Friday, June 29, 2012

2012 NBA Draft Observations

Going into the 2012 NBA draft I expected a rather boring and mundane selection show. There was only one legitimate franchise player (Anthony Davis) and a bunch of guys who aren't sure what position they're going to play in the pros. To my surprise this year's draft was extremely entertaining. Here are some of the highlights.

Charlotte picked Michael Kidd-Gilchrist over Thomas Robinson with the 2nd overall pick instead of trading down like most experts had predicted. I trust GM Rich Cho, but if Kidd Gilchrist can't find a way to score they will regret their decision.

My man Terrence Ross went #8 to the Toronto Raptors! Most people think he was taken too high, but if he continues to shoot the way he did in his workouts Toronto will be very happy with their selection. I predict two years from now Ross will be an all star.

North Carolina had 4 players chosen in the first 17 picks. That's not a good thing. Carolina players typically peak at Chapel Hill and never really live up to the hype. Harrison Barnes is in a good situation out at Golden State, but I don't expect much from Kendall Marshall, John Henson, or Tyler Zeller. The Tar Heel mystique isn't what it used to be.

Houston drafted a player (Royce White) that has a fear of flying. How's that gonna work? White has a unique skill set and the potential to be a good player, but flying is a prerequisite for his chosen profession. Let's hope Royce can get over his phobia and help the Rockets win some games.

The dreaded "Red Flag" tag actually benefited Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones III. Sullinger ended up on a team (Boston Celtics) that was one win away from the finals and Jones went to a team (OKC Thunder) that gave the MIami Heat all they could handle for four games. Sam Presti shows his brilliance once again. Great pick.

Tony Wroten Jr. gets to play for a team (Memphis Grzzlies) that doesn't need him to score a ton of points. The move to Tennessee will be a culture shock for young Wroten, but that's probably a good thing. The slower pace and southern hospitality fits his demeanor and the fans won't rake him over the coals for his lack of a consistent jump shot. There's no pressure to start right away (Mike Conley Jr. is an adequate point guard) and he will have time to develop into an NBA star. Good pick for everyone.

The Portland Trailblazers chose center Meyers Leonard with the 11th pick. Moments later Leonard complained of soreness in his knee and pain in his left foot. Ok, I made that last part up, but I'm a firm believer in the Blazer curse. I'm sure Walton, Bowie, and Oden would agree with me. Sooner than later Leonard will have health issues.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Running Backs Get No Respect

Back in the day a featured running back was a commodity. Most teams coveted a back that was durable, physical, and capable of being the focal point of an offense. Today's NFL is different. In a pass happy league a dominant running back is a nice bonus, but not a necessity. As the emphasis on the running game has changed there have been several casualties.

1,000 yard rusher Cedric Benson is getting little interest. Maurice Jones-Drew was responsible for 40% of Jacksonville's offense last season, yet the Jaguars refuse to reward him with long term security. Matt Forte is one of the league's most versatile players, but Chicago signed Michael Bush in the off season as an insurance policy. Why is this trend so prevalent?

There is a fear that running backs will break down. NFL teams would prefer to replenish the position with young talent rather than take the chance on an aging veteran. After 5 years in the league running backs are considered over the hill. There is no loyalty and past success means absolutely nothing. Running backs can be replaced on a whim because most organizations don't want to take the risk on an asset they assume will have diminishing returns in the future.

The dominant running back is a dying breed because the game has become so physical. The players are bigger, stronger, and faster than ever before and running backs simply can't endure the weekly pounding for very long. It is the nature of the sport and not the players themselves that warrant the change in philosophy. There will still be great running backs, but their window of greatness will only be open for a short period of time. Don't get too attached to these guys, especially if the NFL expands to an 18 game season. The moment you bring them into your hearts they'll be gone like the wind. Rest easy Emmitt Smith. Your record will never be broken.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Weekend Observations

The 40 year anniversary of Title IX was the major topic of discussion in the sports world over the weekend. Although I had heard of Title IX I wasn't aware of its profound impact on society and the world of sports as we know it. Thanks ESPN for educating me on the benefits and influence of this historic ruling. Sports is a universal language that everybody understands. It gives people a commonality and a frame of reference with which to communicate. Female athletics has come a long way since 1972 and I don't see it slowing down anytime soon. Don't be surprised if you see a network dedicated soley to women's sports in the next ten years. Here are some observations over the weekend.

Several sources say point guard Deron Williams has narrowed his choices down to the Dallas Mavericks and the Brooklyn Nets. If those sources are correct the Los Angeles Lakers are in serious trouble. Point guard Ramon Sessions is an unrestricted free agent and the Lakers have no back up plan if he leaves town. Missing out on Chris Paul and Deron Williams in the same year would be disasterous for the organization.

Venus Williams got trounced in her first round match at Wimbledon by Elena Vesnina of Russia 6-3,6-1. Tennis players age in dog years so at 32 years old her brilliant career may be coming to an end. Considering her dismal performance against a relative unknown it's hard to imagine Venus playing at a high level much longer.

Jerry Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of sex abuse. I am thankful he is on suicide watch because I think a quick death would be letting him off easy. Considering the horrific nature of his crimes he should suffer greatly.

South Carolina is going for its 3rd consecutive national championship in baseball, but none of their players have been picked #1 overall in the MLB draft. Does this mean the MLB draft is insignificant or college baseball isn't very good? I think it's a little of both.

Friday, June 22, 2012

LeBron Finally Gets His Ring!

Last night after the Miami Heat demolished the OKC Thunder my phone didn't ring once. No text messages, no tweets, and no facebook posts. For a trash talker like me the silence was deafening. The absence of correspondence could only mean one thing, Cleavie Wonder was right. For a master prognosticator like myself the outcome was inevitable. I can only assume the nay sayers didn't want to hear me gloat endlessly when my prediction came true.

But enough about me. The most scrutinized athlete in the history of sports finally got the critics and detractors off his back. LeBron James was a man among boys in the 2012 NBA Finals averaging an astounding 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists. The finals MVP has now validated his greatness and belongs in the conversation as one of the NBA's all time greats. The irony is that the accomplishment will go largely unappreciated because it was expected. After all, isn't this why the big 3 came together in the first place?

To be fair, LeBron James has always been in a no win situation. Since he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16 years old fans and media alike have had unrealistic expectations of how his career would end up. Everyone thought he would win multiple championships by the time he was 25 and revolutionize the NBA. In years past LeBron internalized the external pressures and struggled to fulfill his potential, but in 2012 he simply wouldn't be denied. Even though he reached his short term goal fans in Cleveland are heart broken and basketball purists continue to criticize him for taking his talents down to South Beach.

The first championship is always the hardest, but now that's out of the way. With a mediocre Eastern Conference there's no reason LeBron and the Heat shouldn't have the opportunity to contend for multiple championships in the years to come. The Miami Heat proved the formula works. Superstars will sacrifice individual success for the greater good if they believe in one another. Now that the MoHeatos have figured out how to win the the big one the league is in trouble. Congrats LeBron. You're a made guy now.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New York Is Not For Everyone

“I loved winning in St. Louis, but winning here was special because the Mets were down for so long. After so many years of bad play, it really captured the town. I couldn't buy anything for weeks. One night at Canastel’s, dinner for a party of ten, they sent over Cristal for everybody. Everyone remembers me as a Met. Even in St. Louis.”

Keith Hernandez

In every sport New York is the most desired city to play in. It is the epicenter of pop culture and the world's biggest stage. The media capital can transform an athlete into a living legend. Ask Derek Jeter if he'd rather win championships in Baltimore or Kansas City. Ask Michael Jordan what it's like to play in Madison Square Garden. For the athlete that reaches their potential New York is a sports mecca. For the athlete that falls short of expectation it can be a nightmare.

Just a few short years ago Carlos Beltran was considered the savior of the New York Mets. After signing a HUGE free agent contract Beltran never lived up to the hype and eventually wore out his welcome in the Big Apple. The fans were unmerciful and the press raked him over the coals for his lack of production. Some wondered if his baseball career was over. As it turns out all he needed was a change of scenery. Beltran (Now a St. Louis Cardinal) currently leads the National League in home runs (19) and is 4th in RBI's (48). Without the distractions of playing in New York he's once again an all star.

A.J. Burnett used to get death threats after a bad outing when he was pitching for the New York Yankees. Burnett never looked comfortable in pinstripes and couldn't duplicate the numbers he put up in Toronto previously. It was only a matter of time before the Yankees parted ways with his $16,500,000 salary. Now he plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates and his career has seen a resurgence. Burnett is 7-2 with a 3.52 ERA. If he could have done that in the Bronx he might be a household name.

The pressure of New York is not for everyone. It is a high paced, demanding, unforgiving city. Sometimes you just need to get out of the pressure cooker to remember who you are and what you're capable of doing. I doubt A.J. Burnett or Carlos Beltran regret their decisions to play in New York, but I also doubt they have any desire to go back. For some people bigger is not always better.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Weekend Observations

As I sat watching the NBA finals having a fantastic Fathers Day meal with my dad I couldn't help but think this moment almost never happened. A few short months ago NBA fans were caught in the middle of a pissing match between millionaires and billionaires that threatened the cancellation of the entire season. Good thing cooler heads prevailed and now we get to see two of the world's best players going at it for all the marbles. I'm pulling for LeBron to get the monkey off his back, but Kevin Durant and Co. won't go quietly. Miami took care of business in game three to take a 2-1 lead in the series, but all three games could have gone either way. The Heat/Thunder series is the definition of must see TV (no thanks to Billy Hunter and David Stern). Here are some observations over the weekend.

After 143 races Dale Earnhardt Jr. found his way to victory lane. NASCAR's most popular driver might be ready to compete for a Sprint Cup title while his fans don't have to support a mediocre driver anymore. Congrats Dale.

Once again Tiger Woods collapsed at a major. This was his best opportunity in quite some time because the leaderboard was filled with a bunch of nobodies and his game looked to be intact for the first two rounds. The elusive record he so desperately covets may be getting out of reach.

I was beginning to worry about King Felix until his masterful pitching performance on Sunday. After going seven innings and giving up only one run my confidence is restored.

LaDainian Tomlinson announced his retirement and he's on his way to Canton. LT is a first ballot hall of famer and quite possibly one of the ten best running backs to ever play football. It's a shame he wasted his prime years with the San Diego Chargers on sub par teams.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Sonic Therapy

On my way down to the Bring The Sonics Back rally I had mixed emotions. This year has been extremely frustrating for Sonic fans as we watch the Oklahoma City Thunder play for a championship. in the back of my mind I hoped the event would have a big turn out, but the realist in me figured it would only be a handful of people and some city officials. I was expecting around 500 or 600 people.

When I got down there it was packed! The unofficial head count from the media outlets was 6,000 screaming Sonic fans. Everywhere you turned there was a sea of yellow and green. Fans sported Ray Allen jerseys, Kevin Durant Jerseys, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp jerseys. It was as if everyone was frozen in time reminiscing on the glory days. It was refreshing to see so many people that felt the same way I do and wanted to show their support.

Big Chris Hansen got a roaring ovation from the crowd and you could tell he was touched by the tremendous show of appreciation. Unlike Sonic owners of the recent past (Howard Schultz, Clay Bennett) this guy is sincere in his commitment to the organization and the city as a whole. The big show stopper of the night however was Gary Payton. The prodigal son returned home to let his fans know he will NEVER have his number retired in OKC and would do everything in his power to bring a team back to Seattle. Those words had a lasting impression.

Without question the success of the Thunder this season lit a fire under Seattle. The 206 has responded with defiance and a show of solidarity. The city sent a clear message to David Stern and the rest of the league it is time to bring NBA basketball back to the town. With so few options for a team the process will be long and arduous, but we'll be more than ready as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Thank you Sonic fans. I definitely needed that reminder of who we are and the legacy we so cherish and embrace. The logo lives on!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Olympics Are Old School

In a few short weeks the world's greatest athletes will take center stage in London for the 2012 summer Olympics. For these athletes it is the culmination of years of hard work, practice, and preparation, or as Bill Parcells would say "This is the reason you lift all them weights!" The entire globe tunes in to see their countrymen compete for their respected nations and for two weeks the Olympics have the planet's undivided attention. So why is this special event held only once every four years? It makes no sense.

It probably made sense when the Olympics started in 1896, but that was before we had planes, trains, and automobiles. Very few people had a telephone back then and the mail took weeks to reach its destination. Our ability to travel and communicate has improved exponentially in the last 100 years. The obstacles and impediments associated with bringing the world together simply don't exist anymore. Having the Olympics every two years is a much better approach.

A shorter interval between Olympic games also benefits the world from a monetary standpoint. More countries would get to host the event and stimulate their economy and sponsors would shell out billions of dollars in advertising.

Four years is an eternity in the life of an athlete. It's hard to sit around that long waiting for your chance to compete at the highest level. The current format robs athletes of their prime years and their chance to cash in on Olympic success. It's unfortunate that the traditions of a world long gone shape the way we approach the Olympics in the new millennium. It's time for a change.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why The Dream Team Wasn't Perfect

After the men's basketball team failed to win gold at the 1988 Olympic games the United States decided it would no longer send college kids to compete for medals. Instead we would send the best players the country had to offer. In 1992 we sent the big guns to obliterate the competition. USA Basketball put together the greatest sports team ever assembled. They labeled it the Dream Team. The individual accomplishments for this collection of talent is astonishing. With 16 championships, 11 hall of famers, and 15 MVP trophies between them you would think the Dream Team was nothing short of perfection. There was one glaring omission however.

Isaiah Thomas didn't make the cut. The two time NBA champion and finals MVP was nowhere to be found when the team landed in Barcelona. It seems inconceivable that the 2nd best point guard of his generation (yes better than John Stockton) wouldn't get an invitation to play with this historic collection of basketball greats. Why was he left out by the selection committee?

Politics. One third of the team wasn't comfortable with his presence. Michael Jordan was bitter Thomas chose to freeze him out in the 1985 all star game. He also had emotional scars from the battles waged against the Detroit Pistons. Scottie Pippen was angry that Isaiah walked off the court in protest after the Bulls won the 1991 Eastern conference finals. Larry Bird was upset over Isaiah's claim that Bird would be an average player if he was Black. Magic Johnson was burned out over a friendship strained by championship level competition. Isaiah's talent wasn't enough to offset that much animosity and bad blood.

As an Isaiah Thomas fan I always felt cheated that players less deserving went to Barcelona in his place. It's a shame personal feelings and not basketball ability sealed his fate. In the end his past sins caught up with him and kept him from immortality. The Dream Team was great, but not as great as it could have been. From a basketball standpoint Isaiah Thomas deserved to be on that team.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Weekend Observations

I was going to start my weekend observations by telling you how LeBron James is on a mission to become a made guy and get the critics off his back, but then Saturday night happened. Timothy Bradley won a stunning and controversial split decision over heavily favored Manny Pacquiao. Having watched every second of the fight I have to say the decision is one of the most blatant examples of corruption I've ever witnessed in a sporting event. Only Roy Jones Jr. losing the gold medal in the 1988 Olympics ranks higher. How ironic both travesties of justice took place in a boxing ring. There is no way you can convince me the outcome of the fight wasn't pre-determined. Need proof? Bradley told Max Kellerman he would be willing to give Pacquiao a rematch on November 10th. Is it possible that seconds after the fight was over they could already have a definitive date to fight again? Boxing lost a lot of credibility with this one and Bob Arum proved he's slimier than Don King. That's not an easy thing to do. At this point the chances of a megafight featuring Mayweather and Pacquiao are somewhere between impossible and impossible. Oh well. What could have been. Here are some observations over the weekend.

Even in defeat I like the way the Celtics handled themselves. A surly Rajon Rondo walked off the court Isaiah Thomas style and a diplomatic Ray Allen shook hands with everyone. Personally I defend both moves. Rondo showed you don't have to like or respect your opponent and Allen showed he is the consummate professional and an ambassador for the game of basketball.

After watching the Seattle Mariners combine for a no hitter I've decided one pitcher accomplishing that feat is way cooler. The six pitchers involved in the win will not experience the same immortality associated with giving up no hits in a game.

Rafael Nadal won his 7th French Open by defeating his arch nemesis Novak Djokovic. The match was delayed several times because of bad weather and I'm sure that had an impact on Novak's performance. Too bad, he just missed the Laver Slam (holding all four grand slam titles at once).

Union Rags won the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, but after I'll Have Another was a scratch there was little interest in the race. Unless there's something historic on the line the ponies just don't provide that much excitement.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Are Boxers Getting Smarter?

Yesterday former welterweight champion Antonio Margarito announced his retirement from boxing. A few days earlier "Sugar" Shane Mosley walked away from the sport as well. As a boxing fan it's refreshing to see fighters leave the game before it's too late. We've grown accustomed to watching fighters go way past their prime in an attempt to regain their former wealth and fame. What's behind this latest trend?

I personally think the attention and research dedicated to concussions played a big part in Margarito and Mosley's decision. Shane was turning into a human punching bag over his last four fights taking unnecessary punishment. Now that we have a better understanding regarding the cumulative effects of blows to the head it's simply a matter of safety over glory.

Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. should be the next to follow suit. They are chasing an unattainable goal and risking their long term health in the process. It's hard to tell someone to turn down millions of dollars displaying a craft they've perfected over the years, but no one wants to see these guys end up with Parkinson's or worse. The reflex and motor skills aren't what they used to be.

In the future we will see more football players, MMA fighters, and boxers retire at a younger age. Head trauma is a serious matter and after the tragic deaths of Junior Seau and Dave Duerson the subject can't be ignored.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

OKC Can Kiss My Ass

I'm not an irrational person by nature. I typically have the calm demeanor of a left handed Scorpio. I've been watching sports for over 30 years, but none of my past experiences prepared me for what I went through last night as I watched the Oklahoma City Thunder reach the NBA finals. I knew it was a distinct possibility this day would come. The Thunder have a talented core of players and their window of opportunity is open right now. They have seized the moment and I for one couldn't be more upset about it. Why can't I just be happy for Kevin Durant and company?


I hear people all the time make corny jokes(Reggie Miller last night)about the team being taken from Seattle, but as a 206 native I don't think that sh*t is funny. No other city has experienced the loss Seattle has. Certainly other sports franchises have relocated over stadium disputes, but this is different. THEY TOOK THE TEAM WHEN IT HAD KEVIN DURANT ON IT!!! What city has ever lost a team with a future hall of famer on the roster? What team has ever moved to a city with a SMALLER market?

I know it's not the player's fault and the people of Oklahoma City aren't personally responsible for what happened, but that doesn't make me feel any better. Sports fans are emotional and nothing makes a sports fan happier than when the hometown team is playing for a championship. That feeling has been taken away from me over politics, greed, and a shady oil man. People in Cleveland don't like Art Modell, people in Baltimore don't like the Irsay family, and I don't like Clay Bennett.

To make matters worse, the Thunder will be facing a geriatric Celtics bunch or a schizophrenic Miami Heat team. Either way you gotta like their chances. Am I alone in this mindset or do others feel the same?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Is The MLB Draft Relevant?

With their first round pick (3rd overall) the Seattle Mariners selected catcher Mike Zunino from Florida. Scouts say he is a can't miss prospect that draws comparisons to Jason Varitek. He has been praised for his ability to handle the pitching staff and his leadership qualities. The Mariners desperately need help at the catcher's position so they can move Jesus Montero into the DH spot permanently. Did the Mariners find what they were looking for in Zunino?

It's way to early to tell what kind of impact Zunino will have. Unlike the NFl and the NBA draft first round picks aren't expected to contribute right away. In fact, quite a few players drafted in the first round don't go on to have productive careers. The learning curve is much steeper in baseball and the adjustment from aluminum to wood bats proves to be a challenge for a lot of young players. The minor leagues is often as far as they will go.

With the exception of Ken Griffey Jr, Jason Varitek, and Alex Rodriguez the Mariners haven't had a lot of success drafting in the first round. Adam Jones and Dustin Ackley look like future all stars, but Jeff Clement, Josh Fields, Nick Franklin, and Steven Barton never panned out. It is the nature of the business.

I could say the Mariners front office doesn't know what they're doing, but according to the experts the M's have one of the best farm systems in baseball. Perhaps in a few years we will see the Mariners enjoy the fruits of their labor. In the meantime I won't get too excited about another can't miss prospect until he proves he can hit a curveball and a 95mph fastball. Good luck Mike. The M's could definitely use you sooner than later.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Weekend Observations

The Eastern and Western conference finals both got more dramatic as the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Boston Celtics held serve at home. Kevin Durant ended game 4 with 16 points in the last 7 minutes and Rajon Rondo hit a timely floater in overtime to edge past the Heat. Despite the series saving performances the overall outcome will not change. Miami and San Antonio will meet in the finals. The Spurs simply execute too well and the Heat have too much talent. Chris Bosh will be back soon and that spells doom for Boston. Give them their credit though. They are a courageous bunch and make no excuses for their age or their health. Losing to Miami in 6 is nothing to be ashamed about. As for OKC? I don't think Serge Ibaka will go perfect from the floor again in this series plus Timmy and Tony have too much experience to lose a game 7 in San Antonio. No shame in losing to a 4 time NBA champion for the Thunder. Here are some observations over the weekend.

Tiger Woods won the Memorial over the weekend with a blistering 67 in the final round. Not only did he tie Jack Nicklaus for the 2nd most wins in golf history he gave Vegas odds makers an early Christmas present. Tiger is 3-1 favorite to win the US Open, but he's not ready to win a major just yet.

Ichiro read my blog on Friday and was so inspired he went out a crushed two mammoth home runs in the Mariners 10-8 victory over the White Sox. I like to help out where I can.

Sloane Stephens gave a valiant effort at the French Open before losing to the #6 seed Sam Stosur. She will learn from her mistakes and carry the experience of Roland Garros into Wimbledon. Don't be surprised to see her in the quarters at The All England Club.

Justin Blackmon was arrested for an aggravated DUI after blowing three times the legal limit. This may change contract negotiations a bit.

The NFL is set to hire replacement refs after negotiations with the NFL Referees Association broke down. Although refs are an easy target for fans they are the best at what they do. Replacement refs would botch so many calls Bill Belichick might get fined for criticizing them. Please get the real refs back on the field before the season starts!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Get Off Ichiro's Back!

Ichiro Suzuki got a well deserved night off on Wednesday from his duties as the Seattle Mariners right fielder. In his absence the M's managed to score a whopping 21 runs as they blasted the Texas Rangers 21-8. After the game the talk around town wasn't about the offensive onslaught, but whether or not the team still needs Ichiro's services going forward. What's wrong with this picture?

The mere fact that the local media (mostly talk radio) would attribute the Mariners offensive success to Ichiro not being in the line up lets me know their opinions are personal and not professional. For years Ichiro has rubbed media types the wrong way for refusing to do interviews, speaking only through an interpreter, and possessing an arrogant attitude. They have also ridiculed him for his refusal to change his spot in the batting order until this season.

Without question Ichiro is still the Mariners best player. He leads the team in hits and is one of only two players on the team batting over .270. Aside from Ken Griffey Jr, A-Rod, and Randy Johnson Ichiro is the most productive Mariner of all time. His bad relationship with the media shouldn't diminish his accomplishments on the field and his contributions to the team overall. Just because you don't like someone doesn't mean you're better off without them.

If Ichiro were more likable and engaging he would be Seattle's most beloved athlete. Instead his aloof and distant personality makes him a target of criticism and angst. Although I think Ichiro should be more friendly and outgoing you can't always get everything you want in the superstar package. Ichiro is a first ballot hall of famer and deserves more respect from the Seattle media. Your thoughts?