January 8, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

NHL labor agreement in sight: The NHL lockout wasn’t officially over as of this weekend, but it’s looking like it could be soon. A tentative agreement has been reached by the players and owners and barring anything crazy, we should have hockey this year. The good news is that assuming this is finalized, the tentative deal is for a reported ten years, according to ESPN. That should mean several years of peace between the two sides without any interruption. Lockouts always hurt any sport and hockey surely has many disgruntled fans as a result of the recent work stoppage. But with the NFL winding down, the NBA will be the only major professional league in season. For non-basketball fans, that leaves few options.

RGIII was more heralded coming into the playoffs, but Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were the ones advancing to the next round of the playoffs.

Russell Wilson outlasts Andrew Luck and RGIII: Russell Wilson was one of three rookie quarterbacks to reach the NFL playoffs this season. But of the trio, he was clearly the least heralded. The ColtsAndrew Luck and the RedskinsRobert Griffin III were the league’s two top picks in last year’s draft and Wilson was a bit of an afterthought. But after the Colts were soundly defeated by the Baltimore Ravens and RGIII’s Redskins went down at the hands of the Seahawks, Wilson is the only one still standing. What’s more is that many will give Seattle a chance to knock off the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons next week. Wilson’s magical season might not be ending right away and the rookie could find himself in the NFC Championship game with another good game.

Timberwolves’ injury woes continue with Kevin Love hand injury: The Minnesota Timberwolves have been crushed with injuries this season. Josh Howard suffered a season-ending injury and was subsequently waived. Star guard Ricky Rubio has missed 20 games. Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, and Malcolm Lee are all currently out with various injuries. And now, the team’s best player, forward Kevin Love, is out with a hand injury. Love was out for several weeks earlier this year with a broken hand and the injury appears to have resurfaced. Timberwolves’ fans have to be frustrated particularly because it’s easy to see a world of potential with this team. Even with all of the players missing time, Minnesota is still .500 on the year with a 15-15 record. The team is only a ½ game out of a playoff spot and without the injuries, they would arguably be among the conference’s top eight teams.

Syracuse’s Doug Marrone reportedly leaving to coach NFL’s Bills: The Syracuse Orange were dealt a bit of a blow when it was announced over the weekend that their head coach Doug Marrone was likely on his way out to coach the Buffalo Bills. Syracuse’s football program had been struggling mightily since the 1990s, but Marrone seemed to have helped them turn the corner. The team won eight games this season, tied for the most victories they’ve had in the past decade. It was also only the second time during that span when the team has finished over .500. The program can and will go on without Marrone, but heading into the ACC next season having to find a new coach isn’t an ideal situation.

Dontrelle Willis trying to make comeback with Cubs: When a young Dontrelle Willis burst onto the Major League Baseball scene in 2003, he was heralded as one of the league’s brightest stars. But after a few successful seasons with the Marlins, Willis’ flame quickly went out. He was named the National League Rookie of the year and won 44 games over the next three years. But since then, it’s been all downhill for the pitcher. After an ERA of over 5.00 in 2007, Willis was dealt to the Detroit Tigers where he was even worse over the next three seasons. He struggled with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds in 2010 and 2011 and has been out of the majors ever since. The deal with the Cubs is reportedly a minor league one and Willis will have to earn a spot if he wants to end up back in the major leagues. At only 31, he could still have some productive seasons if he’s able to turn it around. But having struggled through several seasons, the odds are probably against him.

January 2, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Adrian Peterson barely misses Eric Dickerson’s record: I’ll admit that I was among the doubters not believing that Minnesota Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson could break Eric Dickerson’s long-standing record of 2,105 rushing yards in a season. But Peterson shocked me (and probably a lot of other people) in rushing for 199 yards, coming much closer than expected. In the end, he fell only nine yards short of the goal and despite the happy face he may put on this week, it’s hard to imagine he’s not at least a bit disappointed. Peterson still should have a few more productive seasons ahead of him, but reaching the rarefied air that he did this year may never happen again. Even if it doesn’t, though, congratulations are in order for an MVP-type season and one of the best ever for a running back. Plus, the win over the Packers gave the Vikings a playoff berth and ultimately, that’s a pretty nice consolation prize for Peterson.

Drafted in April, Andrew Luck is now taking the Colts to the NFL Playoffs.

Avery Johnson fired as coach of Nets: The Brooklyn Nets made a fairly surprising move by firing head coach Avery Johnson. Assistant P.J. Carlesimo is leading the way for now, but the franchise also has an eye on Phil Jackson. For Johnson, it was a tale of two months. The former NBA guard had the Nets out to an 11-4 start in November and looking like one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. But then came a 3-10 stretch in December and that ultimately cost him his job. Part of the reason for that downfall can be attributed to the loss of star center Brook Lopez, who missed six games due to injury. But with so much talent, more was expected of the team at this point in the season. Johnson should get another opportunity with a different team down the line, though. Before serving as the Nets’ coach, he led the Dallas Mavericks to the playoffs in each of his four years with the franchise and also took them to the NBA Finals in 2006.

Hideki Matsui retires: Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui ended his long career by officially announcing his retirement last week. Matsui spent a total of 20 seasons playing Japanese and American baseball and in ten major league seasons, he hit 175 home runs and batted .282 with the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Tampa Bay Rays, and Oakland Athletics. Even factoring in his 332 home runs in Japan, Matsui still isn’t a likely Hall of Famer. But he was certainly an above-average major leaguer. Matsui finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2003, was a two-time All-Star, and won a World Series Most Valuable Player Award.

Three Rookie quarterbacks make playoffs: When a rookie quarterback leads a team to the NFL playoffs, it’s a big accomplishment. When three do it in the same year, it’s probably time to call the Mayans for another apocalyptic prediction. That’s what happened this year as the ColtsAndrew Luck, the RedskinsRobert Griffin III, and the SeahawksRussell Wilson led their franchises to the postseason. The amazing thing is that none were just along for the ride, either. Luck broke the rookie passing record, throwing for more than 4,100 yards this season, while Griffin had the NFL’s second-best passer rating and Wilson tallied 26 touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards.

Kevin Ollie named permanent UConn head coach: Ollie, a former player, was named as UConn’s permanent head men’s basketball coach with a reported five-year deal. Following the retirement of Jim Calhoun, Ollie was given the job on a sort of trial run with only a one-year deal. But so far this season, he’s steered the Huskies to a 9-2 record and convinced the administration that he was capable of leading the program. Replacing Calhoun is a tough task and Ollie will have his work cut out for him if he wants to achieve as much as the former coach did. The key here is that the new deal will make things much easier for him on recruiting. Instead of telling prospective players that he hopes to still be on the job next year, he can now virtually assure them that he will.

Brandon Roy hopes to continue comeback bid: Just a few years ago, Brandon Roy was one of the top young guards in the NBA. In his first four seasons with the Portland Trailblazers, Roy averaged nearly 20 points a game and made three All-Star teams. But knee issues forced him to suddenly retire after a disappointing 2010-11 season. Roy made a comeback this year with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but is still suffering with the condition and has only appeared in a few games so far this year. Roy has weighed another retirement, but is hoping to get back on the court after dealing with the chronic knee pain. The decision has to be difficult for him. He’s still young enough that he could have several seasons in front of him if the pain can be treated. But at some point, the conditioning day in and day out to be able to play has to be a burden.

July 3, 2012

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NBA Draft Winners & Losers – 2009

By: Joe Williams

The New Orleans Hornets just became championship contenders in 2016. The Houston Rockets crashed and burned in their attempt to trade for Dwight Howard. The Brooklyn Nets screwed up big-time when they traded their pick for Gerald Wallace, who is about to leave as a free agent. At least that’s what all the analysts were saying after last week’s NBA draft. Of course, we all know things will look much different a couple years from now. So let’s go back to 2009 and see who really won and lost on draft night.

Winners

Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers took Blake Griffin with the first pick in the draft. He has become one of the biggest stars in the NBA with his reckless style of play and ferocious dunks and according to reports he has just informed the team that he plans to sign a five-year extension.

Blake Griffin has helped turn around the Los Angeles Clippers franchise.

Oklahoma City Thunder
With the third pick, the Thunder grabbed James Harden. He has turned into the NBA’s best sixth-man and one of the key players for a team that has been to the conference finals and NBA Finals in the last two seasons. Now they have to figure out how to keep him long-term to play alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Other winners

Sacramento KingsTyreke Evans

Golden State WarriorsStephen Curry

Milwaukee BucksBrandon Jennings

Philadelphia 76ersJrue Holiday

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Losers

Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies had two first round picks and walked away with Hasheem Thabeet as the second pick in the draft and DeMarre Carroll at No. 27. Both players were sent down to the NBA Developmental League and eventually traded to Houston. Memphis has still managed to become one of the better teams in the league but it didn’t happen on draft night in 2009.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Nobody made more picks than the T-Wolves. With six picks they came up with a point guard who didn’t join the team until 2011 and then tore his ACL (Ricky Rubio), a point guard who had a promising rookie campaign but has only started nine games since and is now on his third team (Jonny Flynn),  a point guard (noticing a pattern here?) that was traded to Denver for a future draft pick (Ty Lawson), a guard who has started just 12 games and averages six points a game (Wayne Ellington),  a guard who was traded to Dallas and has never played in the NBA (Nick Calathes), and a forward (apparently there were no more guards on the board) who has never played in the NBA.

Other losers

Orlando Magic – No picks

Houston  Rockets – No picks

February 22, 2012

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NBA’s 25 and Under All-Excitement Team

By: Matt Bowen

The NBA’s future is bright because of a handful of young stars that stuff the stat sheets on a nightly basis.  It’s hard to believe but each player on this list is under the age of 25.

Whether it’s dishing the rock, banging the boards or shooting the lights out, these players consistently leave crowds in awe. All of these players will be present at the upcoming NBA All-Star game where their playground-like basketball skills will be on display.

Four of these five kids will make the 2012 USA Olympic Basketball Team as they are now the embodiment of the “Dream Team.”

If a naysayer were to see these guys take the court, their opinion of the modern-day NBA would change in an instant. These players are fun to watch and they make it look easy.

Here is the NBA’s 25 and Under All-Excitement Team:

Derrick Rose: This kid is only 23 years old and has already won an NBA MVP Award.

Being that Rose is a member of the Chicago Bulls, he has the biggest shoes to fill and has done a marvelous job thus far. Right now the Bulls have a 26-8 record and look to make a deep run in the playoffs.

Rose is a master on the court who knows how to handle every situation. He can turn the game upside down in a heartbeat and leave the fans thirsting for more. Knowing that Rose will dominate the game for the next decade leaves NBA die-hards with a smile on their faces.

Derrick Rose is one of the many young players making the NBA "must-see" TV.

Jeremy Lin: Three weeks ago, no one knew who Jeremy Lin was. Now, the 23-year-old is the hottest thing since sliced bread. Lin’s meteoric rise to fame has been justified by his stats. Since becoming a starter on February 4, Lin has scored 20-plus points in 9-of-10 games.

Most importantly, he brought the New York Knicks back from the dead and has made New York City a basketball city. Anyone who can single-handedly make the Knicks relevant again deserves all the credit in the world.

“Linsanity” continues to sweep the nation as we speak. The upcoming All-Star game will only bring more notoriety his way.

Kevin Durant: What’s not to love about this guy? He’s the all-around most exciting player to watch in the NBA night-in and night-out.

Durant is capable of a triple-double at the drop of a hat and his recent 51 point performance is proof that he’s “must-see TV.”

This year he’s averaging 27.7 points per game to go along with 8.2 rebounds. He’s the new-age NBA prototype—6’9” with superior ball-handling skills and deadly range. Wow.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have a future first-ballot Hall of Famer on their hands.

Blake Griffin: Just when sports fans thought the days of the innovative slam-dunk were over, Blake Griffin changed our minds. The Los Angeles Clippers youngster is like nothing the NBA has ever seen before.

His dunks are like violent poetry—so graceful yet so explosive—a true stroke of genius.

What he’s capable of next is almost unfathomable. Fans can only hold their breath as they wait for the rooftop to blow.

Besides his rim-rocking jams Griffin is a great basketball player. This season, like last, he’s averaging a double-double. In today’s game that feat is rarely accomplished.

Expect Griffin’s Fatheads to be plastered on the walls of children and art collectors alike for years to come.

Kevin Love: If anything, he deserves some more love. The Minnesota Timberwolves big man is the most underrated player in the entire NBA.

He’s capable of filling the box score with 20 points and 20 rebounds on any given night. A pure rebounder is hard to come by in today’s NBA and Love’s picture should be in the dictionary under the word “rebound.”

Love gives his team a chance to win on a nightly basis with his 25.5 points/game and 14.2 rebounds. His most ridiculous stat is that he’s only gone two games this season without a double-double.

Make sure to keep your eye on Love this weekend at the All-Star game—he’s worth it.

June 22, 2011

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NBA Draft Day Stories

By: Rick Jarrell

Since Joe already beat me to the mock NBA draft, I’ll take a look at story lines to watch and potential trades that may go down this Thursday. Around this time each year, the rumor mill begins churning full throttle as the draft becomes near and free agency begins. This year, with the NBA lockout looming over our heads, potentially limiting the free agency period, there is even more excitement around the draft.  Excitement despite a widely believed weak draft class, which coincidentally, is attributable to the expected lockout. Is your head spinning? It may spin a little more after reading this.

Cleveland Tries to Replace LeBron

As a lifelong Cavalier fan, I’m willing to realize that we Cleveland fans might be the only people extremely interested in this NBA draft. Not only will we get a building block to revamp the team, but two. But despite Cleveland’s feelings regarding LeBron post-decision, I don’t think anyone believes he can be replaced. Two picks in the top five is a start, though.

Despite the smoke signals being sent out by the front office, I fully expect them to take Kyrie Irving numero uno. He’s the safest bet in a risky draft, and coach Byron Scott needs a strong point guard to build around and run his offensive system. Baron Davis is great when he wants to be, but is on the back end of his career. And Ramon Sessions showed signs of progress at the end of last season, but he’s better suited as a scoring option off of the bench. Irving has to be the pick.

With the fourth pick, they’ll take…? If they keep the pick, they need a stronger front court, leaving it a tossup between Enes Kanter and Jonas Valanciunas. Contradicting reports have surfaced recently regarding who they favor, but now that Valanciunas’s European buyout won’t allow him to join the NBA until the 2012-2013 season, the Cavs will likely pick Kanter. If it was me, I would take the European with higher potential, knowing they’re years away from competing anyways – why not take the risk? But I’m sitting on my couch watching Seinfeld right now, and they’ve been thinking about these picks nonstop since the lottery last month.

There’s also chatter they may trade down/up, but the rumors surrounding that notion are so vast and likely lack substance, until something happens, it’s better assuming they keep the pick.

Timberwolves and the #2 Pick

Minnesota has publicly admitted to shopping the second pick. The team, who’s had trouble rising from the bottom tier of the NBA since trading Kevin Garnett, has enough young talent to potentially make a jump. Kevin Love was an All-Star, and Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph possess high potential. Not to mention the highly touted Ricky Rubio is finally leaving Spain to join the T-Wolves. So the team doesn’t need another young talent, but a few veteran pieces to help them move forward.

Kevin Love

Likely trade partners are those interested in taking Arizona forward Derrick Williams. The list includes Cleveland, the Washington Wizards, and Phoenix Suns, to name a few. But with Minnesota likely waiting till the last minute for an offer to “blow them away,” there’s a chance they hold on to the pick and take Williams, potentially trading his rights after the draft (Note: Lockout likely will begin the next day, so this option is murky at best).

Who Will Exceed Expectations?

Other than Irving, there are a lot of question marks surrounding the 2011 NBA draft class. Even more, after the first few picks, the draft order becomes fluid. Players like Kanter, Valanciunas, Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette, Kawhi Leonard, Jan Vesely, and Bismack Biyombo could go from the 5th pick to as low as the 15th. Internal battles inside front offices will weigh the value of potential over need. So who will rise to become NBA studs and all-stars in the next few years?

Predicting this year’s rookie class’s impact on the league in a few years is as easy as deciding between Megan Fox and Brooklyn Decker. But ignoring the impossibility of this task, Vesely will be the best player out of this group. He’s tall at 6’11, but fits the mold of small forward, looking to run in open court and stretch the floor. If he falls to the Wizards, they’ll be ecstatic.

One prospect to keep an eye on is Norris Cole, point guard out of Cleveland State. Draft pundits are raving over his workout performances, and the buzz is if he would have gone to a big time school, would be a top ten pick. Depending on where he lands, if he’s in the right situation, Cole may become the steal of the draft.