Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Padres Are A Living Argument For Relegation

Found Footage
So in case you weren't still paying attention to baseball -- and honestly, outside of Cub Fan, who could blame you? -- the Padres completed a massive talent dump this weekend by passing off OF Matt Kemp to Atlanta for 3B/OF Hector Olivera.

Which would be utterly unworthy of comment, if it weren't for the fact that:

1) Kemp is still something of a tolerable player, given that home run power is still relatively rare, and while he isn't quick enough to be very good at defense any more, he's not a butcher out there.

2) The Padres are just going to release Olivera, who has PR issues, and pocket the extra 8 figures of salary that they are able to skirt, between what is owed to Kemp and what is owed to Olivera.

Why Atlanta wants Kemp is left to debate -- maybe they've got a better line on an American League team that could actually use him as the RH DH that he's probably best suited to be now -- but that's neither here nor there. What is germane is the fact that the Pods have parted with nearly a dozen men this year who can play major league baseball to some proficiency, for not all that much in return... mostly so they can pay as little as humanly possible in salary.

This is where you can feel OK about the sport, because whenever an MLB team undergoes a massive salary dump, they issue refunds to season ticket holders, cut the cost of concessions and parking, and refuse to cash in those checks from national television contracts and revenue sharing.

Oh, wait, sorry -- they don't do anything of the sort. Instead, they will turn the money into liquid assets, then fill pools with it, and take a Scrooge McDuck style bath. (Which is probably painful, given that gold coins are cold and hard, but maybe when you are a giant greed bucket and perpetrator of fraud, perhaps the normal rules of physics and skincare do not apply.)

Modern life being what it is, with increasingly short attention spans, Trumpian inability to succumb to public shaming, and the recent example of Houston ripping off fans for years before drafting their way into prominence, it's unlikely that the Pods are going to suffer any great PR drop from these actions. Kemp's not that good of a player, or a guy that's likely to still be in the league in five years. Maybe some of the flotsam and jetsam they get back from these trades work out, or the draft picks from sucking turn into real assets.

But what's being missed here is that teams are becoming more and more cavalier about not trying to win games. In other countries and other leagues, this is fixed with relegation and promotion. In the U.S., it's fixed... not at all.

And the first league that actually does this will stop the bottom feeders from cashing in on revenue sharing, increase ratings and interest for the bottom quartile of the league that now has no reason at all to watch games...

And give themselves the perfect out from the moron owners and bad actors that they've been propping up for no good reason at all.

So... relegation now? Please?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

QB Musical Chairs

Smell The Glove
Item: Los Angeles Rams release Nick Foles at his request.

On the one hand, there was clearly zero faith in Foles coming from the Rams. They traded up and gave a king's ransom to take Jared Goff, who will be force-fed as the new face of a new franchise. Goff's even got mild home-field advantage as the ex triggerman at Stanford, and unlike Foles, he has the belief of more than a few scouts, along with better footspeed than a dead animal, which is something you can't always say about Foles.

On the other... um, dude, you do realize that there might not be a single NFL franchise that honestly wants you, even as a backup, right now? And that you got beat out for the job last year by Case Keenum, who is somehow still in the NFL?

I think Foles is among the top 65 QBs in the world, which is all you need to be to get paid by, well, someone. But he's not getting a gig again in Philadelphia with their three guys under contract. Maybe Kansas City, if Andy Reid is still enamored. Perhaps Dallas, because, um, Dallas. But I wouldn't be so certain about his continued ability to get paid.

Item: New York Jets sign Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one year contract for $12 million.

If there's a bigger stopgap situation in the NFL... well, there is, because the Eagles exist. But still, this is the total Jets move.

Fitz actually gave them great production and value last year, assuming, of course, that you don't count the most important week of the year, when he crapped the bed in Buffalo in week 17 with the playoffs on the line. Which is kind of the whole problem with Fitz.

Well, that and the age, and the fact that he's been everywhere, and aging, and prone to taking big hits from his better than average mobility, and his willingness to sell out for plays. His ceiling has always been extremely good back-up QB and extremely ordinary starter, and the Jets have nothing better in the present, but hope to have something better in Christian Hackenberg in a year. But unlike Bradford/Wentz in Philadelphia, the Jets didn't totally mortgage the future for Hack, and second-round QBs are not exactly a sure bet.

So what we've got here is short-term relief for the fantasy value of the Jet wideouts, a chance in Hell that there might be a team that can break the Patriots stranglehold on the division, and a deal that probably should have gotten done four months ago and with no drama.

But, well, didn't.

Because Jets.

And if you have a hankering for the jersey of either of these guys?

You'll be able to get it cheap. Respectively, sooner and later...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Shockingly, the Olympics are going to go on despite an epidemic

For The Gold
Small note from what might be the most repre- sentative event of our entire unhappy and unholy year of deaths to visionaries, rampant murder and an election cycle that's making an untold number of people hide under the bed while vomiting... the World Health Organization says the Rio Olympics should go on as planned, because millions of people bringing home the Zika virus to their own areas and spreading it through is totes adorable. Or Something.

Maybe the idea is that we need to make sure there's a seriously large market for future Zika drugs. Or that there is already a cure, but it's crazy expensive and only goes to the rich, who are, of course, the ones who might fly in to see the Olympics in the first place. But more likely, it's the media needing to sell the Games, because the Games are a big Tee Vee show in the middle of the endless summer, and what's another few million people and their permanently damaged babies among friends.

Every Olympics is, of course, a disaster; even the best-run and least-terrible to the local area is a fraud giveaway that's over the top. But this one, to a country in terrible straits, already dealing with a major land grab from the recent World Cup, just seems cruel to the point of British comedy. I never thought I'd see a sports fan be more compromised than what NFL people have to deal with, or maybe a boxing or UFC person who has to pretend that head trauma isn't an inevitability.

But the idea that the athletes who are among the world's best in a host of less popular sports are going to have to compete in places that no sane person should want to be in... and that to see it live, others will have to put themselves at risk for a disease with no current cure?

My mind is boggled. And appalled, then surprised, then disgusted by my capacity to be surprised...

Thursday, July 21, 2016

North Carolina's Toilet Business

Seems Meme Worthy
So the NBA decided to do the obvious and correct thing by choosing not to run its All Star Game in a state where elected state officials decide to solve a non-existent bathroom crisis by frightening transgender people into never, well, using the bathroom outside of their own home. Which basically means never leaving their home. Nice people!

This makes for an ever-increasing unforced financial error for the state, who passed the law while promising the numbed citizens that it wouldn't cost anything to be scummy to marginalized people.

But, um, well, Not So Much.

(By the way, if you are on the other side of this issue? Please find an actual instance of a transgendered person doing real harm in the way that this law is purported to fix. I'll wait here. And then find, while barely trying, all of the "correct" gender people in bathrooms that have done bad things to kids. They tend to wear priest outfits. But I digress.)

And while I find the move laudable and obvious and useful, especially for a league that has to play more on an international stage than something like retrograde North Carolina state politics... well, if the state wants to double down on dumb, would the Association just choose to move the franchise already?

It's not as if they haven't abandoned Charlotte before, or that there aren't other markets (Seattle! Las Vegas! San Diego! Oakland once the Warriors move to San Francisco! Europe! Asia! Et Cetera!) that would be well and truly willing to steal the team and put it in a far more attractive city for free agents, national television ratings, and so on. Even if the franchise didn't have one of the worst GMs in NBA history in the can do no right Michael Jordan, there's really no overwhelming reason why the NBA needs to be in this state. It's not as if they've got any great geographic rivals, or a history of being more interesting to the locals than a half dozen college hoop teams.

So, if Adam Silver and his increasingly proactive ways wants to keep up the pressure on North Carolina now that the hammer has been dropped, he needs to let people know that the ante can keep rising.

Oh, and by the way? NBA stars can do their part as well, by just refusing to play road games there. The Spurs' recent tactic of treating nationally broadcast games as reasons to trot out the JV works here, especially if they call their shot in advance. (And yes, I know that on some level, meathead Charlotte fan will be fine with this, since it means the likelihood of a win has gone up, but hoop is not just about wins. If it were, Silver wouldn't have engineered the end of Sam Hinkie and the forced march to mediocrity that the Sixers are engaging in right now, either.)

Your move, Stephen Curry and your single trip to Charlotte per year...

The Swamp Fox Moves On

Marion "The Swamp Fox" Campbell passed away today, and he's probably not much of a name to many folks who root for my football laundry, since most of those folks don't extend beyond Buddy Ryan. Campbell was the successor to Dick Vermeil, the bridge to Ryan, and something of an object lesson for pro football, in that nice coordinators finish last, especially when they become head coaches.

Campbell was, more than anything else, a decent human being... which is why he kept getting gigs. But when he was here, the Eagles might not have been the best football team in town, in that the USFL's Philadelphia Stars were the class of the league, and had talent that lasted longer in the NFL than what the Eagles employed.

Which is something of a shame, as Campbell really was pretty damned good as a coordinator. When the Vermeil Eagles won, it was with the workmanlike offense of QB Ron Jaworski, oversized possession WR Harold Carmichael, and do-everything RB Wilbert Montgomery... but that offense was pretty pedestrian pretty often, with Jaworski in particular being prone to big sacks and bad turnovers, and Montgomery something of a fumble machine, even in his best years.

The real reason those teams won was the defense, which was Campbell's, and fairly innovative with its use of a 3-4 format. Those defenses were among the league leaders in both yards and points allowed, and honestly... life is too hard to remember a guy for one of the lowest winning percentages ever posted as a head coach, and not for the sterling work as a coordinator that got him those gigs in the first place.

But man alive, is that record bad. 34-80-1, with a high water mark of 6-9-1 with the 1984 Eagles. He went 6-19 with the Falcons in the 1970s, then somehow got the gig *again* with that franchise in the late '80s, and went 11-32 over three years there. While the NFL was different then, and people had more patience for rebuilding years and a real sense that breaking the cycle of being downtrodden, um, still. Three separate head coaching gigs, each one worse than the last. You have to be an amazing human being to keep getting those shots, or to keep the gig long enough to lose 80 games over nine different seasons.

Looking back on his Eagles record in the best possible light, Campbell got no favors from his GM. With the 4th overall pick in 1984, the Eagles took Kenny Jackson, a Penn State WR whose 8-year carer adds up to one good season, though that entire draft seems terrible in retrospect. (The USFL's existence was brutal for a few years, honestly.) 1983 saw them take the plodding RB Michael Haddix with the 8th pick, and 1985 was the infamous Kevin Allen with the 9th pick, a lineman who wound up using rape and cocaine to bounce his way out of the league. Deadspin once ranked him the fourth worst football player of all time, and Ryan once said he was only useful for killing the grass by standing on it. Three top 10 picks, none of which worked out; that's pretty much the textbook method to kill any coach's chances.

But having lived through those times, there was nothing all that memorable or misunderstood about Campbell. He was just a guy who was out of his element, doing the best he could in one of the best divisions in football, with a roster that wasn't up to snuff. He didn't elevate the talent, but if he had, he might have been the best coach in his era. And, well, he wasn't.

But unlike Vermeil, he didn't melt down and burn out on the job. Unlike Ryan, he didn't squander a ridiculous amount of talent with terrible playoff game plans. And it's kind of hard to judge his life too harshly when, well, he won the sane number of championships as every other Eagle coach since Greasey Neale.

In, um, 1960.

It's not easy rooting for this laundry, folks. Or, clearly, coaching it...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Hooray For Nelson Agholor, Who Won't Be Charged By The District Attorney

Darth's An Agholor Fan
Today on the not sports sports news wire, news that Eagles 2nd year WR Nelson Agholor is going to skate on an (alleged) sexual assault case.

Why? Not an exoneration. Not a case where something was judged to be consensual, or a case of mistaken identity, or some other point where we can all feel good about rooting for the kid in his quest to not be (yet another) Nero Kelly washout draft pick.

Nope, instead it's just that the DA lacked sufficient evidence, and won't be going to bat for a dancer at a strip club's accusation that the man did something awful when they were alone. (Oh, and Nelson? Kudos for going to the strip club with teammates, because that's not kind of creepy in the least.)

A final word about this, because it's telling... part of the, um, fun of the Nero Era was hearing how the man was sure to enforce a locker room of moral and upstanding people. The reason why players like DeSean Jackson and Evan Mathis had to be run off for no return on investment was not that they made good coin and were drafted by Not Nero. It was that they just were not Team First, and that degree of Uppity just would not be part of the balanced breakfast of Winning Football in Nero World.

Now, I'm just a guy with a memory and decades wasted on the laundry, with (God willing) decades more coming. I have no idea what degree of uppity one can manage with, with the basic opinion that some is probably inevitable, given the ridiculous numbers that a man is going to have to fade to get into the NFL in the first place, let alone star there. Perhaps having a well-functioning team dynamic is really worth taking on lesser talents, or passing on plateau players. We'll never know.

But what we do know is this. Nero wanted to take Dion Jordan, from his Oregon days, rather than Lane Johnson in the 2013 draft. Jordan has one sack in his NFL career to date to go with three suspensions, the latest for the entire 2015 season, and the NFL hasn't reinstated him yet. Johnson is the Eagles' best offensive lineman, and signed an extension for cause in the off-season, as soon as Nero was run off.

Nero also went all-in on DeMarco Murray, who sulked his way out of town, and Sam Bradford, who reacted to competition for the long-term QB job as if he were too good for such things. Nero also kept Riley Cooper, who alienated the locker room with drunken casual racism, and hasn't been mentioned in NFL circles since being cut by the team six months ago.

Character! It totally matters. Even more so for the people doing the picking of players than the players, actually.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The 2016 Eagles Outlook: Better While Worse

Doused Dumpster Fire
One of the things that we've started to see here in Eagles Nation as the calendar moves into distant early warnings for football - just two more weeks until the games are fake! - is how the roster is improved, even if only by subtraction. No more DeMarco Murray clogging up the works at RB1, preventing the actual best RB on the roster (Ryan Mathews) from getting carries. QB Sam Bradford might be on thin ice to keep the gig, but he's also 12 months further away from his career-threatening knee injuries, and might be less bound by rust, along with a deep desire to up his trade value and get the hell out of town. The team might not have done all that much to make the WR corps better, but if second-year possible criminal Nelson Agholor can step up, or likely frauds Josh Huff or Reuben Randle can give them something, that's got to be better than Riley Cooper and Miles Austin, who gave them nothing. The offensive line can't be as bad, what with talent imports in free agency and the draft, and the defense got a number of good players to fill gaps, and a likely massive leap up in terms of working conditions, since the offense isn't going to go 3 and out in world-shattering quickness any more. And so on.

All of which makes sense, and all of which bodes well for the future... but in the short term, I'm *very* pessimistic about how the next season will play out. For one very simple and damn near unprecedented reason: the division might not be its usual dumpster fire again this year. Everyone seems to be on the upswing towards competence, even if they won't go much further than that.

Let's start in DC, since they won this nothingness last year, and probably felt the least bad about their season. With QB Kirk Cousins still in the prove it to get paid mode, and franchise millstone Robert Griffin gone, things seem fine... but Cousins' WRs are name brands that aren't very good football players any more. WR DeSean Jackson is 29 now, and not getting any faster, more consistent, or less injury prone. He's also rarely ended the season well. WR Pierre Garcon has lost the step that made his suspect catch area and rate tolerable, and hasn't seemed special outside of premier Indy QB play all along. The best weapon on the team is TE Jordan Reed, but he's also rarely healthy, and teams that over-rely on TEs also tend to be teams with weak QBs and high INT totals. The defense isn't that much better, and the ownership tends to drag them down over time, too. I think they go worst to first to worst again, but they aren't going to be one of the worst teams in the league, the way they usually are.

Next up is Dallas, who still has a world-class offensive line, and one presumes, some good fortune due at some point when it comes to injuries to QB Tony Romo. If Romo can't go , this franchise has been all systems fail for years now, and it's not likely to change now. But if he can somehow stay upright, and if rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott is everything that's advertised, this club has to be better, if only because last year's team was so bad. Whether better translates to playoffs is another matter entirely, and the defense is still a mess, but doormat to .500 seems very possible.

Finally, New York. Blue is salivating over draft picks and free agent signings, broke the bank to get better on defense, and still have a multiple Super Bowl winning QB and what might be the game's best WR in the fold. That might be all you need now, especially if the running game is less awful this year, but the big money went on defense. (For the record, I'm not now and never have been sold on Eli Manning, but there's something to be said for a QB that plays every game.) I'm not sold on their signings, but they can't be worse than last year, and after three years in the wilderness, they might be due. Hell, a little actual effectiveness in the fourth quarter with a lead would have given them the division going away last year.

Add it all up, and I'm seeing a 3rd or 4th place finish and sub .500 for the local laundry, which isn't what anyone really wants to hear... but when you trade up to get the QB of the future, and he's not projected to play at all in this season, what you've got is a rebuilding year. Which is fine, especially after Nero's era. But you will forgive us for not feeling too thrilled about the prospect of a season without great hopes for the immediate present, especially in a division where two out of four teams are managed by egotist owners who do their teams no end of ill. The place is on an upswing this year, but in the long run, there's still no division you would rather be in.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Most Tim Duncan Retirement

Leaving Fundamentally
So Tim Duncan called it quits today, and yeah, count on the man to make his exit on a summer Monday when there is as little fanfare and basketball buzz as humanly possible. As fitting as everything else that he's ever done, really.

But the style of his exit -- 19 years, not 20, no farewell tour, after a playoff year when he was a healthy spectator, despite a regular season where he was as useful as ever -- doesn't really detract from his legacy. 5-time NBA champion, possibly the best power forward in the history of the league, and quite possibly the best choice you could make to start a franchise with, in terms of career value, and how much guys wanted to play with him.

How good was he? Borderline unstoppable in his prime, with a game that was all angles, anticipation, and intellect. That signature bank shot, so retro it was nearly revolutionary for its era. Extraordinary defense, with length and anticipation that might have been the best of his generation. About the only thing that you could say negatively about him is that he was boring (winning is boring?), or that he whined for calls from the ref (unlike, um, everyone in his generation).

The single most spectacular thing about Duncan? His back of the bench ego and willingness to work with his franchise to ensure that they were always in the conversation to win a title. From deferring to David Robinson early in his tenure, to the first among equals nature of the Parker/Ginobili heyday, to the gradual transition to elder statesman and role model for Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, there was never a question of whether Duncan was going to do right by the Spurs.

In an era where athletes seem to be defined as much by their endorsements, merchandise and post-game soundbites as they were by their game, Duncan was Just Game. The fact that the game didn't seem to change very much was an illusion, because the Spurs went from winning slow to winning fast, from championships in a grind and slug era to championships in the draw and kick era.

During his career, there's a very short list of guys who can be mentioned in his class. Kobe Bryant, who hurt his teams frequently, either through poor shot selection and teammate work, but equal in competitive fire. Shaquille O'Neal, who was kind enough to not be as serious about the game, thereby preventing the NBA from enduring a 10-year-run as constant champion. If you gave Duncan's mind to Shaq's body, basketball would have ended as a competitive enterprise. Kevin Garnett, never as skilled offensively, never as good in the playoffs, equally committed to winning and versatile in his prime, but a cheap punk out of it. And that's about it.

Extending the comparison to guys before and after his era, you take Michael Jordan over him, because he's just more fun to watch and better at maximizing his opportunities. You take LeBron James over him, because he's never worked with teammates as deep or as good as what Duncan worked with. Maybe you also dock him a few points because he only ever works with one coach, and that coach was also the best of his generation, and worked hard to keep him as useful as possible for as long as possible with minutes management... but if you've got a superstar with Duncan's production but none of the ego, your coach looks really smart for a really long time.

Duncan leaves the Spurs well-stocked, with Aldridge as good of a modern counterpart as we have in the game. He'll pass from the game like a ghost, with only Spurs Fan really selling out for his all-time standing. And we'll spend the next couple of decades hearing how flashier and younger guys should rank higher than him, because he more or less played his entire career in a quest to be as underrated as possible. And it's not as if he's going to spend the rest of his days staying in the public eye, a la Charles Barkley or O'Neal, to keep reminding us of how good he was.

But man alive, he was good. As good as anyone who ever played. And there was never another player who gave his franchise more.

No Time For Bats

Breaking Bats
Saturday night in Las Vegas, the NBA Summer League came to town with an early matchup of NBA doormats -- the Sixers and Lakers -- but in the Summer, the least are first, and vice versa. With a national audience tuning in to see the 1-2 picks in the draft go at each other, Laker Nation filled the room in Sin City, giving an NBA playoffs (or, at least, All-Star Game) vibe to the proceedings.

The Lakers prevailed in a game that saw three lead changes in the last ten seconds, and we were all spared the ignominy of pretending to care about baseball for another day. All hail the emerging fun times that are NBA Summer League.

It was not always thus. It used to be that you'd root for whichever winter sport worked for you -- let's face it, hockey fans don't root for hoop, and hoop fans don't root for hockey -- and when your team was put out of its misery, you'd turn your attention to the local nine.

If they were any good, that prevented you from having to pay attention to NFL pre-season, which meant that you'd be into baseball alone for something like two months, or maybe three or four if the hoop and puck guys stunk it up. Then, you'd stay with baseball as long as it was competitive, because the NFL was pretty much a day a week thing, and that would take you back into the early days of hoop and hockey supplementing your football problem.

Now? Well, fantasy sports means that everyone is more likely to pay attention through the end of the regular season, especially for football. NFL pre-season is now damn near appointment television, because we all need to know who is going to be worth reaching for at the end of the draft, and injuries cripple a team or three every year. Hoop goes from October to June, but the Draft extends the interest, and so now does the Summer League. Every year, there's more trash sports for June through August, since that's where the bandwidth kicks in. Golf, Olympics, politics, national news that swamps all of that...

Which means, on some level, that there is even less time on the calendar for baseball, and maybe, um, none at all.

And if it means no one spends any time watching people hit batting practice home runs in a day or whenever?

Well, it's going to be hard for me to call that a poor development...

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Poker Diaries: Sin City 2 Review, A Stupid To Kill For

Poker Is Easy And Fun
Last night while folding the laundry and winding down from the running workout, I fired up Netflix and found "Sin City: A Dame To Kill For", the pulpy sequel that puts A-list actors in an over-the-top noir fest. It's Frank Miller's writing, I like noir, and there's a lot of really good looking people in it. So let's put our brains in the locked and upright position, and sit back for 90 minutes of tough talk and hyper-violence. Yay, hyper-violence!

Except, well, there's a sub-plot with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a protagonist gambler, who is pitted against Powers Boothe as a scene-chewing older antagonist. Our Hero is going to try to best the Villain in his smoky back room poker game. Yay, poker and hyper-violence! This is going to be the bestus movie ever!

Levitt comes into the room with sweet eye candy, because of course, hot women always want to hang out around guys playing poker. Personally, I have to turn the hose on them to keep them out of my home game, but I've got to be quick about it and get them in the front yard, otherwise the steps down into the basement would be unsafe from all of the water mixing with self-lubricating women. But let's get to the actual game.

Our Hero is waved into the game by one of the other players, who will spend the next few minutes of screen time folding every hand they get against the principals, Because Movie. He then does some ridiculous CGI card tricks, and the crowd lets him deal anyway, without a cut card, because this is a world where everyone is too stupid to realize that they are in the presence of a mechanic. They are also playing draw, rather than hold'em, because in this world, poker stopped developing as a game about a century ago. OK, Movie! Draw poker it is!

The hero then engages in a number of hands with the villain, continually besting him with nominally better hands, and building his bankroll. They are also playing with what appears to be gold coins, rather than chips, because most of the movie is in black and white, and sure, coins. I guess plaques would be too European. No one calls our Hero on what appears to be obvious card manipulation, no one mentions his absurd run of luck; it's just that he's Just That Good, Dammit, and Poker is all about having the biggest balls in the room. Rather than, um, better cards.

The scene comes to a climax, with the villain calling and showing four of a kind.... and the hero flips over his royal freaking flush. Because of course he does. Royal flushes happen all the time! The fact that I've played for most of the past decade and have only ever seen a live one once, even in games like Omaha variants where the entire deck is dealt, matters not at all. Royal flush, and no one in the room reacts at all, because it's just a winning hand, no need to comment on the power or rare odds, because poker players never comment on things like that. We're a stoic lot!

The Hero collects the cash and leaves, then eventually gets the living hell beaten out of him, because the villain needs to make an example of him for his defiance. I won't go into what happens later, because there's no reason to ruin the movie further, but more card hi-jinks ensue, all of which involves Ridiculous Power Hands against Ridiculous Power Hands.

And I realize that expecting poker veracity in a ridiculous action movie, is, well, ridiculous... but here's the thing. ANY IDIOT CAN WIN A HAND OF POKER WITH THE BEST HAND. It shows no skill, no heroism, no balls of any kind. When you have a great hand, winning the pot is what nearly always happens. Getting the most value out of it is a fairly significant skill, but given the animosity shown between the hero and villain, neither of these guys is going to fold on a big pot, especially the villain, who seems to have all the money in the world.

Do you know what would have made for a better scene? The hero calling the villain's bluff, especially if he had nothing more than, say, a small pair. That would have shown utter skill, perhaps a pick up of a tell, or just a stone cold read as he looks across the table and strips his man to the quick. There's a reason why this gambit is known in the trade as, um... A HERO CALL. Because when you make it, it's, um, HEROIC.

That doesn't work for you, screenwriters? Then have the hero shove all-in, showing complete misery or confidence, as the Villain mucks a power hand in disgust or misreads the Hero's intent, rather than paying off an apparent flush or straight, Then have the Hero reveal his stone cold bluff as he drags the pot, maybe with a comment on his lack of manhood. Heroism!

But just flipping over the best hand, over and over again?

About as heroic as stepping in dog droppings. Made of solid gold...

Saturday, July 9, 2016

FTT Off-Topic: Ending The Gun Argument

Not sports, not going to change a thing, read or not. I'm just, um, unloading.

So, gun deaths, America, sadness, lather, rinse, repeat.

Why is this still news?

I mean, we're not going to do anything any differently, with the possible fun new exception of the police using bomb delivery robots to kill suspects. (Hey, NRA? How come only the cops get to have bomb delivery robots? Stand up for that, too.)

Go march in the streets. It won't matter.

Go sit down for marathon sessions in the House and Senate. It won't matter.

Go post your live execution on Facebook. It won't matter.

If it didn't matter when it was tiny little kids, and it didn't matter when it was 2X the tiny little kids but now club gay people, why would it matter when it's a half dozen cops?

I don't see anyone with guns turning them in.

we do see, as we always do after these ads for firearms, more people buying them. Because this is the time, Lucy's holding the football for sure this time, that you won't be able to buy more of them. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Pay up.

This is America; a country where we love a lot more stuff than our fellow citizens, whether they are kids or bigger kids or cops or fill in the blank. Our kids. Our dogs. Our cats. Our houses. Our cars. Our money. Our stuff. Our selves.

This past week and a half, where I live, there's been a lot less people around. Holiday and vacation season around the July 4 break, when families with kids are pretty much required to use or lose, and the ocean is only an hour or so away, so the population density has dropped a lot.

It's nicer now. Traffic is less difficult, it's easier to walk my dog (I'm white, so I get to do that without being shot; it's nice) and walk or run my miles, and there's easier times getting in and out of the places where I have to go.

Maybe we're looking at this gun thing all wrong, along with the relatively modern phenomenon of a more secular existence, rather than so many people putting their faith in the Almighty.

Maybe God exists, but since you can't logically have all-powerful, all-good and all-knowing (well, I know, you can, but it requires you to turn off that logic part of your brain which Sky Spirit made, so, um, snake eating itself)...

Well, I vote for all-good getting tossed out of the grocery cart of Godly attributes. Let's face it, the really perniciously evil stuff like hurricanes and cancer and radiation had to be hella fun (pardon the pun) to make and let loose. Live a little. Good is boring.

So if you're OK with a God that's all-powerful and all-knowing but not all-good, everyone eventually shooting each other to death is just Fun Times, right?

Especially if it's the only sure way left (because Science) to cut down on the population and make things nicer in the long run?

Ah, well. Maybe I've said too much.

But in the meantime, Media?

Let's just stop covering massacres.

They happen too often to be news, your people might get hurt covering them, and until they come sponsored by the NRA and its ilk, I'm just going to consider them infomercials.

Black lives matter? Blue lives matter?

No life matters.

Except, of course, for the people willing to own tools that end other people's lives. After all, in the final analysis, they are just more committed to winning the argument.

With their wonderful tools!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Gerald Henderon to the Sixers, or Welcome to the (Adam) Silver Age

Stupid Adam Silver can't contain my rage...

So my laundry is continuing to regress to the mean, this time with journeyman swingman Gerald Henderson for 2 years and $18 million, and if a borderline 8 figure salary offends your sensibilities, well... um... that's just where the NBA is right now. Especially for the great unwashed hundreds of middle-aged NBA players, which the current cap situation is absolutely working for. Stars and kids are getting less than they should, and the middle and lower classes are getting a lot more. From a union perspective of a lot of guys paying dues, it works. From a fan's standpoint, not so much. And from an owner's, well, they only ever pay out the same percentage that they have to, and draw television and advertising money from six continents now. It's only bad if you want to bitch that your license to print money isn't satisfying you by printing enough.

Anyway, back to Hen Don't.

He's 28 now, ancient by Sixer standards, and on his third NBA team. He spent his first six years not making Charlotte very happy, then the last year in Portland not getting burn for one of the worst bench units for a playoff team. He's local from kid days, a Dookie who is one of those mid first round picks based on pedigree and athleticism that never really develops enough of an offensive game to capitalize on the early promise, and hasn't ever put up more than 15 points a game, even when he was starting for a Hornet squad that had no better ideas for playing time. If he's still in the league in five years, you'll know he's got a great personality, because his stroke from the arc isn't getting it done, and his defense won't get any better as he moves out of his prime. If you want to say nice things about him, he shoots free throws better than most, hasn't shown up on the police blotter, and has 10,000 NBA minutes and a lifetime of being around the league. So if you want to call him the swingman version of last year's Elton Brand signing, but with more tread on the tires, I guess there's not all that much harm in it.

But it's the banality of evil that gets me, honestly. Henderson has been to the playoffs twice in seven years, and hasn't been on a team that's won a series. He's not getting better, he won't be something you can flip for assets later, and he won't be part of the team when they contend for anything. He's got no real chance of developing his game more than what it is right now, and the time you give him is time that won't go to a Robert Covington, a Jerami Grant, or Hollis Thompson. All of those guys aren't good basketball players now, but all of those guys still have a shot at being good basketball players later. Henderson doesn't.

So why is he here? Because the Colangelos, maneuvered into position by NBA commissioner Adam Silver to replace dark genius Sam Hinkie, need this franchise to win an utterly inconspicuous number of games next year. Not low enough to continue to depress attendance when the Sixers come to your town, and not high enough to make anyone else think that long view tanking in a relegation-free league is viable, even though it, well, totally is. The Gerald Hendersons of the world, along with refs that won't give the benefit of the doubt to young bigs, poor free throw shooting, injuries and a lack of three point shooting, will make sure that there will be no super-strong story for the Sixers in 2016-17, and that no one will give Hinkie another gig.

And if it bothers you that the commish is more or less asserting his authority in ways that would be scandalous in any other league... well, remember, he got rid of Donald Sterling, too. Which we were all fine with, because, well, Donald Sterling.

But feel free to boo the hell out of him the next time he's in town. Because Philly Fan just loves to boo, and never has any cause for the negativity...

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Sixers Sign Sergio Rodriguez: At Long Last Point Guard?

(Apologies for that YouTube audio track. Beggars, choosers.)

For $8 million on a 1-year deal, the hometown laundry has a new lottery ticket to fill the glaring need at point guard: Sergio Rodriguez, the Spanish national and past Olympic hero.

Rodriguez is 30, 6-foot-3, a past MVP in his Euroleague for Real Madrid, and seems, well, more capable than most of the guys that have been given the gig. He was 48% from the floor, 38% from three, and with past experience at three NBA stops in Portland, Sacramento and New York. He's also an ex-first round pick from Phoenix, albeit one of those very late ones. The fact that he didn't stick in the Association back in the day is not encouraging, but guys can get better at a later age, and what the hell, anything that keeps me from watching Kendall Marshall has to be a win. Besides, he comes to town with a nickname ("El Chaco") and a reputation for flair, and for a team that desperately needs that from the backcourt, there are worse things.

Judging from the YouTube clips, he's now got a poor man's James Harden beard, good size and tolerable handle (it's a little high), and a good sense of how the game is played now, in re three point arc awareness. He also seems to be the kind of guy who teammates like playing with, judging from older NBA clips, though you won't see a lot of defense. Lots of behind the back stuff. Take a look for yourself, but he's got more than a little Ginobili in him to my eyes.

Oh, and one last thing to temper enthusiasm; they seemingly got him away from Brooklyn. Which isn't exactly as if they got him away from an NBA team. But again, for a year and $8 million, that's about as low risk as you can get for a free agent signing in 2016. Also, given the low contract length, he's probably coming in super motivated to make some of that sick NBA money in next year's free agent class. So... maybe even something of a bargain?

Kevin Durant to the Warriors: The Story of the Year

No Longer Conjecture
With the news that Kevin Durant is joining the runner-up, a few quick thoughts, because this is seismic...

> From a sheer quality of life perspective, there's just a quantum leap from Oklahoma City to the Bay Area. It's just off the scale, honestly. Leaving money on the table in the short run and the higher cost of living doesn't come into play when you make seven figures... let alone eight.

> The people (idiots, honestly) who feel that Durant is less of a man for leaving an organization that was up 3-1... um, it's not as if the team is the same behind him. Serge Ibaka is gone to Orlando for Victor Oladipo. Stephen Adams isn't going to just keep doing dirty work without offensive touches. Billy Donovan is going to coach differently in the second year, and that bench is going to get different minutes. There's also immense volatility in terms of injuries and player development, let alone playoff seeding. Expecting the world to be the same 10 to 11 months from now is absurd on its face, which means that Stephen A. Smith is required by law to jerk his knee just so. Seriously, Smith is just the worst.

> How much will Durant change his style of play to go along with the Warriors? Ball movement, cutting and screens is the reason why, along with the phenomenal shooting, that this has been a dominant offensive outfit, and while Durant has been a willing and capable passer in non crunch-time situations, the fourth quarter has been another matter. He's talented enough to win playing Heroball, but in the long run, it's anathema to teamwork, and on a club with three guys who are already in the league's top 15 players (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green), that's not great.

> In the final analysis for Durant as a person and player, though... you are telling me you would not want to be in a final five of Curry, Thompson, Green, Andre Iguodala and yourself? That's taking the Death Lineup and swapping the weakest link for one of the five best players in the world. From a sheer eyes standpoint, I want to see it, even if it's not a sure thing to work.

> Here's the hidden bummer factor that could make this all go south: injuries and uncertainties. Curry was banged up at the end of the year and is no guarantee to age gracefully. Thompson and Iguodala have had back issues. Green is volatile and might not react well to becoming fourth banana on the court when he was their only star to play well in Game Seven of the Finals. Iguodala is the oldest of the group and had back issues in the Finals. Going to the benchies, Shaun Livingston's injury history is terrifying, and Leandro Barbosa is older than imaginable for his speed of play.

> As for what Durant leaves behind, um... before we break out the crying towels for the good people of Oklahoma City, can we remember for a hot minute what they did to get their team? Can we also remember that instead of being creative to keep the best young nucleus in the NBA together, they gifted James Harden to the Rockets for no good reason at all? And that no one in their right mind goes to that city before Durant puts them on the map, and that the only reason they are there is because their dirtbag owner moved them there after promising he would not? The people of Seattle, a truly great city with an NBA history that should never have been lost, are playing the world's tiniest violins for Thunder Fans today.

> And for everyone who seems convinced that this will make the Warriors an even better team than last year's outfit... um, slow your roll. They aren't winning 73 games again; they'll settle in the 65 to 70 range and lose games on purpose for rest, like the Spurs. Durant replaces Harrison Barnes, expected to sign elsewhere now, and yes, that's a big leap forward. But to afford him, the team is likely to renounce their rights to Festus Ezeli, and maybe also move off Andrew Bogut. That's a trade you make every day of the week, given Ezeli's hands and Bogut's injury history and free throw woes, but it does not make them better defensively, and it also tears away at their depth -- which was already going to take a serious hit as the league chipped away at dominance. That is the nature of dominance, after all; it can only erode.

> The biggest guy on the hot seat (OK, second hottest: Durant is going to be vilified for no good reason) with this move is, in my opinion, head coach Steve Kerr. He's lost assistant Luke Walton to the Lakers, and he's now in a situation that no coach, frankly, wants to be in; win everything or be judged a failure. People are talking about the Warriors now as if multiple championships are a requirement, rather than success, and true idiots are probably thinking they could go undefeated. The franchise has taken a bold and strategic step to improve a team that was already fantastic; it's not a move with a lot of precedent.

> Finally, this. I don't know why the world decided it was time to hate on the Warriors in the middle of the Finals last year, and why LeBron James became heroic again after jockeying from Cleveland to Miami and back, while killing his coach and becoming the de facto GM. None of that stuff strikes me as adorable, and people who want to talk about Curses are people who need Story more than Game; they bore the urine out of me. But so be it; the Warriors Turned Heel, because sports fans are idiots who would rather be watching wrestling and probably secretly do, because childhood. Whatever.

Now? After you sign the biggest free agent prize in five years to join a team that broke the single-season record for wins, and became the first team in the Finals to lose a 3-1 lead (albeit under highly dubious conditions thanks to NBA Fixer In Chief Adam Silver)? They might as well all grow twirly Stephen Adams mustaches and all start kicking guys in the junk, because the hate is going to be intense.

Unless, of course, they win, because Heels Don't Win, at which point idiots will talk about how Durant was a visionary and Kerr was the only coach who could mesh all of this together and Curry and Thompson and Green only care bout winning and gosh we always loved Iguodala anyway.

See why I only want to watch Game, and hate Story?

Return To Meh: The Sixers Sign Jerryd Bayless

Welcome To Town
Here's how little the world of NBA free agency impacts the Sixers even now, in the post-Sam Hinkie Era where the franchise is said to have turned a corner from the days of stockpiling assets and don't need to win games right away... no free agent of note was in any way connected to the club in talks, and the impact of the first two days can be boiled down to swapping PG Ish Smith for G Jerryd Bayless. So even when they get a guy, the happiness is tempered.

To be fair, there was chatter about the club trying for G Jamal Crawford from the Clips, which probably did nothing more than make Crawford's agent happier, since it meant the Clips added some money to their deal. Oh, and they didn't make a qualifying offer for Isiah Canaan, which is fine, because Canaan probably doesn't belong in the NBA. Moving on.

Of course, calling Bayless a guy is right up there with calling Smith a PG; both are accurate, but likely beyond the point for a team with aspirations of wining as many games as they lose. (Note: this will not happen in 2016-17.) Neither move is even covered on the team's Web site, which might have something to do with NBA logistics, or the club just wants us to think much more about Ben Simmons coming to town, but still. 3 years for $9 million a year might be worth some ink, if only to give the world an idea of what Bayless is.

The short answer is a journeyman combo guard who has not been fantasy relevant, but might be a part of a rotation later. Probably better than Smith just due to age and defensive aptitude (i.e., he has any) , and maybe defensible as someone who is growing into the role... but fair from a name or an impact signing.

Because that's the dirty little truth about life in the modern NBA: no one who is worth a damn is going to a place where they don't think they are going to win. That's why no one worth a damn is taking the Lakers' money either. Timofey Mozgov or Jerryd Bayless. That's what you attract when you are bottom five; bottom five guys. Better hope like hell that Simmons and Joel Embiid really are as good as advertised...

FTT Off-Topic: Drive Of Passage

Not sports, read or don't.

My eldest turned 16 in late April, then passed her driver's ed permit test six weeks ago. As we live in a part of New Jersey where cars are still pretty necessary for most of life, and she's got an active social life, this is a big thing. We also have a third car, a twenty year old Ford that's reliable enough for short trips, and there's no great way for her to get back and forth to high school, what with my wife and I both working now. So getting her started and experienced behind the wheel is important, and the laws of the state are that they don't impact your insurance until they are a rated driver, as opposed to a kid with a permit. (Yeah, I know, that makes no sense to me, either.) So after a half dozen trips to a wide range of DMVs, which is a whole 'nother kettle of goog God almighty, do you people suck... she drives.

I don't know how many of you are parents, or are hoping to get there, but there are few things in the world more strange than being in the car with your kid when they drive for the first time. I was there, and it hardly seems like a very long time ago, when she was a bump in my wife's stomach. I own things that are older than her. Hell, the car she is slated to drive is older than she is. So to just hand her the keys and have her drive me home, all while trying to project a sense of calm about the whole thing...

Well, parenting is, at its core, pretending that you know what you are doing when you have no clue. The kids see through this as they get older, and call you on it, because that's part of growing up and all... but it's also challenging and terrible, because this relationship where you used to have all of the answers is now just becoming another place where you can be challenged for no good reason whatsoever. And more if you've raised a kid to challenge, which is what we've seemed to have done, whether on purpose or not.

It also, and there is no two ways to put this, makes you feel extremely old, extremely quickly. Once the kid is driving, there's even less sense of why you need to be around, assuming the kid isn't making terrible choices. Just in case you weren't aware that the finish line is coming -- if there can be such a thing -- having the kid behind the wheel bangs it home hard. She's ever-closer to leaving, and she's not ready to yet, but on some level, no one ever is. If I were to keel over tonight on my doomed attempt to stay healthy and/or eat badly without weight gain, most of what I would have wanted to tell her has already been said. She might not remember it all immediately, but it would bubble up in her acts and deeds, and she'd get through it. Not without a great deal of difficulty, but on some level, me being around would also be its own stress.

None of this is meant to suggest that I'm going anywhere. I've made my place in the world, and the youngest is still just turning 11 in a couple of weeks; needs there are going to be strong, and it seems like the modern generation leans hard on their parents all the way into their mid to late '20s. But not every time out, and there are, of course, no guarantees on time; either how much you have, or how much people have with you.

All of this from a stamp at a DMV, and a couple of hours as someone else's passenger. Quite an experience, really.

(As to how she drives? She's cautious to the point of scary, speeds up and slows down a little erratically, and makes me nervous... but I think I've done a reasonable job of not showing it, and there's really nothing wrong that a few hundred hours of driving won't fix. The trick now, of course, is getting it without incident. And trying not to dwell on the fact that this is just about the most dangerous thing that we let teenagers do, and something that technology will, in all likelihood, eliminate in a decade or two...)

The Obvious Olympic Question

With Cause
So we're nearing the final month or so of hype before the Rio Games, and as is now becoming the new tradition before such things, it's time to check in on the host suck -- err, country -- and see what disasters they have to overcome in the last minute, so the press can not tell the hard news story of what awful things have happened to let a party happen, and just, well, cover the party.

Oh, wait, you know what? I'm not going to bother with any of that, because that's what the rest of the Internets is for. Instead, I'm going to tell you the new normal, which is that every Olympics is a disaster. It's just a question of magnitude, and if the disaster is going to be really reported on, depending on whether or not the journalists are being stepped on or not. Kind of like how every Presidential race will be close until the actual results are in, and how every Super Bowl will be exciting, and so many other things in which the media's need to be a profit-making machine means that no new news will be generated?

Need proof as to why the Games have become a con? You don't need to look any further at where the games have been recently (Russia), where they are going to be now (Brazil), and where they are going to be next (South Korea for 2018 Winter, then Japan for 2020 Summer, and China for 2022 Winter). Notice the distinct lack of forward-thinking nations and cities, prosperous areas or homes to established political situations that won't just roll over? Yeah, me too. All of the places that the games go to now are newer to prosperity, still prone to the siren call of World Opinion, and ready and willing to lube and pony up briefcases full of cash to the human garbage that's employed by the IOC. (Open question as to which is more corrupt: them or FIFA. I'll take your answer in the form of a payment.)

Real countries no longer want, or should want, the Olympics. Sure, your advertisers are all kinds of happy about it to get non-DVR content and a potential ratings number, but without the Cold War storylines, the chance of the ratings going in the dumper is just as high as the rights fees. And you can dream your dreams of tourists from all over the world coming to fill your cash registers with food and drink and hotel orders. But the ticket sales to non-major events tell a very different story, and most of the Games are just sports that we don't care about enough to watch routinely. The ones that are, like basketball or golf, we can see better routinely. I realize that I'm not the target market for things mattering just because flags are involved (yay, flags!), but getting me to care about the Olympics is a hard sell in the best of times, and in an era of high definition television and countless streams, I can do better. And so can everyone else.

A final point on this... the Games involve logistics nightmares that no city can properly deal with, which means a ton of new and pointless construction that will go to seed the second the Games are over. Kind of a cruel joke to Brazil, who just got through this for the World Cup in soccer recently, and now have more empty venues to make and abandon now. Even for an economy that isn't ravaged by political instability and a booming virus outbreak, it's just too much graft. Add in the graft, and it's really over the top.

So, no, there will be no watching of the Games, other than to see if any meaningful hoops player gets hurt, because I could truly not give a damn. And anyone who doesn't want Zika virus, or the potential of a kidnapping for ransom during the Games, or to pour money into a country that just pulled off a coup d'etat over an elected regime because the media has been made powerless through violence and intimidation? Probably should take a big miss on the whole thing, too.

Which makes me wonder, really... why do we still have this thing in the first place? And wouldn't the world be better without it?

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