Saturday, April 30, 2016

NBA Western Playoff Picks: Upgrade

Let's face it... the first round of the West, which was supposed to be a simple chalk run of beating down lower seeds, was depressing. The injuries to Stephen Curry and Chris Paul made the Warriors just less fun, and Paul's more or less ended any chance that the Clippers had of being intriguing, let alone getting past the Blazers. San Antonio destroyed a crippled Grizzly club that was all heart and little talent, and Oklahoma City had Thug Life and dumb heroball moments in their harder than it should have been advancement past Dallas. (Oh, and here's a fun fact the next time Mark Cuban says something that more or less translates to I'm Rich, White and Smarter Than Everyone: Your team is, annually, the easiest first round out this side of whoever LeBron plays in the lEast. Thank you, and STFU now.)

But the second round? Going to be a lot better, and isn't just the inevitable opening act for the Warriors-Spurs main event that true hoop junkies have been looking for, well, for years now. OKC is athletic enough to give real issues to the Spurs, and the Blazers showed a lot in their first round series to the Clips... which they might have won without Paul and Blake Griffin going down. (Which, um, they do a lot. But remember, Doc Rivers is a great guy, and his teams never thug it up or quit. Moving on.)

Since the second round is moving faster than the lEast, I have to get some picks in without a full accounting. It is what it is.

Oklahoma City vs. SAN ANTONIO

The case for the Thunder
: Might have three of the best four players on the court in Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. Ibaka, in particular, tends to show up big against the Spurs. Westbrook is a nightmare for any point guard, but especially for the Spurs, whose weak spot is defense at the point. Depth, a key reason why the Spurs roll teams and the Thunder do not, isn't as big of a deal in the playoffs. Home crowd is a big deal for OKC, and they have had as much success as any team against the Spurs in recent years. Team has a true edge about them, as the clock on Durant potentially leaving is ticking loudly. The club actually got some bench contributions in the Dallas series. Durant might explode into a Say My Name level of brilliance, and when he's on, he's simply the bet offensive player on the planet. They are healthy and have no more effs to give, and no one is seriously picking them in this series despite all of their assets.

The case against: Just play Idiot Hero Ball in the fourth quarter, which has led them to lose more leads than any team ever should. Bench is nearly Clippers level of bad, which should not happen for a playoff team. Westbrook can be taken out of his game by the refs, passing rain clouds, or Durant showing signs that he's trying to assert himself. C Stephen Adams ties widows to train tracks when he isn't waxing that Snidely Whiplash facial growth, which makes his teammates want to lose so they can get the hell away from him. HC Billy Donovan joins what seems to be a perpetual list of small white men who can't stand up to either Durant or Westbrook. They actually play Dion Waiters and think good things will happen from that, and yeah, um, no. No one is picking them because they love tough shots over ball movement, and can be worn down. Just an exasperating basketball team that is never the sum of its parts.

The case for the Spurs: An impeccable machine of ball movement that can win in a myriad of ways. Best in class defense that leads to opponents settling for terrible shots rather than getting killed in turnover transition, and HC Gregg Popovich usually gets better over the course of a series. F Kawhi Leonard gives them whatever they need on a nightly basis, while F LaMarcus Aldridge is graduating nicely into New Tim Duncan role. Everyone on the bench can shoot, pass and defend, and they never get caught up in the need to make the game pretty or highlight relish when More Effective will suffice. Never look past an opponent, or willing to jam round pieces into square holes because so and so's a star. F Tim Duncan has a role in this series, and when he does, the Spurs win. For, well, decades.

The case against the Spurs: Don't do well against Absurd Athletes, and the Thunder have three of them on the floor during all important minutes. Can't defend Westbrook most of the time. Might be rusty and/or too rested after sweeping the Memphis Byes. Home court has been beaten in the playoffs before, and if the threes aren't falling, they can be beaten, especially in the open court. Historically, when it starts going south for them, avalanches ensue.

The pick: Not an avalanche. Durant's last series in the heartland will result in the franchise being, well, mostly irrelevant, beyond making Westbrook the best player in fantasy hoop. Not real, though. Spurs in six.

Portland vs. GOLDEN STATE

The case for the Blazers: Turned the corner hard against the Clips in round one. If G CJ McCollum is past his playoff jitters, could match the Warriors for backcourt firepower, especially if Steph Curry remains out with his knee issues. G Damian Lillard is the best player in the NBA that no one ever calls the best player in the NBA, and as an Oakland native, tends to play his best games at ROaracle. G Allen Crabbe gives them a good bench scorer, and C Mason Plumlee has become criminally underrated with his mix of rebounding, passing, and three point shooting; he's not a good match up for the Warrior bigs who aren't Draymond Green. F Maurice Harkless had a lot of good moments in the Clips series, as did F Al-Farouq Aminu; if they both show up in this one, the Blazers have more than a puncher's chance.

The case against: Harkless and Aminu aren't going to be able to do anything with Green on their end. Bench work also involves noted stiffs Gerald Henderson, Ed Davis and Chris Kaman, who the Dubs will turn into turnstiles. Lillard will shoot his team out of sets when things aren't working, and McCollum isn't ready to deal with Klay Thompson. Team is turnover-prone, which is the single biggest thing that you can't be with the Warriors. In the NBA, you generally don't get that much better than your regular season record in the playoffs, and this team went 44-38 for reasons.

The case for the Warriors: Historically great team with something to prove, with Curry sidelined. Unfair bench work that almost always provides separation, and gives the starters an edge because the opponent is forced to go back to their top players to keep the game close, which gets them gassed. Swingman Andre Iguodala is an absolute weapon that flies under the radar, in that he doesn't have to be Curry, Thompson or Green, and can just focus on what he does best. HC Steve Kerr isn't afraid to try new things, hack poor FT shooters, and devises great plays out of timeouts. Sublime ball movement means that you can't just focus on a single player and take them out of their element. Won 73 freaking games in the regular season, and probably should have swept Houston with better officiating.

The case against: Haven't really lived without Curry for extended stretches in some time, and might have mental issues when it gets tough without him. Routinely play terrible FT shooters who a smarter opponent would gleefully hack to avoid more shots for the guys that can make them. Bigs Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli haven't been good in a while, so much that Kerr has dialed up reserves James McAdoo and Marresse Speights. Only really get to Terrifying Levels when Curry is around and on his game, and the team will likely treat the MVP like radioactive china in this series. If they need him and he's rusty, or gets hurt again, this dream season could end in disaster. And the easiest, and least climactic, Western Conference Finals ever.

The pick: Longer than it would be without Curry, but not long enough to rush him back. Warriors in six.

Record so far: 4-2.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Eagles Draft Carson Wentz: OK, Fine, Let's Just Go Along With This

First Mistake: 1 is not a QB Number
So the top of the NFL Draft happened tonight, and it went as expected. QB 1/2, with the Rams taking the more sure bet in Jared Goff from Cal, and the Eagles getting Carson Wentz from North Dakota State.

Which means that we'll now get to look through Wentz's social media footprint (oh dear, this is never a good idea, particularly if you've had your issues with Jebus Freaks), his highlight reel (impressive, but, well, no one else on the field with him will ever play in the NFL, so taken with a shaker of salt), and the ravings of scouting and draft geishas (who pretty much always go over the top about high picks).

And yes, I can't shake the idea that they've paid too much for him. Or that the transition will be awkward, especially because the OL and WRs and RBs are not anywhere near good enough to wet nurse a puppy QB into the NFL. Oh, and he also walks into a locker room where Supposed QB1 is probably going to pull every crappy plebe trick ever invented, because Supposed QB1 doesn't want to be here and wants out by any means fair or foul. Also, that his coach has never had this gig before, and even when he had the junior level gig, he took a guy with Wentz's physical profile and skills and turned him into, well, Alex Smith. Who seems like a hell of a comp for Wentz, honestly. Along with a guy that no one seems to think qualifies as Franchise and World-Changing QB.

But let's face facts, folks... Wentz is the face of the franchise now, and will be the most important player in the laundry for at least the next five years, assuming health and the lack of spectacular personal or professional flameout. And here's the thing: it *could* work. The flip side of Alex Smith is Andrew Luck, or maybe even White Cam Newton. The NFC lEast is a pretty good comp for the AFC South. Great QBs can elevate weak offensive lines, and make ordinary WRs look a hell of a lot better than they are. You don't get these guys outside of the first round, unless they are Russell Wilson, and so far, there's only one of those guys. The last time this franchise did something kind of like this, it turned into the best era in the franchise's history.

Besides, they got the guy. The Rubicon has been crossed. No un-crossing it.

And there is stuff to like here. He looks like a football nerd. He wasn't always this size, so he's got a shot at not having a massive ego. He's got a chip on his shoulder from not getting the Division I scholarship earlier. He doesn't shy away from contact. He doesn't look like he telegraphs his passes, and has a clean injury history. He's huge, looks quick, has an arm, and seems to be everyone's choice for better overall prospect over Goff. If he did all of this at a higher college level, he'd have been the clear #1, and there's no shot that the team could have traded for him.

It's fun to dream.

And if the dream is a nightmare and a whiff and the franchise continues its death spiral to becoming another owner-driven franchise that makes terrible personnel decisions and tries to short-circuit the process of acquiring talent, because it has no real clue about what it's doing?

Well, we are in the right division for that. And it's the NFL, where almost no one stays terrible for a really long time.

So welcome to Philadelphia, Carson Wentz. Play hard, work hard, and be the great white hope of the fan base, because yeah, we've got those issues, too. Seeing how the franchise is in America.

But more than anything, win more than any QB who has ever played here before.

Which you really aren't likely to do, of course.

But what's the fun in not even entertaining the notion?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

This Blog Exists For Celtics Elimination Day

It's tradition. And a continual reminder that we have much in life to be thankful for.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Oh, FFS, Sam Bradford

Cross-Eyed Sammy
Well, normally when I'm right, I feel a little better about it...

The other shoe dropped today, in the Eagles' shopping spree to replicate the DC Slurs Bob Griffin The Who Cares Era. It turns out that QB1 Sam Bradford, now that he's become well and truly aware just how little GM Howie Roseman cares about his long-term real estate plans in the greater Philadelphia area, has requested a trade. And has also told the team that he's not coming to any more voluntary workouts, no no.

Now, a quick word about the NFL's voluntary workouts: they are as voluntary as breathing. Don't show up for them when you have a contract, and most NFL teams start the whisper campaign about how so and so has leadership issues, isn't a Team Guy, and so on. As a pro football player, you should always show up for these things, and never try hard enough to risk injury, or let management know that you see through their bullspit game of getting extra training camp in by calling it voluntary. It's how the game is played.

The last Eagle of note to not show up for the voluntaries was, of course, Evan Mathis, who coach / de facto GM / historically inept figure Chip "Nero" Kelly took to mean a release was necessary, despite the tam not having another NFL-level G on the roster. Mathis wound up making similar money while getting a ring in Denver, because LOL Nero. And maybe Bradford goes the same way, seeing how Denver needs a QB better than Mark Sanchez, and we all know, first hand, that there is a guy that Bradford can roll.

But back to the issue at hand. Of course Bradford is mad; you would be too. Of course he's not going to just shut up and turn his rage into productive play and a Drew Brees v. Philip Rivers or Brett Favre v. Aaron Rodgers or Joe Montana v. Steve Young moment of Doing Better, because he's Sam Bradford -- aka, a man who has banked nine figures of NFL paychecks without ever conclusively proving whether he was any good or not.

And yeah, he's not going to just be quiet about this, because that's not who he is. He's Sam Bradford, Dammit, #1 overall pick and Heisman Trophy winner and Rookie of the Year (he was that, right? I forget, and couldn't for the life of me care enough to look it up). He's a star! Who went 7-7 with this laundry in a trash fire of a division, who couldn't get more than 2 years on his deal in his late 20s, and whose team just mortgaged the future to get the QB of the future. Of course he wants out.

And, well, everyone in the laundry wants him gone, too. One less reminder of Nero's Era is one less reminder of Nero's Era, and you have to think that between Denver, New York, Cleveland, San Francisco and the other sad-sack QB franchises, some meager little bidding war for a guy that might still be good would develop, even if it peters out at the fourth round level. The team is also saying the obvious lies about OTAs being voluntary, that Bradford is the starter, and never mind that Chase Daniel got a suspicious amount of money to be QB2 / 3. Hell, the team hasn't even made the pick yet; for all we know, they might move it to someone else for a bigger ransom than even the Browns got for it.

But what we do know is that the chance of getting fair value for Bradford's contract is, as stated last week, long gone. That good franchises rarely go all-in like this, especially when the line is an aging mess. That the deal with the Browns makes a ton more sense if Bradford went along in it. That no NFL team sits on a top QB pick anymore, not in the Andrew Luck / Cam Newtown / Marcus Mariota / Jameis Winston era. That Roseman's need to recreate the Donovan McNabb era works fine with Daniel as the new Doug Pederson nominal QB1, but not a guy like Bradford.

Oh, and we also know this: the Eagles management are still small children in a gun locker, and that all of the safeties are off. Also, that someone in the room has "Yakity Sax" on repeat, and the kid thinks it would be neat if he could shoot along to the rhythm. Whee!

So, hate on Bradford for being gutless all you like. I'm tired of his cross-eyed crossed-stars routine, too, and can't imagine that he's going to be the kind of guy you really regret seeing in someone else's laundry.

But know this: he's not wrong to want to get the hell away from this management team. And we might just be jealous, very much so, of his ability to extricate himself so easily.

The rest of us seem to be stuck here.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

I Have Sports Depression

Um, Yes
There are times in one's personal life when you know you are going through the muck, when the only real answer is the thoroughly unsatisfying Just Keep Going. That's kind of where I am with sports right now. And while I know intellectually that all of these things go in cycles, and that requiring your laundry to do well to enjoy the sport makes you less of a fan and a very challenged blogger... well, it's just not very much fun right now.

NBA hoop, my first love, is in the throes of a necessary but blah first round. The best series, so far, involves my least favorite team and fan base, Boston. My favorite team in the playoffs, the defending champion Warriors, have been awash in worry over the health of MVP Stephen Curry, and honestly, all of basketball just seems less fun when Curry's not in it. My actual laundry, the Sixers, haven't been near the playoffs in years, and haven't been meaningfully in the playoffs in over a decade. (No, beating Chicago when they lose Derrick Rose to a brutal knee injury in the first game, then getting worked by LeBron James in the next round, doesn't make your participation meaningful.) They've also bounced the only GM in town who seems to have a realistic and workable plan, and hired the son of a guy who keeps getting him jobs, because, well, why not. Three years of brutally painful hoop to build the foundation for something special, then gone. I don't have a great deal of hope that this will all work out.

Let's change to baseball. My A's have been better than expected so far, but not actually good, and are certainly no threat to do anything more than trade away good players when they get expensive. You know, like the past 18 months, or ever since Jon Lester blew a big lead against the Royals in the 2014 playoff game, ending the Actually Trying period of their last cycle of relevance. After that, they traded away the 2015 AL MVP in Josh Donaldson for a bunch of nickels, and will soon do the same with ace SP Sonny Gray. Fun franchise to root for, really. Oh, and the overall sport is just graying and dull now, because we're in a reign of wildly depressed offense, and that's just so much fun to watch.

Football? Well, that's a compromised bloodsport under the best of times, and in the worst, where my laundry goes all-in to draft Tim Tebow 2.0 from Utter Nowhere Small School Dakota, let's just say that I'm also not filled with confidence. We're not on the Nero Kelly express train to idiocy any more, but the owner that hired and promoted him is still the guy that signs the checks, so.

Want more? With a collection of short bus GMs and owners in their division, the Patriots are pretty much a lock to go to the playoffs again next year. I have no secondary team in baseball that's any threat to anyone, and I'm not particularly close to any stadium to go to games. I don't much watch hockey, but even there, my ancestral laundry just got bounced, and it happened a week after their fan base disgraced the area yet again. My fantasy teams are just middling, and I'm in leagues with people who are math geniuses and tireless trade mongers, which means that they are likely to stay that way.

Tonight in Boston, people who have won something like 4X the number of championships in the last decade then I've managed to enjoy in my entire life... got to will their team to a 2-2 series reset against a road team that has, well, never done anything more than be the punching bag in their speed round. Boston got key contributions in that game from Evan Turner, the washout 2nd overall pick of the Sixers who was dealt away, properly, for next to nothing to Indiana years ago. It's just, well, relentless.

And, well, it also mirrors what you go through when you get older. Eventually, all vices go away if you want to give yourself the most realistic chance of sticking around. You outlive your heroes (yeah, I'm still far from over losing Prince). Your kids change in ways you can't predict, choose, or even seem to influence. You settle, because you have to. You pay more and get less, work out more to go slower and lift less, and people stop listening to you, because, um, old guy. If he really knew something, he'd be rich or famous or young. You get bitter, and try to hide it, because bitter is sad and tired and pointless and limiting... and then you look for outlets to make you feel better.

Like, um, sports?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

FTT Off-Topic: Thank U Prince

Can U Make It Rain More? 
Not sports; don't complain.

I don't mean to come off as ungrateful for my upbringing. Everyone did the best they could, and I had so much help from teachers, friends, my family, and so on. But into that mix comes the influence of Art, dammit, and Art helped me come a very long way from what I grew up with and in.

So a not inconsiderable amount of the credit for my much better than it should be life goes to Prince, the finest musician of his generation. Let me explain.

I'm the youngest child of a family of three, and grew up just outside of Philadelphia, in a nice suburb. This was before the Internet, before anything but music you purchased, and music you heard on the radio... and with my siblings and the local media, that meant classic rock and heavy metal, honestly, and very little else.

By the time the '80s started, I was ready, willing and able to listen to anything that wasn't the 500 or less songs that my local radio overlords decided was all I needed to hear. So that became some top 40, some prog rock, just, well, anything that allowed more thought than the canon. But I wasn't in a situation, family wise, to listen to black folks that weren't Jimi Hendrix, or gender challengers that weren't David Bowie. And, really, not much of either of those guys. We're playing some Skynyrd. (Yes, seriously, and without irony.) That stuff on MTV was for words that polite people do not (now) use. For reasons.

I had no idea what I was missing... but I knew that as a short guy with more or less straight down the line hetero urges, I wasn't ever going to be very tolerant of people who weren't like me. And while I didn't think of myself as a racist, I grew up around a ton of it, and clearly was. Along with the homophobia.

And into that world, Prince.

"Purple Rain" was such an absurdly good album on every level that it even broke classic rock playlists. What wasn't missed, even in my world, was that the best guitarist alive was now this pansexual black elf who seemed unwilling to play by any of the rules of my world. He also seemed to be getting the finest trim on the planet, and was having more fun than anyone, well, ever. Even the biggest haters had to respect his talents, and every time he turned around, some other amazing thing happened which involved him.

Sheena Easton was this prim and useless pop diva, and then Prince got his hands on her, and she was in the World Series of Love and droolingly hot in "U Got The Look." Tim Burton and Jack Nicholson reimagined "Batman" into something dark and plodding, but Prince "Batdance"-d his way into irresistible weirdness. Odd political musings about AIDS and Christianity didn't slow down "Sign O' The Times" from being this album that I'd just play, end to end, over and over. He changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, and I didn't let it shake me; the New Power Generation was too good to allow for stepping off. He wrote songs for other people that were nearly as good as the stuff he kept for himself, kept finding impossibly attractive women who were also stunningly good side players, showing up in public with assless pants... just relentless. And when you thought he was past his prime, he shows up in a monsoon to perform the best halftime set ever at the Super Bowl.

Who was having more fun than this man? Who wouldn't want to hang out with him, if only to be near these women? Who, if ever, was living life any better than this? And why, dear God why, would you ever choose to hate on black people or gay people or trans people or any people at all, rather than just stop taking life so damned seriously and get your groove on?

How much influence did this man have on my life? This actually happened: I spent a month writing in an anonymous communal college dorm diary in Prince-speak, just to see if I could pull it off and still make semi-coherent points. His wildly over-the-top sexual calisthenics album "Come" became the de facto soundtrack for physical encounters with the women in my life. I covered some of his songs on acoustic guitar in solo sets, not because I was really capable as a singer or player to doing them justice, but just because I wanted, in any possible small way, to be more like him.

I'd like to think that, in time, the racism, homophobia, intolerance and general small-mindedness that was my start in life would have gone away without Prince. I did go to college, hang out with smart people, took steps to grow. But honestly, I don't know if I get there without him. That's how much better he made my life. And I can't imagine I'm alone in that.

I got to see him once, live, at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, just outside of Philadelphia, in January 1999. The Tower is a venue that only holds a few thousand people, just about the best place you could ever hope to see an artist of this level, and I wormed my way to about 5 feet from the stage in the mosh pit, and just tried to commit the entire evening to permanent memory. He was as tiny as advertised, even to my hobbit eyes, and there was never a person more born to do this than he was. To be in the presence of someone who is just that good at what he does is simultaneously great and terrible, because it thrills you with the achievement, and shames you with the comparison to your own life.

For reasons unknown to anyone but themselves -- maybe I was just the right height to provide useful friction -- two of the most attractive women that have ever been in my presence, just model-level or better and with European accents, decided to grind all over me for a solid hour of this show. Prince played a 20-minute bass solo, something I would have never enjoyed from any other musician in my life, and it was bliss. Eventually the show ended, and I was not myself for days afterward. It took the better part of a decade to work up enough distance go to another live concert, because no matter how good the show might be, it wasn't going to be Prince.

I know I'm supposed to be profoundly sad right now. First Lou Reed, then Bowie, now Prince; my songwriting and performing heroes are passing from this Earth, and I will not see their kind again.

But then I think of all of the catalog, and it's impossible to be sad for more than a minute. It's not what he would have wanted. He would have wanted to lose himself in the music, to be remembered for how it made you feel, and move. Not for the loss.

So play, and play, and play. The Internet is sprouting recovered videos that were suppressed during his life, because the man was litigious, and never really adjusted to the Internet age, and it's all somehow for the best, because I haven't seen many of these in decades.

And honor a man who left the world, and my life, so much better than how he found it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Eagles Trade Up: Bad Money After Bad Money After Bad Money

What It's Like To Be An Eagles Fan
To completely unpack the Eagles' all-in shove for the #2 pick in this draft, you need to look back at the history of the quarterback position here.

For the better part of a decade, the only real worry that the Eagles had with their QB was health. Donovan McNabb was the best in franchise history, and having him locked down made the rest of the roster a lot more manageable. McNabb was never quite good enough, but his strengths -- avoiding INTs, keeping plays alive with his legs, carrying terrible WRs early in his career and feeding very good ones late -- made them experience the best era in their history.

That's the world that Doug Pederson knew, the world that Howie Roseman wants to recreate, and the world that Jeff Lurie needs to get back to. Fine. Laudable goal.

Once the McNabb era wound down, the team thought they were in good shape on many occasions. No one remembers this, but Kevin Kolb looked really good for a considerable stretch of time, and that wasn't just hometown myopia. Once Kolb was displaced, they got value for him from Arizona. Mike Vick had half a year where he was a borderline MVP candidate, before the magic left for good. Nick Foles had a fluke year for the ages. Hell, even Mark Sanchez had a good month and looked like something that was in the process of salvage. All of this turned out to be fools' gold, but the biggest reason why this team hasn't won a playoff game during the Obama Administration isn't the QBs. It's the defense, and the turnovers, many of which were on guys other than the QB. (Well, maybe not when Sanchez played.) A great QB might have covered all of that up, but there are only ever 6 to 12 great QBs in the world.

Now, move to the latter stages of the Nero Kelly Reign of Error. One of his more defensible -- in that we are dunking on three foot rims here -- moves was to swap out Foles for Sam Bradford. What wasn't defensible was the price. Taking on eight figures of contract cap and giving up a second round pick for a guy whose career numbers looked no better than Foles took considerable faith, especially when you factored in Bradford's terrible health history.

Then last year happened. Foles lost the gig in St. Louis, and now looks like a guy that might be out of the league in a few years. Bradford had yet another year that failed to answer the question of whether he's actually good and betrayed by terrible teammates, or just a gun-shy arm who doesn't overcome adversity, along with the ticking knee issues. As the team moved to the off-season, most fans wanted the team to sign Bradford, but not for a lot and not for long, because he was the only way the team would be watchable in 2017. That happened, for a 2 year deal, and the club also made the curious move of overpaying for a binkie QB2 in Chase Daniel, probably because Pederson pushed for him. OK, fine. The club then sent out three reminders of Nero's mistakes to trade up to the 8th pick, and we were all fine with all of that. Most of the last few weeks in the laundry fandom has been spent wondering which stud would fall to them --  RB, CB, OL. We were good with whoever was Best Player Available. Honest, we were.

And then today, the entire shoe store dropped, and they traded 4 picks to move up 8 slots.

No, seriously,

Now, maybe this all works out. Maybe the either/or of the Jared Goff / Carson Wentz pairing becomes the Peyton Manning to the Rams' Ryan Leaf, and the team embarks on a new era of treating the NFC lEast as a speed bag. The team has already talked openly about how they didn't like what QBs would be available to them in future near drafts and free agency, and they are, we presume, living in a world where they don't think they are going to be this high in the draft again, any time soon. I've been wrong about lots of things in my life, and I'd like nothing more to be wrong about this.

But, um, I wasn't wrong when I hated Nero's moves last year. And I just don't like this one, either.

Let's start with the obvious; the chance that Bradford provides anything close to the value of his contract is now nil. Unless Nero gets the Niners to overpay for him, or the Broncos decide they just can't live without recreating the 2015 Eagles QB situation, there's no chance that you get a decent pick for him now. There's also no chance that he starts all of the games in 2016, because the team isn't good enough to get to the playoffs with nothing of value coming out of this draft, and if you aren't making the playoffs, let's see the new guy. This isn't now a QB controversy; it's a placeholder role for a guy that might have been the best QB available in the free market last year. I'd have felt better about this deal if Bradford had gone to Cleveland instead of any of the picks that went. Yes, even the fourth rounder. And if they somehow turn this around and deal him before the draft, fine, great, we'll reconsider. But for now, spending +$20 million for potential QB2 and QB3 is unprecedented in NFL history, and beyond ridiculous.

Next, let's move to the actual roster. This team needs a real RB -- preferably two, seeing how Darren Sproles is old and small, and Ryan Mathews can't stay healthy. If Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff don't make an incredible leap, or Rueben Randle does something that rarely ever happens and be better for Team 2 than he was for Team 1, they need most of a WR corps. RT Jason Peters is coming off his worst year and back and nerve injuries; he might be done, and T is kind of a big deal. C Jason Kelce is also coming off his worst year, and is small for the position. It's not a given that he bounces back, either.

The defense likely needs a CB. They are banking hard on MLB Jordan Hicks being great and healthy in his second year, and NFL history is writ large with guys who aren't as good coming back from either of these conditions. There's likely other holes here that we're not aware of just yet, because DC Jim Schwartz hasn't had game time to find these things out. We're also assuming that CB Eric Rowe is just going to be fine as a top tier corner, when all he's got is a handful of December games when he looked good. Like Hicks, it's not exactly a lock bet.

But fine; let's assume the roster is good enough in the lEast, and that Roseman's free agent moves paper over many of the holes that Kelly left behind. Just how many teams win a ton of games with a rookie HC, new DC, and maybe a rookie QB, too? There's a really good chance that the first round pick next year is also going to be top 10, and make this deal even more lopsided. This isn't the NBA, where you make deals like this and protect it after a certain number. It could just be that bad.

Now, the management says they've taken all of this into account. That Bradford's the starter, and maybe he plays so well that he provokes a bidding war from teams that have to have him in 2017. That the QB won't sulk, poison the locker room, or that the ever-helpful Philadelphia media won't treat this as an all-year circus. That whoever the Rams don't take will be a star at the position, healthy despite the shaky line, the face of the franchise for a decade or more. That the half dozen starter level players that you are giving up from the lack of picks will be covered by coaching up lower picks, finding developmental gems in free agency, and continued health.

It's all possible. It's certainly no less nuts than last year's "strategy" of trading away the best RB in franchise history for a broken-down LB, then bringing in the worst RB in franchise free agent history, and signing him to a contract that would make a Saudi prince blush.

Left aside, because I honestly don't know slave / college football -- whether or not Wentz is actually The Man. He's on the record as being a big Jebus guy, played at a small school in de facto Southern Canada, and is absolutely going to be the pick, because there's no way the Rams pass up the California Goff who actually played in a real conference. There's a real chance that the Eagles just went all-in, but with a hand that's a lot more crackable than aces, because I somehow have doubts about how a Jebus guy from Wherever Dakota will react when 70K drunken meatheads who have spent their entire lives rooting for laundry that never wins it all decide to show their disapproval vocally.

In other news, I'm drinking alone as I write this. A lot. It makes the typos more fun!

But, well...

I'd rather have a coached up Foles for next to no money, Daniel to be the fallback and/or guy to beat him out, a half dozen high picks to restock the roster, and a ton of salary cap maneuverability. And if it all fails, because it usually does for Rookie Coach, a great pick next year to use on a QB then, because the funny thing about weak QB drafts is that they someone always have a couple that start to look amazeballs.

I'd rather not have all of my eggs in one basket, and have to give up that basket again next year.

Especially on a roster that needed a serious rebuild in the first place.

But what do I know? I keep rooting for this laundry anyway, so I'm also clearly an idiot.

The NBA Playoffs: Youth Will Be Served, Harshly

Beware The Boban
In the third quarter of tonight's by the book dismantling of the visiting Grizzlies, the Spurs were, to put it frankly, bored. Having won the first six quarters of their series against a team they would have handled even if they were healthy, the West's #2 seed was just going through the motions, up 15 in a game they could have been up 30 in, with absolutely little concern in their body language that the road team was going to make a run.

In most other NBA arenas and in most other NBA games, this precipitates a run like thunder anticipates rain. NBA players are too good to be slept on, and guys like Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and Lance Stephenson have enough tread and guile to know how to pounce on opportunities. What usually happens here is a made bucket or two, a turnover, a three, a timeout, and a grateful announcing crew noting that there's still plenty of time left, and the Grizz are showing great heart, and maybe they can steal one.

What happened instead in San Antonio was, well, nothing. The Spurs kept moving the ball, kept defending, kept getting better looks and never seemed to lose focus, even if they lost intensity. And then, as the game got out of hand, they did something particularly Spurs-like, especially in the latter days of the Gregg Popovich era. They brought in a ridiculously old guy to replace ridiculously old guys. Andre Miller, the 40-year-old point guard who couldn't jump when he was young, and is on his 10th team if you don't count consecutive years with a franchise, and his ninth if you do, played half of the fourth quarter.

This is, in and of itself, really not important; a 2/1/2 line isn't going to get much notice ever, let alone in yet another blowout in the most lopsided first round of recent NBA playoff history. But before you dismiss this as a Tracy McGrady-esque fetish of Popovich, or just believe that San Antonio treasures the basketball elderly, think harder.

The Spurs do nothing that doesn't get them an advantage, and are the second-best team on the planet right now, assuming Stephen Curry's ankle injury isn't a long-term issue. They run beyond greybeards like Miller out there, along with the past-due core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, because it helps them win. Hell, Kevin Martin at 33 and a SG also qualifies, along with David West at back-up 4, who is 35.

Why go old? Well, because the Spurs are basically the Borg of the NBA; they don't need any one player to go off to win. Everyone shares the ball, no one gets big minutes, everyone defends, no one racks up technical fouls or goes for the showboat moment.

Which is a lot easier to do, frankly, after you've made your money and your reputation and have had your star edges sanded off by a bunch of different places that decided they could live without you. Assuming, of course, your head was the biggest reason you got bounced.

It's a frankly fascinating basketball experiment, built around Popovich's fearlessness in managing minutes to avoid injury, and to give up short-term wins for long-term benefit. Playing Miller tonight probably doesn't matter to anyone but Miller, but it also probably makes him better in practice, which makes Patty Mills and Danny Green better, which is likely to show up in a game. Having guys like Duncan and West around not only keeps LaMarcus Aldridge fresh, but schools up Boban Marjanovic and Kyle Anderson -- and while both of those guys are young for the Spurs, they are also 27 and 22 respectively, which doesn't exactly make them guys who might still be on a college campus.

Oh, and a side benefit to all of this?

When the deep benchies come in, they don't follow the NBA rule of thumb and allow runs to cut the big lead, because they (shh!) really aren't playing to the scoreboard. They know better. They're too old to fall into that trap, and too worried about getting benched in a heartbeat, because Pops benches everyone in heartbeats.

Oh, and this same sort of thing might be happening in the Hawks-Celtics series, where the older Hawks have been torching the young Cs so far, and the Clips-Blazers, seeing how the Clips have all of the old guys there, too. It's also helping the old Mavs stay in the picture with the young Thunder. Not too many Emerging Stud Rookies or Sophs in the NBA Playoffs this year.

I don't know if the Spurs have another title in them from this approach, because the history of the NBA is that Best Five against Best Five is what decides playoff series, and they don't have that. I'm not even sure they have a better bench, because the Dubs are unfair like that.

But what I do know is that if every team was built like the Spurs, and valued players at all stages of their career, rather than when they were just young, cheap and on the rise? And managed minutes as if the coach wasn't only on the sideline for decades, but expected to be there for as long as he felt like it?

We'd have a better league.

Probably not a more marketable one, though.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Rio Olympics Could Inspire A New Era In Golf

Olympic Golf Fever: Catch It
So there's a story out this week about the upcoming absurdist nightmare that will be the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Independent of the Zika virus, the fact that the president might be impeached any minute now, the cratering economy and the fact that the World Cup has already plundered the place not very long ago, this...

Yeah, the golf course is overrun with the world's largest rodents (capybara tracks are all over the bunkers, and we're talking about beasts that are bigger than large dogs), and a massive amount of crocodile-like caiman.

No, seriously.

Now, I've played at golf courses -- many of them, actually -- where the wildlife played through, and I've got to say, I'm far more impressed by a pro golfer if they have the ability to focus past the elements. One of the prouder moments of my life was a two-putt from 40 feet as two massive bull mastiffs just watched on a par three, alone in the drizzle at Cobbs. You talk about pressure, that was pressure.

But it got me wondering -- couldn't we think more creatively about golf? Let's face it, in the post Tiger Era, with demographics and attention spans getting away from the game, it's high time to experiment with other sporting aspects that will appeal to the affluent male demographic.

Namely, MMA and firearms, with the biathlon -- that skeet shooting / cross-country hybrid that hits your conscious like a Russian fever dream every Winter Olympics -- as your model.

Consider, if you will, how much more watchable golf becomes when the player has to consider whether a long gun or handgun should take the place of a high iron or wedge in the bag. If there were judging on how you got your kill -- he ended that attack with his bare hands, then played the rest of his round shirtless, bleeding and screaming like a Berserker! -- and if your methods were evocative of your homeland. Can you complete your round while simply subduing the man-eating beasts that guard the back nine, without compromising pace of play? You'd never nap through golf again.

It's no more ridiculous than what will happen during these Games for real... 

Top 10 things we learned from the NBA's Opening Weekend Of Playoff Play

Sure, This Is Relevant
10) It's nice to have an ineffective van Gundy back on the sideline, as well as in the booth

9) The Warriors trucked the Rockets so badly, they aren't even freaking out over Stephen Curry having ankle issues

8) Toronto's loss, and their country's shutout from NHL playoff action, has made Canadians so depressed that they are only 3X more polite than Americans now

7) Memphis is so beaten up and outclassed in their matchup with the Spurs that they are now being officially referred to as the Byes

6) The majority of games this weekend were drama-free blowouts, because the NBA is trying something new and having the later rounds have the more interesting series

5) Atlanta and Boston are going to have a wildly entertaining series to see who can get trucked by the Cavs

4) By the end of the Heat-Hornets series, even the people who still think Hitler Downfall parodies are fresh are going to want to turn the page on Sad Michael Jordan

3) Oklahoma City's strategy of having the three best players on the court on their team is really working out against Dallas

2) Feel free to humor your NHL friends who want to tell you their playoffs are better, because caring about soccer on ice just warps people

1) If your mind has already snapped from too many "Angry Birds" promo tie-ins, please keep in mind that you normally are eating an Adam Sandler bio sammich right about now

Friday, April 15, 2016

First Round NBA Playoffs: The Chalk Also Rises

Chalk It Up
Typically, the first round of the NBA Playoffs is the best, because you've got the most hoop, and first round matchups that are just super tasty, because some team has overcome injury to make a late round and set up a booby prize matchup with a fading top team.

That's not the case this year. The best teams stayed strong all the way through, the surging clubs mostly just avoided a killer first round out, and the entire 8-series slate looks like it will only get to deep drama in maybe one, or two, cases.

That doesn't mean it will be any less watchable, because playoff hoop is playoff hoop, and pharmaceutical grade all over. But it will mean that we'll have a better second round, and a lot of chalk for the next few weeks.

And with that, on to the picks.

(1) CLEVELAND vs (8) Detroit

The case for the Cavs: Have the conference's best player and record. LeBron James treats the lEast like his own personal sandbox every April, and with a deeper and healthier team than last year, it's very hard not to see this as more of the same. Can run you out of the gym when the 3-ball is hitting or they are forcing turnovers, because James remains the world's most unstoppable force in transition. Keep an eye out for intriguing sub G Jordan McRae, who blew up the D-League this year and also went for monster numbers in a meaningless Game 82; he could be a very effective secret weapon.

The case against: Head coach Tyronn Lue is untested, which is to say, James also acts as the coach. In Kevin Love and Channing Frye, they have a very exploitable defender at PF, and swingman J.R. Smith can take you out of a game. Matthew Dellavedova is going to provoke a riot one of these days, seeing how he's the dirtiest player in the league and also Not Huge.

The case for the Pistons: Actually won the season series, 3-1, against these Cavs. Second best rebounding team in the Association, and while the Cavs aren't bad at that, they could volleyball them to frustration for large chunks of games. C Andre Drummond is an absolute beast, HC Stan van Gundy knows what he's doing, and they have defenders and athletes all over the roster.

The case against: Amidst all of those athletes, there really isn't a point guard, with gunner Reggie Jackson coming closest. Just not good enough on offense to win a playoff series, let alone against a really good team. James doesn't fool around in the first series.

The pick: Cleveland in five.

(2) TORONTO vs (7) Indiana

The case for the Raptors: Sneaky good this year, as the record shows, with a great home court advantage and a deep and potent back court. The bigs are better than you might think, and if F DeMarre Carroll is back from his injury, they are gelling at the right time.

The case against: No history of playoff success, and PG Kyle Lowry in particular has come up small. As perpetual champions of the tragic Atlantic, the Raps are routinely exposed in the playoffs. Good home court, and experienced enough to not get taken of the floor by a loud crowd.

The case for the Pacers: Paul George is the best player on the floor. Myles Turner might be a breakout candidate. Monta Ellis has had past playoff moments. The entire roster defends and moves the ball (well, maybe not Ellis), and they are well coached by Frank Vogel.

The case against: Just not good enough at the point guard position, and not particularly deep or special outside of George. While the bench in playoff games does not matter as much as in the regular season, it still matters, and the Pacer bench does them few favors.

The pick: Toronto in six.

(3) MIAMI vs (6) Charlotte

The case for the Heat: Best team in the lEast in the last two months. Once Chris Bosh went down with an injury and Joe Johnson came on board off waivers, they got spacing, three point shooting and ball movement, mostly because it also led to playing time for diamond rookie point guard Josh Richardson, and increased freedom for G Goran Dragic. Wildly experienced coach in Eric Spoelstra, and vets like Johnson, Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng will keep the kids in line. In Hassan Whiteside, they've also got the NBA's best shot blocker, which can be all kinds of useful.

The case against: Might have spent their fuel to get the 3 seed, and the shocking collapse on the road against Boston in Game 82 was disturbing. When the 3s aren't hitting, this isn't a good offense, and they have only shot the 3s well in the past couple of months. Not a great matchup for them, in that they get a hot Hornets team, and might be looking past them to the Cavs.

The case for the Hornets: Under the radar and beasting, with Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin, Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum all firing on all cylinders right now. Deep, with six players averaging in double figures in points, and several others (Jeremy Lamb, Courtney Lee, Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky, Spencer Hawes) in shouting range. If you are looking for a high seed with danger, this is your team.

The case against: Well-rounded teams without stars never do all that well in the playoffs. As deep as they are, none of these guys are very good at defense, with the possible exception of Batum, and they aren't playoff-tested, either. HC Steve Clifford, in his third season, isn't exactly a household name either, and you don't get a great home court advantage in the pro game in NC.

The pick: Miami in seven. This will be the best series in the East.

(4) Atlanta vs (5) BOSTON

The case for the Hawks: When they are on their game, the ball movement is spectacular, with quality bigs (Paul Milsap, Al Horford) and solid three-point shooting that leads to can beat anyone levels of competence. Unlike many other outfits, they are experienced at playing with each other, and have a cohesive unit and bench play (particularly PG Dennis Schroeder) that makes a real difference. Well-coached, with a deep run last year, and the ability to go that far again.

The case against: Haven't really been able to replace Carroll, who combined clutch playoff scoring last year with lockdown defense; replacements Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefalosha only do the latter. Starting SG Kyle Korver shoots "only" 39.9% from the arc, and for his level of defensive sieve, he really needs to be a lot better. PG Jeff Teague has also regressed, and the air around this team is just that their best days are behind them.

The case for the Celtics: Also super deep with six in double figures and several just below, but unlike the Hawks, they've got a true star (Isaiah Thomas) and exceptional home court advantage. Some of the best defense in the Association, especially in the backcourt, with Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart being so good that they cover for Thomas and Evan Turner. Coach Brad Stevens is a true star, and PF Jae Crowder might be the NBA's most under the radar quality player.

The case against: Bigs include hit and miss options like Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson and Tyler Zeller, all of whom could be eaten alive by Horford and Milsap. Playoffs generally make bench work less important, which is a major strength for the Cs. As with all Atlantic teams, the won-loss record is a little suspect, and when they look bad, they look really bad.

The pick: Boston in six, because it will make me sadder.

(1) GOLDEN STATE vs (8) Houston

The case for the Warriors: Um, defending champions, just won 73 games, might be the best team in NBA history. Best shooting backcourt ever, best backcourt in the NBA. Underrated, somehow, defense, and the best bench in the league, too. Unfair on every level.

The case against: Deep in the range of reach here, but might not be playing as well as earlier in the year. Can make the mistake of playing pretty, rather than playing effective. Might be overlooking any first round opponent.

The case for the Rockets: James Harden is good enough to carry any team, at least offensively, for four of seven games. Michael Beasley has given them a new level of front court offensive performance, and if Trevor Ariza and James Beverly are hitting threes, they can be dangerous. Bigs Dwight Howard and Clint Capela are very athletic, and while this isn't a good defensive team, they are loaded with good athletes who can play defense. (Yeah, I know this makes no sense. But neither do the Rockets.) A lot more talented than the usual 8 seed.

The case against: Can't put a big on the floor who can shoot free throws well enough to prevent hacking strategies. Don't communicate well enough with each other to play good defense, and Harden in particular can just phone that in. Beverly just isn't good enough to start at PG in the NBA, and while he's got the heart to defend Stephen Curry, he doesn't have the quicks. Howard has never really fit into their offensive flow, and Howard is also a stone-cold loser. Bench is a real problem.

The pick: Golden State in four. Among many other things, the Dubs are heartless.

(2) SAN ANTONIO vs. (7) Memphis

The case for the Spurs: Loaded all over. Best coach in the business in Gregg Popovich, devastating defense, deep bench with great ball movement, and a 41-1 home court record (ye gads). Kawhi Leonard is a defensible MVP pick, and when they are hitting their threes, they are a magnificent basketball machine.

The case against: Have choked in first round playoffs before, and to this Grizzly team. Not as good on the road as they've been in the past, or as healthy. Could easily be looking past the first round.

The case for the Grizzlies: Playing with house money, in that no one expects them to stick around. Very good home court. Zach Randolph is still operating at a high level, and Lance Stephenson has fresh legs and major motivation to get his career and next contract in gear. Vince Carter still gives good bench minutes, and with certifiable lunatics like Lance and Matt Barnes, they won't go down without a serious fight.

The case against: No Marc Gasol or Mike Conley. They are giving important minutes to Jordan Farmar right now, along with a bunch of guys who were in the D-League and beyond recently. Kudos to them for not falling out of the tournament altogether, but dear Lord in heaven, this year went south with a quickness, thanks to the injury bug.

The pick: San Antonio in five.

(3) OKLAHOMA CITY vs (6) Dallas

The case for the Thunder: In Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, they have two of the five best players in the Association on the floor for 90% of the important minutes, and honestly, that should be enough. Serge Ibaka is the modern definition of stretch four, in that he's a shot blocker who hits threes. Centers Stephen Adams and Enes Kanter give them a dirty work / bench offense tandem, while Dion Waiters, Randy Foye and Anthony Morrow all give them reasonable ideas for a fifth guy who could hit wide open shots and defend enough to win. Home court is pretty good, and the core of this club has been to the Finals. When they are on their game, they are prone to devastating runs, and look like they can match up with anyone.

The case against: For a team that could easily detail the world's dreams of a Warriors-Spurs WC Finals, their crunch time play-calling of Iso Hero Ball Fail, which hasn't changed in years, is just ridiculously bad. Defense isn't as good as it should be. If Westbrook's shot isn't falling, he can take you out of the game. Durant isn't as assertive as he could be, and the team tends to get unhinged by officiating. Bench work is erratic, and it's an open question as to who will get the crunch time minutes every game out.

The case for the Mavericks: Have played some of their best ball of the year late, with the fresh legs of Rey Felton giving them a real boost at point guard. They've also gotten good work out of Zazah Pachulia and Wes Matthews, and Dirk Nowitzki is still, well, Dirk Nowitzki. They play hard, have a good home court, move the ball well on offense and get the most out of their talent and abilities.

The case against: There's just not enough here, especially with Chandler Parson on the shelf, and Dirk now just an 18/6 guy who can't defend or hold position for boards, despite being a 7-footer. This is a jump shooting team that doesn't shoot it so well that they can defy the usual issues that the world has with such things. They also don't have anyone who can stay in the frame with Westbrook or Durant.

The pick: Oklahoma City in five.

(4) LOS ANGELES vs. (5) Portland

The case for the Clippers: Might be getting healthy and good at exactly the right time, with PF Blake Griffin coming back from his self-inflicted stupidity. PG Chris Paul is an assassin, and C DeAndre Jordan a two-way force. SG JJ Redick is a solid specialist, and PF Jeff Green has shown sparks in bench play recently. G Jamal Crawford has done great work in the fourth quarter, and they've got a solid home court. HC Doc Rivers has won it all before, and there's certainly enough on board here for a deep run.

The case against: It's more or less the same mix as in past years, and it's never been good enough. Rivers hasn't constructed a worthwhile bench in forever. Jordan's FT woes are legendary, and have been getting worse recently. Griffin comes up small and hurt in deep playoff runs, and Paul can assert his way into hero ball. There's a real sense that the window has passed, or that the Clips are just victims of poor timing, in that there are historically great teams that coincide with their rise.

The case for Portland: PG Damian Lillard is playing some of the best ball in the Association, and SG CJ McCollum has been nearly as dynamic, especially from behind the arc. C Mason Plumlee is skilled, and Meyers Leonard gives them a stretch distance shooter as well. Everyone hustles and defends, and the Portland crowd is always ravenous. G Allen Crabbe gives them bench scoring, while F Al-Farouq Aminu is a defensive hammer. They are also playing with house money, in that no one thinks they are going very far in this tournament, and could certainly surprise with hot shooting.

The case against: Jordan and Griffin should wreck them, and Paul should neutralize Lillard. Which leaves this all on McCollum, in his first playoff series, and wow, is that an awful lot to ask. Too much, really.

The pick: Los Angeles in six.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The NBA Has The Best Last Night Ever

Exit Stage Scowl
Just under a minute into the third quarter tonight in Oakland, Stephen Curry found himself outside of the three point arc with enough time and space to shoot. So he did, connecting on his 400th three point shot of the season, and the Oracle crowd went wild in the way they always do. With the crowd wanting to to just acknowledge the achievement -- this isn't just a record, but it's an astounding record, and beats his own astounding record -- the game went on.

With his team up 20, Curry drove and scored on a ridiculously controlled teardrop finger roll, took a charge because that's how he plays basketball, then added another three, this time from an absurd length. Just another game, only for the all-time single season record in wins.

The Warriors really weren't at their best in this game, following their season-long pattern of losing focus when the opponent is clearly outclassed. They let Vince Carter and Zach Randolph get loose, no one other than Steph and the routinely sterling Sean Livingston really impressed while the game was still in doubt, and they went too far into the realm of what head coach Steve Kerr calls Making It A Show. And yet they still won their 73rd game of the year, still scored 125 in a thoroughly fun 21-point win, and more or less punched the clock while Kobe Bryant was scoring 60 in his own coda for the ages game, most of it late, against the eternal punching bag Jazz. And the 60 was needed, too, given how Utah held a lead in the fourth.

People like to talk about how the NBA regular season doesn't mean anything, but it really does. High seeds normally truck low seeds. Home court matters. No team that misses the playoffs is ever really missed, and no playoff ever ends with people thinking that the best team didn't win. Bryant's final for the ages might be the last game that Laker Fan enjoys for years to come, but none of that really matters.

The game is all that matters. When it's good, it's just the best. You watch the world's best athletes, from every continent, playing a game that has no elements of blood sport, no padding to shield you from their emotions and their essence, and more than occasional moments of jaw-dropping wonder. And even a team as bad as this year's Laker team is capable of delivering excellence on any given night. Hell, my 10-win Sixers, one of the very worst NBA teams ever, put up 61 in the first half tonight in Chicago, and looked like a team. It didn't last, of course, but to see minutes of useful ball from even the worst is one hell of a bargain.

Oh, and one final thing. The playoffs are, actually, always better. Not more necessary, and sometimes maddeningly weak in comparison with the black tar heroin that we're going to get out of the West, but yeah, better.

I know that many of you just tolerate hoop until football comes around, or would rather I talk more about baseball, because your teams are fun. But mine are not, and football needs to go away for months at a time to make me miss it, and forget the devastation it brings. This, right now, is the season that matters. And just keeps getting somehow better.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Warriors-Spurs: The Championship Of Each Other Goes To The Dubs (So Far)

Tonight's game in San Antonio was Important, but should not have been incredibly watchable. The Warriors were coming off the tail end of a back to back, having fought and clawed to get past a Memphis team of D-Leaguers and grit, and shaking off a bad night to overcome a 10-point deficit in the fourth to win. The Spurs were rested, looking to remain undefeated at home for the year, and owning a history of woe against the Dubs that goes back for 33 straight games. Both teams are well aware that all of that means nothing, with coaches that don't care about the regular season, and care everything about the seemingly inevitable Western Conference Finals series that will be the best hoop of the year.

And for the first half, a sluggish game is exactly what we got, as both teams could not put it in the ocean, mostly because both teams play some of the world's best defense to go with their offense. No one on the Dub bench could find the bucket, MVP Stephen Curry continued his career-long pattern of not being able to figure out the Alamo rims, and the refs let the game go straight to Thug Ball. 35-all at the break.

In the third, Golden State started with a hangover, with turnovers to start the half and a quick 8-0 run by the home team. But after some tongue-lashing from coach Steve Kerr, the defense picked up, and Curry had one of those back to back 3-point make trips that are right up there with steam coming from under your car's hood to warn you that Bad Times Are Coming. Pharmaceutical grade hoop ensued, and special credit goes to the Dub bench, who kept Curry on the pine for the first half of the fourth. In crunch time, the Dubs just looked fresher, and while no game with this amount of history on the line can ever be called easy, they've had harder. 92-86, Warriors, Win Number 72 for the year, Road Win Number 34. The first is tied for an all-time mark, and the second is an all-time mark. If they can get past the Grizz at home on Wednesday in a game that will likely seem more like coronation than contest, all of the History they can get in the regular season is theirs.

Make no mistake about it... while Curry had 37 and was amazing, this is a team. Harrison Barnes had fourth quarter makes that gave them air. Mo Speights is just useful as hell. Sean Livingston just owns his matchups every night. Even the deep benchies get time and give good minutes. People talk about how much they want seven games from a Spurs-Dubs series, but that involves the Spurs winning three of seven games. I'm just not seeing that.

It seems odd to call a game like this one special. It didn't get to memorable final minute theatrics, or have fantastic offense, and much of the first half was just sluggy. But that's how well the Spurs played, at least on defense. LaMarcus Aldridge was masterful, and carried them for most of the game. Kawhi Leonard might be the Defensive Player of the Year, and he'd be a borderline All-Star just on his offense. Other than having some undersized guards that can be exploited in half court sets against teams that can play five legitimate offensive threats -- which is, to say, a weakness that can only reasonably be exploited by a handful of playable combinations in the Association -- I do not see a weakness on this team. They held the Dubs to 92 points, and only 19 assists for the game. That's about as good as you can hope, really, and maybe things are different with Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan being able to make the call...

But I'm not seeing it as enough, mostly because they are just getting murdered in the back court. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills and Danny Green are capable NBA players, but not against what the Dubs roll out there. The game was even when Curry wasn't hitting; when he is, the Dubs are a lot better. That's too simple by a lot, but still.

A telling point from this one: with the clock running down in the third, Curry received a pass off a loose ball on the other side of the half court emblem, from straight on. Andre Iguodala knew, even from that distance, that Steph's heave was going to be better than his. Curry got up a shot just after the buzzer lights, and of course it went in... but that's not the surprising thing, really. Nor was it that the shot didn't get off in time; like most of the game, Curry was surrounded and didn't have clean looks.

No, what was amazing was that the shot was banked, rather than swished.

This is what must count for hope from the teams that are going to try to deny the champions a repeat; that Curry might, indeed, be slipping...

Just In Case You Didn't Know Already, Darren Rovell and ESPN Is Worthless

For Hire
Appearing this afternoon on the front page of ESPN, a "story" from the World Wide Lemur's senior writer, detailing Kobe Bryant's appearance in a new Apple commercial.

No, I'm not linking to it, because that would only encourage them.

In the 207 words that accompany a clip of the 30-second ad, Rovell tells you nothing that you would not learn from, well, playing the video. Other than this is a one-off ad, rather than a series, and how much the Apple tech profiled in the spot costs.

Friends, I get that sports has always been the toy department of news. I get that ESPN has the journalistic integrity of a YouTuber posting videos of animals driving cars. I understand that there will be no penalty or loss of, um, prestige from what can only be regarded as a PR insertion with a byline, from a secondary brand that's nearly as disgraced as the parent. Finally, I also understand that on the Web, clickbait is every bit as much on the reader as it is the publisher, because Web content is fundamentally broken on every level.

But with all of that said...

Honestly. Front page, 200 words, to describe a television commercial?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Sam Hinkie Pulls His Chute

Good Night, Sweet Prince
So Sam Hinkie gave his resignation letter to the Sixers tonight, as aged new de facto king Jerry Colangelo completed his palace coup with the nepotism slide of Bryan Colangelo to the front office.

In the long run, of course, this is not exactly a major tragedy, or even that much of a surprise. While Hinkie has shown an incredible ability to collect assets, those assets haven't turned into watchable hoop, let alone anything but an incredible amount of on the court losing. There hasn't been a 2-way point guard on the roster in his entire tenure, and there is no more important position in the NBA in the current era. For all we know, NBA commissioner Adam Silver more or less ordered this move, because the Sixers have been an active hole for every other team's marketing efforts when it comes to selling a home game. Just because the system only really rewards corruption does not mean that you can be honest about it.

But man alive, what a fallow field the Colangelos walk into here. They've got assets all over the place, especially if the medical work that's been done to Joel Embiid comes to fruition. They've got a ridiculous number of assets to move, and decades of elbow grease from working the league. They've also never scared anyone with winning championships or being anything more than entertaining frauds, so unlike Hinkie, there's no problem going back to New Orleans, Sacramento, Milwaukee or any of the other places that got fleeced by Hinkie.

Here's my problem with this... the injustice of it all, really. And not just to the old GM. Hinkie walked into an absolute train wreck of a situation, where the only assets were draft picks and the fact that the owners and fan base would sign off on anything that actually smelled like a plan. The Process was exactly that, and the reason why there's still a fan base. No matter what you might think of the potential of Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric, Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and the rest of the Sixers roster, you have to admit it's better than than the Spencer Hawes / Evan Turner / Thaddeus Young flotsam that he inherited. Having sifted through so much fertilizer, Hinkie and the fan base deserved to see the green shoots.

Oh, and two other points that just plain rankle, at least in the short term.

1) There's no chance that Hinkie gets another gig after this. Having more or less executed the coup here, there's no way that Silver and the NBA will let this man near another front office. Or any organization that will be able to pitch this kind of pain to their fan base. And if the Sixers do get good, it will be all about the Colangelos, not Hinkie.

2) The fact that this will give aid and comfort to elements of the truly loathsome Philadelphia sport media is, honestly, something that makes me nearly want to give up my fandom to the laundry. My need to focus away from traditional media and sites is going to have to border on exceptional discipline... and there's going to be, likely, years of utter bullspit tossed on Hinkie's grave as the team wins multiple factors against what the old regime won.

Neat trick, really... to make me resent the franchise winning more games and becoming more watchable. Mostly because it makes me seriously question the ownership, who, please remember...

Enabled the Doug Collins group that went all-in for Freaking Andrew Bynum before giving the keys to Hinkie, and pretty much have shown their hand now as having no clue, or no discipline to see a plan to completion.

Maybe I should just go all-in on my Warriors love, right?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Sixers Avoid Ignominy

Oh, The History
Tonight in South Philly, against a New Orleans Pelicans team that has been utterly devastated by injury and was somehow even more anonymous than the Sixers, the home team got Win Number Ten. And with that, they avoid tying the worst record in NBA history, which is also something owned by this franchise. The 12-game losing streak is done, and they can play the last few games free and easy. Hell, maybe even win two games in a row, given that the Knicks are also playing or no reason.

The final win total shouldn't really matter, of course, other than it totally does. This franchise really isn't very far away from competitive and intriguing -- just a hair of injury and lottery luck would honestly be nice -- and there are more than a few of these guys that will continue to be in the NBA, at least at some level. Ish Smith can be a tolerable PG2, and TJ McConnell can be someone's who cares PG3. Carl Landry played fantastic tonight, and should be some team's poor man's Mo Speights, even though he brings about as much defense as the real one. With a minute left tonight, fans chanted "M-V-P" at him, which is outstanding work, really. Robert Covington played good defense and rebounded, which was mature of him, given that he couldn't put the ball in the ocean. I don't know if he's a starter for a good team, but he's an NBA player. Nerlens Noel has had a very disappointing year, but he's still got worlds of potential as a deluxe defensive hammer, and he's still young enough to develop an offensive game that isn't just alley opp related. Jahlil Okafor does many things that 19 year olds can't usually do on an NBA court, and while I'm not sold on the idea that he's going to be a front-line guy for a good team because he's a defensive sieve, that kind of thing can be coached up.

Here's the thing about this year... as disappointing as it's been to live through Year Three of Absolute Tank, I still hold that there was no other path for this franchise to go that would have been any better. The last three years of NBA drafts have offered no better options than what they've taken. They haven't been burned in a trade; I'd still rather have the potential of Dario Saric than the utterly compromised Elfrid Payton. Other than missing on stuff like Kendall Marshall over a full year of Ish Smith, or failing to recognize that Tony Wroten was never going to get a clue regardless of coaching, there's just no other feasible way to go. Winning 30 games a year with Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young, or ten a year with Smith, Covington and Noel, is the easiest choice in a lifetime of choosing this laundry.

I'm glad they got Win #10, because they try too hard to be known as the worst team in NBA history. They honestly could have gotten it earlier than this; that loss in Denver last week was absurdly unlucky, and had they somehow snuck past the Warriors in that home loss, they'd still be smiling about it. This off-season, they bring in Saric, maybe finally see Joel Embiid, sign people hat other teams actually want, draft a few people, and become Actual Fun, rather than whatever this has been.

Oh, and a final point? As bad as this year has been, I can still look down on a bunch of teams. The Nets are worse. The Knicks are locked into Declining Carmelo and will never be any good. The Lakers have poisoned the well with this absurd year of Kobe, and it looks like D'Angelo Russell and Julian Randle have become compromised by the losing without plan. Sacramento is going to lose Boogie Cousins because they hired the worst possible coach. Phoenix has worse talent, honest. Denver is going to have to build around Emmanual Mudiay, a PG they could have had, and a PG that absolutely can not shoot, and will be as obviously a dead end as Payton really soon.

And next year?

There's going to be a lot more teams on this list.

(Please, dear God in Heaven, let there be a lot more teams on this list.)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Scottie Pippen Does Not Care For Your Disrespectful Youth And Their Three Pointers

Old And Out Of The Way
In the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, there is a wonderful recurring motif as the author describes how the game changed, from decade to decade. Going back as far back as the early part of the 20th century, there were retired players who were more than happy to tell anyone with a notepad that why, back in their day, they had *real* players, and they'd mop the floor with these punks. Decade after decade, James has nearly identical pull-out quotes on how Babe Ruth had nothing on Old Hoss Radbourne, and Ty Cobb would have owned Bob Gibson, and Don Drysdale would have just put Ricky Henderson on his ass and showed him what's what, and so on, and so on. T'was ever thus, t'was ever shall be.

Adding to that file is one Scottie Pippen, who keeps finding it necessary to run down the historically great current Warriors team, by saying that his own record-setting Bulls team of a generation ago would sweep them. And, well, sure, whatever, pops. But actually no, because bullspit is bullspit in any era, and we do not need to suffer with the weak opinions of older people, even when they were one of the 50 best to ever play the game.

Here's the thing that no one seems to understand: in the theoretical video game match up of best versus best when both were at their best, what is never discussed is the setting. If the refs are from the mid-90's game, where hand-checking was pretty much an art and Detroit taught the Bulls how to win by thuggery, sure, the Bulls have a chance. Dennis Rodman would collect a lot of boards, Michael Jordan would do things to Klay Thompson that would get you fined today, Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green would try to reciprocate and get off their game, and Steve Kerr would rack up some technical fouls in a hurry. It wouldn't be pretty, but it also would not stay that way for good, because ball movement works in every era, and eventually the Dubs would move the ball.

But what would the game look like if it were the Bulls who had to adjust to modern officiating? Jordan, a notorious referee jockey, would have exceptional issues. Rodman, a functioning lunatic who lead the world in technicals back when standards were lax and his team won all the time, probably would not last a half. Phil Jackson, used to controlling the game through the zebras, would rack up significant fines. And so on.

As for the actual play on the court... well, to be kind, Pippen might be able to take some of the sting out of Curry. But it's not as if the man guarded point guards routinely anyway, or would be able to do so for every minute without sacrificing his own, very necessary, offense. That job would fall to Ron Harper, one of Jackson's fetishy big guards who Curry simply owns, and who just wouldn't be quick enough to hang in this game.

By the way? The Dubs are a lot more than Curry. Andre Iguodala, last year's Finals MVP, shut down LeBron James for much of that series, and (shh!) James is a harder cover than Jordan, what with the 50 extra pounds of muscle and more inches of height. There are Bulls like Harper and Toni Kukoc who simply have no place in this game, what with the modern advantages in size and conditioning, Kerr would have a fun time targeting himself as a player, since he's going to exploit that matchup with the Dubs' superior bench mob. Jordan's also not going to have otherworldly effectiveness on penetration, since zones are legal now and were not then. And so on.

Finally, there's this. Saying you can cover Curry and keep him to 20 points a game pretty much means that you don't think very much of the dozens of NBA coaches and hundreds of NBA players who are currently drawing a paycheck. Does Pip think that no one in the current era is trying to stop the man? Having the best range and release in NBA history kind of matters, actually. It's not a problem that you can fix by just saying you more macho than these lousy millennials.

I understand, really I do, the urge to declare that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. I am, after all, in my mid '40s, and there are a great many things that *are* going to hell -- the movies, the climate, Congress and the Supreme Court, rock music, drinking water, offense in baseball, and so on.

But hoop is not one of these things. The great teams of today are almost always going to beat the best teams of yesterday. Jordan and Pippen's Bulls would have rolled my childhood dominant 1983 Sixers, who would have handled the Bill Russell Celtics, and so on. The game grows. It draws players from more and more parts of the world, feeds them better and better things, trains them on better and better machines, changes the game through better and better analytic measures, and so on.

If those Bulls sweep these Dubs, the game is in trouble.

This just in: the NBA is not in trouble.

And Scottie Pippen might want to stop shaking his fist at clouds, and maybe go hang out with Oscar Robertson, or whoever's next up in the never-ending conga line of Those Damn Punk Warriors to grab the mic...

In This Year's Baseball News You Could Not Possibly Care About

Smoking Cuban
Here is the results from yesterday's draft. Players with asterisks were keepers, and as this is the ninth year for this league, the market does a solid job at policing values.

Player TM 2016 $ 2017 $
Wilson Ramos WAS 1 4
Yadier Molina STL 1 4
* Mark Teixeira NYY 15 19
* Dee Gordon MIA 19 23
* Manny Machado BAL 14 18
* Carlos Correa HOU 7 10
* Javier Báez CHC 10 14
* Xander Bogaerts BOS 10 14
* Matt Kemp SD 20 25
Marcel Ozuna MIA 6 9
Matt Holliday STL 7 10
Evan Longoria TB 20 25
* David Price BOS 33 38
* Jon Lester CHC 14 18
* Scott Kazmir LAD 7 10
* Sonny Gray OAK 18 22
* Santiago Casilla SF 7 10
* Trevor Rosenthal STL 15 19
Justin Verlander DET 9 12
Dellin Betances NYY 2 5
Shawn Tolleson TEX 5 8
Yulieski Gurriel FA 1 4
Ryan Zimmerman WAS 3 6
JJ Hoover CIN 1 4
Brett Lawrie CWS 1 4
Total 246 335

A quick word about the non-obvious protects. Baez is clearly overpriced for his current situation, but I just can't imagine that the Cubs will piss away another year of service time, and his improvement in contact rate last year struck me as mechanical and sustainable. In terms of pure offensive potential, I think he's got 30+ HR ability in a middle infield position with a modicum of speed, so, well, it's worth the risk to me. Kazmir had a poor spring training with velocit y issues and is officially worrisome, but he's been better recently and I love his situation. So he stays.

Now, the actual picks. Catchers were taken late when everyone was either clear of cash or catchers, and are both past the first 20 went off the board. Having said that, they've both hit in the past, are in the middle of decent lineups, and will hit the wire if they don't produce. I don't generally believe in paying for catchers, as the injury chance and year to year variability seems higher than any other place. Evan Longoria was my pick at 4th overall, under the theory that Baez needs bench time to start the year, power in a corner was relatively hard to come by, and he's a bounce-back candidate in an offense that almost has to be better. With the number of protects that I came in with, I also wanted to cost control my first round pick, and Longoria has entered the state of his career where he's kind of dull, so it worked out.

Next, the outfielders. I know that Miami has dicked around with Osuna in the past, but his second half was solid, the tools are undeniable, and the fences are in this year. I'd have gone $10 higher for him, as I think he's been overshadowed by the other MIA OFs. (For, well, reasons.) Holliday is past his prime but still an OBP machine (we do that instead of BA), and seems likely to add 1B coverage soon, which is useful in a situation where I'm depending on Teixeira to stay healthy. Ryan Zimmerman and Brett Lawrie add the possibility of health, power, and a cheap keeper if they can move things up to the next level. Reasonable lottery tickets in an era of baseball where 20+ HRs is about all you can really hope for.

Pitching-wise, I did what I could with a short stack, but was unable to lock down the quality young starter or shutdown closer that would have made for a better draft. Counter-punching around the room, I loaded up on affordable relief options, with Betances having a chance to have early value with the Aroldis Chapman suspension, and Hoover and Tolleson currently having the gig on their teams. Realistically, one of these guys will wash out, and I'll stream a SP from available options. In a 12-team mixed league, that's usually not hard to find. Verlander is simply a case of putting out a big name to try to draw money out of the room, then just taking the nice price when it was offered. His dominance in the second half last year tells me there's still something in the tank. 

That leads me to my idiosyncratic moment of the entire draft, the selection of a player that wasn't even on the radar of the nerdiest nerds in the room, Cuban star Yulieski Guerriel. Yuli is in his low 30s, defected a month ago, and is a true free agent who is, in all likelihood, ready to step in an MLB lineup today. He's got plus power and plate coverage, a little brother who is also a prospect, and could be the focus of a bidding war and/or immediate playing time. With Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes and Yusiel Puig all having high success right away, I'm hopeful that Yuli can do the same, and for when I named him (with slots to fill, and the desire to get a $1 guy), it was a highlight of a difficult draft.

Roster-wise, you never win a league on draft day; you can only lose it. I'm not sure if I've done either, really. I just haven't had the fire in the belly for baseball for a long time now, and doing the draft prep was a real slog for a long time. Part of this is the dread of the A's this year, who are just going to waste another year and move assets around like always, and part of it is just not loving this era of pitching, pitching, and more pitching. As I wrote this, the Cards played the Pirates and I willed myself to watch it, and I'll be honest with you: it's been hard to stay awake. 3-0 Pirates in the eighth, and, um, yeah. Why am I not watching the NBA right now?

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