Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Tale of The City's Two Teams

Living in New York, I can't help but become somewhat absorbed by the constant soap operas that surround the two NFL teams that bear the city's name. Watching Jersey/A and Jersey/B fight each other, not only for headlines, but sometimes even on the field for actual playoff spots, is truly entertaining in a place like New York.

Aside: I must apologize to the Jersey/A squad (Giants). I believe I suggested they lay down and let the Jets have a shot at reaching the playoffs, not realizing that a win would've put the Gints in control of their own destiny. Especially when that control involves beating the Cowpokes. Especially when the Jets are so obviously in a complete mess and can't be trusted with control of...anything. But in my defense, my only mistake was that I didn't credit the Cowpokes with enough ineptitude to lose to the Eagles -- and lose in utterly convincing fashion no less -- with the division on the line. My bad. I will never not doubt the Romo-ans again.

In any case, I naturally don't watch Jersey/B play all that often, but when I do, I can see the reason for Jet fan consternation over their "franchise" QB. You're never too far from -- or, if you're a receiver, never too far for -- the next wildly overthrown pass. Aside from that, he just seems to have a penchant for trying to do way too much. Staying too long in the pocket. Not getting rid of the ball in time. Forcing passes to covered receivers. Knowing this, I don't know why the Jets continue to let the guy face situations where he has shown time and time again that he will do the wrong thing. (Yes, we know, cut him, trade him, put him on a spaceship and send him to live on Mars -- the guy's there in NY at the present moment, so work with me here. And him) Long ago they should've installed a count in his mind. 3 seconds -- either pass the ball, throw it away, or run for your life. Quick drops. Short ball-control passes. Put a chain and a leash around the guy to protect him from himself. Make him the dreaded "game manager". That's clearly all he can handle at the moment. And if he can't handle that -- hell, forget that; lesser quarterbacks have been able to. Don't know why the Jets staff doesn't see this.

Of course, that would assume they're a well-coached team, something that doesn't appear to be the case. I read an interesting article that outlined some of the ridiculous follies of Jersey/B's coach Ryan. Things like passing the buck and declining to take responsibility for the offense's playcalling. Either claiming or feigning ignorance of the reasons a star receiver (Holmes) was benched. This guy is a head coach? Really? A head coach is supposed to know about, and guide (without micromanaging) if necessary, every decision and step the team makes. A head coach takes responsibility for all facets of the team. Shields his assistant coaches from criticism -- yet this guy sees fit to throw them under the bus! "Why does our playcalling suck? Mmm I dunno, ask that guy." I'm sorry, but this is not the behavior of any competent group leader. I'm not sure Rex Ryan even understands -- much less performs -- the duties of leadership that his job entails. People focus on his hubris, bold predictions, and so on, when criticizing him, when apparently there are bigger issues of concern.

* The 49ers once again played a game that was much closer than it needed to be. For once though, it wasn't their aversion to the endzone that kept their opponent in the game. Rather, it was some fourth-quarter, let-up-on-the-gas, both-sides-of-the-ball miscuing (yes, that is a word), the kind of play that allowed them to snatch defeat from the paws of victory against the Cowgirls early in the season. The game turned from a 34-13 laugher to a 34-27 nailbiter in what seemed like seconds. I can only hope they were looking towards the impending first-round bye a little early. That it was the kind of let up where you get tired of repeatedly smacking your younger sibling around, but he just won't give up until you lock him in the closet.

Anyways, by all appearances, the 49ers will be hosting the Saints in two weekends, unless the Lions can summon some kind of magic and mount what seems would be an incredible upset. Guess there's plenty of time to mull over how the Niners will slow down the big Breesy later on.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Streak-busters, End-zone Allergies, and other short points

* Green Bay loses, and the 1972 Dolphins alumni host another champagne-popping party. Or at least, I suppose they did. Do they still do that anymore? Haven't heard. I know I certainly wine-toasted the Chiefs on Sunday. That's not hyperbole, by the way; I did, literally. Yes, I consider the Packers a rival (a nice yet completely disingenuous way of saying I am a hater. But, knowing that I'm a 49er fan, if you followed the NFL in the mid-to-late 1990s, you should know why I don't harbour warm fuzzy feelings for the Packers. And if you don't know, you'll just have to look it up; I make it a point to avoid recounting painful memories.) So what to make of their loss? Are the Packers *now* suddenly vulnerable? Will teams dissect the Chiefs gameplan and find the crack in the Cheesehead armour? Who knows. Doubtful at best. Not that I think they're a lock to repeat. I personally can't trust that a team whose defense is as porous as the Packers' has an easy or direct path to the Lombardi Trophy...But what a win for the Chiefs and their newly-installed interim head coach. Imagine, your team is riding a 6-game losing streak, you get suddenly installed as the new head coach, and your first task is to prepare for a 13-0 team in under a week. Talk about defying the odds.

* The Indianapolis Colts win! Off with paper bags! So, in the past 5 or so years, we've had two teams with a real shot to run the 19-0 table (Packers and New England Patriots), and two teams seriously threaten to go 0-fer (Detroit Lions "succeeded" where the Colts "failed"). Remind me: isn't this supposed to be the era of parity?

* I'm not sure what to make of the 49ers man-handling of the Steelers on Monday night. It certainly was impressive on the scoreboard, but Pittsburgh did out-gain them in yardage, and it would've been a much different game were it not for two early interceptions deep in 49er territory. But they played more than well enough to beat a very good team handily, particularly after they came out of the locker room in the second half. Alex Smith especially; he was throwing every which way but accurate to wide open receivers in the first half, then was suddenly dead-eye on-target in the second half. If he was able to hit the side of the barn in the first 2 quarters, the game might've been over at halftime. So, again, what to make of the 49ers win? I dunno. It was certainly nice to see them get over their season-long allergy to the end-zone. They did much better in that regard in 30 minutes against a good Steeler defense than they did in 60 against the Cardinals. (Speaking of which, that game, in a word: yuck).

* Shouldn't the Giants display some New York/New Jersey camaraderie and just fall down on Saturday so that at least one Jersey A/B team has a shot at the playoffs? Give the NYC area something to look forward to in January? C'mon Giants, show your NY pride!......OK, I'm just poking fun at my Jersey/A fans here. Every year their team ruins Christmas (shopping) for them. Poor things.

Switching sports...

* Chris Paul says NBA teams will now be gunning for the new-look Los Angeles Clippers. Mars to CP3: "gunning" is reserved for defending champions and good-but-despised teams. No one is "gunning" for you, because you have no status or notoriety that a team can obtain by defeating you. Teams will certainly be *gearing* up for you, knowing that you're no longer a pushover, and that they need to be on their A-game to keep "Lob City" from giving the scoreboard operator a repetitive-stress injury. But that is vastly, vastly different than "gunning" for you.

* DeAndre Jordan -- one of CP3's Lob City targets -- is really a monster. I'll be very interested to see how good he becomes. And enjoy the rim-abusing highlights along the way. (Incidentally, I can say all this freely, without looking longingly at what-could-have-been, only because of the Knicks' signing of Tyson Chandler. I cringe at the thought of how much wailing I might've subjected myself to had the Knicks not filled their doughnut hole this offseason. Welcome Tyson, welcome.)

* With his unique God-given natural footwork and body movement, I can foresee Blake Griffin benefiting from one of those summer-camp low-post sessions with Hakeem Olajuwon. As much as Kobe did, and probably way more so than LeBron, who, for all his gifts, doesn't seem quite as naturally fluid as the other aforementioned players. (Sidebar: do players pay Hakeem for his time? And if so, how much? Or is this Hakeem's generous give-back to the game of basketball? You'd have to imagine he'd get some kind of reimbursement for his time and effort, though I've yet to hear or read anything specific on this. I'm just curious). Anyways, I'm likely jumping the gun a little -- Wicked Blake probably should take a few years in the league to grow and become acclimated to everything going on in the paint before focusing a whole summer on that aspect -- but I can foresee the second coming of the "Dream Shake" with this kid. (The Blake Shake? Hmm ok, forget I said that...unless of course people actually start using it, at which point I maintain all rights, ownership and pride therein).

* Silly, dumb notion from ESPN's Larry Coon that the "Derrick Rose Rule" should be re-nicknamed after Kevin Durant, since he is now the first player to benefit from it. What's next, renaming the Larry O'Brien trophy the "Boston Celtic Championship Award" because they've won it the most? The rules are nicknamed for the players whose unique circumstances first made people realize the rule was needed. Allan Houston's overblown contract made people want to give teams a do-over on bad contracts. Derrick Rose made people want to reward young rookie-contract franchise players. It is much more telling and interesting from a historical perspective to remember that the Knicks languished for years under the weight of Houston's contract than it is to recall the minor benefits that San Antonio got from amnestying Michael Finley. It is equally more interesting to know that Derrick Rose was sorely underpaid given all his talent and contributions because of his rookie contract than it is to know that Kevin Durant is duly compensated. The nicknames are completely apropos. The season's about to start Mr. Coon; couldn't you have found something even remotely valid to write to waste our time reading about? If you were looking for a clever way to discuss Durant's extension...that wasn't it.

Maybe one day sports publications will create an amnesty provision for weak sportswriters...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ramblings Of A Stat Geek

No, I'm not referring to myself. Some stat geek over at ESPN took a numbers-based approach to outlining a supposed decline in Chris Paul's game, citing drops in both his assist totals and his usage rate. He looked at statistics over the last four seasons, and, upon seeing lower numbers in the seasons between '09-'11 than from '07-'09, he immediately concluded that CP3 is in decline. Honestly, I don't know why ESPN subjects us to this driv...actually, I do. They know subjects like this get the internets talking, and generating web clicks; and look at me, all the way out in Mars, discussing it just the same. I feel baited. But, I'll keep clamping down on the hook in my mouth...

This stat-based analysis is so bereft of logic that to resist slicing it to shreds is unbearable. If you're doing a study, you have to make sure that outside factors aren't influencing your conclusions in ways your study doesn't address. There are a myriad of reasons why a point guard's assists and usage may drop. Hell, the drop in usage rate alone would affect the decline in assists! (Hmm, let's see, a guy handles the ball less, and his assists drop. Wow! Gee, I wonder if a decline in minutes played may also miraculously affect his assists.)

There are two incredibly-obvious factors that could explain a drop in assists or in usage rate: personnel and coaching. In the case of the Hornets, both changed over the years in question. Who sound like better recipients of alley-oop passes: Tyson Chandler and Chris Andersen, or Emeka Okafur? Andersen left after the 2007 season; Chandler was swapped for Okafur prior to the 2009 season...the first season of the assist-numbers decline. Gee, what a wild random coincidence. We should just end the discussion right here. Okafur is no slouch -- far from it -- but he is not nearly the athletic flyer around the rim that Chandler and Birdman Andersen are. Those roster moves are good for one-two assists less per game all by their lonesome. But there's more. In the "up" two years, the Hornets top 3-pt shooters were a sharp-shooting Peja Stojakovich, Morris Peterson, Rasual Butler, and James Posey. Last year, that list had devolved to Marco Bellinelli and...Trevor Ariza. Ouch. Trevor thus far has proven he can't hit the side of a barn more than once a game, no matter how many tries he gets. If you're a slashing PG looking for someone to kick out to, and he's your top option, call a masonry and kiss your assists good-bye. David West remains the one constant for the Hornets as a scorer over the entire 4 years, but guess what? Dumping the ball into the post and watching a guy make a myriad of moves gets you 2 points on the board and zero in your assist column. So, with two sets of roster changes, you have drastically reduced the most effective ways a guy like Paul gets assists, and increased his dependence on prospects that do not. Are we still wondering why his assists have taken a hit?

As for usage rate, the Hornets also underwent a coaching change, before the 2010 season, bringing in Monty Williams. Now, this is admittedly just conjecture, but is it not more than possible that Coach Monty runs an offense that spreads the ball around a bit more? And also, with the roster changes, are you not more reliant on Paul to be a recipient of passes while spotting up for three than ever before? Which, again, means you're putting the ball in other players' hands, lowering Paul's usage? Didn't Darren Collison -- a point guard -- play huge minutes the entire 2009 season, so much so to cause a mild NFL-like quarterbacking controversy for a period of time?

Now, there is also the fact that Chris Paul spent half of that 2009-2010 season on the bench injured, and the other half playing on one leg while recovering from injury; naturally, that could also explain a drop in his numbers. I mention this here instead of earlier, not to bury it beneath factors that are external to the player and thus help prove my point, but merely because I am responding to an article whose focus was solely the play of Paul himself. While his knee injury definitely needs to be noted as a possible cause for the decline in numbers, the point of this blog entry is that you can't just roll out a barrel of stats, like assists and usage rate, that are infinitely affected by the personnel and staff around a player, and blindly conclude that any and all changes reflect solely on the player in question.

As far as numbers go, I can't even give one vis-a-vis a grade to ESPN's stat geek; his column gets a solid "I-incomplete".

Death Of A Conspiracy

Now that Chris Paul has indeed been traded to the LA Clippers (for Eric Gordon, Aminu, Chris Kaman, and a first-round draft pick), we see there was no grand scheme or conspiracy to keep him languishing in New Orleans. No block of owners yanking David Stern by the marionet strings to prove that small markets could keep their stars, or that the lockout wasn't all for naught (yes, Bill Simmons, you can kindly go face the corner and be quiet now). No grand hatred of the Lakers or collusion to keep them from gaining another star player. No lawsuit to be filed over rejected trades (yes, Mitch Lawrence of the NY Daily News, you can ever so kindly shut up now).

After nearly a week of weeping and wailing and gnashing of keyboards over the supposedly-horrible supposed-precedent supposedly set by killing the original Laker-Rocket deal, suddenly writers and commenters are coming out of the woodwork to actually credit Stern for making the right deal. Huh? Where were they all before? It's as if we just returned from the other side of the looking glass.

I said it before -- repeatedly for a week now -- this was strictly about the long-term health of the Hornets franchise. Setting yourself up to barely make the playoffs for the next two years, and then inevitably go into rebuilding mode because Lamar Odom and Luis Scola hit 35-years old would've been sheer and utter stupidity. The Laker-Rocket trade would've forced the Hornets to increase salary to bring in players on the downsides of their careers. There are still people arguing for this trade. What do they teach you Earthlings down there that you can't see past one move ahead of yourselves? Perhaps Chess should be mandatory for all grade-school children.

The person who truly deserves blame in this public-relations mess is the Hornets GM. He should've taken one look at the principles they were getting in the first deal, turned it down himself and not waste Stern's or anyone else's time. Was he not properly briefed on his role, on the state of the franchise and their mission going forward? Shouldn't he have had enough sense to figure that out for himself? You'd think he would be infinitely more privy to the relevant financials and statistics to realize the silliness of a deal that looks dumb even from all the way out here on Mars. To paraphrase Tom Haberstroh of "When Kevin Martin is 'The Young Guy' in a deal, umm Houston, that's gonna be a problem."

Negotiating For Dummies
One last tidbit on the Paul trade: the hyper-reactive crying that was heard from all corners over the Hornets (the NBA) asking the Clippers for all of Gordon, Eric Bledsoe, Aminu, Kaman and the first-round pick. Was that too much for the Clips to give up? Absolutely. So does that mean the Hornets were wrong to ask for all that? No! Does anyone on Earth understand how a negotiation works? You don't start off by making fair offers. That is a guaranteed path to ending up with less than your fair shake. That is not how you broker a trade. One side is supposed to offer too little; the other requests too much. You go thru a round or more of trying to meet in the middle, then stare each other down until one side relents. We just went thru this dance with the labor agreement, and still no one gets it. The trade was never dead or even on hold. We were simply in the stare-down stage, and the Clippers held their steely glare until the Hornets blinked and relented on Bledsoe. While most people were crying foul over the league supposedly blocking another trade (have you ever heard a more gross mis-characterization?), I was saying that the trade will go thru when (note: not if; when) the Hornets lose the stare-down and give up on either Gordon, Bledsoe, or the Minnesota pick. Well, as it turns out, Bledsoe remains a Clipper, and the deal goes thru. Simple. I had absolutely no insider sources to lead me to this prophetic prediction. Just the plain common sense God gave me...that, and I'm not saddled with the type of petulant emotional state that cripples common sense and renders it null and void.

Don't hold your breath expecting the same of the bulk of these sportswriters.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Day The (NBA) World Stood Still

Thursday, December 8th, 2011: this date will go down in infamy as the day (nearly) every NBA writer proved themselves to be petulant, blithering, tantrum-throwing children who let feelings instead of the gray matter inside their skulls dictate the keystrokes on their laptops. The reaction to the NBA's blocking the proposed Lakers-Rockets-Hornets deal was immediate, pronounced, scathing, overblown, and absolutely hysterical.

Yes, I'm talking about you, Bill Simmons, J.A. Adande, Michael Wilbon, et. al. Your yelling-fire-in-a-crowed-theater act was utterly disgraceful. The ironic thing about the whole situation is that all of your writings collectively did more to harm the NBA's image and credibility than you claim David Stern's move did. Well, you, together with that equally-petulant child that owns the Cleveland franchise.

The league -- as current owner of the New Orleans Hornets -- said they rejected the deal for "basketball reasons", everyone scoffed, and the phrase became the joke du jour for the entire weekend. Yet, now the Hornets and LA Clippers have submitted a completely different deal, and suddenly all of you have entire egg factories to wipe off of your faces -- or, you would, if your audiences weren't even more hysterical than you. New Orleans is a franchise that will be looking to rebuild after losing their marquee player (having already lost their 2nd-best player in David West) and entice a new owner in the process. Let's compare what the Hornets were getting in the deal that was axed with that of the new proposal:

Rejected deal:
Lamar Odom (32 years old), Luis Scola (31 yrs.), Kevin Martin (28 yrs.), a draft pick, and Gordon Dragic (25 y...wait, who really cares?) Dragic's inclusion reeks of the following exchange between Del Demps, GM of the Hornets, and Daryl Morley, the Rockets GM:
Demps: "Well, we're gonna need a point guard since we're losing CP3"
Morley: "Oh OK. Ummm...." *looks up and down roster sheet repeatedly*
Demps: "*sigh* Hello?"
Morley: "Ummm...." *closes eyes, waves index finger in a circle, then touches roster*
Morley: "Hmm...Drago, yea sure, take this Drago guy."
Latest deal:
Eric Gordon or/and Eric Bledsoe (both 22 yrs. old) or/and Minnesota's unprotected 1st-round draft pick, Al-Farouq Aminu (21 yrs.), Chris Kaman (29 yrs. and a soon-expiring contract)

Which sounds like the better deal for a franchise that is losing it's face, it's one marquee player, and needs to rebuild from scratch? For a franchise that needs to attract a buyer? Who would YOU restart a franchise with: an aging Lamar Odom, or young stud Eric Gordon? Look up from your keyboards for a minute and take a peek at a calendar. By the time a new owner is secured, the principle players of the killed deal will be 33, 32, and 29 years old. Maybe older, if finding a buyer takes another year or more. Who in the world wants to purchase a team whose best players are all in their waning years, and two of whom will be ready to retire 3 years into your investment? This is what you call a winning strategy for securing a new owner? Please, for your sakes, do not ever try to start a business. It is clearly not for you.

You all demonstrated the foresight of an adolescent child, which is precisely what you sounded like in your rambling babbling writings. Each of you owe David Stern and the league an apology; an apology I know naturally is never coming. Adande for starters wrote another diatribe of an article just today, and included this gem:
"you can't say that this deal is any better than the Lakers/Rockets offer. Younger and cheaper, yes, but not better."
Umm, Mars to Adunderhead -- this deal is better BECAUSE it is younger and cheaper. Seriously, why are we being subjected to this total dismissal of foresight? Is there some website I can go to where people on the level of random internet forum commenters aren't masquerading as critically-thinking writers?

While you all sat in furious rage lambasting the alleged lack of "basketball reasons", guess what? The basketball reasons abso-freakin'-lutely made the most sense. From both a business and basketball standpoint, the new deal they are trying to secure is 50 times more appealing for the long-term health of that franchise. This is not even remotely debatable.

An ongoing ESPN poll had roughly 76% of the voters (over 15,000 votes when I checked) saying the old deal was the better one. I blame this gross lack of foresight and group-non-think on these over-hysterical sportswriters -- well, that, and the American education system (but that's another article for another day). An Odom-Scola-Martin-led team is a team of now with no foreseeable future of which to speak, a team only the most desperate of buyers will want. What happens if shopping the Hornets drags on for another year or two? Now we're talking about 34-year-olds as the face of the franchise. Brilliant.

All those articles smacked of a hatred of David Stern, plain and simple. They were knee-jerk reactions without a moment's pause for objectivity or forethought. "Stern axed the deal? Oooh he's cow-towing to the owners!" For the record, I am no David Stern fan. I disagree with his moves, opinions, and posturing as often as it rains in Seattle (there's a bit of hidden meaning behind that analogy; can you find it?). But, knowing this, any time some new move comes about, I take time to pause and consider: am I hating on this simply because I'm predisposed to disliking Stern, or would I disagree with this no matter the source? Am I jumping to conclusions -- you know, like you did with the owners? Or is there validity in this opinion?

Some of you should take stock of your emotional states. Reading your articles made me think I was judging entries from a Bipolar Essay Writing Competition. Last Thursday (and Friday) will truly go down in infamy, but not in the way your knee-jerk reactions stated. Has there ever been a day that has seen more misguided caterwauling and crying en masse? Someone contact Guinness Book or the Elias Sports Bureau. Yes, the image of the NBA suffers (even more). And Stern and his cronies will have to work hard to repair the damage that you thoughtlessly and recklessly caused.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Annnd We're Off! NBA Offseason Madness Day 1, Part II

My oh my oh my. Was this really only the first day of the NBA free agency season? How can we top all that transpired yesterday, short of a 5-team trade that brings LeBron, Howard, Wade, Durant, and Kobe to the Minnesota Timberwolves? Let's start with a short summary of the (rest of the) day's events:

* Collective Bargaining Agreement is made official; play ball!
* Lakers attempt trade for Chris Paul; NBA slaps them on the hand and puts them on timeout
* Caron Butler to sign with the Clippers
* Celtics acquire Keyon Dooling for a 2nd-round pick...or for the Cheers Season 1 DVD and a bowl of clam chowder
* Thunder unsure what to do with Nate Robinson…but they know they don't him to play
* Dwight Howard reportedly will request trade to the Nets
* Previously free-spending Mark Cuban gets possessed by the soul of a Wal-Mart shopper
* Shannon Brown to sign with the Suns

First off of course is the mega-deal that was...and then wasn't. The Lakers, Hornets, and Rockets agreed to a trade to send Chris Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to the Rockets, and Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Gordon Dragic, and a 2012 pick to the Hornets. The NBA owners, most (if not all) of whom were hanging out in New York (presumably sipping bubbly bought with a bit of that 3 billion bucks they just wrenched from the players), caught wind of the trade, caught a collective hissy-fit, threw up their hands and raised all hell to David Stern about the three misbehaving kids in the back of the classroom. Stern, almost immediately, put the deal on hold, took a while to compose himself after a fit of laughter, then called the miscreant ringleader to the front of the classroom, whacked the back of his hand with a ruler and took away his shiny new toy.

Seriously, this is one hilarious episode for everyone involved or emotionally invested. Hundreds of Laker fans are wiping egg off their faces and cursing the day David Stern’s parents went on their first date. ESPN’s J.A. Adande admonished the league for undercutting the Hornets, while ESPN’s John Hollinger praised the league for saving the Lakers from themselves. And Knick fans everywhere sighed in relief and went to sleep with renewed illogical hope that their prized free-agent would soon end up under Madison Square Garden’s Christmas tree. But let me go back to Laker fans for a moment, who are saying en masse that David Stern blocked this trade because he hates their team so much. Lemme get this straight: 9 years ago, everyone said Stern pushed the refs to let the Lakers beat the Kings; 4 years ago, everyone said Stern let the Gasol trade go thru because he so wanted the Lakers to be elite again; last year, everyone said Stern was beside himself with schoolgirl-giddy joy, rolling around like a lottery winner in mounds of cash and bathing in tub-fulls champagne, because the Lakers and Celtics back were in the Finals…and now Laker fans are submitting that David Stern actually hates the Lakers? You people cannot be serious.

However, there’s an angle to this mess that no one to this point seems to be discussing: the Rockets. Specifically: what on Earth in the name of Dr. James Naismith were they thinking? If the league saved the Lakers from shooting themselves in the foot, they saved the Rockets from dousing themselves in kerosene, lighting themselves on fire, and jumping off the roof of a skyscraper. You’re trading Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Gordon Dragic, and 2012 pick to get…Pau Gasol? Really? To now have a team with Gasol, Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger, Jonny Flynn, Kyle Lowry, Hasheem Thabeet, Terrance Will…(ok, I can’t go on. The rest of the names only become increasingly anonymous.) Seriously, this is your plan for life after Yao Ming? Everyone complained about the 2008 Pau Gasol-to-Lakers trade, but I have always held that it was fair because of the Grizzlies’ stated need to shed salary and rebuild the team. The fact that the principle player they received, Marc Gasol, has blossomed into a very good center, and that the other acquired assets were flipped into Zach Randolph, has removed all validity from all arguments against the trade (not that this prevents the occasional babbling internet forum troll from whining about it to this day). But this Gasol trade? This truly defies logic. Unless I’m not paying attention, I have yet to hear anyone say the Rockets are in salary-cap hell. Everyone has been saying that their stated purpose is to find a center to replace Yao Ming. So, instead of going after Nene or the other available free-agents centers, you trade the only two players who’ve ever so much as sniffed a single All-Star vote for a power forward who’s never fared well when forced to masquerade as a center? Seriously? I need someone, some writer on the interwebs, to explain this to me. When I originally heard the trade was put on hold, I immediately assumed it was the Rockets who balked after speaking with Shane Battier, who, compelled by a sense of duty, called to give a brief history lesson on the futility of building a team with Pau Gasol and spare parts.

From a certain point of view, this trade hardly makes sense for the Lakers, either. You give up the only power forwards on your team, trading away the biggest advantage that made you a perennial contender? I know Chris Paul is a unique talent, but who in LA is going to play the 4, the artist formerly known as Ron Artest? Joe Smith? Derrick Caracter? Hell, why not Derek Fisher, or Derek Jeter for that matter? You couldn’t guard Dirk Nowitzki last April with three 7-footers, so your solution is one 7-footer and a pesky 6-footer? Teams like Dallas and Oklahoma City have spent the past 2-3 years getting bigger up front with the sole purpose of matching the Lakers size advantage. To trade it all away simply to get Kobe the point guard he’s always coveted is not the answer. And somehow swapping Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard isn’t going to do the trick either. Unless you missed a lesson in basic math, 1-1+1=…1. In a way, I’m almost saddened this trade didn’t go thru. With Tyson Chandler all but gone from the Mavericks, the Lakers suddenly turning into a 6’6”-and-under league, the Rockets mutating into the 2005-2007 Grizzlies, the Spurs slowly rusting, and everyone else from Portland to Phoenix in a state of flux, you might as well just go ahead and pencil the Thunder and Grizzlies in for the Western Finals.

One of those teams in a state of flux would be the LA Clippers, with whom Caron Butler has agreed to sign. For Caron, it’s definitely a better fit with more longer-term upside than the aging Spurs, who he flirted with only one day earlier before wising up and siding with the young, fresh and green Clippers. For the Clips, they now have Wicked Blake, Eric Gordon, Butler, DeAndre Jordan, Al-Farouq Aminu, and others; for the most part, a young team with a fairly bright future. By all accounts, the Clips have only begun wheeling and dealing, so it probably makes more sense to wait for more moves before seeing how this shakes out. Caron makes them a decidedly better, if not quite a contending, team.

Back east, the Celtics acquired Keyon Dooling in a trade for a second-round pick...well, no one’s quite sure yet what exactly the Celtics have offered the Bucks for the privilege of acquiring Mr. Dooling’s services, after initially reporting they were giving up a draft pick. Did the “sources” not bother to mention it? Did the reporters not care enough to ask? Did the Bucks not care what they got in return? I can hear it now:

Phone rings in Milwaukee Bucks GM’s office

“Hi, this is Danny Ainge, of the Celtics.”
“Hey Danny, what’s up?”
“We’d like to trade for Keyon Dooling, we’ll offer…”
“You what? Sure, no problem, it’s a deal.” *click*

Whatever the reason, the fact that no one yet knows seems entirely appropriate.

The Thunder put Nate Robinson in purgatory. OKC’s GM is quoted as saying they don’t know what they’re going to do with Nate, but he’s not in the team’s plans going forward. Which, really, seems to be saying: we don’t want him, but we’re not sure anyone else wants him either. Poor Nate. It seems only months ago he was torturing the Knicks' Mike D’Antoni with alternating 20-point breakout nights and 2-12 shooting meltdowns. Then he drifts between two championship contenders, who, after giving him some initial playing time, eventually decide he’s much more valuable to the team as a cheerleader and seat warmer. And now this. This is definitely not a forward direction for his career.

Sources say that Dwight Howard will soon ask to be traded to the Nets. That egg on Laker fans’ faces is about to turn into an omelet. Seriously, show of hands: which of you are prepared to go forward with Kobe Byrant’s medically-regenerated yet ageing knees, Andrew Bynum’s freak-accident knees, and Chris Paul’s balky knee? I just love the hubris I’ve been seeing and getting from Laker fans, their absolute certainty that Howard was on the way. It’s been reported that Dwight Howard spent part of the summer having pow-wows with Deron Williams about the possibility of teaming up. Honestly, is there any better reason for Deron to come out and say he’s 90% certain he’ll stay in JerseyBrooklyn? And better yet, there have been whispers – quiet ones – that Dwight is at least somewhat apprehensive about looking like he’s willfully following Shaquille O’Neal’s entire career arc to the letter.

My To-Do List
Get drafted by Orlando
Adopt Superman moniker
Lose NBA Finals
Force trade to Lakers

Now, unlike most fans, I don’t aspire to speak the thoughts of people whom I’ve never met, never spoken to, and likely have a snowball’s chance in hell of befriending. However, I can’t see how anyone in his position could not be sensitive to how this would look. He’d have to win 6 straight titles in LA to break out of Shaq’s shadow…and I’m having a little difficulty imagining Kobe in a ring ceremony at 39 years old. Not to mention having to be reminded of said shadow each and every Thursday when you tune into TNT and see Shaq’s smiling mug? Hell, I’ll say it: I personally would lose a ton of respect for Dwight (not that this matters any, but still...). I don’t care how much you want rings; there has to be a point where you say to yourself, “there’s got to be another team, another way”.

So apparently, the new CBA has transformed Mark Cuban from a free-wheeling big spender to a coupon-clipping bargain hunter? He is now looking to shed every free-agent salary – namely, Caron Butler, Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, and likely Deshawn Stevenson – to get under the cap? What? Did I just pass thru the looking glass? It’s said he’s setting himself up to get in on the 2012 free agency period. Umm Mark, if you haven’t heard, all of the prized free agents are going elsewhere. Let’s say Dwight decides to start anew in JerseyBrooklyn, and CP3 weasels his way to the Celtics, Lakers, or another suitor who doesn't care if he signs an extension. You really think a by-then-34-year-old Dirk is gonna be enough to convince CP3 to sign over the rest of his prime to the Mavericks? Especially with the Knicks, his preferred destination, employing Tyson Chandler, his preferred center? And after him, who’s left that you covet so highly? I think Cuban’s going about this all wrong. You should just do what you need to do to wring every bit of another 2 years of contention out of this team, and take the subsequent lean rebuilding years lumps like a man. Watch a DVD of your title years if you get too depressed during the time. The attempt to circumvent after-championship downfall years didn’t work for the post-Jordan Bulls, it’s not working for the Detroit Pistons, and it ain’t gonna work for you either. You’re about to waste the rest of Dirk’s prime chasing an illusion.

Finally, Shannon Brown has agreed to sign with the Suns. So now, if the mega-trade would’ve gone thru, in addition to having no power forwards, the Lake Show would’ve also started camp with exactly one shooting guard? Has the Miami Heat formula of team-building – subtraction by subtraction – suddenly become the sexiest plan in the NBA?

And, keep in mind, all this was just day one. What’s in store for day two?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Off To The Races! NBA Offseason Madness Day 1

Well, it seems like the much-promised, lockout-shortened, whirlwind NBA off-season is certainly coming to fruition, with teams scrambling about like shoppers on Christmas Eve buying up the last-remaining undented goods. Just to recap the day:

* Players & owners vote (separately) on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement
* Jason Kapono to Lakers
* Shane Battier to Heat
* Tracy McGrady to Hawks
* Caron Butler visits with Spurs and tweets happy thoughts
* Tyson Chandler close to signing with the Knicks
* Tayshaun Prince stays in Detroit
* Greg Oden stays in Portland
* Mario Chalmers undecided in Miami
and finally,
* Eddy join the Heat!!!

And all this before 4pm today! You get the feeling this just the tip of the iceberg. Mind you, all of these are just reported from various 'sources', some more iron-clad than others. For example, Shane Battier himself tweeted his intentions, meanwhile the sources say Chandler is a 98% lock, so take some of these with a bit of baited breath-holding. But naturally, that won't stop this Martian from expounding a little on all of these moves.

First and foremost, the possibility of Tyson Chandler signing with the Knicks??? I just wet myself. The legitimate defense-first center that Amare' Stoudemire has needed to play beside for roughly 100% of his NBA-career? (Give or take 0.0%) A guy to wipe the glass and clean up (some of) Carmelo's and Amare's defensive lapses? Somebody pinch me. I literally haven't been this joyed about a Knick signing or trade since 1997. For the uninitiated, that was the off-season of Larry Johnson, Allan Houston (the young, confident, and still-driving- to-the- basket version), Chris Childs, et. al. (tangent: it's impossible to convince me that this team wouldn't have at least gone 7 games with the Bulls were it not for Charlie Ward and P.J. Brown becoming impromptu tango partners on the court. The Knicks were utterly destroying the Heat till that point.) Seriously, I know everyone is giddy about the possibility of adding Chris Paul, but please think for a moment about what Tyson did for the Mavericks. This would be big. Huge even. Somebody pinch me again, harder this time. I don't seem to be waking up.

Shane Battier to the Heat. This is sort of like a Mike Miller do- over signing. I was admittedly concerned (as a Knick fan) about what Miller would bring to the Heat, and thought that was a real good deal (for them), but unfortunately, injuries derailed him, badly. I believe that Heat fans never got to see the player their team signed, and that people who railed on him were and are wholly misguided. Injuries happen, and they make you a shell of yourself until they heal fully. But now, Battier? A career 39% 3-pt shooter who rebounds and defends (something I nor anyone has ever accused Mike Miller of doing)? So the See-Me-Three now have someone to help them expend less defensive energy and to hit spot-up open shots to boot? Damn...I mean, good signing. Potentially of course.

Speaking of spot-up shooters, Jason Kapono to the Lakers. LA gets an outside shooter to open up the floor, the one thing they've desperately needed the past year or more. Of course, seeing as how they've been rumoured to trying to trade half their team, maybe they think they need a lot more than that. But Kapono should help their shooting similar to how Battier (Miller) is (was) thought to help the Miami Hea...wait a second, didn't Miami already *have* Kapono, the shooter they needed? If only they'd found a way to keep him during the great Injustice League SuperFriends union fire sale.

While we're on the Heat, we might as well talk about their other 'signings', starting with one Eddy Curry. Hmm. Now, it's probably been 2 years since I've seen the guy, and he's been working out with the Heat for, what, over a year now? So they must see something, but...what? A no-defending, low-rebounding, poor-passing, anti-run-and-gun big guy, to seat next to Chris Bosh? Besides using him as an offensive black hole, how do the Heat view him as an asset to their team? Is he gonna get boards and outlet to start the Wade/James break? Nope. Ward off slashers to the hoop? Nuh uh, not gonna happen. No amount of weight loss is turning Eddy into a rebounder and defender at this late stage. Perhaps they see him as a second-stringer, to provide offense when the Heat 3 (or at least 2) are on the bench exercising their much-ballyhooed talent of blowing kisses to the crowd. Perhaps; not so far-fetched. Beyond that? Hmmm.

Mario Chalmers works out with the Heat, but is still undecided on where he'll sign. Riiight, because teams all across the NBA are falling all over themselves for his services. This is news simply because it's the Miami Heat, which paradoxically makes it news-worthy one really cares. And while we're on resignees that no one else really wants...

Tayshaun Prince to Detroit, and Greg Oden to Portland. Kind of a shame, with both of these guys, more than anything. Prince was such a prototypical championship-component-type guy, a long defender, decent shooter...and now he just seems to be resigned to playing out his days in Detroit, happy with the one ring (and the many years of contention too I imagine). I'd have thought he'd draw some interest from a contender or two out there...or maybe he's not that interested in uprooting and moving. As for Oden? Since the day he shattered his kneecap going *up* for a rebound (not landing, but taking off -- I mean, of the many times you've jumped to get that plastic bowl off the top cabinet shelf, how often has your knee simply exploded on take-off ?), I've been convinced that his legs are just not made for the sport of basketball -- much like Yao Ming. Nothing short of a double-leg transplant is really gonna change that, and it's really a shame, because they're both high-talent and, by all accounts, good-natured guys whose bodies may just not be made for the sport. I very sincerely hope I am completely and utterly wrong.

Finally, that brings us to T-Mac and Caron Butler. McGrady definitely showed he still has value over the past couple years in NY and Detroit. Sadly not the world-beater he once was, but an effective scorer and passer nonetheless. What will his signing mean? For the Hawks, it must mean Jamal Crawford is even more goner than the gone he already was. For the NBA landscape? I think it's been proven through and through that a team led by Joe Johnson, Al Horford, and Josh Smith will always be good...and not much more than that. That's their rock-solid, bulletproof-glass ceiling: good. (And teams that are merely good teams don't win rings.) As for Caron Butler, love his game, not loving this prospective move. Tim Duncan's best NBA days seem to be moving further into the rearview by the day, and once he's gone, what are the long-term prospects for this team? Will Butler over an amnestied Richard Jefferson be the one ingredient to put them over the top from last year? My mind says not really; he's not likely to fix their lack of defense by his lonesome. (It's weird to mention "lack of defense" and "Spurs" in the same sentence, but that thoroughly describes them last year). So if it's not a ring in the short-term, or title-contention in the long-run...I think Caron can do better.

Finally, the most humourous thing to hear over the past couple days in the NBA were the reports that had the Lakers trading Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom for Chris Paul, and then trading Andrew Bynum and some combo of Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and others for Dwight Howard. Admittedly, I haven't checked the rulebook yet, but I'm pretty sure that NBA rules restrict players to being a member of only one team at a time.

On the MLB baseball front, the Greater Los Angeles Area Disneyland Industries Incorporated Limited All Rights Reserved Angels of Anaheim have signed both Pujols and C.J. Wilson? Ahh hell. Oh well, they're the Texas Rangers' problem for right now. Wait, that may be a good thing...I think. Could be worse; you could be a Mets fan watching your team file for Section-8 housing while the formerly-middling Downtown Miami Marlins sign half of last year's All-Star team.

Till next time...

Friday, December 2, 2011

It's Been A Long Time...

...I shouldn't have left you, without a strong rhyme blog to step to...Sorry, I've been on a bit of a nostalgic hip-hop trip lately (That is, during the 5% of the time I'm not listening to reggae). It's been over a year since I've felt compelled to exercise my writing skills, and oh so much has happened in sport since (as could only be the case). No need to try to rehash, review, or relive the past few months, so we'll just all act like I've been writing this whole time. Well, except for maybe one tidbit:

* I've been meaning to write an open thank-you letter to Jim Harbaugh for some time now, so here's my chance.

Dear Coach Harbaugh,
May God bless you and grant you health and happiness for all of your days. Sad as it is to admit, watching the 49ers wallow in mediocrity -- and, in some years, downright ineptitude -- over the past 9 or so years eroded my interest in the NFL. I always fancied myself as a fan that loves sport so much that I'd continue to watch regardless of how good or horrible my team is, and my unwavering interest in the NBA (while maintaining loyalty to the New York Knickerbockers) certainly went a long way to proving that point. But, sadly, the NBA may just be, for me, a unique case. I certainly followed the NFL, paid attention to the weekly happenings, gathered with friends during the playoffs, etc., but there was a definite level of detachment compared to the glory days of Joe Montana and Steve Young. So, Coach, by returning the 49ers to relevancy, you've not only given me back my team, you may have given me back an entire sport. These past 9 years, I've been relegated to cheering for the Giants on several occasions (gag!, ugh!, hack!) -- though I must say we as a world are eternally indebted to them for sparing us the unmitigated horror of a 19-0 season. But, finally, the paper bag can come off; I can watch and root for the 49ers with hope, and without a tinge of shame -- last Thursday's drumming at the hands of an obviously-very-good Ravens team notwithstanding. But I digress. Thank you Coach Harbaugh. Thank you for giving me back my team.

* Seriously, you cannot devote an entire article to the supposed need for NBA contraction and not even so much as mention the economic impact removing teams will have on the dozens of businesses and thousands of people in the cities in which those franchises are located. Cut the Clippers, and Donald Sterling just yawns and goes back to collecting rent money (from everyone but people of colour that is). Mr. Bryant, do you have a job lined up for each of a few thousand freshly unemployed people? I am utterly, thoroughly disgusted that anyone would write so much tripe about saving a few dollars from some billionaire's little side business whim and just completely ignore what a franchise means to the infrastructure of the cities and lives of "regular" people. Howard Bryant, you are the 1%.

* OK, so it's really looking like the NBA now stands for Now Ballin' Again. There's so much you can say about the lockout, but, ah well, it's apparently over now. I've been holding my breath, slightly, since word broke about the agreement, seeing as how it up till now is far from official. But with every day comes news of some move in a positive direction -- the players canceling charity games, reformation of the union -- so I guess it's safe to say...ah damnit, I can't do it. I'm still holding my breath, at least until training camps officially open. Maybe. But for the record, generally speaking, I'm not to be counted along with the majority of jealous, hating fans that openly blame the players for the lockout. You (a player) have a unique commodity that singularly fuels a multi-billion dollar industry. If you think you deserve and can get more for your talents, hey, do you. No one would bat an eye if, say, Lady Gaga postponed releasing an album for a few months while she worked out what she thought was a better deal with her record company. I am certainly not about to sit here in a plush cushiony chair and cry about the "injustice" of losing an entertainment option for 2 months. Cry me a river. The only people with legitimate -- very legitimate -- gripes are all the arena workers, the ushers, concession workers, ticket agents, parking attendants, and the affected businesses, bars, restaurants, what have you, that take a serious financial hit every day those arenas are dark. The rest of us need to go read a book and stop the pampered-child bellyaching.

Anyways, the 49ers are back to relevance, the NBA is (uh, I think, maybe, probably) back in business, and Mystic is back to blogging -- completely irregularly-timed, totally event-driven, externally-motivated blogging that is.