Aug 28, 2008

College Football is Upon Us! Time for Homerism

Ahh, just minutes from kickoff of the 2008 College Football season. I can't remember a year I was more excited to watch me some pigskin. Of course, it probably has a lot to do with the fact my Oregon State Beavers are kicking off the national schedule with a trip to Palo Alto. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit nervous for the game, but I'm still optimistic they can pull one out on the road (despite the injuries). I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

I try to remain pretty objective in my posts, but my true colors can't help but bleed through when I'm talking about NCAA FB. I'm anxiously awaiting my first chance to watch Jacquizz Rogers carry the ball. If you haven't had a chance to check this guy out.... here's a video you may want to lay your eyes upon. Can you see why I'm pumped? 50 touchdowns as a junior, and 37 as a senior... in Texas nonetheless. This kid is going to be electrifying. If the Beavs even get serviceable help from the QB spot, the combination of Rogers, his older brother James, and a rejuvenated Sammie Stroughter will be too much for defenses to contain in the open field.

If you didn't click on those video links (especially the Jacquizz and Sammie vids), you are missing out.

Aug 23, 2008

USA vs. Spain - Live Game Blog

1st Quarter
  • Did Pau just flop on a jump ball?
  • Spain strikes early and looks determined to make it a closer game than the previous matchup.
  • Hmm, I'm shocked JC Navarro didn't last in the L. Most NBA teams love undersized shooting guard who can't play D. Just ask Chicago.
  • Navarro for three? Nope.
  • Who knew? Zack Efron plays point guard for Spain?
  • Efron just made Kidd look foolish. How slow is Jason Kidd?
  • Spain 21, USA 17. Coach K doesn't look happy.
  • Gasol just got hit for the first time, and missed a layup. Maybe the U.S. should be a little more physical with him?
  • This game is being played at Spain's pace. I don't like it.
  • The U.S. makes a mini-run and takes the lead. You know the U.S. is focused when they start hitting free throws.
  • Wade is EVERYWHERE. I haven't seen him play with this sort of tenacity since '06. Maybe I'll be a believer before this one's over.
  • Spain is face-guarding Wade on the three point line. Did they not get the memo about his outside shooting?
  • Most overused image of the Summer games: camera pans Lebron and Kobe chumming it up on the bench.
  • Marc Gasol is a stud. Part of me thinks he could have helped the Lakers more than Pau in the long run.
  • Tayshaun Prince sighting.
  • Where is Rudy Fernandez?
  • Did Wade just make a three?
End of 1st Quarter: USA 38, Spain 31

2nd Quarter
  • 2nd quarter begins, and we get a chance to see Rudy.
  • Kobe enters game, and abruptly drains a three.
  • Dwight Howard flagrantly fouls Pau Gasol. Gasol misses BOTH free throws. Coincidence? I think not.
  • Spain is getting a little testy -- they believe they can win this game.
  • Fernandez for three.... splash.
  • Efron beats Kidd to the basket again. Coach K?
  • Kidd gets subbed by Paul. Finally.
  • Wow, Paul delivers a perfect alley-oop from past halfcourt.
  • JC Navarro hits an impossible one-handed floater. Those are the types of plays that have "upset" written all over them.
  • Collins' sidekick just called the official a "Sting lookalike". I'm buying.
  • Lebron did his best Walter Payton impression on the fast break and gets an and one opportunity.
  • America is up 10, and the depth is taking its toll on the Spaniards. This could get ugly fast.
  • Fernandez is a good passer... I had no idea.
  • When Lebron and Wade start hitting threes, there is no way to stop this team.
  • Fernandez for three... splash.
  • Boozer still hasn't gotten in. Even Coach K knows how far he's fallen in the past 6 months.
  • Fernandez step back for three... splash.
  • Apparently the refs don't call moving screens, because Spain moves on every screen.
  • Reyes looks pretty good -- why didn't he make it in the L?
  • David Stern sighting. He must have been at the track & field events the past 4 days, because that tan is looking immaculate.
Halftime: U.S.A 69, Spain 61

Third Quarter
  • The wife just called it a night, but I'm gonna stay up for this one.
  • Spain comes out and hits a jumper to make it a 6-point game. The senior citizen quota minutes have already been met - K needs to sub Kidd.
  • The famous pump-pump-pump-lunge into defender move fails Lebron. Maybe these international refs get it.
  • Dwight Howard sighting. There is no reason Howard shouldn't get a double-double every game in this tourney.
  • Kobe gets what appears to be a three-point play, only to be called for traveling. No way that gets called in the NBA.
  • Pau makes an Olajuwon-esque jump hook. Time for the obligatory "Maul-a-Pau."
  • Replay just showed Howard cheap-shotting Pau in the face after he hit the jump hook. Maybe Dwight is a smarter player than I give him credit for.
  • Navarro with impossible one-handed floater #2.
  • Howard dunks Gasol and the ball in one motion.
  • Navarro hits impossible one-handed floater #3. Seriously?
  • David Beckham sighting. Bet the wife wishes she stayed up now.
  • With the U.S. up four, Kidd gets yanked in favor of CP3. Let's monitor the over/under with Kidd out of the game.
  • Kobe forces a three. Will the selfish tendencies resurface?
  • Kobe comes back with a tremendous assist -- so much for that theory.
  • Lebron Earl Campbell's his way to another and-one. Nevermind, I forgot he can't hit free throws.
  • Spain goes to the zone. I don't like America's current lineup against the zone.
  • Michael Redd sighting? Nope.
  • Wade is playing out of his skull.
  • I'm retracting my opinion that Paul is a top-3 player in the NBA. He's looking pretty pedestrian tonight.
  • Deron Williams with a gorgeous step back. I LOVE him in this tournament.
  • Navarro with impossible one-handed floater #4? Nope.

End of the 3rd Quarter: U.S.A 91, Spain 82.

4th Quarter
  • Deron Williams misses a sure layup. Put Kidd back in... kidding.
  • Fernandez to Gasol for the alley-oop. 5 point game.
  • Fernandez for three? Splash. This guy is going to be good in the L.
  • Coach K signals for a timeout.
  • The human momentum killer (Kobe) hits a desperation runner. I love it.
  • After a Fernandez miss, Williams hits a huge three to put the U.S. up by 7 again.
  • Howard dunks Gasol and the ball in one motion. Nine point game.
  • Fernandez for three? Nope. Fernandez for three? Yep. Is anyone guarding him?
  • Kobe with the retaliatory dagger three. Nine point game again.
  • Fernandez with the and-one throwdown. What can't this kid do on the offensive end?
  • Kobe circa 2005 fires a deep three early in the shot clock and comes up empty.
  • Dwight Howard goes to the line up by eight. I just put my hard hat on.
  • 1/2... I'll take it.
  • The U.S. can't keep the Gasol brothers off the offensive glass.
  • Pau stands in the lane for 5 seconds, Marc pushes an American to the floor, and Pau hits a jumper. Spain's within 5.
  • In the biggest play of the game, Kobe hits a three AND gets fouled. On the same play, Fernandez fouls out.
  • Who should NBC zoom in on after the biggest play of the game? David Beckham, of course.
  • Navarro with impossible one-handed floater #4. Maybe he's doing this on purpose.
  • Some guy named Jimenez hits a three to put Spain within 4.
  • Wade hits a three to put it back to 7.
  • After a Spain timeout, Kobe is jawing at JC Navarro. That's almost embarrassing.
  • Bryant with yet another game-saving shot. Is there any debate about the iciest veins in the world?
  • Zack Efron picks up a personal foul and a technical foul. Disney execs cringe after exhausting their PR budget last month on Miley Cyrus' provocative photos.
  • Kobe hits both free throws. Game over.
  • In one of the most awkward moments in sports history, Kobe pours a water bottle over Coach K's head and slaps him on the butt.
Game Final: U.S.A 118, Spain 107.

Aug 20, 2008

Bela Karolyi = Legend

I've gotta admit, my interest in the Beijing games had been dwindling ever since Phelps won #8. Outside of a few track & field events and the first half of the basketball games, I had little motivation to tune in to NBC. That all changed last night when I watched a gymnastics event. No, I'm not referring to the comedic irony of an event called "women's" gymnastics being dominated by pre-teen girls. I'm referring to the passionate broadcasting of the "Romanian Rocket", Bela Karolyi. If you don't know who I'm talking about, here's a little photo montage for your viewing pleasure (excuse the lame spin-off of Nike's early-90's ad campaign):

Bela Knows Bravado

Bela Knows Body Building

Bela Knows Bringing 'Em Up Right

Bela Knows Basement Slumber Parties

Bela Knows Beating the Odds

Bela Knows Being the Predator, not the Prey

Bela Knows Building Camaraderie

Bela Knows Body

For anyone who hasn't had the pleasure of listening to fire he brings to each Olympic broadcast, do yourself a favor and go to youtube. You won't regret it.

Aug 15, 2008

What does Brandon Roy's Injury Mean?

Deja Vu? A key cog to the Blazers' resurgence requiring microfracture surgery on his knee. In both cases (Oden & Roy), team doctors found what was an otherwise unknown problem during a "routine checkup." Is this a coincidence, or are the Blazers working out a little too hard in the offseason and not giving their bodies enough rest after the wear-and-tear of the regular season?

One thing is for certain: Brandon Roy can now be officially given the "injury-prone" label. Just two seasons into his thus far illustrious career, he has been an ongoing health problem. I don't even bother picking him up in my fantasy league because I know there is a good chance I'll be sitting on him for 20+ games/year. Even Baron Davis gave me 82 games last season...

Many fans in the Portland area were depressed to hear the news. They immediately envisioned another lottery year, and are fearing "rebuilding" mode will be in effect for yet another season. I don't think we should jump to that conclusion just yet. The silver lining on this unfortunate event is that Bayless and Fernandez will be forced into more significant roles from the get-go. I think both of these guys are going to be electric: now there is no excuse for sitting them on the pine to start the season.

I may be optimistic, but I don't think this injury is going to hurt the Blazers too much in the long run. After all, Roy will be back long before the stretch run and this roster is loaded with young talent at the guard spots. Blazer Nation, help me weigh in on this set of circumstances...

Aug 14, 2008

Unconventional = Sexy

NBA fans love to make comparisons between players present and players past. (Fill in the blank) is the next Michael, the next Magic, the next Wilt. Dwight Howard is the next Shaq and Kevin Love is the next Kevin McHale. Do you remember when Adam Morrison was the next Larry Bird? Rather than give a player a chance to define his own style, we tell him who he should play like and criticize him when he falls short (just ask Harold "Baby Jordan" Miner).

I'm not quite sure how this occurs. Do these players choose their own destinies at a young age by idolizing their predecessors? Or is it us who force the players' destinies by looking at their height, shooting touch, demeanor, or skin color and telling them who they should emulate? Maybe it's a combination of both of these factors; in most cases, at least one of these factors appears to be at play. Whatever the case, the vast majority of stars are delegated a counterpart from a past era. The comparisons begin when the player successfully reproduces sporatic glimpses, or full-length motion pictures, of memorable greatness.

As soon as we link a young player's game to a legend of past, the marginalization begins. It's not: "Wow, this is the first player who is even a close comparison to Michael Jordan." It's more like: "He's good, but he ain't Jordan." Shawn Livingston never stood a chance of living up to the "next Magic" label, even if he hadn't gotten injured. J.J. Reddick couldn't even survive Steve Kerr comparisons. We draw these parallels, parallels that are so constrictive in nature. Rather than imagining what a player could be, we limit his potential to the reality that we know, the reality that played in a past era.

Herein lies the problem with our natural tendency of comparing current players to former players. We certainly won't concede - even in our inner thoughts - that this young gun could eventually be better than the O.G. we are comparing him to. If we did, we'd be minimizing the history of our beloved sport. Consequently, we are giving the player a ceiling. We may admit that he's great, but no matter what he does, he will be the lesser version of a legend prior. Sports fans don't like ceilings, and a comparison is effectively a ceiling.

Every so often, a player comes along who defies common logic and gives us a brand of basketball that is remarkably unique. Our comparison attempts are thwarted when we can't put a finger on who this new player reminds us of. When this occurs, our excitement exceeds that which surrounds the arrival of "the next Jordan" or "the next Malone/Barkley/Dantley." Why is this? It's quite simple, actually. We think we know what the comparables can bring, because we've seen their forefathers play. As our excitement for this outlier, this uncomparable, never-before-seen phenomenon grows, we dream about what his originality will mean to the team or to the league.

There are a few modern players that come to mind when I speak of the outliers, and our responses to their arrivals have been predictably irrational:

  • Josh Smith: Before Smith, we had never seen a versatile wing player capable of leading the NBA in blocked shots. This singular factor undoubtedly points to his athleticism, but we assign it so much more. Many people call Smith the "future" of the wing positions, despite his current status as the second-best player on a sub-.500 team. Rarely do scouts, GM's, or fans point to his attitude as a cause for concern. I find that particularly interesting given his on-going feud with his head coach, questioning of team management, and place amongst the league leaders in technical fouls. Rarely do they speak of his apparent apathy for long stretches of games, his streaky (at best) jump shot, or his careless turnovers. But boy, can this guy block shots. But his prowess in that one statistical category makes him far more intriguing than, say, Rudy Gay.

  • Dirk Nowitzki: While I won't disagree about his status amongst the game's elite, I think we may have the wrong idea about his value to the Mavericks. Especially early in his career, we had never seen a 7-footer who could stroke from 30 feet. For this, we tabbed him the forefather of a movement that would forever change the NBA. We saw (and see) so much more upside to a frail, 7-footer who can stroke it than a sturdy 6'9er who can bang with the big boys. Why is that? It's quite simple: we had never seen the size/touch combo possessed by Nowitzki but we had seen a plethora of average-sized bangers. For this reason, we ignore the fragility that cost him his matchup with David West, despite the fact West would never be mentioned in the same breath as Dirk. We rarely Dirk's futility as an individual defender or his inability to get offensive position below the high post. We even make excuses for his failure to knock out an 8th seeded team of midgets in the '07 Playoffs. As fans, all of these shortcomings are overlooked the moment he lofts a feathery three-ball.

  • Yao Ming: Yao's sheer mass, combined with his ascent from a non-Basketball country, made believers of us all. He would redefine dominance, we said, and lead the Rockets to multiple titles as soon as the Shaq regime came to a close. We scoffed at the notion that Yao would be a perpetual injury risk. We still rarely mention Yao's lack of mobility that has been Houston's achilles heel in the playoffs. Even a 20-game win streak without Yao hasn't convinced us that he is a defensive liability.

Let's be clear: I'm including myself in this group of fans who loves to see the new & shiny traits of an unconventional player on display. A sweeping cartoonish move by Ginobili is far prettier than a Hardaway-esque crossover by Deron Williams, and the Warriors are much more endearing than the Spurs. I really didn't intend for this post to become a Smith or Nowitzki or Yao bashing session. In fact, I love watching all of those guys play. I'm merely making an observation about our love for players who don't conform to the classical interpretations of how to play their positions. In drafting this post, I became aware of one thing: unconventional is sexy.

Aug 11, 2008

Ole! Ole! Ole!

In case you haven't seen it already, the above photo was taken of the Spanish Olympic Basketball Team as part of an advertising campaign that ran in the Spanish newspapers. This photo is grainy, but what we have here is the Spanish team making a slant-eyed gesture as they stand over a chinese dragon symbol. This was clearly in good fun, and clearly, the Spaniards are as diplomatic as Don Imus when it comes to race relations...

Was this the best Spain's marketing department could come up with, or do we have a bigger issue here? According to this article, this wasn't the first incident of kind. In recent years, Spanish sports and cultural/racial insensitivity have been synonymous with each other. In a time when the global media machine is working harder than ever, you'd think the Spaniards would strive to appear tolerant at least.

I realize players frequently say things that are misinterpreted. This advertisement, however, was a calculated statement. It wasn't the product of an untimely interview quote by a sore loser. It wasn't a statement by one "bad apple" from an otherwise tolerant group of athletes. It was a thought-out, organized, advertising campaign that was participated in by an entire basketball team.

Maybe this type of advertising isn't viewed as offensive in Spain. Maybe (though I highly doubt it) it isn't even viewed as offensive in China. Regardless of whether some cultures shrug this off as a lame attempt at humor, others (America included) are going to be appalled when they see this ad. The Spaniards have to understand they are speaking to a bigger audience than their home fans. What makes it even more disgusting is the fact that seven of the participating players either wore an NBA jersey last season or will wear one this season. You'd think they'd know better.

Aug 10, 2008

Profit-Sharing in the NBA?

In making my daily visit to FreeDarko, I came across this tasteful morsel (FreeDarko Post). The post in reference was aimed at analyzing Lebron's interest in playing overseas and the potential impact it could have on the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). It got me contemplating the NBA and its current compensation structure and how this structure could be revamped in the near future.

The fact NBA stars Lebron, Kobe, & DWade have shown interest (regardless of their sincerity) in playing overseas has to have NBA heads talking. In an era where "Show me the Money" is a prevaling theme and stars (e.g. Lebron) are as much aspiring businessmen as they are aspiring NBA legends, this talk should come as no surprise. Sure, the Olympics are here, making the obligatory "I'd play overseas" statement en vogue. I get that. But these stars aren't idiots, or they're at least getting advice from people who aren't idiots. There is a load of untapped money & fame overseas, and basketball is quickly gaining popularity in these markets.

The Motivations of Superstars have Changed over the Years

If Josh Childress can become "the highest-paid player in Euroleague history," making ~$7M/year, what kind of money would be thrown at Lebron or Kobe? Lebron half-jokingly threw out an asking price of $50M/yr, but is that number really as ridiculous as it sounds? I'm not so sure. I am sure that there are international teams that would be willing to outbid NBA franchises, with salary cap limitations in place and all. Who's to say Lebron the businessman wouldn't take an offer of, say, $40M plus some sort of ownership stakes to play in China? If not James, how about a Lamar Odom-type player? A player like Odom could never be the face of the NBA but he could be the face of Croatian basketball or its equivalent. If a Croatian team threw $15M, profit-sharing, and endless endorsement possibilities at Odom, would he take it? I don't know if Odom would, but I'm fairly certain some players would.

Is this where international basketball is headed? In recent years, the migration of international stars to the NBA has been the trend. As interest grows overseas, who's to say the trend won't be NBA stars migrating to international leagues? While the NBA still has the premier competition, competition is no longer the primary movitator for all professional athletes. I could particularly see veterans who had reached the pinnacle of NBA fame & fortune making the move overseas. It would only take the movement of a few players (e.g. Lebron and/or Kobe) for an exodus of sorts to gain momentum.

The Chinese Love Them Some Kobe

So, assuming more players follow Childress' lead and move overseas, how would the NBA respond? If it were only a few players and none were All-Star caliber talents, Stern probably wouldn't bat an eyelash. If it were a handful of players and one or more of those players were cogs in the NBA's marketing machine, Stern would be sweating bullets. As soon as Greece, Italy, China, and Germany start flashing the dough, Stern and his cronies will have to take a hard look at the NBA's current compensation structure. This will be an absolute must-do if the NBA wants to continue to monopolize the world's best basketball talent.

In observing the Stern regime, I'm fairly certain he won't stand pat if basketball's balance of power begins to shift away from the U.S. Stern, in spite of all of his annoying tendencies, is an innovator of sorts. To date, he has embraced the globalization movement wholeheartedly -- and while you could argue that MLB had an influx of foreign players long before the NBA did, basketball is now leaps and bounds ahead of its American sports counterparts in terms of international appeal growth rate. It should be noted, however, that this was a calculated embrace. The progressive approach Stern has taken with regards to globalization has been aimed at growing the NBA's appeal (and revenue) overseas. I don't think he will be so eager to embrace the globalization of basketball if international leagues begin reaping the benefits at the expense of his NBA.

Without totally destroying the salary cap system in place, profit-sharing could be a solution. Lebron and others have already shown interest in participating in team ownership, so why not?While in the past I had been an advocate of the CBA, I'm beginning to think it may be too restrictive. The argument that players are overpaid can certainly be made, but foreign leagues (without salary caps or profit-sharing restrictions) will be able to overpay them even more. Furthermore, NBA franchises generate enormous amounts of revenue from ticket & merchandise sales. While marketing has improved and team management & coaches should be compensated for assembling & developing talented, cohesive, winning rosters it's hard to argue that the players are not primarily responsible for these revenues. Take the Cavs as an example: aside from winning the lottery and making the biggest no-brainer #1 selection ever, they have done virtually nothing to improve the franchise. In fact, they have probably been one of the worst-run franchises in the NBA in the past few years. Lebron has quite literally carried that franchise on his back. Players like Lebron transcend the game and sell merchandise, tickets, and the game's overall popularity on their own.

In any other type of American business, the compensation for Lebron-types would be more closely related to the overall success of the businesses they were employed by. They would get commissions, bonuses, and/or huge allotments of stock options. All of these forms of compensation reward the employee (or player) when their contributions positively impact the business's bottom line. Rather than adding variable (and minimal) compensation to be paid if the team makes the playoffs or wins the championship, couldn't some fraction of player compensation be tied to ticket sales, jersey sales, and overall profitability? Maybe not for all players, but at least for the players with the "franchise" label?

I realize this could get tricky really fast. Employing a profit-sharing system in the NBA would inevitably expose the league to the problems experienced by the MLB. Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago would have bigger bargaining chips for the superstars due to the relative profit potential advantages in those markets. Small-market teams like the Trailblazers wouldn't be able to rely upon good management alone to build competitive rosters. The NBA has kept its structure intact to avoid these types of disparities. To be quite honest (even as a Laker fan), I'm not sure I'd be happy if profit-sharing brought these inequities with it.

So what, if anything, should be done if NBA players start bailing to play overseas? Would the assurance of the best players remaining in the league outweigh the consequences of profit-sharing? I'm torn. If this posting hasn't thoroughly confused you, I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Aug 8, 2008

The Los Angeles Heat

It's official, the Los Angeles Clippers are heads and shoulders above every other NBA team this offseason in terms of activity. Last night, I read a headline that Jason Williams (aka White Chocolate) will be joining fellow former Miami guard Ricky Davis with the Clips.
What do these moves mean for the Clippers? Quite a bit, in my opinion.

Williams, much maligned for his flashiness, has actually developed into a pretty reliable NBA guard. Despite this supposedly flashiness, White Chocolate has presumably matured over the years. In 28mpg last season, he only averaged 1.36 turnovers -- far below his career average of 2.27 in 31mpg. Choco will be a great backup to Baron Davis, and suddenly the Clippers went from having Dan Dickau & Brevin Knight to having Davis and Williams. HUGE upgrades.

Ricky D is a high risk, high reward type of player. Nobody has ever questioned his talent, but many have questioned his work ethic. Have you forgotten Ricky's infamous attempt at a triple double by purposely missing a shot on the other team's basket so he could grab his tenth rebound? Yikes. On the other hand, this is Baron Davis' team now. He did a marvelous job of helping to keep Stephen Jackson's head on straight in GS, so why can't he do the same for Davis? Jackson is a bigger hothead, in my opinion, and Ricky's game is actually pretty similar to Stephen's. In fact, I'd argue that Stephen Jackson is almost a poor man's version of Ricky Davis. I'm betting on good chemistry between the Davis' this season in LA.

The Clips have set themselves up with a pretty solid roster. It is lined with veterans (Davis, Williams, Camby, Kaman, other Davis), but also has a few young prospects that are very talented (Thornton, Gordon). In my experience, this type of mix has "playoff berth" written all over it. I'm predicting it now: Clippers get the 7th playoff seed in a loaded west.

Aug 7, 2008

The Artest Factor

I'm calling the Ron Artest trade the most intriguing move of the offseason. It will be very interesting to see how it turns out. It all depends on whether we see Good Ron or Bad Ron...

What to expect if Good Ron shows up

By "Good Ron", I am referring to the player who came to Sacramento midway through the 2005-06 season. The Ron who told Rick Adelman (coincidence?) that he would lead the Kings to the playoffs despite their longshot hopes at the time -- and delivered. The Ron who is just plain nasty and scares opposing offenses with his maniacal defense and physicality. The Ron who is comfortable playing in the shadows of superstars.

This is a side of Artest that we haven't seen much of, but he has been trying to make believers out of all of us ever since he was dealt. I was pleasantly surprised by his reaction to Yao Ming's public statements of concern regarding his character and the Detroit brawl. He's been referring to himself as a "Yao Ming Soldier" in interviews, and went out of his way to sort things out with the Chinese giant the day after Yao's remarks went public. He even hinted at the possibility of traveling to Beijing to support Yao in the Olympics this summer.

If Good Ron emerges and remains focused throughout the season the Rockets could be scary. In my book, they'd have a chance to dethrone the other Texas teams and compete for home court advantage in the West. At worst, he would help end McGrady's oh-for in playoff series. At best, he could help T-Mac shed his reputation as a perennial choker.

Even if Yao went down via another injury, the Rockets would be a tough out in the playoffs due to their defense alone. Put Ron with all-defensive player Shane Battier and a 67-year-old Mutombo, and there would be no easy baskets. In the Finals, we saw just how much of an impact stingy defense can have.

What to Expect if Bad Ron Shows Up

By "Bad Ron", I am referring to the bipolar sideshow that has earmarked the majority of Artest's career. The Ron who flirted with retirement to pursue a hip-hop career. The Ron who leaped into the stands and duked it out with Piston fans. The Ron who has a tendency to be at the center of domestic disputes.

Ron has always said that he is "misunderstood." No argument here. The majority of basketball fans are at least somewhat sane -- of course we don't understand the psychological or behavioral oddities of a lunatic. I know for certain Yao Ming doesn't understand him.

This oft-seen side of Artest has me worried. How can I expect him to mesh with the Gentle Giant and the emotional, softspoken McGrady? I won't be surprised if this whole thing backfires in an ugly way. If Bad Ron shows up, at best they are a fringe playoff team in the West with some serious issues heading into the playoffs. At worst, Ron goes Ricky Davis and poisons any chemistry this team has built. Meaning: no playoffs & no players that want to stay around to witness the carnage.

My Prediction

I've always believed that winning is the best medicine for any individual player's problems. For this reason, I think Good Ron is going to show up. As a Laker fan, I advocated an Odom for Artest deal. The Rockets have a championship-caliber roster, and Artest knows it. Despite his numerous character flaws, he is a fierce competitor who relishes the opportunity to win. The Kings sucked, and Artest knew that, too. Despite his god-given ability, he is an immature man who relishes the opportunity to make headlines (a la Dennis Rodman).

I see Ron's situation in Houston similar to Dennis' situation in Chicago. They are (and were) at the peak of their pre-madonna status, but nobody ever questions (or questioned) the toughness they brought to the table. For the first time since playing under Chuck Daly, Rodman respected his coach. Artest has played for Adelman before, and has nothing but good things to say about him.

In closing, I think the Ron Artest deal is going to work out for the Rockets. Of course, all bets are off if they start off slowly. If so, we are in for a circus, and the West is still safe for the other contenders' taking.

Aug 6, 2008

The Never Ending Stories

In light of the Brett Favre soap opera, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect upon the 5 most overplayed, over-covered, overkilled stories that have hit sports media in the past year. Here goes...

5. Celtics vs. Lakers "Rivalry"
Did anyone else get tired of the media likening the 2008 Finals to the 80's matchups between Bird & Magic? I'll give it to ABC: the intro they played before each game was almost goosebump worthy. Aside from that, the NBA's marketing attempts were rather exhaustive.

Sorry folks, those weren't your Dad's (or Grand-dad's) Lakers or Celtics. As much as the NBA wanted its disgruntled fan base to get nostalgic, the reality is that most of these guys (aside from Kobe & Ray Allen) had no bad blood going into the series. They had barely spent any time playing with their teammates, let alone playing against their newly-constructed opponent. It had been over 20 years since the franchises had met in the Finals. I don't blame the NBA, but the whole rivalry campaign was overdone and discounted the days when the players had to wear headgear to walk away from the series in one piece.

4. Failures of the BCS System
Everyone knows (myself included) that the BCS System is flawed. Most fans want nothing more than a playoff system, but the reality is that the NCAA isn't willing to give up the dollars associated with the Bowl system in place. It's a fun topic to debate, but we might as well get used to things as they are. They won't be changing for awhile.

This year, there was a new "snub" every week it seemed. With all of the upsets, there was a different team sitting at number 3 on a near-weekly basis. #3's fans always have reasons they should be ahead of #2. #4 has reasons it should be ahead of #3. Everyone in the top 100 has reasons they should be ahead of Notre Dame. As long as the National Championship matchup is decided by popular vote, there will be gripes. It's not that I disagree with these gripes, I just get sick of listening to them on every sports show for a 3 month period.

3. Spygate
I, for one, was happy when Spygate hit the national scene. I had always harbored thoughts that Bill Bellichick was evil, this just proved it. I always believed the Pats' victory of the Rams was tainted, this just added credibility to my paranoia. It was fun watching Bellichick struggle for words and look like an idiot on national television. I have no problem admitting it.

Then the Patriots kept winning. And they kept winning by ridiculous margins. Before long, they were making the rest of the league look like a joke. It became evident by about Week 6 that the Patriots were just that much better than everyone else, whether they knew the other team's signals or not.

Nevertheless, ESPN had a weekly Spygate story and former assistant water boys were making vague, unsubstantiated claims about all of the Patriots' supposed cheating. Goodell destructed the tape evidence, and all the Patriot-haters were calling it a big conspiracy. They even went so far as to compare the Patriots' franchise to the mob, insisting that they must have bribed these "witnesses" to keep their mouths shut. There's nothing I hate worse than sports conspiracy theories, especially when they dominate my sports radio on the way to work every morning.

2. Roger Clemens' Steroid Use
Is he lying? He must be lying. But he sounds so sincere. That's how delusional sociopaths sound when they lie. Let's take this to federal court... forget all the violent criminals who are awaiting trial, we need all of America's brightest court minds on THIS case. America will not be a safe place until we know whether or not Roger Clemens lied about taking steroids. Oh, dear lord, his wife took them before her SI Swimsuit Issue shoot! Roger had to know. Roger slept with a teen country singer in 1987? This type of evidence clearly links him to steroid use!

Is the NBA regular season really that boring? Did we really need to waste four good months of sports coverage on this story? Did anyone really doubt Roger Clemens was using steroids? Did anyone really care? Boy, I sure didn't. This was without a doubt one of the most over-covered stories in the history of sports. Most baseball fans put a mental asterisk next to any record that was broken in the past ten years LONG ago, so why did I have to pain my ears with coverage on Clemens' drawn-out trial? It really goes to show how happy fans get when stars are humbled and humanized.

1. The Brett Favre Saga
Was there really any doubt about this pick? What Brett eats for lunch has the potential to be the headlining story on Sportscenter these days. Since the story is still currently in progress, I'll avoid adding to the over-coverage by leaving it at that.

Should the Sixers Re-Sign Iggy?

Rumor has it Andre Iguodala is asking for a 6-year, $75M deal. Is this too much? No way, says I. He's still young and has a great all-around game: 20pts, 5reb, 5ast, 2stl. If the Sixers don't agree to this offer, or something similar, another team will snatch him up.

Anyone who thinks this is too much money needs to examine recent history on free agent contracts. $12.5M per is his market value.

Naysayers may argue that he's not good enough to build your team around. I say he is, especially since the Sixers also have Elton Brand. Brand's signing will free Iguodala up even more going forward -- no longer does he need to be the primary, err, only scoring option. Now he can let the game come to him and put his all-around ability on display.

If the Sixers lock Iggy down, they will be good. Very good in the East. They now have a starting lineup of Miller & Iguodala in the backcourt, with a young and blossoming Thaddeus Young at SF, Brand at PF, and Dalembert at C. Only the Celtics and Pistons (and possibly the Magic) have better starting 5's in the East. The fact that they can bring microwaves Lou Williams and Willie Green, and hard-fouling rebound machine Reggie Evans off the bench could push them over the top in the JV conference. The fact they are much younger than the Celtics and Pistons makes their long-term prospects even juicier.

Philly, if you're listening: bone up and pay the man, you won't regret it.

Aug 4, 2008

Over-Coaching is Dead

I came across some interesting commentary by Jason Whitlock regarding Lute Olson and the whole Brandon Jennings situation (thanks BMac):

"Strictly from a basketball standpoint, a year in Europe will do Jennings good. No one who knows anything about basketball believes Lute Olson would teach Jennings a thing about the fundamentals of the game. I'm not taking a cheap shot at Lute to defend Jennings' decision. It's a well-known fact within basketball circles that Lute Olson is famous for rolling the ball on the court, kicking back, and enjoying the work of his recruiters. Lute Olson is not Bobby Knight."

I know Whitlock is a writer who thrives on getting people riled up ("any publicity is good publicity"), but he's a little off-point on this one.

First and foremost, it's a little odd to say that playing under the tutelage of Lute Olson wouldn't help a point guard's game. Say what you will about Lute, but his development of guards is almost unparalleled (see Bibby, Stoudamire, Arenas, Jefferson, Iguodala, Terry, etc.) -- if you measure "development" by NBA success. I sure do. Brandon Jennings (along with virtually every other blue-chip prospect) clearly hopes to excel in the NBA, so how can Whitlock say that playing for Lute would be bad for his "development?" Further, as much as frosh-to-NBA guards struggle to adjust, most international guards seem to struggle even more with the transition to the NBA (aside from Parker & Ginobili). So tell me again, why is Brandon Jennings better off playing in a second-tier international league than he would be playing at Arizona?

Whitlock's criticism of Lute's relatively hands-off approach to coaching is unfounded, as well. As I stated earlier, it is every college player's dream to excel in the NBA. Lute's players, more than almost any other coaches' players, excel in the NBA. So he's "not Bobby Knight." How many players has Bob Knight coached in the last decade that have turned out to be even mediocre pros? That's what I thought.

So he "enjoys the work of his recruiters." Clearly, the aforementioned U of A stars were all extremely talented coming into college. However, there have been countless top preps who have amounted to nothing in the NBA. Lute must be doing something to "develop" these kids. Furthermore, why do you think these McDonald's All-Americans choose to play for Lute in the first place? Because he lets them play and doesn't try to play puppeteer like Whitlock's beloved Mr. Knight.

All of this discussion brings me to my main point: over-coaching is dead. Just take a look at the coaches who are turning out the most successful pros -- besides Lute, Roy Williams, Billy Donovan, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, and the late Skip Prosser (to name a few). All of these guys employ wide-open, relatively hands-off systems. Go back a few years and you could say the same thing about Dean Smith (relative to the other coaches of his era). It's no coincidence that their players shine at the next level -- NBA teams play the same type of wide-open game. Even Phil Jackson, considered to be one of the more hands-on coaches in the league, often goes long stretches without calling timeouts just to let his players "play through it." It's also no coincidence that players of structure-crazy coaches like Knight & Ben Howland often turn out to be average pros (at best).

Let me take this argument one step further -- my above theory specifically applies to perimeter players. I still believe that big men in structured systems may have a better chance of succeeding in the NBA. This probably has a lot to do with the more structured environment that they play in (relative to guards) in the NBA. It also may have to do with the fact big men are far more likely than guards to have underdeveloped fundamentals heading into college. In other words, they are more likely to benefit from what I would call "over-coaching."

Take Duke for example, with Coach K. Duke gets some of the top prep guards AND big men every year. Coach K has an extremely structured system in place. In recent years, the best pros to come out of Duke have been Elton Brand & Carlos Boozer (both big men), while their highly-touted guards (Langdon, Jason Williams, Redick, etc.) haven't done much of anything in the NBA. On the other hand, Lute's "hands-off" system has produced great NBA perimeter players, while his big men (see Loren Woods, Channing Frye) generally don't live up to their hype in the NBA.

These conclusions make me even more convinced Kevin Love will flourish after playing in a structured system (while Arron Afflalo & Jordan Farmar will be mediocre at best). It also convinces me Derrick Rose will eventually be a star (and Joey Dorsey will be a nobody) after playing in a "hands-off" system. The only thing that scares me about this rationale is that I am practically conceding the Lopez Twins might be decent pros -- Stanford has a structured system in place...