordan was better than a 22-year old Kobe.  I think people who put Kobe above LeBron in '11, or would've put Jordan above Kobe in '01, are not comparing the current state of both guys.  I think they're comparing the track record of the veteran against the prime of the other player.  Otherwise I think common sense would dictate that the guy in his prime would have the advantage. 

How will they rank in the future?  As close as Kobe is to Jordan, I don't think he'll ever pass him.  Whether or not the rankings get switched up depends on what LeBron does in the next few years.  In theory, LeBron should be able to pass Kobe and Jordan.  He's at least as talented as the other two.  And when you combine that with his superior physical talents, you'd assume he could pass them.  The chink in LeBron's armor appears to be his mentality.  The reason Jordan is better than Kobe and LeBron is because he was an assassin, but he also learned to trust his teammates.  For the most part, Kobe's too much of an assassin and LeBron's too much of a facilitator.  If LeBron had half the competitiveness and ruthlessness of Jordan or Kobe, he would have a legitimate shot at being the best player ever.  Kobe eventually learned to trust his teammates.  Will LeBron ever learn to play cold-blooded, on a consistent basis?  If he does, he'd have a good shot at passing Kobe and challenging Jordan.  

The one thing that could prevent that from happening is his decision to team up with Wade.  No, not because LeBron couldn't win without help.  All the greats need help.  Bird had McHale, Magic had Kareem, Jordan had Pippen, Shaq had Kobe, Kobe had Pau etc.  The difference is that those tandems had a clear pecking order.  As great as their sidekicks were, Bird, Magic, Jordan, Shaq and Kobe were the alpha dogs of championship teams.  Elite players should be the alpha dog of their team.  Who's the alpha dog of Miami?  That's what I think the problem is for LeBron.  He didn't get a great sidekick.  He got an equal.  If he would've teamed up with Bosh, I don't think anyone would've seen that as hurting his legacy.  It's that he teamed up with Wade.  LeBron should want to prove that he's better than Wade, just like he should want to prove he's better than Kobe, Durant, Carmelo, and Howard.   

Him teaming up with an equal seemingly reveals his desire to be the best, or lack thereof.  Kobe wanted to be 'the man' so bad that he forcefully ended a dynasty by pushing out Shaq.  LeBron doesn't appear to care about whether or not he's "the man."  And if he doesn't have that, how's he going to be better than Jordan?  That's why I think teaming up with Wade could hurt his all-time standing.  Because it wasn't just him getting help to win titles, it was him seemingly relinquishing the alpha dog role.  For him to rid that perception, I think he'd have to win multiple championships as "the man."  If he shares the spotlight with Wade, I think it hurts him.  

Is LeBron the heir to Jordan?  It's not impossible, but he would have to develop an assassin demeanor and be the preeminent player on his team if he wants to catch Air.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Great Scottie!

"Michael Jordan may be the greatest scorer to ever play the game, but I may go so far as to say LeBron James is the greatest player to ever play the game."  Did Scottie Pippen really say LeBron is better than Jordan?  Stop the presses....or actually....start the presses!  Get the story out ASAP and make sure to blow it way out of proportion!

Scottie Pippen's remark about LeBron sent shock waves through the sports world.  Almost immediately, people freaked out.  How could he say such a thing?  No one's better than Jordan!  No one will ever be better than Jordan!  People jumped on him so fast that by the time he clarified his statement it was seen as backtracking.  The knee-jerk reaction of the media, and the fans, is comical.  The second you say something, it becomes your definitive opinion.  Any further statement you make on the matter isn't regarded as you explaining the nuances of your opinion, it's regarded as you taking your foot out of your mouth.  I wonder how many people that blasted Scottie even heard the full context of the statement, because every article I read only included a 30 to 90 second sound bite or just the quote itself.  If you listen to the extended clip, you'll hear that Scottie's statement was in response to Chris Broussard asking, "How good do you think LeBron James can be all-time?  Can he challenge Michael for that mythical title?"

The problem was that Chris asked him a two-part question.  He asked Scottie if he agreed that Jordan is the greatest of all-time and if LeBron could challenge him.  Scottie answered "I think he can," and then elaborated.  For some reason, Chris took that to mean that Scottie was answering "no" to the question about Jordan being the best, because he tweeted: "I don't agree with Pippen. MJ is the greatest of all-time. LeBron has chance to be top 10, 5 or higher if he starts winning rings."  Did Scottie mean that LeBron is better than Jordan?  Well, he clarified what he meant, when he later tweeted: "Don't get me wrong, MJ was and is the greatest. But LeBron could by all means get to his level someday."

I believe the failure in this situation is on the interviewers.  Chris asked him a two-part question and, even though Scottie never specifically addressed both questions (and used the words "can" and "may"), he never asked a follow-up question.  How do you not ask a follow-up question, after the answer didn't blatantly address both the analytical and hypothetical questions?  Especially if you think he answered differently than one would expect?  To recap, Scottie included "can" and "may" in an answer to a hypothetical question about a "mythical" title and that morphed into "Scottie thinks LeBron's better than MJ."  Unbelievable.

Because no one asked Scottie point blank if LBJ is better than MJ, I'll continue to assume that his answer was indeed aimed at the hypothetical question and that it was just a "rare" occurrence of the media taking a sound bite and blowing it out of proportion

Saturday, May 21, 2011

NBA Finals looking good

We're down to four teams, which means there are four NBA Finals possibilities.  The NBA is in good shape, because there's a 75% chance of having an intriguing Finals matchup.  What are they?

Chicago vs. Oklahoma City
This series would probably be the most fun.  Both of these teams are new and exciting.  In a year that included "The Decision" and the "Melo Drama," it was refreshing to see two new teams that were built so fundamentally.  They didn't spend the most money to get where they are now.  In fact, the Bulls and Thunder have the lowest payrolls of any playoff teams, and actually have two of the lowest payrolls in the league.  The only teams with lower payrolls were the T-Wolves, the Clippers, and the Kings (who are all rebuilding).  Without spending 100 million dollars, on the likes of LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Stoudemire, Carmelo or Joe Johnson, they were able to find the right type of players to surround their superstars with.  And they did a good job, because they're the two deepest teams left in the playoffs (probably even the two deepest teams in the league).  Both are loaded with talent and are legitimately 10 deep.  It's pretty amazing that both franchises have built such talented teams without breaking the bank.  They also happen to be built similarly:

Superstars- Durant and Rose
Secondary Superstars- Westbrook and Boozer
Third scoring option- Harden and Deng
Defender who can score- Ibaka and Noah
Wing defender- Sefolosha and Bogans/Brewer
Interior defender- Perkins and Thomas
3-Pt Shooter- Cook and Korver
All-around player- Collison and Gibson
Backup point guard- Maynor and Watson
Backup center- Mohammed and Asik

And those are just the similarities of the rosters.  It gets better when you think about the actual matchups: Rose vs. Westbrook, Durant vs. Deng, Ibaka vs. Boozer, and Noah vs. Perkins.  This series wouldn't be about bad blood or a rivalry.  It would just be two exciting, talent-rich teams battling for a championship. 

Miami vs. Dallas II: Dirk's Revenge
Five years ago, Dirk Nowitzki came the closest he's ever been to getting a championship.  Unfortunately for him, he was bested by Dwyane Wade and the Heat.  If the Mavs were to get back to the Finals, a rematch against Miami would be very enticing.  The main storyline would obviously be whether or not Dirk could avenge the Finals disaster of 5 years ago and finally get a ring.  The interesting sub-plot for the Mavs would be the, presumed, final chance for some deserving veterans (Kidd, Terry, Marion) to finally win a title.

Oklahoma City vs. Miami
This matchup would have the most contrast.  On one side, you have a team of built through free agency and spending money.  On the other side, you have a team built through draft picks and trades.  While LeBron had a television special to announce where he was playing, Durant quietly announced on Twitter that he had signed a contract extension.  These teams are practically night and day.  It's a clash of the most honorably built team in the league against the team that's despised for the way it was assembled.  One team has spent years finding quality players - that fit their system - to surround their stars with, while the other team spent tons of money on big free agent superstars and a rotating door of veterans to try and compliment them.  It's the right way to build a championship versus the wrong way.  It would be quite poetic for the team that's been organically built, over the last four years, to beat a team that has tried to buy its way to a championship.


As long as we don't end up with Dallas against Chicago, it should be a very entertaining Finals.  Not that Chicago-Dallas would be bad.  Just not as interesting as the other three possibilities.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Case for Shaw

With Phil Jackson's retirement, the Lakers find themselves searching for a new coach.  The expected choice has always been Brian Shaw.  He's been apart of the organization for over a decade, both as a player and assistant coach, and has the endorsements of Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Luke Walton.  But now reports are coming out that the Lakers are interested in Rick Adelman and Mike Dunleavy, among others.  This has sparked a debate about whether or not the Lakers should stay in-house, with Shaw, or go with an outside hire of a veteran coach.  Some worry about the idea of having a rookie head coach for a team that's ready to win now, but should that be that big of a concern?

While veteran coaches have a proven history that would benefit them, there's also history on the side of Shaw.  Every dynasty that has made a coaching change has done so with the promotion of an assistant, and has done so successfully.  The Lakers replaced Paul Westhead with assistant Pat Riley, the Celtics replaced Bill Fitch with assistant K.C. Jones and Bill Russell took over for Red Auerbach; while Russell wasn't technically an assistant, it was still an in-house hire of a rookie head coach.  Three times a dynasty has changed coaches.  Three times it was a first time head coach.  Three times that rookie head coach went on to win multiple championships.  While veteran coaches may have more experience, they also come with different philosophies.  Shaw knows the players and he knows the system.  Continuity should count for something.  Instead of focusing on the history of each coach, the Lakers should focus on the history of assistant coaches being promoted in the midst of dynasties.

If the Lakers go in a different direction, it should be because they want to go in a different direction.  It shouldn't be out of a fear of handing over the keys to a first-time head coach.  That fear is bogus, when there's a clear history of assistant coaches successfully maintaining dynasties.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Heat's stars need a history lesson

The Heat's star-studded duo, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, have repeatedly shown a rather surprising disregard for basketball history.  The first instance of this occurring was while LeBron was with the Cavs, when he announced that he was switching numbers.  I still find it hilarious that he thought no one should wear Michael Jordan's number, then proceeds to switch to Bill Russell's.  Not only is it a dumb idea to suggest that the whole league should retire a jersey number, but if there was one guy in history who that would be done for it would be Bill Russell.  The first African-American coach in NBA history, he won two titles as a player-coach, and is the greatest champion in team sports history.  Of course, all those accomplishments happened on the court.  Maybe LeBron doesn't feel the need to not wear Russell's number because Russell was never the global icon that Jordan was, which is what he appears to value the most.

The second instance that occurred was at the Heat's celebration party.  You know, where they weren't celebrating winning, but celebrating three guys signing contracts.  At that non-championship championship-caliber party, Wade made a comment about the quality of the trio.  He said that they were "arguably, the best trio to ever play the game of basketball."  How does the quality of this trio compare to Jordan-Pippen-Rodman, Magic-Kareem-Worthy, Bird-McHale-Parish, West-Chamberlain-Baylor, or Shaq-Kobe-Horry?  Other possibilities include: Reed-Frazier-DeBusschere, Erving-Malone-Barkley, Jordan-Pippen-Grant, Kareem-Oscar-Dandridge, Russell-Cousy-Sharman, and Russell-Havlicek-Jones.  The advantage for the Miami trio is that they teamed up in their primes.  If you had all the aforementioned trios teaming up in their primes, Miami's may not even be top 10.  But even just comparing them to the actual production of the other trios, when they really happened, I still don't think Miami's trio is top 5.

The most recent example, of a misstep assessing history, is when James and Wade said that the Boston "Big Three" was their inspiration for coming together.  There's a major difference between the Garnett-Pierce-Allen combo and the James-Wade-Bosh combo: one group was in their prime when they did it, the other was not.  Garnett was 31 years old and in his 13th season.  Allen was 32 years old and in his 12th season.  Pierce was 30 years old and in his 10th season.  James, Wade, and Bosh were all in their 8th seasons and were 26 years old, 29 years old, and 26 years old, respectively.  The blueprint Garnett and Allen made was coming together after a decade of trying to win with other teams.  Neither Garnett, nor Allen, nor Pierce were two of the three best players in the world, when they teamed up.  Neither were Barkley, Pippen and Olajuwon, when they teamed up.  And neither were Malone or Payton, when they went to the Lakers.

The '99 Rockets, '04 Lakers, and '08 Celtics were veterans coming together to win championships.  They weren't players, at the top of their game, collaborating with their competition.  To compare the situations is misleading.  If Boston's "Big Three" were the true inspiration, they would've stuck with their teams three more years before teaming up.  But I guess that would require them having an accurate view of history.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On the Contrary: Phil Jackson's not overrated

A recent article quoted Scot Pollard saying the following about Phil Jackson:

"I just think he’s one of the most overrated coaches of our time. He’s only had the greatest players of our era on his teams. Put him in charge of the Sacramento Kings this year, and I don’t mean to offend Sacramento fans, but put him on a team with no Hall-Of-Famers on it at least no one that has established themselves as a Hall-Of-Famer already, put him as the Head Coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers right now and let’s see how he does next year with no Hall-Of-Famers on the team. That’s all I’m saying."

First of all, what would coaching the Cavs or the Kings prove exactly?  That he couldn't win a title with those teams?  Nobody could win a title with those teams.  Besides, no one is saying that coaches don't benefit from great players, but why are we pretending like Phil's the only one to do so?  Every Red Auerbach title included Bill Russell and at least three other future Hall-of-Famers (with four of his teams having as many as seven).  Bill Russell won two titles as a player-coach, but not without fellow future HOFers John Havlicek and Sam Jones.  Pat Riley never won a championship that didn't include Magic, Kareem, or Shaq.  Gregg Popovich never won a title without Duncan.  Rudy Tomjanovich never won without Olajuwon.  John Kundla never won without Mikan.  K.C. Jones never won without Bird, McHale, Parish, or Johnson.  Red Holzman, Tommy Heinsohn, Chuck Daly and Alex Hannum all never won without at least two future HOFers.

I just listed every coach that has ever won multiple championships.  Not one of them has done it without having a.) one of the 13 best players to ever play or b.) at least two future HOFers.  So yes, Phil Jackson benefited from coaching great players.  But so has every other coach that has ever won multiple championships.  To pretend that Jackson somehow benefited more than others is foolish.  It completely minimizes the personalities that he had to deal with.  Bill Simmons addressed this in his latest column, which just happens to be about Phil Jackson (I'd highly recommend reading it).  Here are two quotes:

"He never gets enough credit for successfully handling two of the three most difficult NBA superstars ever: Jordan and Kobe (with Wilt being the third)."

"When people dismiss Jackson's credentials with 'Anyone could have coached Michael Jordan,' they are wrong."

To give an example of the difficulty of coaching Jordan, here's what Simmons wrote in The Book of Basketball:

“For years and years, Jordan couldn’t rein himself in. He cared about winning, but only on his terms – he also wanted to win scoring titles, drop 50 whenever he pleased and treat his teammates like the biggest bully in the prison block – which led Phil Jackson to adopt the triangle offense in a last-ditch effort to prevent Jordan from hogging the ball (and, Jackson hoped, embolden his supporting cast).”

People look at what happened in the '90s and assume Jordan was just destined to win multiple championships.  Just because he ended up as one of the most successful basketball players ever, that doesn't mean championships were always inevitable.  In his book, The Jordan Rules, Sam Smith states:

"It was already a popular theory that the Bulls would never win a title because Jordan's style of one-on-one play eliminated the other players as contributors. But the fans loved it, and to Reinsdorf, that meant money."

"[Doug] Collins had always told [Reinsdorf] the Bulls couldn't win with Jordan, and Reinsdorf had always told friends he knew only two things about basketball: 'You win with defense and team play.' He could have one, he knew, but perhaps not the other as long as Jordan dominated the scoring."

You can't look back at what happened with Jordan and the Bulls and assume that would've happened in any scenario.  Why are people, in 2011, making inferences about the degree of difficulty it takes to win with Jordan?  Should we listen to people who had zero involvement with the Bulls, or people who had firsthand experience?  Because, in the '80s, the Bulls' coach and management didn't think that Jordan equaled "guaranteed championships."  So much so that they actually considered trading him.  Smith states that, during the 1987-88 season, Clippers owner Donald Sterling "offered any combination of five players or draft choices," in exchange for Michael Jordan.  With two of the draft picks they could get from the Clippers, they would possibly be able to draft Rik Smits and Mitch Richmond.  They also thought maybe they could trade Charles Oakley or Horace Grant for Kevin Johnson, "leaving the Bulls a starting five of Johnson, Richmond, Pippen, Grant or Oakley, and Smits. The Bulls thought about it long and hard; they were almost sure the deal could get them a title faster than staying with Jordan. But in the end, Reinsdorf held firm: Michael Jordan was untradable. Period."

Jordan had made multiple appearances on the All-NBA First Team, the All-Defensive First Team, the All-Star team, had won multiple Scoring Titles, had won Defensive Player of the Year, and had won a MVP award.  Did those accolades stop the Bulls from trading him?  Nope.  It was because of money and because Reinsdorf feared that "such a trade would force him right out of town."

If winning with Jordan is so easy, why was Doug Collins fired?  The Bulls had gone to the Eastern Conference Finals that year; it wasn't like they completely whiffed in the playoffs or something.  Why wasn't he the recipient of six championship rings, if having Jordan is all that's needed?  And if winning with Shaq and Kobe is so easy, then why did Dell Harris get fired?  In '97 and '98, the Lakers won 56 and 61 games respectively.  The '98 Lakers had four All-Stars, yet couldn't win one game against the Jazz in the Western Conference Finals.

If success is independent from coaches, then why did the "Showtime" Lakers replace Paul Westhead with Pat Riley?  Why did the '80s Celtics replace Bill Fitch with K.C. Jones?  It means something that Pat Riley won four rings with Magic, while Paul Westhead only won one.  It means something that K.C. Jones won two rings with Bird, while Bill Fitch only won one.  And it means something that Phil Jackson won 11 rings with Jordan, Shaq, and Kobe, while Doug Collins and Del Harris won zero.  There's a reason why Jones, Riley, and Jackson were the primary coaches during dynasties and had more success than their predecessors.  If having elite players leads to championships, than Fitch, Westhead, Collins, and Harris should have experienced the prolonged success that their replacements did.

Both Magic's Lakers and Bird's Celtics pushed out coaches.  Isn't it telling that Jordan's Bulls never pushed out Phil?  It's not like Phil let the Bulls do whatever they wanted.  He instituted the system that he wanted and they followed suit.  Is that not pretty significant?  Is it not noteworthy that even when Kobe did push out Phil that he was eventually brought back?  If Phil doesn't bring a lot to the table, then why would Kobe let him return?  If he could win championships with just about any coach, why on earth would he do it with the guy that blasted him in a book?  How does the fact that Phil didn't end up on whatever revenge list that Shaq ended up on not speak volumes?  Not only did Phil have only one major falling out during his coaching career, he repaired the one he did have.  How many other coaches could say the things about a player that Phil said about Kobe and still be welcomed back by that player?  Especially by a player with Kobe's ferocity?  He obviously has something that makes the players want him to be the coach.

Bill Simmons stated in his column, "Coaching isn't just about calling plays, riding the officials and figuring out strategies. Really, it's management more than anything else. You manage people. Jackson managed people better than anyone."  Westhead couldn't successfully manage Magic's Lakers and Fitch couldn't successfully manage Bird's Celtics, yet people are going to minimize that Phil Jackson could successfully manage Jordan and Kobe - two far more difficult players - for over 18 years?

Auerbach managing Russell, Riley managing Magic, Popovich managing Duncan and Kundla managing Mikan are all regarded as successful, but Jackson managing more difficult superstars makes him overrated?  Phil had more success than any other coach, with more difficult superstars (other than Wilt) than any other coach has had to deal with.  That shouldn't be ignored or minimized.  It should be admired.  Phil Jackson is not overrated.

Friday, May 13, 2011

On the Contrary: Dirk's not Top 10

In an article on espn.com, Rick Carlisle recently stated, "In my opinion, [Dirk's] a top 10 player in NBA history because of the uniqueness of his game and how he's carried this franchise on his back for over a decade."

I'm sorry, but Dirk Nowitzki is not one of the 10 best players in NBA history.  Here's the unequivocal top 9 players in history (in no particular order):

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Michael Jordan
Bill Russell
Magic Johnson
Larry Bird
Wilt Chamberlain
Tim Duncan
Kobe Bryant
Oscar Robertson

For Dirk to get that last spot, he'd have to be better than Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Moses Malone, and Jerry West.  He's not.  I don't think that he'll end up better than Baylor or Erving.  Add in guys like Karl Malone, LeBron and Kevin Garnett and Dirk's clearly not top 10.  In the hardcover edition of The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons ranked Dirk at 37 all-time.  The 2009 edition of Slam Magazine doesn't even have Dirk in the top 50.  So no, Dirk is not one of the top 10 players of all-time.

Countdown to 12?

The rumors of Dwight Howard wanting to go to LA started months ago.  And with the Lakers recent playoff disaster, the "Dwight Howard to LA" discussion has kicked up a notch.  Magic Johnson said that everyone on the Lakers should be expendable but Kobe.  If that became the case, the long shot of getting Howard would seemingly become a realistic possibility.  Should LA go after Howard?  Should they make any significant trades at all?


Why they shouldn't:
I think everyone saying the Lakers are "old" is overblown.  Why?  Because the team they just lost to is older than them.  I think people are underestimating how difficult a 3-peat really is.  This isn't a team that's just "old."  It's a team that is coming off three straight Finals appearances.  And during that time, Kobe and Pau played in the Olympics in '08 and Odom just played in the FIBA World Championship this past off-season.  Their three main players have only had two short off-seasons of no basketball, during a span where they've played 405 games (not including international games).  Isn't it possible they're just burnt out?  Should they really mess with a championship core because they couldn't make it to the Finals four years straight? 


Why they should:
If fatigue was not the primary reason for poor play, there would be two reasons to shake up the team: lack of cohesiveness and lack of competitiveness.  I don't think fatigue was the only contributor to Gasol's poor play.  Even though he has been labeled "soft," his passivity was on another level.  Something else had to be going on.  The rumor is that his girlfriend broke up with him, and that there may have been an additional problem with Kobe, made sense to me.  He looked like he didn't care at all whether or not the Lakers made it to the Finals.  He looked so apathetic that I'm half expecting him to announce that he's taking his talents to South Beach.  But now he's saying that those rumors of conflict are false.  He said that it was the false rumors being spread that caused him problems.  False rumors caused you to play bad?  They caused you to lack any semblance of aggression?  They caused you to show no heart, even after Phil Jackson got in your face multiple times?

If that's true, that's ridiculous. The Lakers aren't paying him 17 million dollars to be affected by what people are saying on the internet.  If that's not true, and the source of his abysmal play was a result of conflict between teammates, then the Lakers would need to make some trades.  Either way, here are their possibilities going forward...


Lakers stand pat:
I'd prefer not to see Dwight Howard in a Laker uniform.  I like to see franchise guys stay with their team.  Besides, I thought Bynum was the only one besides Kobe who looked invested in winning.  I would like to see LA be loyal to him.  I'd prefer they make some minor changes - such as acquiring Aaron Brooks and someone like Jared Dudley - but, ideally, the core should remain intact.


LA makes a trade without getting Howard:
If LA is going to make a trade, here's what I'd like to see happen (working off the idea that Josh Smith is going to leave Atlanta and that Golden State needs to trade Curry or Ellis):

LA gets Josh Smith and Stephen Curry
Atlanta gets Pau Gasol
Orlando gets David Lee and Zaza Pachulia
Golden State gets Jameer Nelson, Ryan Anderson and Chris Duhon

LA gets younger and more athletic.  Atlanta immediately becomes a serious contender, with a pretty scary lineup.  Orlando gets a solid frontcourt of Howard, Lee, Bass and Pachulia.  Golden State gets a compatible point guard for Ellis and a power forward duo of Anderson and Udoh that will be around for a long time.


Howard to LA:
Let's assume that Kupchak thinks LA needs to make some trades and that it's true Dwight Howard wants to play in LA and follow in the footsteps of Shaq, Wilt and Kareem.  If this were to happen, here's how I'd like to see it play out:

LA gets Dwight Howard and Josh Smith
Orlando gets Andrew Bynum, Stephen Curry, and David Lee
Golden State gets Jameer Nelson, Ryan Anderson and Zaza Pachulia
Atlanta gets Pau Gasol

The Lakers get the guy they want and Josh Smith.  Orlando gets a solid foundation of Bynum and Curry (both only 23), along with a quality player in Lee.  And the results for Atlanta and Golden State would be virtually the same as the prior trade suggestion.


If Dwight Howard ending up in LA is inevitable, I would love to see Orlando get Bynum, Curry and Lee.  At least then they would be set up with two young, very good players.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Most Presti-gious GM

Since the Thunder rose to prominence last year, I've heard good things about their GM Sam Presti and how he built the team.  Most of the things, though, have been generic statements about draft picks, trades, or cap space.  Intrigued, I decided to research exactly how Presti transformed a lottery team into a championship contender.  Here's what I found:

'07-'08:
The 2007 NBA Draft happened three weeks after Presti was hired as the GM.  What's the first thing he does?  Trade the team's best player and leading scorer to the Celtics.  In exchange for Ray Allen and the 35th pick (Glen Davis), Seattle got the 5th pick (Jeff Green), a 2008 second-round pick, Delonte West, and Wally Szczerbiak.  The eventfulness of that draft would continue, as the team took Kevin Durant with the 2nd overall pick.  Two weeks after trading the team's leading scorer, Presti traded the team's second leading scorer.  In exchange for Rashard Lewis, Seattle got a conditional second-round pick and a 9 million dollar trade exception.  Presti then traded that second-round pick to Phoenix in exchange for Kurt Thomas, a 2008 first-round pick and a 2010 first-round pick.

Prior to the trade deadline, Presti would make a couple more moves.  First he traded Thomas to San Antonio for Brent Barry and Francisco Elson (expiring contracts) and an exchange of 2009 first-round draft picks.  Then he traded West and Szczerbiak to Cleveland for Donyell Marshall and Ira Newble; both of whom were later waived.


'08-'09:
The 2008 NBA Draft would prove to be just as successful for Presti as 2007 was.  The biggest success was drafting Russell Westbrook, with the 4th overall pick.  Additionally, he used the draft pick acquired from the Phoenix trade to select Serge Ibaka.  Draft day would also see the Pistons trade D.J. White to Seattle for the No. 32 and 46 overall picks.

In December 2008, the - recently renamed - Thunder signed restricted free agent Nenad Krstic.  The following month, the Thunder traded Johan Petro and a 2009 second-round pick for Chucky Atkins and a conditional first-round pick.  Then they flipped that pick to Chicago for Thabo Sefolosha.


'09-'10:
With the third pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Thunder selected James Harden.  And with the pick that they had swapped in the San Antonio trade, they drafted Bryon Mullens.  Finally, they traded cash considerations to the Bobcats in exchange for the 54th pick (Robert Vaden).

In December 2009, the Thunder traded the draft rights of Peter Fehse to Utah for Eric Maynor.


'10-'11:
With LeBron taking his talents to South Beach - along with Bosh - Miami needed to clear cap space, so they sent Daequan Cook and the 18th overall pick in the 2010 Draft to Oklahoma City in exchange for the 32nd pick.  The Thunder then flipped that pick to the Clippers for a future conditional first-round pick.  Presti then packaged their first-round pick (21st overall) with the first-round pick they got from the Kurt Thomas/Phoenix trade for Morris Peterson and the 11th overall pick (Cole Aldrich) from New Orleans.  That summer also saw the Thunder sign free agent Royal Ivey.

The biggest move of the season would come when Oklahoma City agreed to send Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to Boston in exchange for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson.  Presti followed that trade deadline shocker by sending Morris Peterson and D.J. White to Charlotte for Nazr Mohammed.


Let's recap (cliff notes version):
Drafted: Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Mullens, Vaden

Free Agents: Nenad Krstic, Royal Ivey

Trades: Ray Allen & Glen Davis -> Jeff Green, Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak -> West and Szczerbiak become cap space, Green and Krstic become Perkins and Robinson

Rashard Lewis -> second-round pick -> Kurt Thomas and two first-round picks -> Serge Ibaka, Cole Aldrich, Morris Peterson and cap space

No. 32 and 46 picks -> D.J. White

Johan Petro -> conditional first round pick -> Thabo Sefolosha

Draft rights of Peter Fehse -> Eric Maynor

No. 32 pick -> Daequan Cook and 18th pick (18th pick becomes future conditional first-round pick from Clippers)

D.J. White and Morris Peterson -> Nazr Mohammed


After four years, the only current roster member that is pre-Presti is Nick Collison.  The transformation of the franchise is astounding.  With some great draft picks, a few free agent signings, and some amazing trades, Presti has built a championship caliber team.  The most amazing part is that this team is the third youngest team in the NBA.  I think it's safe to say that Sam Presti is a genius and the best GM in basketball.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On the Contrary: Cleveland's record not evidence for LBJ being MVP

Anyone who thinks Cleveland's record is evidence for why LeBron should be MVP, think again.  The team did not lose 42 more games than last year just because LeBron left.  This year's team is not the same as last year's team.  Here's a comparison between the main ten guys last year, and the main ten guys this year (in order of minutes played):

'10 CLE                                              '11 CLE
LeBron James                                     J.J. Hickson
Mo Williams                                      Ramon Sessions
Anthony Parker                                Anthony Parker
Anderson Varejao                             Daniel Gibson
J.J. Hickson                                      Antawn Jamison
Delonte West                                     Ryan Hollins
Zydrunas Ilgauskas                             Mo Williams
Shaquille O'Neal                                  Anderson Varejao
Daniel Gibson                                   Alonzo Gee
Jamario Moon                                     Christian Eyenga

Of last year's ten main guys, only five carried over to this year.  And of those five guys, two of them (Williams and Varejao) played 67 games for the Cavs...combined.  Last year, Shaq was the first-string center and Ilgauskas was the second-string center.  This year, the Cavs started the year with Varejao at center.  Then he got hurt; so essentially, this year's team had what would've been last year's fourth-string center starting.  And they didn't even have a consistent center, so their "fourth-string center" was a rotation of multiple guys. 

It's not like the Cavs just lost LeBron.  They lost a lot of production from last year's main contributors (Williams, Parker, Varejao, Hickson, West, Ilgauskas, O'Neal, Gibson, Moon).  To prove that, let's compare the stats they had in 2010 and the stats those guys contributed to the Cavs in 2011.

'10 stats:
5,316 points     2,548 rebounds     1095 assists     in 14,704 minutes played

'11 stats:
3,433 points     1,606 rebounds     857 assists     in 9,035 minutes played


That's a drop of 1,883 points, 942 rebounds, 238 assists, and 5,669 minutes played.  That would pretty much be the equivalent of last year's team losing Shaq, Parker and Ilgauskas (1705 points, 931 rebounds, and 285 assists in 4868 minutes) and then some.  Unless you think that last year's team could replace Shaq, Parker, and Ilgauskas with three players from the '11 Cavs and still win 61 games, that lost production actually means something.

Just in case you're thinking that playing without LeBron contributed to his former teammates' lower production, let's look at the numbers some of those guys contributed to other teams:

1,016 points     605 rebounds     246 assists     in 3,351 minutes played

Add those to the stats his former teammates contributed to Cleveland this year, the total is:

4449 points     2211 rebounds     1103 assist     in 12,386 minutes played

Yes, their total stats is lower than it was in 2010, but so was their minutes played.  In 2011, they played 84% as much as they did in 2010.  Not coincidentally, they scored 84% of the points, had 87% of the rebounds, and over 100% of the assists they had in 2010.  LeBron's former teammates were as productive without him as they were with him.  The problem for Cleveland is that they were either injured or on other teams.

Cleveland didn't just lose their best player.  They lost their starting center, their backup center, and they only had their starting point guard and last year's backup power forward for less than half the year.  Their main holdovers were a 22-year old power forward, a 35-year old shooting guard, and their backup point guard.

Two final stats that show how the teams differ:

  • 42% of the minutes played in 2011 were by guys who were not even on the team in 2010. 

  •  Last year, the Cavs had 11 guys play in 50+ games (this includes LeBron).  Those guys averaged 93% playing time for every game.  How much playing time did those 11 guys average for Cleveland in 2011?  48%.

Losing their best player definitely hurt them, but so did injuries and the departure of other players.  Seeing as LeBron's absence is not the only alteration from last year's team, Cleveland's record is not definitive proof of his value.


*stats taken from http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/