April 15, 2013
Adam Scott wins first Masters in dramatic fashion: Golf’s biggest event was front and center this weekend and there were plenty of theatrics. First, there was 14-year old Tianlang Guan taking the world by storm by not only making the cut, but finishing as the youngest low amateur in the history of the tournament. Then, there was Tiger-gate, when Tiger Woods took an illegal drop that caused many to question if he should remain in the event. Finally, Adam Scott walked away with his first ever Masters win after defeating Angel Cabrera in a playoff with a birdie on the second hole. Say what you will about golf, but there are few things in the world of sports that can compare to Sunday at the Masters.
Kobe Bryant tears Achilles tendon – out for season: The Los Angeles Lakers have struggled all season with a star-studded lineup, but they may have been dealt a death blow last week. Star guard Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon and will miss the rest of this season. So how did the Lakers respond to losing their best player? By promptly beating what could be the best team in the Western Conference – the San Antonio Spurs. Los Angeles’ win on Sunday proved there is still life within the team. While the backcourt is in shambles (especially with Steve Nash who has missed several games), the frontcourt can still be one of the best in the league with center Dwight Howard and forwards Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, and Antawn Jamison. The Lakers may have a more difficult time keeping up with the younger Oklahoma City Thunder, but you’ve got to give them a fighting chance against the Spurs if they meet in the playoffs.
Louisville defeated Michigan for the NCAA championship: A week later and it seems like old news by now, but the Louisville Cardinals won their first title under Rick Pitino with an 82-76 win over the Michigan Wolverines last Monday. Pitino became the first coach to win NCAA championships with two different teams. The Cardinals went on a tear late in the season and became the trendy pick to win the title. Nearly as important as winning the championship was that they allowed folks like me to finish respectably in their bracket pools despite a plethora of other questionable picks.
Jeff Garcia to New York Jets – ditch Tim Tebow: Former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia had some interesting comments about young quarterback Tim Tebow in a USA Today interview. Speaking about Tebow, Garcia said he just brings distraction and that having him on the Jets doesn’t add anything positive. He then went on to say that starting quarterback Mark Sanchez’ main competition will come from aging veteran David Garrard or little-used Greg McElroy. I won’t totally disagree with Garcia that Tebow is a major distraction, but I’m not so sure he still can’t contribute to the team if used effectively. I’m not of the opinion that he’s an ideal starting quarterback, but there are certain packages where he can be used infrequently and make plays with his legs. Is that more valuable than what Garrard or McElroy can add? Unless one of them unseats Sanchez or plays considerably as a backup, I’d say yes.
Wrigley Field to get updated look: The Chicago Cubs announced that historic Wrigley Field will get some upgrades as part of a $500 million renovation. That will include the Field’s first electronic video board. Typically I hate stuff like this, but sometimes upgrades are needed to remain competitive. And as long as there’s no plan to make sweeping changes to one of the most recognizable stadiums in baseball, it’s hard to complain too loudly.
August 13, 2012
Last month, it was Steve Nash. Last week, Dwight Howard.
The Los Angeles Lakers weren’t satisfied with only the addition of Nash and last week, traded for Orlando Magic star, Dwight Howard. As part of the deal, the Lakers dealt away its most talented young player, center Andrew Bynum.
On the surface, the Lakers have the look of perhaps the best team in the NBA. But haven’t we seen this movie before?
Nearly a decade ago in 2003, Los Angeles bulked up adding future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton to their pair of veteran stars, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Forget merely winning the NBA title – the Lakers were supposed to be unstoppable and seriously threaten the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ record for wins in a season. Instead, Los Angeles won a somewhat modest (by their standards, anyway) 56 games, and while they reached the finals, they lost in 5 games to the Detroit Pistons.
In other words, the last time Los Angeles loaded up on a steady diet of star power, things didn’t exactly work out.
The other thing of note is that Howard might be gone almost as quickly as he arrived. He’s due to become a free agent at the end of the season and made no known guarantees to the team that he’s sticking around for more than one year. Los Angeles had the same issue with Bynum since his current deal is set to expire after this season as well. But by most accounts, Bynum would have been more willing to stay with the franchise than Howard might be.
There’s also Howard’s increasingly swelled attitude to deal with. He was, to put it politely, not the easiest person for the Magic to deal with over the past year. There was even the incredibly uncomfortable situation of him having to play for head coach Stan Van Gundy, who he reportedly tried to have fired by the team’s management. Superman’s ego isn’t out of control on a Terrell Owens level just yet, but his attitude in L.A. will definitely be something to monitor.
Despite all of that, though, there’s plenty of reason to be excited about the Lakers for fans of the franchise. At 26, Howard is the league’s best center without question. He not only has the potential to be a Hall of Famer, but depending on how many rings he wins, he can be considered an all-time great at the position. Whenever you have the opportunity to acquire such a talent, most of the time you have to go for it.
The team was also able to hold onto All-star power forward Pau Gasol. When rumors of the deal gained steam last week, Gasol was mentioned as a player potentially on the move. But in keeping him, the Lakers assured themselves of having one of the top frontcourts in the league. That’s important because with an older backcourt of Bryant and Nash, Los Angeles will need adequate defenders in the paint to keep opposing guards out. In Howard and Gasol, they have that.
The Lakers arguably go from merely being a contender for the title to the team everyone will be chasing. That doesn’t mean the City of Angels is guaranteed to be holding yet another parade celebration next June, but Los Angeles is surely in a better position than they were a year ago.
July 9, 2012
Last week, the first blockbuster of the NBA’s offseason was announced as the Phoenix Suns declared their intention to deal star point guard Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers. Detractors of the deal from the Lakers’ standpoint will be fast to point out that, at 38, Nash is no longer the player he once was. That’s true, but this deal is still an ideal one for L.A.
On the surface, it appears the Lakers didn’t give up all that much to get him. In particular, the team traded away none of its current talent. Getting Orlando Magic Center Dwight Howard has been a goal of the franchise, but would presumably come with the price tag of dealing either All-Star forward Pau Gasol or center Andrew Bynum (or even both, as some reports have suggested). Howard is, of course, one of the league’s top centers, but it’s difficult to gauge how much his presence would help when it comes with the absence of a talented big man in return.
Los Angeles did give away a pair of first- and second-round draft picks to get Nash, but assuming they finish near the top of the league’s standings, those picks will be low ones. And here’s the thing – want to know the last time the Lakers drafted a player that contributed as a significant starter for them? Other than Andrew Bynum in 2006, who was a lottery pick, you have to go all the way back to 1996 when they selected Derek Fisher as a late first-rounder. You can never base future draft success based on what a team has done in the past, but the fact is that the Lakers generally don’t do very well in finding talent late in rounds. Guys like Jordan Farmar and Devean George have helped along the way, but Los Angeles hasn’t been able to spot considerable talent where they’ve drafted.
The issue of Nash’s age is sure to come up a lot this offseason, but even though he’s been slowed down a bit, he’s still been incredibly effective. Playing for Phoenix last year, he averaged nearly 13 points per game and his 10.7 assists each contest was still one of the best averages in his career. Even at an advanced age, he still should have a few more seasons ahead of him if he can stay healthy. At one point in his career, Nash was able to score nearly 20 points a game. He’s not doing that now, but the Lakers don’t need that from him with so many stars around.
Nash brings two specific things to the Lakers that should make them a better team right away. He has shot 49% from the field over his career and last season, his 53% was a career high. The Lakers have desperately needed a shooter that can knock down shots and Nash should be that guy. Without him, Kobe Bryant has forced attempts and hasn’t had as much help in the backcourt as he’s needed. But with Nash there, defenses won’t be able to key on him as much and that should only help Bryant’s game.
The other thing that Nash has is the ability to facilitate and simply run offenses. He will almost instantly make those around him better as he can set them up for open shots. In particular, the Lakers’ big men will benefit as Nash has an uncanny knack at delivering the ball at just the right moment. And his ability to get into the lane will draw defenders and leave Los Angeles’ frontcourt players with some easy baskets.
While this all sounds good, though, there are some concerns. Even though Nash has played a relatively healthy career, the age factor shouldn’t be discounted completely. Injuries can always happen and at Nash’s age, he will likely take longer to heal. Then there’s the issue of his defense. While Nash can run a half-court offense with great effectiveness, he’ll have some trouble keeping up with opposing point guards that are younger. The one that immediately comes to mind is Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, who was nearly impossible for teams to stop in the playoffs this year. If the Lakers find themselves in a matchup with the Thunder again in the postseason, they could find slowing Westbrook down hasn’t gotten any easier with an aging point guard.
Even with those negatives, the Lakers are a significantly better team with Nash aboard. The question is, will they be able to win a title with him running the offense? Time will tell.
February 21, 2012
The NBA trade deadline is less than a month away. Everybody is going to be on the phone looking for the deal that will bring in a superstar, set the franchise up for future success or add the last piece of a championship puzzle. The rumors are already flying. Here’s the trades I would like to see happen.
He’s not going to force his way out of Phoenix like some guys would if they were nearing the end of their career with a team that isn’t going anywhere. He has been as loyal as they come for the Suns. The team should return the favor and deal Nash to a team that can make a run. The obvious choice just a few days ago would be to reunite Nash with Mike D’Antoni and Amar’e Stoudemire in New York. But now that “Linsanity” has taken over in the Big Apple, my choice for Nash would be Memphis.
Last season, the Grizzlies came within one game of the Western Conference Finals as an 8 seed. And they did that without Rudy Gay. Now Memphis is playing without Zach Randolph. Assuming he will be back in time for the playoffs, the Grizzlies should make this deal. They are three games out of third in the west but also just a game away from missing the playoffs altogether. Nash would help ensure Memphis gets back to the postseason and give them a better shot to make a deep run once they get there.
At 15-16, the Celtics run as a championship contender looks like it may be over. I don’t see them standing pat with the team so do they blow the team up and start over or try to make a move and get some help for their aging stars? Boston management probably hasn’t decided yet, but if they do start looking toward the future instead of this season, several teams will try to get one of the best shooters of all time in Ray Allen.
One team that could be a Ray Allen away from a championship is Oklahoma City. The Thunder are tied with Miami for the best record in the NBA. They have two stars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. James Harden is getting better every year. Adding a deadly shooter with championship experience would be a big asset to this team and could be what they need to win the championship this year.
New Orleans is in a terrible situation. The Hornets don’t benefit much from having a 30-year-old, injury-prone center that makes 14 million on the roster. But they could use some draft picks or prospects that they would get in exchange for trading Kaman to a contender. And there are plenty of teams who could use a 7-footer with an expiring contract.
Kaman would be a nice fit for the Rockets, who thought it had landed Pau Gasol earlier this year in the Chris Paul trade. Gasol is still rumored to possibly be traded from Los Angeles, so the Rockets may go after him again, but Kaman would be a good, low-risk second option for a team in the thick of the playoff race in the West.
Personally, I would like to see Superman stay in Orlando, but that doesn’t appear very likely. Chances are, Orlando will get what they can for Howard rather than letting him leave for nothing like it did with Shaq. Howard’s list of teams he is willing to play for has changed a few times so just about anything could happen here.
Chicago could probably give Orlando the best deal, but will the Bulls want to break-up a team that is already a favorite in the Eastern Conference? Certainly, every team in the NBA would like to have a guy like Howard, but the team that is the most desperate to get him is New Jersey. The Nets have been setting themselves up for a major move ever since the LeBron sweepstakes started and it is now or never for them. If Howard goes to New Jersey he will play alongside Deron Williams and make the Nets a dangerous team in the future. If he goes somewhere else, Williams will likely leave New Jersey as well and the team will move to Brooklyn with no stars. The Nets must do whatever it takes to make this happen.
November 28, 2011
What, the NBA lockout’s over? Seriously?
Well, sort of. There are still some ‘I’s to be dotted and ‘T’s to be crossed, but for all intents and purposes, there should be NBA basketball this year. And not only that, but the plan is to play 66 games, meaning it’s practically a full season.
With college football winding down, that’s good news indeed. So what can we look for this year in the NBA?
10. Will any guys stay overseas? A good number of NBA players dabbled in the international game, playing in various leagues overseas. It’s not likely we’ll see major stars remain over there, and ones with contracts will have to come back, but what about free agents? Could some of them stay and make a bit more money than they could here? I think it’s possible, but don’t expect it to become a trend … especially this year. With the possibility of a shortened training camp, we could see plenty of guys come in out of shape and even a few more injuries than normal. There should be lots of opportunities for free agents to come in and play right away, and NBA teams will be looking to persuade them to play in the States.
9. Can the Mavs repeat? This question gets asked of the NBA champion every year. Can they? Sure. Will they? Eh, who knows? One thing we do know, though, is that repeating in any professional sport is difficult. Add playing in the difficult Western Conference, and the chances are good that Dallas might not even get back to the NBA Finals.
8. How much noise will the Knicks make? New York has the sport’s newest trio of superstars with Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, and Amare Stoudamire. Having acquired Anthony in the middle of last season, this will be the first full year with all three players. Playing in the Eastern Conference will help, and it’s hard not to see this team right up there with the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic, and Boston Celtics. The Knicks should at least contend for the conference title.
7. Which rookies will create a stir? The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving and Minnesota Timberwolves’ Derrick Williams will almost assuredly have decent seasons. But the most intriguing prospect to me is the Washington Wizards’ Jan Vesely, who was taken sixth in this year’s NBA Draft. At 21, he’s got the equivalent of three seasons worth of college experience playing overseas, so he should be a bit more polished than one-and-done players. He also was arguably the top international player in the Draft and one of the most athletic players as well. He’s known as a good defender and should be able to step in and contribute right away.
6. Are the Bulls for real? Last season, no one outside of Chicago expected the Bulls to come away with the NBA’s top record. But that’s exactly what happened as Derrick Rose led them to 62 wins. We know the Bulls should be good this season, but how far can their defense-first approach carry them in the playoffs? Time will tell.
5. Is Kevin Durant the NBA’s best player? Having won the last two scoring titles, it’s easy to make an argument that Durant is the most prolific offensive talent in the NBA. But best overall player is an entirely different category, and, until he at least gets to a Finals as Lebron and Kobe have, I’ll lean towards saying no.
4. What effect will the lockout have on the season? As I said earlier, I think we could see some out of shape and rusty players early on this NBA season. But more importantly, the lockout probably favors the veteran teams a bit. Cutting 16 games off of the NBA schedule is a big deal and veterans such as Tim Duncan and Steve Nash will probably be grateful for the extra rest they’ve had. Those teams could have more gas in the tank than usual come playoff time.
3. Can Kobe win another ring? The Lakers were ousted unceremoniously by the Dallas Mavericks last year. With Kobe and Los Angeles a year older, do they still have another title run in them? I think so. Pau Gasol is still pretty young, and with Kobe, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and Ron Artest Metta World Peace, there’s plenty of firepower on that team.
2. Is the nation ready to embrace LeBron? The Heat played one of the biggest heel roles since some guy named Darth ran around in a cape using the Force to choke the living daylights out of people. But a year later, will the hatred be gone? I’m guessing not. Folks were critical about how Bron Bron left Cleveland, and Miami’s triumvirate of stars are likely to still hear about it when the Heat are playing on the road (especially those games in Cleveland). I imagine things would have been even worse if the Heat had won the title this Spring, but I believe many NBA fans are just not ready to forgive yet. Which leads us to…
1. Can the Heat win the title? In a word, yes. They were close last year, reaching the NBA Finals after struggling early in the season. The Heat do have an advantage in the East where the competition top to bottom isn’t as strong as out West. The talent’s there, and having reached the NBA Finals last year, so is the experience. All they’ve got to do is put it all together.
If only it were that easy.