August 15, 2011

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Are the Eagles the NFL’s Version of the Miami Heat?

By: Anson Whaley

When the final buzzer sounded on the 2010-11 NBA season, basketball fans across the globe celebrated wildly as the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat in six games. Sure there was a contingent out there (particularly in Miami) that felt differently, but the majority of NBA fans were happy to see the underdog Mavericks win the title.

The Philadelphia Eagles aren’t quite as hated, though – mostly because football is not nearly the individualized sport that basketball is. In basketball, much of the game is broken down to one-on-one matchups and football is more of a team sport. That fact makes it far easier for a single player to dominate a game. However, there are some parallels that can be drawn between the Heat and the Eagles.

Chief amongst them is the fact that both franchises have a polarizing figure leading the way. Miami has Lebron James and Philadelphia now leans on quarterback Michael Vick. Vick became a controversial figure after being jailed for his involvement in a dogfighting ring and while he’s slowly making his way back into the good graces of fans, there is still a large segment of the population that simply won’t root for him. James, of course, did not end up in jail, but his television special in which he announced he was going to the Miami Heat made him unpopular over the past season.

The main reason the Eagles may be hated on a Heat-esqe level is because of the large amount of stars they’ve added since last season. Things officially kicked off when they traded backup quarterback Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Rodgers-Cromartie is a player that can help the Eagles’ secondary right away and in trading Kolb, they let go of a player who likely wouldn’t have seen much time on the field (barring an injury to Michael Vick, of course). Another splash was made when they signed free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha – perhaps the top defensive player on the market. The Eagles then followed that up with several more signings, highlighted by the pickups of 1,000-yard rusher Ronnie Brown and 1,000-yard receiver Steve Smith. Brown will backup Lesean McCoy and Smith will be the No. 2 receiver behind Desean Jackson, but both could play integral roles on this year’s team.

Another wildcard in the offseason was the acquisition of quarterback Vince Young. Young, once considered one of the brightest young quarterbacks in the NFL, certainly isn’t expected to start. But should the scrambling Vick become injured, he gives Philadelphia an experienced backup who will have plenty of weapons at his disposal should he need to step in and play. Young has struggled over the past few seasons playing for the Tennessee Titans, but he didn’t have the talent around him that he does now. Even if Vick doesn’t get hurt over the course of the season, Young could also play a part in some trick plays that would utilize a bit of his extreme athleticism.

There’s also the fact that Philly fans are, well, Philly fans. They have a strong reputation for being a bit too hard-nosed and are often the derision of other sports fans. This is, after all, the fanbase that once booed Santa Claus. Santa Claus!

Really, when you think about it, the Eagles aren’t so much Miami Heat as they are New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. They didn’t round up three of the best players in the league, but they did manage to secure about a half dozen key pickups this offseason that will greatly strengthen the team at various positions. Either way, though, the Eagles will face lots of opposition from fans outside of Philadelphia.

August 8, 2011

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NBA Lockout Far Different Than NFL Version

By: Anson Whaley

When it comes to lockouts in professional sports ending a season, my stance is generally that things will sort themselves out before a season is lost. Obviously that’s not always the case as the 2005 NHL work stoppage proved, but the recent NFL lockout was the perfect example that the opportunity exists for logic and common sense to win out. In short, the players need the money and owners of profitable teams don’t want to lose cash flow or goodwill they’ve spent years building up with communities. Sports, in essence, are one of the most important things to a city. Even when things may not be going well economically, residents can look forward to the fact that they have a team they can support.

An NFL lockout was averted at the last minute and not only will there be a NFL season in 2011, it will be a complete one save for the annual preseason NFL Hall of Fame game. Unfortunately for NBA fans, though, the NBA lockout may have a far different outcome since the players and owners have legitimate reasons for not rushing into a deal.

The biggest reason that NBA players will be able to afford to hold out for a better deal is because of the number of professional leagues overseas. Unlike the NFL where few viable professional leagues exist, basketball has become a global sport and there are numerous options available in Europe to NBA stars. The most important aspect of all of this is that players can not only make money, but good money. Some teams may even pay additional expenses such as apartment rentals.

Some lower-level players are already signing contracts overseas and even some of the league’s biggest stars such as Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, and Dwight Howard are said to be giving the option significant consideration. Most players would not dream of risking the ability to play in the NBA in the event there is a season, so over the next few weeks, you can expect to see more and more players sign overseas deals with clauses allowing them to return to their respective NBA clubs once the lockout ends. Under that scenario, the players can earn money but still return to the NBA once the opportunity exists. In addition, those taking advantage of that situation will also be in far better physical shape than athletes sitting at home busy filling out their NFL fantasy football rosters and will have the opportunity to face some quality competition. Players will not only benefit financially by playing overseas, but they should also perform better once the season starts.

Will these players get a chance for another NBA Title?

In addition, the owners also have an incentive to wait until a better situation comes along. In the midst of the NBA season last year, the league claimed that 22 of its 30 teams were losing money. That’s a far different situation than the NFL, which is an enormous moneymaker. At this point, many NBA teams may be better off waiting until they can be more profitable. As much fun as it might sound to hold the keys to an NBA franchise, owners are ultimately in business to make money. For teams losing money, the prospect of not playing a season may not sound all that frightening. 

A factor that both sides will take into consideration is that the season is far longer than that of the NFL. With the playoffs, an NBA season can last about eight months. Add in training camp and the NBA offseason for teams that advance deep into the postseason is an extremely short break compared to their NFL counterparts. Some NBA players would welcome more time off and as the owners know from the lockout in 1998-99, a season can still be played even if it doesn’t start until later in the year. Both sides can do their best to negotiate a fair deal and still make some money by salvaging part of the season.

Unlike the NFL, NBA fans may unfortunately be in for a lockout that wipes out part or all of the season if negotiations don’t pick up.

June 29, 2011

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Top NBA Free Agents

By: Rick Jarrell

NBA Playoffs are over. The draft has been completed. What now? Free agency!

The looming collective bargaining agreement, set to expire June 30, is more than likely going to hinder the beginning of the free agency period. Hopefully the owners and players can hash out their differences in a relatively short time span, but we’re still going to be forced to talk about offseason moves, even though they can’t happen yet, slightly longer this year.

The 2011 NBA free agent class is nowhere near as heralded as last year’s barrage of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, and David Lee. But there’s interesting players out, a few sure to sign max contracts.

Nene Hilario

Every team can use another frontcourt bruiser, and at 28 years old, Nene will surely garner at least a four year contract. Left behind in the midseason trade of Carmelo Anthony as the only remaining building block, Nene’s performance in the second half helped lead the team to the playoffs. Putting up 14 points and 7 rebounds a game, plus a block and a steal, could turn into a solid double-double provider night in night out on the right team. Plus at 6-11, 250 pounds, the man can play both the 4 and 5 positions.

The downside, which I actually see as an upside in some respect, is how Nene makes an impact. He’s a glass man – gets rebounds, tips balls to his teammates, and cleans up the mess. Running plays designed for him consistently is not likely to pay off. But his willingness to do the dirty work outweighs, and a backdoor layup is right up his alley.

Tyson Chandler

What a difference a year makes. A season ago, Tyson Chandler was deemed expendable by the Charlotte Bobcats after his worst statistical year and burgeoning knee problems. But the Dallas Mavericks took a chance that paid off. Chandler provided a key force near the rim during the finals, limiting the impact of Miami’s Big Three.

Chandler has a similar problem to Nene, to a greater degree, in that he is not offensive minded. Aside from rebounds and put backs, his value is on the defensive end. Blocks, steals, help defense, the whole lot. Chandler has readily admitted he likes defense, that’s where he belongs. Plus, even though it feels like he’s been in the ABA merged into the NBA, he’s only 28 years old. The knee may cause some concern, but someone (possibly the Mavericks), will take another chance.

Marc Gasol

The Memphis Grizzlies have stated they intend to resign their rising star. But after paying Rudy Gay and Mike Conley last summer and Zach Randolph a couple months ago, and uncertainty regarding salary cap rules, they may not have the funds left to make a deal. Gasol will surely have a high price tag. His sweet mid-range jumper (for which he does not jump) helped power the Grizzlies past the number one seed Spurs in the first round. Rebounding and defense come in the package, as well. But despite his size, don’t expect him to post up anyone on the block and back them down. Gasol is more effective on the move, using his mid-range shot and a variety of “trick” shots, in addition to put backs.

He’s the kind of player you’d love to see on your team. No one would have ever thought the “Pau Gasol trade,” where the Lakers and Griz swapped brothers years ago, would look like a decent move Memphis.

David West

A late addition to the bunch, and another front court player! West said this week he would test the NBA free agent market this summer, likely because of the constant rumors swirling around Chris Paul’s longevity in New Orleans (more Decision fallout!). Averaging a quiet 19 points and 7.5 rebounds for another season, West suffered a potentially career-threatening ACL injury before the playoffs. If healthy, he’s arguably at the top of this group (Gasol could be, too). But a serious knee injury for a 30 year old big man causes concern. He’ll probably get a decent sized contract, assuming he passes a physical, but the tail end of his contract may become an issue.

June 16, 2011

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NBA Offseason Stories

By: Rick Jarrell

Alas, one of the better NBA seasons in recent memory has come to an exciting end. The Dallas Mavericks took the crown as unlikely champions, overpowering the surprisingly ineffective big three of the Miami Heat. Much has been said about each team since the series ended Sunday, positive and negative – who came through, who didn’t, potential offseason roster move – all a strong precursor to another summer of rumors and mayhem for the NBA. Here’s what I’m watching.

What Will the Champs Do?

The Dallas Mavericks, who used their deep bench to push past the Heat in the NBA finals, have a lot of important players up for free agency. Most notably is America’s new sub six foot hero, J.J. Barea, who provided a scoring spark off the bench and eventually, as a starter. Tyson Chandler, the rugged, dirty work center is also free to go as he pleases. Outspoken owner Mark Cuban, for which money has never been an issue with his players, has stated he will resign the two. But will that be enough to seriously contend next year? Rumors are swirling about a play for 2012 free agents Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Derron Williams… but these are considered long shots… nothing more than entertainment until the next season begins.

Can Miami Add Another Piece?

Maybe the question should be, do they need another piece? The big three, although the NBA finals didn’t go as well as they hoped, began to mold together toward the end of the season. Another season together, with a healthy Udonis Haslem, may be all they need. But it won’t shock me to see Pat Riley try to pull off some moves, so look for them to upgrade their front court and perimeter shooters. They don’t have a lot of pieces to give back in a trade, but you never know – if you would have told me a year ago LeBron James and Chris Bosh would join Dwayne Wade in Miami, I would have laughed in your face, simultaneously making a fool out of myself.

What About the Rising Two

The Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder made strong strides to become arguably two of the top four teams in the league. Carried on the shoulders of their young stars in Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant respectively, fans are looking for each team to make the leap to the NBA finals next season. Will these two young teams wait for their talent to grow internally and hope that’s enough, or will they go after a free agent or seek an impact trade?

The Bulls need to upgrade the shooting guard position, so look for them to package some of their younger players for a capable scorer. They were also exposed by LeBron James, who shut down Rose in the conference finals, as a one trick pony on offense. The upgrade at the two would help, but more production out of the frontcourt – in some manner – would help, as well.

The Thunder have a stronger core of young talent than the Bulls. If Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka can continue to development at this pace, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with. But General Manager Sam Presti is one of the savviest front office men in the league, and I expect him to do something. Whether it is obviously impactful this year, or next, is another question.

The Draft

Although the 2011 draft class is less stellar than many in years past, the excitement surrounding the potential of these college kids and international players still exists. As a Cleveland fan, I’m especially interested in what the Cavs do with the first and fourth pick. Duke point guard Kyrie Irving will be the first pick, barring a severe change of mind, but the fourth is a question. They may trade up for Minnesota’s pick to take Derrick Williams with the second pick. They may trade down for the Piston’s eight pick. Who knows.

The Lockout

I’ve avoided this word for the latter part of the season. It’s sad. It’s depressing. I just want basketball to come back in November. So instead of monitoring the daily updates regarding the collective bargaining agreement, I’m going to wait until the contract is actually signed to figure out the implications. I’m already lost now that the season is over; I don’t want to think I’ll still be lost in November.

June 9, 2011

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Top Nicknames in the NBA

By: Rick Jarrell

Shaq was arguably one of the most animated NBA players of all time. Throughout his 19 year career, the dominating center was rarely shy with media, offering up various analogies and nicknames for himself and others. He named himself “Shaq Diesel”, the “Big Aristotle,” and the “Big Deporter,” and named Dwayne Wade “Flash.”

Now that the “Big Shamrock” has decided to call it quits, one may suspect the large exit to include an evacuation of hilariously awesome nicknames. Not true. They may not be contained within one large man anymore, instead scattered around the league, but they’re still there. You just have to look.

The Beard

A rising star in his sophomore season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, James Harden has a nickname that fits. “The Beard,” given due to Harden’s monstrously profuse beard, has an old school flavor that matches his old school game. Harden never seems to be moving as quick as the other NBA players, but still finds a way to make plays and get to the rim. Much like his nickname, “The Beard” wreaks of simple confidence, conjuring up images of Earl “The Pearl” Washington. He provided a spark plug off the bench for the Thunder in the second half of the season and during their playoff run. Was it because of the beard? I can confidently say, yes.

Boom Dizzle

Baron Davis earned his much more modern nickname during his early career, with menacing open court vision and thunderous dunks – his UCLA highlight reel is especially tantalizing. Boom Dizzle has had an up down career, reaching All-Star teams but suffering lows at every stop – clashing with Byron Scott in New Orleans, leaving Golden State after a rift with the front office, not performing up to par with the Clippers (although that’s not his fault), and landing with the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers. As a fan, I’ve been impressed with the Boom Dizzle that arrived at the trading deadline, and as a longtime fan, I’m excited for his expectedly short tenure with the team. If Dan Gilbert is willing to pay him the next few years to give me the ability to scream “BOOM DIZZLE” a few times a game, I’m a happy man.

Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono

The Human Victory Cigar

 The few players before this one may have had somewhat obvious nicknames. But this one is rarity. Awesome on many levels. First, because it’s long. Second, because it is well thought out and creative. Third, it exemplifies winning. And fourth, because it almost seems like it belongs to the wrong player. You’d think it would be one of the greats, like Robert Horry—but no, he’s Big Shot Bob. Or Michael Jordan even, due to his affinity for dominating and cigars, but no. Who owns it you say? The infamous former number two overall pick, Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Darko Milicic.

Of course, Milicic was branded this way because in his first few NBA seasons he was only inserted into the game when his team, the Pistons, had already locked up the win.  His 40 seconds of playing time meant that Detroit was up by 20 points and there was absolutely no chance of its opponent coming back.   Since those first years in the league, “The Human Victory Cigar” has garnered his fair share of negative media attention, and somehow managed to simultaneously become a sort of counter culture hero. And that counter culture is the likely source of one of the best nicknames in the NBA. Cheers to you, underground back up power forward fan club.