Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Finals Pick: Dreaming For Drama

Let's Get Predicting
Normally if I were faced with an NBA playoff series that has been this devoid of drama, I'd be carping about it, to be frank. There's not enough sports for my tastes around this time of the year, given that my tastes have gone away from baseball, and off-season NFL is just a cry for help... but the plain and simple of my life right now is that sports are only seen at the gym or at a bar, so there's that. My life is a rotation of sleep, work, gym for the weekdays, and the weekends just swap in other forms of work than the office. I'm lucky to keep my fantasy baseball team current, and watching hoop is more about timing than anything else.

So it's OK with me that we're going to see a 12-0 team face a 12-1 club, for the third straight year, with an interminable amount of time between the conference finals and the real ones. If it gives us enough time off to get Steve Kerr's back healthy and Kyrie Irving's ankles ok and Kevin Durant's knee as good as new, so much the better, really. What you really want to see after a post-season that's been eight weeks of Finals Already Please is a series that, unlike the Spurs losing Kawhi Leonard, goes off without asterisks and excuses.

And with that said, and my record in picking this spring a sparkling 12-2 (sounds more impressive than it is, since Picking Chalk could have gotten you in the same realm)... let's get into the nuts and bolts of the series.

The case for Golden State: Nearly won last year; only questionable officiating in suspending Draymond Green for Game Five and the performance of LeBron James' life kept them from repeating. Better in the starting five with Durant, of course, and now have more half court isolation options that work when things get super tight late. On the ball defense, especially at the three point arc, is the best in the Association. So is the home court crowd, and it might be the NBA's best hope for derailing the team when they move to San Francisco. PG Stephen Curry is playing the best ball of his last 16 months, and seems 100% healthy, if not as freakishly accurate from the arc; he might even be better now as a penetrator. C JaVale McGee gives them great energy moments off the bench, and many of the younger bench guys have been deadly, especially at home. If they aren't turning the ball over, they are scoring 30+ points per quarter, and they haven't been turning it over.

The case against: Warrior Fan doesn't want to hear this, and there isn't anything they can do about it, but they just haven't been tested very much for months and months now, some of which can relate to injury luck. Interim / Potentially Forever HC Mike Brown didn't exactly cover himself in glory the last time he was in the Finals, with James. The bench isn't as deadly as it used to be, with PG Shaun Livingston and SG Andre Iguodala in particular losing some effectiveness. SG Klay Thompson is still doing nice things on defense, but hasn't been nearly as good on offense; some clean looks that used to be automatic just haven't been, and it wouldn't shock me if it costs them dearly in the Finals. If you can beat them up on the boards and force turnovers, you can make them look mortal, and they can get bored with the lead. Green has loose cannon aspects, and can take himself out of a game; the Dubs can't win without him.

The case for Cleveland: James is the definitive player of this generation, and may be the best in the history of the game. He can win games with defense and passing even when his shot isn't falling, and when his shot is falling, it's absolutely unfair. His teammates get open looks all the time due to his gifts, and his decision making with the ball is among the best in the game. Irving gives them a great option in the half court especially, and when PF Kevin Love is making his shots and throwing long outlet passes, they go on big runs. SG JR Smith can carry the team for stretches, and bench gunner Kyle Korver seems to have found his niche and happy place with James. PG2 Deron Williams has also had a career rebirth in the past few months. Unlike every other team in the world, they have no fear of the Warriors.

The case against: HC Tyronn Lue is mostly a figurehead, and doesn't do a good job of conserving James by getting him off the floor when it would make sense. Defensively indifferent for long stretches, though not recently. When the 3s aren't falling, can look like they don't have any other ideas, and can be taken off the dribble, especially for Love and Irving. Don't have the deep paint scorers that can make the Warriors look bad, and also don't have home court.

The pick: I think everyone is just hoping for a long and dramatic series after the past few months of blowouts, and if this is short, it's just going to feel like a cheat... but honestly, it really could be. There's no guarantee this has to go long, especially if Cleveland steals home court and Brown panics, or if the Dubs come out like their usual house on fire and Thompson joins the party. That's now how you bet, of course, because the Association has shown more than enough ability to extend the Finals by any means necessary, but a single tweaked ankle could ruin things.

Having said all that... this Warrior team is better than last year's, and last year's was historic. Cleveland is just a little better; the Dubs are a lot, and Curry's much more himself this time around. But the biggest reason why the title goes back to the Bay Area this year is Durant. He's not as good as James, but the difference might not be drastic, and his 7-foot wingspan gives the Warriors a much better defensive presence than last year.

Warriors in six... though some part of me kind of wants to see them sweep and finish the playoffs at 16-0, just so we can maybe take Best Team Ever status away from franchises I can't stand. Besides, two less nights in the bar or gym is two less nights in the bar or gym...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Spikes and Circuses

This is ok now, right?
So the No Fun League has decided that, after talking to ex-players who can still form sentences, that perhaps crapping all over post-touchdown emotions was, um, a poor idea. So now you get to use the ball as a prop, roll around on the ground, and celebrate with your teammates! Almost as if you were grown men with free will!

I hate to tell the powers that be how to do their gig, because some part of me would rather spend that time on acts of endlessly satisfying petty vandalism to their suits and cars... but, um, in the grand scheme of all that's wrong with pro football, the fact that you've been tightasses about spikes is about 50th on the list.

Here's a thought for matters of higher precedence: figure out what a catch actually is. Then explain it to the rest of us in ways that don't take an engineering degree or a background in interpretive dance. Then figure out what pass interference is, both on the offense and the defense. Then, miracle of miracles, call it consistently, whether it's on the road team, the home team, or the teams from New England and Dallas.

Got that taken care of? Great, now let's move on to the fact that you so underserve the market with an absurd amount of commercials, horrible games on nights that should never have football or or continents that don't have teams, and you don't relegate / promote to stagger games over the course of the year and create Real Drama at both the top and bottom of the standings. (The reason why you don't do this, of course, is that you are robber baron anti-capitalist thugs who secretly hate the free market, because the free market would take the utter and complete fish away from your table, and you wouldn't have a decade and a half of beating up on the Jets and Racial Slurs to prop up other franchises. You cowardly, cowardly tools. But I digress.)

Gotten rid of Terrible Night Football and the worst thing in the UK since Trump's last visit? Great, now let's move on to your broadcast crews, most of whom make decent people spit. I don't know anyone on the Earth who wants to hear a damned thing that Phil Simms says, and he might not even be the worst people working. (He probably is, but let's just avoid the wallow.) You routinely treat the audience as if it were as brain-dead as the ex-players, when in reality there's an enormous bucket of nerds who would happily stat out to all of the things they think about, especially if they've got a wager or six on the games.

Fixed all of that? Wow, you've had a busy day! Now you might want to move on to the rampant sexism and homophobia that permeates the place, the still-present racism that makes it unlikely for blacks to coach and spectacularly unlikely that they'd ever get the chance to own, the continuing thumb in the eye of decency that is the DC Team Name, the naked theft of teams from their markets...

Oh, but you don't actually want to fix any of that, do you, Roger? Because fixing any of that would take effort, and possibly money, and you are just looking for, well, empty gestures.

So by all means, spike the ball and dance, folks. It's the farthest the NFL is going to go to "fix" anything.

Because to them, nothing is really broken, or will ever be.

Must be nice to live in cocoon of money and privilege, right?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Year When The NBA Regular Season Was More Fun Than The Playoffs

The Eater Of Hope
Tonight in San Antonio, Golden State ended any possibility that the Finals could be anything other than Cavs-Dubs in a ho-hum win over the Spurs. The home team actually led for brief moments in this game, which puts them in a relatively rare class of Dub playoff victims this year, and got a throwback game from 40 year-old Manu Ginobili, who can still ball, especially when his minutes are properly managed. But without downballot MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard and his fragile ankles, the Spurs are something like -80 over 2.5 games, and there's no sign that trend is going to change, or that Leonard is going to return. If the series doesn't end on Monday, it will honestly be shocking. And having watched all of these games in public areas surrounded by Dub fans, I can tell you for a fact that they worried about the Spurs... not at all. You'd have thought Game 3 tonight was a February mid-week game, not Essential Win #11 on the road to 16.

At least the Spurs weren't run off their on court in a manner that made the second half pointless, the way the Cavs did the Celtics last night. TNT had hours to come up with comedy GIFs and did not disappoint, with my personal favorite being the Tom and Jerry paddling GIF where LeBron James spanked the Celtic leprechaun over and over and over again. It was the Celtics' 4th home loss of the year and one of the worst in their history, with star guard Isiah Thomas going down for the year, such as it is, with an injury. If Boston was seen as the lEast's best hope for dethroning the Cavs in the near term, such hopes are more or less DOA now, no matter what kind of bang they get from the #1 pick in the draft.

The Finals start on June 1, which is to say, in 11 days and 3 more crushing wins by the obvious finalists; these should wrap up by mid-week at the latest. And sure, those games will be epic and intense and likely feature the first match-up of 12-0 teams in NBA history... but that's not how the playoffs are supposed to work. We get 15 playoff series a year; 8 in the first round, 4 in the second, 2 in the third and 1 in the fourth... and honestly, there might be 3 this year (Celtics-Wizards, Jazz-Clippers, and Cavs-Dubs) that will be in the least bit memorable.

Compare that to the regular season, where we had 82 games of Russell Westbrook challenging Oscar Robertson, and James Harden maybe even having a better year than him. Thomas whipped the Celtics to the 1 seed. The Sixers had Joel Embiid for enough stretches of the season to be the most fun team in the league, mostly because he made them the best defensive units. The Wiz were strong in the second half and finally healthy in the back court. Miami almost made the playoffs after a terrible start. Utah had their best year since Stockton to Malone, and the Clips did their annual sucking in the fan base before getting hurt routine. Plus the Cavs and Dubs.

We're never going to get to a place where casual fans care more about the regular season than the playoffs; that would require a smaller playoff field and promotion / relegation.

But in terms of actually watching hoop with drama, games that didn't always have garbage time, and a general feeling that the whole thing was an unpleasant waste of time?

Well, the regular season was a better place for that.

And so long as the Cavs and Dubs are this much better than everyone else, it's not going to be the last time that happens, either...

Monday, May 15, 2017

The One Game Series

Today in Oakland, San Antonio started the Western Conference Finals like, well, how they ended the previous round. On fire, methodical, deadly with superior bigs, and just turning a dynamic offensive opponent into mush.

By the second quarter, they were doubling up the Warriors and holding a 25 point load. Oracle was dead, the announce team was pleading for some kind of run before the half to make the theoretical possible, and while things got a little better for the home team, it was still 20 at the break.

And then the series changed, and likely ended, with a turned ankle. The Spurs' downballot MVP candidate, Kawhi Leonard, who was having the best day of anyone on the court, landed awkwardly on a corner three, and had to leave the game. The Dubs picked up actual defensive intensity, and Stephen Curry joined Kevin Durant in the flow of the game. Draymond Green bounced back from his worst half of basketball in the playoffs. Slowly but surely, the lead eroded, until the Dubs finally took a lead late. And while it was still a one possession game at the close, and the home team never looked all that great or comfortable, it was still the result that everyone expected. Warriors 1, Spurs 0.

And I don't mean to put to much into this, because playoff hoop is all about putting too much into one game, but... it's hard to see the Spurs winning this series now, because this was so their game to have in Oracle. The Dubs were wildly out of pace and practice with court rust. Klay Thompson missed threes that I don't think he's ever missed. Durant and Curry looked utterly sympatico by the close of the game, and LaMarcus Aldridge has never been a good choice for go-to-guy, let alone go-to-guy because of injury. Sure, Patty Mills isn't likely to be this terrible again, and the Spurs are capable of bouncing back from any kind of early series loss, but there isn't going to be an easier game for them to get than this one.

As for the Dubs, they know they got away with a B game in this one, and that they've got major work to do to get back their air of inevitability after nearly getting punked in this one. But if Leonard's on the bench for any extended period of time, this series doesn't go five, let alone the Texas Way. The plus/minus from this game alone will tell you that, along with your own eyes.

Game Two is Tuesday, and Dub Nation will likely be a little late to start it, considering that national television is requiring a rush hour start time out here. Games cost an arm and a leg, so you'd think that people would just take the vacation day and be sure not to miss any of the game, but that's not how rich Bay Area people roll, honestly. Seven more wins for them, and you'll think the Bay Area took over the mantle of most hated fan base away from Boston...

But don't you believe it, because the real fan base -- who I observed in their natural habitat, which is to say in a strip mall sports bar less then five miles from the Orena, because that's where I'm living this week -- is still as bought in and leveraged out as always, because living out here means you just have to ignore income disparity as a survival skill. The fan base knows the Warriors are too good for them, and also know that the toothpaste is out of the tube for good, with the team leaving for SF in the near future. They won't lose anyone in the here and now because of it, but in the there and later?

Well, all eras end, and Curry and Thompson aren't the same players they were just a year ago, because the NBA is a meat grinder for, seemingly, everyone but LeBron James. Every team has a window, and the Dubs may have seen theirs stay open with the Game One comeback. Cavs-Dubs may seem and be inevitable, but for 2018 and so on? Not so much.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

NBA Conference Finals Picks

The case for Golden State: Home court, and will have three of the four best players on the court in Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. As healthy as they've been all year, and with an 8-0 mark in the playoffs, probably playing their best ball. Durant gives them a bailout in half court sets when things get difficult, as if they didn't already have damn near unstoppable options in Curry and, when he's on his game, Klay Thompson. They are also getting some of the best ball of JaVale McGee's life, which gives them a safeguard if Green has foul issues. Bench has been much better lately, and the entire outfit has very high degrees of confidence and playoff experience. Extremely rested.

The case against: Losing head coach Steve Kerr for Mike Brown puts them at a disadvantage in the only place where they were already under the gun against the Spurs. Home court hasn't been as good as past years, because the faithful have become so used to domination. Green's histrionics aren't made better in the harsh glare of the playoff spotlight, and the backcourt has definitely slipped from their historic levels, particularly when it comes to percentages from distance. The eternal issue for this outfit is turnovers and indifferent play with a lead; both could come back to bite them in a game or two in this series. As good as Green and McGee have been, this team can be had against dominant big man offensive play. Might have rust in Game One from the long layoff.

The case for San Antonio: Utterly humiliated Houston, without their best player, on the road to close out the previous series. Could put a serious hurting on the Dubs with superior rebounding, especially if Pau Gasol turns back the clock for two weeks. LaMarcus Aldrigde is playing his career best ball, and Kawhi Leonard, especially if he's healthy, could (could) make Durant inefficient. This is definitely a team that's good enough to win a championship. Home court has been very good for them against the Warriors for many, many years. Have a winning record against the Dubs this year.

The case against: As good as the Spurs are, they just don't have top tier talent, especially in the backcourt. Losing Tony Parker to injury doesn't help, even if Parker isn't the player he used to be. There's a sense that their "A" game just isn't at the same level as other teams, and when they lose, they lose big. As good as Popovich is, at this level of the NBA playoffs, talent usually wins out... and the Spurs just aren't as talented.

The pick: If San Antonio is going to win this series, they are going to have to do it with a road win, and the layoff makes Game One their easiest target. It's far from impossible, and I honestly think that either of these teams will win the Finals. But home court and the Dubs margin for error are just too much to overcome. Warriors in six highly entertaining games.

The East: While we'd like to thank the Wizards and Celtics for providing some of the only entertaining hoop seen in the NBA in the past few months, it's all meaningless in the long run, especially with the Cavs (and LeBron James, who needs it the most) getting maximum rest.

The pick: Cavs in five.

Record to date: 10-1, need the Wizards to win Game 7 in Boston to go to 11-1.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Sweep and Snooze, Fitfully

Dub Fan, Probably
So I'm back in the Bay Area for the first time in 11 years for work -- long story, not germane to sports, and also why post rate has gone down -- but it's put me back in the warm cocoon of the Bay Area. I can't tell you how great and powerful the weather is to make your day better and to make all of the shoddy real estate in the area tolerable, or how nice it is to be in a place where NPR is mainstream, rather than left wing...

But the purest moment of Bay Area Bubble? It's watching Warrior Fan in his native habitat.

You see, this is the only part of the country that thinks Kevin Durant is just the best, that Draymond Green is lovable, that Stephen Curry doesn't look kind of like a beautiful soul gone bestial with that weird little beard of his, that JaVale McGee isn't a career malcontent who is finally good now just to make the rest of the NBA gnash their teeth a little more in frustration. And so on. They aren't completely unaware that America rejoiced when Cleveland won last year, and thinks their beautiful hoop team are somehow the Monstars while also being the Globetrotters, but they forget about it easily enough.

It's also officially odd, I think, that the NBA playoff ratings are up this year, even with the paucity of close series. Everyone seems to be clearly aware that it's going to be Cavs-Dubs for the third time in a row, and that the Cavs have been playing possum for months now to conserve their energies... but that hasn't translated into folks tuning out of the games.

But what it creates, honestly? An utterly conflicted fan base. I don't have cable in my current living condition, which has meant that my game viewing has been in bars and gyms... and Dub Fan? Watches intently, but not with a great deal of passion, and wants to see his team as little as possible.

And honestly, do you blame them? The eight games of Blazers and Jazz have rarely been competitive, and Durant's knees and Curry's ankles and HC Steve Kerr's tragic back make every minute of every game a matter of Please Don't Get Hurt and End This Already. The Dub bench isn't as good as it was a year ago, and the entire year has been a waiting pattern for seeing what happens in June.

Which hardly seems like must-see TV, but the numbers say otherwise...

Saturday, April 29, 2017

NBA Second Round Playoff Picks

Boston vs. Washington. Love the way the Wiz are playing right now, and the C's early struggles in the Bulls series tells me that they can be had when the distance shots aren't dropping. Wizards in six.

Cleveland vs. Toronto. I get that the Cavs squandered leads and played intermittent defense, but this is still LeBron James in the lEast, and he's gotten rest. That's kind of like betting on the aggressor in a land war in Asia. Cleveland in five.

Houston vs San Antonio. I'm still not sold on a Mike D'Antoni team taking out a Gregg Popovich experience, but Patrick Beverly is playing out of his mind right now, and that might give the Rockets the (shh!) best backcourt in the Association. Rockets in six.

Warriors vs. Utah / Clippers survivor. The Dubs are rested, have home court, and could handle a combined team from these two squads, let alone the Clips without Blake Griffin or the Jazz without the ability to play at a fast pace against the Speed Kills ball movement of the defending conference champions. Warriors in five.

First round record: 7-0, need Utah to win Game 7 in LA to stay perfect.

The Poker Diaries: I Think We're Done Now

This is probably going to be the last entry in this diary for some time, as I'm moving away from my home for business, and don't expect to be at a table again for months, and honestly, there is a possibility of that being ever. And at least when it comes to casino play, that's for the best.

Last night, I had a night out with a half dozen of my regulars, as a going away experience before I jump in my car and drive to the West Coast to start a new gig. So it was off to Sugar House, the urban instant place on Delaware Avenue, for an evening of pub crawl, poker and the like. What happens next is.. well, what almost always happens to me in a casino. I play very few (as in, 10%) hands, because every table has a third of the players who bet $1/$2 as if it were $10/$20, and limping with marginal holdings just makes the bleed go faster. I have to pretty much shove it all in on the hands that I do play, because they raise with anything and hit often enough to make that work. I get called where the best that the caller could be hoping for is the wrong end of a 46/54 split. They hit. It's all very predictable, and about as much fun as surgery without anesthesia.

And sure, I get it; this is all The Complaint of the Nit, and pointless, because had I had the 54 hold up a few freaking times, I'd have won money and felt fine about life. But what it really comes down to is that the game just isn't all that fun even if you are winning this way, even though winning money is fun, because it's all been boiled down to stacks over skill, and if you can't bluff but your opponent can, you can't win.

Where I am in life is that there is no money that can be set aside for entertainment. As such, the money in a poker game is too important to, well, be risked in a poker game. When the chips are whether or not you are going to pay down a credit card, and soon, whether or not you are going to be able to help with education or avoid doing side jobs to make ends meet, poker is simply a job with unpleasant co-workers and a very uncertain pay rate... and, well, I have better jobs to do. Even if the job is just getting enough sleep, or getting back to the gym, or making my living conditions better.

So, to bring this back to poker, three hands, three shoves, three felts, and I don't think I made the wrong play on any of it. But the cards say different.

Pocket 9s against A-10 off suit. I put him on maybe one over, and hoped he'd call a shove. Instead of one, he had two, and called $145 on a pot of $40. 10 on the turn.

Pocket Js against Q-K suited. Dude called $65 on a pot of $20, because of course he did, and was shocked that he wasn't up against aces, which begs the question of why the hell you are calling, other than folding cards is a sin against God. Q in the window.

A-K suited, making the nut flush on the turn, in a 3-way hand; flop was Q-Q-2, two hearts, 7 of hearts on the turn. Dude who plays every hand and calls every bet had pocket deuces, because of course he did. (Smaller stack had a 7-high flush.)

I get that in the long run, 54 beats 46, and when it does, maybe you get back to bluffing and actual poker. But it doesn't do it often enough to make small samples defensible, and that means that it doesn't do it often enough to put significant cash at risk. All cash is significant now; all cash will, likely, be significant for the rest of my days.

So, um, why play poker, honestly?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

2017 NFL Schedule Analysis: Known Unknowns

Eagles 2017 Schedule Feel
Almost lost in the run-up to the NFL Draft, the 2017 schedule was rolled out, and far be it for us to avoid the temptation to predict wins, losses, and who got boned and blessed by the powers that be.

To be very candid about this... the exercise speaks, honestly, to just how criminally underserved the American sports public is for actual football content... and yes, this is where we can speak to the eternal dream of promotion and relegation. At least now there are other sites that are banging that drum.

Just in case you don't believe the idea that we aren't getting enough NFL in our lives, consider that a quarter of a million people will venture into Philadelphia to be near a reading of names, and the city has shut down vast portions of itself to give the league all the space it would want to make that seem interesting. Sorry, I've just never bought into the idea that Draft is a spectator sport. Until these guys start hitting each other on the way to the podium, I'm going to find better things to watch. But hey, zip lining down the Parkway is cool, right?

 Let's stop avoiding the temptation! Here's my picks for schedule winners and losers.  


Oakland. This team was always going to have major (self-inflicted) problems from the fact that they turned their home field advantage into a short-term nightmare, but the league then doubled down with the NFC East home and away schedule, which makes for 3K+ flights and all kinds of time zone issues. There's also the give up of a home game to play New England in Mexico City, which might not be that much worse than Oakland, but there are altitude and pollution concerns with that venue, too -- might come back to haunt them later.  

Dallas. Division winners always get the short straw on schedules, but when you add in the West Coast travel and prime time shows, this might be the most obvious division winner to fall. They host the Giants to start, which is a game they've frequently blown, then go to Denver and Arizona; 0-3 is a real possibility. The offensive line isn't as deep as it used to be, and you have to wonder if Dak Prescott gets exposed a bit - Alexander P of is only giving him 2/1 odds of keeping his passer rating over 100 this year. Plus, Zeke Elliott's legal issues could really create a problem.. The Thanksgiving game against the Chargers is a gimme, but the closing run of at Oakland, hosting Seattle, then at Philly also doesn't sound like fun.  

Philadelphia. Last year my laundry had a half dozen games against teams coming off byes. This year, they get to start on the road against DC, then KC with a bye. In December, there is a 3-game road swing, with games in Seattle and LA, and a road game in Carolina on Terrible Night for Football also doesn't look fun. I'm not sure there's an NFC East team that should win the division, given how DC shot themselves in the face with GM turnover and the Giants just seem aimless, but .500 might do it. Special bonus to the Eagle schedule for not having any real fun road games for the fan base to join in, assuming your idea of fun isn't multiple dates in LA.  


New England. This is pretty much a given nearly every year, since the AFC East is such a cakewalk, but the league does the champions more favors by not subjecting them to a UK trip, and all of their terrible night football games are done by October 5. They open with the Chiefs at home, which is usually a win, and on the off chance in hell that they need to close with a rush, they get back to back home games with Buffalo and the Jets. The easiest bet in the NFL this year is for the Patriots to host a second round playoff game.  

Denver. The point about schedules is that it's not just how tough yours is, but also how it impacts your rivals. The Broncos get four of five at home to start, don't have the absurd home field issues that the Chargers and Raiders are going to have to endure, and miss the KC opening loss. So while the rest of the schedule doesn't look easy, they are still going to have a significant edge on the rest of the division.  

Seattle. The opener in Green Bay isn't going to be fun, but the follow up home game against the Niners is as close to a homecoming game as the NFL gets, and copious quantities of the AFC South helps, too. Arizona opens with far harder issues, and the rest of the division (the Rams, no home field advantage in year two in random LA, and the trash fire Niners) should offer light resistance. I'm not certain that the window hasn't set on Seattle's championship aspirations; defenses don't last forever, and the secondary is starting to show cracks. But the schedule might prop them up a bit longer.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Lonesome Crowded West

A week ago, the NBA playoffs started, and it looked like the Cavs, indifferent to the point of absurdity since the All Star Break, were in real trouble. LeBron James was looking old and tired, the team wasn't bringing any heat on defense, and they weren't even the #1 seed.

A week later... they are the only team to sweep, Boston is in a 2-2 dogfight that's actually kind of miraculous, considering that the road team has won every game, and there next opponent (Milwaukee or Toronto) is going to have two, if not three, more games in front of them in a first round bloodbath. Even the Wiz, probably the best looking team in the East in the last two months, blew game 3 in Atlanta, and could be going deeper.

But all of that seems trivial compared to what's going on out West, where the finalist was expected to come out and roll the lEastern team, because the Western team always should.

Here, we've got the Warriors up 3-0... but only after a huge comeback, and with Kevin Durant having injury issues, and Steve Kerr maybe not even being well enough to coach again, um, ever. (Back surgery is a terrible thing, people.) On the off chance that you think that head coaches don't matter, um, change your mind on that, because the guy in that seat if Kerr can't go is Mike Brown now, and Mike Brown nearly kept James from making the Finals not so long ago. Any coach that can keep prime James out of the Finals is, honestly, a force that hasn't been seen in the NBA, well, ever.

But the West was supposed to be more than the Dubs, yes? Well, the Spurs are 2-2 with the ever-tenacious Grizzlies. Utah is 2-2 with the Clips in a series where it seems like both teams are going to shed themselves of all positive elements by the close. (The Clips have lost Blake Griffin Yet Again, while the Jazz have been dodging food poisoning for Gordon Hayward and a troublesome knee for Rudy Gobert.) Houston is up 3-1 on OKC, but only because OKC was too dumb for words in fouling decisions in today's Game 4. They should close it out in five, but that's a Mike D'Antoni team, and Mike's teams in the playoffs are never to be trusted.

So we're a week into the playoffs, and the good news? Six out of eight series are in serious doubt, and the actual games have been as compelling as ever.

The bad news?

Well, I don't know about you, but one of these years, there's going to be a Finals without James. And as a guy who respects the hell out of him, but has almost never rooted for his laundry?

Not really the bold and novel narrative you might hope for...

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Rusell Westbrook: The New Iverson

Rage On
Last night in Game 2 in Houston, the visiting Thunder were playing a dramatically better game than the opener, and held a 12-point lead in the third quarter. Houston Rockets PG and MVP candidate James Harden couldn't put it in the ocean, the Thunder were closing out on three-point shooters like they were hungry dogs, and the Rockets couldn't get boards or transition looks against the bigger and burlier road team. It looked like playoff basketball, and Mike D'Antoni teams have a long and storied history of coming up small there, along with the usual prejudice against offense-first squads. The crowd was restless and nervous, and Russell Westbrook was the best basketball player in the world.

Then he took his rest, as he generally does because head coach Billy Donovan knows how to manage his resources, and the Rockets perked up immediately. A few threes went in, the crowd smelled blood in the water, and Westbrook lit angrily into his teammates and pleaded with his coach to let him back in. The lead was cut to manageable by the end of the third, and some part of me thought, "I've seen this movie before, and it doesn't end well for Iver... err, Westbrook."

There really isn't that much similarity between the two men, honestly. Iverson was an undersized shooting guard in an undersized point guard's body, and while he created an untold amount of offense in transition and from creating easy rebound opportunities for teammates from opponent double teams, he never put up similar assist or rebound numbers to Westbrook, and didn't have the same off the charts explosion and finishing ability. You could also, in his era of no zone defense, punish him in the post, the way that Mark Jackson did in multiple series losses to the Pacers. What AI had over Westbrook, in spades, was the ability to handle monster minutes and not have it effect his late play.

But there is one key similarity between the two men, and that's this: they are both trying to win basketball games, against the best players in the world, with wildly inadequate rosters... that actually get closer than you'd expect, because they have been built around their flawed but fantastic talents.

OKC without Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka should be a 40-win 8th seed and easy first round out. Stephen Adams is a good 2-way player, but he's turnover-prone in the block and has limited range. Viktor Oladipo is an athletic 2-guard, but his handle and shot are too suspect for routine starring minutes. Enes Kanter is a good post bench scorer, but indifferent at defense. Taj Gibson tries hard and is tolerable, but is best seen as solid bench. And that's, well, about it. Trying to win a playoff series with these guys in the loaded West should be impossible, and probably is.

But that didn't stop Westbrook, like AI before him, from lashing himself to the mast and charging into the fray. It got them to a 6th seed and a lead in last night's game, but with Westbrook pressed into extra minutes and no one else in his laundry willing or able to step up and make shots, the Thunder were doomed. To the stat sheet eye, he's an unconscionable gunner; to the actual game eye, he's trying to will these guys beyond their means, especially in the half-court. More tellingly, by the end of the game last night, he was spent beyond measure, and got to endure any amount of idiot takes about how Durant's better. (He might be, because Durant's 7 feet tall and can stop people at the rim, but that's beyond the point.) At the end of the night, Westbrook had a 50+ point triple double. But Harden and the Rockets had the win and the 2-0 series lead.

I suspect OKC might win a game in this series, because the Rockets can look bad when the jumpers aren't falling, and Harden isn't going to go to the line a couple of dozen times on the road, the way he did tonight. The NBA's predilection toward long series, suspicious officiating and complacent Game 3 road work is powerful, and Houston isn't filled with lockdown playoff veterans. But the road steal that they needed was last night, and you really got the sense that Westbrook knew it by the close.

One against five might make for great television, and a staple of karate movies. But it doesn't work in the NBA, and it certainly doesn't work four times out of five.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Meaning In Life

What's It All Mean
Today during the Golden State vs. Portland game, the ESPN crew, as it does with disturbing frequency, went into matters of Not Game. In this case, the tragic passing of Isiah Thomas's sister in a car accident yesterday, and how Boston's star guard was going to play despite his heavy heart.

To which color analyst Jeff van Gundy, in his usual role as Guy Who Knows Everything and has Higher Priorities Than You, said "Who cares?"

He wasn't trying to be disrespectful of what Thomas was going through, just that we shouldn't care about a game when such More Important Things were going on.

And, well, um, screw you, Jeff van Gundy.

We have no idea what's going through Thomas' mind during this time of grief. From watching him in tonight's tight Bulls-Celtics game, I suspect there was distraction during his bench minutes, but when he was on the floor, muscle memory took over. Chicago won behind a great fourth quarter from Jimmy Butler, and because Boston plays tight games all the time and so be it.

But what's really telling here is that in trying to be supportive, Van Gundy was as reductive and reactionary as anyone who wants to just tell Thomas to suck it up and play. Grief is personal, and private, and unique and unpredictable. It hits you in waves, sneaks up on you in odd moments, and isn't something you can really speak to if you aren't going through it.

Except, of course, when you are employed by ESPN, and are paid to speak about anything and everything, without regard to human decency or societal mores.

When you are employed by ESPN, you just go and go and go, with a hot take on everything, because that's what fits their terrible, terrible business model.

Here's what you should say about Thomas and his condition: as little as possible. Respect that the audience for Game is an audience for Game, and does not need, nor even appreciate, your efforts to make it about anything else.

We don't need you to tell us what's more important than all of that, really. We've made the choice to turn on the game, rather than go do yard work or parenting or emotional labor or cleaning or walking the dog or sleeping or any of the billion of other activities that we could be doing instead.

All of which might have more Meaning, because Meaning is where you find it.

And what you should be doing is to respect that choice, and COVER THE GODDAMNED GAME.

Because that is doing your job. You know, what Thomas did by playing today.

Honestly, why is this so hard for them to understand?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

NBA FIrst Round Playoff Picks

Boston v Chicago - Boston in five.
Cleveland vs Indiana - Cleveland in six.
Toronto vs Milwaukee - Toronto in six.
Washington vs Atlanta - Washington in five.
Golden State vs Portland - Golden State in five.
San Antonio vs Memphis - San Antonio in five.
Houston vs Oklahoma City - Houston in five.
Los Angeles vs Utah - Utah in six.

No time for details or defending the picks. Enjoy the games, everyone.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Most Important People In Baseball

The Best There Ever Was
Something struck me the other day, as I was driving back from yet another road trip in my full-on hustle to chase bucks between gigs (yes, why the postings here have gotten few and far between)...

Baseball *is* better on the radio, but only if the radio broadcast team is extraordinarily skilled.

Baseball on the radio just lets you do whatever else you need to do, honestly. Driving for hours, working in the yard, puttering in the work shop or any of the other myriad number of household tasks... all can be done to the fullest of your attention with the soft background of a ballpark where no one is really doing anything of importance, and yet, it doesn't feel exclusionary.

Basketball isn't *bad* on the radio, but if an athlete does something amazing -- and that tends to happen more than a few times a game -- you're cursing yourself for not having it on a screen. In baseball, a fastball strikeout looks a lot like any other fastball strikeout, and a home run looks a lot like other home runs; the outcome matters more than the actual event, and you can pretty much see it in your mind's eye, if you care to. Football on the radio just doesn't work at all, because the actual event is simply a rare event, and you care too much about the event to ever have it be in the background; every game is a de facto playoff event, and playoff events are just not background material.

Which brings us to what has happened to the Philadelphia Phillies in my lifetime, which is pretty much what has happened to any number of franchises. They've gone from legendary broadcasters with stylized performances to, well, jocks. And jock wannabees.

Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn were the voices of my childhood, and they were so good, you'd tune in to games during lost seasons just, well, to hear them. They didn't talk any more than they had to, and their moments of droll humor -- usually in relation to poor umpire performance, because they didn't have the modern illness of talking about things that were Not Game -- were devastatingly effective, because they were so rare and well-timed.

Kalas had a classic announcer voice, the kind that you could just imagine saying ordinary sentences for high hilarity, and when he was excited about something, it was infectious. Whitey Ashburn was just decent and droll and lovable, and much more prone to honest assessments of despair, which is to say that he was the true voice of the fan in a town where torture seems like a birthright. They mixed beautifully, and you felt like they were family, and not just family, but beloved family; the uncles you never got enough of, who made coming to the dinner table worthwhile. They worked the innings that you remembered, and I fully expect to spend the rest of my days, when I listen to Phillies games, missing them.

But part of why I miss them is that the current guys are, well, just meh. Tom McCarthy seems happy to be there and knowledgeable about the product, but he's just a guy, honestly; nothing memorable about him. Larry Anderson is the lead color guy and the living definition of why Funny Jocks aren't actually Funny, and he frankly irritates me with tired cynicism, because you are covering a game, you mook; mark out for it a little. Both guys avoid undue homerism and are professionals, so it's not a painful experience to listen to them, like you get with a lot of the regional broadcasts that you might catch on the MLB Network, but it's a long way down from legendary.

Baseball is the longest season and the most game, and my work situation may involve more exposure to games on the radio this year than I'd hope for, frankly. McCarthy and Anderson may grow on me; they aren't terrible human beings, and are clearly doing the best they can. But they aren't special, and baseball on the radio can be special. It's never easy to accept a lesser product.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Fantasy Sports Are The Worst

Punish, Sir, Punish
Not going to beat around the bush; it's a bad time for me. We're between gigs with no warning or even strong cause, getting the next one may or may not be pending and always takes a wildly longer time then you'd prefer, and keeping a positive attitude during all of that is, um, A Challenge. I spend about 100 hours a week doing work outside the home for a small percentage of my previous salary, and there's no medical benefits. This has been going on for about two months.

There are other issues at work here as well, but that's besides the point for this. Instead, we're going to talk fantasy basketball playoffs.

I know NBA hoop. It's pretty much all I've been watching, because working crazy hours usually involves passing out in front of the television for me when I am home, and changing the channel just seems kind of pointless. And in the midst of this waking nightmare, I've had one thing that has gone right: my fantasy basketball team.

I went all-in on Russell Westbrook this year; that's, um, worked out, with one of the best regular seasons in NBA history. I pursued a stars and scrubs strategy where every single guy that I went hard after (Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green, Goran Dragic and Blake Griffin) has played well over his career norms. I've surfed waiver wires to load up on under the radar multi-category guys who have logged more minutes than at any other points in their career (James Johnson, TJ Warren). I've stayed alert on injury news to grab next man up opportunities (Willie Cauley-Stein in Sacramento for Boogie Cousins, Tim Hardaway Jr in Atlanta for Kyle Korver). I've massaged my roster to make sure that I had maximum coverage for weekly success. It's been a great year.

This week, I've played against the third place team. I had a games advantage. If I were playing the other two teams on the other side of the bracket, I'd have won handily. With just one game left on the roster, my opponent needed a career game from an undersized rookie point guard to have any chance at all, and even if he got that, I had a guy in that game, too.

You know what happens next, right?

My guy (Warren) misses the game with flu-like symptoms. The PG (Tyler Ulis, from the Phoenix Suns; may he burn in hell for all eternity) faced a Houston Rockets team that had a half dozen guys out with injury and apathy issues, as Houston is pretty much locked into the third spot in the playoffs. Ulis is a 40% shooter for the year. Tonight, he shot 14 for 20. Ulis might be five inches taller than I am, and is facing a guy (Patrick Beverly) that's in the NBA for his defense. That's how little Houston has given a damn about this game.

Oh, and I've gotten to see every single second of it, because I'm fighting off a cold that's kept me from working today, and NBA TV has the game on as a special treat.

Final outcome? We tied in the playoff, thanks to one final make from Ulis. The playoff tie breaker appears to be the regular game matchups, which he won... 8 wins to 7, having tied once.

I'm out at least $120 from this, and maybe as much as $360.

From a single make from a rookie having the best game of his life, in a game that no one cared about.

Just. Freaking. Wonderful.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Serpentine Baseball Draft Results

I've given up on hardcore fantasy baseball league work this year, but going completely cold turkey seemed like overkill, especially when I could join a head to head league and talk trash with a lot of people who I've known for decades. So here's this year's exercise in I know less and less about this game, and consequently may finally stop outsmarting myself.

What works about this draft is that I pretty much just surfed ADP for much of it, was able to load up on power guys who are mostly on the upside of their career, and bought in to a bunch of lottery ticket pitchers with upside and injury concerns late. I'm in trouble if any of the offensive guys go down, because I'm thin there, but in a head to head league, the whole goal is to just be live late enough of the year to surf the waiver wire to a win.

That, of course, implies that I'll be in contention that long, or have the time necessary to do the due diligence to keep this group afloat. But I think I've got a puncher's chance, which, considering that I might have spent less than an hour prepping for it this year, is as good as can be hoped/.

Oh, and I don't have to root for slugs like Ryan Braun and Justin Verlander any more. That helps. too.

1.(6)Nolan Arenado (Col - 3B)
2.(19)Max Scherzer (Was - SP)
3.(30)Starling Marte (Pit - OF)
4.(43)Rougned Odor (Tex - 2B)
5.(54)Kyle Schwarber (ChC - C,OF)
6.(67)Carlos Carrasco (Cle - SP)
7.(78)Jean Segura (Sea - 2B,SS)
8.(91)Seung Hwan Oh (StL - RP)
9.(102)Albert Pujols (LAA - 1B)
10.(115)Odubel Herrera (Phi - OF)
11.(126)Cody Allen (Cle - RP)
12.(139)Adam Duvall (Cin - OF)
13.(150)Jeurys Familia (NYM - RP)
14.(163)Kevin Gausman (Bal - SP)
15.(174)Byron Buxton (Min - OF)
16.(187)Steven Matz (NYM - SP)
17.(198)Julio Urías (LAD - SP)
18.(211)Carlos Rodon (CWS - SP)
19.(222)Álex Reyes (StL - SP,RP)
20.(235)Sonny Gray (Oak - SP)
21.(246)Jacoby Ellsbury (NYY - OF)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Sixers Are Failing At Tanking, And It's Delightful

RoCo Wing Span
So a few weeks back at the NBA trade deadline, the Sixers more or less gave up on the season. They traded Nerlens Noel to Dallas in a bone head move, shipped Ersan Ilyasova off to Atlanta for no real value, DLed Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and more or less pulled the plug on anything that could be considered Fun. It was all depressing, but for a fan base that has endured multiple years of Process, that wasn't the most saddening thing. What really took the starch out of our sheets was that we thought those days were behind us, and that we got to root for a fun team again. Hopefully for good, or at least, for a while.

The team got ripped by middling Milwaukee and dull Detroit, and short of seeing if Dario Saric could counting stat his way to the Rookie of the Year award over Embiid, there wasn't going to be anything of consequence going forward. But then a funny thing happened. They went on the road and competed, leading games in the fourth in all four games. And sure, the Lakers and Suns are truly awful, the Clips and Warriors were racked by injury and the club blew leads to lose to both anyway, but still. Competition was nice. Competition meant you didn't feel dumb for watching.

Friday night, they absolutely ripped Dallas apart with a 40-point home win, in a game the Mavs had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Today, they beat Boston for the first time in 11 tries, coming back from 13 down in the third to put a dagger in the hearts of the C's hopes to get home court against the Cavs in the lEastern playoffs.

So what the hell is going on?

Saric, honestly. He was the best player on the floor for the home laundry tonight, tough late, truly multi-faceted and with more than a spark of nasty to him, honestly. He doesn't look anything like a rook anymore, shaking off a 1 for 6 start to end 10 for 20. But there was more to it than the Homey.

A few weeks back, I called the last quarter of the season as all about Richaun Holmes, and his 8/7/5/2/4 line tonight, in 29 selfless minutes, was glue-tastic. He didn't hang his head when Al Horford was having a monster game, and in the fourth, he did outstanding work on loose balls and defensive pressure.

Who else? Honestly, it was all over the roster. Robert Covington went 16/8 with his usual defense. TJ McConnell and Sergio Rodriguez combined for 15/6/14 with just 2 turnovers. Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot, this year's low first round pick from France with athleticism, wasn't great, but he had his moments and no longer looks overwhelmed by NBA speed. (His corner three in the fourth was also absolute butter.) Nik Stauskaus took nothing but threes tonight and made three of them, adding 6 boards, 4 assists and a steal and two blocks. They overcame a 14 shot deficit at the line.

And sure, Boston didn't dress Isiah Thomas and only went 6 for 29 from the arc (Avery Bradley hasn't gotten the memo that he can't make that shot), and probably win if the downballot MVP played, but we're not going to shed too many tears for the opponent not being able to dress their best player.

Next up is a roadie in Orlando against a Magic team that might play people from the stands in an effort to better their draft position. The win drops the Sixers to 5th in the reverse standing for draft position, but honestly, we've been playing that game for so long, I just want to see fun hoop. This team gives us that again, oddly, amazingly. All credit to HC Brett Brown, who should honestly get some Coach of the Year votes for the way he's kept this group focused and developing.

And next year, when the try hard bunch slide back to their optimal bench positions, and (please, Lord, please) Embiid and Simmons show up to jump start the talent level?

Well, young teams don't generally win in the NBA. Neither do big teams; it's a guard-driven league with the arc the way it is. But a good, young, big team where the talent level is off the charts, with a defensive hammer, a coach that develops talent better than anyone in the league, with a do-everything small forward and many other assets?

You still need a GM that doesn't blow it, health and some luck. But that's less than a lot of other teams. And for a team that wasn't sure about its coach, and isn't likely to have 100% health in the future, since it's had anything but that in the recent past?

We'll take it. Along with 26 wins and counting for the season...

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Real Meaning Of Nick Foles' Return To The Eagles

Nappy D Is Back
So the Eagles decided that spending $7mm a year on a guy that hopefully will never play wasn't enough, and decided to bring home one-time Young Gun QB Nick Foles, releasing one-year wonder why that happened Chase Daniel. The move comes with a cap hit, which might go away if Daniel gets a big money job with another NFL franchise, which is to say, the Eagles will get cap relief if pigs fly out of my butt. Seeing as I don't eat a lot of pig anymore -- that's pricey protein! -- we're not holding our breath. But let's get beyond the money being spent and into the personnel.

For a guy that supposedly knew the offense and had such a good rapport with HC Doug Pederson, Daniel never looked like, well, a guy that was at all comfortable here. He's small, not as mobile as you might hope for, and the ball just doesn't look good coming out of his hands. His preseason work last year was punctuated with nothing encouraging, and dude was seemingly asking for his release even before the Foles trade, because he's still got dreams of QB1. Which seems nuts to me, but what the hell, Cleveland exists, and multiple McNowns and Detmers have gotten snaps, so you do you, son.

However, honestly, why does anyone who is on path to make eight figures in lifetime earnings without having to put up with the life-threatening misery of QB1... really want to step up in weight class? Life is short, concussions are probably inevitable and not something everyone just gets better from, and QB2 is the cushiest job in football. No one expects you to win games, you are super popular so long as no one has to see you work, and so long as you don't raise a ruckus while you carry your clipboard, all is well. Maybe you have to do some special teams work and hang out with the kicker a little, but still. I've had worse gigs. You probably have, too.

As for Foles... well, he's got the fluke year to end all fluke years in Nero Kelly Year One, and his career won-loss record might be better than any QB2 in the NFL, given that the club went 6-2 when he was under center in the follow-up year. (Foles really didn't have much to do about that, and played shaky / was hurt enough to make Nero pull the trigger for Sam Bradford, but, um, Nero.)

Foles is, of course, tall as hell, about as mobile as a futon, turnover-prone and doesn't throw nearly as nice of a deep ball as you might imagine for a moose... but QB2 standards are quite low, and he's certainly more of a physical match for Carson Wentz than Daniel, at least until he actually has to move his feet. I'd prefer my backup to be mobile, because I generally suspect that QB2 got into the game because QB1 got hurt when the rush took him out, but we're not going to quibble about this. All you really hope to have here is a guy that gives you a chance, and Foles probably does that better than Daniel.

Unfortunately, money paid to QB2 still counts against the salary cap, and Foles is going to make even more than Daniel... which gets us to true WTFery. You'll notice that Smart Teams (New England, Seattle) never spend big on the back up, and yet they still get production out of That Guy, because they coach the hell out of them. The fact that the Eagles under Howie Rosemann / Doug Pederson keep hiring very expensive binkies should be seen as what it is: a vote of no confidence in a young coach that isn't elevating the talent.

So. Foles in for Daniel, and from an on the field product standpoint, probably a good signing. From a GM / what it all means standpoint? Not so much...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mad Structure

You Must... Fill Me
(Note: I wrote this for my corporate blog, but thought y'all might enjoy it here as well.)

As it's Selection Sunday as I write this, and I'm a very lapsed college basketball fan but a very strong professional one, I'm struck by the annual urge to dive into the tournament anyway.

Mostly because it's a teachable marketing moment.

Why? The absolutely perfect structure of the enterprise.

For all but the diehards, college basketball really isn't something you need to pay too much attention to before the actual tournament starts. Unlike the 82-game NBA regular season, the college game seems extremely skippable, since it's overlapped by other sports during its run time, and doesn't really matter beyond the highly transitory "who got snubbed" arguments. Sure, if you root for a school in a power conference and they win that title, it's nice, but it's forgotten as soon as the Madness begins.

A word about the timing. It's usually perfectly coinciding with spring celebrations like St Patrick's Day and some spring breaks. It's deep enough into the year that taking a couple days off for a 4-day orgy of bracket obsession is within reach of many workers. The highlight footage of dunks, last second shots, favorites asserting themselves, and so on translates to every platform in our digital age. There hasn't been a tournament yet that lacked for drama, because many of the games are coin flips, and a 40-minute basketball game falls into the small data sample that says anything can happen, and just might. The NBA more or less goes on mute during that initial blast, with networks switching over to the tournament. Football doesn't compete. Baseball is playing games that don't matter. It's a nearly extinct rarity in American media; a ceded time slot with a lack of competition.

The only actual problem is... the product.

Purists talk about how collegians care more and try harder on defense; this is not true, it's just that they are comparing playoff games in the tournament to not equal moments in the NBA. (Try to find lapsed defense in a Game 7, which is, in effect, what all NCAA tournament games are.) Others talk about how into it the crowds are, and sure, but again, Game 7s. The only real difference between the tournament and the NBA playoffs is the structure, which rewards luck far more than the meat grinder nature of the pro game.

Beyond the structure, there's no comparison. The NBA attracts talent from six continents at the height of their physical skills, puts them in the presence of the finest coaches in the world, then pits them against each other in a Darwinian endurance test to qualify for the post-season and acquire home court advantage. Next, it throws the same opponents together for a minimum of 192 minutes of court time to see who is best.

The coaches only coach; there is no recruiting. The players only play; there is no pretense at education, and if they choose to spend the whole of their lives at their craft, their teams will not suffer sanctions. The officiating is at a higher standard, and so is the sports medicine, scouting, practice time, strategies, and so on. It's just a better game.

And yet... that perfect structure. The bands, the crowds, the sense that if you aren't picking a bracket you are just denying yourself joy. Even though brackets almost never end in joy. The nostalgia, if you went to a school that's participating, for times gone by.

From a marketing and advertising perspective, we spend our lives seeking for similar business models and experiences. Structures that write themselves, creatives that play into such advantages, locked and loaded concepts that never fail.

We almost never find them, and even when we do, they don't endure like the NCAA tournament does.


Find a perfect one, and everything else falls in its sway.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Eagles Get Actual Wideouts

2016 Eagles Wideout Storage
So my football laundry, after spending 2016 watching their prized rookie QB try to make a passing offense out of circus animals and pencil shavings, made quite the splash in free agency yesterday.

The small beer component of this is Torrey Smith from the Niners, and while Smith is something of a name from his time with Baltimore, he's probably not all that much. Smith's never really mastered more in life than the straight line deep ball, and as good as Carson Wentz looked last year, that part of his game? Not so much. At 28, Smith isn't exactly moving to the prized years of his life as a deep burner, but at least he keeps Little Nell Agholor and Bryce Treggs from failing to even stretch the defense.

No, the actual news is where the club got Alshon Jeffery from Chicago, and that's a guy who looked fairly special in his first three years in the league, with +2800 yards and 20 TDs in those halcyon days. The last two years have petered off to 1600 and 6 scores combined, with injury and suspension costing him 11 of 32 starts, but when he's on his game, Jeffery is a legitimate WR1, which is to say, the team's first since Jeremy Maclin. He's also 6'3" and 218 while still being quick; he passes the eye test and is a threat all over the field.

Which leads us to the not so hidden bummer factor here; Jeffery took a one-year prove it deal at $14mm, and all indications are that he's basically trying to break the bank with his next contract. So we might have a true ballhog kind of guy, which in theory isn't such a nice thing in the locker room, but in practice? I'll take it. Wentz isn't exactly a shrinking violet in terms of spreading the ball around, and Jeffery gets tolerable but secondary talents like Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz back to their correct place as WR2 and TE Whatever.

If you believe the hype, Philly was able to get Jeffery's name on a contract despite the presence of presumably better places like New England and Indianapolis, as well as Chicago's attempt to keep him around. So that speaks to top tier talent also believing in Wentz, and maybe even (I'm dreaming) HC Doug Pederson.

What I'm especially fond of here is that the club isn't putting Wentz's development at risk by repeating 2016's mistake of assuming he can elevate replacement level talent. There were an inordinate number of plays last year, especially as the season wore on and Wentz grew more comfortable buying time with his feet, where the wideouts just couldn't separate, no matter how much time they had to do so. Jeffery is big enough to just wall off a catch radius, and also fast enough to do that for more than marginal yardage.

So does this make the club a playoff possibility next year? Well, as nice as it will be to have actual threats on the wides again, the most important person on the offense last year was T Lane Johnson; his presence at the start and end of the year, bookended by his second suspension for a PED violation, more or less matched the time that the team was good. Jeffery also doesn't fix the problem that the team doesn't really have any good CBs -- yeah, cutting loose of Eric Rowe and Brandon Maxwell in the post-Chip Kelly purges might not have been the best move -- and in the NFL these days, you need at least three of those to compete, let alone zero.

But at least now they don't have to try to convince anyone that Agholor is a football player, that Dorial Green-Beckham will develop a working brain for something other than a slant and OPI/holding, that summer hero Paul Turner is a name you have to remember for any reason, and that Matthews is capable of being more than an acceptable slot guy with shaky hands.

Also, and this is absolutely killer?

That they can simply take the best available player in the upcoming draft, rather than going for need.

Since going for need is what led us to Agholor in the first place...

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