Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Ticket Is Punched: The Celts Are Now A Contender?

Watch out, Major League Baseball. The NBA stole your media thunder on trade deadline day, one of the few days on the calendar in which the sport pulls in non-purists to add to plummeting ratings. Furthermore, it’s a day when Barry Bonds is trying to tie Hank Aaron for the all-time home run record, the future home run king Alex Rodriguez is aiming for number 500, and Tom Glavine – one of the all-time elite lefties – seeks elusive 300th win.

Unless Bonds hits the home run tonight, which would not be until after 10pm this evening, the story of the day remains that KG has been traded to the Boston Celtics. Essentially, the NBA took a page out of the NFL’s ability to attract the media during the off-season by breaking a relevant on-the-hardwood news story.

The Celtics are now relevant. (Yes, even with Doc Rivers coaching.)

But are they the Eastern contender that some are predicting them to be. Not so much. First, let’s take a look at the trade details.

Boston acquires: Kevin Garnett
Minnesota acquires: Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, two first-round draft picks and cash considerations

For the sake of this article, we’re avoiding the walking mistake that is the perpetual mismanagement of the Minnesota Timberwolves by former Celtics legend Kevin McHale. They got the best deal possible for an aging superstar. As for the Celtics, there are a number of externalities coming out of this trade and we will look at five of them.

1. Butts in the Seats
This is undeniable. The Celtics will still be the third best ticket in town behind the Sox and the Patriots. However, as I said before, they are now a relevant sports franchise and have come out of their putrid obscurity. If the Celtics do not sell out three-quarters of its games, then the loyalty of fans in Beantown should be examined.

2. Paper-Thin Depth
As for the Celtics, they now have three of the league’s finest players in the aforementioned Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. Unfortunately, the trade leaves them with only players under contract. When I first heard the details, my gut reaction, “the NBDL will make or break this team.” Excluding possibly “Big Baby” Glen Davis, it would be tough to spot Celtics players outside the Big 3 in a police line-up.

3. Susceptible to Injury and Aging
KG is a warrior. Paul Pierce has been known to play through pain. Ray Allen was one of two reasons why the SuperSonics were borderline watchable. Last season, two of the big three – Pierce and Allen – combined to miss a total of 62 games while Garnett has missed six games in each of the last two seasons. Conventional wisdom may lend to the belief that as the Big 3 inch closer to their social security windfall (or complete lack thereof), they could easily miss close to or exceed the combined 68 games missed due to injury and/or suspension last season. Despite having three veteran stars, the Celtics are still a young team and have traded in a host of four-year veterans for two of the league’s best and what will be a host of nobodies.

4. Money, Money, Money, Mo----ney ... MONEY!
At present, the luxury tax threshold is $67.865 million for this upcoming season. According to HoopsHype, Boston’s nine salaries total approximately $66.196 million. For those unfamiliar with the Association’s luxury tax, it’s a dollar-for-dollar penalty when organizations go over the league-mandated amount. This leaves approximately $1.669 million to spend on six players, including second-round picks Glen Davis and Gabe Pruitt, who will both command contracts in the range of $427,000 each, leaving the C’s with a paltry difference of $815,000 to sign four players. Given that $427k is the league minimum, it will be impossible for the Celtics to fill their roster without climbing over the luxury tax threshold. Of course, renegotiation may take place to make this a moot point. For now, it’s newsworthy and value-added analysis.

5. Sustainability
In a word, no. Phrases like “ephemeral rise to relative glory” may be found ten years from now when reflecting on the two major acquisitions’ effect on team history. This effort is one by Danny Ainge to make his mark on the Celtics franchise right now. The short-term worries of relevance and ticket sales are taken care of, but the Celtics should not be taken seriously by the masses until they reach at least the 2nd round of the playoffs. I stopped short of saying the Eastern Conference finals, because three teams – the Detroit Pistons, the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland LeBrons – are stronger and more complete than the Celtics. Nevertheless, in three years time, the Celtics will have either sunk or swam. To swim signifies that the Celtics brass must conduct business proactively and restructure their stars’ contracts in order to attract a stronger supporting cast. The less palatable option would involve unfulfilled returns from Garnett and Allen leading the organization into a deeper level of obscurity than seen prior to their arrival.

No matter how you look at it, the Celtics are a stronger team now than they were yesterday and a shoe-in for the Eastern Conference playoffs barring a complete disaster. Will Doc Rivers be accountable for losing close games and tinkering with a million different starting lineups? I hope so.

Friday, July 27, 2007

NFL SWOT Analysis: NFC West

By: Armin Mohajeri

Starting today, I will do a SWOT analysis on each team (by division). I will also take a look at who may be passing and/or receiving the torch on each team, one of the camp battles and a rookie contributor. Check back every two to three days as I will cover all eight divisions in the NFL.

Arizona Cardinals

Leinart (Photo courtesy of USAToday.com)

Strengths: Look for the Cards to rely on the passing game again. Upgrades in the offensive line should keep Leinart off his back. Opposing defenses will have their hands full with Fitz and Quan, leaving Bryant Johnson with plenty of opportunities matched up against a nickel back or a safety. If Okaefor and Berry can adjust to stand-up rushing positions off the edge, this could be one of the top LB corps in the league.

Weaknesses: The Cards have a lack of safety-valve receivers. When opposing defenses blitz Leinart, his ability to target his tight ends and backfield receivers will determine how effective the offense can be, especially on 3rd and short. Edgerrin James and Leanard Pope hold keys to Leinart's success.

Opportunities: Antrell Rolle has an opportunity to show that he's one of the better CBs in the league. At 340 pounds, Gabe Watson could prove to be the immovable object that spearheads a 3-4 defense and frees up athletic ILBs, Dansby and Hayes, to attack the line or give them enough time to read and react.

Threats: We've seen it so many times. A re-vamped offensive line that looks so good on paper, yet can't get it together on the field. The right side, combined, has one year of NFL experience and the center and left tackle are new faces. While the individuals are decent, the lack of chemistry poses the threat.

Passing/Receiving The Torch: Although he essentially took the reigns last season, Leinart needs to become the leader of the offense this season. Nobody gives up the reigns, as they really didn't have a clear cut leader on offense last season.

Camp Battle: Roderick Hood & Eric Green, Cornerback. Give Hood the leg up for now, as he has the bigger contract.

Rookie Contributor: Levi Jones, Right Tackle. Jones steps in as the starter, protecting Leinart's blind side. Also keep an eye on defensive lineman Alan Branch. Concerns over leg injuries dropped his stock in the draft. The Cards stole him.

St. Louis Rams

Jackson (Photo courtesy of TheSportsTruth.com)

Strength: Feeding off a complimentary relationship with the passing game, the Rams running game has potential to be dominant. Look for another set of big numbers out of Jackson as he follows the underrated Hedgecock through the holes. Bulger should reap benefits from having Randy McMichael around as he should fulfill the unrealized promise the team expected out of their young TEs last year.

Weaknesses: As if their DBs weren't weak enough, Fakhir Brown starts the year off on the suspended list. Ronald Bartell (who the team was ready to move to safety) will now start alongside Tye Hill. As a rookie, Hill was semi-solid last year, but is still challenged as the #1 corner. Jonathan Wade and Lenny Walls will fill in at the nickel. Though Wade athletically gifted, he probably shouldn't be thrown to the wolves this early. Walls looks good on paper, but has never been able to put it all together.

Opportunities: Alex Barron has a chance to prove that he can succeed Pace at left tackle in a year or two. Victor Adeyanju will most likely come in for James Hall on passing downs and rush from a down position off the edge. Don't be surprised if he finishes the season with 8-10 sacks. Wide receiver, Drew Bennett, steps into an offense where Kevin Curtis did well as the #3 last year, landing him a big contract with the Eagles.

Threats: Leonard Little anchors a defensive line with question marks. James Hall is coming off a season ending injury, La'Roi Glover was ineffective last season and Adam Carriker is not NFL tested. Beyond Adeyanju, the depth looks weak. Let's not forget that Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce are getting up there in years (31 and 34, respectively). Will Father Time have an effect on these two staples of the Rams offense?

Passing/Receiving The Torch: Defensive tackle Adam Carriker takes over the one-gap for the departed Jimmy Kennedy. While the under-achieving Kennedy won't be too hard to replace, Carriker has a lot to prove.

Camp Battle: Jonathan Wade & Lenny Walls, Nickel Back. Though this will only last four games, until Fakhir Brown returns, this could be the opportunity for the Rams to get Wade some experience.

Rookie Contributor: Brian Leonard, Running Back. He could become a weapon in this offense, playing multiple positions. He can give Jackson a break, or he can step in for Hedgecock and work as a blocker or H-Back. He can also step in at TE. Look for him to be in motion whenever he's on the field.

San Francisco 49ers

Davis (Photo courtesy of SF49ers.com)

Strengths: Amazing how some good drafting and player management can do for a team. Frank Gore's breakout season looks on track for a repeat. Gore is running behind one of the top offensive lines in the league. Not only the starting five, but in depth as well. Alex Smith can throw to Darrell Jackson, Arnaz Battles, Ashley Lelie and Vernon Davis while banking on the protection of that offensive line. The linebacking corps are built on speed, especially once Patrick Willis claims a starting spot. On paper, this team looks on the verge of being something special

Weaknesses: A lot of new faces starting on defense. Ronald Fields will anchor a line that needs him and a couple others to step up to rotate with the aging DEs. Look for some growing pains with some of the new faces in the secondary. Michael Lewis is coming off his worst season (yet landed a huge contract). Can the physical Clements and Harris keep up with the fleet-footed receivers of the league?

Opportunities: Alex Smith has all the tools in place to move into the upper echelon of QBs in the league. Can the former #1 pick rise to the occasion? Vernon Davis looked impressive in mini-camps. Will he make his move to be one of the top 2 or 3 tight ends in the league?

Threats: The defense should be dominant in a year or two. However, if the unit doesn't mesh from the start, it could be a long year. Speedy linebackers can cause turnovers, however they can be dominated against a power-running team.

Passing/Receiving The Torch: Inside Linebacker Derek Smith, to Patrick Willis. This passing of the torch is twofold. Not only will Willis take over inside at some point, he will eventually develop into the leader of this defense. They could also spend some time side-by-side, as San Fran will run a 3-4.

Camp Battle: Darrell Jackson, Arnaz Battle & Ashley Lelie, Starting Wide Receivers. Lelie is currently penciled in at #3, but there are whispers that he could move into a starting spot because of his deep speed, something Jackson and Battle lack.

Rookie Contributor: Patrick Willis, Inside Linebacker. However, keep an eye on Joe Staley, who's athleticism on the offensive line could be valued

Seattle Seahawks

Alexander (Photo courtesy of MSNBC)

Strengths: Seattle returns their entire offensive line. When you have an offensive line that is comfortable with their counterparts, and know that they have their calls on the line synchronized is enough to make Mark Rypien a Super Bowl MVP. Matt Hasselbach and Shaun Alexander could reap major benefits from this continuity. A solid offensive line can mask many inefficiencies on offense. On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks boast one of the elite LB corps in the NFL. Tatupu is the enforcer who teams with Leroy Hill to patrol the opposing offense, leaving Julian Peterson to do what he's built to do -- get after the QB.

Weaknesses: The front seven must bring pressure, as Seattle's corners leave something to be desired. Marcus Trufant can be frustrating with his up and down play (more up than down). Jordan Babineaux mans the other corner. While he has starting experience (12 starts in last two years), he doesn't strike fear in the hearts of opposing offenses. Last year's first rounder, Kelly Jennings, could step up and upgrade the status of the unit. The wide receivers are in a strange place. Deion Branch did OK last season. Other than two big games, he averaged about 3 catches for about 55 yards per game. Hackett did about the same. Burleson and Engram were almost non-existent.

Opportunities: Marcus Pollard holds the key to Hasselbach's consistency as WR corps work to become a bigger part of the offense. Inconsistency from the previous tandem of Jerramy Stevens and Itula Mili didn't give Hasselbach solid options as safety-valve receivers. Shaun Alexander has a solid offensive line and has the door wide open to reclaim his rushing title.

Threats: Seattle's undersized defensive line could succumb to power running teams. Three members of the starting four are 270 lbs or less, with Rocky Bernard tipping the scales at 290, as the biggest. Marcus Tubbs must step up and get playing time as a run stuffing DT who goes ~325. Someone has to tie the blockers up for Tatupu and Peterson to be effective in their roles.

Passing/Receiving The Torch: Wide Receiver Deion Branch, from former Seahawk Darrell Jackson. Branch takes over as the #1 option in the passing game. While he wasn't very productive last season, he should fulfill expectations after having a year in this offense under his belt.

Camp Battle: Nate Burleson & DJ Hackett, Wide Receiver. Hackett is penciled in as the starter, however Burleson may get the push from the front office due to his contract. One or both need to step up to make this offense click, stretching the field for Shaun Alexander to do his damage.

Rookie Contributor: Speedy, yet diminutive cornerback Josh Wilson could see the field if the corners on this team struggle.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Under the Radar: USA Pan American Men's Basketball

Seemingly under the radar of the sporting world, the USA Pan American men’s basketball squad will compete July 25-29 in the 2007 Pan American Games men's basketball competition.

Time now for a brief history lesson…

The Pan American Games are a continental version of the Olympic Games, which includes both Olympic sports and other disciplines suggested by the competition organization and approved by PASO. Held every four years, always one year before the Summer Olympic Games, the first Pan American Games were held in 1951 in Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina. There are no Pan American Winter games yet.

It’s also widely known, at least within the sporting realms, that most American representatives are considered second-class athletes. You aren’t very likely to see Michael Phelps in the pool, Maurice Green on the track, or the top gymnasts competing. However, it is an important threshold for young talent to breakthrough and often boasts plenty of Olympic-quality competition.

As for the men’s basketball tournament specifics, for these games, the highlight of this article: the United States has been placed in preliminary round Group A along with Argentina, Panama and Uruguay, and Group B consists of Brazil, Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The U.S. opens preliminary play July 25 facing Uruguay (10 p.m. Rio de Janeiro local time), then meets Panama on July 26 (7:45 p.m. Rio de Janeiro local time) and the U.S. closes out preliminary round action against Argentina on July 27 (7:45 p.m. Rio de Janeiro local time). Semifinals will be held on July 28 and the finals will be played July 29.

Coaching the team will be Villanova head coach Jay Wright. His assistants include Alabama’s Mark Gottfried and Yale’s James Jones. The player selections were made after USA Basketball conducted five trials sessions between July 12-14 and four practices between July 15-17 at Haverford College (Pa.).

So what does this year’s team look like???

Before we dive head-first into the 12 selected, who might have the most beef with Wright and committee head (and assistant to the national team) Jim Boeheim, include:
Jon Brockman (Washington), Brian Butch (Wisconsin), Josh Carter (Texas A&M), Mario Chalmers (Kansas), Sherron Collins (Kansas), Brandon Costner (NC State), Eric Devendorf (Syracuse), Joey Dorsey (Memphis), Wayne Ellington (North Carolina), Randal Falker (Southern Illinois), Shan Foster (Vanderbilt), Alonzo Gee (Alabama), James Gist (Maryland),
Richard Hendrix (Alabama), Roy Hibbert (Georgetown), Maarty Leunen (Oregon), Chris Lofton (Tennessee), Derrick Low (Washington State), Wesley Matthews (Marquette), Eric Maynor (Virginia Commonwealth), Jerel McNeal (Marquette), Tasmin Mitchell (LSU)
Drew Neitzel (
Michigan State), DeMarcus Nelson (Duke), Ahman Nivins (St. Joseph’s)
Scottie Reynolds (Villanova), Jon Scheyer (Duke), Bryce Taylor (
Oregon), Kyle Weaver (Washington State), and DJ White (Indiana).

A selection of 32 collegiate talents, there were more than a few snubs before the final 12 was selected. Now while everyone has complaints (some more legit than others), you have to consider that the best 12 as a team were supposed to be selected. Just looking at the list their appears to be a few hometown choices, a few ball hogs, and a few guys who might have potential ego problems.

Here’s the twelve, for better or worse, who were selected (with, of course, some minor comments from myself included):

Joey Dorsey [Power Forward/Center] 6’9, 260 LBS. (Memphis)
Props: His physical appearance alone, check the tale of the tape above, makes him bound for an Under Armor commercial once he turns pro. Despite being complete abused by
Ohio State’s Greg Oden in the Elite Eight (after calling Oden out as a “little man”), Dorsey still locked up 1st-team honors for Conference USA.
Flops: Dorsey’s mouth got him into big trouble against Oden; however, he lacks a solid offensive game that doesn’t involve alley-oops and anything not within 5 feet of the hoop. He may be prone to foul trouble against some of the continent’s other bigs, as well.
Yes/No: Yes. His size and athleticism make him a genetic freak. Fortunately, he runs the court extremely well and will be a perfect defensive 5 for Team

Wayne Ellington [Shooting Guard] 6’4, 196 LBS. {North Carolina)
Props: Ellington played on the 2006 Nike Hoops Summit team and then went on to play in all 38 games for the ACC Champion Tar Heels this season. He was on the 2007 All ACC Tournament teams and averaged a strong 11.7 points per game. A deadly shooter off of a screen or from all around the perimeter, Ellington was one of the nation’s highest touted guards one season ago.
Flops: Ellington faded in and out at times on a talented UNC roster. Despite dominating in college, he took a bit of a secondary role for UNC at times. His youth may be all that held him back this season, as NC still provided him with plenty of minutes and opportunities.
Yes/No: Yes. Ellington is a dynamic shooter and can take over games with his play away from the ball. He should’ve been one of the easier selections for Boeheim, Wright, and company.

Shan Foster [Small Forward] 6’6, 200 LBS. (Vanderbilt)
Props: In case you missed a good chunk of March Madness, Shan Foster was a vital asset to Vanderbilt’s near Elite Eight run (remember, the Jeff Green faux-travel?). While Derrick Byars was the name-brand guy, Foster played brilliantly against both
Washington State (a double OT game) and the aforementioned showdown with the Hoyas.
Flops: His athleticism may cost him with difficult matchups. He’s also one of the least touted guys on this roster.
Yes/No: Yes. He’s a terrific team player and can take and make key shots. He provides a tough matchup for a lot of players and should be one of the glue-guys off the bench for this team.

James Gist [Power Forward] 6’8, 228 LBS. (Maryland)
Props: He’s young, raw, and determined. He plays with a lot of intensity and is still growing at 20 years old. He is solid in the post, with even a hook shot coming along, and can help protect smaller perimeter players inside. His mid-range shooting is streaky, but he just might be able to get a couple easy buckets and change the pace of a game mid-way through it.
Flops: He’s never gotten serious minutes and may be a little undersized for the position and type of play he’ll be needed for. He may never actually shoot the ball either on this team.
Yes/No: Yes. Every team needs a garbage man. Here is that guy.

Roy Hibbert [Center] 7-2, 278 LBS. (Georgetown)
Props: An all 1st-team Big East performer, Hibbert was one of the major reasons why the Hoyas made a run into the Final Four this past season. Forgoing a likely lottery selection, Hibbert is extremely talented, coachable, and provides havoc via mismatches with other big men. His foot speed is underrated in the paint and he can play defensively minded whenever asked to.
Flops: He is prone to foul trouble, lacks great court speed, and isn’t as vocal a leader as some coaches want in their big man.
Yes/No: Yes. Most likely one of the first selections made by the coaching staff, Hibbert is a perfect 5 for the American style of play. As long as he can limit his foul trouble, he will reign over similar structured, yet skillfully flawed, international big-men.

Marty Leunen [Power Forward/Center] 6-9, 215 LBS. (Oregon)
Props: His size allowed him to surprise a lot of opponents; especially since the majority of attention has never been directly given to him. While it’s unclear if he’ll play as an oversized 4 or potentially undersized 5, Leunen was an honorable mention All-Pac 10 performer this past season. Averaging 10 and 8, and logging good minutes, for Ernie Kent’s Ducks were plenty to earn him a tryout.
Flops: With guys like Gist and Dorsey already liabilities as shooters, Leunen may like the outside shot a big too much. His size isn’t daunting and his ability to finish may be lesser than some of the other invitees.
Yes/No: Yes. Sorry, but size matters. While I’m not in love with him shooting it from the outside (especially when a guy like Lofton gets cuts), I also appreciate the mismatches he might cause. He can also guard bigs around the perimeter. Something Gist & Dorsey don’t do particular well at all.

Derrick Low [Point Guard] 6-1, 186 LBS. (Washington State)
Props: Don’t let the hair fool you, Low had a ton to do with
Washington State’s reclamation season in 2006/2007. A former Mr. Basketball in Hawaii, Low has an incredible positive attitude and is an accomplished floor leader who adjusts well on the fly.
Flops: He’s a bit undersized and isn’t nearly as competent from behind the 3-point line as some people give him credit for. Some doubt his style of play translates well in this setting.
Yes/No: Yes. He joins fellow Cougar Kyle Weaver as the first
Washington State representatives on a Pan-Am team. A stand-out at the tryouts, the upcoming senior earned All-Pac Ten 1st team honors his junior season. While I was a little skeptical at first, his tryout reviews and reports seem too good to even consider passing on him.

Eric Maynor [Point Guard] 6-2, 165 LBS. (Virginia Commonwealth)
Props: Much like Carlos Boozer on the 2004 Olympic team, Maynor may not have as big of a name, ego, or reputation as some of the players he passed up. However, he has a flare for the dramatics (just ask George Mason and Duke fans) and, most importantly, is a pass-first point guard. With plenty of shot-happy guards already on the roster, Maynor, who needs work on his defense (although he has come up with key steals late in games), is a strong candidate to get serious minutes at the 1-spot.
Flops: Despite the win over Duke and the game against Pitt, VCU is still a mid-major school and Maynor’s jump shot clearly won’t scare anyone.
Yes/No: Yes. Pass first, pass second, drive third, and shoot maybe fourth. As a 1st-team CAA performer and conference tournament MVP, I don’t need to go hometown on this heady selection.

Drew Neitzel [Point Guard] 6-0, 180 LBS. (Michigan State)
Props: It’s hard to deny anyone who can make the All-1st team in the Big Ten. Adding to that, Neitzel is a savvy senior. He can drain a three-ball from as far as five feet behind the three-point arc and is fearless at taking over late in games. His clutch play alone, alongside his great court speed, is enough to make coaches salivate,
Flops: Despite his desire and drive, there are more skillful and talented players available many would argue. He also might fall in love with the deep ball, whether it goes in or not. Fatigue shouldn’t be an issue, though.
Yes/No: Yes. You need emotion, hustle, and a guy who’s willing to shoot from any spot in the gym. If he gets hot, he can match the young kids from around the continent who do nothing else than lob up a dozen threes every game.

Scottie Reynolds [Combo Guard] 6-2, 195 LBS. (Villanova)
Props: He has past international experience from his days with the 2005 Youth Development Festival White Team. Reynolds was also the Big East freshman of the year and an All-American freshman selection. He has incredible talent and plays much bigger than he’s listed as. He’s downright dynamic from start to finish on the court.
Flops: Sometimes he tries to do too much at one time. He might pass up a simpler route for a more spectacular play. There is also a lot of pressure on him since Jay Wright is his head coach at Villanova.
Yes/No: Yes. He’s a playmaker, plain and simple. Plus, if you were Jay Wright, could you honestly not let this guy on your team?

Kyle Weaver [Small Forward] 6-5, 185 LBS. (Washington State)
Props: Much like his teammate Low, Weaver was an All-Pac Ten first-team performer. He was a solid backcourt mate and never minded hitting clutch shots when it mattered the most. The Wisconsin-native seemed shocked by his invitation to the trials; yet, clearly took advantage of the opportunity well.
Flops: His name isn’t a big as others and perhaps he isn’t as assertive as they are either.
Yes/No: No. The only disagreement I could honestly make. While plenty of the guys invited shouldn’t have even been considered for the team, I find it hard to believe there wasn’t a spot for Chris Lofton. While Weaver has more size and strength, he also lacks the playmaking ability and numerous late-game experiences that Lofton does. However, I wasn’t there at the tryouts, so I can’t say much more.

D.J. White [Power Forward] 6-9, 251 LBS. (Indiana)
Props: Perhaps breaking out of the underachieving status-bug, White, who has previous Team USA Basketball experience from the 2004 Nike Hoop Summit and 2003 Youth Development Festival South Team, earned 2nd-team Big Ten honors this past season. He will be valuable against international teams who stack lineups of perimeter players (often without a true 5 on the court). He’s a veteran collegiate performer and easily coachable.
Flops: He’s definitely had a few consistency issues. He also might not be able to provide depth as the team’s third true big-man.
Yes/No: Yes. It isn’t a slam dunk, but it’s the right position. Despite the international game perhaps going away from his forte, he provides physical play and a nice touch away from the basket. Two things that are definitely needed to win games.

Most Notable Snubs:
Chris Lofton [SG, Tennessee]
-Perhaps the best pure shooter invited, Lofton apparently didn’t impress many of the coaches with his size issues (especially at the 2) and his inability to consistently knock down open perimeter looks. He seemed to show no hard feelings though, solidifying his reputation as a class act. Reynolds shouldn’t be the only true playmaker on this team.

Mario Chalmers [SG, Kansas]
-Whether most, like myself, considered the
Kansas guards (Chalmers and PG Sherron Collins) as potential selections or not, neither Jayhawk played up to snuff to make the team. A few eyes may glance a little harder at VCU’s Eric Maynor. Assuredly though, one of them isn’t USA Head Basketball coach Mike Kryzyweski.

Overall Thoughts
While I really enjoy some of the selections on this team, you'd be hard pressed in defending these players as the 12 best we could've sent. With names like Collison, Lawson, Hansbrough, James, Rush, and countless others not even invited to tryouts...this team is missing a ton of potential talent. It's bigs are a little shaky, it lacks true playmaking ability from a senior standout, and also doesn't have the dynamic scorer some of the international teams may supply. These are also players, with the exception of a noted few, who have almost no experience playing with each other. However, it should be a growing experience and fun to watch. Just don't expect automatic gold, or even a medal, just yet.

So there you have it. I’ll be posting, mainly through the comments section on this article, the progress, whether positive/negative/neutral, of this team.

Until next time…

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

10 Vexing Thoughts...

It's official, folks. No, not Tim Donaghy again. Well, not yet.

It's official that we've hit the dog days of summer. Many of our loyal readers have either checked into hotels/motels on their summer vacations or mentally checked out of the majority of the sporting landscape.

I can't say I blame them. Most of the news out there is ridiculously negative, baseball is in the doldrum months, and football (whether college or professional) seems a little too far away.

The British Open (gasp! I mentioned golf) was fun for most to view on Sunday; yet, that is not nearly enough to get any sporting fan back in their traditional groove.

While I may be pinning for the times of the NFL Playoff-chase, bowl season beginning, and the in-conference schedule heating up throughout college basketball (ahhh, my favorite part of the holiday season)...I suppose there's more than enough going on in the sporting world to talk about.

Even if it's only to complain...

1) Why does it seem that David Stern is so willing to label Tim Donaghy's actions as an isolated incident, as if they were completely separate from the NBA itself? While it's true that the NBA has never seen such a scandal before (although, remember Game 6 between LA and Sac-Town a few years back), Stern has become all too adept at pushing any sort of negative press or blame away from himself and his association. In fact, most league officials and media personalities were less than surprised that something of this nature, that is an NBA official potentially fixing the outcomes, not just spreads, of games, could occur. Just as he did during the Robert Horry/Steve Nash debacle (Nash only listed as he was the victim), Stern has become as slimy and greasy as a junior Don King at pushing fault and culpability towards anyone than himself. And if you believe comparing his speeches to King's (remember, I'm not saying his similar in his actions) is ludicrous, fork over the cash to ESPN Radio Insider and listen to the 'lecture' he gave on the Dan Patrick Show following the suspensions of Amare Stoudamire and Boris Diaw.

2) Why is it that most media personalities, specifically those who host a morning show on the 4-letter network, are so quick to call for the head of Barry Bonds (as the Mitchell Investigation continues) and yet remain more than willing to wait it out for a certain dogfighting-related Falcons QB? They want Bonds burned at the stake, but we need to be responsible and wait for definitive evidence on Vick. Is it just me, or is the fact that a record may be broken nowhere near as serious as the vicious, brutal, and calculating murders of dozens of innocent animals? I'm not saying Bonds is innocent or Vick is guilty, but there's clearly a double standard here. Although, it has NOTHING TO DO WITH RACE.

3) Why is it we can't hear anything positive about the Cubs resurgence, other than the Lou Pinella threw a Hall of Fame Hissy Fit? There are so many more reasons for the Cubbies making a push in the NL Central. Some don't even have to do directly with them, in fact. Forgotten to most 'experts' is the complete inability of St. Louis to stay healthy, the fact that Milwaukee hasn't been in this situation in nearly two decades, and Houston's putrid performance near the bottom of the NL Standings. Instead of praising Lou for kicking and screaming like a four year old, talk about his ability to gel this roster, after all it is his first season with the team, and talk more about the standout play of guys other than Zambrano (including Ryan Theroit, Carlos Marmol, and Ted Lilly).

4) Seriously, could there be more Fantasy Football Magazines out there? Check out your local Barnes & Noble or Borders bookstores. I've seen Stephen Jackson and LT on more covers than Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan lately. Seriously, I have.

5) Why wasn't more press given to the entertaining bout between Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright? Especially considering both fighters, particularly Wright, are defensive-minded and often don't come out of their shell. The two put on a solid show (much more impressive than the rather snoring fight between De La Hoya and Mayweather) and controversy (in the form of Hopkins and his questionable headbutting) should have peeople talking for weeks. Oh yeah, boxing doesn't matter anymore. Even when it's this good.

6) Looks like I may be eating crow come this October. While many doubt him as a second-half pitcher, it appears that Brad Penny [12-1, 2.42 ERA] is the clear-cut frontrunner for the NL Cy Young Award. While everyone seems to be jocking Padre Jake Peavy (who is much more media-friendly than Penny) or the aforementioned Zambrano (who, if he rallies the Cubs, may merit serious consideration in the next two months)...Penny has been the man for the National League's most consistent team. Yep, those Dodgers.

7) I think UFC 5,467 is coming up this week. It's time for ESPN, Yahoo, Fox Sports, and Sports Illustrated to calm down a bit on the impact of this sport. While it is clearly growing, there's no need to feature it on covers just yet. Especially when Chuck Lidell gets knocked out quicker than Peter McNeely (flashback anyone?).

8) How exactly is the 'tax shelter' set up for Ichiro by the Mariners legal? The Associated Press reports the contract extension Seattle Mariners OF Ichiro Suzuki signed last week will defer $25 million of the $90 million and the team will not have to fully pay him until at least 2032. The deal will pay Ichiro $12 million salary each year and will defer $5.5 million per season at 5.5 percent. The deferred money will be paid to Ichiro in annual installments, every Jan. 30, beginning the year after he retires. Because of the deferred money, Ichiro's contract will be discounted to $16.1 million. Other provisions in Ichiro's contract include a $32,000 yearly housing allowance that will rise by $1,000 each year and four first-class round trip tickets to Japan each year for his family. He will also be provided with either a new jeep or Mercedes SUV by the team, as well as a personal trainer and interpreter. Does this really sound legit to you?

9) Can someone get Charles Barkley a couple cough drops inbetween press junkets, radio spots, and television shows? Seriously, the guy loses his voice eight minutes into his time on TV. It's a shame too. Especially when we're forced to hear far too much from one of my favorite basketball players of all-time (and one of the world television personalities imaginable), Magic Johnson.

10) Any other sports fans just dreading reading the headlines in either your local or national sport's page or on your favorite online website (or blog even???)? Between Barry & roids, the NBA officiating fiasco, Mike Vick & dogfighting, countless arrests/suspensions/traffic violations, and ESPN's nauseating Who's Now segments...is there any reprieve for us in already brutal summer? I doubt it. Not until the NFL returns, at least.

Hopefully you have some comments/reactions or perhaps a few gripes (or maybe even some praising words) of your own to share. Feel free to via comments.

As for me, I'm still waiting out the announcement of my fantasy football drafts.

Now where's that magazine???

Until next time...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Countdown to Liftoff: The Rocket Report

In case you’ve been under a rock the past two months, sure-shot Hall of Fame inductee Roger Clemens returned in early June to the New York Yankees.

Whether it will be triumphant or not is yet to be seen.

He agreed to a one-year contract for $28,000,022 -- the last two digits matching his uniform number -- that will start when he is added to the major league roster for his first start, most likely in three to four weeks. Clemens will earn about $18.5 million under the deal, which will cost the Yankees approximately $7.4 million in additional luxury tax, meaning they are investing about $26 million in a seven-time Cy Young Award winner who will turn 45 in August.

While you could talk about his contract, or Yankee spending altogether, for days upon end…that isn’t the approach this article wishes to take.

"Roger Clemens is a winner and a champion, and he is someone who can be counted on to help make this season one that all Yankees fans can be proud of," owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. "The sole mission of this organization is to win a world championship."

In case you didn’t know (thank you Yahoo! Sports), Clemens helped the Yankees win World Series titles in 1999 and 2000, then left after the 2003 season intending to retire. But when Andy Pettitte signed with the Houston Astros, Clemens also joined their hometown team. The Rocket retired again after the 2004 and 2005 seasons, only to re-sign the Astros both times. Pettitte changed the dynamic when he rejoined New York this season. Clemens had limited his field to the Yankees, Astros and Boston Red Sox, his original team. But when Clemens' agent, Randy Hendricks, spoke to the Astros and Red Sox in recent days, they said they'd prefer he join up with them in late June or early July. The Yankees, according to Hendricks, said: "We'd like you yesterday."

"Make no mistake about it, I've come back to do what they only know how to do here with the Yankees, and that's win a championship," Clemens said. "Anything else is a failure, and I know that."

While it’s still early in the 2007 campaign for the Rocket, it’s also quite interesting to analyze just how well, or perhaps not so well, Clemens and the Yankees have fared since June 9th (his debut).

Especially since it appears as if Clemens is netting nearly $1-million a start. Yep, the math adds up somehow.

June 9th: (home) Pittsburgh Pirates
-Clemens pitches 6 innings of 3 run/5 hit ball. The Yanks ride a strong offensive showing to a 9-3 victory and a weekend sweep of the Pirates. Clemens Ks 7, although has a shaky opening few innings.

Prognosis: Positive. Clemens kept the Yanks in the game and earned his first victory for the Yanks.

June 15th: (home) New York Mets
-Clemens is outdueled by Oliver Perez (who goes 7 1/3 with only 5 hits), yet appears to be gaining momentum as he only allows 2 ER and strikes out 8. Jose Reyes does touch him up for his first home run of the young season. It was a tough 2-0 loss during the series opener for the Yanks.

Prognosis: Still positive. Giving up 2 runs in 6+ is exactly what Roger was paid to do. The Yankee bats, especially against the youthful Perez, was the real disappointment on the Friday opener of the series (of which the Yanks took two).

June 21st: (away) Colorado Rockies
-Just when things appeared to be turning around for the Yankees, a trip to Coors Field plunged them into 3rd place and a near disastrous 3-game sweep. Clemens couldn’t get out of the 5th inning, giving up 4 earned runs en route to his second loss. The
Rockies won the game 4-3.
Prognosis: Negative. Clemens was considered a shoe-in for the victory against the Rockies. He fell flat on his face and seemed to show stamina issues early and often.

June 24th: (away) San Francisco Giants
-Mike Mussina continued to struggle for the Yankees; yet, the real story was the bullpen entrance by the Rocket to go face-to-face with Barry Bonds. While the flashbulbs were definitely ready, a 5-pitch walk and only an innings worth of work (with 1 run given up on Bonds scoring on a sac fly) was all Clemens managed in a rare relief appearance.

Prognosis: Negative. The moment could’ve been cool, but Clemens barely flirted with the strike zone. Torre was wise to give him work though. Losing 2 of 3, this one the worst of the two at 7-2, in the Bay Area was another NL West-laden disappointment for the Yanks.

June 27th: (away) Baltimore Orioles
-Once a whooping child for the Rocket, the Orioles continued to press the Yankees as they took their fifth of six games from the Yanks this season 4-0 (one game has been postponed until a later date with the Yanks leading in the 8th by a run, though). Clemens went 6 but his ERA hit 5.32 (its highest all season) as he gave up 4 runs in 6 innings.

Prognosis: Highly negative. The Rocket’s tally was pushed to 1-3 while he failed to strike out a single Oriole batter. Skeptics abloom in New York as the Yankees were a baker’s dozen out of 1st-place.

July 2nd: (home) Minnesota Twins
-Talk about a statement game. Clements led the Yanks to a key 5-1 victory with his most satisfying performance of this year’s campaign. A box score reading 8 innings, 2 hits, 1 ER, and only 1BB (he only K’d 3 though) was more than enough to give the New York media a chance to shower Clemens with praise once again.

Prognosis: Much more positive. It was a key performance in a key series for the Bronx Bombers. With Wang picking up the pace and Mussina perhaps righting the ship, the Rocket seemed to be stepping up as a leader for the staff.

July 7th: (home) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim [what a horrid name, by the way]
-The Angels, the kryptonite of the Yankees over the past several seasons, only took this game during a 3-day stay in the
Bronx. Angel ace John Lackey and the vaunted Angel bullpen allowed Anaheim to take the game 2-1 in 13 innings. Clemens couldn’t be blamed at all however. He had gone 8 innings (again) while only surrendering 5 hits, 1 ER, and avoiding almost any potential trouble with relative ease.
Prognosis: Positive. It was a loss, but Clemens threw some of his best stuff in a real pitcher’s duel. The Yanks took the Friday and Sunday games, partly because of the confidence in Clemens showing up on Saturday (which he did) in an extremely important pre-All Star weekend series.

July 13th: (away) Tampa Bay Devil Rays
-With 6 days of rest, in-between the All-Star Game festivities, Clemens lost the only game of a four-game tilt in
Tampa. The Devil Rays, winning their only game 6-4, hit up Clemens for 5 hits, 5 ER, in a little over 5 1/3 innings. Clemens appeared a little flat and the offense only mustered a paid of solo shots in the 8th to try and spark a late comeback. Again, Clemens gave up runs early (this time in the 2nd inning) and appeared to scatter baserunners as best he could (the D-Rays scored 3 runners on sac flies/ground outs).
Prognosis: Incomplete. After a longer than usual break, even a loss at Tampa isn’t a nuclear meltdown. However, Clemens will have to be a consistent spark down the stretch. Especially since the Yankees have an AL East-heavy schedule and will need their 45-year old fireballer to be a consistent performer as they attempt to enter the thick of the wild-card, and maybe even potentially, the AL East races.

July 18th: (home) Toronto Blue Jays
-Clemens may have given up nearly double-digits in hits (9), but only gave up 1 run (he K’d 3 and gave up 1 BB) in 6 innings of work. It wasn’t until a 7th-inning rally, fueled by A-Rod, that the Yankees overcame a 1-0 deficit and ended up with a 6-1 victory. Clemens provided plenty of gusto throughout the start, working as hard as he had all season to keep the Blue Jays off of the scoreboard while the Yankee bats remained quiet for the initial 2/3 of the game.

Prognosis: Positive. While it’d be unfair to claim the Devil Rays game was simply an off night, this performance did go to show how much stability the Rocket, when he is near his best, can bring. Getting key groundball outs shows that even though his strikeouts might not reach double-digits often, Clemens can still get the key outs when he needs to.

Stat-Line: 2007 season for Roger Clemens
2-4, 3.88 ERA, 34 Ks/15 BBs, 1.24 WHIP.
-The Yankees are 3-4 in games in which Clemens is a starter.
-The Yankees are 0-1 in the only game in which Clemens entered from the bullpen.
[Yes, I know all pitchers usually come from the bullpen, whether starters or relievers.]

Next Up:
Clemens will not have a return affair this upcoming weekend with the D Rays. After taking 3 of 4 in a pivotal Bronx-laden series against the Blue Jays, the Yankees see themselves with one of their easier stretches in the schedule.
(4 at home vs.
Tampa, 3 at KC, 3 at Baltimore, 3 hosting the ChiSox, and 3 more hosting KC)

Clemens could easily be penciled in for 3 or 4 quality starts, as he often is by the media (and Yankee management), fair or not, every time he takes the mound.

With the Red Sox 19-21 over their last 40, the Yankees have clawed their way back to 7 games back (6 in the loss column) in the AL East and 6 back (5 in the loss column) of the Wild Card chase.

While they’ve flirted with such a run only less than a month ago, clearly the next few weeks, especially with Clemens hopefully hitting a near mid-season groove in the coming month or two, will be imperative for the Rocket, the Yankees, and the investment made in each other.

Either way, it should be interesting to see how everything plays out.

Until next time…

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Summer League Storylines

As the Vegas summer league starts to get more and more press, an important question has begun to linger more and more: is the Vegas summer league a reliable method for evaluating NBA talent?

Remember we're talking four total leagues too. Although Vegas & Orlando seem to get the most hype these days.

Of course, as is usually the case…the answer is both yes and no.

Amare Stoudemire first blew up during summer league games.
So did Nikoloz Tskitishvili though.
Von Wafer plays like an NBA starter most summers.
Marco Belinelli is as efficient as they come in his first minutes on American hardwood.
Even Marcus Banks put up 42 points in a game this summer.
Greg Oden committed 19 fouls in 2 games.
Anthony Roberson may have resurrected his basketball career this summer, I think.

All interesting sentiments. In fact, there’s a countless assortment of them to try and decipher and decode.

The real point is: the summer league often provides both youthful underachievers and aging underachievers an opportunity to display their talents, for better or worse.

Well, sort of.

So here are a dozen Summer League Storylines that you might even want to take a peak at, if only for a moment or two…

1) Is Randy Foye this year’s sophomore stud [aka Deron Williams]?
-Showing more than enough potential down the stretch last season, Foye has been rather impressive during the opening stretch in Vegas. While his team is far less structured than Utah a season ago, Foye could easily step up into a more prominent role within the Timberwolves starting rotation.

2) Can Glen Davis help bring respectability back to the Celtics frontline?
-Jumping up more than a few draft boards, ‘Big Baby’ may not turn out to be another Robert ‘Tractor’ Traylor after all. In fact, he may be much more effective in using his size and relatively steady foot speed. While lining him up next to Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins won’t remind you of Parrish/McHale, Big Baby could see 15-20 minutes a game a few months into the season.

3) Which of the two previous 1st-round pick point guards will be starting for the Lakers in their opener?
-Don’t sleep on how much Phil Jackson hates small point guards (sorry BJ Armstrong). Crittenton is reminding a lot of people of a young Ron Harper. While he may not sky to the hoop like Ron Harper at 23, Harper at 33 would be more than enough for the Lake-show.

4) Will DJ Strawberry or Alando Tucker be added into Phoenix’s rotation?
-Not right away; yet, it should happen eventually. Remember that Grant Hill is now there, Shawn Marion didn’t leave, and Kurt Thomas isn’t likely to be traded anymore. With that being said, Tucker’s shooting ability gives him the slight edge. The real question is whether injuries beset the Suns or perhaps one of these guys can show added muscle or defensive prowess.

5) With Kevin Durant & Jeff Green likely starting Day One, will Seattle struggle mightily to win 20 games this season?
-They’ll both start and the team will SUCK (and I didn’t mean to say stink). In fact, after viewing their potential starting lineup, point guard Luke Ridnour may be the only guy who should be starting from Day One on an NBA team this upcoming season. Their center position is an impending disaster (Robert Swift doesn’t equal a monster and Sene is going to keep getting people fired) and they’re going to look to two undersized rookies, physically at least, to carry the load. It’s likely the Sonics will be drafting very very early in the lottery next season.

6) Will Amir Johnson have a Jason Maxiell type entrance into the Pistons rotation?
-Johnson looks ready to ink a 3-year/$10-million deal with Detroit-basketball. While some of you may scoff at such a deal for a guy who gets limited minutes, remember C-Web is far from guaranteed to be returning and the Pistons learned last season that McDyess & Rasheed are far less reliable than previously anticipated. Not to mention that last year’s surprise Maxiell, despite strong reviews, was exposed by LeBron as having terrible adjustment and reaction speed.

7) How many minutes has Aaron Brooks earned with his stellar summer play thus far?
-One of the MVP candidates of the summer league thus far, Brooks still has a lot to look up at on the depth chart. Mike James is back in Houston, Rafer Alston is already there, and some guy named Luther Head is a third-year veteran who has been relatively productive in limited minutes. In fact, Head may be the guy to watch in Houston this year. Nevertheless, Brooks, thus far, doesn’t seem to be the extreme reach some had him pegged as only a few weeks ago.

8) Will Sebastian Telfair be a Boston Celtic next year? Or even in the NBA?
-I’m leaving this one up to the gods. Honestly, there’s no telling what’s going on. Fortunately for his case, Rajon Rando hasn’t exactly been unstoppable as of late. With Delonte West gone, something tells me Gabe Pruitt may not be enough to keep Sebass off of the court for very long.

9) Did you know that Maceo Baston is still playing?
-Seriously? Did you have any idea? He even got offered a 2-year contract!?!?

10) What are the Blazers planning to do with Taurean Green?
-Steve Blake is back, Sergio Rodriguez has struggled in the NBA-style (especially defensively), and Jarrett Jack is clearly Nate McMillan’s choice for point guard. So what does that mean for the underrated Gator? He deserves to be traded. This guy may be pretty small, but he has the game to be a Charlie Bell-type backup point guard. Pay and I thought he'd be a good fit for the Knicks, but the play of Nate Robinson has to rule that out (even though he's not a true point, he might've earned 5-10 extra mins. a game with his stellar summer performance).

11) Is Mike Conley Jr. likely going to start the season on the bench?
-Short and sweet answer….yes. Kyle Lowry impressed down the stretch and Conley needs a lot of work on his perimeter. Just suck this year and draft Batum next season. Listen to me!

12) Can Reggie Theus be the needed adrenaline boost for Francisco Garcia?
-While his former assistant coach can offer him plenty of motivation, the Kings are such a mess now (Bibby & Artest situations) that it may not even matter if Garcia can improve during the summer session. His battle with “High Times” Quincy Douby may be all Kings fans have to look forward to this off-season. That and Yi’s demands to be traded to Sac-Town.

As is typically the case, there’s plenty more to talk about. In fact, I’ll probably have to return to this very topic for a variety of issues (Yi’s game translating into the American-style of play, is Louis Williams a potential PG for the future in Philly, and what happened to Derrick Byars over the off-season) to dwell upon.

All that and more, until next time…

Monday, July 16, 2007

Thoughts on NBA Summer League and more Free Agency Opinion

First, let's talk about the Summer League. You have to give props to the NBA and its hyping of young talent via the use of its network, NBA TV. Throughout the day and in the evening, the NBA pulls in ardent fans of college basketball who can now easily check out many of their favorite players who have moved onto the next level. Of course, there are positive and negative externalities attached to the easier access to the Summer League.

With respect to the actual summer league, here are a few quick hits:
* Greg Oden and Kevin Durant fared respectably but both struggled. Oden, who only played two games due to tonsilitis, amassed a total of 19 fouls. As for Durant, he definitely knows how to score, but must improve his shot selection based on his awful shooting percentage.

* To steal a line from our football guru Armin Mohajeri, "you heard it here, first". I thought my hometown Wizards were idiots for passing up on the guy and my thoughts were confirmed during the Summer League when 2007-2008 Rookie of the Year runner-up (Durant is winning this barring injury because he has no one else on his team) when Marco Belinelli tore it up.

* Sticking with the Wizards, Dominic McGuire, will likely earn a roster spot following his solid performances.

* The story for the Knicks summer league is not Nate Robinson, who is the Summer League MVP. It's forward Brian Greene, who did quite well for himself, picking up loose balls, hustling, and finishing strong. He has placed himself in a position to either be signed by the Knicks or find himself on the roster of a high-level European team.

* Aaron Brooks dominated for the Rockets at the summer league and might take Rafer Alston closer to the bench for Rick Adelman.

* On draft night, we learned that Yi Jianlian's name was pronounced "E". Elongate that pronunciation and that sums up his sub-par Summer League performance.

* Charlotte has $75M locked up at the shooting guard position between ::drumroll:: Jason Richardson and Matt Carroll. Being that the Bobcats doled out another $57M over six years to do-everything forward Gerald Wallace, this has to endanger the possibility of re-signing both Felton and Okafor, which would be a tragedy.

* Why??? That's the question I consistently get from my friend Damien who's an avid Bulls fan. He asked this question when they drafted Noah and included a few choice words when I informed him of the $38M over 5 years handed out to Andres Nocioni. As for the Joe Smith, this jury is still out until I get the number on the two-year deal. Smith provides inside scoring at the 4-position which the Bulls get from absolutely no one who's currently on the roster.

* While I have respect for the Magic front office for the way they cleaned house following the selection of Dwight Howard, signing Rashard Lewis to an astronomical contract and withdrawing the qualifying offer for Darko Milicic was downright tragic. As it turns out, the Magic receive no compensation for Darko, who signed a very economical 3-year, $21M deal with the new-look Grizzlies.

* Luke Walton gets $6M per year to be the third or fourth option. I'm hating these contracts.

* Mo Williams has re-upped with the Bucks with a 6-year, $52M contract. Apparently, Milwaukee wants a scoring point guard who is lax on defense and has a propensity to commit turnovers. I could find many of those for under 9 million clams a year.

*Getting MoPete for 4 years at less than $6M per year in this market is quite the bargain. However, going to New Orleans may not be the best career choice. Another great shooter at CP3's disposal never hurts.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

MLB Questions: Senior Circuit Edition

And we’re back!!!

While we had a lot of fun dissecting the AL around 24 hours ago (now that's turn around!), there’s no reason the same enthusiasm can’t be found as we now lace up out boots and begin to target the National League [aka the senior circuit].

Maybe that wasn’t the best correlation right there.

Nevertheless, drop your DH-woes and sit back, relax, and ponder – alongside me, of course – the burning hot-stove questions (think ESPN uses that exact vernacular enough?) focusing directly, as well as I can possible hope to at least, on the haves and have nots on the other side of the baseball standings.

National League East
New York Mets
[49-40] lead division by 1.5 games
-Once the hottest team in baseball, the Mets are now searching for answers – as quickly as they can attempt to – as their previous stranglehold over the NL East has all but evaporated away. Front and center of their recent woes is the cold-hard truth that Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, and Paul LoDuca have been more than disappointing this season. The pitching staff, with only John Maine reliable as of late, also needs big-time help. The penultimate question is easy, at least for me: Will Pedro, for better or worse, return this season and bring hope to the Mets nation?

Atlanta Braves [48-42] trail 1.5 for division lead & 2 games behind the wild-card leader
-Yep, they’re back. In fact,
Atlanta stands to benefit the most with the recent woes in Shea and the dogfight that has become the NL West (they all can’t keep winning, can they?). While injuries have hurt a bit, guys like Tim Hudson, Brian McCann, and even Chipper have started to step it up. One letdown this season has yet to come around though. Will Andruw Jones escape his putrid performance thus far this season in time for the Braves to avoid coming up just short in the race for the Playoffs?

Philadelphia Phillies [46-44] trail by 3.5 games for the divison lead & 4 behind the wild-card chase
-I’m sorry, but I don’t buy this team. Not for one second, in fact. They have the wrong player leadership, the wrong front office, and definitely the wrong manager to rally the team into legitimate playoff contention. While they might flirt with a serious run, even until the last few weeks of the season, I gotta ask: At what point do the Phillies completely fall out of the playoff race? Something tells me, it’ll be a couple weeks after loss 10,000.

Florida Marlins [43-48] banished from playoff contention
-There they are…the little team that almost could. Despite an MVP-talent in Miguel Cabrera, this franchise has already twice blown up World Series-potential rosters. The money just isn’t in
South Florida for the Marlins to properly re-sign talent. (Or so that’s what their management always has to say.) Despite plenty of young prodigies already littering the roster, even more may be on the way when one question is finally, perhaps, answered: Is the D-Train moving to a new destination soon?

Washington Nationals [37-53] banished from playoff contention
-Considering how deep and talented the division is (and how untalented the majority of their roster truly is), the Nats could honestly be worse. A lot worse, even. I won’t pick on them though. Instead, I’ll ask: Can Dmitri Young keep up this feel-good story and give Nats fans something positive to cling to?

National League Central
Milwaukee Brewers
[49-40] lead division by 3 games
-What once seemed a runaway choice to secure the division title first, especially with Houston & St. Louis ridiculously underachieving, now has Brewers fans more than a little worried. The Brewers obviously haven’t been in this position, that is in first-place with a youthful, yet talented roster, in at least two decades. Can the Brew Crew right their ship in time to return to the land known as the Playoffs?

Chicago Cubs [46-43] trail division leader by 3 games & 3.5 games behind wild-card leader
-A few hours after Carlos Zambrano knocked Michael Barrett’s lights out, the Cubs seemed mere moments away from internal implosion. Fast forward several weeks and the Cubbies, their fans will now blame ME for saying this, are perhaps the most dangerous team lurking outside of the playoff race. There, I said it. I won’t banish them into further exile with any other comments. Well, except for one question. What excuse, justifiable or not, will Cub fans cling to this season when things ultimately go wrong?

St. Louis Cardinals [40-47] trail division leader by 8 games & wild-card leader by 8.5 games
-I think they’re TKO’d. But as the champs, they get a little more leverage than most would in such a situation. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out their main problem: when does this team, if ever this season, finally get healthy?

Pittsburgh Pirates [40-49] banished from playoff contention
-Even with their historic past, is this team currently thought of as anything except the team a skinnier Barry Bonds once played for?

Houston Astros [39-52] banished from playoff contention
-Not even this Astros team can contend for the playoffs. Honestly, is there a bigger disappointment this season that’s somewhat conveniently been swept under the rug of media attention?

Cincinnati Reds [37-53] banished from playoff contention
-Forget the team and its currently plight, or peril I should say, for a moment. Let’s have some fun instead. How many homers would Griffey have had if he’d stayed healthy? As of right now and for a career. You know you wanna at least venture a guess.

National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers
[51-40] lead division by 0.5 games
-Raise your hand if you thought the Dodgers had the best record in the National League. [Hey, you in the back. Put your hand down, please.] While everything seems to be going well, I still spot this team as an easy-out in the first round. Despite being the only team above the 50-win mark, it’s important to mention, especially within the NL West, their playoff ticket is far from scratched. My real question is: what type of performance, and health, will we see from Brad Penny the second half of this season?

San Diego Padres [49-39] trail division lead by 0.5 games & lead wild-card race by 2 games
-Another poll question. [Get your hands ready again, please.] Who has the least losses in the National League? You guessed the Padres? Seriously. You’d be correct. Now nobody has serious doubts concerning the duo of Peavy/Young right now and the backend of that guy named Hoffman. At least not me. However, is Adrian Gonzalez really the guy to carry this team, with his power, through the murky waters of the NL West playoff chase?

Arizona Diamondbacks [48-43] trail division lead by 3 games & wild-card by 2.5 games
-Sorry to hate, but I’m still bitter over their World Series victory over the Yanks. Name five
Arizona Diamondbacks. Go ahead. I’ll even spot you Randy Johnson. In fact, name two other Diamondbacks.

Colorado Rockies [45-44] trail division leader by 5 games & wild-card race by 4.5 games
-Who’s currently hitting .339, 16 homers, 70 RBIs, 57 runs, 30 2Bs, slugging .567, and has an OPS of .965? He’s your darkhorse NL MVP actually. Might be a good idea to get to know him.

San Francisco Giants [38-50] banished from playoff contention
-I won’t even mention the obvious. In fact, I’ll take a much different, and perhaps more appropriate route. Is Barry Zito the worst free agent signing of this past off-season AND is Tim Lincecum the real future ace in San Fran?

I know, that was two questions for the Giants. But neither involved that BALCO-related guy. (I might need to contact my attorney shortly, at least after making that remark.)

So it appears that the NL has been given its due. While it doesn’t often get the pub of the AL, don’t sleep on everything involved in its wicked and wild playoff chase. (Man, I wanted to use wacky too.)

In case you want more definitive storylines, I’ve got your back. Don’t forget about the logjams currently engulfing the NL West, the Braves/Mets/Phils battling in the East, and that team in Chicago currently looming in the Central.

Oh yeah, and some guy is going for 756, too.

All that and more for the next couple months as we push closer to October.

Until next time...