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.

May 18, 2011

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NBA Draft Predictions

By: Rick Jarrell

Last night was the NBA Draft Lottery. Finallysomething to distract us from the incredible postseason basketball we’ve been subjected to so far (kidding). Pre-draft coverage is often over hyped, and the draft lottery is a great example. It’s not the actual drafting of players that may or may not (probably won’t) be superstars, but a random drawing of ping pong balls to decide who gets to gamble on the most recent highly touted players in hopes they can turn around a franchise. ESPN managed to drag a process that should have taken five minutes into a thirty minute “extravaganza.” But hey, it’s not as demoralizing as “The Decision,” and for those fans currently outside of the playoffs, it provides a small shred of hope.

With that in mind, rather than perform a mock draft, as most media outlets will do in an astonishingly redundant fashion, let’s take a look at different types of draft strategy and which lottery teams are likely to employ each one.

Draft for Potential

This strategy is nearly mandatory for those fortunate enough to win one of the top picks, especially when it comes to this year’s widely agreed upon weak draft. Most years, there seems to be a few players clearly above the rest, if not a single player perceived as the hands down top pick. For this year’s draft, that player is Kyrie Irving. Despite playing only a small portion of his freshman season at Duke, Irving is seen as the only sure NBA talent with potential to become a superstar. Expect the Cleveland Cavaliers, who those around the league say love Irving, to take him first.

After Irving, the draft becomes more of a mystery. And with such a shallow talent pool, I fully endorse any team taking a huge risk on an unknown like Bismack Biyombo. The likely best case scenario for a lot of these players is a strong rotational player, maybe a starter on a decent-good team. The odds are against any of this draft class leading a team to a championship, so why not take a risk? If you’re wrong, you get another high pick next year, with hopefully a better selection.

Draft Best Available

Selecting the best available in the draft is usually a strategy most commonly used by teams who need to improve in a lot of areas. Typically that includes the majority of the top end of the draft, and this year is no different. The Cavs, Minnesota Timberwolves, Toronto Raptors, and Washington Wizards all have multiple areas of glaring weakness. Where they’re slotted in the draft now, taking the most talented player is logical.

Personally, I’m a big fan of this strategy, whether or not the best available player would be redundant on the team. You can find time to play two players, even if they play identical positions. And you can’t count on one player staying with the team their entire career. They’ll either be traded or leave via free agency. So you can also use the “redundant” player as a trade asset. But with this draft, the best available is unremarkable, and this strategy may not be as strong as it would be in most years.

Draft for Need

Traditionally, you’d see teams that seem to be one piece away from a playoff appearance, or a playoff team who acquired a lottery team’s draft pick, in this position. But the team that would have fit this mold the best, the Los Angeles Clippers, traded their pick to the Cavs (a pick that defied the 2.8% odds to gain #1). The Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, and the Houston Rockets could enact this strategy, but with the 11th, 13th, and 14th picks, respectively, in a poor draft doesn’t leave them with much option. The rest of the high lottery teams are in such disarray, they are likely to select either based on talent or best available. 

The one team that may use need-based drafting that could shake things up is the Utah Jazz. A playoff team a year ago, the team was uprooted midseason as they sent Deron Williams to the New Jersey Netsand longtime head coach Jerry Sloan resigned shortly afterwards. Williams is a great player, but he wasn’t the entire team. There’s still talent on the team. But the front court is currently crowded with Paul Milsap, Mehmet Okur, Al Jefferson, and Derek Favors, who they received from the Nets. So despite having the third pick and the ability to select Williams or Kanter, the Jazz may go for a need and select a guard to pair with Devin Harris, such as Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker.

Wheelin’ and Dealin’

Every year, there are a few draft day trades – either before a player is drafted, or right after the player is drafted. In general, the NBA is a constantly evolving mechanism. But with the Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire this summer, it’s going to be difficult for a team to makes any serious moves without knowing what the future holds. Also, with the lack of talent in the draft (have I said that already?), teams are even less likely to take a risk. If any of the teams with higher draft picks this year is offered a future draft pick, I think they’ll strongly consider. Having said that, the Rockets are a team that is always looking to make a move, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that holds true next month. The Wizards, looking for a sidekick to team with John Wall, may have fallen just short of being able to select a talented front court player, and may be open to a trade.

The NBA Draft is June 23rd. Until then, PLAYOFFS! It’s only getting better…