Monday, March 30, 2015

Revisiting the Michael Carter-Williams Trade, Or Sam Hinkie Strikes Again

Boom, Drop
Here's the combined numbers from Ish Smith and Isaiah Canaan, AKA a career NBA vagabond and a guy the team got for very little: 12 for 29 from the field, 4 for 10 from three point range, 7 for 7 from the line, 35 points, 4 boards, 6 assists, 3 turnovers and 4 steals. Admittedly, in an overtime loss to the Lakers, which might be the worst defensive team in the league, but still.

Here's the combined numbers from Carter-Williams and O.J. Mayo: 1 for 11, 4 for 4 from the line, 0 for 4 from three point range, 4 for 4 from the line, 6 points, 6 boards, 7 assists, 4 turnovers and 1 steal. In a 13-point loss to the Hawks.

OK, I get it: small sample size! Let's look at the 16 games since the deal that Dub has played for the Bucks. 13.5 / 3.4 / 5.4 on 39% from the floor, with 3.3 turnovers per game. On the positive, 1.9 steals and 80.5% from the line is acceptable, though in 30+ minutes a game, it's not exactly exciting. (Canaan and Smith? 12.1 / 2.6 / 3.0 for the former, 11.7 / 2.9 / 6.3 for the latter, with 1.7 steals and percentages around 40% from the field, and 4.6 turnovers mitigating the good.)

The point? The Sixers may or may not be worse off in the here and now for trading Dub. He is far better on defense than either of the men now in rotation, and it's unfair to think that a straight up comparison of numbers would tell the whole story, given the Sixers go-go pace. From the eye test, the club is better on offense and worse on defense since the deal, and the continued offensive breakout of Nerlens Noel is in no small part to the fact that Smith seems to delight in throwing him alley oops at any and all opportunities, whether it's a statistically sound play or not.

But the bigger issue is, of course, what *else* the team got in the Dub trade, which was the Lakers' conditional first round pick. Dub is now the starting point guard on a team with real NBA players, currently competing for a playoff spot, and statistically, he's still the same (very) flawed player he was in Philadelphia. The Bucks' won-loss record with him is 6-15; overall, it's 36-38.

I realize that after 20 games is not really a fair time to call a trade a win. If Dub comes up huge in a first round Bucks playoff win (they are currently 6th in the East, and not very likely to slide out of the playoff picture), maybe things start to look a little different. But so far, this looks like a stone cold theft for the Sixers, an artful escape from a PG that was never going to be part of an upper tier team, and selling incredibly high on a flawed asset.

Considering this is part of a continuing series of deals in which Hinkie seems to be winning in a walk... the point comes around as to when this all starts translating to actual wins and losses, rather than just a shuffling of chips. Dub was his pick after all, and while it was a weak draft in which there were no clear better pick behind him (seriously, any draft in which the 22nd overall pick, the Dookie Mason Plumlee, is the best player so far is clearly a crap draft for the ages). Dennis Schroeder at 17 looks strong at PG, Giannis Antotokounmpo is something of a sensation at 15, and Rudy Gobert at 27 also looks like a defensive hammer... but the fact is that Hinkie drafted the Rookie of the Year at 11, then dealt him for what might be the sixth pick in a monster draft.

And replaced him with NBA chattel, and honestly didn't even hurt the current on-court project.

Dude's a witch, honestly...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

In news you can not possible care about, here's the 2015 fantasy baseball draft results

Tradition!
Assuming you've been around the blog for a while, you know the drill. I tell you about my draft in the hope that it can help you with yours. And away we go. (Asterisks show protected players; my club won the league last year, mostly on pitching and grit and luck, in a very spread year.)


  Player TM 2015 $ 2016 $
C Yan Gomes * CLE 5 8
C Jason Castro HOU 1 4
1B Matt Adams STL 6 9
2B Dee Gordon * MIA 15 19
3B Manny Machado * BAL 10 14
SS Xander Bogaerts * BOS 7 10
CI Chris Carter HOU 11 15
MI Javier Baez * CHN 7 10
OF Justin Upton * SD 33 38
OF Matt Kemp * SD 16 20
OF Ryan Braun MIL 31 36
U Carlos Correia * HOU 4 7
SP David Price * DET 28 33
SP Kyle Lohse * MIL 7 10
SP Jon Lester * CHN 10 14
SP Sonny Gray * OAK 14 18
RP Aroldis Chapman * CIN 11 15
RP Nefali Felix TEX 6 9
P Scott Kazmir * OAK 4 7
P Shelby Miller ATL 10 14
P Archie Bradley ARI 2 5
BN Jayson Werth WSH 3 6
BN Santiago Casilla SF 4 7
BN Zach Wheeler NYM 4 7
BN Scooter Ginnettt MIL 1 4
  Total   250 339

A word about the protections first. Many were fairly difficult. Xander Bogaerts didn't help for much of 2014, and his protection number is no great bargain, but he's still incredibly young for his level, and in a great situation. Javier Baez has spent much of March ventilating Arizona, and it really looks like the Cubs are just hoping for him to have a good week so they can move him for pitching. But the potential for 30 home run power from the middle infield is too good to walk away from, and his historical pattern is to struggle with a level for a few months, then stat being one of the best players in the league. Lohse at $7 is probably twice his auction price, but there's some benefit to just locking down a lot of positions and just having less moves to worry about. Especially when you are strapped for prep time, as I've been this year.

The thing that I wanted in re offense this year was power. It's increasingly rare in today's anemic MLB, and as I came into the draft needing two of three corner positions, it seemed like something I should be able to pick up. Which is why, when I put in a price protection bid on Braun in the early moments of the draft, then got caught by the owner not upping his bid, it seemed like something that was really going to torpedo my draft. I was also caught between two guys with money to spend, who weren't very likely to let me have much in the way of pet picks, what with the defending championship and everything. Braun at $31 could deliver value if the thumb is healthy and he gets back to something close to his PED heights, but there's also a real chance that he's just no longer a SB threat, and might not be much beyond a league average OF any more. We'll see.

There were two other curious moments from this draft. The first was that the market on closers started high and never really wavered. I won the league last year with two waiver wire guys coming through, so this is a trend I didn't want to follow, but I'm reasonably satisfied with Feliz, in that he closed 2014 by looking like his old self. Casilia is older, but the Giants aren't likely to make a ton of changes after winning it all again, so I think I can get to 100 with this set; that's usually enough.

The second was that our strongest owner, a guy that wins over half of the leagues that he's in, tanked the year on purpose. He went deep into team's prospect lists in the hope of having a dominant club of low price hammers later, to the point where he left a lot of his money unused. Given who he is, he didn't get all of these guys for cheap, as people started bidding them up to try to limit the dominance that he might enjoy later, but it still strongly impacted the draft, in that it became obvious that you could name a quality veteran without having our guy bid them up.

As always in such things, the goal post-draft is to just not have the year ruined, and by coming in with the guts of a good team with upside, I needed less from the draft than most. Which means that my feeling post-draft was fairly negative, but maybe that was just from fatigue and, less than 12 hours after the draft ended, debilitating illness. Not a good omen, as it were, but in the pale next-day light, I think the outfield will hit, the corners could take a step up, and the closers will compete.

And if not, I've got a whopper of an excuse for why my team stinks this year...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

For the Sake Of the Eagles, I'm Hoping Chip Kelly Is A Liar, Rather Than An Idiot

Baghdad Chip
The man that longtime FTT commenter Tracer Bullet calls Boy GM, today to the Eagles press mob.

"It went on for a couple weeks. We were trying to keep Nick if we could. It was just at the last second, they wanted players. We were trying to get it done with draft picks, but it didn't work out that way."
By the way, he's talking about the QB swap.

So, let's get this straight.

The Eagles signed Mark Sanchez for two years and $5.5 million, AKA more than just about every other QB2 in the league, two days before the Nick Foles / Sam Bradford deal.

They were also... trying to have both Foles *and* Bradford?

You have to think that Matt Barkley is, at this point, wondering if he should even bother showing up to camp, or if it would just be better to FedEx a package of dog droppings to Kelly's house. (And after the Tebow Circus, Matt, get a horse.) But more importantly, let's think about what this means to how the team is being built.

Instead of putting money on the offensive line, we'll put it on the RBs.

Instead of putting money into WRs, we'll put it into QBs. A lot of them.

And on the defense, we'll go all-in at LBs, shuffle the bodies in the secondary without addressing the glaring hole at safety... and spend enough of the cap on incoming free agents to put into serious jeopardy the most important job for the front office, which is locking down DL Fletcher Cox for the upcoming years when he will be Best In The NFL At What He Does, Which Is Wreck Opposing Offenses.

But getting back to Chip's Dream QB Rotation... $12mm for Bradford, $2.5mm for Sanchez, and $1.2mm for Foles, with presumably August's most entertaining position battle in years, with anything but Sanchez as QB1 being possible.

Oh, and none of them are signed for longer than Sanchez's 2-year deal. Also, with everyone in the NFL probably *still* thinking he's somehow going to swap everything for Marcus Mariota.

So not only is our man willing to spend money in ways that no other NFL franchise is willing to do, but he's also willing to have preseason and regular season contract hijinks and turmoil while he does it. Rather than just the month of FA WTFery.

Either that, or he just enjoys lying to Howard Eskin. And really, who doesn't?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Top 10 reasons why ex-NFL player Darren Sharper may only serve 10 years in jail for raping 9 women

From the makers of "Oh, This Is Bad"

10) In Sharper's defense, he's not gay and hasn't come out in favor of paying college football players, so it's not like he's 100% monster

9) He hit people really hard back in the day, and the justice system loves them some big hits

8) Didn't rape anyone while wearing official NFL licensed apparel, so there's less damage to the "Shield" than expected, really

7) By spreading the rapes around to four states, he really got more for his rape dollar

6) He was smart enough to avoid children, animals or men, otherwise known as groups that America cares about

5) That 2009 Super Bowl ring he earned while with the Saints really helped heal the nation's psyche after Katrina

4) In comparison to Aaron Hernandez, Rae Carruth and OJ Simpson, he's small potatoes when it comes to NFL Felon

3) There's footage of him wearing pink gear during October, so that has to count for something

2) His attorney, Saul Goodman Esq., really did a hell of a job on the plea bargain

1) Sentence serves a clear and potent message to half of the nation's populace that, no, there really isn't anything changed after the Ray Rice Affair

Monday, March 23, 2015

Top 10 reasons why the NFL is suspending the blackout policy in 2015

Sooey! Here Roger! HERE PIG!
10) It's a going away present for fans of Oakland, San Diego,  Jacksonville, St. Louis and the four other franchises that are moving to Los Angeles in 2016

9) League is just giving up on the idea that going to games is for anything but old-school chumps

8) They aren't getting any of that super-sweet StubHub mark-up, so screw it

7) Just so tired of hearing Mean Old John McCain bitch and bitch and bitch about it

6) Once every ten years, without fail, the league slips up and makes a decision that's actually good for non-millionaire fans

5) With games eventually going to every game of the week anyway, blackouts are increasingly untenable

4) As soon as they fix this, everyone's going to forget about that head trauma and young guys retiring problem

3) Blackouts have impacted a whopping 5% of games in this decade, which is to say, well, a couple of dog teams that no one cares about

2) By doing this, they can totally go back to scab refs and extra games and keep pre-season games and neuter kickoffs and have super-shaky PI and overtime rules, because hey, no blackouts

1) It's a dead zone day between NCAA Tournament games, before the NBA and NHL playoffs, and by announcing this today, they can pound one more nail into the coffin that is MLB awareness

FTT Off-Topic: Time Out Of Mind

Appropriately black and white
Not sports, read or don't. It's a big Internets.

Here's something that you do not get to say very often as a Sports Blogger with the goal of making enough coin from site traffic to cash a check or six... I have not watched TV for over a week now. Probably the longest period in my life.

This is not a happy time, per se. It's not an unhappy time because of the lack of programming. It's a time where my career is changing on what seems to be a daily basis, as different contracting opportunities rise and fall, as different consumer categories and industries matter and then do not. It's a time of great uncertainty and certain needs.

I've also got a fantasy baseball draft to run and participate in this Saturday, and this is so not the time to try and eat all of that info. My defending championship team is DOA, really. Maybe if I keep the television off long enough, all of the reading I'm doing will be retained. Maybe.

Now, I've *followed* sports in that time, of course. I've read the box scores and tracked my teams, and I've taken a big wide miss on the NCAA Tournament for years now. I've thought about sports a lot, especially when trying to trick my mind out of the I HATE RUNNING mindset that my body keeps sending to my brain for the 25 miles a week that I do it. I've written about them, as the blog here shows.

But actual time spent in front of the screen, and the screen is on? None.

And man alive, I miss it, but that's just a story that I'm telling myself.

Along with the reasons why I'm not watching. I'll turn it on again when Certain Goals Are Met. I haven't been smart enough / productive enough / nice enough to justify it. I need to fill the blog first, or my corporate and consulting work. I need to get Certain Paperwork done, and I keep not getting that cleared. I'm preparing for a dark future in which cable isn't a justifiable expense, and honestly, maybe not that dark.

Facts.

Stories.

Stories about facts that we treat as facts, because that's what humans do.

Until we don't.

And the hours become days, and the days become weeks, and your life changes in ways you didn't predict.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Top 10 Proposed New NFL Rule Changes

Jay's Got The Legs For It
10) Replay after every play, because getting every call correct matters more than anything, and the visual thrill of watching a balding middle age guy stare at a screen can not be topped

9) Biker gang style beatdowns of players who retire early for fear of head injuries now get you 15 bonus yards that a coach can use when he really, really needs them

8) Some cockamamie bonus after 2-point conversion thing that the Colts came up with just to prove to the world that the Patriots do not corner the AFC market on douche-baggery

7) If any game looks like it might end in under four hours, goes into Super Extra Replay Review Mode, where the refs walk to the sidelines as if into a stiff wind

6) Fixed cameras on all boundary lines, goal posts, front row spectators and cheerleader chests

5) Coaches who challenge plays that they do not have to, like turnovers and touchdowns, to be publicly caned (subject to the league finding a cane sponsor)

4) Both teams have to get a possession in overtime, because it's just not fair to teams that don't have a defense that could stop a special needs toddler to just lose right away

3) Taunting definition to now include mean looks, unkind uses of social media pre or post game, or all that crap your wife has been saying

2) Stadium-produced video, especially if it's done by stadiums in the "right" markets, can be used for replay reviews, and never you mind about what can or can't be done with Photoshop

1) QBs to be put in special red shirts and tutus, to better represent reality, and to throw defensive players the only bone they've received in the past 40 years

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Brief And Obvious Points About Matt Barkley And Tim Tebow

Tebow Wuz Here
Barkley has not proven, with a statistically significant amount of data and an astonishing amount of Eye Fail, to not be an NFL QB.

Tebow has.

Barkley was, in fact, brought to the Eagles during the Chip Kelly Era, where he has frequently occupied an active roster space, and used up two years of salary and pension time accrual.

Tebow could have been employed by anyone in the NFL for a very long time. No franchise has felt so moved.

Barkley cost a fourth round pick, which means that trading him for less than that (as seems inevitable, given that far better assets than Barkley have gone for less) is a net loss, and not a good indication of Kelly's prowess as a GM or as a developer of talent.

Tebow costs, well, I guess the veteran minimum, considering how there's the other 31 teams steadfastly voting Um, No Thanks. And having a guy with the size of a TE taking snaps at QB does give the offense a certain Jared Lorenzon-esque issue of having to watch out for power sneakery. Me, personally, I think there are better ways to get one to three yards, and that any offensive play where that's the maximum payout is inherently suspect... but whatevs.

So here we are.

If the rumors are to be believed, Kelly wants to turn his Disaster QB away from a third-year guy who, despite Turnover Machine leanings, has had the offense resembling what it should look like... with a guy that has only ever succeeded when he ran the most conservative ball-control offense in modern NFL history.

For, I don't know, a guy that brings forth Culture, or some such nonsense.

And for those in the fan base who think Barkley is hot garbage, and are willing to get him out of here for anything, and think Tebow is a Winner or some such happy horseflop...

Do you watch football, or just like it for the stories?

Because if and when you get to see this guy throw a football like he was, well, a TE/FB who has no business throwing a football, in a tempo offense where this will get the offense off the field in the blink of an eye, assuming he doesn't just turn it over before then....

Well, then, finally, we will reach the point in which everyone jumps off the Kelly Bandwagon.

The only problem is that Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson won't magically reappear when that happens...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Chip Kelly Trolls Eagle Fan With Tim Tebow

Let's Get Trolling
So after several years of not playing NFL Football, following several years of not playing NFL Football as if he were his actual stated position of Quarterback, my Eagles brought in Tim Tebow today for a workout.

No, seriously.

The last time the man with perhaps the least qualified arm in NFL QB history got into a game was 2012, when the sideshow ended in New York. New England brought him in for a training camp stint just to see if they could turn him into something as part of their eternal noogy-based war against the Jets, then realized, um, dear God no, the man can't throw a football worth a Bible verse. And we're not even talking about one of the good ones. Tebow begat 11 for 30 for 145 yards, 2 TD, 2 INTs, and that's in pre-season against people who aren't going to be in the league.)Tebow has spent his time since cashing in on his Christian celebrity by being ESPN and the SEC Network's man in Red State college footballery, which makes all kinds of sense, really. But I guess the heart wants what it wants.

The club let him finish his derpery and go without a deal, so maybe this is just harmless headline bait to remind us all that Chip Kelly Is Still Alive, what with the coming up on over half a week anniversary of no major personnel moves. (And no, even if they had signed God's Own Terrible QB, he would not have been Major Personnel.)

As with seemingly all things in the Kelly Era, there are two ways to look at this kerfluffle. The first is that no harm, no foul, and maybe he was just trying to tweak Bill Belichick's nose into showing that he's the better coach after all. Getting some value out of this slug would be some kind of trick. The second is that Chip is Boy GM with No Clue other than Do Public Things, and while he's at it, he might as well go give Matt Barkley a wedgie, seeing as he's kind of done that by not giving him the Week 17 Giants game, and by re-signing Proven Turnover Machine Mark Sanchez to be Expensive Disaster QB2.

But honestly, after a week and a half of Jets-level tabloid hijinks, a day of Tebow seems like just the thing, really. Let others be limited by the hidebound notion that a QB that can't complete the simplest of throws with consistency can't possibly suit up for your franchise. Chip Knows More Than You Do. Let others wonder about the possibly divisive nature that this might infuse into a locker room that wasn't entirely drafted for piety. Chip Know Culture Better Than You Do. You might be wondering why anyone with a brain in their head would want to recreate the 2012 Jets with Sanchez and Tebow, especially if the latter were to be that dreaded Change Of Pace (as in, we had pace, then Tebow came in, and that changed) QB that the defense welcomes with open arms and no one more than seven yards off the line of scrimmage. Chip Can Scheme Around That. And finally, let others speculate that he really doesn't have a Master Plan, and that he's making it all up as he goes along. Chip Says He's Got It All Figured Out, Now Don't You Worry Your Little Heads About It.

Anyone ever wonder if Chip really does believe that Parade or Pariah stuff they spew on talk radio? Because if today wasn't just for them... then who the hell was it for?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Athletes Really Can Stop Taking Out Full Page Thank You I'm Gone Ads

A Place To Buy Nothing
Hey, stud player with too much coin who is leaving town. Want to be sure to get one last handy from the local scribes that you threw crumbs to while in town? Take out an ad in the newspaper!

It doesn't really matter what you saw in it, as no one under the age of 55 has read a newspaper since Obama took office, and newspapers exist only to give online content generation some air cover while they keep not making money. (Free is too a business model! Now go click some of this blog's fine, fine collection of ads. Many times.) It also doesn't matter how long you were in town, how beloved you were or were not, or how relieved you are to be getting away from these lunatics, weather, owner, coach or media. Just say what you don't mean! For money.

There is, honestly and for true, no greater moment of logrolling and nonsense as the full page thank you print ad. The team's fans have no great affinity toward you; in all likelihood, a sizable percentage of them were agitating for you to go all along, or annoyed that you didn't give your old team the thoroughly pointless discount to stay. (A sacrifice that no one reading this blog has, or will ever be expected, to make. Capitalism just doesn't work like that.) The benefit this does to your "brand" (and yes, I work in marketing and advertising theoretically, and even I just threw up in my mouth more than a little) is fleeting at best. No one ever had "but he took out an ad in the paper" appear during their next arrest story. It doesn't set you up for a future in the Media, at the very least, because there is no future for the media you just advertised in. The only real benefit to this is that it shows the general public just how cheaply you can pay off print reporters. Sure, he may have been a malcontent, quit on plays, appeared on the police record and headed off to go beat our team's brains in by signing with a division or conference rival, but lookie! An ad! We're saved from eating generic cat food for another week!

So, on the very unlikely chance that these words show up in an athlete's vision, I Haz Suggestion for your next going away media blitz: go digital. Have retargeting banners ("Miss me? I miss you! Buy my new jersey here!") set up to people who visit your old team's site. Send a string of emails, each one going through a different stage of loss, on your grieving process. Make a video pre-roll from your bon voyage press conference, linking to your own site, of course, to push up the all-important Like Count. Tweet like you mean it, or at the very least, like the nerd in your posse means it. In short, hit the actual platform that you use every day, rather than the one that's drowning in disuse and delusion.

Oh, and be prepared for the absolute and complete silence that your words will receive.

Because, after all, only people who pay for print ads can be Good Guys in print media...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Is Chip Kelly Dead?

Pour Another Smoothie On The Ground
As I write this, it is in the wee small hours of the morning on Saturday night / Sunday morning. Thanks to a bout of what was likely food poisoning and the continuing plague that is my ever-flooding basement, I'm up and doing things, having been out during the day. And there is nothing -- nothing! -- on the sports sites or Twitter or the team's web page or any other place where I've spent too much time in the past week about what the team is doing now.

I mean, there's still a guard to get to replace Todd Herremans, another guard to get if you sell Evan Mathis for pennies on the dollar (as rumored on Friday), a safety to pick up to replace Nate Allen, the recipient of one of those late in free agency overpay contracts that the worst teams in football always make, and a WR to replace the still gone and we're still mourning Jeremy Maclin.

Plus, Sam Bradford has been here for days already -- days! -- and supposedly the Browns offered up their first round pick (#19) for him, and the continuing refusal to admit that the club has any inclination to trade up for Oregon QB Marcus Mariota is one of those Sure Chip, We Believes You Lots moments. (To be fair to Chip, press conferences at this time of the year should be predated with "Telling you people anything close to the truth puts me at a tactical disadvantage, so enjoy the next thirty minutes of lying. I know I will.")

Anyway, seriously, what gives? I've come to accept earth-shattering trades and signings on a daily basis now; this is the New Normal. (Along with flooded basements and food poisoning, apparently. I didn't say the New Normal was nice.)

So, seriously. Someone check on Chip. Make sure that he didn't get a stronger dose than I did, that some sports talk radio yahoo didn't take a shot at him with a gun, that he isn't found slumped over his desk, his last dying doodle a 4-RB formation out of a 3-OL set, where each back runs it for a yard apiece in a massive time-share lateral chain.

I mean, there hasn't been a major move in DAYS, people. DAYS.

(Admit it, you're worried now, aren't you? IT ALL MAKES SENSE. Unlike, well, much of the last week...)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Poker Diaries: Scared Money Don't Make No Money

Why does a turtle need money?
Tonight at the home game, we had a great crowd -- 25 total players, just one short of full capacity, in that I have room for three kidney-shaped tables and one can't hold more than 8 guys, so 8+9+9 only gets you to 26 -- for a no limit hold'em game. To add my usual can't leave well enough alone spice to things, we made it a Super Bounty game, where you get extra cash for eliminating players and a 1.5X bonus for taking out a past Player of the Year. (There have been five of those, four of which still make it back for just about every game, and yes, I was fortunate enough to take it down in 2013.)

So the game is promoting aggression, and while there are any number of calling stations and aggro players in the home crowd, it's mostly a solid group of guys; some creativity, some check-raising, some c-betting, etc., etc. I've played in casinos that were softer than my home game, but since the game is a true mid-stakes game with no rake and no one getting really hurt, it's where I play my best, because I'm playing for comfortable stakes. When I play at my home game, I'm playing for my chips, not the money that was spent to get them.

And that's a big, big difference, really.

When the chips are just chips, bluffs are just bluffs; you can win or lose with them, and even feel good about the ones that don't work, in that you know that if you make that play often enough it will pay off, either in success or in getting paid for when you do have the nuts. But when the chips are money, and money is a big damned deal...

Well, time to admit it: I'm officially unemployed as of tomorrow, with the health benefits running out at the end of the month. (Feel free to visit this blog a lot and click on a mess of ads, by the way.) I used to make good coin in online advertising, and I know a lot, and have progressed nicely with titles and compensation, and now, at age 45, that's all in serious jeopardy. The company I was working for eliminated my position, and is likely to go away on their own via merger, acquisition, or just plain failure in the next 6 to 12 months, if not sooner. They don't do a lot of things well, I wasn't an effective change agent, and everything except the fact that I don't know where my next paycheck is coming from... is better in my life. But that not knowing where the paycheck is coming from is a big damned deal. Intolerable, really.

A bad job (and yes, this was a bad job) is just one of the worst things that can happen to m. It's something I couldn't stop thinking about, which means that for most of the past 18+ months, it ruined just about every day of my life. I was so worried about every aspect of the place, that I wound up not taking a vacation day in the last two years. Thank heavens for that, as the severance package was one of those "either you aren't going to be in the industry any more, and we don't need to worry about hurt feelings, or the same but for us" experiences, and it got me more runway.

And now that I'm loose, my days are pretty much the same as they were before, as it was a work from home gig, which is to say House Arrest. I still keep the same hours, but now it's scrambling for contracting gigs to lengthen the runway before I just have to take anything, really. Currently, the runway goes away in mid to late April; if what I'm working on now bears fruit, I should be able to push back Bad Things I Might Have To Do for another 3 to 6 weeks. My personal network is generating some leads, and I'm pounding the Internet like a man who is acutely aware of his lack of runway. I'm looking forward to a day when I look back and realize that this was the best thing that could have happened, and that the next gig will be better and me along with it, for what I've learned here. I work in online advertising, which is to say the Wild West; you can't complain too much when the outlaws come through and shoot up the town. It's what happens.

But, well, the game goes on. And some of the folks at the game are also professional contacts, and if I can be seen as keeping my cool during the rough patch, maybe that makes them push their HR departments all the harder to get me in the door. 45 is not exactly at death's door, and I'm in the same or better shape than I was 25 years ago.

Anyway... boy, does this not do much for your poker. (If nothing else, it gave me a smackdown from the Poker Gods when I tried to talk business during hands, and would up folding two straight hands that would have been a straight and trips on unraised flops. Yeesh.)

All things considered, I think I played pretty well tonight. I never had a pair bigger than 10s (they held and I increased my stack by 2.5X against two callers), never had a bigger ace than A-10, only really came from behind on the river once for a decent pot, and more or less danced my way around with a small stack all the way to the final table.

I managed a few bucks in bounties, got a little unlucky twice late (pair of 3s vs. two overs ended it when his hand improved and mine didn't, but 54-46 is a hand you have to win more than a few times in any tournament), and bubbled at the final table.

I'd like to think that if the money didn't mean too much, I'd have played better tonight, and made the experience positive, rather than a slight loss. But in my gut, I know that I was too cautious, missed some reads where re-raising from the big blind into aggro players would have re-stolen a pre-flop pot, and in general, played my cards, rather than theirs.

Because, well, when money matters too much, you play not to lose.

And playing not to lose is rarely, if ever, going to result in a win...

Friday, March 13, 2015

Six Points About The Eagles Signing DeMarco Murray *and* Ryan Matthews

Ride, Taken
Part of the presumed goal last week (you remember last week, right? We were all so much younger then) was that the Philadelphia Eagles were not going to spend so much money at running back, which has become the most fungible position in the NFL. Instead, they were going to become more like the ever-imitated New England Patriots, who do stunt work like picking up LeGarrette Blount off the trash heap and having him win a Super Bowl, or tossing James White in for some 200+ yard 4+ TD aberration. The line matters! And the QB. Running back, not so much.

Then, the club went out and tried to grab Frank Gore, which made most in the fan base slap themselves over, well, the fact that Gore wasn't McCoy, and was a heck of a lot older. Given that NFL RBs tend to age like overfed big dogs, the fact that Gore was good last year didn't seem to matter, but at least he came relatively cheap, and maybe he was just seen as a caddy / injury protection to Chris Polk. Probably makes more sense to just get a fresh rook there, but well, the Kelly tempo offense is a lot of carries, and Gore didn't cost that much. So be it.

Then, Gore decided to go to the Colts instead -- thoroughly defensible, considering that team was a game away from the Super Bowl while coasting through a year in which they were pretty much a world-class fraud -- but the team pivoted to the tolerable Ryan Mathews. Mathews is best seen a very poor man's McCoy, as he's had persistent injury issues, but at least is someone who has three-down ability, and can do pretty much everything you would want an RB to do, other than stay healthy. Plus, hey, first round pedigree, good size and speed. Your opinion on Mathews is pretty much directly linked to if you've owned him while he was hurt in fantasy, or while he was healthy.

So, Mathews, Polk and Darren Sproles. Not as good as McCoy, Polk and Sproles, but what the hey; good at RB doesn't matter quite so much any more, that's money they can theoretically use somewhere else, and the team still needed a S, WR1 (in the worst way), and G...

Um, say what now?

Well, it turns out that RB DeMarco Murray, criminally overused by Dallas last year but clearly the best RB in the NFL in 2014, is an ex-college teammate of new QB1 Sam Bradford. And interested in coming over, and fine, that works to drive up the cost for Dallas to keep him, but they aren't serious about spending big cap dollars at...

Yeah, they signed him. For not quite McCoy money, but in the freaking ballpark.

But it's OK, because Mathews hadn't officially signed yet, and they can just walk away...

Um, say what now?

Yeah, they signed him, too. For pretty much the same money they were throwing at Gore.

Six points about this.

1) I think that Kelly thinks that he has a tactical advantage over the rest of the NFL when it comes to avoiding injuries. His teams play at a faster pace, he conditions them differently, he feeds them differently, and for all of the noise about how time of possession will turn your defense into worn-out shells of their former selves by the end of the year, that hasn't been the case. As banged up as the offensive line was at the start of 2014, they were mostly healthy by the close, and the only major injury for the defense was DeMeco Ryans.

For his sake, I hope he's right, because nearly everyone brought in during FAPalooza has had massive time in the trainer's room. Murray, Matthews, Bradford, Alonso, Thurmond, just a laundry list of ouchie.

Kelly would say that this is why they available. I'd say this is why he's paid too much to get them. And that 2015 will be spent with a lot of If Only X Was Healthy, We'd Be Better.

2) In Murray and Mathews, the Eagles are bringing in not one, but two guys who have had issues staying healthy, and you are spending the most on the guy who nearly carried it 400 times last year. Maybe the thought here is that you need redundancy in the eventuality of an injury to either guy, but that seems like a fairly expensive insurance policy. Especially when you are projecting starter snaps to Riley Cooper, G to be named later, and a bunch of guys who haven't been healthy.

3) The thought is that the Eagles are going to be such a tempo plus production offense that 40+ carries a game will happen each and every week, with the split going something like 20-12-5-3 between Murray, Mathews, Sproles and the beleaguered Polk. (Oh, and Polk at the goal line, to save the stars from concussion and to drive fantasy guys out of their minds.) That keeps everyone fresh and hearty all the way through the grind of the season, but also assumes that the offensive line is dominant and healthy -- two things they were not in 2014 -- and that the lack of anything resembling WR1 (or even WR2) isn't just going to mean so many defenders in the box that running plays aren't going to work.

4) At least we've got the simple joy of Cowboy Fan Freakout, as their best offensive player last year goes to the Hated Rival. Burn them jerseys, Boys Fans! Just remember that if your old man gets hurt (again) and more seriously, he's done you a great service by destroying your rival's salary cap. Just kind of like how that Terrell Owens signing didn't really work out for you, when you got him off the Andy Reid slag heap. If only this kind of move actually worked out in real life. Remember the big RB spending of the Carolina Panthers a few years back, and how well that worked?

5) What, exactly, has Polk done to deserve being RB4, when he might (might) be the second best back on the roster, and doesn't actually make a ton of money?

Oh, right. He was here Pre-Kelly. And, strike two, didn't go to Orgeon. Shame on you, Chris Polk!

6) And just when you thought it might be safe to look at sports news again, with much of the roster crash being done... rumors that the club is shopping Pro Bowl G Evan Mathis, in that Mathis is 33 and makes actual coin, and also isn't a guy who was brought here by Kelly. (Memo to guys on the roster who were not brought here by Kelly: Rent. Do not buy. Anything.)

Um, the team still needs to fill Todd Herreman's spot. And Mathis was really good in 2014, and guards don't fall apart at 33, and none of the back-up guys in 2014 seemed all that world-beating, and we still have three holes among the 22 starters, and if this team is going to be anything, it's going to be because the OL is great...

But we're absolutely loaded at RB3 and RB4, with people you've heard of and everything.

Just like, well, no other really good team in the league.

It's a mean trick, signing the best player away from the team we hate the most, and having it still be a day where a big portion of the fan base thinks it's all going wrong, wrong, wrong...

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Continuing Ascension of Nerlens Noel

Fly Nerlens Fly
Last night in South Phillly, the most satisfying franchise in town -- yes, the tank-tastic 76ers, who at least seem to have a coherent plan and competent general management, unlike every other team that's local -- lost to the Bulls in overtime. Through injury and enforced rest, Chicago didn't have SG Jimmy Butler, PG Derrick Rose, PF Taj Gibson or C Joakim Noah, and that kind of JV Stars tends to happen a lot against one of the weakest and youngest teams in recent NBA history. The Sixers fell behind by as much as 20, came roaring back behind good defense and some solid work by their unclaimed freight PGs, missed a manageable shot late that could have won it, then got steamrolled by PG Aaron Brooks in overtime. But none of that really matters very much, and isn't what I wanted to talk about.

Rather, I want to get get into a few small but highly telling points. First, that when the Sixers came back to take a small lead, the bench erupted as if they were going to go to the Finals. Armchair psychiatry happens a lot in pro hoop, because the players don't wear helmets and their body language is incredibly unguarded, and as such, it's mostly bunk... but still, here's a team filled with strangers (25 different guys have seen court time this year, honest), with many of the guys on the floor not having much more than a few months in each other's company, and they are still marking out for each other. It's nice, and speaks volumes as to why no one in town wants anyone other than HC Brett Brown at the helm. And hope like hell that he actually gets a team to coach, and soon.

Second... with the exception of Brooks, Pau Gasol was the best player on the floor tonight. He finished with 27 and 16 on 13 of 25 shooting, and was dominant for solid stretches of the game. He's been one of the best offensive big men in the game this year, and has been Chicago's most consistent player. He also got Nerlens Noel in foul trouble, so when Noel re-entered the game with the Bulls up one and 4:22 left, he had five fouls. Here's what happened next, at least the stuff that concerns Noel.

3:51 left - Nikola Mirotic goes back door and scores off an E'Twaun Moore assist. Noel contests the shot, then pulls off at the last second, protecting the sixth foul. I know this seems like a small thing, but still, good awareness. Bulls go up by four.

3:14 - Hollis Thompson misses a deep three in the middle of the clock. Noel shows good quicks for the offensive board, and even better wheels on a dribble and scoop lay-up. For a guy with no handle at the start of the year, he's made great progress. This pulls Philly back within two.

2:30 - Thompson misses again from deep, and Noel grabs yet another board. Ten seconds later, PG Ish Smith, having a career night in points, connects from deep, and it's 89-88, Bulls.

1:55 - Gasol drives on Noel, plainly trying to collect the sixth foul. Nerlens stands his ground, doesn't buy a strong collection of fakes, and funnels his man into Mbah a Moute, who strips Gasol. Just a great defensive possession by the rook.

1:39 - After a Smith miss, Gasol is back to work, this time trying to pump fake Noel into a ticky tack foul off his jumper. Nerlens contests it cleanly, bothering Gasol's rhythm and line, and collects the defensive board. Again, rookie with five fouls against a possible Hall of Fame big man, and this time, Noel was on an island. Crowd really started to get into this, by the way.

1:07 - Gasol again, Noel again. Missed jumper, Mbah a Moute with the board. On the subsequent possession, Smith gets to the line and gives the Sixers a one point lead. (The last minute saw Brooks hit a tying three, Mbah a Moute miss the possible winning 16 footer, and nothing too germane to my Noel study.)

So, check it out. With five fouls and iso coverage on Gasol, Noel makes a half dozen big, big plays and helps lead his team to a very real chance of pulling off their second straight home win against the beast of the lEast. (Atlanta went down to the Sixers over the weekend, by the way.) He finished with an 8-15-1 line on 4 of 9 from the field and 0 of 4 from the line, with 4 steals and 2 blocks. And this was, really, one of his worst games since the All-Star Break, against one of his toughest opponents.

Oh, and earlier in the game, he had the block of the night, a straight up Grown Ass Man denial at the rim on poor Tony Snell, where he showed surprising strength and not a small amount of nasty, all while being form perfect at the rim. Watch it and try not to giggle.



He's also in the top 10 in the entire NBA in steals, and going to be the first rook since David Robinson (!) to be in the top 10 in that category and blocked shots. The points and boards are both up 3.3 since the Break, and the FT shooting is up 10 points (to 67%, getting there) as well. In March, he's averaging a double-double (10.7/12.5), with a ridiculous 2.0 blocks and 3.7 steals. Remember, he was supposed to fall apart without Michael Carter-Williams around, too.

Last moment of goodness: Noel is 20 years old.

Which is why I'm finding myself watching more and more of the Sixers, and feeling better and better about the time spent...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Sam Bradford Trade, Or I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus

Squeeze The Wheeze
Today, the Eagles decided that a QB that was a year older than their starter, more injury prone, and with much worse stats (albeit with a terrible offensive support cast) was worth $12M in contract and significant pick equity more than just staying with what they had.

And sure, in Sam Bradford they get a 27-year-old guy who is not that far removed from being the overall #1 pick in the draft, a 6'-4" 227 pound guy who can make every throw in the book, and has a little bit of mobility to his credit. He's also got two season-ending ACL injuries, no real track record of significant success in the NFL, and a career yards per catch ratio that says he's been gun-shy about going for any real chunks of yardage, maybe because... his line has been an open sieve, and he's had multiple season-ending injuries.

The point isn't that Bradford is a terrible gamble. or that he can't resuscitate his career in an innovative offense with a reasonable line, especially in the cotton candy division that is the NFC East, at least in comparison to six games a year against Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona. It's also not terribly relevant that Bradford isn't exactly the Mariota-esque gazelle that some believe to be required for a Kelly offense in the NFL.

The point is that they overpaid to get him, when honestly, there shouldn't have been that much of a hue and clamor to get him.

Foles will make $10mm less than Bradford in 2015, and even when he struggled last year, the Eagles won a lot more games than they lost. And with Bradford's deal ending after this year, he's going to get expensive if he plays well, and if he plays badly (or gets hurt), we're back to the Sanchize, which is to say, we're back to .500 football, maybe. And Bradford might have been available for nothing more than an offer in 2016, when his deal is up, especially if he can't get through the year healthy.

Second round picks matter, a lot, in the NFL. You get a guy with a real chance at being a positive player for true budget flexibility, and they usually come in with Serious Hunger, since they didn't get called by every team in the NFL, at least once. There isn't a good team in the NFL that hasn't gotten serious mileage out of their second round picks. And you just gave up one of those for a guy that might, or might not, be all that much better than the guy you gave up for him.

If you are still on the Kelly Train... well, there's a lot more room in the cabin right now, especially with the clickbait swirl of how Kelly is running off uppity black men who can run so that he's got guys who follow The Scheme better. Personally, I think he's just running off people who were expensive or here before him, maybe because they don't keep up with the workouts, roll their eyes during smoothie breaks or poor red zone play calls, or just because winning with a greater degree of difficulty and idiosyncratic behavior gets you more style points. Oh, and this sort of thing might also have cost them Frank Gore, not that anyone in town is going to light too many candles for that funeral pyre.

Me, I just think they paid top shelf for bar booze, and made a skittish fan base even more unhinged. I've been trying to give maximum clearance on the last week of work, and avoid jumping off buildings with everyone else...

But man alive, Sam Bradford. Backed up by Mark Sanchez. And we're supposed to be OK with this?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Top 10 Reactions to the Nick Foles for Sam Bradford Trade

Oh Dear God This
10) By getting rid of LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles are giving Bradford weapons with more of the talent level he's used to

9) Foles goes from the NFC East to the NFC West, which should help to take more air out of those Blue Snow 2013 numbers

8) You can feel free to start a pool for which guy gets hurt first -- the guy with 2 blown ACLs and a decent but aging line, or the guy with myriad missed games and the bad line

7) Eagle Fan is just thrilled that the team is spending the money they saved on Maclin, McCoy, Cole and Herremans for a QB that has bad numbers, can't stay healthy, and will make 6X what Foles would have made in 2015

6) Twitter gave Eagle Fan a very cruel tease by theorizing that the Eagles were moving up in the first round with this deal, rather than giving up additional picks

5) There is a growing percentage of Eagle Nation that is just rooting for the team to lose now, since that will grease the skids for Kelly to go back to college

4) Both of the remaining Ram fans in St. Louis are convinced this is more proof that the team is going to Los Angeles

3) Tayvon Austin is convinced that this will get his game back on track, since he's just like Jackson, really, honest, squint hard, sure he is

2) If this doesn't end the rampant Marcus Mariota to Philadelphia rumors, absolutely nothing will

1) Free agent season is only one official day old, and Eagle Fan is speed dialing suicide hotline numbers, even more than usual

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Small Note to Angry Eagle Fan: Chip Kelly Blew Up A Facade

Ain't Chip A Stinkah
First off, I'm with you. The idea of an offense where Scheme is supposed to still work with a rampant exodus of Speed and Talent, and how top-flight offensive talent is supposed to all just go away in the theoretical prime of their careers without the offense careening into the gulch, it's a hard thing to imagine. (Mostly because you could watch tempo offenses without talent in 2014 in Buffalo and Miami, and no, they weren't good.)

I'd also contend that having two of three said Playmakers leave for Zero Compensation (yes, this is still the DeSean Jackson Problem, something I'm not sure that I'm ever going to fully forgive the management for) is Not Advisable.

You can also, if you like, tear your hair out over how the back end of the roster are all low-ceiling Oregon Guys, that being pretty much a given since if you have a particularly high ceiling, you probably don't go to Freaking Oregon in the first place. (Also, that the end of the roster doesn't matter for anything beyond special teams work, which was excellent last year. Hmm.)

Finally, I'm entirely OK with the idea that More Mark Sanchez is never something you should willingly celebrate, because More Mark Sanchez makes me remember Mike McMahon, and that makes me assume the fetal position. It also makes me also wonder what Sanchez does for you that Matt Barkley does not, except kill the possibility of hope that Barkley might be less like Sanchez with time, experience, and electric shock aversion therapy.

But... and here's the hard part... you're going to be a fan of the laundry anyway. Even if all of this blows up in their face, and Chip Kelly, Genius Coach and What The Hell You Mook GM, goes back to college with a shrug in his heart and a hell of a lot more job security in his wallet.

Because... the franchise has won NO playoff games in the past 6 years, folks. (And we are all, of course, Still Fans. God help us.)

Not one. People are walking around on the planet that can tie their shoes, relieve their bowels and operate electronic equipment that have not been alive for an Eagles win of actual importance. (Last win? The 23-11 beatdown of the Giants, where Donovan McNabb picked up a phone on the Giants sideline for his last great act as an NFL player.

How long ago was that?

George Bush was still the President.

Yes, seriously.

Here, I'll make it worse. Here's the full list of NFL teams that have not won a playoff game in the last six years.

Cincy. Kansas City. Buffalo. Cleveland. Miami. Oakland. Tampa. Tennessee. St. Louis. Washington. Jacksonville.

That's all, folks! 11 out of 32 teams that you can look down your green and white beaked noses at. How dare Chip blow that up!

So... I'm not happy Maclin left. The team has a big unanticipated hole at WR, and an increasingly empty ledger of home-grown talent.

But Maclin has also had multiple career-threatening injuries, and no one gets out of football healthy. He would have been the best WR on the roster in 2015; if he was still that in 2016, that's not necessarily a great thing.

The team could, especially if they can pry OLB Jason Worilds away from Pittsburgh (money really should not be a problem now, right?), the best collection of LBs on the roster since the Ryan Era.

The team will, in all likelihood, retain an extremely strong special teams unit.

The team will, in all likelihood, be good at offensive line, especially if they can get G Orlando Franklin (Denver) or G Mike Iupati (San Francisco) to sign. Iupati especially might be moved if Frank Gore reaches out to him.

They might be able to bring in Ravens WR Torrey Smith, who is a hair younger, a hair bigger, a hair faster and a hell of lot less injury-addled than Maclin. Smith has already said his goodbyes to Baltimore, and it's hard to imagine he's going to find a team that will give him more money than the cap-riffic Eagles. You also know he can handle this kind of weather and environment, since Charm City is basically Philadelphia Lite.

So...

Hate the Gore and Sanchez signings all you like. Rage at how the club could have locked up Maclin last year, during the year, and avoided the fire drill situation that they find themselves in now. (And seriously, you don't want to know what happens at WR if they can't get Smith. Cecil Shorts, anyone? How about Michael Crabtree? The rotting corpse of Hakeem Nicks? Homeless DeSean Jackson, aka Percy Harvin? Ye Freaking Gads, people.)

But settle down and stop looking past the great and good fact that you aren't going to have to see Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher wave feebly at a WR1, ever again. Keep in mind that Gore has never been anything but a *good* RB, and that he was a very good RB late in 2014. Understand that every NFL team is hosed when they get to QB2. And that FA season is far from over, and that no one really cares if you were the first to say Chip Kelly Ruined Everything...

Because, honestly, what part of No Playoff Wins In The Obama Administration were you enjoying?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Eagles Signing Reactions: Maxwell the CB Hammer, Gore For More, Dirty Sanchez, And If Maclin Goes, We're DOOMED, DOOMED I TELL YOU

Apocalypse Birds
Making an immediate splash with their surplus of cap money, my Eagles are said to have inked CB Byron Maxwell, the consensus top CB available in this year's class, by outbidding the Seattle Seahawks for his services. They've also picked up RB Frank Gore from the Niners and retained the services of QB2 Mark Sanchez, which are going to be far more controversial moves for the fan base. Finally, there's word that the club won't be able to retain WR Jeremy Maclin, while still going hard to several other defensive starters.

Everyone ready? Breath. Slowly. And let's look at both in turn.

First, the unmitigated good news. In Maxwell, the Eagles get a guy who is simultaneously overrated (he will not, and can not, look as good away from the rest of that secondary) and may actually still have his best ball in front of him. At 6'1 and 207 pounds and 27 years old, he's got the right kind of numbers to make the fan base sleep a little better against the division's murderous WR1s, and as a 2-year starter, he's shown himself to be physical and able to handle undue attention from opposing QBs (20th most throws out of 73 QBs, which is even more intense considering how often Seattle got off the field quickly, and ate the clock on offense with their ground game).

By the advanced nerd metrics, he was middle of the pack (best rating in any game, the Sanchez smackdown in Philly), and while he had issues in some games (Denver got him good with Emmanuel Sanders), he's a sure tackler and not a penalty machine. He's closer to CB1 than anything the team has had in years, and as happy as I am to have him, it's not as if the franchise could have afforded *not* to get him. They are still short at least one more CB, and if it's my team, that need will be addressed with a first round pick, because Maxwell was the only guy in this year's CB FA class who is under 30.

Phew. We got him. The rest of the day won't be seen as nice, in all likelihood.

Now Gore. The tendency in town will be to look at all of the things that he's not, in comparison to LeSean McCoy. Gore has been in the league for 10 years, all in San Francisco. He turns 32 in May, compared to McCoy's 27. He's a power / plodder, as opposed to McCoy's speed / burst. Both guys are decent at blocking, though I'd give the edge to Gore there. Both guys can take a screen pass, though McCoy has better hands. Neither is very fumble prone, though McCoy always looked that way, given how he'd wave the ball around. And Gore is, of course, a hell of a lot cheaper than McCoy, though not as cheap as what most people thought the team would do in the post-McCoy age, which is just to throw a wave of low-priced hungry talent at the grinder, and maybe save Chris Polk for the goal line, ,and Darren Sproles for the had to have third down screen work. (The fact that Buffalo just re-did McCoy's deal also makes you wonder if he was going to be a problem in training camp, too. Anyway, moving on.)

My feeling about Gore is that while he is clearly on the back nine in his career, the idea that he's ready for the glue factory is overstating things. Lots of people liked Carlos Hyde as a fantasy sleeper this year, and Gore outran him, 4.3 to 4.0, though Hyde did match Gore in scores in 172 fewer carries. And Gore's last two games in the colors were his best of the year (26 for 158 and a TD in the overtime loss against the Chargers, and 25 for 144 against the Cardinals). 1,100+ yards in the NFC West isn't exactly chopped liver, and it's not as if the Niners haven't won games with Gore as their RB1 recently.

 I think the club is better for having him, and that the money spent won't be missed elsewhere. And maybe Kelly deserves a pass on signing older RBs, since the similarly suspect Sproles signing last year worked out.

On to the Sanchize. He went 4-4 with the team last year, proving once more that if you are relying on him to win games against good teams, you are betting on the wrong horse. The arm strength just isn't good enough to threaten a good secondary on the edges, leading to an over-reliance on safe throws to inside targets; it's not a coincidence that TE Zach Ertz and slot machine WR Jeremy Mathews had their best games with Sanchez under center. He's also an unforgivable and unrelenting turnover machine, but he's good at keeping things going at the preferred pace. It speaks volumes about this year's FA QB class that Sanchez was the best available guy, and that he also chose to stay in a back up role where he was comfortable. It's also not exactly a ringing endorsement of what the club sees in QB3 Matt Barkley, but the fact that Barkley didn't get the Week 17 meaningless game against the Giants also said volumes, too.

Some will see this as further evidence that the club is going to go for Marcus Mariota in a draft-day blockbuster, but some have seen evidence of that in everything the team has done for two years, so, well, whatevs. I never need to see him the laundry again, and would always rather have an unproven quantity than a certain loser at QB2, but it's QB2. The simple reality of QB2 in the NFL is that if you are playing it, the season is probably already gone to hell in a handbasket anyway.

The only thing that people in town are going to want to talk about is the probable loss of Maclin to the Chiefs, and, well, yeah. You can't just run off all of the explosive Reid Era guys (Jackson last year, McCoy this) and have Maclin think that they won't do him at the earliest possible opportunity, too. And if Kelly thinks that he can go to war with a WR corps of Jeremy Mathews, Josh Huff and Riley Cooper, even if you throw TE Zach Ertz out wide routinely, he's high. And with Randall Cobb and Brandon Marshall already off the market, there isn't exactly a simple WR1 candidate out there to supplement. Especially when the opposing defenses start loading up the box with glee, rather than worry about the WRs.

Leave it to my laundry to land the desperately needed CB1, and still have the fan base researching canned goods, bottled water and safe rooms.

Stay tuned and stay sane, somehow...

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Sixers Are Pulling Off A Between The Legs Back Door Tank

I'm Very Very Injured
When last we looked in on the Second Favorite laundry (that'd be the Philadelphia 76ers, AKA the childhood standard of excellence, in that my childhood reaches back to Dr. J and Moses Malone), they had righted the ship after an 0-17 start, won a reasonable amount of games behind youthful exuberance and relentless defense, developed a few interesting pieces in Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, Luc Mbah a Moute and KJ McDaniels, and rode the increasing defensive monster that is Nerlens Noel to above the stink line status in the nether regions of the NBA.

Sure, some in the fan base worried that they were going to sneak past the Knicks and Lakers in the lottery reverse standings, but others trusted in Sith Lord Sam Hinkie to do what was wrong in the short run... and at the trade deadline, did he ever, moving McDaniels to the Rockets for a reasonable second round pick (in that KJ seemed uninterested in re-signing here, which is to say, um, yeah), and point guard and ex-Rookie of the Year, Counting Stats Only Edition, Michael Carter-Williams to Milwaukee for the shockingly high potential that is a Lakers first round pick.

What they got back in the deal was undersized gunning G Isiah Cannon (can shoot from distance, can drive and dish, can't defend anyone in the NBA), C JaVale McGee (waived already, and not a moment too soon) and picks for the future. The team is now still giving maximum effort and tough as nails on defense (assuming, of course, that you aren't Cannon's man), but when your point guards are guys that were the best that the D-League had to offer, you aren't winning games in the Association in 2015. Even in the LEastern Conference, in the Titanic Atlantic division.

What makes things even more chuckle worthy is the fact that C Joel Embiid, the third overall pick in the fated No Wiggins Much Cry draft, is dunking between his legs, along with shooting 3s and free throws, in warm-ups. This, after a stress fracture injury that caused the whole No Wiggins problem in the first place (I pine for Wiggins, as you might have guessed by now), which had a 4 to 6 month recovery window. So Embiid might have been playing for the team in, well, December, let alone right freaking now.

There is an argument, of course, for playing Embiid a little in 2015, in the same line up with Noel, to see if they can co-exist, and to give the long-suffering fans something to hope about in 2016. Namely, that shooting inside the paint against that lineup might get you committed, and that everyone else on the roster is going to be hanging out at the arc, making people settle for those long 2s that no one in the NBA wants to shoot any more. But what's really happened here is that Philly has managed to avoid historical ineptitude (they already have 13 wins on the year, and 9 is, after all, the tragic number), developed some pieces, and given themselves magical hopes of another top 3 selection. Here's the bottom feeders now...

New York: 12-48
Philadelphia: 13-49
Minnesota: 13-47
LA Lakers: 16-45
Orlando: 20-43
Sacramento: 21-39
Denver: 22-40
Detroit: 23-38
Utah: 25-36

And I can't go higher than that, because then we are into playoff contention still. (Yes, seriously. Brooklyn is ten games below .500, and 1.5 games out of getting rolled by Atlanta in a first round beatdown.)

So what's really happened is that, just like last year when Hinkie moved out Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner and played Fungible for massive losing streaks to close out the schedule... well, verse 2, Double Tank Double Down. One suspects that a third round of this would be beyond the pale, but really, we're in uncharted waters out here with this club, both in terms of public acceptance (the Sixers are actually on the rise in attendance locally in 2014-15 compared to 2013-14 as I write this -- 14,208 to 13,869) and media hatred (there isn't a sports talk or media guy in the area that isn't employed by the club that isn't seemingly livid with Hinkie, mostly because he doesn't seem to give a rat's ass what they think).

My guess is that they'll overpay a guy this summer and come out with their sites on the 8th seed and 35 wins while rising, because I think we've reached the end of patience on this, and another year of 25+ guys shuffled in and out in a hope to find gold amongst the pyrite would end all hopes that this isn't just a con game to run a losing team cheaply. But if they pull the chutes at the trade deadline again in 2015?

Well, you couldn't say that it would be unexpected. They are, clearly, capable of it. And anything else, which really makes them a very dark horse pick for Most Captivating Sports Franchise right now...

Syracuse and the NCAA Do Kabuki

Paint Up
So the hammer came down from the NCAA today on the Syracuse men's basketball program, and while it was more than what the team had already done to itself (dropped out of post-season competition this year), it still wasn't all that intense. Vacating 108 wins over various years does not matter to anyone but the coach doing the counting, because it's not as if those memories do not exist, or that the NCAA isn't prone to just changing their mind later. Head coach Jim Boeheim will be suspended for 9 ACC games next year, and a few scholarships have been nicked, but much more could have been done, and wasn't.

Boeheim is probably going to fight and appeal this, because Boeheim fights and appeals everything, but my guess is that this is just a reflexive matter that will be forgotten about in a couple of years. And who knows, maybe he convinces some committee later to mitigate the punishment downwards. In the end analysis, it doesn't really matter. A decade of smoke and strong monitoring is going to get to some next stage. If the team is good next year, they'll go to the NCAA tournament. The rest is noise at a slow time in the sports calendar.

Is this a dirty program? Of course; academic fraud was committed, the way it probably is at every other major school in the country. A Hall of Fame coach has had his reputation besmirched, but that was going to happen regardless of the NCAA sanctions. Boeheim has earned loyalty from the university for consistently contending over many decades, and the performance of the program has been a big reason why the school has been a money machine. (That, and the fact that this is the de facto safety school for wealthy Long Island families.) And while scholarships getting docked limits your margin of error in case of injury or washout, it's not as if Boeheim's grind your eyes out system of long possessions and zone defense means he's ever gone very deep into his bench in games that matter.

The bigger question, of course, is what this means to Boeheim. If this is the final straw that gets him to go following a lifetime spent chasing all of one title (thank you once again, Carmelo Anthony and Hakim Warrick), then so be it. The school is still the only major sports outlet in a 2-hour radius, there's money in the area, the stadium fits 30K+ plus people, and they've got a long history of getting people to overcome the weather for the big-time media push.

And if he stays, he'll probably use this as an Us Against The World push, the same way that other troubled programs have. It's not as if weak NCAA attention has been a super-strong negative performance indicator of future sporting success. If it was, programs would be a hell of a lot less likely to cut corners.

To me, it's all kabuki. The best athletes are not now, nor have ever been, the best students. Teams want to use the best athletes, because that's the surest way to win. There's a crazy stupid amount of money for teams that win, and teams that do not win cost their schools money and get people fired. This is a swamp in constant need of draining, and in a better world, athletics would be cleaved whole from colleges, leading to a dramatically less corrupt environment for both.

We don't live in that world. We have to pretend that sanctions matter, that dirty schools will be caught and punished, and that teams can be great and clean.

If it helps them all sleep at night...

Friday, March 6, 2015

Rajon Rondo Has No Clothes

Tick, Tick, Tick
Tonight in Portland, Dallas got trucked by the Blazers, despite Portland being the only team on the floor who played last night. Portland had its own issues after the game, as under the radar SG Wesley Matthews is hurt and done for the year with an Achilles problem, but that's not what I wanted to talk about here. Rather, I wanted to get into Dallas, who appear to be failing the Rajon Rondo experiment on every level. (His numbers tonight: 10/9/7. Which is why you actually have to watch the games.)

The problem is that, well, Rondo is the most polarizing and unique point guard in the NBA. In a league where point guards are the guys that get your bailout buckets at the end of the shot clock, a guy who you don't have to defend while wide open at the free throw line is not an offensive asset, and in the Dallas scheme of things, where the best players (Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki) do their damage in iso sets, Rondo's brand of up-tempo assists to athletic finishers isn't helping anyone.

But no one really thought that Rondo was going to make the Mavs better on offense. Rather, it was his athletic ball-hawking that was going to make the suspect soft Dallas team win that deal, as they would stop leaking points to the murderer's Western Conference row of ridiculously strong points. Seriously, there may not ever be a better era for talent in a conference than right here and now, with the partial list of Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley and Tony Parker means that every other team in the West, with the possible exception of Houston with Actually Better Rondo-esque guy Patrick Beverly, has an absolute stud at the one. (By the way, even the dregs of the West have solid points. I'll take Ty Lawson, Eric Bledsoe, Ricky Rubio, Jrue Holliday, Eric Gordon and Darren Collison on my team. Just an insane conference.)

And, well, that's not showing up, either.

The plain and simple of Dallas is that Ellis hasn't ever been very good at defense, and as Dirk has gotten older, he's lost his ability to be a positive force for rebounding. Tyson Chandler gets it done, but Chandler Parsons hasn't been able to stay healthy and effective, and there might not be a tougher position to come in at mid-season than point guard. Dallas took advantage of a soft schedule before the Rondo deal, which is also making the team look worse for the move, but that doesn't pass the eye test. They are worse for having him.

Finally, there's this. Why should a defense-first NBA asset wear worse over time? Defense is harder, requires more focus and explosion, and after the short gains of learning the league and the tendencies of opponents, *should* fade faster than your jump shot, your free throw shooting, your eye from distance and your understanding of the game. My plucky Sixers, perhaps the youngest team that the Association should ever field, aren't a bad defensive team, even in the wake of the Michael Carter-Williams deal. (MCW can't shoot, but he is tall and disruptive on defense. Isiah Cannon, who has been getting the minutes, is small and can't guard anyone, but has a true talent for hitting from distance.)

Young guys can play outstanding defense. They can recover, give maximum effort longer, get off the floor and again even after buying the initial fake, catch up in the open court for the chasedown block, and so on, and so on. What they can't do is take care of the ball, execute in the half court, make free throws at the same rate, and so on -- but all of that's on offense.

Oh, and have you noticed yet that I haven't even gotten into the fact that Rondo is a malcontent who is feuding with his coach, the same way that he feuded with his other coaches? This isn't going to end well, but that's OK, because the start and middle weren't anything to write home about either.

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