Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sympathy for the Tanker

I Want This On A Shirt
So the NBA has been running things in one way -- a modified draft lottery for teams that don't qualify for the playoffs -- for decades now. The act of building an NBA title contender is one of the hardest things to do in American sports, with teams spending generations just puttering around, with no real whiff at contention. Unless you get your hands on some truly breakout talent, either through lottery magic or a great dice roll of an international or unheralded player, or have a warm-weather mecca for free agents, or a historic big market franchise, you are, well, mostly damned.

Sixers GM Sam Hinkie is blessed with several advantages, and many crushing disadvantages, in his pursuit of a contending team in town. The former include patient owners who either see the advantage in taking the long view on franchise building, or just want to slash and burn for equity building. The latter include a cold-weather taxed city and state, with a notoriously difficult fan base and media (honestly, there is no worse town in America when it comes to trollish douchebag sports radio and TV). So he has, with a clear eye towards building something actually special, chosen to go all-in for the distant future, as the rules have allowed for, well, decades. The only difference here is that he's got a long enough leash to do it for more than one year, and has been relatively open about his methods.

Now, I get that it's not exactly a healthy thing for a league to have teams that aren't trying to win, and that the commissioner and league are well within their bounds to change the rules. And that's exactly what they are doing, with proposals abounding to change the lottery so that teams can't "win" too often. (We'll leave aside how the league has clearly done everything possible to favor Cleveland. How people aren't rooting against that team yet, I'll never know.) Personally, I suspect this will just turn into the same thing but with Extra Tricksiness; it's one thing to make sure the Sixers' pick isn't solid gold, but quite another to make sure the Pelicans and Magic (to name two teams that have moved picks to the Sixers for marginal benefits) can't have their moved assets come up a winner.

But the real point to make here is the how and when of a rule change. When I run my fantasy leagues, and an owner finds some innovative loophole to gain an edge (and hey, sometimes that's me, too), I do what every commish should do: I applaud, sincerely and without rancor. It's hard work to find an out after so many years and minds firing away at a puzzle, and innovation comes from the margins, always. We also then finish out the year and allow the loopholer his or her full run of benefit. Only after the year is over, and before the following draft, are rule changes discussed that can close the barn door.

By discussing lottery changes now, with the Sixers clearly drafting for the long term and treating the 2015 draft as if it were the same as the 2014 one, the NBA is, well, unfair. They are changing the rules after the game has started, and whether or not you agree with their goals in doing this, it's wrong.

And, well, they're going to get away with it, because no one else in the Association is going down this path, and playing Hinkie's long game. Perhaps no team should, since revenue is shared and the people choosing to go to Sixers games before 2015 at the earliest are clearly just doing it for future cred points, but that's neither here nor there.

The simple fact of the matter is that Hinkie and the Sixers are trying to build a true championship contender, and are so committed to the prospect that they are suffering through years without hope. (Their fan base is actually OK with it, maybe for no other reason than to prank Ruben Amaro Jr., but honestly, the Sixer fans in my world are happier than the Phillies and Flyers people.) And the NBA is saying nope, you can't be honest about what you are doing, you have to either do stuff that doesn't work as well, or lie.

If you seriously want to make sure that teams do not tank, you need to have a second league and promote and relegate teams. Otherwise, this is all just protecting the status quo... in a league that really, seriously, doesn't need to do that.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I've Seen The Future And It Works... For A Really Long Time

Coming Soon
Going to get esoteric today. Hell, it's late July and talking about baseball is no way to stay awake for either of us, so y'all should forgive me for this.

I've recently been reading about a couple of concepts. The first is what techno-futurists refer to as The Singularity, or that inevitable moment when Moore's Law (computing power doubles every 18 months) runs into the limits of artificial intelligence to create actionable, better than human intuition to go with the processing power. When that happens, so the story goes, the AI becomes sentient and either enables a secular version of heaven or hell on Earth, because everything will have been digitized and actionable for the AI to either cure or cause.

The second is what happens when that level of computing power is tied into the mapping of the human genome. Where this all winds up to is greater human physical potential, either through the strengthening of peak performance, or more effective maintenance of that peak period, so that guys in their decline years, well, won't.

In effect, this is the steroid problem all over again, but with greater range and impact. Because while steroids have clear and potent side effects that make the use of them potentially a strategic mistake (in addition to, well, a crime), v2 will be more positives with less side effects, and something that will be impossible to keep out of the game. (Why? Because, like with Lasix or better surgeries and rehab, this will be technology enhancement without obvious drawback, and an option that well-heeled individuals will be taking to right away.)

Now, all of this involves some rather optimistic views of the future -- that we avoid some hellish new plague, that climate change is manageable, reversible, or something we can geo-engineer to put the toothpaste back into the tube, and that the sports that we care about here are still viable and interesting in the future. But as that's the only future we can truly hope for, let's live in that potential. What do sports look like then?

Well, first off, guys are playing longer and longer, recovering more often from surgery or injury, and setting all kinds of records. Maybe bio-engineering advances to the point where robotic tech gets incorporated into human tissue, so things like throwing a baseball no longer has a clear career innings limit. Or we get to the point where concussion prevention has real teeth, as medical technology gives personnel brain reset controls to get the synapses back in line. And so on, and so on.

And by the way, we're already kind of living in that dystopia. Many Hall of Fame pitchers don't historically last much past 30, due to the inability to overcome a serious injury. Now, everyone gets past at least one Tommy John procedure, and some seem to be looking forward to it for the MPH bump. Guys get paid enough to stick around in any role, whereas they use to go find Adult Work.

The world has already changed, and will do so again, with sports getting tossed in the wake of bigger boats.

And the most  bitter ex-jocks ever?

Will be the ones we just missed out on getting the new tech, and taking advantage of it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Careers That Aren't: TNA, And Another Youth Dream, Goes Boots Up

Lots Of That Going Around
So on the other spots of Blogfrica that I monitor, this news: the second-biggest pro wrestling / sports entertainment program (TNA on Spike, as if you or I know anything about it) is being canceled by its channel.

I don't want to get into the guts of why this happened, because I honestly don't know or much care. I didn't watch the show, and while I'm sure that they could have done things better to change that, that's true of everyone, really.

But what I do find kind of fascinating about all of this is the numbers. TNA drew over a million people a week to watch its show, and that's really not a small feat in today's wildly splintered media market. To put it into perspective, for a good chunk of its run, "Breaking Bad" on AMC only had a couple of million viewers, before it became a cultural phenomenon, eventually driving 10 million for the series finale. If the WNBA or Arena Football got a million people watching, you'd hear about it from the rooftops of how the minor league is on the rise after so many years on the periphery. The WWE has the biggest audiences on cable on Monday and Friday nights for its shows, and people watch this stuff all over the world, with rich histories in Japan and England, and tours all over Europe and elsewhere.

So why is the industry so sick and sad right now, and why is TNA cancelling a show that has to be among the biggest drivers of eyeballs on its network?

Well, the reasons are myriad. Big numbers aren't meaningful when you can't tell a good demographic story to advertisers, and no one has ever been able to make the case that the people who watch this stuff have buying power beyond junk food or youth toys. Since the industry is frequently trading in on train wreck moments and spectacle, you also need to have a strong stomach for possible PR nightmares; even though things are better than they used to be with fewer guys dying and/or getting arrested. The WWE in particular has been on a roller coaster, with the stock spiking and crashing, and the personnel getting crunched accordingly. And this isn't a cheap thing to staff or film. You need a couple of dozen performers, you have to fill an arena, pay the techs and the camera people and the writers, and so on, and so on.

But more than anything, what seems to be happening to me is that a pursuit that used to be easily attached to the strong creation of commerce -- which is to say, individual contracted performers, learning their craft at the local level, developing a fan base before they went national, and being able to drive pay per view purchasing decisions -- isn't happening any more. And that, to me, is the fascinating thing, because we've seen it before.

Twenty odd years ago, I was a singer in a rock and roll band. And so, seemingly, was everyone else. A friend started a music industry trade show, and asked me for help in doing the marketing and PR for the event... and we got something like 5,000 entries for a couple of hundred showcase slots. Despite an entry fee. It was a nice little business, really -- not the making of music, but the selling of opportunity to the people who made the music.

It was the dream we all dreamed of, and try as I might, there wasn't very much that I could do to separate my outfit from others. If you had a hit single, that was one thing, but having one of those was all kinds of magic, and building your own base of tens of thousands of fans without radio or label support was the point of entry that, well, no one could overcome.

And then the world changed, and making money from CD sales gradually became something that very few people did, and even the meager economics of being a starving musician got to the point where starving wasn't possible. There was, simply, not enough people willing to mark out for bands that were new, and all of those folks had to find other ways to make a living. The world didn't need 5,000 original bands, and never did... and even the couple of dozen of "star" acts, not so much as to leave your house and go to a store or venue and pay for it.

That's where people who want to be wrestlers are at now. There's one organization of note, run by one family of at best quirky people, and if you aren't what they are looking for, you aren't going to be in that business. And that organization, due to its history and PR issues and marketing challenges, and a fan base that ages out constantly and/or wants indie cred to show up to local shows or find foreign matches on YouTube, isn't going to increase their spend or time with the lead organization.

So, just like rock stars or porn stars or photographers or travel agents, technology is the enemy of employment, and a lottery-chance employment option for social mobility is being choked off. You don't have to like wrestling to not like that, but I'm not sure there's anything to be done about it.

Such is the way of the world, and man alive... isn't there anything we, as a nation and people, can do to increase the number of jobs that pay decent coin? Or even just to give some kid a dream?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Roger Goodell Is An A Spectacular Idiot

Everyone Loves The Rice Decision
By now, I'm sure you've heard about how the NFL decided that beating your woman on camera is a far less suspendable offense than drugging yourself to gain an advantage (either by mistake or on purposes), stepping on an opponent once, partaking in a recreational drug that's legal in an ever-increasing number of states, getting a DUI or a host of other offenses.

Basically, as the Ray Rice resolution shows, domestic abuse is a false start flag, while everything else is 15 and a loss of down.

First, to the man in question. It's hard for me to really crack down on Rice here, in that he's a RB with serious tread on the tires, and this could easily be a manifestation of early onset worries from the rigors of the role. His wife has seemingly turned the page, and reportedly was asking the most overpaid man in American sports (that's NFL commish Roger Goodell) to go easy on her husband. Rice is likely to be out of the NFL in a year or two, assuming last year was a prelude to the end, rather than some false sunset. And after this little experience, he's not even getting the courtesy cup of coffee in some other odd looking uniform, because no one is going to want the PR hit.

Rather, I want to touch on Goodell's move here, and the legs it has had. The Shooter Wife doesn't really watch sports and isn't likely to be up on a story before me, but Keith Olbermann's pitch-perfect rant made her social media feed from other people, and it's a spark that has hit a dry forest floor. The low suspension length has led to calls for a boycott, a fresh examination of the league's involvement with the pink-washing entity that is the Susan Kommen breast cancer organization, and so on. The idea that a huge group of people who consume NFL product can be so carelessly disregarded stings, especially when these are the folks that were latest to the party, and most likely to leave.

Oh, and if you are of the fringe belief that if a guy avoids hail time, he should also avoid a suspension? Please. The NFL isn't the broken system that the US justice system has become. If you are rich and famous here, you don't get off, mostly because you are going to be costing the other teams money. And when you do that, you're getting suspended. Even if the money is borderline theoretical. That's a given, really.

I don't know how the Ravens are going to handle Rice's return in Week 3. (Oh, and Tony Dungy? This is what a real distraction looks like. Note the absence of Gayness.) Rice has been a stalwart for this franchise for a while, and they've won Super Bowls with him. If his first touch from scrimmage is a tough run with yards after contact, people will cheer. The laundry is that reflexive, and the identity with the team is that total.

But I do know this. The NFL is at a saturation point, and the only incremental revenue comes from foreign markets, gouging the current base, or getting more from the casuals.

The foreign market has their own sports, and no native players of the game, and no history beyond the annual games in London. It's not an empty cupboard, but it's not exactly cup overflow, either.

The current base has been gouged for a very long time, and can probably stand a little more now that the economy has perked up, but maybe not. And in marketing and advertising circles, a stadium sponsorship is becoming something of a bad joke in terms of the intellect of the purchase.

Which leaves just the casuals. They were already shaky, given the head injury problems, the natural fracturing of popular culture, and the plain and simple fact that bloodsport is never going to appeal to everyone. The NFL has been doing everything it can to limit that, knowing that the current base is locked no matter what, but there's only so far it can go, or, at least, so quickly.

So, back to the meat of the matter.

A two game suspension, in a news dead cycle, to a guy that isn't even that much of a star any more.

Beyond whether or not you agree with the call, this.

How more idiotic could they have been, really?

Friday, July 25, 2014

I Love Tony Romo

So it's NFL training camp season, and everyone's favorite 34 year old QB (um, yes, that's Tony Romo), who is severely limited due to two back surgeries, who is coming off an absurd number of 8-8 years where his team loses the win and in playoff game, and is known to an almost comical degree for being the guy who always loses the game that matters, and takes the blame when his team goes boots up more often than a hooker whose speciality is that there are no limits... is honestly saying this.

"I feel personally like I've just started to come into the player that (I) wanted to be six, seven years ago... it's going to be better."

Now, some might listen to this and hear the nonsensical ramblings of a wildly delusional man, one who might be in need of significant medication. Others might wonder if he wasn't already in thrall to severe medication.

Me, I just say this.

I love me some Tony Romo.

Without condition, without irony, and without limit.

And it's a pure love, people. I've never owned him in a fantasy league, haven't ridden his tendencies to big wins at the sportsbook, aren't related to him, and know no one on his payroll. I've never personally benefited from his actions, other than through one clear and obvious way.

I root for the Eagles.

And just as Jerry Jones is my favorite all-time Cowboys owner, and Daniel Snyder is my favorite all-time owner of the Washington franchise...

So is Romo the bestus Cowboys QB ever.

So, Tony? You keep on believing, buddy. Gambling and mobile QBs always get better in their mid '30s, when their physical limits start to betray them. Back injuries are never chronic. Players with turnover issues use them all up and enter a golden time when all of that dratted bad luck that has crushed their teams in the past magically reverse. And owners who take on GM responsibilities, and show themselves to be criminally incompetent at tasks like building a non-turnstile offensive line, always figure it out late in life.

Seriously, don't you just have to love him?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dick's Move To Golf Pros

Not Shown: Shoppers
Yes, I am, at heart, a 12-year-old boy. Anyhoo...

Today, Dick's Sporting Goods laid off 500 PGA pros from its various golf shops, because, well, um, capitalism. People haven't been buying enough golf gear to keep all of these people in snooty tips and recommendations for the latest $300+ set of irons, so after a month of massive mark downs (I, personally, scored last year's Taylor driver for less than two rounds with cart at my local muni), the ax fell.

And it's not just the problem for a single retail chain, or the sudden unemployment of hundreds of men and women who richly deserve poverty for being better at the game than I will ever be. Television ratings for the British Open were through the floorboards because Tiger Woods isn't Tiger Woods any more, and golf continues to be something that fewer and fewer people want to do, or watch. A course in the U.S. closes every few days, and new ones aren't being opened. This, despite an aging populace that's supposed to be good for golf, because, um, well, golf is hard and frustrating and it appeals to people who have had that beaten into them over decades. Also, it helps to be old so that your family doesn't care if you abandon them for five hours and beyond to slug your way through a course.

Also, um, golf is a choice and can be expensive, so, well, all of that. Golf is dying, or at the very least getting course corrected back to niche status, and as it tends to take up a lot of space and water, it's even an eco-friendly thing to root for its demise. Die, golf, die!

And if you really want to know the true health of the game, I dare you -- honestly -- to give up your email address to a course and play a round. The only way to get more progressively desperate and persistent communication, especially if you don't come back real soon, is to be a cute teenage girl who pity dates a chub.

And to this, I say, Yes and Amen and Yes, Please, Chub, Beg Me Some More. I likes it when they beg.

The comedian Lewis Black, an avid golfer, has a great rant about what asshats (um, no, he didn't say hats, but I haz advertisers) golfers are, and how every golfer claims to be a fan of nature, but would chain saw any tree in his path to give him a better shot at the green. It's worth finding, really, because like all rants and comedy, it's more true than exaggeration.

I'll also go one further... I have, as a golfer, as much interest and appreciation for anyone other than me (and assuming I'm playing better than them, my immediate friends) as I do the trees.

The people on the hole in front of me are clearly going too goddamned slow, while the people behind me are clearly going too goddamned fast. The fact that there are other people on the course also means that there's likely to be a ranger twerp tooling around, giving me grief for the lack of a 90-degree angle on the fairway with the cart, or telling me some such nonsense about pace. And all of you other people are clearly hogging the cart girl. She is mine, I tell you, mine all mine. If I hit a ball in your fairway, I need you to give me time and space to hit the recovery shot. If you hit your ball into my fairway, you are clearly too bad to be playing this game. And so on, and so on. Golfers are asshats, and that goes double for me when I've got a club in my hand.

As a golfer, I have, of course, an excuse. In the late 1990s, before my first child was born and I lost the ability to leave the house for well over a decade (because, well, the second came 5.25 years later), I spent a month in Golf Heaven. That would be southern Oregon, where the combination of dubious development choices (build more places that old white Californians will want to white flight to!), low population density and the seasonal lure of hunting combined to give me my choice of 4 and 5 star courses on weekends that were damned near deserted. I'd get there in the early afternoon, pay something like $25 to walk (Alas, I was young) for 18 holes, and wind up playing 36, because, well, the people who ran the course just went the hell home at 5pm, rather than stare at the walls in the clubhouse. The weather was idyllic, there would be no one else on the course, and I played some of the best rounds of my life there.

And if all of you other people would just not be on the course, and stop buying gear entirely so that the stores just put brand new gear in dumpsters for me to scrounge for free, I'd get that good again, and the game could be the best thing ever. I'd also become 15 years younger. Simple plan, really.

So, Dick's... any further sales, now that you're saving so much on employee salaries?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

If Donald Sterling Stays, Does Anyone Else?

Hopefully, Not For Long
Lead story today: the No, Really? revelation that if Donald Sterling remains the owner of the Clippers, head coach and easily hired professional Doc Rivers would likely step down.

At which point you really should ask: why just Rivers?

Start with the sponsors, who would have to be spectacularly tone deaf to sign on to this train wreck if the pariah of America is involved. Chris Paul is active in the NBA players' union, makes real bank from endorsements, and would be welcomed with open arms by every team in the NBA. If he decides that this is an inhospitable working environment, and that his contract is null and void, the NBA isn't going to rule against him. The same exact thing goes for Blake Griffin. DeAndre Jordan blossomed under Rivers, and has his whole career ahead of him; he's also going to stop being very notable once Paul stops feeding him all of those sweet lobs. And so on, and so on.

The simple fact of the matter is that the act of raising this lawsuit is all of the evidence that anyone should need that Sterling is no longer mentally competent enough to be trusted with anything greater than ordering lunch, and maybe not even that. We're talking about a man whose team sold for an utterly absurd amount of money after the biggest PR disaster in the history of sports, who is alleging that the amount wasn't enough, and that the person who arranged this can't do anything. After, well, falling for the oldest and saddest trick in the book, which is when rich old men think young women want to be there for anything except the payoff.

So, once more with feeling...

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver really can't wait on justice, no matter how quickly it seems to be moving.

If Sterling is someone involved in the NBA, even in preseason games, the NBA can't be involved with him, or whoever takes the paycheck and puts on his jersey.

Because no matter what's handed down from the league offices, it's going to look like the league has tacitly endorsed Sterling, and not done enough to be rid of him. That the pariah has won, and that all of these proud African-American multi-millionaires have to work for a man that might be the most notorious racist in the country, if not the world. And that every NBA team is also complicit, since they share revenue with Sterling, and more or less pay him to be in the league with them.

So, not to put too fine a point on this, or go too far into what appears to be hyperbole...

But honestly, has there ever been a bigger threat to the league?

Tim Donaghy made the world doubt the veracity of officiating. Kermit Washington, a huge and powerful black man, nearly killed a beloved white player on the court in the 1970s. Michael Ray Richardson and Roy Tarpley made PR nightmares with rampant and recidivist drug abuse. Ted Stepien destroyed the Cavs and ruined competitive balance in ways you wouldn't tolerate in a fantasy league. Charles Oakley was borderline terrifying on the court, and extended it outwards with the collection of gambling debts. Michael Jordan was the subject of relentless rumors in the wake of his mid-career baseball sojourn, has been a historically bad GM, and ran a hard-line stance that helped caused a ridiculous lockout year. David Stern helped grease the skids and salt the earth in Seattle and Vancouver.

But all of these men were minor rogues compared to Sterling. All of these men could have been, and in the case of Donaghy and Stepien, removed. All of these men, with the exception of Donaghy and Stepien, contributed something positive to the Association in the mix of their misdeeds, and had fans of their own, especially when they were performing for their laundry.

No one has ever, unless they were receiving a direct and immediate cash payment, felt kindly towards Donald Sterling. And no one ever will.

So it's not a case of Sterling or Rivers.

It's Sterling or the NBA.

Or, at least, the NBA as we know it.

Anyone else feel like rooting for Sterling's prostrate cancer about now?

Tony Dungy Is The Worst Kind Of Christian

Maybe You Can Shut Up Now, Tony
An aside: long-time readers of the blog know my steadfast appre- ciation and respect for the Shooter Mom. She's better than me at picking games against the spread, competes effectively in fantasy football, might be the hardest working person I know, and so on, and so on.

But there's something else about her. She's the best kind of Christian.

I've got a relative who has been down all kinds of bad road in the last decade. I won't get into the details, but he's done time, and has made many people in my family wonder if the best and safest move would be to get some distance from him. Mom didn't do that. She was never a doormat for his poor choices, but she also never stopped giving him chances. Something about seven time seventy goes here, for those of you familiar with Scripture. (Me, I just remember stuff.) He's gotten his life together and has had a much better year, and while I wouldn't bet the farm on his continued recovery, the difference is night and day, and so is the amount of relief in the family from this.

Now, I have no idea if Mom's support and involvement made any impact here. No one can know, really. But she inspires me, and loads more people, too, really, to be better. To have more charity, while not putting myself or my family at risk.

And now, we can compare this good woman to one of the nation's most public Christians, ex-Colts and Bucs football coach Tony Dungy.

Today, in a relative media vacuum, Dungy decided that what the world really needed was to hear his opinion about the NFL's first openly gay player, 7th round Rams DL Michael Sam. And his opinion was that he would not have picked Sam if he was still coaching. Not because he doesn't think Sam is talented, not because he thinks he shouldn't have the opportunity, but because it's not going to go smooth.

Now, it would be in poor taste to note that Dungy, an evangelical  and the national spokesman for the fatherhood program "All Pro Dad", had a 18-year-old son who hung himself from a ceiling fan. With more than a little evidence pointing to the fact that said son was gay, and probably didn't feel very supported by his father in that affiliation.

And maybe that, too, isn't very smooth.

So maybe, just maybe, he's not the right person to ask about Michael Sam. Or a man that should have media report his opinion about this sort of thing out of any kind of respect for the dead, since he doesn't seem to have even a semblance of taste or tact.

But let's just leave that aside.

You know what else didn't go smoothly? The first black player in any league. Or the first Jew, Latino, Arab, and if you go back far enough, Italian or Irishman.

That's the deal with being first. It's not smooth. Frontiers are not known for their smoothness.

They are, however, known for the high nosed people who stand on the sidelines and crap on those that go on. Like, say, the people who emigrated to the New World, or who packed up and went West, or who tried to work out a new way of life in any place where just doing the same thing wasn't enough for them.

Because that's the real issue here with Dungy. Crapping on Sam, and subtly making the case that anyone who drafts him isn't as smart and moral as you, isn't Christian at all. Regardless of where you stand on whether or not Sam can make the grade, or if you feel that he's only a celebrity due to a political agenda, rooting against pioneers makes you a piece of crap.

And un-American, too.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

South Philly Crickets

Sing For Ruben
In my routine review of the other sites in Blogfrica, I see headers like "Five trades the Phillies must make" and "When will the Phillies start their fire sale" and "Which prospects will the Phillies promote?"

And it's not even good click bait, folks. The topic doesn't draw page views, or talk radio callers, or much of anything. Because no one in Philadelphia has cared about this team since, um, well... not this year, really. And they care less than last year, and the year before.

People talk about how negative Philadelphia fans are, as if there is anything unique about an Eastern city showing displeasure when they pay top dollar to see bottom performance. (For evidence of this, try watching a Yankee home game when the populace isn't making nice to the dying days of Derek Jeter.) But here's just how low the Phillies have sunk in the collective consciousness: no one really cares if they fire sale off assets, because until the absolute failure that is GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is gone, no one thinks the fire sale will go any better than the current train wreck.

And the striking thing is that, all things considered, things have gone well for the Phillies this year. Marlon Byrd, an aging OFer coming off a career year with a history of PED abuse, has performed well. Ryan Howard got a little hot there for a while and didn't look like he was totally spent. Chase Utley deserved his All-Star berth and stayed healthy. Jimmy Rollins didn't pout or be divisive after the spring training benching. Jonathan Papelbon shook off his first week struggles and reinvented himself; he's been effective. The bullpen isn't the tire fire it usually is, with Ken Gilles actually being the rare prospect who has been worth watching. They haven't been crushed by injuries.

Instead, they've been, well, bad. As usual, as ever, because there is no way that a team with an aging star core that doesn't get regenerated, supported by one of the worst farm systems in baseball, and operated by a GM who seems to think that statistical analysis is for sissies and people who aren't the genius he is, can be anything else. They were predicted to be bad. They were bad last year. They'll be bad again next year, no matter who the GM is, because the earth has been salted, and then Amaro dumped it into the wells, too. .

The amazing thing about this has been the ownership's ability to eat manure and convince themselves that it's caviar. Attendance keeps dropping. Interest and ratings as well. After a period of time where it looked like the baseball team was going to take over, or at least share the crown, with the Eagles, the town has gone to full-time Chip Kelly analysis. No one is excited about the arrival of Maikel Franco, or Jesse Biddle, or interested in whether or not Domonic Brown or Darrin Ruf is going to be worth a damn, or what the club might get for dealing Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels.

Instead, there are crickets, and an apathetic waiting for the end of Amaro, who has a beautiful yard, the largest single-team market in MLB, and absolutely no answers or excuses.

There's a much worse sound than booing, folks. It's silence. And the silence around the Phillies is deafening.

Chris Kluwe and the Vikings: Hammered Down

There is a saying in Japan: the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. It's nicely indicative of where that society is, in re confirming to societal norms, and not putting yourself above the people who pay your pay check. And that's Not America.

The intersection of where football players end and regular humans begin is, I think, found in punters. You've got a group of guys who are expected to be physical -- punters make tackles and get hit far more often than field goal kickers, which is to say, not very often. They hang out with kickers, are as dependent on their long snapper, but they don't have the opportunity to win or lose games, at least, not very often. Both jobs are much more risk than reward, and when you do the job correctly, most people don't appreciate it very much. It's just what was expected.

Since this is the intersection of real football players and regular people, it's small wonder that punters aren't generally assimilated into the regular locker room. Maybe they have regular lineup backgrounds before being shunted into this career, perhaps as a QB that didn't quite make it, or a defensive player that loved the game, but didn't quite have the wheels. There's also a strong foreign influence here, especially with big guys from Aussie rules football or some other sport. You have one job, as the saying goes, and most of the time, that job doesn't seem like it's something that another person is actively trying to prevent you from doing, unlike every other position on the field. It's a difficult one, but it also seems like one where you just won some athletic lottery to win, rather than earned on your own. (This is, of course, a fallacy, as it is with every sport where the sluice of talent is as crowded as it is in the NFL, but so be it.)

Which leads us to the curious case of Chris Kluwe, the longtime Vikings punter who was able to be a bit of a free spirit, especially by NFL standards, when he was bombing the hell out of the ball and being one of the best in the league at his position. As Kluwe aged and the Vikings got worse at talent evaluation, his kicking came under question, as distance became less important than direction and hang time. It's a tale as old as time: individual employee is asked to subjugate his personal numbers for the overall betterment of the company. He does so, because there probably isn't an option, and puts himself at risk. Especially if there are other aspects of his personality that come into question.

And, well, that's the other shoe to drop. As America moves with fits and starts towards a society that's truly ambivalent about human sexuality (as the old saying goes, just don't startle the horses), it does so unevenly, with some regions moving much faster than others, and some, well, not at all. This is where the hammer is put to the nail that there are no red states or blue states, there is just the United States... because, well, no, there is. Regions where change does not happen quickly, where it has never happened quickly, will resist. Men from those regions will make their views known, as they must. And progress will happen, but only on an individual level.

So Kluwe, when presented with an opportunity to establish a post-football personal brand (or, more charitably, when he saw a clear injustice that, as a public figure, he could help to fix), took up his keyboard to work out a wonderfully profane response to a homophobic legislator. And in that moment, he crossed into the realm of More Trouble Than He Was Worth, at least to some members of the Vikings...

And, well, that's just not something you can do as an employer. At least, not legally.

Now, I get why Vikings Fan might think Kluwe was entirely to blame here. He had one job, a job that many think they'd be very happy to do, and nearly everyone prefers that athletes be seen and not heard. Had he just chosen to stay quiet about his feelings, he probably gets another year or two out of the team, and shuffles off into post-football anonymity as that guy who was the punter for a long time.

But what they really need to see here is that Kluwe is, regardless of where you stand on his politics, something of a hero, and completely within his rights to seek legal restitution. Your employer isn't allowed to terminate you based on your political views, even if you share them with the public. They also aren't allowed to create a hostile work environment towards people who don't share their political views. And when they do, they have to pay, and it's not as if any money that Kluwe gets here is going to wind up in higher ticket prices, or a Vikings team that gets penalized under the salary cap.

The Vikings have more or less confirmed their culpability here; the coach in question that Kluwe alleged to have created the hostile work environment, in response to Kluwe's writing, has been disciplined. They've also decided they don't want to pay Kluwe, because they were going to get rid of him anyway for football reasons... but as the Eagles just showed with DeSean Jackson, teams can decide that at any time.

It's going to get uglier, because that's what happens in cases like this, and Kluwe has decided that he has no more bridges to the NFL left to burn. He's going to win, because the case is open and shut. And rather than hating him for it, everyone who has ever shared their opinion should be glad about it...

Because there, but for the grace of a keyboard and words that actually get noticed and attributed to your identity, go you.

And I, with very little interest in tying my nom de plume with my actual name...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

FTT (Very) Off-Topic: the puppy dreams

mine mine mine
and moves every foot
as if running or climbing or hiding
or all
nose twitching, ears twitching, every part alert
in sleep not restful
eyes rolled back and out
his little bellows stomach flexing
his little voice crying
and some part wants to wake and tell hin
that everything is fine and he's safe
and that dogs don't dream as puppies do
as if the passage of time were something he knew or cared for
or that any moment from me would not activate
immediate attention
of eyes, tail, teeth and bladder
so clearly
we do not dream
of the same thing
and likely never will

Friday, July 18, 2014

Wiggy Love

The Wolves Choo Choo Choose Him
The story today is how the Cavs are now willing to trade #1 pick and uber prospect Andrew Wiggins as part of a package to Minnesota for Kevin Love, the borderline All-NBA power forward with three point range, Team USA pedigree and the inevitable max contract desire. Oh, and Love will be a free agent in a year, just like LeBron James.

Now, there seems to be more than a little momentum around the idea that Love would make the Cavs, already the betting public's favorite to win the NBA Championship next year, an even more slam dunk favorite for the gold. And, well, I get it: having three players who could be ranked in the top ten seems like a hell of a good thing, especially when they all (theoretically) pass the ball, and will subvert their will for the grand and noble pursuit of showing Cleveland Fan that winning a title isn't actually utterly impossible.

But, um... not to put too fine a point on this, but...

Does anyone actually know what they are getting in Love?

A year ago, he was an injury risk with back issues. Right now, he's a first team All-NBA level talent, who has somehow never gotten to the playoffs. (And yes, I get that Minnesota's general managerial work has been downright humorous, but you'd think that one of the five to ten best players in the world would have gotten four guys from the Y to an 8th seed at least once, even in the West.) If you trade for him, you just get the last year of his current deal, and, well, that's it. If you keep him, you're going to have a team in Cleveland with three max deals and nine guys making minimum wage. Didn't James just spend the Finals getting his head kicked in by a team with depth?

There's also this, and it's kind of unsettling. James' best teams come when he plays as a power forward on offense, and simply guards the other team's best player on defense. That gets him deep touches in the half court, rather than letting him pound a dribble from 25 feet and settle for a fadeaway three. (He still hits an ungodly number of those, but it's the shot the defense wants him to take the most, for obvious reasons, in that it kills the legs of his teammates and doesn't go in so often as to make you lose.)

So this isn't as good or obvious a fit as, say, James was with Chris Bosh... and the reason why is that he's just not a very good defensive player. That's why the Wolves have slid him back and forth from power forward to center, depending on whether the Wolves had injuries (frequently) at center, and whether or not the opposition had a stud 4 or 5 that Love needed to be shielded from. Love gets his numbers, but they've been in a vacuum and with major minutes, and those lack of wins is more than a little telling, really. If you own Love in fantasy, he's aces; in reality, maybe not so much.

Know who also qualifies under that statement? Kyrie Irving. Volume, minutes, and the terrible state of affairs in the East have generated another superstar without wins here, and another guy who honors that old-time NBA Superstar Detente of Don't Try Too Hard On Defense Against Me, And I Won't On You.

So, let's say the Cavs decide that James at 30 is not something that can wait for a rookie to figure out, and move Wiggins out for Love. You wind up with a starting lineup that can't get it done on defense, and the bench isn't exactly dripping with that, either... which means that it's another year of Max Minutes for James, and to a lesser extent, Love and Irving.

Meanwhile in Minnesota, Wiggins gets to crank up a clear and obvious Rookie of the Year effort as one of the rare two-way rooks, and the Wolves get him for the relative pittance that is a rookie deal. The Cavs, on the other hand, will be giving big minutes to the three guys that they can't possibly risk to injure, and possibly, well, giving each guy the impetus to think about playing somewhere else.

Now, I'm not saying that keeping Wiggins is without risk. He could tank, a la Anthony Bennett, or get hurt, and then the Cavs would be kicking themselves for not cashing in the unproven ticket for the solid citizen that is Love. Waiting around for Wiggy's jumper to settle and get a role on offense without the ball in his hands isn't in keeping with anyone's Parade Or Bust mentality right now.

But if James walks in a year, or two, Love won't stay, and the Cavs will be right back in the 25 to 35 win purgatory that, by all karmic rights, they should have never left.

And if James bolts on Wiggins instead of Love?

Well, the Cavs would still have the guards to attract FA bigs, not to mention the possibility of LeBron II in their laundry.

If it's my call... I don't let James ruin the fan base twice. You keep Wiggins, you groom him, and you give him huge minutes for the first half of the year, just to save the legs of James and Irving.

But it's Cleveland. You know, the guys who did almost everything wrong in the past few years, and still got back Prodigal James.

Oh, and as a guy who already has Wiggins on his NBA roto team?

Deal, Cavs, deal. I want the Rookie of the Year out of conference from my Sixers, not to mention on a fast-tempo team with a pass-first point...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fifty Days To Football

Counting Down, Way Too Slowly
Honest. That many.

Let's face it, folks -- for the vast and growing every year majority of American sports fans, there is the NFL season (and to a lesser extent, the NCAA football season, AKA the SEC season), and then the off-season. The NBA is that thing that people who don't like to see their hated opponents violently assaulted watch, and MLB stopped being even a little bit fun when the players put their needles away and starting hitting baseballs like humans again. The World Cup was either a nice month-long party that distracted you from the fact that it was Not Football Season, or a liberal conspiracy to try to make you not like football. (No matter that liberals like football plenty, because blood sport is bloodsport, and there is no political persuasion that doesn't go for it. Witness how the hippies of Seattle with their crazy minimum wage, pot and coffee mark out for the Seahawks more than any other fan base. But I digress.)

Fifty more days of timewaste before the pads go on for real, once the methadone goes away. Fifty more days of getting fooled by training camp and fake games where the outcomes don't matter, and we re-learn just what a devil's bargain this sport is, from the soul-killing announcers to the periodic life-ruining injuries, from the awful people that win and are good at this and the awful people that lose and have become too old to keep the only job they've ever trained for, or wanted.

And sure, there are distractions between now and then. There are fantasy football rankings to write and chastise. Schedules to consider. Baseball, I suppose, especially if there are actual pennant races that help us to start caring about individual wins and losses. A few more NBA moves and some clear air turbulence scandal (the NFL is usually good for a murder or two right about now). An idiot quote or Tweet or divorce or whatever. Something to fill the mind or bloghole, when all we really want are Games.

You know, that matter.

Small wonder that this is when the World Series of Poker gets airtime. Or the annual embarrassment to humanity that is the ESPYs. I, personally, plan on spending a lot of time training an adorable but headstrong puppy into a more suitable dog companion. (I'm 45. I love dogs. I tolerate puppies, because they become dogs.) Some of us will lapse into wrestling or brain-dead movies or binge watch work from the eternally Golden Age of Television Drama.

And count the days until we get Games.


Too many.

Pound Sterling

No Logo
So there's a piece today from NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who says that he can't say for certain when Donald Sterling will be out of the NBA.

Um, Adam?

I'm a huge fan, honest. The fact that you look like Skeletor but aren't David Stern will be enough for me for at least five years, and your immediate smackdown on The Even Worse Donald will work for a long damned time.

But now is not the time to start treating this man as if he's anything but the walking embodiment of cancer. (And by the way, can't we do something to hurry his cancer along?)

So when you say things like, "I can say with certainty that we are doing everything in our power to move Donald out as an owner in the NBA."

Um, no.

Try this on for size instead.

"Until the ownership is changed, the NBA will not manufacture or sell any Clipper merchandise."

Not enough?

"As long as Donald Sterling is the owner of the Clippers, they will have no games on TNT, ESPN, ABC,, or NBA League Pass. We will also not make their highlights available to the media."

Or maybe this.

"If Donald Sterling is the owner of the Clippers at the start of the 2014 season, the team will forfeit its draft picks for the next five years."

Not macho enough?

"If Donald Sterling is the owner of the Clippers at the start of the NBA season, the team will be denied entry at every NBA arena, and none of their games will be played. The games will be ruled as official forfeits."

Or, in the immortal words of Mike Ermantraut... no half measures.

"If Donald Sterling is the owner of the Clippers, the NBA will contract the team, and declare all of the players free agents. To staff the league's 30th team, the Association will reinstate Seattle or Vancouver, and the new team will play its games in the Pacific Division."

He's going to sue you until the day he dies, boss. There's no way to get around that. So stop playing softball, take the gloves off, and make everyone he controls unemployed.

You're in the fight of the Association's life, with a universally reviled figure that, if let to his own devices, will cause your league's players to have to enter into a netherworld of no-win politics.

Take him down, by any means necessary. Let everyone involved know that you will act to devalue this franchise as much as possible, and that the sanctions will not magically go away when he sells, so that the resale value will stay down. Promote a D-League franchise to take their place. Grow a pair.

Because heaven knows this asshat has got nothing better to do with his time than to think he's the most persecuted putz on the planet. And he's going to think that whether he is or not...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sadly for Heat Haters, All Is Not Lost

Preach, Brother Pat, Preach
So here's the money quote from Pat Riley on losing LeBron James to the Cavs.

"No one can fault another person for wanting to return home."

See that? No Comic Sans, no plantation style petulance, no recriminations or need to talk ill will. No salting the earth for the next big money FA to come in and deal with, either. And it takes just that right bit of nasty in your own mind to hear the condescension, just for the home crowd, no? Baby Bron needed to go home to his binky!

Riles then followed up with this:

"I remain committed to doing whatever it takes to win and compete for championships for many years to come. We've proven that we can do it and we'll do it again."

Um... well, sure, that's what you are saying publicly. And it's not as if Miami stopped being a fun place to play, or Florida started having state income tax, or winter weather that involves a lot of snow removal. The fact that Riles didn't throw a rod publicly doesn't hurt, either.

But Riles is 69 now, and showed in his tone-deaf post-defeat press conference that his old-school tough love approach is out of keeping with the modern partnership approach that dominates the NBA. James and his quasi-contemporaries (Chris Paul, James Harden, Carmelo Anthony) aren't going for long-term deals or rest and vest contracts. They are full-bore competitors who see themselves as independent contractors and brands, not locked to any team, because that's just the natural outgrowth of where the game has gone.

When James' career is over, they will count the rings, just as they do with Shaq and Kobe and Wade and the rest. If he has to travel to get them, so be it; team loyalty is something that the olds and rubes care about a lot more than, well, the players and writers. (All of whom, it seems, would rather be GMs.) The fact that he chose wisely in Miami will, in time, add to his legacy, not subtract. (Consider, for an instance, how Charles Barkley might be remembered if he were just better at picking his clubs. Or how Karl Malone's last year as  Laker is so evocative of his sad old self. But I digress.)

So there is no plan for Miami to assume the fetal position next year. Chris Bosh resigned, and they got back Mario Chalmers (surprising, that) and Chris Anderson. It would not surprise me in the least if all of those guys get off to hot spite starts next year with more touches and a lot to prove. They brought in Luol Deng, and while he's on the wrong side of his career and has a lot of tread on the tires, he's a hell of a lot better than Shane Battier, who is a lot kinder than noting he's a hell of a lot worse than James. At least they won't be criminally thin any more. A starting lineup of Chalmers, Wade, Deng, Josh McRoberts and Bosh should win at least 45 games in the lEast, and that's actually a top-flight forward rotation. And there's actual bench options now.

Maybe they get something out of one more year of "recovery" Greg Oden, or the light bulb goes off for Michael Beasley. They also have Danny Granger, Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis; one or more of those guys could blossom with more touches and minutes. Ray Allen probably isn't sticking around, but if he is, there are worse guys to shoot threes off your bench. I don't think very much of Shabazz Napier's game, but some do, and maybe he pushes Cole and Chalmers. And if Wade can get mutant baby stem cells put into his knees...

Well, let's not kid ourselves; they've got the look of a 5 through 8 seed and honorable first round exit team, at least in a good conference. But keep in mind that they only need to be better than Orlando (easy), Atlanta (same), Charlotte (meh) and Washington (intriguing, but far from seasoned) to win the division and be no worse than third in the conference. And maybe Erik Spoelstra has more to him than that. Remember, Phil Jackson takes the non-Jordan Bulls with Toni Kukoc and Scottie Pippen to the Eastern Conference Finals in what might have been his best coaching job ever.

A similar deep run, and maybe vengeance moments against the Cavs, could be in the cards. (By the way, despite the influx of talent, the Cavs are a lot less likely to have home court in the playoffs, seeing how they need to get through the long knives of Chicago and Indiana, and to a much lesser extent, Detroit and Milwaukee.) Home court matters a lot more to noobs, and if nothing else, watching Wade get in his usual shocking thuggery against James might qualify as more than a little fascinating.

And then, just like the Knicks, and maybe even the Bulls and Cavs, the Heat will be back in prime position to add that Quality Piece (James off the 12-month opt-out, with Cleveland Fan having the Woe Is Us Freakout to end all freakouts? Kevin Durant? Marc Gasol, who would solve their interior issues in a pen stroke?) to get back over the hump.

Again, Riles is 69. Wade spent the Finals playing like it. Your surest bet is entropy and apathy and things falling apart without the lynch pin. If Wade is spent, this team has no good answers at 2 to serve in his footsteps, and no on-court leadership that's been proven to step it up when things are going wrong.

But again... it's the lEast. And a lot of the guys who will be wearing Heat gear in the fall won a lot of games in the last four years, a lot of those with defense that isn't entirely James-specific.

I just don't think we're quite done with Miami yet.

Oh, and Riles might be a vampire. Seriously, look at that picture again. Dude just needs some incisors and he's good to go...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Carmelo's Going To Do What He Wants, And He's Going To Get Paid

Available To You
So the next biggest free agent domino on the board, Carmelo Anthony, decided to take the max money to stay in New York and twiddle his thumbs for a year. The story is that Anthony believes that Phil Jackson can build the roster in 2015, when Amar'e Stoudarmire's ruinous deal comes off the books, and they can target Marc Gasol, Kevin Durant and heaven knows who else. And if you believe that, I believe that I have real estate you need to buy.

The choice seems to have come down to staying in New York as the only guy in town that casual fans can name, and Chicago, who seemed like the next best hope to stop LeBron James and whatever jersey he's wearing from going to the Finals as the lEastern representative. Especially now that they've got Pau Gasol to be a better big option than Carlos Boozer. I kind of love the Bulls now, with Joakim Noah joining Gasol to give them spectacular passing bigs, and the dreamer's chance that Derrick Rose won't explode in a stiff breeze. Toss the underrated Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson into the mix, and the always scheming Tom Thibodeau, and you've got some hope that Thibs will squander by not developing a bench. The East is special that way, really.

But to be honest, I always had a hard time imagining that Anthony was going to go to a defense-first team and smaller media market, along with uprooting his family and leaving an ancestral home where people don't, well, call him on loafing on defense and jacking up a ton of shots. If this man really cared about winning, you'd have to think that he'd have done more of it by now.

My biggest issue here is all of the happy horseflop about how this makes the Knicks a better destination for future FAs of note. There's one other thing that needs to be said here: if the Knicks are such a premier free agent destination, why is it that they don't really get them? LeBron James has had two chances to come to Manhattan, and never seriously considered it either time. Chris Bosh never had his name linked to the Knicks. No one's talked about how Anthony has been able to recruit guys to come here. You'd have to think that Pau Gasol would have taken a call from Phil Jackson, or that they would have had an interest in Dwight Howard a few years back, or Luol Deng, or Kevin Love, and so on, and so on.

The biggest names in the NBA want nothing to do with the Knicks, because, um, they aren't stupid. James Dolan is one of the bigger ownership minuses in the NBA, especially now that Donald Sterling is presumed gone, and the franchise's constant dalliance with Isiah Thomas, tabloid headlines and a coaching merry-go-round isn't going away just because some aging well-paid GM part-timer is on the scene to start a book club. This is still a cold place in the winter and an expensive one all year. Anthony took the cash and didn't run, and will live off the good will brought by this act of max cash loyalty to another jack-tastic year of not making anyone around him better.

Oh, and by the way? For all of the machinations back in the media-heavy East, San Antonio has lost no one in free agency. Tim Duncan didn't retire, Boris Diaw and Paddy Mills resigned, and Gregg Popovich decided to stick around. They just won the NBA Title going away, with historic beatdowns of Portland and Miami, and no one in the West has gotten drastically better in free agency to make their road to the Finals harder. So, short of age or injury or disinterest or Pops suddenly developing an unnatural love for Marco Belinelli, whoever wins in the East isn't going to win in the Finals, because the Spurs are really just too smart to pin their future championship hopes on overrated ball hogs.

But by all means, New York, keep telling yourself that every thing is going to be fine, and that the next crop of FAs is coming your way. It's more fun than the truth, which is that Jackson isn't cooking with gas any more, and that Anthony cares more about making money than winning championships.

Play me out, Tom...

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Worried Yet, Cleveland?

News today that after the very best day of Cavalier Fan's Life -- the return of the once and future King. LeBron James -- that's there's a turd in the punch bowl. It's the fact, brushed aside for now but certain to come back with a vengeance later, that his deal is only for two years, and he can opt out after a year.

Honest. One year.

And sure, James is committed to Cleveland, and he's written that lovely piece of PR for Sports Illustrated about going home, and look at all that young talent that he's going to mentor!

For, well, at least a year. Twelve good months of mentoring. And training camp doesn't start until October, and the season can end in April, so maybe eight months of mentoring. Quality mentoring.

Assuming, of course, that his new criminally inexperienced at the NBA level coach doesn't run into any issues. Assuming, of course, that Kyrie Irving, who has helped no one get better in his presence despite being a point guard, doesn't have a problem sharing the ball and the play making, and starts actually hitting open catch and shoot jumpers. (He was the second-worst guard in the NBA at that, by the way, in 2013-14. Whoops.) Assuming, of course, that Irving stays healthy, which he hasn't, um, quite so much. Point guards being like that, seemingly.

And that all of those young forwards -- Tristan Thomposn, Anthony Bennett, I'm looking at you -- figure out how to play in a situation where your touches are borderline accidental. Or that your young guards -- Anthony Wiggins, Dion Waiters -- stick around and figure out a role, assuming they all don't go out the door for another star, since the rumors are all about Minnesota loading out Kevin Love before he walks. (In all likelihood, to Golden State.)

Now, I get that the lEast is the place to be to get good fast, and that your path to the Finals is immensely easier in the JV Conference. But note that even veteran talent with Miami, with what turned out to be one of the best coaches in the NBA, didn't work out in Year One. Note also that when things worked in Miami, it was because of outstanding defense across the board. James can defend anyone on the floor, Dwyane Wade when healthy was the best shot blocking 2-guard in the history of the Association, and Chris Bosh was the rare big who could stay on the floor and close out on three point shooters late. This Cleveland team, as currently constituted, has three plus defenders -- James, Wiggins and Anderson Varejao -- and then no one that's even average. (As I'm writing this, the Cavs just got Brendan Haywood from Charlotte, who is probably still OK at defense, given that he's still in the league and was never good at offense. But I digress.)

It takes time to gel as a team in the Association. You can short-circuit that with vets in their prime, as James did with the Heat, and Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen did with the Celtics. With a young team, you usually have to build to it, with losses in deeper and deeper rounds before getting your ring. There's also what happens if James gets his security blanket aging shooters to come to Ohio (Mike Miller, Ray Allen), and if those guys succumb to age and don't work out.

James is 30, with the most miles on his knees ever for a 30-year-old. He wants rings, which means staying in the East. He's repaired his good guy image (as if anyone with a functioning brain was ready to go down the heel-face path of Story Not Game, but that is the world we live in), and he's made the Cavs the early dumb money pick to win the Championship next year. He's the best player in the world, and he should make the Finals, so, well, yeah.

But with the Bulls adding Pau Gasol and (maybe) a healthy Derrick Rose, and no change to the coaching situation, you have to think they will be better than the Cavs for a while. Washington has more time together and a better point guard in John Wall, and it's not like Bradley Beal's terrible. Indiana could be good again, especially if they can figure things out how to get First Half of 2013 Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson back. Toronto and Brooklyn and (yeesh) New York are all swinging at it, and there are some secondary free agents out there that could make a difference. With the exception of Playing For The Glorious Future in Philly, there isn't an obvious tank team in the lEast any more. It's going to be better and more wide-open, which means that those 40 minute per game road trips are going to be with James for a while more.

And if it doesn't go well right away, or the Cavs misfire on what appear to be very necessary moves in the immediate future?

James can walk again. In twelve months.

That's the thing about Going Home. Once you've left once, you know you can do it again.

And so does everyone else.

(But then again, I never thought James would leave Miami. And I'm also wondering why Heat Fan isn't blaming Pat Riley, along with James...)

Friday, July 11, 2014

What LeBron's Decision Really Means

Beatdown Imminent
So I've been grinding away on a lot of different things for the past few weeks. There's been two major house projects (painting the Shooter Kids bedrooms, which takes about 5 to 10X longer than estimated), big personal trauma from the passing of a pet, time spent training a new puppy, a lot of personal training because all of that went to the side for a little while during the above...

And so the only sports I've watched are World Cup games, and wrap-up shows ("Olbermann", mostly) that talk about how everyone is going batshit gonzo nutso over how LeBron James has had the temerity to take a long time to figure out where he's going to go with his next contract.

So, in other words, nothing has happened yet. Which is driving everyone crazy, because Something Has To Happen, and Not Knowing is Intolerable. Unless, well, you are a fan of an NBA team that has no chance at James, at which point this hasn't mattered at all.

I root for the Sixers, the owners of the longest-term plan in the history of the Association. By the time my team is ready to make serious noise, James will be 32 at least, and since he didn't go to college and plays some of the most and hardest minutes in the league, with constant deep playoff runs, it's going to be more like 35. He'll still be one of the best players in the world, but no one will think he's still *the* best, because, well, Father Time is undefeated.

I also think he knows this, and even more than wanting to win more rings and try to catch Michael Jordan in the mythical pursuit of Best To Ever Play...

Well, I think he wants to get paid. First. For the biggest amount possible, because there really isn't anyone who should get paid more than him. And then, and only then, will he think very hard about rings, because rings matter more to the rubes than the players.

Tangent time. Because it's on late at night when my world slows down, I'm prone to putting on pro wrestling. One of the guys I like to watch in the WWE is a character by the name of Damian Sandow. He's a low-grade heel who never wins, but he's got a nice way on the mic to draw hate out of crowds, and I've always enjoyed that as a party trick of writing. His current gimmick is to be something local to every town they visit, so when they were in Indiana, he wore a LeBron James jersey, and do on. So he comes out in some bad costume, gets booed for a few minutes, takes the mic to make it worse, and then some tedious hero comes out and cleans his clock.

Now, there are literally thousands of guys, all over the world, that would cut their mothers for Sandow's job. They spend their days in sad little gyms, in front of very few people, with little to no television coverage, for a pittance, all while taking the same kind of punishment. And on some level, Sandow's existence seems sad; nothing but a comedy role, the same kind of nonsense every week, quite aware that you are only in it for the money. But, of course, the money's fantastic.

Which brings me back to James. He's got two rings. So long as he says in the East, he's going to have a good shot at adding one or two more in the next few years, no matter whether he's in Miami or Cleveland. (I'm presuming that these are the only two realistic places for him at this point, and that Carmelo Anthony is just having his small little sad measure of fun by drawing out the possibility that they could team up.)

Oh, and this noise about how the guys who really want to win are taking less money to show you their commitment? Well, then, why not take no money at all? Hell, why not pay the team for the privilege of playing?

Seriously... there is no better management gig in sports than to be an NBA owner. The public is ready to throw the stars under the bus if they get paid. You can amnesty out your worst mistakes. If you gut the club and tank for all that you are worth, the smarks in the audience will applaud you, even if it is more of a smash and grab for revenue sharing, rather than an actual attempt to build a true contender. And if you mishandle a generational talent, people will turn on said talent if he leaves for greener pastures, and you can try to get him back with the fruits of your terrible tanking, lottery aided roster.

Personally, I think James takes a max deal for just two years and stays in Miami. I think the drawn-out nature of the decision is because he's not in love with either option, and that he'd stay with the Heat a lot faster if he thought Dwyane Wade was going to recover... but that he's also not convinced that the Cavs' talent isn't toxic. So you sign for a short time, snap your fingers to get Chris Bosh to not take the Houston offer, enjoy the passing contributions of Josh McRoberts, and hope like hell that the collection of longshot bench talent (Danny Granger, Greg Oden, Shabazz Napier) shakes out to something useful, or that Wade isn't spent. Even if he is, you are probably in the Finals next June with just a little luck, because McRoberts is going to help him a lot, and having James on the roster will always attract a handful of talented guys who want to spend a year shooting open threes and going to the playoffs.

But, well, all of that could have been figured out days ago. So what's the delay?

Well, maybe James just enjoys having the league twist in the wind. Maybe he enjoys knowing that Pat Riley and Dan Gilbert are both going a little insane from this. Maybe there's fun in just torturing ESPN and all of the Twitterverse.

However, there's a really simple way around all of this, folks.

Just, um, find something else to think about.

Honestly, there are plenty of things to think about...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Top 10 reasons to root for Germany in the World Cup Final

Werner Herzog's Happy Face
10) Gutting Argentina like a trout is the least they can do for Brazil after that historic beatdown

9) It makes everyone involved with the U.S. team feel so much better about that 1-0 loss in group play

8) Would help more people in the U.S. admit to their true heritage, because, um, that kind of didn't happen for a few decades here

7) If you hate this sport and the attention it's been getting, they are doing all they can to make everyone forget how close and exciting this tournament has been

6) Those Argentinian bastards have no right to the Falkland Islands

5) They've had dozens of years without a World Cup win, and with way too much David Hasslehoff

4) If they win, we get Happy Werner Herzog, which is to say the strangest Werner Herzog there is

3) Have actually been the best team in the tournament to date, and it's always kind of nice when the best team wins one of these things, rather than just the luckiest

2) Validates Jurgen Klinsman's strategy of sweet talking the sons of U.S. soldiers in Germany

1) When Germans don't get what they want, Bad Things Happen

Top 10 reasons to root for Argentina in the World Cup Final

Too Late, We're Crying
10) Gives every future host country a clear and intense warning about how the FIFA Money Rape might not be the end of their misery

9) Lionel Messi seems to be the only star goal scorer in futbol who isn't someone you want to beat to death with a claw hammer

8) Might help more people in the U.S. learn where Argentina is

7) Honestly, have every right to the Malvinas Islands

6) If you hate this sport and the attention it's been getting, yesterday's 0-0 win should have made you very, very happy

5) If this team wins, that cheating bastard Diego Maradona might finally be relegated to something less than Absolute Local Deity status

4) Actually play spectacularly effective defense, unlike many of the teams in this tournament

3) America First kind of implies South America, too

2) If they win, they might finally become known for something more than "Evita"

1) Rooting for Germany is like rooting for the house at a casino, machines against nature, and the onset of winter and age

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Top 10 takeaways from Germany's win over Brazil

Oh Dear
10) It's good that Brazil had home field advantage, or this could have gotten ugly

9) When Brazil gets waxed, it really is an unforgettable experience

8) Shockingly, the country has proven very accommodating to visiting Germans

7) Germany really has to be concerned about how their players have used up all of their goal scoring celebrations before the final

6) On some level, this has to be better than losing in penalty kicks

5) U.S. fans are feeling a lot better about their team's 1-0 loss to the Deutchlanders

4) Brazil's fans have to feel a lot better about spending billions and billions of dollars on stadiums and FIFA bribes to hos the Cup now

3) If only Brazil had been healthy and little luckier, they might lost this game by less than a historic margin

2) Brazil gave up more goals in this game than they did in the last three World Cup tournaments, which just goes to show how they were really overdue for a beatdown

1) The home team gets to try to redeem themselves in the third place game later this week, which reminds us just how dumb it is to play a third-place game

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Top 10 reasons why the Cavs think they have a shot at signing free agent LeBron James

Reason #11: These Swell Duds
10) Lots of people move back to Cleveland after they go to Florida

9) People in Las Vegas are betting on this to happen, and people who make bets in sports books are rarely wrong

8) James really wants to spend his post-prime years grooming young players

7) They'll let him have his old number and everything

6) James hasn't bust out laughing at the idea, and he'd never play one team off the other to enhance his leverage, or just to be a douche

5) Gives James the chance to humiliate the next LeBron, Andrew Wiggins, on a daily basis in practice

4) Dan Gilbert took down that mean comic sans letter from the Cavs' web site, so James can no longer be certain that happened

3) He really misses playing with Sideshow Anderson Varejao

2) Is sure that Kyrie Irving will pass him the ball, unlike everyone else on the roster

1) This is the same organization that took Anthony Bennett at #1 and DNP-CD'd him a ton last year, so it's not like we're drowning in wisdom here

Sunday, July 6, 2014

When Oakland Makes A Trade, It's All About Detroit, Says Detroit

Velocity Down, Hubris Up
One of the very best things about MLB in 2014 bas been watching my least favorite player, Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander, become ordinary and worse. He was bad for most of 2013, at least after I traded for him in fantasy, but righted the ship just in time to end my A's for the second straight year in the playoffs. It was as if he's spent the last two years on a personal mission to destroy my happiness in real and fake baseball.

So the A's, currently the best team in baseball by won-loss record, decided to bolster a starting rotation that's been buttressed by guys who are likely to regress in the second half, and filled with lots of guys with injury issues. So they took on two quality SPs from the Cubs in Jeff Samardzjia and Jason Hammel. The cost were three low-cost prospects, including the team's best middle infield hopeful, and some quality arms. It's basically a classic current assets for future assets move, and one that's likely to help them in a playoff series.

Now, the team with the second-best record in the AL is the LA Angels. They also have the second best run differential, which is a pretty significant indicator of future performance. And the third best team in the AL by that metric is surprising Seattle; both of those clubs are basically a hot week or two away from unseating Oakland in the West and putting them in the lottery life that is the wild-card in a dual-team system.

But do you know who the A's really made this trade for? Detroit. At least, if you are Verlander, who really is all that kind of obnoxious, really. Here's the money quote:

"I found it very interesting," Verlander told reporters Saturday, according to "Really, when I saw that trade, I thought that they made that trade for us. No doubt about it in my mind."

And then, after realizing just how awful that sounded, he backtracked.

"I think a lot of factors had to do with why they did it," he said. "Obviously, October's the main one, not necessarily us, but October in general."

In reality, of course, the A's haven't done anything while thinking of Detroit. Neither Hammel nor Samardzija are Miguel Cabrera stoppers, and honestly, as an A's fan, I worry about that guy a lot more than I do about a guy with a 4.7 ERA and 1.5 WHIP. Holding off the Angels and Mariners with a rotation that, even while bolstered, still has to wonder about the effect of higher innings on Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez. As good as the A's have been at the stick and in the field, it's still really easy to go into a tailspin if the rotation fails, and this is, clearly, the best division in the AL now. They were overwhelming favorites to go to the playoffs before, but with this move, I'm sleeping easier.

Oh, and one final thing. Run differential for Detroit? Just +28, tied for fourth in the AL with Toronto, just 13 better than the upstart Royals, 4 back in the Central as I write this. Of course, if they get to the playoffs, the Tigers are dangerous with a rotation that features Rick Porcello, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer.

And if they need to go to a fourth starter? Drew Smyly has been surprising stable. All of these guys have dramatically better numbers than Verlander.

So if the A's are making deals in relation to Detroit?

Then they really should have done that in 2012 or 2013, when the Tigers were much bigger threats than now...

Friday, July 4, 2014

FTT Off-Topic: The Worst Day

Not sports, just doing some therapy here. Move along or not.

I've had dogs most of my life, and I just turned 45 last month. They were always around when I was a kid, and it wasn't until I was a teenager that they became memorable and permanent, or at least as permanent as dogs go.

Brandy, I got when I was in middle school, in a terrible year of transition, and I chose him over another puppy in an either/or trial on Christmas Eve. It was my Christmas present, and I chose the right dog. He lived until a very ripe old age with my mother, and is, to date, her last dog. I don't think she's gotten over his passing, or at the very least, can't imagine another animal around that isn't him. He was that good of a dog, and we're that kind of people. They are family members to us.

Dylan was my college to mid-'30s dog. A purebred Keeshond bought before the Internet would tell you that the breed was all wrong for a transitory college student and 20s musician, he was beloved but problematic, mostly because the breed wants to look after children, and I didn't provide him that experience until well into his later years. He's the first dog I had to put down.

Bogart was a stray beagle we found on a cold Thanksgiving night in a parking lot. I've always been partial to beagles, and she was a sweetheart. Dumb as a box of rocks, followed her nose anywhere, but gentle and didn't bay. She stayed with us for the better part of a decade until she just somehow wandered off from a familiarity brings lax security experience, and we searched for her for a week and put up posters to no avail. We had her micro-chipped, but that didn't matter either. I'm of the mind that she found some other family that fed her, because that was kind of her personality. She was adorable, but she was anybody's dog.

Chihiro (Japanese for white) was a misfire. A small and yappy cute dog for the kids, she didn't really bond with anyone and wound up going to a relative who wanted her. The plain and simple of it is that not every dog is right for you, and in those instances, you have to do what's right for the animal. Living with us was not that.

And then there was Milo, a Norwegian elkhound and Labrador mix that was damn near everyone's idea of the perfect dog. It took a long time for me to come around to dog ownership again; I've taken the losses hard. Milo was, well, magic. Training him happened so quickly we couldn't believe the luck. He was the best car dog ever. He could be gentle with the kids, or rough house, or mellow, all whenever it was most appropriate. He loved to play ball, but not so much that he was obnoxious about it. He'd talk like a Wookie, with an incredible assortment of verbal variety. He'd dance around on two legs with ease. He could catch frisbees and balls really well, and the amount of personal destruction and bad behavior was infinitesimal. If he ever did get on your nerves, he'd just look at you with his impossible to resist eyes and eternally expressive crooked ears, and you'd just forgive him instantly. He'd be with the youngest for stories, sleep with the eldest in the early evening, and then saunter on down to my room for the rest of the night. There wasn't ever a day with him that he didn't make better. I loved him more than any dog I've ever known.

He was two.

And now -- as in 12 hours ago -- he's gone, the victim of a horrible accident, and everyone in the house is five seconds from weeping. The kids do it openly, while my wife and I try to hide it, because, well, it just reactivates the kids. The afternoon spent dealing with this situation was agony. The emotions that I have from him not being here are just beyond raw. I don't know when, or if, I'm going to be really happy again.

Not having another dog isn't a real option; that's how good Milo was. So we went out tonight, through three different places, and found Minion, a border collie that's helping, in that he gives people reasons to not sob uncontrollably. I have no idea if we did the right thing in getting another dog right away or not, but having something -- anything -- to keep us from negativity is just that important right now. And we thought through the breeds, took all of the experience that we used just so short of a time ago, and will soldier on, because that's what parents have to do.

So, um, not sure when I'll be posting again.

And so it goes.

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