Thursday, July 30, 2015

Five Brief and Obvious Points About Tom Brady's Suspension Being Upheld

This header alone = four games
> Patriots owner Bob Kraft says he was "wrong to put his faith in the league." Wow, Bob. The scab refs didn't do it. Various instances of lockout didn't do it. The cover-up of head trauma for ex-players didn't do it. Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson and Boutygate and all the rest didn't make you lose your faith in the league. But hitting your star player in the nuts for obvious malfeasance? That does it. Mighty Patriots of you, Robert Kraft.

> Brady's puling about how the destruction of his cell phone proves nothing... um, a moment here, Dreamboat. Maybe rich people treat their stuff differently. Maybe making more in one year of playing ball than I will make in my life means you go gorilla on your tech. But I've owned phones for 15 years now, including some that I was well and truly sick of by the time they were no longer useful, and I never out and out destroyed one. You do understand that the rest of the world pretty much stopped listening to you right at that point, right?

> If anyone involved actually thought that arbitrator Roger Goodell was going to rule against what judge Roger Goodell decided... um, yeah. There's no one getting out of this clean.

> The NFLPA is planning to fight this, because, um, the NFLPA fights everything. It's what unions do, because if you are paying union dues and they don't fight for against your penalty, you may be history's greatest monster. Patriot Fan really should not take any great comfort from this.

> Finally, if you think the NFL is wrong to degrade its opening weekend game by having the defending champions play with their QB2... you do remember how the NFL spent most of its Super Bowl hype week dealing with deflated footballs, right? And that the NFL doesn't do well with people who in any way embarrass them, otherwise known as why Bill Simmons and Keith Olbermann don't work for ESPN any more? Frankly, I'm kind of amazed that Brady didn't get *more* games for daring to appeal...

Monday, July 27, 2015

Top 10 reasons why Boston is out of the Olympics running

Thieves, Thieves, Thieves
10) Area is now just smart enough to avoid a massive scam

9) For once in the history of American sports, taxpayers won't foot the bill for stadiums they don't want or need... because for the most part, the sports played in the Olympics are not American

8) IOC's apples were not sufficiently how, or about

7) Now that America's enemies do not show up and compete in the Olympics, we really could not give a rat's nethers about them

6) Boston is deferring to Los Angeles, because that's just how the world works (this one is in here just to troll Celtic Fan, which is to say, we're trolling the trolls)

5) Area politicians were not willing to give up the perfect and pristine traffic patterns

4) Too many Olympic events do not have balls with a variable amount of inflation (this one is in here just to troll Patriot Fan, which is to say, we're trolling trolls that other trolls look down on)

3) After the past decade of non-stop obnoxiousness after winning that has made every other area of the country hate them, just didn't have the heart to expand into track and field and crap

2) Making good basketball players come to Boston is just so passe

1) Like anything else that didn't work out just how they wanted, it's somehow New York, ESPN, or the NFL's fault

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Golfing Diaries: Illusions(?) Of Progress

Driver, 9 iron, happiness
This weekend, I rolled out to a course I hadn't played for something like 20 years, because that's what my golfing habit has been like. To recap... I played pretty routinely in my 20s prior to marriage, moving to the West Coast and having kids. Back in the day, I got it down into the 90s and played a bunch of nice courses, but parenting and moving to wildly more expensive parts of the world led me to more or less give up the game for a decade. Now that I'm in my mid-40s and my kids are old enough to not really need (or, honestly, want -- it's what kids do) me around quite so much, I've picked up the game again.

Linfield National is near enough to the Limerick nuclear plant in suburban Philadelphia that the cooling towers can be used as site lines for a dozen shots or more. It's tight -- 6,000 yards from the whites, with some shared tee boxes and fairways that are narrow enough that seeing players in other groups is pretty constant -- with a lot of elevation changes, and a fair amount of water. Greens are challenging, with a lot of break and altitude changes, and the bunkers aren't particularly fluffy. There's more risk/reward than most moderate slope courses, but the rough isn't so bad as to provide major amounts of teeth. It's also very well-maintained, and a hell of a bargain at sub $30 for the cart on a Saturday afternoon.

I got there late for my tee time due to traffic and life complications, and was pretty much on tilt from that. I hate being late, and whenever it threatens to happen, the Traffic Gods kick in, and in this case, so did a prior failure to gas up. My hybrid will tell you how many miles you have before fail, which also wound up irritating me, as I chickened out and got more about 10 miles from the course on an out of the way exit, only to find gas en route to the course later, which would have saved me more time. But so be it. I hit the links as a solo player, and pretty much flew through the round with larger groups waving me through, and the particular concentration that you get from knowing that no one is going to help you find your ball but you.

Golf, like poker, is an activity that can't be predicted, no matter how good you are at it. If you have poor luck, or any kind of mental or physical failure, you will get deep into the negative weeds and pretty much stop playing the game, preferring to wallow in self-hatred and annoyance. When it goes well, it's got the feel of a great roller coaster ride, combined with the illusion that progress is being made, and that you are getting better at something that you care about. Yesterday at Linfield was the latter.

There are few better shots in golf than when you are in the fairway, waiting to hit to the green, and you get the wave up sign from the group in front of you... then hit it on the screws and give yourself a pro putt to the gallery. I did that a couple of times yesterday. I don't have a great deal of distance to my game -- my drives tap out around 225 or so with roll. On a 390-yard hard dogleg left, I murdered it on the left edge of the fairway, cutting the yardage like I wanted to, and just escaping the bunker that protects against risky behavior. With a tree 20 yards ahead, a 9-iron in my hands to the green, I successfully ignored the mind trash and gave myself a good chance at birdie. It just stayed out for the tap in par. 390 yard par 4, played successfully with driver and 9-iron. I don't care if the card was off and the hole was much more likely to be 350 or so; it's still one of the best feelings I've had since taking up the game again.

I shot a 45 for the front nine, with back to back pars (I'm lucky to have one per nine) and nothing worse than a double bogey on any hole. The back nine was worse, with the driver deserting me for a while, and a water carry par 3 not going to plan, but the badness didn't stay too long. On the 18th, with the last group of the day watching me hit for no good reason, 80 yards from the hole, I hit a 56-degree wedge to within 10 feet of the pin, one of those high arching straight moon shots that make me feel like, well, I can play the game. More than a little, and maybe enough to keep getting better at it as I get older. I broke 100 (awesome for me, particularly on a day when I wasn't saving a ton of strokes on the greens), finished in under three hours, didn't have anything hurt and left with the knowledge that I'd be back.

And, probably, play a lot worse than I did today, and not have nearly as good of a time in doing it.

But not the certainty.

Makes all the difference in the world, it does.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Once Again, Eagles Fan Has Been Trolled

Uniquely Bad
Item: Eagles Fan named most hated in NFL.

Rather than give Sports Illustrated any additional oxygen as it continues its long slow submersion into the ocean of indifference that is American sports, I'd like to ask the following question.

Why, exactly, is the 50-year-old offense against a drunken and non-sanctioned cosplay Santa Claus, in front of a late-season fan base that had spent much of the year and decade getting its head kicked in by abusive ownership, the defining moment for the brand that is Eagles Fan?

You want to know my lowest moment as an Eagles fan? It was when some asshat smuggled in a freaking flare gun and fired it off at a Monday night game against the Niners in 1997. That could have done honest to God damage to honest to God innocents, and it also spoke to a spectacular fail on the part of stadium security. In terms of sheer fan insanity, use *that*, FFS. It actually happened when most of the people watching the games now where alive, in a modern era of security and television, during a nationally televised game.

Instead, the media just goes to the shorthand. The only food that's eaten here is a cheesesteak, every person talks like Rocky Balboa, and we all spend our off-work hours roaming the streets, looking to bumrush a Claus.

Oh, and by the way? Why isn't every other franchise given this treatment? When do I get to hear, in every Dodger game, that their fans beat a Giant fan to near-death? When do we get to hear about how every Jet Fan throws urine and/or exposes themselves to women? DC Fan spends their time celebrating the genocide of the American Indian with symbols that, if they only were attached to a massacre of innocents by a follower of the laundry, would get that flag banned. Somehow, this is not DC Fan's Brand. And damn near every team in damn near every city has flipped a car or twenty, or set something on fire, when their team won or lost an important game... but those fans? They are passionate. They have bad apples. It would be unfair to paint them all with the same brush. But not my town.

I'll tell you why my town gets treated in a way that, if it were directed towards a demographic group, you'd be shunned in polite society. It's because the media comes from New York, and people from New York enjoy dumping on Philadelphia. They've done it for three centuries. Now, they get to do it worldwide due to media control. It's the same way that San Francisco has dumped on the East Bay, Los Angeles has dumped on South Central, DC's suburbs has dumped on Chocolate City, and so on, and so on.

It's rich (or, at the very least, richer) people urinating on people who aren't doing as well, and telling them it's raining, and it's raining because God Hates Them. It's repulsive and repugnant and never-ending, and every time it gets repeated, everyone is laughing with the rich guy. The rich guy who gets off by peeing on poor people.

Now, are some Eagle Fans regrettable? Of freaking course. Five to ten percent of every fan base is filled with some of the worst people you will ever meet,  because five to ten percent of every group of people are terrible. Add in a long history of frustration and a major market, and it means that other fan bases are going to someday meet Eagle Fan, and I don't doubt that there has been a lot of ill will built up over the years.

I also do not doubt that Eagle Fan could avoid any incident of note for the next two to five decades, and there will still be no chance that the fan base will be anywhere but on a top five list of most hated. It's the brand! The ever-present, ever-constant, ever self-fulfilling brand.

Just like, well, New York's brand is a city that the rest of America only pretended to like for a brief period of time, when terrorists bombed it with airplanes. Just like DC's Brand is Sports With Confederate Flags, and Boston's brand is the most obnoxious cheaters on the planet, and Detroit's brand is people from a failed city state, and Cleveland's brand is Eternal Losers.

Haven't we all had enough of people trying to tell you that you have a brand because you root for a team? And haven't we all had more than enough of anything involving Sports that isn't Game?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Scott Kazmir Trade: The A's Sell Out And Sell Well

Good And Gone
Today, my A's put a bullet in the head of their 2015 hopes, and honestly, it wasn't a minute too soon. In sending out LHP SP Scott Kazmir to the division rival Astros for two Single-A prospects, they officially announced their intent to flush the last 10 weeks of the season in an effort to re-stock the system, and amen to that. While many advanced metrics show the team is better than their record, that's not how the playoffs are determined, and the club as constituted is just not good enough. Defensively, they've been a nightmare, and the bullpen might be the worst in the Billy Beane Era, with closer Tyler Clippard being fairly shaky, and the next to last mile much worse. Even if you think they have a run in them, making the playoffs is extremely unlikely given the standings. So they sold, and sold well.

Kazmir was a great signing two years ago, and an integral part of last year's playoff club, but he's also got an injury history that's a mile long, and a track record of fading in the second half. Moving him after a solid start on nine days rest is good policy, and getting back two quality lottery tickets in 20-year-old catcher Jacob Nottingham, who has a +940 OPS and reasonable defensive hope, and RH SP Daniel Mengden, who's got a good ERA and strikeout per inning stuff. Both of these guys projected well enough with scouts to be reasonably high picks, and they've got full team-controlled salary costs for a while, so there's that.

Compare this, if you will, to the unending trash steamer that is the Phillies, who have spent years not trading their assets amid unending hype. The A's found a willing partner and got two solid prospects for a guy that might just be a 10-week rental, from a team whose farm system has been hitting on all cylinders for the past couple of years. Meanwhile, Houston gets a guy that they could retain for a lot less money than the David Prices and Cole Hamels of the world, and they got him fast enough to get a couple of extra starts before the trade deadline.

Billy Beane isn't infallible; this year's Josh Donaldson trade shows that to strong effect, and he's got plenty of Jim Johnson level whiffs on his resume. But what he's never been is afraid to swing hard and strike fast, and his lifetime percentage is firmly on the side of good. It's what Oakland Fan consoles themself with during the near-annual salary purge moves, and only Beane's competence keeps us agreeable during, well, tanking moves. There's a plan here, and a method.

Finally, this. The last time Beane swung a deal where he moved an overvalued injury-prone SP for a 20-year-old catcher, it was Rich Harden to the Cubs for, among others, Donaldson. This move could be similar, but if it isn't, we're still good with the process.

FTT Off-Topic: Please Hurt Anyone Who Pays To See "Pixels"

These are all Adam Sandler DVDs
Not really sports, but closer than most rants. Read or roll.

Every year, Adam Sandler excretes a movie in time to punish people who watch the NBA, because Sandler has targeted the summer and sports fans as those who are most likely to think two hours of their time and $10-15 of their money is essentially table stakes for air conditioning.

Now, on some level, you should be able to drum up some contrary capitalism support for this. Fools should be separated from their money, and amen to that; it's what has paid the bills for the Shooter Family for decades now. (The day jobs have been in marketing and advertising.)

But the problem with this kind of laissez-faire crapitalism is the message it is giving to our children. It is far too easy for people to grow up in this country and think that Sandler, and everyone that takes his money to appear in his movies, is someone who could be considered "funny." Between Sandler and the hordes of god-awful YouTubers, the current boom in great comedy is being threatened. And we can no longer assume that the mainstream will catch up to the decade-old memo that Sandler hasn't even been trying to be funny, just idiotic, for freaking ever. Modern life moves too fast to trust in slow reveals.

So it's time to go after the only vulnerable link in the chain here. Namely, Sandler's audience.

What I'm proposing is not an invitation to violence. (Though, on some level, I think the only funny thing about this latest movie would be if people beat the crap out of people who try to see it.) Rather, I'm proposing some degree of pain and punishment for anyone you know who pays. Out them on social media, use the "well, it was funnier than Pixels" to talk about all sorts of things in your life that don't involve comedy.

The exact punishment here isn't as important as the concept, and what we, as a society, might be able to achieve -- the end of these terrible, terrible vehicles, and the vast improvement of not hearing about them during NBA games..

Together, we can build a better world. All it will take is head slaps, shaming via social media,  and the focus required to hurt people who truly, seriously, deserve it... because they are enabling some of the worst human beings walking the planet.

Join with me, won't you?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Top 10 reasons why the Pelicans signed Kendrick Perkins

What A Charmer
10) He brings championship experience, and Adam Morrison didn't take their calls

9) Want to provide Anthony Davis a flagrant foul mentor

8) It's the best way to improve the confidence of Omer Asik on a day-in, day-out level of practice

7) 30-year-olds who join four teams in four years are the way to build deep playoff clubs

6) Will combine with Jimmer Fredette to give fans an all-important DNP-CDs of name guys

5) Perk can fail to guard many positions

4) Team was really lacking in "Shaqing A Fool" candidates

3) Something of a psychological experiment to see if the Smoothie King stadium sponsorship can kill a man

2) Really helps, well, shrink the floor when the Pels want to play ineffective, rather than small or big

1) As the photo shows, he's just so gosh-darned cheery to be around

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

FTT Off-Topic: Nerdly Shame No Longer Exists

Yes. Yes, It Does.
Not sports, read or not.

Here's a truism: there has never been a better time to make television, and there has never been a worse time to make movies. (And I say this having seen "Trainwreck" over the weekend, which was just about as good as I had hoped, and no, I have no higher praise than that.) The reasons why are myriad, with lots to say about how movies are way too locked into effects -- honestly, could most of these turdburgers even get out of the pitch meeting without nine figures of effects to make them language proof? -- but the bigger problem is, well, the audience.

To wit: we get the movies we deserve. And it really looks like we deserve retread sequels that drain the life out of the small ideas that made them tolerable before (yes, I'm talking to you, "Minions"), or more or less hit the one octave range of Gritty Superhero Movie. Meanwhile, television puts out an increasing amount of stuff you have not seen before, with characters who actually have degrees of nuance, in narratives that don't necessarily have to go where you think they will, or tidy up in the obviously allotted time.

As much as I'd like to put this on the tech -- it's a lot cheaper to make episodic stuff now than in the old days -- it's more about the people. The idea that someone out there wants to see a "Fantastic Four" movie, about five years after there was already one of those... well, um, why? Is someone really going to lose their fudge if they don't get an "Ant Man" movie? And is anyone else more or less totally disgusted by the idea that there's going to be fifty movies with male superheroes in the lead for every one female superhero?

We used to make fun of people who got truly geeked out about these movies. They were the intellectual equivalent of children. They were not serious intellects. Real movie stars did not appear in these movies, for fear of being typecast as, well, idiots in capes. Real directors did not make these movies, because they wanted to make things that spoke to who they were as artists, rather than businessmen. You used to be able to make serious money making serious movies. You know, the ones from the 1970s, that we still watch today, and quote extensively. No one sang along to prerecorded songs in public with the idea that this was an actual talent. The concept of obvious inanity like air guitar championship, or eating contests, or the vast nauseating panoply of reality television, was not on anyone's radar, because you do not use radar to look underground.

You can blame it on Steven Spielberg, or George Lucas, or the Internet validating the opinions of people who did not care about artistic merit or long-term entertainment value.. but I blame the audience. Grown men and women dress up as if they were extras in a movie, and instead of abusing them with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, we legitimize a convention filled with them. The industry courts them, because there is enough of them to make the money work, and no one feels bad about only eating candy any more.

One small question to these folks... are you really going to feel good about watching these kinds of movies when you are, well, an actual adult? Aren't you the least bit self-conscious about the fact that you're going to need foundation undergarments to pull off your cosplay, even for a few hours? Is the goal to cheat death by never, ever, becoming a grown up, with an actual attention span and such?

Grown men and women do not, and should, want to watch a movie or show they have seen dozens of times already. It's also, increasingly, the only thing that's allowed to appear in theaters. Which is just one of the reasons why getting out of the movie theater business is a brilliant idea...

Monday, July 20, 2015

Selling Ty Lawson for less than pennies on the dollar

Mug Shots Don't Help
Tonight, Houston traded four guys that aren't going to play any meaningful NBA minutes (Kostas Papanikolaou, Pablo Prigioni, Joey Dorsey, Nick Johnson), a protected 2016 first round pick (um, drafting where they will draft, not likely to be a real NBA player either) and a future second rounder (even less likely)... to the Nuggets for troubled but talented point guard Ty Lawson.

At this point, you should be wondering why anyone makes trades with Houston, given how badly Oklahoma City got taken by them in the James Harden deal. Because while this deal won't be as bad -- Lawson is, at his best, a top 10ish point guard, while Harden might be the premier off-guard in the world, and the clear MVP rummer-up last year -- it's going to be pretty bad. The Nuggets moved Lawson at the absolute nadir of his trade value, with a recent DUI and domestic abuse charge, and a terrible season that made it look like he's a world-class malcontent. (I'm not saying Denver was wrong to move him. I'm just saying they got squat for him.)

However, the Denver situation right now is that all talent has looked terrible, in a long slide from 50-win treadmill to the lottery part of town. Someone is going to make serious bank when they get Kenneth Faried, just the same way that the Thunder and Blazers have been all kinds of happy with Timofey Mozgov. Get Lawson in a situation where he's playing games that matter with teammates that aren't horrible, and you'll probably get yourself years of quiet citizenship. None of this nonsense was coming up when Denver was on the rise.

Anyway, let's get back to the Rockets. Lawson gives them an immediate offensive upgrade over Patrick Beverly, and a really nice spot-up shooter for Harden's forays to the hoop in draw and kick. He turns 28 this season, which means he's solidly in the prime of his career, a 37% shooter from the arc, and a guy who has been in the 3 to 4 to 1 assist to turnover ratio in the past few years. He's not a great defender, but it's not as if Jason Terry was shutting anyone down in his Rocket minutes, and he's been injury prone along with the DUI issues... but he's a solid scorer, a gifted passer, and downright explosive from time to time. He doesn't win the Conference Finals series for them against Golden State, but he helps, and at the position where they needed the most help, especially in the PG-stacked West.

As for Denver... I have no idea what they are doing here, other than shedding salary and assets for a dump that will get them into the high lottery. I understand that no one wants to be in the NBA Middle any more, but just picks would have been lots more valuable than this package, and keeping the man in conference just means that you'll get to see him kick your teeth in a lot. I have to think there were better packages out there, and on some level, dreamed of him coming to Philly and showing the locals what real point guard play looks like.

Alas, no.

But at least Lawson's back in the actual NBA now.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Growing Reality Of A La Carte ESPN

Or, Well, Not
A slowly rising tide is still a tide, and even though this one has taken years to develop, it's still going to make for a lot of wet feet.

Or, to be less esoteric... have you noticed how ESPN seems to be shedding creative staff of anyone with more than a trace amount of the uppity? (Here's a link if you don't believe me.)

Keith Olbermann's contract won't be renewed. Bill Simmons was axed months ago, in a remarkably public bit of asshattery. There's been no new signings to replace either voice of note. The NYC studios that Olbermann used, and that Mike & Mike were supposed to be moving to, gone; costs will be contained at the Bristol campus instead. Sure, there's the inevitable set design overloads for SportsCenter, and an embarrassment of talking heads on pre-game studio shows, but otherwise, the World Wide Lemur is starting to seem, well, more and more cheap.

Why?

Well, because they are part of a vast media conglomerate, and if ABC has a poor fall season, or people stop going to Disney's theme parks, or a few movies tank, Something Has To Give. But more importantly, it's because the bedrock economics of ESPN are slowly starting to change, and really not in a good way for the network.

Let's speak plainly about this: ESPN benefits from a fairly blatant case of class-action level chicanery. The vast majority of cable TV subscribers pay the network more than they pay any other property, whether they ever watch it or not. By some estimates, an ESPN-only subscription, in a world where pricing for that product was a la carte, would be somewhere in the realm of $35 to $40 a month. (Basically, only something like one of out every 8 people who have cable watch the channel.)

Now, this is true of a vast majority of cable channels in today's increasingly outmoded bundle situation... but just because people have put up with this for decades, does not mean it will continue in perpetuity. With more and more league-only content being produced by the NFL, NBA and MLB, there's also an increasing amount of distance from those properties to the Lemur.

This isn't an immediate crisis. It's just the continuation of a long trend. People buy single from musical artists, not albums with filler. They download apps from the properties that matter to them, one at a time. They cut out middlemen with online e-commerce plays, And so on, and so on. Efficiencies of economy, especially when a cable bill can easily hit triple figures per month, do not get reversed. If you were starting cable TV as a business today, there's no way you could get away with the bundle. It just wouldn't fly.

And when ESPN has to go out on its own, and lose all of that sweet passive patronage from the hordes of people who, well, don't care about sports?

Well, I don't like the odds of any senior staff keeping their current salaries. And, eventually, a number of those side channels and esoterica. Do you?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Women's Soccer And The 8-Year-Old Problem

Winning the generation
So now that all of the hoopla and parades and everything else, including the monster ratings are in... I feel like I've finally got something to say about the USWNT win in the Women's World Cup. Namely, that knowing that you are on the tail end of a trend and demographic movement is not much fun, but also, alas, not terribly fixable.

I want you to think about your sporting allegiances now. Keep them to the sports you currently care about; for the purposes of this blog, that's the NBA, NFL and MLB, in that rough order. Now, answer this question: when did you choose to be a fan of each team?

For most of us, it was *never* a choice. I rooted for the teams that everyone else in my family, specifically my older brother, rooted for. It was also in a time before making any choice but the local club was more or less impossible, in that it dates back to when I was 5 and 7 and 9, watching Phillies teams that all of the adults seemed grateful to be good, Eagles teams that were slowly building to something almost good enough, and Sixer teams where no one ever lost their heart, because the freaking Celtics and Lakers always crushed our hearts.

Was there ever an option for anything else? No. My family was from here, their ancestors were from here, and going against the grain to be contrarian twats isn't part of our DNA. So those were our teams, and the NHL Flyers as much or as more than any, and that's pretty much how everything ran for 15 years, other than a thoroughly enjoyable mini-run with the USFL Stars and when I was there, Syracuse Orangemen.

When I entered my mid-20s, some tumultuous stuff happened. College and marrying the wrong person sped up an alienation process that was well on its way of already happening. Various strikes crippled MLB and the NHL in particular. I shed much of the racism that still grips some of my kinfolk, which made the NBA more attractive, and the NHL, even less so. I developed obsessive hobbies and careers that took time away from sports, and the Phillies stopped trying to win games until the community gave in to terrorism and bought them a stadium. When the dust cleared, and I was in my 30s, I was in Northern California, having renounced the Flyers and the NHL, and the Phillies and MLB.

I got back into fantasy leagues after a 10+ year absence to add friends locally, developed a crush on the A's that persists to this day. Rooting for the Phillies still feels hollow, but when they were good, well, sure. The Eagles had another not good enough renaissance, and while I'd love to quit the NFL for any number of reasons, I'm not going to. I'm too old.

Now that I've taken you through that history, consider the following.

I've added one new team -- the A's -- in my life by choice, and even that was basically a local thing.

I've added no new sports since I was a child, and did not grow up caring about soccer / futbol.

I've had any number of chances to add sports to the mix. Syracuse exposes you to lacrosse. I have no doubt that if I had grown up there, I'd care a lot about it, and would have probably played it. I golf for recreation, but didn't grow up watching it, so whether or not Tiger Woods gets his groove back, I don't really care that much. The Olympics mattered the same to me as anyone in 1980 and 1984, but that faded fast. Boxing was great when I was a kid, but I didn't care that much about it, and remembered all of my relatives saying horrifying things about Muhammad Ali, so, well, pass.

Finally, this. None of the sports I watched in the peak period of determining what I was going to watch -- pre-teen, pre-women, pre-music, pre-career, when the free time was at a maximum -- was played by women.

I don't think any of us, for the most part, care about sports unless they became part of who we were before we could, well, even be aware of what we were choosing to be. (Insert your telling aside about religion here.) So the kids of today, who play soccer and see the women do the job, at least in this country, better than the men? Might care about it for the rest of their lives. The same way that the kids of today are going to think women stand-up comedians are just as good or better than the men (right now, they very well might be, but that's a post for another day). Or how kids in the early 90s who were really into the Alanis Morissette / PJ Harvey / Liz Phair axis of women who rock didn't grow up with any weirdness over who could and couldn't be in the band.

Equality begins in the young, even if you are self-conscious enough to know better. I didn't watch very much of the women's world cup, not because I wasn't hoping they would win, or that I had anything against their game.

I had just missed it, and was too old and busy now to make time for it.

There are a lot of people who fall into that sort of classification, but it's not about numbers vs. numbers.

Because the people who did watch that, and who were genuinely into it?

Were not wrong.

And will be around the scene, and buying stuff shown in the ads, a lot longer than I will be...

Monday, July 13, 2015

Is Basketball The Perfect Sport?

Hot Fun In The Summer Time
This past week, like many Sixer fans, I’ve been paying too much attention to NBA Summer League basketball. (Why? Because it is the first look that we got at Jahlil Okafor, and to a lesser extent, Jordan McRae and some other possibilities for the laundry. Besides, watching baseball is, well, watching baseball.)

The ball isn’t all that great, because there is no great consequence to winning and losing, and like most games of this ilk, guys are playing more for their own self-interest than trying to make the team win… but that is not the striking thing to me about the exercise.

Rather, this. NBA Summer League games are a couple of weeks, and up to a dozen games, assuming your team plays in multiple leagues. In early October, in which might be the least covered event in a major American league, teams will play pre-season games that will not do much other than determine the deep reserves that should never play. Then, starting around Halloween, 82 regular season games, followed by anywhere from 4 to 28 playoff games if your laundry qualifies. It’s really not outside of the realm of possibility that your favorite player might lace them up 100 times a year, especially if you have a deep playoff run, or a young guy that needs the summer league work to build his way up. And sure, plenty of players take games off now, but most do not.

Compare this to other sports. Baseball players are not jumping into winter leagues unless they have commitments in the Caribbean, or are young position players trying out a rookie league. No pitcher of note is going to add innings of wear and tear. Even though it is a sport that is kind of like golf, in that the swing has to be perfect, and constantly perfected, extra time is not seen as a positive.

Football? As if. No one is doubling up in Arena Ball or the CFL if they can possibly help it. It is a sport where your career can end at any moment, so volunteering for extra snaps is just crazy talk.

Soccer? Well, perhaps it is not that debilitating, but you always hear about how fatigue wipes out teams in the World Cup who play more than twice a week. And with everyone involved running 7 to 10 miles a game, outside of the goalies, it is more than understandable. Hockey has a nearly identical season outside of the summer league exception to hoop, but it’s also got significantly more players (no one, outside of the goalies, is likely to log as much as half of a team’s ice minutes, while top hoopers will be 80% and up)… and more injuries than hoop.

Back to hoop. Considering the number of games here, size of the athletes, and tempo, there is an argument to be made that the number of injuries (not to mention post-career problems) is dramatically better than any other sport. 100 times a year, up to 80% of game time, and you are getting your best guys on the floor, without anyone counting pitches, or feeling like you are courting disaster to let your guy stay in during a blowout…

Well, on some level, it is the best sport for the athlete, and maybe also the fan, in that no one feels dirty for watching it. Which is also why the job of rebuilding an NBA team might be the hardest in American sports…

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Embiidmageddon

Seated and Defeated
So the other foot dropped today, with Sixers 2014 first round draft pick Joel Embiid getting shut down for another year with another injury to the foot, and there are several reactions in the world.

1) It's a darn shame, because Embiid could be a special talent, and this is just going down a la Sam Bowie, Greg Oden, Yao Ming and every other 7-footer who could not stay healthy.

2) It's what the Sixers deserve, because they have lost on purpose and are mean mean mean, and Sixer Fan is from Philadelphia, and screw those guys, because they are also, in a unique and unprecedented way, mean mean mean.

3) Only stupid teams draft hurt 7-footers, because hurt 7-footers never become unhurt 7-footers, and shorter basketball players are always magically healthy.

Here's the deal, though... looking back at the 2014 draft, sitting in the third slot, what else should, or could, the team have done instead?

Here's the top 10 from that draft again. Warning: this gets ugly fast, and to supplement that point, I'll detail why.

1) Cleveland - Andrew Wiggins. Rookie of the Year, who we all wanted to go with Nerlens Noel. Sigh.

2) Milwaukee - Jabari Parker. No one was in love with him because he doesn't defend, but there's no doubt he'll be in the league for 10 years and score a lot of points. Assuming health, which might not be a great assumption.

3) Philadelphia - Joel Embiid. Our own personal Greg Oden. Except that none of the guys after him are Kevin Durant, and unlike Oden, Embiid profiled as a winning player on both ends of the court.

4) Orlando - Aaron Gordon. 17 minutes a game for a god-awful Orlando club that needed defense. Which was the one thing he was supposed to be able to do right away. His next team will get a hell of a bench energy guy.

5) Utah - Dante Exum. Had his moments and is crazy young, but 35% from the floor is extremely worrisome. I like him, but it's not as if he's a lock to be great.

6) Boston - Marcus Smart. Had his moments and actually played some (27 minutes per game) for the 8th seed in the lEast, but 37% from the floor is even more worrisome, in that he's not that young. I'm not a fan for the simple reason that if you can't get Evan Turner off the floor, I don't think you belong in the NBA.

7) LA Lakers - Julius Randle. Got hurt almost immediately, and wasn't exactly an athletic whirlwind before that. Yikes. Hey, here's a non 7-footer that got hurt. What were the odds?

8) Sacramento - Nik Stauskas. So good the Sixers just got him in a salary dump. So, um, there's that. Hope springs eternal.

9) Charlotte - Noah Vonleh. 38% from the floor as a power forward, 4 assists in 259 minutes for the year. I'm not sure how you play 259 minutes in the NBA and get four assists. I think a dead guy would have 6.

10) Philadelphia (traded to Orlando) - Elfrid Payton. Reasonably athletic and 42.5% FG is positively stellar for this group, but a PG who can't shoot FTs (55%) scares me silly, in that the ceiling is Rajon Rondo, and I have no desire to live with a Rondo type. No thanks.

Wait, it gets better. Want to give yourself omniscience and poach the breakout guy from later in the draft? That gets you Zach LaVine at 13 (athletic and productive, but the shot is wonky), Mitch McGary at 21 (pot helped drive him down this far, but still not getting better bigs in OKC off the floor), Rodney Hood at 23 (meh), and so far, um, that might be it. Maybe Jordan Clarkson at 46, who put up numbers in the LA Lakers Void, but plenty of mirages have done that sort of thing in the past. You can sign Jeremy Lin for squat right now, and he's done just about the same thing as Clarkson to date.

This does not strike me as a particularly good draft. Hell, Embiid might be considered one of the better players to date, in that there's still a hope he'll have a career in the US, unlike most of these clowns. Dario Saric at 12 might be the steal of the draft, and his rights are with the club.

So, if there's no great talent behind Embiid in the 2014 draft that they should have taken instead, and 7-footers with foot problems don't always go down the Death Hole (for every Yao Ming, there's a Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and for every Greg Oden, there's a Nerlens Noel). So why the anguish?

Well, because no one in the NBA who doesn't root for the Sixers is, well, rooting for this Process to work. No one really wants to go down the path of admitting that building something long-term requires massive and nearly deliberate losing.

But as a fan of the laundry, the only thing I really wanted them to do in the 2014 draft was win the lottery and take Wiggins. After that, there really wasn't an obvious move to make, either now or then. So, um, bummer, but at least they have another big to replace him, right?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

FTT Off-Topic: Gender and Humor

Neither Are Men
Not sports, move on or not.

So last night in my Netflix queue I found a fake docu- mentary called "Women Aren't Funny", which is done by Bonnie McFarlane and her husband, Rich Vos. In it, McFarlane tries to maintain equilibrium and comic timing as she interviews a mess of stand-ups about the presumed chicken-and-egg issue vis a vis inequality in stand up. It's a fairly self-indulgent piece, but with enough funny people in it that you can get past some of the more wince-inducing aspects of the topic.

Personally, I listen to a lot of stand up. It's in my Pandora channel, I listen to a number of comedian podcasts during my day, and I'm always looking for stand up when I pull up my Netflix queue. I don't go out to a lot of clubs, but I do the annual big festival thing, and have even tried it a little myself. I'm as big of a comedy nerd as I know, really.

And, well, this is just nothing more than what we saw in rock and roll in the '90s, when Liz Phair and PJ Harvey blazed a trail for an untold multitude of others to follow. It's also maybe the last bastion of unbridled sexism and a profession that was more or less gender-blocked.

To say it's in full retreat is kind of obvious. Amy Schumer is going to have one of the biggest comedy movies of the summer, and her show has been a continually expanding breakout. Maria Bamford has been critically adored for years now, and is getting her own show. Samantha Bee will join the late-night fray on TBS in the fall. Nikki Glaser and Bridgett Everett are on the rise from their association with Schumer and At Midnight, Mindy Kaling got a show and a Super Bowl ad, and so on, and so on. (I'm missing the "Broad City" girls, could also say good things about Natasha Leggero and Rikki Lindgren / Kate Micucci. Have to end the paragraph somewhere, folks.) People are making money from women making comedy, and the engine has always been about what can make you money.

Which doesn't mean, of course, that everyone is just going to be OK with the change in the world, or that it's going to permeate all the way down to your local open mic and Chuckle Hut. I'd also argue that every generation comes up with comedy that The Olds don't think is funny, and that since comedy is as much Craft as Art, the simple existence of people like Schumer and Bee and Leggero et al are going to mean for more time at more places for more women, and amen to all of that.

Because, well, I'm a fan of comedy, and having different people do it has *always* been the right move for the form. Think of how much Ricard Pryor, He Who Must Eventually Be Prosecuted, and Joan Rivers did to move things forward, and expand the bounds of what was possible on stage, in an era when opportunity was limited to Who Made Johnny Carson Laugh.

The plain and simple is that comedy works best when people expand what's possible. Whether it's Pryor with raw personal narratives, George Carlin with language deconstruction, Andy Kaufman with trolling before anyone knew what trolling was, Bill Hicks with baiting the audience and unimagined crudity, Jerry Seinfeld with virtuosic observational asides that no one else could do as well... it all informs, breaks ground, makes things more interesting for the next person to take the mic.

And sure, there will be cringe-worthy folks to come as well. I can't take most of the redneck schtick types, don't really go for British comedy of cruelty, and think comedians that rely too much on their demographic (hello, Carlos Mencia) or props are flat-out hacky. But just because there are some unfunny women (and McFarlane is not terribly effective in this piece)... well, that doesn't mean anything more than that.

Besides, aren't we all supposed to be smart enough to know that generalizations are always wrong?

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Routine Insanity of the Enes Kanter Contract

Getting Paid
Item: Portland to sign free agent center Enes Kanter to a 4-year, $70 million offer sheet.

Item: Oklahoma City set to match it.

Here is Kanter's lifetime per game stats, for all of you who are probably wondering who the hell Enes Kanter is... 10.1 points a game, 6.4 boards, 0.6 assists, 0.4 blocks, on 21.4 minutes. He's 23.

Sound like a max contract level guy to you?

And yet, it's not a wildly indefensible move by either team, for the following points.

1) 4 and 70 is $17.5mm per for a starting center, which is to say, a contract that's going to be perfectly fine once the NBA salary cap level rises. Especially for a guy who now has a clear path to minutes, no FT shooting or fouling issues to keep him off the court, who projects to 15 and 10 next year in the OKC pinball machine. He also might be able to get them halfcourt points in a slowdown playoff series, or fight the Marc Gasols, LaMarcus Aldridges and Dwight Howards of the world to an acceptable loss.

2) NBA teams utterly hate losing FAs on money. It's like an auction draft in a fantasy league where half of the owners are new to auctions. Getting out of this period of the free agent season with your sanity intact is much easier said than done.

3) Kanter looked fine for OKC after the trade from Utah, with soft hands and an ability to finish. It's not inconceivable that this is a case of a bad franchise squandering talent for what it can't do, not what it can, a la the world before Memphis for Gasol and Randolph, or pre-Miami Hassan Whiteside. If he can get 10 to 20% better, not impossible for a 23-year-old, he could easily be worth the money.

It's also, well, insane, for the following reasons.

1) He's Enes Freaking Kanter, a 7-footer that wants to shoot threes, and can't block my shot. If you squint real hard, you can see the Spencer Hawesness oozing out of him, and the list of great 7-footers who want to shoot threes pretty much begins and ends with Dirk Nowitzki. And Dirk's got a fantastic mid-range game.

2) Kanter might be the third best center on his team. Steven Adams is much more of a hard case for opponents, especially on the defensive end. For a roster with only Serge Ibaka as a big with stopping power, Kanter really might not be the best guy to get minutes. And if you are going small, you just put Ibaka at the five and run. For a roster that should have Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, running healthy and in an offense that finally makes sense, running and going small should happen. A lot.

3) Utah swift-boated him for a reason, and that reason is Rudy Gobert, a French defensive hammer with seemingly no ability to score. How good can Kanter be, either as a player or a teammate, when he's the guy they run out of town for a French rook, rather than try to figure out an offense/defense platoon, a la Golden State?

4) I get that the club is still scarred by many years of insane coaching decisions around Kendrick Perkins, but Kanter really isn't going to hit the switch and turn into a top 15 center option, or a guy that should ever get more than 25 to 30 minutes a game of time. He's useful in the right situations, but many of those are not going to exist in OKC, and maybe even entire series.

 Finally, there's this. Unless Portland signed Kanter to an offer sheet just to bleed OKC dry of cap space, the fact that they seem to be trying to double-back on tanking after losing three of their four best players in free agency speaks to an organization that's teetering into Knick Level of Obliviousness.

If you are going to tank, tank. If you start to tank, then try to pull out of it by buying Week Two's Best Available Free Agent, all you are doing is sabotaging your tankery. Bringing in guys like Kanter just drag you up from dregs, but not to anything useful... and I'm sorry, Portland Fan, but this can't exactly fill you with confidence going into the future. If there is a plan at place here, it's one written in sand.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

DeAndre Jordan May Be Unhinged, And Mark Cuban Pounds Sand (Again)

This Man Haz Issues
If the reports on ESPN are to be believed -- and honestly, this story is so weird, it's hard not to see how there's fire to go with the smoke -- free agent center DeAndre Jordan has changed his mind on making good with the deal that he did with Dallas, and now wants to come back to Clipperland.

Beyond the weirdness of the old in-out, there's the simple nature of wondering why, well, someone would want to stay in a place where you've already fouled the bed by saying you want out. It's not as if the Clips are suddenly getting a competent bench or nice co-workers, seeing how you'd still have sourpuss Chris Paul, ad pitchman Blake Griffin, and the new weirdness that is Lance Stephenson to go with not good enough JJ Redick. In a division with the world champion Warriors, who more or less clowned the Clips all year, it's not good enough to get home court in the brutal West. Oh, and it's not as if Paul Pierce has ever been fun to hang out with, even before he turned into the world's angriest basketball playing grandfather. Finally, keep in mind that Jordan has signed offer sheets to leave before, only to have the Clips match and retain. It's not as if they haven't had ample opportunity to lock him up before now.

Compare this with Dallas, if you will. Dirk Nowitzki drags people away from the rim, letting you camp down low to your heart's delight. Chandler Parsons runs the floor and takes advantage of your block shot party. There's any number of not very good point guards willing to throw lobs to you, because, well, it doesn't take that much to throw a lob. (Trust me on this. Ish Smith can do it, and Smith is the living definition of Least Possible NBA Point Guard.) Wesley Matthews is on hand to replace Monta Ellis and actually play defense, which means there will be more shots to take, and fewer cleanups on your own end. Richard Jefferson, Charlie Villanueva and Amare Stoudamire (maybe) are all around to avoid the Drunken Seal Big Baby Davis / Austin Rivers This Isn't Really A Bench Is It problem. You still avoid winters, and you also avoid CA sate tax, which is not small. And it's not as if the story in Clipland is going to get any better, or if you'd be anything more than Third Wheel to two guys who are (a) not ancient, and (b) not going anywhere.

But, well, Jordan's going back to El Lay, where maybe he'll get a little more love, but honestly... he's going to have buyer's remorse within 18 months. And in the long run, since he's not going to be with the Warriors or Spurs, It Just Doesn't Matter. Also, because he doesn't shoot three pointers, or free throws well enough to stay on the floor in close games.

But at least we'll give Paul enough help to bitterly lose in the second round, rather than the first. Not how I'd choose to spend the best years of my NBA career, but unlike Jordan, I'm not out of my mind. (Oh, and if I were DJ, I'd go to the lEast, where the playoffs might mean getting extended runs, instead of losing to the champions early on.)

We also get to delight in one last and lovely point. Mark Cuban continues to be, despite all the money, all the pampering, and all of the media geisha work... unable to land the big free agent that has supposed to have been his bailiwick for all of these years. No LeBron James, no LaMarcus Aldridge, no Kevin Love, no, no, no.

Maybe Cubes really is just, you know, a younger and second-rate Donald Trump that no NBA free agent of note wants to associate with?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Carlos Correa and MLB's Talent Problem

The Correa Effect
One of my small habits for productivity as a sports blogger is to keep copies of analytical works in my office bathroom. It adds up to stolen minutes here and there reading scouting reports and deep team profiles, so that the names stick in your head and you are more likely to remember and recognize guys when they get to the Show. 

Tonight, I found myself reading the top 101 prospects list, and seeing names that are in the majors, over and over again, seemingly independent of where they were in the list. All the way down to Maikel Franco at 96. There must have been dozens of guys who have gotten the call already, and it’s only July. More will follow.

This should be an easy virtue to sell, of course. Exciting new talent! Young and hungry players getting their chance to shine and make world-changing money! Guys you can watch before they develop insufferable egos and untradeable contracts! And so on. But there’s a dark side to all of the Carlos Correas and Kris Bryants out there, and that’s this…

Baseball has a serious and growing talent problem. One that is shown in wide relief when too-young talent hits the league hard.

There have been times in baseball’s past when very young players dominated. Bullet Bob Feller struck out 76 in 62 innings as a 17-year-old. Joe DiMaggio was a top ten MVP pick at age 21. Joe Nuxhall appeared in the majors for the first time at age 15. 

When did these guys do this? In the era before integration, when the league was not nearly as deep in terms of talent. Baseball is integrated, of course, but in terms of sheer numbers, it is nearly as non-black now as it was back in the bad old days. Leagues that are very strong in regards to talent do not have too-young player come in and dominate. 

Young guys skipping AAA and doing just fine at the major league level is becoming the rule, not the exception. 

Finally, there’s this – the sheer oppressiveness of scouting reports and defensive positioning. Watch MLB now, and you’ll see every team go into strong shifts throughout the game, with the net effect being more outs on plays that were hits before. Sure, there’s a hit a game that looks bad because of the shift, but there’s more like three to six knocks that get gobbled up. (This may also be why the kids are doing fine, in that there just isn’t enough at bats to figure them out yet with shifts.)

There’s nothing to be done about either of these points, of course. MLB has to just grind their way through it. But it’s enough to make a dangerously marginal game in terms of at-home watchability drift further into sleepy time. 

Despite all of these fun rooks…  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

FTT Off-Topic: Speed, Speed, And More Speed

Well, Obviously
Not sports, move along or not.

Yesterday in South Carolina, the State Senate voted 37 to 4 to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the Capitol, a vote that would have been unheard of a month ago. (It's possible that the flag might be gone by the end of the week, though as this is South Carolina, I'm not holding my breath.)

But since there was a horrific slaughter of innocents by a white supremacist, it's opened up eyes to an untenable situation. So as the very least that can be done, something that should have happened decades ago, is seemingly going to happen while it's still a story.

Good on South Carolina. But before you get in the weeds of what I think and why I'm right or wrong, two things. 

1) To those who want to talk Tradition...  the Confederate Battle Flag didn't fly over the capital until 1961 -- aka, when Dr. Martin Luther King and the Freedom Riders started showing signs of the uppity. So this whole notion of the flag not meaning what it plainly means can be disposed of for the nonsense that it is.

2) You don't get to really have an opinion on whether black folks think this flag is meant to intimidate, without, well, being a member of that group.

Rather, I want to talk about the quickness of the whole situation.

What's happened here is simple: the flag issue has gone viral in an era of social media, which means it has gone to a fast track of public policy and discussion. This speed is just the way things work now, at least in the case when wildly fragmented public attention coalesces around an issue.

It may be that our media situation, with everyone getting their news from a channel of their own choosing, is going to be too fragmented for this to be anything but a rare occurrence. There isn't an avalanche of stories that have reached this kind of crescendo, and that's not really how our media works now. I could rattle off a dozen pet issues that I'd like to see get this kind of focus, but since nearly all of them don't have a clear, simple and obvious resolution -- the removal of a flag that's so obviously the totem for racists, it doubles for the Nazi flag among European twinkies who are not legally permitted to get their hands on the old swastika...

Well, they won't. This is just a perfect storm of shocking violence, sympathetic victims who then went the extra mile to forgive the assailant, widespread public disgust and a simple to understand choice that, seemingly, few under the age of 35 thinks is even a question.

There are some people in my world who see this issue, and the move to put a woman on U.S. money that people actually use, and the gays marrying and the poors getting healthcare, as signs that All Heritage Is Lost, or that These Be The End Times. (I'm related to some regrettable people.) What's actually true is that the technology has changed the way the world works, but only in rare circumstances. For the most part, business and policies will continue to go the way they've always gone; to the favor of the moneyed supporters that pay attention and indulgence beyond the election cycle.

But when there's something obviously wrong, and dumb, and it hurts people who have been hurt for, well, no good reason at all?

We will act, on dozens of hardware platforms, in ways that will multiply themselves many times over, with speed and surety of purpose that has never been seen in this country before.

It just won't happen very often.

Back to your regularly scheduled blog...

Monday, July 6, 2015

Golfing Diaries: The Moment

The hole in question
Yesterday, I'm playing a local course, just the second time that I've played this year. After a decent warm-up at the range, I can't get the ball in the air off the tee, and I'm just scrambling to keep pace with better players, just about the worst kind of round you can have. Slowly it starts to turn around, but the front nine is bad enough to squash any chance of a decent score, and there's been a bunch of lipped out putts to boot. I'm sure there are parts of me that the sunscreen did not catch, and the skin on my knuckles is peeling off and hurting like hell. It's not the worst time I've ever had playing golf, but it feels like an opportunity wasted, and the chance to play a round now is not something I take for granted. I'm 46 now, under no illusion that I'm going to get really good at this, or that it's going to lead anywhere beyond something I like to do, and want to do better.

Then we get to the 16th, a par 3, 170 yards from the whites, downhill through the approach and uphill at the end. You can see it next to the post. There's nothing terribly complicated about it, but it's well protected by the bunkers, and in the dozen-odd times that I have played this course, I've never scored very well here. I pull out the 4-iron, and I haven't hit a good iron off the tee all day. But I've hit a few approaches that have put me on the green on the back nine, so hope before experience. I swing.

It's one of those fine trajectories that makes you come back, a soaring, straight and low-handicap worthy iron that lands on the front fringe, leaks into the green, and trickles into the left center region, stopping about ten feet from the first cut. The other members of my foursome congratulate me on the shot, but the pin is in the back right area of the green, leaving me with about 20 to 25 feet, across the hill. I'm really just hoping to two-putt and not mess up the good feeling I've gotten from the shot, but I've been putting reasonably well, in that I've had lipped out putts. I've got time to take off my gloves (yeah, I wear two now, because the skin on my hands is so ready to tear up) and think about it, as others are scrambling to get out of the rough and bunkers.

Hmm. Well, that looks like a reasonably clear line, just the single break, left to right and reasonably stable through the path to the cup. I go through my pre-shot routine, get into my stance, and let it roll.

Curling, nice pace, has a chance... and it takes the lip and goes in as the foursome applaud. Longest made putt of any of us on the day. First birdie of the year, maybe one of a dozen in my whole damn life, and such a good feeling that the inevitable disaster on the next par 4 does not even bother me.

There's a chance, not a great one, that I could get better at golf. I have moments, an increasing amount of patience that comes with age, a growing ability to recover from mistakes by taking my medicine and hitting recovery shots, rather than going for the green with clubs that are not within my ability to hit with any degree of consistency. I haven't given up that hope.

But the moment when ball meets cup? It's all I really need to keep playing, to ignore my sunburned ear tips and neck, the expense, the increasing difficulty in getting my friends to fill foursomes, because golf is so not hot right now, and may never be again.

All we have is moments. And that's the only thing that golf can give you. For me, it's worth it.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Spurs Just Got Terrifying

Aldridge with his old laundry
Today, the San Antonio Spurs won NBA free agency by bringing in the single guy (well, assuming LeBron James isn't leaving Cleveland) that could truly change things this year. Better yet, this could change things for years to come, too.

By bringing in LaMarcus Aldridge and sending out Tiago Splitter, the Spurs set themselves up for success in the post-Tim Duncan Era, not that anyone should be expecting that to start any time soon. With a starting five of Duncan, Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Danny Green, the Spurs are built for success in halfcourt sets, while still having lockdown defense from Leonard and Green. They can still go 10-deep to conserve starter minutes for the games that matter, have the best coach in the game in Gregg Popovich, and could easily win 60+ games, even in the meat grinder West.

It's also telling that Aldridge made his choice to go to SA, not LA, Phoenix, or any number of other interested suitors. Short of going to the lEast and trying to game the system in the same way that James does, Aldridge might have made his choice simply because he wants to win more than anything else. And wow, is he ever going to do that, especially with those forwards around him.

Remember, the Spurs got to Game Seven against the Clippers with major minutes going to Splitter and Manu Ginobili, with Parker and Leonard having serious injury issues. They were going to be better next year just with rest and recuperation, and another year of development from Leonard and Green. Now, they have the first truly talented offensive big for Duncan to work with since the David Robinson days, and even more open space for the Spurs' three-point shooters to sight up looks. It's by no means a lock for them to go to the Finals -- the Warriors are not going to give up their title without a very strong fight, Dallas is a lot better all of a sudden, Houston got to the Conference Finals while being down multiple starters, and so on -- but they are clearly on the short list.

Losers in this? Well, Phoenix looks like they lost in and all-in shove, the Clippers suddenly look like a .500 team that can't defend scoring bigs, and it should be clear to everyone by now that the Lakers aren't going to be good again anytime soon. But the biggest losers are clearly the Trail Blazers, who lost a 23/10 machine that seemed to be getting better every year,  who made his teammates better, and who might still be on the upswing.

Every other year for a Spurs title, right?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Stauskas Trade, Or The Sixers Actually Might Have Stopped Tanking



Hello, Actual Possible Asset
Tonight, my basketball laundry finally made a trade with an eye toward making the product on the floor better in the here and now, rather than in the later and much later. By agreeing to send over some overseas assets – AKA, any name that is not Dario Saric, since he is pretty much the only overseas asset that matters – and taking on salary, they will receive Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson and Carl Landry from the Kings. It’s a $25 million salary dump for the NoCal franchise, who are said to be making a run at some big name free agent guards (Rajon Rondo, hoo boy, Monta Ellis, better, or Wes Matthews, meh).



We will dispense with the flotsam first. Landry has been a reasonable scorer over the years for the Pelicans and Warriors, but he is 32, weak on defense, and not someone who will do much for this club, assuming he does not have Big Man Mentor Powers. Jason Thompson is a thuggy younger big who can be a reasonable effort guy, but at 29, he’s just a guy, more or less the more established version of the Thomas Robinson play that they filled their dog days with late last season. Both of these guys are better than Henry Sims, but there is a reasonable chance that I am better than Henry Sims, and the NBA player that I most closely resemble is Muggsy Bogues. Today’s Muggsy, to make matters worse.



Which leaves this entirely in the realm of Stauskas. Last year’s first round pick was regarded, back in the run up to last year’s draft, as a deadeye shooter with true three point range and an NBA-ready release. The fact that he shot 36.5% from the floor last year, 32% from the arc (with half of his shots from there), and only got 15 minutes per game of burn for a team that was going absolutely nowhere…



Well, that either speaks to the idea that Stauskas is another in a long line of shoot-only duds, or – just maybe – that he had a rough rookie year as a 22-year-old in what might have been the worst coaching situation in the NBA. The Sixers are clearly banking on the latter, and using their contract cap advantages in the only way they can right now, since no free agent in their right mind will come to town until it’s very clear that the revolving door and tanking is over.



I have actually seen Stauskas play in person – business trip to Ann Arbor with a game thrown in – and he has some gifts. A nose for the ball, reasonable defensive instincts, some handle. He did not look out of place at all on a Michigan team with multiple fringe NBA guys, and if Sixers coach Brett Brown can get useful minutes and shooting out of guys like Robert Covington, Jerami Grant and and Luc Mbah a Moute…well, a guy who was actually coveted, and a lottery pick not so very long ago, might be more than that.



My hope is that they are not done yet, in that Stauskas is not a point guard, and the roster really only has a PG2 and PG3 (Ish Smith and Isiah Canaan) on the roster. If this also means a whole lot less Hollis Thompson and Jakarr Sampson in our lives, that is so much the better, in that neither of those guys should be playing basketball in the First World. (I don't mean to be cruel. They do try hard. But there are a lot of guys who will try hard who do not play well enough to be in the NBA. The less of them you see in your laundry, the better.)



But the most encouraging thing isn’t the guys they got tonight.



It is that they got someone at all.



With the promise that they might get, well, more…

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