Thursday, July 10, 2008

The NBA: Where “It’s All About the Money” Happens

NBA Free agency begins today, or as I like to call it Crazy People Spending Crazy Money!!! Yep your team could be the next to vastly overpay an underachieveing under-talented (shut up I know it's not a word) player. Especially centers. Good gravy, even a bad center gets crazy crazy CRAZY money in free agency. Centers and starting pitchers are the two most overpaid positions in sports. Remember this when you're having kids: either have them tall or make them left handed. They don't even have to be athletic or able to throw strikes. At worst your kids will get a free education. At best they'll make millions in free agency and buy you stuff. It's the circle of life.

ANYWAY, where was I? The big story this week (because it's July and there's absolutely nothing else to talk about- well unless you're in Vancouver, in which case you ask poll questions about the mental stability of your GM and why he hasn't made any good moves in free agency yet) was Elton Brand opting out of his contract with the LA Clippers so thathis buddy Baron Davis could opt out of HIS deal with the Warriors to make more money with the Clips so he and Brand could have about the same chance to win that they had before. So Brand opts out, Baron does the same, Baron signs a big contract with the Clips and Elton signs a big contract...with the Sixers. Whoopsy daisy! Yes let this be a reminder that NBA players and every athlete except Tom Brady and Marshall Faulk will ALWAYS take more money rather than win. Always. Unless they're end of the bench or role guys like Cassell or PJ Brown. Otherwise? They're taking the money.

Apparently Brand only got an extra $10-12 million by going to Philly. Don't get me wrong- that's a lot of money for most people, but for a guy who's already made a lot AND apparently has a successful production company in Hollywood, you would THINK he would honor his committment to his buddy Baron and take less (and by "less" I mean $60 million dollars instead of $70 million) to help the Clips. But no- no matter how rich you are, you apparently can never have enough. Although the Sports Guy did say on his latest podcast that these guys are afraid of going broke because it's happened to players like Kenny Anderson. Probably a good time to mention that if you spend your money like an idiot on cars, houses, "bling" and other, um, "stuff" then no matter how much you make you're still going to go broke. Would it make too much sense for the NBA and other leagues (well except the NHL. The only thing hockey players splurge on are new teeth and a 24 pack of Kokanee. Or if they're Russian, they pay off the mob. Heyo! Thanks I'll be here all week) to mandate that all of their players invest 10% of their earnings with a reputable financial advisor (the league could even approve the FA's so they'd weed out the sleezy ones) and that the player couldn't touch said earnings until they were 40 and/or they retired? Probably makes too much sense to happen.

This at least explains why poor Kenny popped up on Pros vs. Joes. Not that it's a shameful thing to do to go on that show. It seems like just about every former pro that's gone on there has really enjoyed kicking the crap out of the poor Joes. But Kenny subjected himself to a challenge where he had to compete against Joes in the one thing he could never do on a basketball court- shoot. All of the Joes beat him in simple shooting drills, and poor Kenny looked sheepish and embarrased while his Pros teammates dominated their events. But hey, I'm sure he got a nice check for it.

While Kenny's performance was one of the worst I've seen, 3 of the best (in no particular order) was Allen Houston doing that same drill, and he hit like 20 straight shots (all outside jumpers. Unreal. His knees must be completely shot if he can't find a place in today's NBA as a spot-up shooter. He's still got the stroke). Former Falcons back Jamal Anderson absolutely destroyed Joe after Joe in a drill where they had to tackle him. He not only was purposely running into them so he could run over them, he came BACK to run over them again. Easily the meanest and most competitive SOB they’ve had on there yet. Honorable mention in the football category goes to Ricky Williams. although that was unfair considering he could step into an NFL backfield and start right now. Sure the guy loves the BC Bud, but he's still in playing shape. He took it pretty easy on most of the Joes by trying to run around them, but "truck sticked" the one guy dumb enough to trash talk him. The result? Dumb Joe had to quit with a sprained neck. Definitely the best hit of the series. Third amazing/scary performance was MMA fighter Bob Sapp, who's 7'0, 300+ pounds and was a former NFL lineman before getting into the fighting thing. I'm not sure how he was allowed to participate because he quite literally could have killed any one of these guys. Obviously the Joe in the ring with hiim was scared to death, but the faces on the Pros watching was a mix of glee and awe. Just unreal how big and quick and scary Big Bob Sapp is.

And this isn't to pick on Kenny Anderson. I loved him when he was at Georgia Tech with Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver. I had a poster of him when got drafted by the New Jersey Nets when I was in junior high. He didn't make it in the pros because he didn't come along at the right time. He couldn't shoot and wasn't physical, and in the early 90's, when the NBA thought it was a good idea to have players beating the crap out of each other and have Knicks-Heat prime-time games with 70-65 scores, there was no place for a guy like Kenny. In today's game he'd be great. He was lightning fast, an excellent passer and had great handles. Look no further than the starting PG's from this year's Finals to see how he could have done- neither Tony Parker nor Rajan Rondo can shoot a lick, yet they're thriving. Just wasn't the right time for Kenny.

Back to Elton and Philly and the Clips and the rest of the short-sighted NBA. I'm not surprised anymore when a good player takes money over an opportunity to win because it happens just about every time. And before you try to bring up the Kevin Garnett example, let me stop you right there. Keep in mind, I love KG, and love how hard he plays and how maniacal he is about winning and being the best. But the only reason, THE ONLY REASON, he agreed to go to Boston was because Danny Ainge and the C’s agreed to give him a 2 year extension at $20+ million per season. KG, who has quite literally made more money from his playing contracts than any athlete in any sport in history, a total hovering somewhere near half a BILLION dollars (and this doesn’t even include his endorsement deals with Adidas and Gatorade), was only going to the Celtics if they gave him an extension for more ridiculous money. He would have passed up the opportunity to win a title this year if he didn’t get paid despite the fact he’s made more money than any human being could ever conceivably spend in 5 lifetimes, let alone one.

Of course, it takes two to tango as they say, so it’s not just the players who are short sighted. Look no further than the Washington Wizards. I know it has to be hard to be an NBA GM, and that I probably couldn't do it, but come on people, it can't be THAT hard, can it? For instance, in the last 3 years the Wiz have won 43, 41, and 42 games with the three-man core of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, and Caron Butler. Three pretty damn good players who are all in their prime, and yet the Wiz have three quick playoff exits to show for it. With Areans and Jamison as free agents this summer and few teams with cap space, call me crazy, but I would have went the sign and trade route with Gil and Jamison to shake things up and try a different approach. What did the Wiz do? You guessed it- resigned both guys to huge deals, bringing back exactly the same team as the past three years. Of course they did. It was Einstein who said that the definition of insanity if continuing to do the same things but expecting different results. I'm going to go out on a limb and mark the Wiz down for right around 42 wins and a quick playoff exit for next year.

So all of this is to say you shouldn’t be surprised or outraged when Elton Brand says he wants to build a winner in LA, then stabs his team, and his buddy Baron in the back, to take a few more millions to play in Philly. Or when Clay Bennett tells the good people of Seattle who faithfully supported the Sonics and NBA basketball for 41 years that he really wants to keep the team there- and then moves them to Oklahoma as quickly as he can with the full blessing of the Commissioner.

The NBA: Where “It’s All About the Benjamins” Happens.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Sky is Falling!?!?!

With skyrocketing gas prices (you think you have it bad? Move here to Vancouver- $6 per gallon. I wish I were kidding), the housing crisis, and everything else going on, it seems to have people wondering just what kind of world we're living in, and what the future looks like. That's all well and good, but you know what really scares me? Do you know what kind of world I'm afraid to live in? Do you know why I think the sky is falling? Because the Kansas Freaking Jayhawks are ranked in the top 20, and in some places even the top 10, of every preseason college football poll I’ve seen. Look nothing against the Rock Chalk Jayhawks, but there's only two polls they should be ranked highly in: college basketball rankings and national wheat production. That's it. But college football? Just what the hell is going on here? And unfortunately, it doesn't stop there: go down the list and you'll find “traditional powers” such as Texas Tech, BYU, Fresno State, Oregon State, Illinois, and Wake Forest littered among the top 25.

I guess I had hoped last year's parity striken free-for-all was just a blip or one year phenomenon or some kind of bad dream. But the new preseason polls show that perhaps the Age of Parity has hit the one sport I never thought it would. And don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't enjoy a wide open race for the national title, it's just that I enjoy seeing the Big Boys being the ones in contention, and if one of the Little Guys make a miraculous run, it's better when it's truly miraculous or David vs. Goliath. Kansas getting to a BCS game after a century of awful football? Great story. Kansas being one of many non-traditional schools contending? Not such a good story. Call me crazy but I want the best of the best, and if you're a small school you need to step up to the challenge, not have the pack brought back to you. I am NOT from the school of the "best of the lousiest or the lousiest of the best". I love an upset when it's truly an upset.

However, don't think for a second that I'm not excited about the upcoming season: au contraire. I actually couldn't be more excited. The Big 10 will be better than people think (although it seems like the expectations and reputation of the conference are at an all-time low, so it shouldn’t be hard to beat national expectations. Part of that thanks can go to THE Ohio State University for getting their ass kicked 2 years in a row by an SEC team). While the Buckeyes look loaded again, Scony is a legit team, Illinois will be even better (the Zooker has been a recruiting fiend down in Champagne), and Penn State and Michigan should be good simply because they're Penn State and Michigan. The SEC will be awesome yet again, and the Pac 10 aka The Conference Nobody Pays Attention To, will be solid again. So while it's not all doom and gloom in the Age of Parity, I'd sure appreciate it if the Have-Nots would go back to being the Have-Nots, and the Big Boys would take their rightful places back. If anything can make the world right again, it would be that.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Monday Musings

Happy Monday. Well it's probably not a happy Monday unless you're on extended vacation after the 4th o' July long weekend. But for the rest of us, here's a mostly baseball Monday Musings. Before that though, The World as Favre's Indecision Turns came had this from SI's Peter King.

"Two: Say the Packers allow Favre his freedom, which I think ultimately is what Favre wants if he doesn't get his starting job back in Green Bay. Overwhelmingly the team that makes the most sense to sign Favre for a couple of years is Minnesota. The Vikings are training Tarvaris Jackson to be their quarterback of the future, but he's an unproven commodity with promise at best. Their offensive coordinator is Darrell Bevell, who was Favre's quarterback coach for three years, from 2003-05. They have a close relationship. Not Steve Mariucci-Favre close, but Favre has a lot of respect for him. Imagine Favre in purple. It's an absolutely vomitous scenario for the Packers, imagining Favre playing for their arch-rivals -- and imagining Favre charging out of the tunnel at Lambeau Field for the opening game of the 2008 season. Lambeau Field, Monday Night Football, the night Favre was supposed to have his number retired for the Packers."

Wow. Just wow. King's about as good as it gets for NFL writers, so when he speaks, the football world listens. If he says there's a legit chance Favre comes back, then I believe him, and as I said Friday and as King reiterates in the story, this a no-win situation for the Pack and their fans.

But Minnesota? Can you even imagine Favre in purple? Good gosh the beautiful, sweet delicious irony that would be #4, the player who every Packer fan has rubbed in my face, playing in purple and kicking Green Bay's ass all season? Glorious! That's what it would be- glorious! Plus it'd be fun to watch people like Porta squirm. You know, the native MInnesotans who jumped the Favre bandwagon, all the while ripping the Vikes organization and why they couldn't cheer for the Vikes anymore. Whoever made Porta's furry Favre jersey might want to start making a furry purple #4 for Danny so he's properly attired for the WMW. It's ok buddy, we'll accept you and the rest of the native Minnesotan Favrey bandwagoneers back with open arms. Oh we'll remind you often about your two-timing bandwagoning ways, but you're still welcome to cheer for the team you should have been cheering for all along.

Ahhhh how sweet that would be. Of course, as King says in the story, you gotta think it'd be a cold day in hell before Green Bay would release Favre and allow him to play for Minnesota or Da Bears. A very cold day. So they either keep him and burn their bridge with Rodgers (the Brian Brohm 2nd rd pick is looking smarter and smarter), or deal one of the most popular athletes in the history of sports. IF Favre plays again, this will definitely hurt his reputation, at least with the fans. There's just no way Packer fans ever look him the same again if he does this and plays for somebody else. Bottom line is, we haven't heard even close to the last of this, and of course the best part is that no matter what happens, it's great for Vikings fans. Bloody fabulous is what it is. GO VIKES!!!!

*There hasn't been any baseball talk here because a) the Mariners have been reinventing the definition of awful and b) it's hard to follow the sport in Canada unless you like the Blue Jays. Since I hate them, I'm pretty much SOL. I'd be interested to know what the vibe is in the Cities right now for the Twinkies, who miraculously are just a game back of the White Sox in the division. Anyone still wondering why the Twins didn’t shell out $150-200 million for Johan and Torii? Anyone? I’m not going to sit here and say I believed the team would be a serious contender this season. Hell even the most die-hard Twins fan wouldn't have believed you if you'd told them that without Torii, Johan, AND Liriano the Twins would be only a game out of first place at the all-star break, but I did believe they’d be decent and would be back to contending by next season. Not giving huge money to two of their most popular players may have hurt their image around town, but it was absolutely the right move. Their success so far only helps to heal that wound with their fans and will hopefully get to realize they know what they’re doing. With a farm system stocked with pitching and an improved defense, the Little Engine that Could are right there again in the heat of the pennant race. What's more, they've locked up Mauer, Morneausy and Nathan to extensions, and are filling in pieces around them.

* Since I can’t seem to stop talking about the state of Wisconsin, the Brewers made a bold move towards a World Series by dealing for rental pitcher CC Sabathia. While they gave up Matt Laporta, one of their top prospects, and probably the biggest impact bat in the minor leagues right now, they still kept the farm system largely intact and now are sitting there with a great one-two punch of CC and Ben Sheets (at least until Sheets’ next visit to the DL, which could be any minute) to go along with a loaded offense. Sure they’re still terrible defensively, but Sabathia should help that once every five days.

I like the move for the Brewers because while they give up a great prospect in Laporta, he was blocked at first by Prince Fielder and in left by Ryan Braun, so he had no immediate spot. While I don’t believe in gutting your farm system, I DO believe in dealing prospects when the time is right, and for the Brewers this is the right time. However, make no mistake that this is simply a rental, as Sabathia WILL be a free agent this winter, and I’d be shocked if he’s not in Yankee pinstripes next year. When stupid teams like the Mariners give Carlos Hi-HO Silva! $48 million, just imagine what Sabathia will command.

* Finally, baseball, like every other sport, is a copy-cat. Other teams will follow the blueprint successful clubs to try and emulate their results. While nobody can spend like the Yankees or Red Sox, if you’re a baseball fan, let’s hope every team jumps on board the Rays bandwagon of success. And no, I’m not talking about their years of sucking- that we could do without. But what the Rays have done is drafted well (remember that the Pirates and Royals, just to name two, have had a lot of top 10 picks over the years just like Tampa, but have not gotten the results), developed well, and not overspent on free agents when they know whey can fill those positions from within.

But the two biggest problem areas the Rays had last year that were corrected this year were their defense and bullpen, and both were done on the cheap. Last year the Rays weren't just the worst defensive team in baseball, they were one of the worst of the past 10 years. BJ Upton at 2nd, Aki Iwonara at 3rd and Brendan Harris at short meant anything hit on the ground against them was getting through. So to fix it they called up "Eva"n Longoria, a plus defender at 3rd with 30+HR power. Sure, most organzations don't have that luxury- ok NOBODY has that luxury!!!- but his D at third allowed them to move Iwamura to 2nd, where he's decent, and move Upton to center field, where he doesn't kill them. They then made the deal with the Twins for Matt Garza and had Jason bartlett, one of the top defensive shortstops in the game, thrown in, and he's been awesome at short. Bingo, they now have one of the league's best defense this season.

Instead of blowing their money on a Francisco Cordero or Scott Linebrink or another expensive free agent, the Rays bullpen was rebuilt either with inhouse options or cast off free agents. Troy Percival anyone? Like their defense, the bullpen has gone from of the major's worst in 2007 to one of its best in 2008.

In case you haven't noticed, the Twins are already following this blue print pretty well. In the Terry Ryan Era the team was incredible at drafting and developing pitching, both starters and relievers, and you could argue nobody's done it better this past decade. Under new GM Bill Smith the Twins also took some steps to upgrade, or at least maintain their D, by signing Adam Everett to play short, calling up Alexi Ramirez to play 2nd, and getting some great D out of trade pickups Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young. I have no idea what's going on over at third or who's even playing there right now, but I figure it I've never heard of the guy, he can't be good with the bat which means he must be good defensively. And again, these were all moves made in house, through trades, or cheap free agents.

The one thing Smith can improve upon from Ryan's tenure is drafting and developing hitters. Mauer was a no-brainer and Morneausy developed well, but that's really been it for Twins prospects. They have a list as long as the Mississippi of position players who were 1st and 2nd round draft picks who were highly touted but never developed. In this day and age where teams are getting smarter and good hitters are harder to find, you HAVE to develop your own. But the Twins are doing a lot right, and have a very bright future as they move into their new ballpark in a couple of years. And hey, they're light years of my Mariners.

Friday, July 04, 2008

We Need To Talk...

…about some football! Happy Independence Day everybody, and what better way for me to celebrate a day the Canadians don't give me off by talking about real football. Anything to break the monotony and whining of Vancouver "sports" talk radio whose only cares are the Canucks and BC Lions metric football. Good gosh kill me now! Thankfully college football is right around the corner, and NFL training camps start in just a few weeks. We'll leave college foos for another day, so let's talk about the most indecisive hero of our generation, Mr. Brett “I can’t make up my freaking mind!!” Favre! Yes he's thinking about playing again, which, if you heard his interview on David Letterman right after he retired, shouldn't come as a surprise. I don't believe Favre is doing this for the publicity, i believe he made a rash decision to retire without thinking it through, and now that the season is almost here and it's time for training camp, he's having some serious second thoughts.

I, for one, can't blame him. I've never had a job I love as much as Favre loves football, so I can't even imagine what it's like to walk away from something that brought him so much joy. I just wonder why, if he was so unsure, he made the decision so soon. I mean really, every year for pretty much this whole decade there were two ways to tell football season was close: the Fourth of July, and the ridiculous speculation on whether Favrey was retiring or not. We had come to expect/loathe it, so what would have been so wrong with one more summer of it? I really do feel for the Cheeseheads, who probably just last week came off of their drunken bender to hide their sorrows from #4's retirement announcement. Now, after having finally come to grips with it, he says he's coming back? How much can the liver's of one fan base take? does polls all the time about the topic of the day, taking a total of the nation’s votes while also showing a breakdown of how each State voted. While the polls' real purpose is to gauge site traffic, they do also serve an interesting purpose in getting the nation's feel for certain topics. Of the many college courses I've taken, stats was one of my favorites, and I'm always interested in polls and data and statistics and what they mean. I bring this up because the Worldwide Leader asked a simple question: should Brett Favre come back? As a nation, about 60% of people say Favre should stay retired, which to me was no surprise. What was surprising, is that in the state of Wisconsin, only 66% of the more than 2500 respondents said they wanted Favre to come back! Either Packer Nation was showing a rare moment of lucidity and sobriety, or they were so lubed on Old Mil they hit the wrong button when voting. Brett Favre is their alpha and omega, the greatest player in the history of the universe. When Chuck Norris goes to sleep, Packer fans believe he has nightmares about Brett Favre. So how can a third of the Heads O' Cheese not want their savior to return?

I believe, and as always daring to enter the mind of a Packer fan is a dangerous task, Pack fans are tired of the roller coaster. After five or so offseasons of "will he or won’t he?” they had finally realized he was gone and never coming back. They were preparing themselves for Year 1 of the Aaron Rodgers Era, and while #4 would always be #1 in their hearts, they were doing their best to move on. There’s really no way for them to win here. If he retires then they’re without their Favrey, if he comes back, they’re going to have to go through the whole mourning process again next year…or the year after…or the year after. And if the Packers tell Favre they don’t want him back, then Pack fans have to watch their Beloved playing for another team.

So what happens next? Anyone’s guess really. If I were a betting man, I’d say Favre unretires near the end of training camp and plays for the green and gold. But at this stage anything is possible, meaning Cheeseheads everywhere will continue to have their hearts, and their livers, pulled in every direction. Buckle up Packer fans, this season will be a long, bumpy ride.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Who Are the Bigger D-Bags: the NBA or Seattle City Council?

As I type this, the moving trucks are heading down I-5 or I-90, on their way out of Seattle and off to Oklahoma (do they even have interstates in Oklahoma?). Clay Bennett, his merry band of redneck a**hole buddies, and The Commish David *%& You Stern got what they wanted: they successfully moved an NBA team from the league's 12th largest market (and one who supported the team faithfully for 41 years) to the nation's 46th largest, who supported the Hornets for a year and a half. The NBA- Where Bending a City Over and Doing Them Dry Happens. There's a lot of blame and a lot of stupidity to be spread around here to a lot of rich people, but after yesterday's settlement which allowed Bennett to leave, a special standing ovation of sarcastic golf claps needs to be given to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and the rest of his city council, who when needed most did what city governments do- instead of meeting the needs of their people, they simply go to the highest bidder. I suppose this is nothing new, yet it just sucks to see it happen again to a group of people in Seattle who fought really hard to keep the Sonics. If it wasn't for them the Sonics would have left last year, yet they helped to pull city and state govt along and rally for the cause. According to lawyers and those in the know, it looked like the city of Seattle had a strong case to hold Bennett to the lease and keep them there until 2010, if not buying more time, then at least putting the screws to the Lying Dirty Redneck. Not only that, there's the still the pending lawsuit Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz had against Bennett, which had a legitimate chance to cancel the sale and give Schultz the team back (just in case I haven't made this point clear before, Schultz is as much to blame as anyone in this for selling the team to Bennett in the first place. He's only suing to get the team back to save face in his native city. Is it a coincidence the coffee giant announced they have to close 600 stores? I'd like to believe

its karma, but it's more just a case of over saturating the market. There's just about a Starbucks on every corner here in Vancouver). The final kick in the crotch for Sonics fans was Nickels steadfast promise and guarantee that no amount of money would be enough to allow Bennett out of his lease, and that they would do everything possible to hold him and the team in Seattle until 2010...well at least until yesterday, when apparently $45 million was all it took to convince them otherwise. Two faced, promise breaking politicians is nothing new. I see it here in Vancouver, I've seen it when I was in radio in small towns in North and South Dakota, so I'm not sure why I'm surprised it happened again. Maybe it would have been more surprising if Nickels would have stuck to his guns and forced Bennett to stay. Their claim is that Stern has said getting another team to relocate to Seattle is a distinct possibility if they move fast, and that's why they caved to Bennett. Makes no sense considering you they're the 12thlargest market in the country. You would think Seattle and its region would hold the hammer here, because if the NBA is dumb enough to leave that market for good, that's their problem. It's not good business sense to do so, and Stern is showing that he knows that by trying to keep the door open for relocation ASAP. If the Sonics get a team in the next 5 years (from either Charlotte or Memphis) this issue goes away while fans of neither Charlotte or Memphis would put up much of a fight to their team leaving.

(Can't blame the folks in Charlotte for this. They had an incredible sellout streak for a long time until current Hornets owner George Shintz ran the team into the ground, then moved them to New Orleans. The new ownership group and management- sorry MJ- has been one of the worst in pro sports. How can you expect people there to support that team after they've been burned once, and the new group has proven they have absolutely positively no idea what they are doing. As for Memphis, it's not a pro sports town , and neither is Nashville. Tennessee, along with all of those states in the Deep South, are college sports- especially football- crazy. Pro sports gives them something to do between college football season and spring football).

So Stern knows the best thing for his league is to have a team in Seattle, which makes you wonder why the city wouldn't play hardball knowing they had the upper hand. You also have to wonder that if/when the NBA does return to the Emerald City, how well it'll be supported the second time around. Reading the papers and blogs down there, as you can imagine, there's a REAL bigtime sense of bitterness, betrayal, and hatred towards the NBA. I wonder if a new team would be welcomed with open arms, or if the NBA has burned its bridge in Seattle. I think it's probably more of the latter. While the city doesn't have a hockey team in the winter, UDub is in town and is very well supported, and they'd really only be bored from when the NFL season ends until baseball starts in March.

For now, we at least know one thing the NBA and Seattle mayor Greg Nickels and his local government have in common: both will choose money over doing what’s right for the people who support them and pay their salaries.