Friday, February 28, 2014

The Eagles Pay Some Holdovers

Aw Yeah
So my laundry went out and spent money to extend Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Riley Cooper, tying up to $113 million in future contracts to three players. The clubs is also said to still be open to bringing back injured WR Jeremy Maclin, which seems like an either/or move, especially with WR DeSean Jackson still getting paid.

Which leads me to the following points.

> Most people that I read thought the team preferred Maclin to Cooper, so this news comes as a surprise. Maclin has a higher ceiling as a former first round pick, has produced at a higher level, isn't infamous from social media, and is likely to be pursued by more teams. But what he is not, and has not been for a good long while, is healthy. Coach Chip Kelly doesn't seem to go for injury-prone; he does not draft or sign smaller personnel, and either got incredibly lucky last year, or has some winning ideas on keeping personnel healthy.

There's also this: Maclin was terrible in 2012 (drops, missed snaps and games, bad body language and more more more), missed all of 2013 with the camp knee injury, and might have a half dozen teams trying to pay him in 2014 for a multi-year deal that he doesn't really deserve. Given how many good moves the team has made in the past 12 months, I'm fine with whatever they want to do with him, even if that means letting him walk to a division rival.

> What I think really happened here is that Cooper came in at the club's number, and maybe even under market level. Five years for $25 million isn't exactly break the bank numbers, and more or less solidify Cooper's self-valuation as a 2/3 guy and red zone target, rather than a guy who thinks he can make it to a Pro Bowl or two. It's also probably more than a little bit discounted for Kelly's move to stand by the player during last year's videobomb problem, as well as the slow start that Cooper saw when Mike Vick was the QB. And it's the NFL; if he tanks, they'll cut him. It's not like this is MLB, and the Eagles have just signed up for multiple years of post-35 year-old what the hellness.

> The bigger question about Cooper isn't if his contract makes sense; it's what his true value is to the team. When he wasn't catching balls last year, we heard a lot about his blocking ability, and he certainly looks OK in space, particularly given his size. But he struggles in press coverage, doesn't have a full route tree, and made a back-breaking drop in the Saints playoff loss. He's still young enough to get better, and a third-year guy who posts 47/835/8 isn't chopped liver. There's also no denying that he made a lot of plays with Foles, and did real damage on deep balls. But the history of the NFL is that deep ball dependent guys struggle with consistency, year over year. But the nice part is that at 5/25, he doesn't have to do more than what he did in 2014 to avoid ire.

> By the way? The club still needs help at the position; it just doesn't need it right away. DJ isn't likely to be better as he gets older, they never really had an explosive slot guy last year (Damaris Johnson was a washout, and Brad Smith is, well, Brad Smith). Unless TE Zach Ertz turns into Jimmy Graham (fewer drops would be a big help), they still don't really have the guy who is always open to convert third and five. It's said to be a deep draft for wideouts, and Kelly's reliance on the running game isn't likely to make them go early in the draft to staff this position. But honestly, if you can't find a slot guy / 4-5 WR / KR / PR cheaply, you aren't doing it right.

> This more or less ends the Jason Avant Era in Philly, and while the man has some fans for what he's done here over the years, it's time to move on. Blocking and hands only get you so far when you never make yards after the catch, because your separation skills are mostly theoretical. The homeless man's Anquan Boldin will be on some other roster in 2014, another one after that, and out of the league in 2-3 years. I wouldn't be surprised if you see him coaching soon after.

> They probably aren't done, independent of Maclin. P Donnie Jones was an utter stud last year, even to the point of some people talking about using the franchise tag on him. While it's always odd to franchise a specialist, it's not like punters get huge jack, or that the team should be willing to roll the dice on punts in 2014. The kicker, of course, is a whole 'nother bucket of bus ticket.

> On to the OL. Kelce grades out highly, but is a little undersized, which leads to issues on things like QB sneaks and short yardage dive plays; combine this with Nick Foles' lack of fast-twitch and you take that play out of their arsenal, at least when the defense has any kind of idea it's coming. In general, I'm fine with that, because having your QB take that hit and having no upside to a bigger play, or shedding a tackle, seems like a miss to me. And there's always the possibility that Kelce gets better in Year Two of Kelly, if for no other reason that he's got six months of off-season cardio to do to make sure that he can handle the pace.

> Peters was, along with the coaching change, the biggest reason why the Eagles improved so much in 2013; the jump from street meat to a nearly 100% All-Pro tackle is just, well, game-changing. He's been a rock when healthy ever since coming here from Buffalo, and even if he's not as demonically quick for a large man at the end of his contract, he'll still be able to handle a tackle position on brains and size. Offensive line is secretly the best place in the NFL to age gracefully, and while we might never see the unbridled joy that was 2011 Peters rolling downfield and obliterating defensive backs for LeSean McCoy's amusement, the current version is more than acceptable.

> If you are seeing these moves as the team is fine with having the #2 ranked offense in 2013 back to try to do the same or better in 2014, and is now free to fire all draft barrels at the defense... well, from your words to God's ears, or something. But I seriously doubt that they are going to prioritize position over player just yet. Look at Seattle and San Francisco, and then back to the Eagles, and beyond maybe the top 5 players, the Eagles do not compare. We all want to see competent safety play, depth at corner, better edge rushing, a bigger nose tackle to add to the mix, and an overall upgrade from improving to tolerable to monstrously potent... but they need help and levelling up at a lot of places to, say, win a road game against the NFC West survivor. Patience, people. Even in the now Now NOW! world of the NFL, the fastest build to the SB is generally a 3-year curve.

> None of the deals done were over the top, just before deadline, or subject to media speculation... and honestly, there's no better sign for the franchise than this. We all read the happy talk about how players appreciated Kelly's innovation and vision last year, not to mention the fact that he didn't willy-nilly gut the parts of the roster that were good, just because the players predated him. All of these signings are Andy Reid picks, and the organization doesn't seem to give a damn about that.

If you are looking at tea leaves, the signs are favorable -- players want to stay here, don't want to fight for every dollar, and think better days are coming, especially in a division that might be the NFL's weakest. As far as February football news goes, it's all good.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Fourth Cousin Of People You Meet At The Y

In My Locker Room
Part of a series of fun house moments from the very, very talkative locker room at my local Y...

> Dr. Bronner. Do you have a quacky old uncle who has found the secret (the secret!) to vitality at an advanced age? Well, if not, come down to the Y and dawdle in the locker room on any busy weeknight, because he's bound to show up to carry on a surprisingly one-sided conversation with some poor slob who encouraged him once, and has been regretting it ever since. You'll learn fantastic things about how pinches of cinnamon can stave off nearly anything, how often you need to wash your hands once you've been in a communal situation like this very locker room, and how whatever you are doing is wrong. After all, he read his stuff on the Internet!

> Screen Impaired. I have seen the future, my friends, and it's three inches from your nose, on a smartphone screen. My gym is now filled to burst with people who think that walking slowly while staring at a screen is, somehow, exercise... and it's just charming as heck as they wander from lane to lane on the running track, and sit and fiddle on machines in the weight room. I would gladly pay extra for a gym where the wifi does *not* work at this point.

> Young And Regrettable. Ready to despair at the future of the country? Listen in on the too-loud and can't avoid it conversations between high school pud-pullers. The only saving grace here is that, well, you probably sounded the same back then, too.

> Loose. There's a great line in an old Bill Hicks routine where the misanthropic comedian is woken from a dead sleep on a plane by some toddler tapping him on the head. "And there's this little kid... loose!" says Hicks, equating the child with wayward livestock, and dear God in heaven, that is so what it's like. I have no idea what causes small kids to decide that a man running consistent miles is someone who needs to be "raced" over a lap here and there, but it, well, does. And when these little balls of wonder fall out, gassed, they never have the presence of mind to do it in just one lane. Fun!

> Doomed. The tag-team partner of Dr. Bronner, Doomed has all of the latest on the global conspiracy (yes, yes, it's all Barack Obama and the UN's doing) to increase radiation levels to help kill off the non-elites of the world. Radiation doesn't kill wealthy people, y'know. Between this guy's doomed science and Dr. Bronner's happy talk, you can pretty much get whiplash.

Feel free to add any you might have met...

He Gone, A He Granger

Too Good For Us
So the Sixers came to an agreement, one that doesn't exactly surprise anyone who knows how these things go, to a buyout of Danny Granger's deal. Granger now gets to pitch the rest of the NBA, predictably among the playoff-bound teams, to hire him for the stretch run to pollute their bench minutes, the way he was polluting Indiana's. And the team did the right thing in getting rid of him as soon as possible, because it's not as if he was going to do anything even remotely useful for them in the final tanking stretch drive... but, um, still?

It rankles.

The Sixers are, for the information of people who have only watched basketball in this century, a franchise with a proud history. The all-time team is littered with iconic names that were among the best players in the history of the game, and into my adolescence, there was a clear understanding that this was the third-best franchise to be a fan of in the entire Association. OK, it was a long way back from Boston and LA, but still. There were good times. Honest.

And now, it's not just that the team is angling for the worst record in the league. That's understood and intentional. But it's that a guy who was never a big star, and who is about 2 to 3 years away from being out of the game entirely... pretty much considers the team to be beneath him. Granger employed the kind of behavior that you'd expect from a small child -- those guys are stinky! I don't wanna! -- and got exactly what he wanted.

Now, Sixers' general manager Sam Hinkie is smart enough to know how the game is played, and that calling Granger for what he is -- a spent overpaid non-entity that will be out of the league in 2 to 3 years -- isn't something he can do. Instead, he's got to how much he respects Granger, and that this a mutually beneficial result to him and the organization. He didn't trade for Granger; he traded for Granger's terrible contract, which comes off the books and has value, especially if the team is able to use that money to improve in Year Two, after the draft.

And, um, I guess... I'm glad that the Sixers are doing everything they can to lose every possible game and have more lottery balls than even Milwaukee. Hinkie, unlike Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. with the recent NCAA asshattery, understands that the NBA is a league of relationships, and that this might be a chit he can cash later.

Or, well, that the Sixers are just the worst team in the NBA now, and tearing everything down to below the roots. And that Danny Granger is free to crap all over a fan base that doesn't exist, and shouldn't until the demolition is done and the actual build-up begins.

In any event, Granger can now go on the honor roll of starting five of front court big names, acquired in trade, who pretty much never show up for the team. He joins Jamal Mashburn and Andrew Bynum in the front line of never, backed up by Chris Webber, Toni Kukoc and Jeff Ruland in the second unit of almost never.

And it's been a long, long time since anyone made the mistake of thinking that Sixer Fan had it third-best in the NBA.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Four Point Plague

Um, Sure, Why The Hell Not
A quick note over the transom; the idea that the NBA was flirting with the idea of a 4-point line, the better to, I don't know, get teams running high pick and roll at the half court line, or to give half court heaves more drama. And since the idea came from the Globe Trotters, maybe we can also hit the opposing team's coach with a bucket of glitter with each conversion...

Well, here's a thought. Stop making the reward for long shots that the defense wants the user to take, and start making the reward about taking shots the defense does not want you to take. Specifically, dunks. If only to make the playoffs even more hockey-esque.

Oh, I know... there's no chance of this, since the world has just gone to the netherworld of obsolete mid-range games and 3-point shots in transition from breakaways. It might offend the purists, or the whole point of not rewarding teams for bailout heaves, and making the game more random, since we love that about college ball.

Plus, we get the benefit of more timeouts in late game situations, and more games decided in the final possession. Heaven knows, that's what would get more casual fans to pay more attention and respect to the NBA game -- less importance put on the first 47.5 minutes of play, and additional timeouts and coaching overdrive.

Now, if only we could somehow invent concussion issues in pro hoop as related to interior play, which would give crazy long jumpers the sheen of morality... and we've got a win for everybody.

Except, you know, the game as we knew it, and liked, that didn't need changing. Bonus!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

FTT Off-Topic: Harold Ramis

Not sports, read or skip.

Harold Ramis died today, at the age of 69, and it made a lot of the shows I watch, because Ramis was just incredibly influential in the field of American comedy in the past 30 years. Without him, there's no Animal House, no Caddyshack, no Groundhog Day, no Stripes, no Meatballs, no Ghostbusters, and a whole host of other stuff. Bill Murray isn't Bill Murray without Harold Ramis. And all of those things (particularly Groundhog Day, perhaps the best comedy of its era, and profoundly moving, really) are great and wonderful, and I somehow feel it's all too easy to think of those, the hits, as it were.

Here's a truism about music: if you like a band or solo artist for their hit single, and after listening to a lot of their tracks, you still like the single the best, you probably aren't going to be a fan of the band or solo artist for the long haul. It's the deep tracks that stay with you, the songs that only really resonate for you, that bring you back and let you know that you are tied deep with the product. My favorite Rolling Stones song? Maybe "Loving Cup", from "Exile on Main Street", this month. My favorite Beatles song? "Tomorrow Never Knows" from "Revolver." My favorite White Stripes song? "Ball and Biscuit" from "Elephant". And so on, and so on; if the best song to my ears is the one that everyone's into, I can't stay in that crowd for too long.

I first saw Ramis on late night television, the NBC broadcasts of SCTV's first year. This was pre-cable and pre-VCR, when you pretty much had to caffeinate yourself beyond all endurance and find a room where you could watch television until 2am, because that was when the show was on, dammit. Ramis was an edgy, vibrating presence on those shows before he moved on to other things, and I could not get enough of him; he hinted at places that I just wasn't getting anywhere else. Despite the ham-handed laugh tracks, and the fact that comedy rarely ages well, I'm still totally sold on him.

Take the plastic bag off your head, or the gas won't work, indeed.

These shows were incredibly influential to me, growing up. They told me that humor didn't have to be lowest common denominator, that you could reference stuff you hadn't even seen or were aware of and glom on to cultural touch points with a fraction of the work. Screw the Cliff's Notes of "The Grapes of Wrath"; I'd latch on to SCTV's treatment of "The Grapes Of Mud" and get most of what was being passed on. Maybe it was off-putting for a 12-year-old to laugh like a hyena at flopsweat, racism, professional termination and more, but it was just deeper stuff than fart jokes and catch phrases. (Both of which, of course, Ramis could also pull off. The man made money too, after all.)

Ramis said in an interview that he knew he was never going to be that big of a deal in comedy when he was on stage with John Belushi, and he realized just how far Belushi would go for a laugh; the answer was, well, anywhere. And Ramis was just never going to be that guy, or even mad at that guy, so he had to find another way to succeed, which led to all of the smarter stuff and writing and directing and so on, and yes, he found his way beyond just about all of the on-camera performers of his generation, and amen to all of that. But what he did on camera was actually pretty meaningful, because he brought this dark energy and intellect to what was just not a fertile ground for it.

A young Ramis today wouldn't find any trouble at all getting work, or becoming a big star; he'd be on "The Daily Show" as a correspondent, giving vent to bizarre rants of unreality, then playing that into feature roles and the like. Ramis is, clearly, the spiritual father to people like Stephen Colbert, Ed Helms and Steve Carell, and those guys just more or less define the era for me, really. Or he'd find himself in Christopher Guest's movies, or doing viral work on the Web, or hanging out with Patton Oswalt and the like as an alternative comic, getting voice work a la Kevin McDonald in his post-Kids in the Hall phase, and so on, and so on. Ramis' kind of performer, the one that can go from start to straight man to stooge and back again, all because they come from a place of reality, then just amp up the crazy from there... well, that won the day. One-note schtick guys used to rule the world, and now, they are marginalized for Vegas and Branson audiences. Ramis, in a not-small way, made that.

Ramis got that comedy worked better, frequently, as a team player. And did the revolutionary thing of turning the clock back 40 years, and making everything old, new again.

The world will remember Ramis for his movies, and they should; they are great, and I'm going to remember those, too. But, really, everything the man did was great. That's what we lost today, but his fingerprints are everywhere.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Jason Collins And The Very, Or Not So, Important 10-Day Contract

Smile, You're Employed
So, on the off chance that you are living under a rock and this is the only Web site you can access, Brooklyn made American major sports history today by hiring an openly gay athlete, center Jason Collins, to a 10-day deal.

A few points, in case you know nothing about Collins: he's a marginal NBA player. Wrong side of 30, no real offensive game, with the size and willingness to commit hard fouls on defense and not much else. If he's part of your rotation, your team probably isn't going anywhere fast, and lo, does that ever describe this year's Nets team. With 75 years of Grizzled Vet in the starting lineup from the Celtic imports of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, not to mention the broken-down offerings of backcourt mates Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, and the bench offerings of Andrei Kirilenko, Brooklyn creaks in the wind, plays at the slowest pace this side of college coach-driven ball, and is designed solely to get to the post-season and make the game as ugly as humanly possible.

Brooklyn hired Collins because of injuries, of course; he's just not that good otherwise. He's also played with many of his teammates before, as well as coach Jason Kidd, but the dude bounced around the league for twelve years and six organizations (this is his second tour with the Nets) before this week's contract: there are probably over a hundred guys who have called him a teammate. He fits with Brooklyn, where he won't get slurs yelled at him from the home crowd, and the pace and tenor of the team.

And in the long run, it's all not going to matter very much. Collins is just a guy; his orientation has no impact, and never did. He went to Stanford and is well aware of his significance to history, so there's no chance that there will be further stories about this, if you get my gist...

But that, of course, assumes there isn't anything from the stands that happens. Tonight's game in LA should be as safe as houses, and Wednesday's tilt in Portland is also well on the side of progressive behavior... but Thursday in Denver could get some sign wavers, and next Saturday's game in Milwaukee might actually draw some good old-fashioned heartland hate. Brooklyn then has four of five games at home, with only a game in Boston in the mix. By then, Collins might be long gone, or such a non-story that no one even remembers him being here.

Which would be, well, its own form of progress.

Zach Greinke Is Not Excited To Play In Austrailia, And Also Correct

Australian For Honest
Finally, an MLB player actually answered a question with an honest answer, in saying that there is "zero excitement" for the Dodgers openign the season against the Diamondbacks Down Under... and, um, he's freaking right.

I get that the Dodgers are trying to grow the brand, that there are players that hail from there, and how 2 of 162 games does not seem like that big of a deal. But we are talking about a 16-hour flight for men who are going to log thousands of hours of plane travel this year, crossing the date line, to play two games against a hated division rival (remember last year and the pool?)... and then shutting it down again for another couple of weeks until the real season begins.

It's, well, crap.

(A small aside: I've been to New Zealand. I'd leap at the chance of going to Australia for myself, or for my family; a dear friend lives there, I'd love to see the sights, and I'm a little bummed that I never got there, or even Hawaii, when we lived on the West Coast. I'm also not, well, an independently wealthy MLB player who, it is presumed, could afford to take this trip whenever I like in my decades of free time after my forced retirement in my mid '30s to early '40s. Moving on.)

If you really want to grow the game overseas, take a week off in the middle of the regular season, and host the All-Star Game there. (The number of last-minute "injuries" alone should be worth it.) Have all of the Arizona spring training teams report to the Sydney area to do their work a week early. Resurrect the Babe Ruth Traveling All-Stars and do a November barnstorming run with minor league pitchers and a beer league mentality.

But the idea of sending teams 10K-plus miles away to play a game that counts in the standings and against their statistics, in a park with uncertain effects, two weeks before anyone else has to work...

Well, Greinke is *right* to not be excited about that. So is any one else in uniform, if they care to be candid about it, though given the hue and cry hitting Greinke now, one suspects no one will want to be honest about it ever again. Not that this matters in the least, but I also don't know anyone in my fantasy league, or in my core of MLB fan friends, who feel like that the early games are must-see TV or a welcome jump start to the season, either.

Instead, like the World Baseball Classic, inter-league play, the Now It Counts All Star Game, the play-in wild-card and the bulk of Bud Selig's "contributions" to the game, they see it for what it is: a naked money grab by people who, of course, do not know any better, and never have.

I've never been a Zach Greinke fan before. But I think I'm interested in a seat on the bandwagon now...

Good Bye, Spencer Hawes, And By All Means, Please Let The Door Hit You On The Ass

Someone Else's Problem, Thank Sam
At the NBA Trade Deadline, Sixers GM Sam Hinkie took out the trash for a passel of second round draft picks and expiring contracts, and it went about as well as any of the remaining 27 Sixer fans in the world could have (realistically) hoped for. He kept the two guys on the current roster (Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young) that might actually be part of a good team in 2-3 years, made sure that Arnett Moultrie had to get minutes in the last 27 games to show the team whether or not he's worth anything, and set us up for a 27-game stretch run that will probably be something like 4-23, ensuring that we're going to have the second-most lottery balls in the hopper for the best draft class in recent memory. Combine this with continuing poor luck for the New Orleans Pelicans (currently holding the 11th worst record in the league, riding a 3-game losing streak that could get them a few steps lower, and with rampant injuries), and the 2014 NBA Draft could be good times for a franchise that hasn't had any for longer than my dog has been alive.

So, before we endure the next eight weeks of suck, and then two more months of draft speculation, I'd like to take a moment to celebrate the best moment for Sixers fans in 1,341 days -- the first day that we haven't had to hold our collective noses and root for Spencer Freaking Hawes.

How much do I dislike Hawes? Let me count the ways. First, there's his offensive game. Do you like it when a flat-footed 7-footer with passing skills lines up outside the 3-point line and fires away? I kind of hate it, and always have, since you are basically taking a shot without what should be a decent offensive rebounder anywhere near where the ball might be recovered. I also kind of hate it because it seems like such a bailout for the defense; it's not like they are really thinking that they need to stop the offense from settling for that. In the last two years Spence has belched up 3.8 of those per game, and while he's hit enough of them (39%; this year's mark puts him around 30th in the league by way of percentage), it's not like he's freaking Dirk Nowitzki out there. It also means that what should be happening (free flowing offense aided by a guy who can move the ball and see over the defense) doesn't happen.

Well, OK then, his offensive game challenges sensibilities, but it's a modern age without good centers anymore, and there any number of sabermetric wonks who will tell you that 40% from the arc is a winning move. And Hawes is tallying up 13 / 8.5 / 3.3 this year, which has to be worth something, right? Well, no; the Sixers play at a pace that's among the highest in the league, which means that the raw totals here don't really matter, because they are inflated by a factor of something like 30%. Plus, he's doing this in 31 minutes a game, which isn't exactly a paucity of opportunity. Add in the meh that is 1.1 blocks per game, the as good as anyone else in the floor for so much steals of 0.6 per game, and the putrid 1.5 assist per turnover ratio, and you start go understand why he just leaves so much to be desired.

On defense? Um, he's a flat-footed 7-footer with the desire of a man who has made $29+ million dollars working for teams (Sacramento and Philly) that have lost games hand over fist. He doesn't get meaningful block or steal numbers, he doesn't pass the eye test, and, well, I have no third part to this, because Spencer Hawes sucks an awful lot at defense.

So, OK, he's terrible: similarity scores that mention such hallowed names as Bryant "Big Country" Reeves, Marc Jackson, Vitaly Potapenko and Brad Lohaus (Brad Lohaus!) does not exactly inspire any reasonable amount of conversation. But the Hawes Problem goes much deeper than this, really. When high draft picks (Hawes was the 10th overall pick in 2007, by Sacramento) become middling contributors in the NBA over a long career -- and make no mistake about it, Hawes will be in the Association for another decade, especially if he keeps making threes and doesn't cause a stink when he stops being a starter -- you can't help but look to see what else is there to have caused him to go high in the first place.

And with Hawes, there is actually a lot, beyond the fact that 7-foot people who can play basketball are rare. He's had any number of really solid games, stretches where he's not just the best big man in the game, but one of the biggest big men in the league, period, even with the sieve-like nature of his defense. Don't believe me? Just check the game logs: 24/9/2 to stop Miami in the opener this year, 5/8/3 in the meltdown against the Warriors in game 4. 28/10/3 against Toronto on November 20, 2/4/3 against the Clippers on 12/9. 25/11/2 against the Bucks on 12/21, two games after a back to back with Brooklyn that was just awful to look at, 9/3/2 against Cleveland on 1/7.

Oh, and he's been healthy all year.

There's a name for this kind of guy loser. And there's a name for the kind of organization that plays for, or trades for, this kind of guy, even when they give up the seemingly marginal cost of second round draft picks: extra special losers. And the fact that it was Cleveland who dealt for him? Well, let's just look at the "work" he's done against them in his career.

18 games, 13 starts -- 8.9 / 6.2 / 2.2.

No, seriously. This is what Cleveland traded *for*.

Oh, and that's not even getting into the redneck asshat political crap, and the Obama toilet paper, and the meathead tweets, and so on and so on, which has got to make him such a winning presence in the 70%+ African-American NBA locker room. You know the guy that needs to bring his politics to the workplace, despite the fact that no one wants to hear it? Hawes is that guy, in a workplace filled with people, who, um, don't share his views, background, or beliefs. And he shares all of that despite being more erratic and untrustworthy than a harcore pothead.

Of course, had we simply listened to the wisdom of the Stephen A. Smith Hand Puppet in 2007, we'd have saved us all a lot of time and trouble. Skip to the 3-minute mark.

So, good bye and good riddance, Spence. I'm thrilled to have the chance to join the rest of the NBA public in hating and dismissing your crappy, crappy game, your increasingly migratory ways, and the knowledge that you are never, ever, going to be part of a winning rotation.

And Sam Hinkie?

Dude, the fact that you found a team that was willing to take this away for anything buys you at least another year of tanking "fun." Especially when Spence either helps the Cavs to lose more games and make that second round pick better, or he actually cares and tries for a few months, and gets the Cavs in front of the Pelicans in the lottery...

(P.S. Cavs are now 0-2 in the Hawes Era. Keep it up, Spence!)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

When, or how, to push

Depth of line can vary
Tonight, the eldest went to the state finals for her gymnastics, the final meet of the year for her... and I found myself, again, in the position of being both immensely proud of her, and wondering how I inspire her to do more. Or even if I should.

First, the numbers. She's a Level 6 gymnast, the lowest competition level for team gymnastics in New Jersey. She turns 14 in April, which means she's older than most of the kids in these events. She's been doing this for about 3 years; I started her too late for a wide range of reasons, and she's on her third gym, having been at the most recent one for less than nine months. We're under no delusion that she's going to the Olympics here, or that this is going to turn into a college scholarship. The benefits are the focus and discipline it gives to her, and the overall physical fitness.

It doesn't help that her sport is downright confounding. Judging seems just incredibly partial and random, despite the fact that her scores throughout the 4-month meet season was pretty consistent. and the quality of equipment is also pretty random. She's better than some, worse than others, and getting better even though the numbers are more or less the same. It's kind of maddening.

So, anyway... tonight's meet was right in the pocket of every other. She slipped twice on balance beam, did her floor and vault better than I've ever seen her do it, and seemed a little weak on uneven bars. She placed in one event (10th in vault), the only medal earned by the three kids from her gym, missed her all-around goal by a tiny margin, and will go to the next level, assuming she stays with it, next year.

And this is where being Dad is downright, well, impossible. The eldest is already better at any sport than I ever was, and what she does is downright unfathomable to me, seeing as it involves body control, flexibility, and, well, courage. The longest moments of my life are spent watching her on balance beam, where she's always a fraction of an inch away from failure, and maybe even injury and pain.

Oh, and the meets are fairly tortuous. They take, on average, five hours, and in those five hours, your kid performs for about seven minutes. Tonight, I took my laptop with me, actually had the wifi work (that was a first), and performed 90% of the day job despite being as anxious as possible for her, because that's just how it works.

If she stays with it, and I'm reasonably sure she will, she'll get better, and she's pretty good now. But telling someone who is a borderline A student, when you were a B+... that you appreciate the A... but that the A+ is the next goal?

And not have her hate you for it?

I take it back, kiddo.

Maybe you do have the easier job after all.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Top 10 NBA Trade Deadline Takeaways

Grunt, Flush, Repeat
10) The Cavs traded for Spencer Hawes, continuing the trend started by Joe Banner and continued by Andrew Bynum of ridding the City of Brotherly Love of unwanted refuse

9) Sam Hinkie somehow got two second round picks and Eric Maynor from just getting in the middle of a Jan Vesely / Andre Miller trash swap

8) Despite Tony Parker's list of maladies, the Spurs moved backup PG Nando de Colo for Austin Daye, probably because there's only so many French guys you can have around before you just start slapping everybody

7) Denver picked up Aaron Brooks from the Rockets, because they prefer their defense-free back-up point guard to be young

6) Indy sent Danny Granger to the Sixers, because everyone now agrees that Granger's old, expensive and horrible, and in the NBA for a tank-tastic team, that's valuable

5) Milwaukee sent Gary Neal out, since Neal had dared to point out that Larry Sanders has been stealing money ever since he signed his new deal, and they just can't take turmoil within their terrible team

4) Golden State picked up Steve Blake in their eternal quest to replace Jarrett Jack, who, um, wasn't all that great either

3) New Jersey Brooklyn picked up never was Marcus Thornton for has been Jason Terry

2) Evan Turner joins the Pacers to test the theory that the top player on a bad team can become a useful bench guy on a good team

1) As always, the ratio of rumor and hype to actual news was about about 2 percent, and yet the shucksters and touts remain employed, and will fill the world with nonsense this time next year

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Top 10 signs that you've bought a crappy baseball annual

Hello Again
10) Long column extolling the exotic wrinkle that is an "auction"

9) Obligatory waste of time star interview is with a guy that hasn't been a first round pick in five years

8) Advanced metrics column breathlessly relates the concept of BABIP

7) The Phillies' team chapter isn't just unrelieved bile at disaster GM Ruben Amaro Jr.

6) Projecting big bounce-back years from Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettite

5) Recommends you draft closers early, since there's never any turnover in that role

4) When you add up the team won-loss predictions, you learn that the league is going to be well over .500

3) Oakland projections expect platoon players to get full-time work, because, um, well, because

2) Fearlessly predicts lesser years from Chris Davis, Matt Carpenter, Alfonso Soriano, Bartolo Colon, Max Scherzer and Cole Hamels

1) Experts draft has members that photograph well and/or look like they have something akin to a life

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The NBA All-Star Non-Break

Get Your Sit On
Item: NBA MVP LeBron James lobbies new NBA commissioner Adam Silver for a longer All-Star break.

Well, he's got a point... but it's telling that this is coming up now that (a) James is in his free agent walk year at age 29, (b) he's only getting part-time help from brittle Dwyane Wade, and (c) he's now, shh, starting to enter the part of his NBA career where he's not actually getting any better. James is now in his 11th year, and is now over 36K court minutes between the regular season and playoffs. He also just might be in the process of ceding Best Player in the World status to Kevin Durant. James is shooting for the best percentage of his career at over 57%, which is insane, but the boards, assists, blocks and steals are down in roughly the same amount of playing time, and the fouls and turnovers are up. He's still otherworldly, but the ceiling has been reached. Father Time is undefeated.

But independent of James' ulterior motives is this: NBA regular season games are getting better and better, and NBA rotations are getting shorter and shorter. (I know, it's hard to imagine that the NBA regular season is getting better for people in Philadelphia and New York. Trust me.) Combine that with the more than occasional 4 games in 7 days or less runs, and the fact that the league is increasingly filled with athletes who give their all at both ends of the court, and you wind up with injuries and days off, when you used to have, well, neither of these things. Along with the occasional Spur-level trolling move of just sending out the shock troops for games that you don't feel like you "need", or might want to avoid for an eventual Finals meeting, and we're getting to the point where the folks in the stands for regular season games seem like they are just being taken for a ride.

This is where low intensity NBA fans wonder why the season has to be 82 games long (mostly to ensure competitive balance, especially since so many teams have enforced extended road trips in the winter months), or how taxing it can really be when games are only decided in the last few minutes... and man alive, does the latter drive me nuts. No one ever takes baseball to task for too many extra inning games, or football for late cover the spread scores that causes the game to remain in doubt longer than it has any right to. But the NBA? Just ignore those first 43 minutes, folks, or how the team with the 5 to 10 point lead is much more likely to win, even though they have to make a few plays down the stretch. Gahhh.

I don't doubt that the average regular season game could be better with a longer All-Star break... but there's no great desire to stretch the playoff season into July, or to cut down the schedule. (Think about this: there is no such thing as a high seed NBA playoff team that's exposed as an absolute fraud, the way that at least 1-2 NFL division champions get shown up every year.) Sure, there's a month of pre-season that no one is really paying any attention to, but it only happens in early October, just barely 3.5 months after the end of the Finals. It's already one of the shortest off-seasons in sports.

So what's the solution? Well, the NBA would never go for this, but cutting the actual All-Star Game weekend down by a day, or rolling the game back earlier in the day so that it stops dragging late into Sunday night, the break would be more meaningful. Ending the silliness that is games on Thursday night for TNT before the All-Star Game would also be a win. If even the stars are getting two days off before the Game, then an actual day off because they can travel on Sunday night rather than Monday...

Well, that's got to make for a better product on the court, right? And since the regular season is actually harder than the never more intense than every other day playoffs, and the harder ticket for the NBA to sell... that's got to help, right?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In defense of publicity stunt hires

The Process
Two stories over the transom in one of the worst days of the year in sports...

> Jennifer Welter, a 36-year-old female football player in the usual minor leagues for such things, got three carries at the goal line as a running back for the Texas Revolution against the North Texas Crunch. As Welter is 5'-2" and 130 pounds, and the holes on said running plays were not wide open, she was unsuccessful, but not injured. I'd show you the footage, but it's nothing you haven't seen in your standard kung fu movie, where a stunt women gets yanked backwards hard on wires. Let's just say that Welter doesn't look like she's a great candidate for starting work.

> Kevin Grow, a high school senior from suburban Philadelphia with Down's Syndrome, got a ceremonial 2-day contract from the Sixers, which allows him to practice and be on the sidelines for tomorrow's night game against Cleveland. This was in response to Grow getting into a game and going off for 14 points, with four three-point bombs following a courtesy layup.

Now, there's nothing relating these stories to each other; different sports, different motives, different people and situations. And yet, I can't help but feel a kinship, in that they are both teams doing stunt hires to make themselves look, I don't know, progressive or open-minded or not so serious.

The hard edge on such things makes you wonder when teams moved away from simply trying to win games with their personnel, and why we should be doing anything but ignoring it as an obvious attempt to curry PR favor... but that's not really looking at things in the proper light. The plain and simple fact is that the back end of any roster is mostly ceremonial and/or for emergency / show / practice, and graduating up from that is fairly rare. And when you get to the minor league part of the process, it's even more debatable.

But what isn't debatable is the message being sent by stunts like this, which is simple: there's no reason to limit the talent pool to the usual sluice. In the NBA, the Spurs do themselves incredible favors by drawing players from six continents. MLB has players from all over the place now, and the NFL is doing everything it can to welcome Michael Sam into the league, and green-light future gay players.

Sports is an imperfect meritocracy; you still need to be politically astute enough to get playing time, but after that, we can (and do) measure your worth to a pretty close degree. And while you can argue about the relative worth of such measurements, there's no one saying that a 50% three-point shooter or a 5 yards per carry running back is anything but a talent that belongs in the league.

Eventually, and it may take decades and occur in a society that we can scarcely recognize as our own, one of those players will be female, or challenged, or in some other way different from everything that has come before.

It is the way of such things.

And in the meantime, tickets are sold, and teams are thought of as Nice People by people who might spend the rest of their lives not thinking about such teams in the least. Hell, maybe someone even takes the moment and puts it at the core of some determined and successful drive to a real career. (I'm still of the mind that our first female in a major US sport will be a lefty sidearm reliever, kicker or end-game shooting specialist, but it's not as if  there are rules here.)

Play me out, Mahatna...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Top 12 takeaways from Ray Rice's casino arrest

12) Rice's big mistake was having at issue at Revel, which means there won't be anyone around to distract the cops from making an arrest

11) Since Rice's fiance is female, this doesn't count as a true Media Distraction

10) Atlantic City is just thrilled that something, anything, happened there

9) There is no truth to the rumor that Bernard Pierce got away easily with the exact same crime

8) Rice won't be charged with evading arrest, which is its own sad little punch line

7) The news was met with fist pumps by all of Rice's 2013 fantasy owners

6) Raven Fans who were witnesses to the altercation chanted "Bulls***" at the cops, of course

5) This falls into the old saying, "What happens in Atlantic City, stays everywhere but Atlantic City"

4) Now that casino gambling is allowed online in New Jersey, Rice could have just gotten into it with his fiancee in the privacy of his hotel room

3) Ray Lewis is very disappointed in Rice, in that the altercation is still alleged

2) Rice has no prior arrests and is active in an anti-bullying campaign, so we can pretty much chalk this one up to the inevitable end of life head trauma degeneration

1) This was described as a slight physical altercation, so we're pretty sure Rice went down like a ton of bricks

Some Brief and Obvious Points About Derek Jeter

Trim For The Win
> I'm not a fan of his laundry. But if I were, I'm pretty sure he'd be my favorite player. How could he not be, really? Defensive range isn't exactly something that jumps out on a day to day basis as a problem, he's had a few thousand knocks, hasn't ever embarrassed the franchise with media mishaps, is actually home-grown (that matters), and drives the opponents nuts without being a jerk about it. Oh, and he's the best to ever play the position for a franchise that's had, well, an astounding amount of success and talent all over the place. (Yes, he's better than Phil Rizzuto. It's also clearly the weakest position in Yankee history, since Bucky Freaking Dent is #3.)

> It's kind of nuts that he's never been the MVP. Part of it is that the table-setter isn't usually seen as the MVP; you can only score one run at a time, after all. But the bigger reason is that since he was on the biggest MLB+ market team ever, he never had a year where the vote wasn't being split by members of his own team. But still, it's going to be an odd thing to explain later, when his career is well and truly over.

> If you think he's leaving just to make sure he never has to deal with Alex Rodriguez again, you might not be wrong, Especially if he goes out and does something silly great this year. (Silly great here equals a 300+ batting average, 20 HRs, 100 RBIs, 20 SBs, 150 games played. It's silly to think that a guy who looked so spent in limited time in 2013 could do that at his age, but it's not like he hasn't spent much of his career doing ridiculous things.) Also, I can't blame him at all for wanting no part of more circus.

> To the people who are saying that he's not draftable in shallow leagues in fantasy... um, how freaking shallow is your league? If you are playing in a league where only 12 shortstops get taken, there are guys like Andrelton Simmons, Starlin Castro and Jimmy Rollins going off the board, and all of those guys murdered their owners last year. And that doesn't even take into account leagues that, well, actually mimic real ball by having a backup middle infielder, at which point Omar Infante, Jonathan Villar, Jed Lowrie and Jurickson Profar are in the mix. It's really not impossible to see Jeter, as proud and competitive as any athlete of his generation, outperforming those lesser lights. Remember, he scored 99 runs, hit 15 homers, and stole 9 bases while hitting .316 in 2012, and it's hard to see how the 2014 Yankees aren't better on offense, if only because it's hard to see how they'll be worse than they were in 2013. He's going to be owned by a lot of players this year, and they aren't all going to lose.

> All of this might sound like I'm a fan; I'm not. He's the author of the single play that, in my opinion, doomed my favorite team from never making a playoff run. (And sure, it seems nuts to think that The Flip, which happened in a first-round playoff game, meant that it was impossible for the Moneyball A's to ever win a series. And yet, well, um, that's how it felt at the time, and how it came to pass.)

I think you can make a reasonable argument on how he might be one of the most overrated players of all time, as I can rattle off at least a half-dozen guys that were better, while his fans think he's the best ever to play the position. (My rankings: Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken, Ernie Banks, Ozzie Smith, Barry Larkin, Pee Wee Reese, Alan Trammell, Lou Boudreau, and maybe when they are all done, Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki in front of Jeet, because his defensive range at short is just so bad, you have to treat his offense as more like a second baseman, and .828 in the Roid / Expansion Era is not that astounding.) But he's no worse than in the top 15 to 20, and as such, a lead pipe cinch for the Hall in Year One.

> There might not be another athlete who ever played the media better. Jeter bedded a stable of women that staggers the imagination, played shortstop every day for the media circus team of the era, and made enough money to create his own super-villain lair, but his ability to bland his way through every quote, and to somehow run the gauntlet of women without any of them turning Alanis on him... it's downright astounding. Joe DiMaggio's got nothing on him.

> Finally, there's one thing that even Jeter's biggest hater can't deny; the man pulled the best trim in this, and potentially any other, era. I'll leave other blogs to delve into the names and faces, but the man took *full* advantage of his role. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

It Just Takes One

Linked forever
So the NFL's report on the Jonathan Martin / Richie Incognito affair is out, and it presents exactly the picture you'd expect: unrelenting awfulness in the worst frat you could imagine, with organizational malfeasance adding to the fun.

And what really strikes you, in reading this stuff, is just how much time and effort is taken in the simple acts of being an asshat. It also speaks to how Incognito's teams never go to the playoffs. Here, for once, is the kind of distraction that creates big L Losing.

Incognito and crew made a life of it, it seems, with fine books and meetings and coordinated efforts to, I don't know, teach a smart young player from a good school that none of these advantages would come into play while working in Miami. And this is where you get to how the underclass of America identifies with prison culture, and how jailing such a huge percentage of our populace (more than any other country? I'm guessing here, but it seems right) is harming us as a nation. But back to the individuals.

Simply reducing this to the acts of one terrible human being is, of course, simplistic and reductionist and inaccurate. No one comes into the world fully formed and warped, and Incognito's poor life choices can trace back to to his parents, coaches and friends, one assumes. Maybe he's simply not all that special, and there are dozens of similar predators lurking in NFL locker rooms, and this report is causing sleepless nights all over the NFL, and the destruction of a lot of evidence.

Which leads us to the only positive moment from this train wreck. No team in the NFL will ever employ Incognito again, and no player is going to want to be the second Incognito. And that means that Jonathan Martin is actually a guy who is going to make the NFL better, because he's going to bring the league, kicking and screaming, into the 20th (not the 21st) century in terms of human relations.

Look, I get that sports are different, and that the crucible of scoreboard combined with physicality combined with stunted intellects and hyper-critical might makes right is going to always attract marginalization, hazing, and so on. But all of that is part of the same level of excuses that led to sexism and racism and flat out abuse in offices back in the bad old Don Draper Days, and at some point, someone has to get this cesspool clean. If only because they really are making too much money to behave like penniless criminals, and too many kids are drawing life lessons from it.

Finally, this. The knee-jerk reaction from the mouth-breathers among us is, hey, Martin's a grown-ass man of 300+ pounds, and just shouldn't have been a victim. As if how a guy is wired, and his reads on psychopaths that wear his laundry and he has to work with are somehow germane to, um, the act of being on an offensive line. Consider all that you have learned about Incognito, and the remarkable ease of attaining a gun in this country. Even if Martin thinks he can "take" Incognito, and is sure that the team is going to take his side against an older and whiter teammate (oh, and Incognito is the clubhouse leader and the coach's pet)... well, how sure are you that this nutbag won't just bring a gun to work and end your life that way? Somehow, just appeasing the asshat seems like the wiser play, doesn't it? Especially when the asshat plays pro football, where anyone's career can end at any moment, and roster turnover is damn near constatn?

So please, folks, stop blaming the victim -- and note, too, that Incognito's evil gets others to go along with him -- teammates and coaches. Because that's what happens in bullying situations; it's never just the victim and the bully. It's the victim, the bully, the bully's thugs, what the bully has in reserve in case it stops going his way, and the surrounding world that seems to be utterly OK with what's going on, so long as it's not them getting the beatdown. What Martin's managed to do here is just make the surrounding crowd bigger, and less tolerant of idiocy.

That's a good thing.  And it just took one guy to make that change a reality.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tyler Ennis Will Not Be Denied

So tonight, my alma mater (Syracuse) was in Pittsburgh for the inevitable loss. It doesn't matter that SU was unbeaten, the #1 team in the land, and yada yada yada -- Syracuse always has problems with Pitt, and every ranked team loses at Pitt. I wound up catching it on a treadmill. Pitt went up 6 late, the 'Cuse got closer on an oddly unguarded three by point warrior CJ Fair, and after clutch free throws by both sides, the Orangemen were down 3 with 4.4 seconds left.

Now, my school has a freshman point guard, Tyler Ennis. He's got great numbers in a small sample size in close and late situations. He also played a pretty poor game tonight. But then he did this.

Watch it again, and just watch the player. He's running to the bench, celebrating, when the shot is still ten feet from the hoop. He's just launched it from 25, 30 feet, off a run... and he's running away from the ball as if it were, well, nothing. Just a game-winner to save a perfect season on national television while you are the number one team in the country, and, oh, right, you've been on a college campus for five months. Oh, and you are also being double teamed, with a guy definitely getting in your eye line as you take the shot.

I have no idea what it means, really. I get the sense watching this SU team that they are good but more lucky. The starters are good but not transcendent, the bench useful, the coaching what it always is; going unbeaten at this point basically just means they've been perfect in the half dozen close games that they are usually .500 in. But all of that, seemingly, is Ennis, who seems downright blase about owning the moment, despite not being all that fast, or tall, or tricky with the ball.

Dude just thinks he's everything in a close game, and that he owns the big moments. And so long as he keeps doing that, the prediction becomes self-fulfilling.

(Seriously, look at that shot again. Just freaking unreal.)


So Lonely
So if you fire up your sports channel of choice these days, you get your choice of the following:

> The Winter Olympics
> College basketball
> Pro basketball
> Baseball rumors and signings
> And whatever else happens out of the blue.

Anyone else feel as if the only thing worthy of note is the last one?

I've covered the blog's moral objections to the Games; no reason to get into it again. College hoop is  beloved by many, and I've even found myself watching it a bit, mostly for Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and my Syracuse alma mater... but even the most rabid fan of the game is pretty much lying in wait for March Madness. Pro hoop is playing out the string before All-Star Game, and even the most devoted fan knows that we're watching mirages (Phoenix), sleepwalkers (Miami) and tank jobs (most of the Eastern Conference). Baseball rumors are only really of interest to fans of the team and fantasy honks.

So that leaves us to constant Michael Sam coverage, until someone gets arrested or says something stupid about something else. Within a week, it will be all about mock drafts (just an exercise in futility), some fresh wipe out in social media, and so on. And all of this leaves me to the following statement...

February is actually the worst month of the year for sports -- but not because it's, well, the worst month. It's because it's the one that's the longest distance away from the NFL season, and we are all about the NFL season.

July seems terrible too, right? Well, sure... but you've got training camps in a few weeks. You aren't ducking snow storms and cold hell. You haven't just watched six weeks of NFL playoffs, and you still have baseball games and the relatively recent memories of the NBA or NHL finals.

It's just withdrawal

And it's only going to get worse as soon as the NBA stops playing.

Enjoy the next month of relatively free time...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Four Michael Sam Points, Or Being The "Right" Kind Of Gay

Stop Looking At His Pants
So NFL prospect Michael Sam, an All-American DE at Missouri, came out today, and I'd like to thank him, in that it got the world to stop paying attention to the Winter Olympics. I think the nation should unify around the great and good story here, in that we can all agree, this is more important than people commuting down a mountain, or jumping on ice.

I caught the news on a hotel treadmill -- traveling for work again, and trying to catch up to the fitness goal for the month -- and several points struck me as ESPN went into Full Bore Coverage Mode.

1) Acceptance of The Gays in sports will be just like acceptance of The Gays in the rest of America -- demographically split, with The Young People wondering just what the hell is wrong with The Old People. They are right. This will be, more or less, the new racism / intermarriage test, where you get to see if you are going to go with the bitter old people who are convinced that the world is going to hell in a handbasket (it has, for, like, ever), or the young people who are, um, whatevs. Sam's teammates knew and didn't care, and supposedly kept it quiet for six months. Which leads me to Point Two...

2) Sam had to be one hell of a teammate for none of his locker mates to out him for the last six months. Seriously, how hard would it have been for some backup who wanted playing time to leak this to an old reporter, get it out there, and maybe create enough of a firestorm to get Sam to take a leave of absence, rather than deal with the God Hates Shellfish people? A secret was kept by, seemingly, dozens of late teen / early twenty-something guys who have potential NFL paydays awaiting them. This is a modern miracle.

3) Sam's right to come out with this before the draft. There are, simply, good and bad places to be gay in this country, and some of the latter have NFL franchises. If you don't want to be closeted, don't work in the Bible Belt if you can avoid it; if Sam got himself on a team in a blue state or coast, he probably just put years on his NFL life. Assuming, of course, he gets one; the ESPN people were saying he was a 3rd / 4th round level guy, which is to say, someone who is going to be very lucky to be in the league in 3 years. And that's true of everyone involved, not just the celebs.

4) Finally... I'm glad that Sam's out there; Jason Collins was getting lonely as Lone Gay Male Athlete in a Team Sport in America, and the awkwardness of the support group just dropped nicely. (Oh, and by the way? Collins is still unemployed. Whoops.)

But I'd like to point out something here, notably that Sam only gets to be Socially Acceptable Gay. That's the kind of gay where you admit your condition like it's some kind of handicap that you are proudly owning, and then agree to never, ever, discuss any of the icky icky details. Is Sam monogamous, or is he keeping his options open? Is he going to go to Pride Parades and engage in any kind of public behavior -- you know, the way any straight guy might on any number of social media feeds? Will we get to meet his partner, and will there be a wedding? Will they do interviews, reality shows, maybe a book deal? What are their thoughts about starting a family, and will his spouse be welcomed by the team that drafts him, to serve in the usual player's spouse role of charity organizer?

I'm going to skip ahead and give you all the answers now. Sam's gayness will never, ever be seen as anything more than a faith exercise. You will never read about his partner or his practices, and if he plays the field, it will not be photographed or discussed; hell, the NFL will probably discretely tell him that if he wants to remain employed, he better be as closeted as hell while being gay in plain sight.

You see, gays being open about their lives only gets to go so far before it enters that magical world of Distraction (oh noes! not a distraction! teams never win with those -- just ask Seattle about that awful Richard Sherman Distraction!)... and we're at least a couple of decades away from no one treating their spouses or practices with the same touch they give for the straights. We will reach True Equality in this country when people who have many sexual partners are seen as equally sketchy, no matter what their gender or orientation may be.

And until then, we'll muddle our way through the best that we can, hailing the pioneers even as they follow a game plan that's nearly as rigid as being closeted. The path of progress is rarely a smooth one, folks...

Friday, February 7, 2014

This Is Post #5000 On This Here Blog, In Which I Get Real And Decide Nothing

The Road Goes Ever On
I'm going to throw a big load of self-indulgence at you now, and no, not sports. If you're reading this far, you know what you're getting.

I started this blog in, gulp, January of 2007. It was a bad time for me personally. I had taken a job with a NYC start up that was going badly, but didn't feel right at looking for a new gig, since I was reporting to a close personal friend that stuck her neck out for me, and had only been there for nine months. Our management was just broken, and our people were worse, and they did the very worst thing you can do for a marketing and advertising person: they didn't give me enough to do. You can pay me to do a great many things; I'm a husband and father and I pay the bills. But you can't pay me to do nothing, because I go out of my mind. Luckily, that company killed my entire department, including my manager, and I found other gigs. It's always a blessing when a bad job ends, even if it leaves you in the lurch in the short term.

So while sitting on my hands at work, I started blogging, mostly because it was something to do. And there seemed to be a space for my voice, and an audience as well. I got involved in some collectives (Epic Carnival, Bleacher Report, Yardbarker), made some money (not a ton, but enough to show up on my taxes and pay for some stuff), endured the usual Internet negativity, and pretty much came to work a lot. The site survived a Google shutdown, benefited from some SEO usefulness, had a few pointless fights, and gave me some cheap thrills with Deadspin, Sports Illustrated and ESPN shoutouts. I never really thought I was going to be famous from doing this, but occasionally I thought I could make a living from it.

What's changed in the interim? Well, what was once a lucrative little hobby has now edged toward break-even. The occasional ad buys you'd get from dubious Internet businesses have dried up, and the traffic spikes have eased off as well. I used to write a ton of cheap listicles that got me page views and cash, but then the world pretty much co-opted that form with slideshows and clickbait, rather than a quick hitting joke format, and my taste for such things declined. As always, the lowest common denominator won with titties and other formulas, and, well? They won. The vast majority of sports blogs that I linked to gave up the ghost years ago, and the others pretty much became more effective satellites of the aggregators. I went my own way, because I'm dumb like that, and I didn't need the money so badly as to treat this as a job that required compromises.

Now, I file for this blog at the end of my day, and as my day job has gotten progressively more intense, that gets very late. I don't take a ton of time writing stuff, other than the pre-writing while I'm doing other things. I do this more out of habit most days than love, because 5,000 posts requires habitual behavior. The money I make shouldn't matter, but when you make 20% of what you used to, it stings. And the bigger problem is the sense that you are just putting words out into the void, for no purpose.

Luckily, I've got a lot of practice at that.

I spent much of my 20s making music that the world ignored, and my 30s writing books that were also ignored. I also write ads that the world ignores, because, well, they are ads. And while it seems like this is sad or BS or compensation, I also just don't really care that much.

I know I can write. It's paid the bills for 28 years and counting, and will likely do so for as long as I'm sentient. It's a skill that many people think they have, but really don't, because it requires persistence and that callous confidence born from decades of indifference.

What I don't know that I can do is keep up the pace.

Work is something like 65 to 80 hours a week. Fitness, with commute, is another 8 to 10. Household chores is about the same. Time with the kids, 20... and if you are counting, we're getting to the thing that's got to change.


I get about 35 to 40 hours of it a week, or a solid 15 to 20 less than I probably should. I get away with it because working from home kills the commuting time, and the fitness is good, and, well, I'm kinda wired to be a mule. 5,00 posts. There are weekend days where my body just refuses to move and I sleep for 10 to 12 hours, and that's not great, but I'm in the best shape of my life and if I sleep long enough, I get anxiety nightmares. Fun.

I'm also 44, and prone to micro sleeping; luckily, I don't drive very much. But still. Something's got to give.

And it's probably going to be this, because no matter what I do, I'm just not getting any more efficient with my time.

I like having the historical record; it's fun to go back and relive games, or see if I was right or wrong on athletes from their start. I love good comments and don't mind the spam; it just doesn't go public. The occasional paycheck is never counted on, and always really helpful.

But, um, sleep. And the work that's not getting done.

This is where you chime in and congratulate me for reaching and noticing the milestone, and as Mark Twain said, give me an extra month of life with a compliment. Or not; indifference might also be the kindest thing. I've got a musical to finish for my eldest, a baseball fantasy league to prep for, and book #5 that won't be read. You know, for fun, when I'm not writing for the job.

And yeah, I know, this has been nothing but way too many words of wank, which also happens when, well, you start to lose the conviction that what you are doing with your time is important or relevant or even worthwhile. Because time is all we have. And I spend a lot of mine writing for not enough of you.

Something's got to give. And something always does.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Top 10 takeaways from LeBron James' new sitcom

Wocka Wocka
Starz network is giving the go-ahead to his sitcom, "Survivor's Remorse." The Miami Heat star will serve as an executive producer of the half-hour show... The story follows Cam Calloway, a basketball phenom in his early twenties who is thrust into prominence after signing a multi-million-dollar contract with a pro team in Atlanta.

10) There is no truth to the rumor that Chris Bosh will photobomb every third scene

9) This should be a nice thing for Atlanta, which hasn't had a memorable pro basketball moment for over 25 years

8) Regardless of what you think of James, you have to admire the courage involved in launching an African-American sitcom without Tyler Perry

7) James' history, along with the title and premise, might lead you to believe that the protagonist left a hellscape of misery for greener pastures, but then there's that set in Atlanta thing to consider

6) So long as it stars Chris Anderson to play the wacky neighbor who is under FBI suspicion for crimes against children, Heat Fan is gonna love it

5) There's a strong likelihood that the show is going to coast until sweeps

4) I'm pretty sure we can blame Samsung for this, since it enabled the idea that LeBron can be funny

3) James is going to draw on his vast experience at making an unspeakable amount of money playing a game to make mass-market comedy

2) Five minutes of every show will just be guys heaping abuse at Mario Chalmers

1) If the ratings for the show start to go south, James is pretty sure that he can always just jump to another, better network

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Richard Sherman Is Right: The Playoff Seeding Is Stupid

He Keeps Being Right
"The NFC Champ- ionship was the Super Bowl. The 49ers were the second best team in the NFL." - America's best CB to Yahoo Sports

Now, the lovely things about this? Just don't stop. First, that he's clearly right on the merits. The Niners were a play away from winning in Seattle, of all places; the Broncos got their heads handed to them in a game that Seattle led for all but 12 seconds. Second, that it shows the willingness of the media to keep painting Sherman as the bad guy; in saying this, you see, he's kicking the Broncos when they are down, rather than, um, I don't know, praising a division rival. Third, that it just stokes the flames for the best rivalry in pro football right now, which is Seattle and San Fran, and everyone else is playing for a distant third place. Sure, there are other teams and fan bases that hate each other, but none with the combination of familiarity, gravitas, and consequence. Everyone else is playing to go to the playoffs, or maybe advance. The NFC West is playing for the Lombardi Trophy until proven otherwise. (Oh, and pity the poor Rams and Cardinals, both of whom could easily win other divisions, but for being stuck between these monsters.)

Finally, it leads to my favorite little tweak to the rules, which will never happen except for the fact that it should... and that's the end of conference seeding for the playoffs. There's no reason why the SB should always be, at best, a fight between teams that have little if any history with each other; the best you get is when regions have beef, a la New England and New York. Most years are Random Game between clubs that see each other maybe once every four years, and that, along with the bye week, helps to historically make the biggest game of the year more likely a snoozefest than not. Here's what the playoffs might have looked like if it had been seeded like, say, the NCAA's March Madness this year...

1) Seattle
2) Denver
3) San Francisco
4) Carolina
5) New England
6) New Orleans
7) Kansas City
8) Cincinnati
9) Indianapolis
10) Philadelphia
11) San Diego
12) Green Bay

Top four teams get the first round bye

Green Bay at New England
San Diego at New Orleans
Philadelphia at Kansas City
Indianapolis at Cincy

I'm going to assume that the home teams win those games, just for fun. Then, it's...

New England at Carolina
New Orleans at San Francisco
Kansas City at Denver
Cincy at Seattle

Third round, again with chalk ruling the day..,

Carolina at Seattle
San Francisco at Denver

And with the Niners presumably breaking through in Denver, your Super Bowl would have been

San Francisco vs. Seattle

Now, let's look at what you got from the shuffle. You got Philadelphia losing its mind over the idea of its first playoff game in the post Andy Reid era being against, well, Andy Reid. You got the third-place wild card team that shouldn't have been in the playoffs having to go to New Orleans for the virtual death sentence game, as is only right. You got Aaron Rodgers scaring the hell out of Patriot Fan, rather than the same-old same-old of AFC "rival" that they've clowned before. And you get a first round that's got a lot more interest, especially because no one is treating Week 17 like Coast Time, because there's a world of difference between being the #2 and #3 seeds, whereas now, if you don't get the top, it's eh, what the hell.

The second round is more theoretical, of course, since I''m calling for no upsets in the first round, and that never happens. But I still have a division game for big-time consequence with KC and Denver, and my top seeds are getting the protection they deserve by not just getting a bye, but that honor going to a dominant wild-card team (San Fran) for once. Third round is still a pretty great game -- hell, New England could have made it to Seattle, which might have made me happier than imaginable, had they played the game they played against Denver in the SB -- and hey presto, there's my damn near guaranteed competitive Super Bowl, between teams that could not know each other better.

Is this a panacea? Of course not; if my Eagles were to lose to Andy Reid in their first playoff game after his era, I'm not sure the hurting would stop for decades. And in some nightmare other world, where a division rival wins the SB over them and keeps the championship drought at My Whole Damned Life Plus Nine Years And Counting, Counting, Counting, the depression might be the final point that makes me stop watching sports.

But it's not about what's good for an individual fan; it's about what's best for the game. We've been very lucky in the last decade or so of SBs to have games that were fun to watch for more than squash fans, and I'd argue that it's been mostly luck that's done it. Seed the playoffs without regard to conference or division, and you are more likely to see the best teams go farther, and to make every game count even more. As big changes go, it makes sense, and once you go this way, you'll be amazed it was ever any other way.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Just How Badly Do You Need To Watch Crap Sports?

Fight the ring power
If you are an Olympics fan, you probably want to skip this one. I'm not, and I'm just going to annoy you.

The Sochi Games are starting at some point in the near future that I can't be bothered to learn, and it's going to fill up my feed with the advertising and inevitable vacuum fill action.... and man alive, I haven't wanted, on some level, a sporting event to end in non-tragic disaster more than, well, how wonderful it would have been had today's foot of heavy wet snow in NJ had just simply come a day earlier to show Roger Goodell the merits of hari-kari.

Now, I used to watch the Winter Games. Here's my excuse: I was 11, there were a half dozen stations on television, there were no VCRs or DVRs, and the only interesting thing you could do with an electronic rectangle was hitch up your Atari 2600 to it. And my older brother wanted to watch hockey more than anything, since he was 12 when the Flyers won the Stanley Cup, and has pretty much spent the last 40 years trying to feel as good from a sporting event.

Now? Netflix alone is an inexhaustible source of things I should be watching, there are hundreds of options on my cable box, and my favorite sport to watch (that's the NBA -- so many good players, so few bloodsport moments that make me question my humanity for watching it) is in mid-season swing, which means a ton of games spread out over a half dozen stations. I could be prepping for fantasy baseball, playing poker, writing a musical (yes, I have one that's not moving nearly fast enough), yada yada yada. So, why, exactly, should I drop everything to watch sports that aren't good enough to merit anyone's attention more than once every four years?

(As a side note, if you are still mostly driven by what you liked at age 11, and feel compelled to write about those formative experiences at length, you just might want to stop admitting it in public. You are inspiring other people to tedium as a life choice, and if you had any sense of shame, you'd move on to something less awful, like your favorite tactics for self play. Moving on.)

But maybe the sports are better than I'm giving them credit for? No. Figure skating is the most popular, and it's not a sport, since the winners have no finish line or scoreboard beyond judges' whim. Hockey is a soccer/lacrosse hybrid that's fun to play and difficult at best to watch, especially since one hot goalie can more or less pervade the competition by winning the game by nearly his own damn self. Skiing, speed skating, luge, bobsled, skeleton and ski jumping are simply forms of commuting, and until someone wants to put in competitive bus and subway riding, I'm calling discriminatory bullsquat on those games. As for the true fringe nonsense like curling and biathlon and anything else I've missed, whatevs. My oldest kid is a gymnast, and I care about that only when, well, she's doing it. If you care about an Olympic event without some skin in the game, you've got no excuse.

Oh, but wait, there's less. By watching these games, you put money and comfort in the pockets of NBC (dirty), the advertisers that support NBC (getting worse), and everyone who is completely OK with putting gays under the bus for a few weeks since Russia is hosting this crapfest, and has those charmingly retro ideas of how it's a grand idea to hate people because they are different. (You have to hand it to Putin & Friends; they know how to upload traditions.)

Hang on, did I miss the fun of cheering on people wearing flags? Let's have David Cross take care of that. Flags! (NSFW/K...)

So, to recap:

If you are watching these Games, you have so little going on in your life as to throw away weeks of free time to watch crap sports.

You are also willing to give money indirectly to noxious corporations and advertisers that will use the money to further cheapen the quality of life.

And you are basically filling the role of blase spectator at the '36 Berlin Games, with Putin playing the role of Gay Hitler...

Mostly because your tastes are infantile and stunted, and you define love of country as not through being a responsible member of the community, but by rooting for laundry.

Now, anyone else with me to root for train wreck?

Monday, February 3, 2014

The New Way To Win

Over Before It Began
The way of the NFL is this: once you win, everyone imitates how you did it. And since Seattle won tonight, and did so with the force of a sledge hammer, over and over again, I wanted to point out a recurring pattern in this game.

Denver came in with the best WRs in the game, and a QB that's very difficult to sack, with a quick and accurate release, and unmatched pre-snap reads. So what Seattle did was simple, elegant, and brutally effective. They disguised no coverages, they sent no blitzers, and they beat the living hell out of anyone who caught the ball. Immediately, if not sooner, and in so doing, they more or less set up an impossible honey trap for Denver to resist, especially when they took the early lead on Denver mistakes and their own remarkable effectiveness on third down conversions.

DeMaryius Thomas was open all night; he caught 13 passes. But he almost never caught them down the field, because the standard rush for Seattle was getting close enough to make deep throws worrisome, and the outstanding Seahawk safetys let the corners play as aggro as they liked. And oh, man, everyone on that damned team can run like wolves and hit like hate. How many times did you see a linemen get back into coverage and end a screen, or punish a crossing pattern?

All year, Denver has made hay from crossing patterns and pic plays, particularly when either Thomas (the WR or the TE) got one on one. Then, they'd use the physical mismatch and exploit it for big gains, and when you overplayed that, you got Wes Welker moving the chains in the middle or Eric Decker getting the deep ball, and Knowshon Moreno gashing you up the middle. But with Manning avoiding Richard Sherman on Decker, that took the options down a lot... and when you have Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas blowing the hell out of guys looking for picks/blocks to get free, the willingness to sell out for those plays goes right out the window. I'm not saying that Denver got alligator arms in this game, but I am saying they got a lot less good at making people miss. Pain will do that to you.

How should Denver have attacked it? Well, the usual way to deal with overpressure is screens and draws, and the line was just outstanding at getting back to disrupt the former, and the latter didn't hit for anything tonight. You can also try quick hitting deep balls, flies and back shoulder throws, or try to do more innovative things with the running game (end arounds, since the read option isn't working with Manning under center). If I was the Denver OC, given the physical nature of the Seahawk secondary and the likeliness that you were going to get the better of the refs tonight, I'd have tried multiple deep balls to try and draw flags, the way that San Francisco was able to get some success. I'd have also tried some (any?) double moves to see if I could get separation that way, or run it enough to let play action be effective.

Instead, John Fox pronounced himself happy with the way his team was moving the ball, but displeased with those pesky turnovers that was ruining everything... as if the Seahawk defense wasn't just lying in wait with the occasional blitz package (easier to do after the first quarter, when it became obvious that Sherman had made Decker invisible and impotent), or that sustaining long drives while behind was something you should want to do. We'll refer to this in future football textbooks as the Andy Reid Losing Gambit. But I digress.

Oh, and I'd have kicked the damned field goal at the end of the first half, rather than try to force a long conversion. The first points of a game are important, even if a defense feels good for stopping the touchdown, because the longer you go with that goose egg on the board, the more everyone tries to do too much. Witness Thomas' fumble that was one of a series of killshots for Orange tonight, or how sloppy Denver's tackling got in the second half, when punching the ball loose and coming up with a miracle play took precedent over simply getting the receiver to the ground.

None of this really mattered in the long run, of course: Seattle is just in a different tier from everyone but San Francisco, and the Denver team that showed tonight would have had a hard time beating any NFC playoff team. But they might have kept it a game for a little while longer, and done more to salvage the candidacy of Manning as something more than a regular season pinball machine with a shockingly poor playoff record.

Because the dirty little secret about Manning as a QB is that it also means that you get Manning as an OC. And Manning the OC did Manning the QB absolutely no favors tonight...

Anyway, back to the main point. What you are going to see now is part of the pendulum swing back to defense. The Seattle way -- rush the minimum, allow no YAC, punish the WR -- is problematic, in that it requires you to find and train up low ranked DBs through the draft, since no team can just go out and buy guys like this in the market. It also requires great GM work, since DBs are fungible and FA bait; the fact that Seattle is a young team is not the best evidence of their dynastic tendencies. The best instance of the latter for that is the idea that Russell Wilson can do more and will do more, and since he was a third round pick in an environment that artificially degrades his stats, he won't be able to drive huge dollars for his own deal right way. Offense is more consistent than defense, and the most successful franchises build around the former more than the latter.

But oh, man, when you win with defense? It's just satisfying on every level, with aspects of domination that you just don't see in football any more. Seattle had plenty of room for error tonight and used them; witness the early red zone trouble that didn't come back to haunt them at all. This game could have gone for 8 or 12 quarters, and it wouldn't have helped Denver. On this day, with this personnel, they were outclassed and they knew it. You only really get that kicked in and helpless feeling from a dominant defense feeling its oats, and I gotta say... I'm envious of the year that Seahawk Fan just had. This just feels like the first of others, that they are starting a 5-year-run where the championship always goes through them, and how no one in the league is going to have more fun rooting on their team.

All of that can go poof in an instant, of course; they need injury luck (unlikely given how hard everyone hits), continued stellar coaching (after the league raids them to promote assistants and coordinators), strong GM work (hard with the lowest pick every round and the cap eaten up by guys who now have rings) and perhaps most worrisome of all, discipline (less PED work, please). You are better off betting the field and not by a little, and honestly, the Niners weren't that far from beating them last year.

But, well, the Niners have spit the bit twice now, and the Seahawks have rings. The Niners have a defense that's a little older and, with the injury to Navarro Bowman, not as good. Seattle has better WRs if (and it's a big if) Percy Harvin can stay healthy, and better RBs. You also have to wonder if maybe Wilson is a better idea than Colin Kaepernick under center, if only because it's hard to see the former trying to beat Richard Sherman in the end zone with time, timeouts, and downs all staring him in the face.

We might have the makings of a dynasty here. And it's the first one to do that with defense in, well, forever. (Yes, I know that defensive teams like Baltimore and Tampa have won recently. They also were freely regarded at the time as pretty fluky; Seattle was the number one seed and ran the table.)

And I don't know about you, but I like the idea of being able to build for more than a one and done situation based around random chance turnovers and passing game over-reliance...

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