Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Jeff: Bu-Bye to KG

It's official: Kevin Garnett has been traded. KG goes to the Celtics for Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, the expiring contracts of Theo Ratliff, Ryan Gomes, and Sebastian Telfair, and 2 #1 picks- the Wolves own that they gave up in the Wally Deal, and a 2009 1st rounder that's Top 3 protected. Long story short Jefferson could be a really nice player, Green has shown huge potential (which means he could be the next Tracy McGrady, or more likely, the next Darius Miles), Gomes and Telfair could be contributors before they hit free agency next summer, and I'd be surprised if the oft-injured 34 year old Ratliff ever makes it to Minnesota.

Still not sure what to think of the deal for Minnesota. For Boston? Really had to happen, and I wondered as much to Jer on draft night when they dealt for Ray Allen but didn't have to give up Jefferson or Ratliff's expiring deal, leaving them the two key pieces for Garnett still in play. The Celtics should be able to find some decent bench players to fill in the holes, and with Garnett, Paul Pierce and Allen they have to be the favorites in the East. For the Wolves this was really inevitable, and I would have rather it gone down before the draft than after. There SEEMED to be some better deals out there, especially before the draft, but there's no way of knowing for sure what was available and what wasn't. They did get Jefferson and a couple of picks, but getting that much cap relief is huge for their rebuilding. Within that same Strib story is word that the Wolves have already bought out the last 2 years of Troy Hudson's deal, and you wonder how long Ricky Davis (not exactly a good influence for the kiddies), Trent Hassel, Mark Blount, Marko Jaric, and the newly acquired Juwan Howard will be around. The story also points out that even by letting Hudson go the Pups still have 16 players under contract for next year. 16! So there's more work for McHale, or work for Freddy Hoiberg to undo all of McHale's messes. Actually, read this from former Strib beat writer Steve Aschburner (who it looks like latched on at SI.com), who, being that he's a professional writer and all, sums up the whole situation and McHale's awful tenure much better than I ever could.

As a Wolves fan you can't be happy about this. You lose an amazing player in Garnett and receive nothing that's a sure thing in return. However, they were going to be the worst team in the West with or without Garnett, so at least this will help speed the rebuilding process. A nucleus of Jefferson, Randy Foye, Rashad McCants, Craig Smith, Green, and #1 pick Corey Brewer isn't going to pack Target Center, but it's a start, and when the cap relief comes this summer and continues in the coming seasons as more and more of McHale's awful signings come off the books, there'll be more opportunities.

How many Wolves fans will be left after today will be interesting to see, as they have fallen completely off the sporting map in the Twin Cities. Fans were already staying away from Target Center in droves last year, and whether Garnett got dealt or not, there wasn't a lot of hope coming into this year. With Garnett gone, they're starting over, and in the minds of the vast majority of Upper Midwest sports fans, the Wolves have, to borrow a phrase from Mr. Mike Tyson, fallen into "Bolivian."

In the end, a huge thanks to KG. You gave Timberwolves fans 12 years of hard work and tireless effort every single night. Too bad McHale couldn't do the same, or you might have had more success. Good luck in Boston.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Jeff: New Mask, and New Williamson?

I love perusing the online newspapers every Saturday morning, and as usual this brought me to my old roomy Kris' favorite objective and totally non-liberal biased daily, the Star Tribune. In the sports section I noticed this picture:
Forgetting for a moment that the most amazing thing in this photograph is that Troy Williamson is actually catching a pass, I was in awe of one small detail: GREY FASEMASKS!!

Maybe I'm the only one, but I'm a uniform nerd. I LOVE this stuff! I prefer simple and plain jerseys like Penn State's, or Nebraska's. This one shows what the J-E-T-S JETS! JETS! JETS! always wear and what the Bills SHOULD always wear (what would be the reason for NOT switching? The Bills don't like making money after jersey and merchandise sale? They've got enough apparently to say "no thanks, we don't our fans to love and buy our jerseys?"). Instead the Bills wear crap like this.

I've never really loved the Vikes jerseys from any era, probably because there's so much freaking purple involved. However, I have always loved the helmet logo with the Viking horn, and am glad they've never gone away from it. But grey facemasks? Wow! Again, I'm probably the only one who thinks or cares that it looks awesome and gives them more of the old school look, but I love it. Also can everyone agree that under no circumstances is it ok to wear purple pants? Seriously, never. Ever. Ok then.

Now back to Troy Williamson catching footballs, and saying he was diagnosed at the Nike Vision Center as having some eye imbalance. Now I don't pretend to be a football expert (ok yes I do, but this one time I'll admit that I'm not), but in watching Williamson the past few seasons, I didn't think his problem was as much concentration as it was having no idea where the ball was when it was thrown to him. To have a concentration problem you need to actually SEE the ball coming to you. I remember several key drops last year, especially on deep balls, where the pass either hit him in the back of the helmet or he was looking completely the wrong way as a catchable ball sailed by him.

You can teach a receiver to run precise routes and indeed how to concentrate better on catching the ball, but can you teach awareness? Is there a cure for a low football IQ? I'm not so sure, but the Vikings are desperate to try this season. Williamson might be the most important player suiting up with those awesome grey masks this year. With a bevy of underwhelming receiving options to help inexperienced QB Tavaris Jackson (by the way- the new nickname is "T Jack?" No. Come on people. I thought we were over the Stu Scott/Linda Cohen First Initial first name First 3/4 letters last name cheesy easy way of giving people "hip" nicknames. Good lord we can do better. So for the love of Pete stop with T Jack), it would be an immense help to the Vikes QB, offense, and really their 2007 playoff hopes, if Williamson would become the true #1 they hoped he could be when he was taken with the #7 pick 3 years ago. I still think it's more likely that he's cut by year's end than he develops into THE go-to guy, but hey, stranger things have happened. We'll find out soon enough if you can indeed teach a guy to get a clue.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Jeremy: Covered in filth...

As a sports fan, July is easily the worst month of the year. The NBA and NHL seasons are over, and NFL and college football training camps don't start until the end of the month. Of course there's soccer, but unless you care about Posh Spice's husband, you'll probably take a pass on the grass fairies. The Tour de France can be exciting to watch... when there's a crash. So the only sport worth watching is baseball, and although I like watching baseball, I wouldn't exactly call watching a game on TV riveting.
But the sporting world has been kind enough to give us some controversy in July. At least it's something to pay attention to, right?
But if you are like me, this July has made being a sports fan even more unbearable than usual, thanks to all of the controversy. As a hard core sports fan it's hard not to feel like you've been kicked in the stomach lately.
I'll start with my beloved Gopher football team. Tim Brewster comes screaming into town just over 6 months ago proclaiming to be the new sheriff in town. Things are going to be different, the attitude is going to be positive, we are going to win. Now 4 of his players, two being incredibly important to the team, have been kicked out of the program for rape charges. If the Wisconsin and Iowa fans that I work with didn't have enough to dig their claws into about the Minnesota football squad, they do now.
Barry Bonds. What can you really say about this that hasn't already been said? Here's my two cents: Did the guy take 'roids? Probably. Is he twice as big now as he was when he started playing the game? Absolutely. But steroids can't make you hit a home run. They can make you stronger, and they can make you hit the ball harder, but I don't believe that they can make you a good hitter, and in order to hit home runs, you have to have talent. If all you needed to be a good long ball hitter was to be big and strong, don't you think Brock Lesnar would be trying to break into the MLB instead ultimate fighting?
On to the NBA. Holy smokes, what a mess. As if it wasn't bad enough for the NBA that it is year-in and year-out the most lopsided league in sports, and already has the most controversy when it comes to officiating and the potential for rigged games, now David (The Don) Stern has to deal with the fact that there is actual evidence that a referee was tampering with point-spreads? The NBA is in trouble folks. Don Stern's league (DSL) already had a major image problem... I don't think that a link to the mob is going to help matters.
Last but not least, Mike Vick. If ever the words sh#@-storm were applicable, this is it. You know, crime is one thing, but if you haven't noticed, people get pretty emotional when it comes to animals, especially dogs. I also heard the other day that Arthur Blank, owner of the Falcons, has two Labradors that are always with him, even when he travels. Having a man like that as your owner when you're caught up in the storm that Vick is in is not going to help your cause. I think Goodell is doing the right thing by keeping Vick out of camp, and it will be very interesting to see what they do now that the trial isn't going to take place until late November.
Now that I've rehashed all of the crap going on in the sporting world, don't you just feel filthy and dirty? Honestly, all of this drives me strait to apathy. People ask me about Bonds, and I just can't make myself care. They ask me about Vick, and all I can say is "he's an idiot." Ask me about the Gophers... "morons." Ask me about NBA refs being in-cahoots with mobsters... "like we didn't see that coming."
And you know what? I don't want to care. I don't want this garbage to overshadow the fact that Vikings training camp started this morning, and the Gophers first game is just 36 days away. I don't want to watch a Timberwolves game this year and assume the ref is crooked. I don't want to wonder if Bonds' record is legit.
But these are the times we live in, I suppose. As much as I don't want any of those things to happen to me, every single one of them will.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Jeff: Big 10 Adding a 12th School?

Just doing some late night "blousing"- I mean browsing (that's a movie quote from one of my favorites, but as I proved yet again with jer the other day when I misquoted Caddy Shack, I'm not too good at movie quotes- you know what? It's my blog and I'll quote and misquote as much as I damn well please! You shut your mouth when you're talking to me!) and stumbled across this headline on ESPN.com: Big Ten Might Expand to 12 Schools. Now of course you have to take anything you see or read on ESPN with a grain of salt since they've been the E!SPN Sports Gossip Station for quite some time now. Still, intrigued I read on, and indeed Commissioner Jim Delany, while hyping his new Big 10 network that debuts this fall (call your local cable operator now and the Indiana/Northwestern football game and all women's sports are absolutely free!), he said the following;

"I think we need to look at it in the next year," he told the Des Moines Register on Wednesday. He offered no specific candidates.

"The broader [the network] is distributed, the more value [expansion] has. We have eight states. With expansion, you could have nine," he said.

"Any television executive would do whatever they could to be able to air a game like the Big Ten championship," said Mark Silverman, Big Ten Network president. "It would be worth a considerable amount of value."

I guess I shouldn't be surprised anymore. The Big 10 and Pac 10 were the last remaining holdouts for 12 team leagues and conference championships games, and now it looks like the boys out west will be the only ones left standing in the department as the Big 11 is now looking to get it's grubby hands on even more money with the highly lucrative conference game.

Personally I hate 2 division conferences and conference championship games. Seriously I do. I love that the Pac 10 plays everybody in their conference every year, and that the Big 10 plays 8 of 10 opponents. I also like it because the conference games mean more, and really conference title games only hurt your best team's chances of going to the Title Game instead of helping them. And before you say "well look at Florida last year!" remember that if it wasn't for Oregon State's monumental upset of USC, the SEC would have been shut out of the Natty Champ game yet again.

However, it was really only a matter of time before the Big 10 decided it wasn't making enough money off its athletes, so why not say to hell with tradition and add a 12th team. I'm really interested to see how they can sneak the number 12 into the logo like they did with 11. And seriously, maybe you can call yourself the Big 10 with one extra team, but two? Isn't that getting a little ridiculous?

So two "Big" questions arise for me then: 1) who is the 12 team and 2) how do you align the divisions?

First things first: the 12th team IS NOT NOTRE DAME. It's not. I hate Notre Dame and yet would love to see them in the Big 10 and they are the only school that makes sense...but it ain't happening. Not a chance. Now that Notre Dame's "back" why would they give up the obscene amounts of money they're making just because everybody in the Big 10 wants them there? Not only do they have their own TV network, but if they finish in the top 12 in the polls, they get into a BCS game. Think they'd still get that deal if they were part of the Big 10? Think again.

So if not the Irish then who? Delany mentions adding a 9th state, but there's not many that would seem to make much sense. It would have to be a major institution with a good academic rep (a nice way of saying the U of Cincinnati won't be joining anytime soon) in a state that would attract a bigger TV market than they already have. Teams like Pitt, UConn, Rutgers (soley for the hopes of getting into the Big Apple's TV market) and maybe even West Virginia could be possibilities but there seems to be only one logical choice: Syracuse, although with their shoddy record and mediocre hoops performances of late they're not quite the glamorous school they once were. Still, with a whole new market of people in New York State, and considering how willing they were to bolt the Big East for the ACC before Boston College beat them to it, the Orange (why aren't they still the Orangemen? Oh that's right it's degrading to women or something. I hate political correctness sometimes. Well ok most of the time) have to be the front runners.

Then there's the issue of aligning the divisions. The only thing that makes sense is to do it geographically East and West, but of course the conference would want Michigan and Ohio State to meet in the Title game every year, so you can't have them in the same division EVEN THOUGH IT MAKES PERFECT $^%&ING SENSE FOR EVERYBODY ELSE!!! Jackholes.

Anyway, they'll still play every year but put them in different divisions and then it just can't be about geographical anymore because how would divide it? North and South? That makes no sense either. Here's the divisional format that's most plausible:
"Midwest Division": Ohio State, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Northwestern

"Great Lakes Division": Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, and Syracuse

The Minnesota/Iowa/Wisconsin, Illinois/Northwestern, Michigan/Michigan State, and Indiana/Purdue matchups would remain intact and Penn State and Syracuse actually have a history that goes back a long ways. The divisions are also pretty well balanced for football and hoops (and hopefully for softball and women's soccer).

I'd rather see them stick with the Big 11, but since money always wins out, then if it's going to happen this is how it should happen.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Jeff: My 20th Year as a Vikes Fan

It's finally arrived: the day the Minnesota Vikings begin reporting to training camp. And so beings my 20th year as a Vikings fan. Yup sometime in the fateful year of 1987 my 9 year old self for some reason decided that I loved Anthony Carter and therefore should start cheering for his team. 20 years later I'm at least glad I didn't decide to cheer for the "home" team Seattle Seahawks. And really, although some other choices would have brought me things like Super Bowl victories, and not having to endure the 1998 NFC Championship game, it really could have been worse. As a Vikes fan, this is the first time in my 20 years cheering for them that I feel like the playoffs are really a long shot. Seriously in the past 2 decades, although our seasons have never ended well and have given fans of the Purple much more pain than any football fan should have to endure, at least we've had hope at the start of every year. From the Denny Green Era to Mike Tice to even Chilly's first go-around last year, at worst we were thinking playoffs. That's a lot better than it would have been to cheer for, say, the Lions, Browns, Cardinals, or Saints (well up until last year).

I suppose this year I know a bit of what it feels like to be a fan of one of those clubs. In last week's MMQB column, SI's Peter King had his inaugural "Power Rankings" and had the Vikes as the *AHEM* 31st best team. Or the 2nd worst behind only Cleveland. And as much as I'd like to, I have trouble finding evidence to disagree with him. Are the Vikes clearly the worst team in the NFC? No, but it wouldn't take much to go wrong for them to get there. Not much has changed from 2006 to 2007, other than drafting the Other-Worldly AP and losing outstanding D Coordinator Mike Tomlin to the Steelers. The defense still has the best tackle combo in the league in the Williams boys, and yet no threat of a pass rush from the edge. The linebackers are still a big question mark, and the answer to a secondary that gave up a LOT of catches last year was to sign another player at perhaps the deepest spot on the team- safety, where they grabbed Mike Doss. The new coordinator does know you can only start 2 safeties at a time right? Just checking.

Of course the big concern isn't on D, it's at quarterback and receiver. Like the defense, the front office did absolutely nothing to address these two obvious concerns. I certainly like Tavaris Jackson's potential down the road, but do not think he's a playoff-caliber quarterback right now. Sure I said the same thing about Daunte Culpepper before his first year as a starter, but the difference is, of course, that there's no Randy Moss or Cris Carter around to help out the new guy. If you want to have a passing game, you can get away with an inexperienced quarterback if you have good receivers, or if you have a great quarterback and terrible receivers (see Tom Brady until this year or Brett Favre for most of his career), but you can't have neither. Minnesota is expecting Jackson to become a solid signal caller with no discernable receiving talent on the roster. Bobby Wade (he of 101 catches and 2-count 'em 2!!!- TD's in 5 full seasons)and somebody called Visanthe Shiancoe (4 years with the Giants got him 35 catches and 3 whole TD's!) were the big offseason acquisitions that are supposed to spruce up the passing game? Really? Forgive me if I'm not more excited by that. I loved them drafting Peterson and believe he and Chester Taylor make a helluva running combo, but when the opposition is going to be putting 8 and 9 man fronts to stop them, how successful can we really expect them to be? AT least the Vikes addressed their questions on the right side of the line by...oh no wait sorry they did absolutely nothing other than hope the same guys who had problems last year won't have problems this year. Neato gang!

I guess I'm assuming the worst and hoping for the best, because unless Chilly is truly the offensive genius he claims he is, I'm not sure how the Vikings move the ball and keep themselves out of the divisional cellar. Still, I'm excited to see: the beginning of the AP Era, if last year's #1 pick Chad Greenway can make a full recovery from major knee surgery to make an impact at LB (I'm sure the Vikes will try and get him on special teams ASAP), if rookie receiver Sidney Rice can be anything close to productive, AND last but not least if Troy Williamson can make it the whole year without getting cut (I say no. He's out of here before Thanksgiving). See? Plenty of exciting storylines to follow for your 2007 Purple! But hey it could be worse...Cleveland or Oakland anyone? I didn't think so.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Jeff: Ichiro, Torii and Lots of Dough

Well Jer was sure right: this IS the slowest time of the sports year. Getting rather excited for football season however, which is brewing on the horizon like a thunderstorm. Not long now and it'll be wall-to-wall football!!!

Anyway one baseball-related thought: I know I'm a biased Mariners fan, but I like the Ichiro extension. I know there's been some huffing and puffing outside the Pacific Northwest about paying a leadoff hitter who doesn't hit homeruns or drive in runs that much money. There's been more frustration saying his contract will drive up the market for players like Torii Hunter. First of all, this is neanderthal thinking, because Ichiro is as valuable as any position player in the league since he came over from Japan in 2001. Read this from the boys at USSMariner for more info and lots and lots of math that I don't completely understand but know adds up to Ichiro being awesome! As an M's fan, I like the signing and think it was money well spent. As far as driving up the price for center fielders? Really? What about Vernon Wells 7 yr/$126 million whopper with Toronto, Alfonso Soriano's gargantuan deal with Chicago or Juan Pierre's ridiculous salary with the Dodgers? The Mariners didn't overpay, whereas all of these teams certainly did. And don't even get me started on the Barry Zito contract.

Torii? I can't explain how he's been hitting this well the past 1.5 years. I just can't. A career .268 hitter in his first 10 years, last year he posted a solid .278/.336/.490 stat line with a career high 31 HR's. This year? Off the freaking charts!! So far he's hitting career highs of .300/.343./.549 with 19 HR's in 337 AB's. That's just awesome production from a great defensive player at a premium defensive position. So why wouldn't I sign Torii longterm? Because I can't believe that giving Torii $80-$90 million isn't going to hurt the Little Engine That Could's ability to lock up more important players long term. Johan Santana has been the best player in baseball since 2003, Joe Mauer is the game's best catcher, and Justin Morneau is looking like the real deal over at first. To me, all 3 of those guys should get priority over the 31 year old Hunter. Even though they have ONE OF THE RICHEST OWNER IN ALL OF BASEBALL (according to Forbes he's 2nd only to Fox's Rupert Murdoch, who owns the Dodgers)the Twins don't operate like other "larger market" teams . Pohlad, despite the HUGE cash cow of his new stadium coming soon, won't keep the team's core intact. Therefore, if forced to choose, you have to let Hunter walk unless he gives a serious hometown discount. He's meant a ton to the organization and deserves to have his number as a Twin retired, but if he hits the open market it just doesn't make sense to give him $80 or $90 or possibly $100 million (he's from Texas and you can bet the Rangers, who have been awful, will give him the moon to move down there) to appease the fans. You just can't. As a LETC admirer, I hope they find a way to make it work and keep Torii in Minnesota, but not if it costs them Santana, Mauer or Morneausy. And we haven't even started about Joe Nathan or Mike Cuddyer.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Jeremy: Slow Week

It's a slow week at work, a slow week in sports, and I even heard on the news last night that this is traditionally a slow news time.
Time to do some digging...

*Mateen Cleaves starting point guard for the Michigan State team that won the 2000 college basketball National Title will be suiting up for the Timberwolves summer league team alongside the rest of the youngins from the Wolves. I didn't like Mateen in college, mostly because he annoyed me, but he was a heck of a point guard. Since coming into the league Cleaves has played for 4 different teams, has averaged 3.6 pts/game and just a shade over 11 minutes/game (which is actually misleading considering he averaged 16.3 mins/game and 23 mins/game in two of his 6 seasons). Let's be honest, this guy is going nowhere in the NBA.

*The good news about the summer league is that young Wolves vets like Rashad McCants, Randy Foye and Craig Smith will get an opportunity to run the floor with new Wolves Corey Brewer and Chris Richard. Let's hope they can build some chemistry, since they will definitely be needed, regardless of what happens with KG.

*In case you missed it NFL Europe closed up shop last week, just a week after its championship game, the World Bowl. Apparently the official name of the league was NFL Europa. Where exactly is Europa?
Quoting the Star Tribune: "(Commissioner) Goodell said it was time to develop a new international strategy, terming the move to fold NFL Europa the "best business decision." The league reportedly was losing about $30 million a season."
Perhaps the NBA should take a cue from it's counterpart and fold up the WNBA?

*Big Surprise! Okay, not really. Pat Neshek did not make the MLB American League All-Star Roster. That vote was won by Hideki Okajima of the Red Sox. Word is that the entire country of Japan voted at least once for Okajima.

*If you haven't yet, you should check out SI's article about best athletes by jersey number.
Some highlights:
No. 21: Jeff will be happy to know that Roger Clemens was not voted as the best player to ever wear the no. 21, Roberto Clemente was.
No. 31: We can all breathe a sigh of relief as Greg Maddox beat out Reggie Miller. Rumor has it that Reggie flopped on the ground when he heard the news.
No. 33: The Sports Guy would be pissed... Kareem beat Larry Legend.
No. 42: Clearly nobody IS the #42 like Jackie Robinson, but let's also take a minute to remember the punishing hits of Ronnie Lott.
No. 50: David Robinson beat out Mike Singletary... close call for me, but if it was my vote, it's Singletary, if only for those freaky eyes.
No. 56: Lawrence Taylor... duh!
No. 71: Alex Karras. Best known, of course, as the dad on T.V's "Webster".
No. 75: Deacon Jones was the winner, but (probably because Jones was slightly before my time) Howie Long is the only #75 in my mind.
No. 99: Gretzky of course. Also made famous in the movie "Swingers": "...for super-fan, number 99, over there."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Jeremy: Yes, I'm a homer...

It's true, I'm a complete homer when it comes to sports. So what?!?!?!

Pitch in for Pat. Vote in Neshek. You can vote (as many times as you like)for Twins middle-reliever Pat Neshek (a Minnesota boy from Brooklyn Park) to get the final roster spot on the MLB American League All-Star team. Vote here.

And to answer your question, YES, I have already voted 5 times.