Sports Opinion & Analysis

Archive for December, 2012|Monthly archive page

It’s Not The End Of The World

In Keep Updated on December 21, 2012 at 4:25 pm

In case you didn’t notice, Hittoleftfield.com has been a little absent this week. I was hoping we could keep up with our normal amount of articles until Christmas, but between holiday shopping, graduations, flus and colds, family visits, and long days of holiday travel, we’ve all been totally MIA.

Were the Mayans right, and the end of the world has prevent us from posting any new articles this week? Naw, we've just been super busy with the holidays!

Were the Mayans right, and the end of the world has prevent us from posting any new articles this week? Naw, we’ve just been super busy with the holidays!

It’s my fault, really. I thought the three of us could handle this week, but I should have been more realistic. For those of you eagerly and patiently waiting everyday for a new article, I apologize. We have failed you. I have failed you.

So here’s what I’m doing. I am announcing today that as of last Tuesday, Chris, Jeff and myself are pouring some egg nog, wrapping presents, wiping our runny noses, and taking off until the New Year for a well deserved vacation. Respectively, of course. We don’t all hang out and stuff.

Either way, don’t worry, because after the first of the year (or maybe even before then), we’ll be back with more articles, and maybe even a new writer or two.

Until then, happy holidays.

J, J, and C

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The AL East Better Watch Out (And So Should The Rest Of The League)

In MLB on December 17, 2012 at 11:01 am

By Jonathan Danielson

The Toronto Blue Jays aren’t screwing around.

After a series of bad (to horrible) logos since redesigning the classic blue bird worn from 1977-to-1997, the Jays spent last year reinventing the team’s look for the field. What’s old is new again, and the Jays went back to their roots with their new (old) retro-inspired logo.

Lesson learned? Don't mess with a sure thing.

Lesson learned? Don’t mess with a sure thing.

Now that the team’s appearance has been addressed, management is tackling an even more pressing and important matter. They are completely reinventing the team that plays on the field. Forget everything that has happened since 1993, when the team worn their second (and so far last) World Series. In the offseason of 2012, the last remaining team north of the border is going big, and doing it by going for broke.

Earlier in the offseason, the Jays (literally) sold the farm for Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio. You might not have heard about any of this, because the trade wasn’t reported as the Jays acquiring quality players, but as the Marlins dumping their entire payroll in yet another massive fire sale. As the baseball world focused on the penny-pinching predictability of Jeffrey Loria, the Marlins owner, the Jays quietly went off into the night with their South Beach coup d’état complete.

Then, after some time passed and just as the dust settled over prized free agent Josh Hamilton signing with the Angels, the Jays made another huge move and acquired the reigning NL Cy Young knuckleballer from Queens.

Yeah, Dickey's knuckleball is screwy, but he's going to Canada. It's a perfect fit.

Yeah, Dickey’s knuckleball is screwy, but he’s going to Canada. It’s a perfect fit.

Toronto gave up Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard in the trade, the team’s last two quality prospects, but they’re gaining the guy who, in the later part of his career, has become one of the more dominant pitchers in the majors. Is Dickey poised for a down year, after his sudden and surprising rise to the league’s elite? Of course he might, but unlike in New York, he won’t have to brunt the burden of wins like he did last year. He will be surrounded by what should be a very good rotation.

If anything, this is a tough pill to swallow for Mets fan. Your team might be getting younger and gearing up for the future, but they also just dumped a boatload of money on their aging and injury prone third basemen.It’s like every step the Mets takes, they take two to three to a giant leap back.

Regardless of the issues facing New York’s second team, it’s their first team, and the rest of the division, that should be concerned about the recent moves up north. While the Yankees are making an attempt at fiscal responsibility (you know the economy’s bad when even that happens), Boston is still coping with the train wreck that was 2012, the Rays appear to be getting ready for the time they can’t afford anybody on their roster, the Jays have quickly and quietly loaded up to win now, and win now they must.

From left to right: Yankees, Red Sox, Rays.

From left to right: Yankees, Red Sox, Rays.

How long can anyone honestly predict that the Yankees will continue counting pennies? That the BoSox will keep being the division’s funniest joke (although, it did take 86 years to quit being a punchline last time)? Of course the Rays still have the other reigning Cy Young winner, but they too just shipped out major pieces from their roster. While they did acquire highly ranked pitching prospect Wil Myers, he may not even see a single game’s worth of playing time next year. Then what?

Right now, in the AL East, the window is open, and the Jays know it. Of course, anything can happen in baseball (what if the players acquired from the Marlins continue playing like they’re on the Marlins?), and just because the Jays have a bunch of highly paid players everyone knows by name, that doesn’t mean they are a shoe-in for anything (right, Oakland?). Anything can happen in baseball, except crying, but it sure doesn’t hurt to add some of the hottest free agents from last year and the recent Cy Young winner into the mix.

The AL East (and after making that splash for Hamilton, that other team in Los Angeles) are quickly taking notice of the arms race going on in Canada. Come Opening Day, the rest of the country should probably do the same.

Stern And The Spurs Punish All The Things

In NBA on December 14, 2012 at 5:25 pm

By Jeff Weyant

So Gregg Popovich rested four of his best players on the back-end of a four-games-in-five-nights road trip. He was also almost certainly thinking ahead to a home game 48 hours later against the division rival and conference powerhouse Memphis Grizzlies (a game they won in overtime – perhaps due to the fresh legs of their starters). David Stern, from his mighty throne, deemed the actions of the Spurs coach to be not only insubordination but also detrimental to the integrity of the league.

I’m not sure how everybody feels but a lot of people (myself included) laughed at the whole thing. Popovich, once again, trolled the entire (NBA-watching) world: the Spurs-Heat game was nationally-televised (and the only game on at all) so when Popovich pulled half of the marquee players it seemed like an intentional middle finger directed at the league office scheduling committee. To make matters worse, San Antonio was a Ray Allen Three away from beating the defending champions (one assumes Popovich’s troll grin got a lot bigger) and thus Miami, though victorious, became the laughingstock of the entire league.

For Stern, however, Popovich and the Spurs did more than just embarrass a group of players. In his mind, they hurt the image of the league as a whole. If Stern isn’t in complete control, the metaphorical stock of the company he runs takes a tumble. If the conversation surrounding Restgate is primarily about how resting players is dumb because games don’t matter in November, the stock falls further. And if nobody is in charge and people wake from their slumber before the TV on a Thursday night in November and decide the NBA isn’t worth watching until January, we’re heading for murky waters. Stern knows this. Popovich knows this. But Popovich doesn’t care (and it’s obvious whether he should).

Chuck Klosterman, as usual, summed it up impressively: “The NBA will always provide the illusion of competitiveness, which fans will unconsciously accept as viable entertainment. If you turn on an NBA game, you will see the game you expect (and will be able to pretend that it’s exactly the game you desire). You will get what you think you want, and any question over what that should (or should not) be will not factor into the occasion. And if it does, somebody will get fined $250,000.”

In other words, once people start wondering when NBA games matter, it’s all over. Games are only valuable if we decide they are and as soon as we begin that conversation the war is lost. So David Stern fined the San Antonio Spurs and their coach didn’t care and we all yelled various things at one another for a few days.

Which brings us to Stephen Jackson, whose recent situation presents an interesting parallel. Seemingly in response to several on court tussles between himself and Serge Ibaka (and potentially also in response to an on court tussle between Ibaka and Metta World Peace), the Spurs star tweeted out a message that, paraphrased, basically guaranteed that if “serg abaka” ever does anything like that to Jackson again, Jackson is going to do something physical (and presumably painful) in the region of Ibaka’s mouth. And if not for the interpretative efforts of the internet’s army of scribes and scholars, we might still be in the dark about what that means.

The Spurs organization, we have it on good authority, immediately went to the league office and asked whether they should punish Jackson or let Stern mete out his usual paycheck-siphoning fine. Stern opted for the latter and so (presumably in accordance with whatever arrangement the two parties came to) the San Antonio Spurs released an official statement condemning Captain Jack’s twittering and a few days later Stern announced that Jackson owed him $25,000.

What’s interesting is that Jackson was punished by the Spurs for the same reason the Spurs were punished by the NBA: Jackson, an employee of the Spurs (who are, essentially, an employee of the NBA), negatively impacted the image of his employer. To curb future infractions and to show that a “stern” hand steered the ship, a bill collector hounded Jackson and life went on as usual.

But make no mistake: it’s not that Jackson or Popovich did anything wrong under traditional, everyday morality (which assumes you’re somewhat okay, as I am, with Jackson telling Ibaka that unchecked aggression won’t go unanswered for very long). That’s not why they were punished. They were punished because their employers decided their actions hurt the image of their company.

But what does image matter? Well, people in this world have two valuable resources: their time and their money. Most businesses, unsurprisingly, want both and in large quantities. In addition, brand management is, for most CEOs, the most important aspect of running a successful company, and a large part of brand management concerns controlling the public image of the company as well as their various products. The National Basketball Association and the San Antonio Spurs are two such businesses. They have a vested interest in controlling and manipulating their public image because it impacts their bottom line.

Popovich made it seem like the inmates were running the asylum and also made audiences (who aren’t generally disposed to self-reflection) question their motives for sitting in front of the TV for three hours. According to himself and others, Jackson looked like a “thug.” And we probably don’t need any reminders that looking like a “thug” is the last thing teams and owners and front office personnel want for the NBA (but that’s another conversation altogether and involves tricky subjects like race, racism, prejudice, ignorance, etc.). Finally, it’s probably relevant that the official statement from R.C. Buford forcefully affirmed that Jackson’s actions “do not reflect the standards held by the San Antonio Spurs.”

Brand management is everything. The two businesses acted accordingly.

But I suppose the most important and difficult question to answer is how we as fans should feel. Some won’t appreciate Jackson’s intimations of frontier justice but I imagine those same people won’t really see any reason to make him pay restitution to an uninvolved party (after all, the NBA didn’t give that $25,000 to Serge Ibaka). Nevertheless, the size of the NBA is probably of interest to the people that watch games. The growth and popularity of the sport affects the quality of the product on the court. But I, like most human beings, am a little uncomfortable when a large, power-and-money hungry organization doles out its own form of justice to people who really didn’t do anything wrong in the conventional sense, the sense by which most of us lead our daily lives (for instance, if I were to tweet to whoever follows me that I might in the future after sufficient provocation punch my neighbor’s face, it’s unlikely anything would happen other than that my neighbor would no longer invite me to her Christmas party).

Sports are generally considered outside normal reality. The NBA, after all, is an artificially-constructed environment in which people try very hard to put an orange ball through a small hole. Which means that David Stern punishing Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs punishing Stephen Jackson are almost certainly good for the game but bad for everything else. As usual, I’m more inclined to focus on “everything else.” Sports are interesting and important and meaningful but reality must at some point intrude upon our illusion. Otherwise what’s the point of sports?

Parting of the Ways

In Media, NFL on December 13, 2012 at 7:59 am

by Chris Carosi

With three weeks left in this typically ridiculous NFL season, all the pieces seem to be moving towards a finish. Let’s take a look at what appears to be true and if it will be pan out by season’s end:

1. Manning Brady Manning Brady Manning Brady etc. etc. etc.

To the glee and delight of network executives across these United Estates, the Peyton Manning led Denver Broncos and the Tom Brady coerced New England Patriots will probably be meeting in the AFC playoffs barring any crazy upsets (please god) in the second round. If the NFL’s wet dream truly comes to fruition, the two will meet on the snowy grounds of Foxboro (or Denver actually, if the Broncos get lucky) with the entire universe watching and many pointless cuts to Brady or Manning standing around doing nothing on the sideline while the other is on the field. When that happens, I will be extraordinarily drunk and rooting for both defenses to crush the bones of these two gentlemen. Oh wait, that’s part of why the media is so excited. You win this round, NFL. God help us all if the Patriots make it to another Super Bowl.

Is it true? Yeah I guess. Damn it.

“Pssh, talk to me after you’ve impregnated TWO supermodels.”

2. The AFC North is a collection of beta bullies.

All three AFC North teams lost last week in games they probably should have won. While the Steelers flounder the energy of enormous upsets with soul-crushing losses to terrible teams, the Ravens are just crappy right now, and the Bengals are… the Bengals. Without a doubt, two of these three teams will make the playoffs. But which? Who will stand up for what they believe in?! Let’s review:

Baltimore

  • Fired their offensive coordinator
  • Have a quarterback that plays like he’s asleep
  • Lost to Charlie Batch (!) on their home field
  • Refuse to give Ray Rice more than 15 carries

Pittsburgh

  • Lost to Tennessee, Oakland, Cleveland, and San Diego (I just got disappointment chills thinking about it)
  • Have an offensive line that can’t stay healthy or consistent
  • Lost to Tennessee, Oakland, Cleveland, and San Diego (Oh god, I’m having PTSD flashbacks)

Cincinnati

  • I’ll get back to you

Is it true? Oh yes. But if a dethroning of Manning/Brady can happen, it will be one of these teams. Mark my words. For my money, the safe bet is Baltimore and Pittsburgh to make the cut; however, if Cincinnati beats Pittsburgh next week, they deserve the sixth slot. There is of course an outside possibility that all three will make the playoffs like last year. That would be something.

Every time Charlie Batch smiles, a sick child believes in miracles.

3. The Bears have imploded so far they have no concept of their basic atomic structure.

Chicago had absolute ownership of the NFC North five weeks ago. They had the territory marked and boundaries set, with chewed up honeycombs on the border or whatever the hell actual bears do in the wild. However, after they lost to Houston in a rugged, rainy game on their home field, things began to fall apart. Injuries. Lapses in their formally world-beating defense. More injuries. This week, they play a Green Bay team that has risen with Aaron Rodgers looking so cold he has to practice in a steam room just to keep his muscles alive. It’s over for Chicago unless they get lucky on the back end (Green Bay has to lose).

Is it true? Possibly. Their last two games are against Arizona and Detroit so that shouldn’t be a challenge to finish at least 10-6. They will make the playoffs, but at what cost to their sanity?

4. The 49ers will be fine.

What should have been locker room cancer has turned into locker room common cold, or maybe locker room eye boogers. I live in San Francisco, and the weird faith the “fan base” seems to have in Alex Smith is a bit strange… like, why? Dude was definitely not good until Jim Harbaugh came along. System wins, not quarterback (in this case that is). Kaepernick can play, they have an excellent receiving corps, and as long as the defense plays to their potential, they can beat anyone in the league (except St. Louis). Being a West Coast team, they are immune to media distraction (it’s all about inclusiveness in SF) so they are very much in control of their own destiny. They absolutely  need to beat Seattle convincingly at the end of the year to assert their dominance though. That will be important.

Is it true? Yes. If they can wrap up a first-round bye, they will be the favorite to go all the way.

Champions eat their Wheaties and stand sternly on the sideline.

5. Indianapolis will enter the playoffs and win at least one game.

Now this is interesting.  The Internet collectively did not give the Colts a chance (including me) and here they are staring down a very real (and improbable) possibility of a playoff berth with nothing to lose. The Colts play Houston twice in the last two weeks. Yowzah. Two good things about that for the Colts:

  1. If the Colts want to prove they can hang, they can prove it by winning one of those games. Boom. Done.
  2. Houston might rest some starters in the Week 17 match-up. This will give Indy an opportunity for an easier win to leap frog a team like Pittsburgh or Cincinnati for the last playoff spot.

If you think about it like that, the Colts might have a better chance of making the playoffs than Cinci and/or Pittsburgh. Interesting, right? Earning a playoff berth for their coach will be enough for them to build on for next year, when the fun ends due to the dreadful weight of something called expectations.

Is it true? Yes. But they won’t win a game. Good story though.

“I vow to never wear an officially licensed ball cap to cover my Cro-Magnan brow until we make the playoffs!”

6. Houston and Atlanta scare no one.

This one is interesting because these teams get little respect for their overall record but seem to garner it because wins matter after all. I’m of the opinion that everyone starts back at 0-0 come playoff time, but one has to respect the momentum built from the regular season… that’s why they play the games (it’s not for money, dude). Houston still has a legitimate shot at the first overall seed, so they’ll likely draw a beta bully from the AFC North in the second round. That will be a rough game for them, but only in terms of physicality. The truth is that they can beat anybody on their home field because I still believe they are that good. While the New England game was scary and disappointing, it doesn’t matter in the long run. They can use that loss to fuel them.

Atlanta right now seems like the guy who only works out the glamour muscles to get laid… so he has skinny little legs and a small, un-clever brain. They haven’t won a “statement game” at all, and really they never had the opportunity. The Denver win at the beginning of the year really feels like a long time ago. The only thing they could have done to build momentum with an easy schedule is murder bad teams to assert dominance (ahem, New England), but they haven’t done that either. The impossibly scrappy New York Giants come to town this weekend, so this is their chance to get the momentum going for their run. Teams like Green Bay or San Francisco will DESTROY Atlanta in the playoffs.

Is it true? Yes, but anything can happen. Houston is in a better position to have a deep run.

“Hey, J.J. good g–ouch, ouch, my hand!”

Drowning Together

In NFL on December 12, 2012 at 10:23 am

By Jonathan Danielson

Larry Fitzgerald is not a martyr. He is not a tragic hero. He does not (as many across the television networks, social media, and his own family have declared) “deserves” to be traded.

The Arizona Cardinals have been absolutely horrible these last nine games. Their quarterback play has been atrocious, their offensive line porous, their running game obsolete. Even their once heralded defense has failed in epic fashion, allowing the Seattle Seahawks to score 58 points on them this past weekend.

But Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t been perfect either. In some cases, he’s been just as bad.

This is Larry Fitzgerald making a catch. You have not seen this at all recently.

This is Larry Fitzgerald making a catch. You wouldn’t know this, because no one has seen this recently.

To be fair, Fitzgerald hasn’t been thrown to a lot this season, yet the few times he has, he hasn’t caught the ball. In one case, he didn’t hold on to it as he was going out of bounds on a game-saving fourth down, and in another, like last weekend, he bobbled it so bad it was intercepted. Another time, he walked by a weird fumble by rookie Ryan Lindley, which was then picked up by Atlanta and run in for a touchdown.

People can argue, but the throw was bad, but this fumble was so strange how could Fitz have known to try to recover it!?! And I would say, what are the those old football commandments again? If the ball touches your hands, you have to catch it? Play every down until the whistle? Always go after loose balls?

There is no doubt Larry Fitzgerald is the best player on the Cardinals. He is one of the best wide receivers in all of football, but even he has recently slacked on his basic fundamentals, and has been a cause (like many, many others) to the Cardinals current woes. Let’s face it; no matter what Fitzgerald, or John Skelton or anyone else from the team can say, the team has quit. They’ve quit on Coach Ken Whisenhunt, they’ve quit on the field, and they’ve quit for the year 2012. That’s just it, and it’s time for owner Michael Bidwell to start going through the roster and see what talent the team has, and to start making preparations for next season.

Dead men walking.

Dead men walking.

This is the reality of the team. Injuries have gutted them, ineptitude has killed them and apathy has made them irrelevant. And the same, except for the injury part, the same can be said of the most beloved Cardinal since Pat Tillman. Yes, it’s sad to see his talents wasted. As sad as it is, he too hasn’t lived up to his end of the bargain, and therefore his brother Marcus should stop tweeting #FreeLarry. His father should quit tweeting how the last time his son’s team lost so badly, he had him transferred to another school. Fans should stop suggesting the franchise fire the coach, the GM, and trade the face of the franchise. Only one or two of those suggestions make any sense, and trading Fitzgerald isn’t one of them.

The Cardinals are bad, yes, but trading Fitzgerald would only be cutting off the team’s nose to spite their face. Look at how well they played with a half-decent offensive line, and a somewhat capable quarterback (when he wasn’t injured).

"I hurt everywhere."

“I hurt everywhere.”

This season is a wash, there’s no arguing that, but the team has talent, they will have a very high draft pick, and perhaps even a new coach. In the end, the team will be much better (they have to right?) in 2013. To Fitzgerald’s credit, he has been silent on the whole ordeal, but everyone else, the media, the fans, his family and his friends, should do the same. Stop all the quick-fix suggestions. Football is a team sport and the team lives and die as a team. And Fitz is a part of that.

So Long, Thanks For The Memories, That Is, If You Can Remember Anything After That Hit. Wait, What Was I Talking About Again?

In Boxing on December 10, 2012 at 4:24 pm

By Jonathan Danielson

Juan Manuel Marquez did more than just knock out Manny Pacquiao Saturday night. He also delivered the final, lethal blow to the sport of boxing.

"Mommy, I dont want to ride the pony."

“Mommy, I dont want to ride the pony.”

A few months ago, after Pacquiao was robbed in a decision which gave Timothy Bradley the WBO title, and people were proclaiming boxing as officially over, I argued that the sport wasn’t actually dead, not yet at least, because a Pacquiao/Mayweather Jr. fight had yet to happen. Then, and only then, I argued, would boxing be allowed to ride off into the sunset while MMA took its rightful place as the premier fighting sport of the masses.

But then this weekend Marquez delivered a counter punch to end all the build up and hype of that potential matchup. In a single blow, he put the most famous (current) boxer on the planet face down on the mat, and in those moments when Pacquiao wife, in a scene stolen from Rocky, was screaming her husband’s name as she tried to push her way through the crowd, and we all sat in silence in our homes while officials put two fingers to Pacquiao neck to check for a pulse, and we wondered if Marquez’s counter actually killed a man right in front of our Paid-Per-Viewed eyes, the sport changed forever.

To great relief, Pacquiao turned out to be fine. The sport of boxing on the other hand, was not so lucky.

"Manny!"

“Manny!”

Besides Pacquiao, Marquez, and Mayweather Jr. (and technically Bradley, but that’s only because he was mentioned earlier in this article. He shouldn’t count as a nameable boxer, because people are more likely to refer to him as “The Guy Who Robbed Manny,” than knowing his actual name), name another boxer?

Now name some UFC fighters?

"Mission accomplished!"

“Mission accomplished!”

Boxing changed forever last weekend. After what happened, Mayweather might very well stop being a coward, and come to terms with Pacquiao. There might finally well be a Mayweather/Pacquiao fight, just as their might very well be a Pacquiao/Bradley 2, or Marquez/Mayweather or whatever. There might even be a Pacquiao/Marquez 5 (but if I’m Marquez, why would I ever agree to that?).

At that point though, does it even really matter?

It's like Star Wars, in that they should have stopped with all the sequels in the 80's.

It’s like Star Wars, in that they should have stopped with all the sequels in the 80’s.

Mayweather is a convict, Marquez’s victory is in question after alleged PED use (you’re 39 years old, and you naturally got more muscular and stronger?), and Pacquiao was TKO’ed. The unbeatable was beaten Saturday, and the last of the great names went down. There is no more unicorn to chase in the sport. There is no more mythical fights still to be fought. There are three names left (four, if you include Bradley, which you shouldn’t), and how long can we continually watch them beat on each other, and only each other, over and over again?

"Is that what it felt like in November, Honey? Honey? Mitt?"

“Is that what it felt like in November, honey? Honey? Mitt?”

The last of the great boxers were beaten Saturday, and why should anyone care anymore about three fighters who quickly are approaching their 40’s, as they try to punch each other (and considering how the preliminaries went Saturday, even that rarely happened), when we can watch an every changing lineup of legitimate contenders choke each other out, or roundhouse kick each other in the face, over on FOX?

The world’s attention is on MMA now, not boxing, and the pool of talent for boxing is quickly shrinking. Marquez knocked out Pacquiao on Saturday, but the UFC has had a stranglehold on boxing for a while. After the poster boy went down in Vegas, the sport also went down for the count.

The MLB Winter Yawnings

In MLB on December 7, 2012 at 2:48 pm

By Jonathan Danielson

We were promised blockbuster trades and free agent signings. We were promised intrigue and game changing moves. Ken Rosenthal, Pedro Gomez, ESPN and the MLB Network all promised Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinki would pick a new home, and Justin Upton would finally be traded.

"I can confirm that nothing I've said is accurate."

“I can confirm that nothing I say is accurate.”

What did we get instead? We got David Wright being introduced to the team he has been on for the last decade. We got Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro resigning with the Giants. And that’s about it.

Oh, and Derek Jeter has packed on a few pounds, and Alex Rodriguez had hip surgery like my Grandma.

"I don't know why he has to keep making fun of you."

“I don’t know why it’s so easy to make fun of us.”

Oh, and did you see the Mets got new hats?

The MLB Winter Meetings are just that, meetings. They are business conferences by team executives. There are no cameras allowed, this is no inherent drama, yet the meetings are covered and packaged by ESPN, MLB Network, and every other news outlet like Moneyball meets Wallstreet (part one) meets Mad Men.  My Twitter feed lights up every few seconds with “Breaking News” and “Waiting to Confirm” and “Upton for Cliff Lee Imminent.”

And then? Nothing. A bunch of hype and build up, then nothing.

To be fair, last year’s meetings was a feeding frenzy for everyone. There were mega-trades, mega-signings and players agreeing to contracts for a quarter of a billion dollars. But that was last year, and while the coverage might have been warranted then, that type of attention was not warranted now. How often can we expect transactions like those that happened in 2011 to happen again? How often are the Winter Meetings really just a few dudes in a hotel lobby, and nothing else?

Why the Los Angeles Lakers Will (Possibly) Probably Be Alright (Eventually)

In NBA on December 6, 2012 at 10:48 am

By Jeff Weyant

Pretty much how the season has gone so far.

The Purple and Gold Army of Expensive and Supposedly Useful Basketball Players isn’t doing so hot. After running away from New Orleans last night, they’re 9-10. General consensus, though, says the season is over, they’re dead in the water, and one even hears whispers that they should just scoop ‘em up and forfeit the season outright to avoid any more massacres 4th-quarter collapses. Plus, you know things are bad when Kobe Bryant is communicating with teammates, and by “communicating with teammates” I mean “telling the media something inflammatory about a teammate so that the media will carry it back to that teammates which is the best Kobe Bryant can do because he’s incapable of having normal, human-type conversations with anybody except the Mechanized Kobe he hand-constructed in his probably large and spacious garage.”

All that said, the hopes of most of the denizens of La-La Land are not entirely cooked. After everyone else has put them through the meat grinder, here’s an attempt to reconstitute those smashed driblets of gooey red stuff into a delicious hamburger patty of success:

1. Point Guards Are Still a Thing in the NBA

The only way to tell when watching Lakers games that “point guard” is still a position in American professional basketball is by observing the other team’s offensive possessions. This is because second-year Laker Darius Morris is technically a point guard but he spends most of his time playing gritty defense and turning the ball over. Occasionally he has stretches where he looks like an NBA ball-handler (see: 4th-quarter against the Pelicans Hornets) but usually he’s making the kind of mistakes that second-year players make when they didn’t really play a lot during their rookie seasons. Chris Duhon, the other Laker with “PG” next to his name, has gotten some run with the ball in his hands but more often plays off-ball while Bryant initiates the offense.

The real point guards you’re used to hearing about are sidelined with injuries. Steve Blake played seven games before he tore holes in the side of his body. Steve Nash made it through a game and a half before he fractured everything in  his body able to be fractured. Before the bruises and tears and breaks, lineups featuring Blake and just about anybody else were destroying opposing teams. With Nash the jury is still out because he’s played so little. But history says that when he un-fractures various bones he’ll high-five everybody which will confer upon his teammates the magical power of Hitting Open Shots. Beyond the floor-spacing and passing marvels, the return of Nash and/or Blake will allow D’Antoni to use effective rotations for the first time since he took the job. In addition to whatever the two point guards can and will do with the starting lineup, in the 2nd and 3rd quarters you’ll see stuff like Nash/Duhon/Meeks/Jamison/Howard, which will incinerate opposing teams with impossible-to-defend pick-and-rolls leading to dunks and open threes. Which speaks to something Jalen Rose often says (and it’s about the only thing he says that makes any sense): when good point guards run the show, everybody’s happy. And when everybody’s happy, everybody plays better. So the injuries to Blake and Nash (and now Gasol) means that guys like Meeks, who needs a setup man, and Bryant, who needs to not play 40 minutes as a combo guard, are either being underutilized (Meeks) or overutilized (Bryant).

2. A Tale of Several Tendons

If you believe the Lakers organization, Pau Gasol has been playing with tendinitis in his knees. The subtext here is that this is why he’s looked ten years older from the preseason to the present. Which raises an interesting question: If the freakishly-talented Spaniard is fully healthy when training camp starts, do the Lakers start 1-4? Does Mike Brown lose his job? It’s fair to ask considering he’s one of the two big men in the league who’s capable of putting up a near-triple-double (something like 18-11-7) every night, the other one being his brother Marc. (Minor Tangent: Remember when everybody said that was the worst trade ever for Memphis, a chorus lead by Gregg Popovich, the man who watched from the sidelines two years ago when Marc Gasol destroyed his artfully-crafted defensive schemes with deft interior passing?) Even if the Gasol-Howard frontcourt tandem continues to struggle when Gasol’s tendons stop itis-ing, a savvy coach can pull the Spaniard at the five-minute mark of the first quarter and then play him the entire second quarter, giving him lots of time with the second unit. Lineups aside, however, the point is that when a healthy Pau Gasol plays, no matter who’s on the court with him, the Lakers tend to win. So his ill-health only adds to the Lakers’ mounting problems.

Also, pretty much how the season has gone so far.

3. Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!

Mike Brown gets unceremoniously canned, Bernie Bickerstaff guides the wayward ship for a week, and the Lakers’ front office publicaly flirts with Phil Jackson (to the immense satisfaction of Lakers fans) before hiring Mike D’Antoni (to the immense dissatisfaction of Lakers fans). D’Antoni, meanwhile, tears out the Princeton Offense entirely and installs the Anti-Princeton Offense. One imagines all this has to have some sort of adverse effect on the team. Practices, schemes, and rotations are executed three different ways in less than a month. So if the Lakers spent most of the fourth quarter Sunday night against the Orlando Magic wondering why in the hell the help defense never came, it’s not entirely the fault of multiple front-office upheavals but they certainly played a part.

Remember how gruesome NBA games were last year after the lockout ended? “Unbearable” probably comes closest to accurately describing the pile of hairballs teams vomited onto the court that first month. Which is some strong anecdotal evidence that training camp matters. That practice matters. That, above all, consistency matters. If you play an instrument or a sport or you’re a painter or one of those people who operates a large machine in a dusty warehouse doing the work that keeps the country reasonably insolvent (as opposed to disastrously insolvent), then you know the benefits of consistency. Remember how awful you were the first time you drove a car? Remember how awesome you were three years later? It’s like that. Practice is brutal but once the system is perfected you start to see results.

4. Numerology

The Lakers have the 5th-best point differential in the West and the 7th-best overall (and it only got better after last night’s win over New Orleans). They’re also one of five teams in the top ten of both offensive (5th) and defensive (8th) efficiency (and for what it’s worth, those teams, the Spurs, Clippers, Thunder, and Knicks, are a combined 55-18). As others have pointed out the Lakers’ point differential before the Hornets win (+3.4), while not championship-caliber, was nothing to scoff at. It’s now up to +4.1. Last year that would have been 3rd in the West and 6th overall and as any sports stat-head will tell you, point differential is one of the best predictors of future outcomes. And while their current differential probably won’t make it to the trophy presentation (Conference Finalists tend to have a number higher than +6.0) it’s a sign that all is not yet lost. Those drubbings of Detroit and Dallas (and to some extent of New Orleans and Sacramento) weren’t outliers. They were forecasts of what’s to come if the Lakers ever figure out how to play basketball together.

Of course it’s not easy getting to Maximum Stage: Well-Oiled Juggernaut. It takes, as I preached earlier, practice. It takes consistency. It takes the silence of notoriously loud-mouthed superstars (looking at you, Mr. Bryant). I’m not saying it’s going to happen overnight or this year or even at all (too many variables, particularly injuries). But it could happen and if it does, oh boy. The way it shakes out could put Los Angeles at the bottom of the playoff seeding come April, riding a ten-game winning streak, and you’ll see San Antonio, Memphis, and Oklahoma City resting starters and punting games in hopes of getting out of the way.

But that’s about forty-seven What-Ifs that have to swing in the right direction. Which means come April the Lakers could be hanging onto the 8th seed, waiting patiently to get bounced out of the playoffs so they can go fishing and clear their heads. In any case, there are very few certainties in the NBA. One of them is that teams will struggle on the second night of back-to-backs. Another is that the season is very much a marathon. It goes on and on and on. In January, this moment in time, at 9-10, might be laughably far away. But it might also be laughably prophetic. We’ll know when we get there, right?

NFL Week 14 Games of the Week: Some of the Marbles

In Media, NFL on December 6, 2012 at 10:44 am

By Chris Carosi

There are 4 weeks left in the NFL season: shit is getting real. The AFC race is coming into focus way too early and the NFC is just getting more contentious. Some teams seem to be getting better and better as the season progresses (Denver, New England, Green Bay) while some are looking more vulnerable (Baltimore, Atlanta, San Francisco). Things will look even weirder after this Sunday, with the three of the four divisions in the NFC up for grabs. It’s too early to diagnose a damn thing, but it will be a fun day of football. Let’s take a look at the three games of the week for Week 14: “This One’s for Some of the Marbles”

#3 Dallas (6-6) at Cincinnati (-3) (7-5) 1:00pm ET

The Underachievers Bowl. Both of these teams’ identities revolve around beating the wrong teams and losing to the right ones er… losing to the wrong teams and beating the right ones? Whatever. Know this, Cincinnati’s playoff hopes are completely realistic and entirely possible at this point while Dallas is just trying to hold on. The Bengals have an easier path because the AFC is AWFUL. This is Dallas’s last chance, last dance. I think the spread is spot-on here. It will come down to clock management in a close game and we all know how clueless Jason Garrett is when it comes to that. The Bengals actually win an important game at home when it matters! Fact you didn’t know: the Bengals lead the league in sacks.

Cincinnati by 3

“Jerry Jones told me that if I stop the clock on a certain number, that player’s jersey sales will go up by 30%”

#2a Chicago (-3) (8-4) at Minnesota (6-6) 1:00pm ET

#2b Detroit (4-8) at Green Bay (-7) (8-4) 8:20pm ET

God bless the NFL scheduling people. This couldn’t be anymore perfect with 4 games left. The NFC North race has become really interesting. Green Bay sits in first right now after Chicago’s defense s*** themselves at home. Green Bay draws a much easier game than Chicago this week, but neither game will be straightforward. The forecast is looking like snow at Lambeau, which probably favors the Packers but these games can get wacky. The Lions are really only good at one thing: throwing the ball. In the snow, this will be a challenge but the Packers have a perfectly average defense (statistically speaking). What does this all mean? I have no idea.

Green Bay by 5

Chicago is playing well, all things considered, and were certainly the early favorite to win this division. Things are getting complicated and they can’t overlook the Vikings, who are a young one-dimensional team (and that team is Adrian Peterson). They’re clearly better than Minnesota, but if Minnesota’s pass rush can do anything at all, they will put so much pressure on the Bears running game. If you flip that scenario, it’s true that Christian Ponder is NOT Russell Wilson. So, what happens when the freely movable object meets the easily stoppable force? A close, low-scoring game and my UPSET SPECIAL!!!!

Minnesota by 2

“Haha, guys, I seriously have no idea what our quarterback looks like!”

Houston (11-1) at New England (9-3) (-3.5)

Wow, ESPN finally gets a good match-up. As I’ve said before, New England consistently gets too much credit by the media for smashing bad teams, and this year is no exception. They are very, very good at running up the score on basement-level teams. It’s true, it can be said that that is one of Bill Belichick’s prime directives (perhaps it’s THE prime directive). Houston has been doing the same thing, really, but to me they can’t be denied the somewhat hairy identity of “Best Team in the League” , despite their close victories against Jacksonville and Detroit. It’s clear that they’re very, very good on both sides of the ball.

What is also clear (and revealed through Vegas spotting the Patriots 3.5 points before the kickoff) is New England plays well in prime-time at home in the cold in December. Houston doesn’t necessarily need to win (their two match-ups with the Colts still loom), but they should give the Patriots all they can handle, considering the other thing we forget about New England: their defense is really bad. I would definitely take this bet.

New England by 2

Coach Belichick signals to his sniper in Section 24, Row I at Gillette Stadium.

Something Fierce, Like A Pelican

In NBA on December 5, 2012 at 11:46 am

By Jonathan Danielson

For a while now, I’ve been hoping Michael Jordan would consider changing the name of the Charlotte Bobcats. Why? Because the Bobcats’ is the ugliest logo, with the worst color combination and uniform design in perhaps all of sports.

"The mother of the thirteen-year-old who designed this thought her son did a good job."

The mother of the eight-year-old who designed this thought her son did a good job.

Charlotte used to have a palatable scheme, back in the days when Muggsy Bogues, Alonzo Mourning, and Larry “Grandmama” Johnson used to play for a little team called the Charlotte Hornets. Unfortunately, when former owner George Shinn moved the team to New Orleans in 2002 (has it really been that long?) he took the team, and by evidence of what replaced the Hornets, the ability of sight with him.

Like Seattle a few years later, Charlotte was robbed of their professional basketball team. Unlike Seattle so far, Charlotte was quickly given an expansion franchise to make up for the theft.  So entered the Bobcats in 2004.

Perhaps because what the Bobcats have produced on the court eerily resembles the horrendous logo that represents them, the team has never really caught on in the community. It also probably doesn’t help that throwback Charlotte Hornets (and not New Orleans) apparel is still the hottest seller in the city’s local mall’s sports stores.

Down in New Orleans, bring in Tom Benson, the owner of the bounty-gate plagued New Orleans Saints, who recently purchased the Hornets for reportedly $338 million dollars. Benson apparently doesn’t like the name the Hornets for his New Orleans franchise, and has floated around the possibility of rebranding the team, which also hasn’t caught on in its respective community either.

"Hey Utah, could we pleeeeeeeeease have the Jazz name back, what with you guys not even liking music anyway?"

“Hey Utah, could we pleeeeeeeeease have the Jazz back, what with your state not even liking music anyway?”

This is good news for the people of Charlotte, and NBA fans everywhere, because if this happens, rumor has it Jordan will drop the Bobcats brand and bring back the fan favorite Hornet’s (although, word is still out on whether this will improve the horrible play the team has been known for). In New Orleans, the bad part is that instead of going to a Saints-inspired black and gold combo, or a name like “Voodoo,” or “Crewe” (the famous dancers of Mardi Gras), Benson will reportedly request that the team be allowed to change their franchise to the “Pelicans.”

I’m all for representing state pride in your sports teams, and think that it should be a requirement of all team names to be a reflection of their location (the Lakers in Los Angeles makes no sense). Unlike many, I love the hard-to-look-at, state flag-inspired University of Maryland football uniforms, but I also know there is a fine line between state pride, and stupidity.

Artists rendition of New Orleans fans commuting to future Pelicans game.

Artists rendition of New Orleans fans commuting to future Pelicans game.

The Pelican is the state bird of Louisiana, and it’s on their state flag. I get that. But just because something is a representation of your state though, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to let it be the representation of your business. In sports, you’re not just trying to sell jerseys to the locals who come to the games (although that should be your primary concern), but if you get a star player, you hope the jersey will sell nation wide too. Who does Benson honestly think will by a “Pelicans” jersey if Anthony Davis becomes a phenom, and not just wait for him to move on to a bigger market with a better logo, then buy his jersey then? I know I talk a lot about how owners seem to have lost touch with fans in their decisions, but when did owners completely lose all sense of reality as well, and think this is a good marketing decision?

All hail the Pelicans? Hawak, hawak?

At least, as NBA fans, we’ll lose one horrible NBA franchise. Unfortunately, it seems, we’re just gaining another.

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