Thursday, July 21, 2016

North Carolina's Toilet Business

Seems Meme Worthy
So the NBA decided to do the obvious and correct thing by choosing not to run its All Star Game in a state where elected state officials decide to solve a non-existent bathroom crisis by frightening transgender people into never, well, using the bathroom outside of their own home. Which basically means never leaving their home. Nice people!

This makes for an ever-increasing unforced financial error for the state, who passed the law while promising the numbed citizens that it wouldn't cost anything to be scummy to marginalized people.

But, um, well, Not So Much.

(By the way, if you are on the other side of this issue? Please find an actual instance of a transgendered person doing real harm in the way that this law is purported to fix. I'll wait here. And then find, while barely trying, all of the "correct" gender people in bathrooms that have done bad things to kids. They tend to wear priest outfits. But I digress.)

And while I find the move laudable and obvious and useful, especially for a league that has to play more on an international stage than something like retrograde North Carolina state politics... well, if the state wants to double down on dumb, would the Association just choose to move the franchise already?

It's not as if they haven't abandoned Charlotte before, or that there aren't other markets (Seattle! Las Vegas! San Diego! Oakland once the Warriors move to San Francisco! Europe! Asia! Et Cetera!) that would be well and truly willing to steal the team and put it in a far more attractive city for free agents, national television ratings, and so on. Even if the franchise didn't have one of the worst GMs in NBA history in the can do no right Michael Jordan, there's really no overwhelming reason why the NBA needs to be in this state. It's not as if they've got any great geographic rivals, or a history of being more interesting to the locals than a half dozen college hoop teams.

So, if Adam Silver and his increasingly proactive ways wants to keep up the pressure on North Carolina now that the hammer has been dropped, he needs to let people know that the ante can keep rising.

Oh, and by the way? NBA stars can do their part as well, by just refusing to play road games there. The Spurs' recent tactic of treating nationally broadcast games as reasons to trot out the JV works here, especially if they call their shot in advance. (And yes, I know that on some level, meathead Charlotte fan will be fine with this, since it means the likelihood of a win has gone up, but hoop is not just about wins. If it were, Silver wouldn't have engineered the end of Sam Hinkie and the forced march to mediocrity that the Sixers are engaging in right now, either.)

Your move, Stephen Curry and your single trip to Charlotte per year...

The Swamp Fox Moves On

Marion "The Swamp Fox" Campbell passed away today, and he's probably not much of a name to many folks who root for my football laundry, since most of those folks don't extend beyond Buddy Ryan. Campbell was the successor to Dick Vermeil, the bridge to Ryan, and something of an object lesson for pro football, in that nice coordinators finish last, especially when they become head coaches.

Campbell was, more than anything else, a decent human being... which is why he kept getting gigs. But when he was here, the Eagles might not have been the best football team in town, in that the USFL's Philadelphia Stars were the class of the league, and had talent that lasted longer in the NFL than what the Eagles employed.

Which is something of a shame, as Campbell really was pretty damned good as a coordinator. When the Vermeil Eagles won, it was with the workmanlike offense of QB Ron Jaworski, oversized possession WR Harold Carmichael, and do-everything RB Wilbert Montgomery... but that offense was pretty pedestrian pretty often, with Jaworski in particular being prone to big sacks and bad turnovers, and Montgomery something of a fumble machine, even in his best years.

The real reason those teams won was the defense, which was Campbell's, and fairly innovative with its use of a 3-4 format. Those defenses were among the league leaders in both yards and points allowed, and honestly... life is too hard to remember a guy for one of the lowest winning percentages ever posted as a head coach, and not for the sterling work as a coordinator that got him those gigs in the first place.

But man alive, is that record bad. 34-80-1, with a high water mark of 6-9-1 with the 1984 Eagles. He went 6-19 with the Falcons in the 1970s, then somehow got the gig *again* with that franchise in the late '80s, and went 11-32 over three years there. While the NFL was different then, and people had more patience for rebuilding years and a real sense that breaking the cycle of being downtrodden, um, still. Three separate head coaching gigs, each one worse than the last. You have to be an amazing human being to keep getting those shots, or to keep the gig long enough to lose 80 games over nine different seasons.

Looking back on his Eagles record in the best possible light, Campbell got no favors from his GM. With the 4th overall pick in 1984, the Eagles took Kenny Jackson, a Penn State WR whose 8-year carer adds up to one good season, though that entire draft seems terrible in retrospect. (The USFL's existence was brutal for a few years, honestly.) 1983 saw them take the plodding RB Michael Haddix with the 8th pick, and 1985 was the infamous Kevin Allen with the 9th pick, a lineman who wound up using rape and cocaine to bounce his way out of the league. Deadspin once ranked him the fourth worst football player of all time, and Ryan once said he was only useful for killing the grass by standing on it. Three top 10 picks, none of which worked out; that's pretty much the textbook method to kill any coach's chances.

But having lived through those times, there was nothing all that memorable or misunderstood about Campbell. He was just a guy who was out of his element, doing the best he could in one of the best divisions in football, with a roster that wasn't up to snuff. He didn't elevate the talent, but if he had, he might have been the best coach in his era. And, well, he wasn't.

But unlike Vermeil, he didn't melt down and burn out on the job. Unlike Ryan, he didn't squander a ridiculous amount of talent with terrible playoff game plans. And it's kind of hard to judge his life too harshly when, well, he won the sane number of championships as every other Eagle coach since Greasey Neale.

In, um, 1960.

It's not easy rooting for this laundry, folks. Or, clearly, coaching it...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Hooray For Nelson Agholor, Who Won't Be Charged By The District Attorney

Darth's An Agholor Fan
Today on the not sports sports news wire, news that Eagles 2nd year WR Nelson Agholor is going to skate on an (alleged) sexual assault case.

Why? Not an exoneration. Not a case where something was judged to be consensual, or a case of mistaken identity, or some other point where we can all feel good about rooting for the kid in his quest to not be (yet another) Nero Kelly washout draft pick.

Nope, instead it's just that the DA lacked sufficient evidence, and won't be going to bat for a dancer at a strip club's accusation that the man did something awful when they were alone. (Oh, and Nelson? Kudos for going to the strip club with teammates, because that's not kind of creepy in the least.)

A final word about this, because it's telling... part of the, um, fun of the Nero Era was hearing how the man was sure to enforce a locker room of moral and upstanding people. The reason why players like DeSean Jackson and Evan Mathis had to be run off for no return on investment was not that they made good coin and were drafted by Not Nero. It was that they just were not Team First, and that degree of Uppity just would not be part of the balanced breakfast of Winning Football in Nero World.

Now, I'm just a guy with a memory and decades wasted on the laundry, with (God willing) decades more coming. I have no idea what degree of uppity one can manage with, with the basic opinion that some is probably inevitable, given the ridiculous numbers that a man is going to have to fade to get into the NFL in the first place, let alone star there. Perhaps having a well-functioning team dynamic is really worth taking on lesser talents, or passing on plateau players. We'll never know.

But what we do know is this. Nero wanted to take Dion Jordan, from his Oregon days, rather than Lane Johnson in the 2013 draft. Jordan has one sack in his NFL career to date to go with three suspensions, the latest for the entire 2015 season, and the NFL hasn't reinstated him yet. Johnson is the Eagles' best offensive lineman, and signed an extension for cause in the off-season, as soon as Nero was run off.

Nero also went all-in on DeMarco Murray, who sulked his way out of town, and Sam Bradford, who reacted to competition for the long-term QB job as if he were too good for such things. Nero also kept Riley Cooper, who alienated the locker room with drunken casual racism, and hasn't been mentioned in NFL circles since being cut by the team six months ago.

Character! It totally matters. Even more so for the people doing the picking of players than the players, actually.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The 2016 Eagles Outlook: Better While Worse

Doused Dumpster Fire
One of the things that we've started to see here in Eagles Nation as the calendar moves into distant early warnings for football - just two more weeks until the games are fake! - is how the roster is improved, even if only by subtraction. No more DeMarco Murray clogging up the works at RB1, preventing the actual best RB on the roster (Ryan Mathews) from getting carries. QB Sam Bradford might be on thin ice to keep the gig, but he's also 12 months further away from his career-threatening knee injuries, and might be less bound by rust, along with a deep desire to up his trade value and get the hell out of town. The team might not have done all that much to make the WR corps better, but if second-year possible criminal Nelson Agholor can step up, or likely frauds Josh Huff or Reuben Randle can give them something, that's got to be better than Riley Cooper and Miles Austin, who gave them nothing. The offensive line can't be as bad, what with talent imports in free agency and the draft, and the defense got a number of good players to fill gaps, and a likely massive leap up in terms of working conditions, since the offense isn't going to go 3 and out in world-shattering quickness any more. And so on.

All of which makes sense, and all of which bodes well for the future... but in the short term, I'm *very* pessimistic about how the next season will play out. For one very simple and damn near unprecedented reason: the division might not be its usual dumpster fire again this year. Everyone seems to be on the upswing towards competence, even if they won't go much further than that.

Let's start in DC, since they won this nothingness last year, and probably felt the least bad about their season. With QB Kirk Cousins still in the prove it to get paid mode, and franchise millstone Robert Griffin gone, things seem fine... but Cousins' WRs are name brands that aren't very good football players any more. WR DeSean Jackson is 29 now, and not getting any faster, more consistent, or less injury prone. He's also rarely ended the season well. WR Pierre Garcon has lost the step that made his suspect catch area and rate tolerable, and hasn't seemed special outside of premier Indy QB play all along. The best weapon on the team is TE Jordan Reed, but he's also rarely healthy, and teams that over-rely on TEs also tend to be teams with weak QBs and high INT totals. The defense isn't that much better, and the ownership tends to drag them down over time, too. I think they go worst to first to worst again, but they aren't going to be one of the worst teams in the league, the way they usually are.

Next up is Dallas, who still has a world-class offensive line, and one presumes, some good fortune due at some point when it comes to injuries to QB Tony Romo. If Romo can't go , this franchise has been all systems fail for years now, and it's not likely to change now. But if he can somehow stay upright, and if rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott is everything that's advertised, this club has to be better, if only because last year's team was so bad. Whether better translates to playoffs is another matter entirely, and the defense is still a mess, but doormat to .500 seems very possible.

Finally, New York. Blue is salivating over draft picks and free agent signings, broke the bank to get better on defense, and still have a multiple Super Bowl winning QB and what might be the game's best WR in the fold. That might be all you need now, especially if the running game is less awful this year, but the big money went on defense. (For the record, I'm not now and never have been sold on Eli Manning, but there's something to be said for a QB that plays every game.) I'm not sold on their signings, but they can't be worse than last year, and after three years in the wilderness, they might be due. Hell, a little actual effectiveness in the fourth quarter with a lead would have given them the division going away last year.

Add it all up, and I'm seeing a 3rd or 4th place finish and sub .500 for the local laundry, which isn't what anyone really wants to hear... but when you trade up to get the QB of the future, and he's not projected to play at all in this season, what you've got is a rebuilding year. Which is fine, especially after Nero's era. But you will forgive us for not feeling too thrilled about the prospect of a season without great hopes for the immediate present, especially in a division where two out of four teams are managed by egotist owners who do their teams no end of ill. The place is on an upswing this year, but in the long run, there's still no division you would rather be in.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Most Tim Duncan Retirement

Leaving Fundamentally
So Tim Duncan called it quits today, and yeah, count on the man to make his exit on a summer Monday when there is as little fanfare and basketball buzz as humanly possible. As fitting as everything else that he's ever done, really.

But the style of his exit -- 19 years, not 20, no farewell tour, after a playoff year when he was a healthy spectator, despite a regular season where he was as useful as ever -- doesn't really detract from his legacy. 5-time NBA champion, possibly the best power forward in the history of the league, and quite possibly the best choice you could make to start a franchise with, in terms of career value, and how much guys wanted to play with him.

How good was he? Borderline unstoppable in his prime, with a game that was all angles, anticipation, and intellect. That signature bank shot, so retro it was nearly revolutionary for its era. Extraordinary defense, with length and anticipation that might have been the best of his generation. About the only thing that you could say negatively about him is that he was boring (winning is boring?), or that he whined for calls from the ref (unlike, um, everyone in his generation).

The single most spectacular thing about Duncan? His back of the bench ego and willingness to work with his franchise to ensure that they were always in the conversation to win a title. From deferring to David Robinson early in his tenure, to the first among equals nature of the Parker/Ginobili heyday, to the gradual transition to elder statesman and role model for Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, there was never a question of whether Duncan was going to do right by the Spurs.

In an era where athletes seem to be defined as much by their endorsements, merchandise and post-game soundbites as they were by their game, Duncan was Just Game. The fact that the game didn't seem to change very much was an illusion, because the Spurs went from winning slow to winning fast, from championships in a grind and slug era to championships in the draw and kick era.

During his career, there's a very short list of guys who can be mentioned in his class. Kobe Bryant, who hurt his teams frequently, either through poor shot selection and teammate work, but equal in competitive fire. Shaquille O'Neal, who was kind enough to not be as serious about the game, thereby preventing the NBA from enduring a 10-year-run as constant champion. If you gave Duncan's mind to Shaq's body, basketball would have ended as a competitive enterprise. Kevin Garnett, never as skilled offensively, never as good in the playoffs, equally committed to winning and versatile in his prime, but a cheap punk out of it. And that's about it.

Extending the comparison to guys before and after his era, you take Michael Jordan over him, because he's just more fun to watch and better at maximizing his opportunities. You take LeBron James over him, because he's never worked with teammates as deep or as good as what Duncan worked with. Maybe you also dock him a few points because he only ever works with one coach, and that coach was also the best of his generation, and worked hard to keep him as useful as possible for as long as possible with minutes management... but if you've got a superstar with Duncan's production but none of the ego, your coach looks really smart for a really long time.

Duncan leaves the Spurs well-stocked, with Aldridge as good of a modern counterpart as we have in the game. He'll pass from the game like a ghost, with only Spurs Fan really selling out for his all-time standing. And we'll spend the next couple of decades hearing how flashier and younger guys should rank higher than him, because he more or less played his entire career in a quest to be as underrated as possible. And it's not as if he's going to spend the rest of his days staying in the public eye, a la Charles Barkley or O'Neal, to keep reminding us of how good he was.

But man alive, he was good. As good as anyone who ever played. And there was never another player who gave his franchise more.

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