Saturday, July 24, 2010

We Better Get Used to These "Super Teams"

Depending on your point of view, the triumvirate of LeBron, Wade and Bosh banding together in Miami is either sickening or exciting. New school cats love it. Old school cats hate it. Either way, the Heat will be the talk of the league next season (it already is) and they don't feel bad about that.

The thing is, we better get used to it.

Reports are that the Knicks are hoping to deal for Chris Paul and find a way to get Carmelo Anthony to join up with Amare Stoudemire for another Big Three. Maybe the Orlando Magic will get Paul to pair up with Dwight Howard and either Rashard Lewis or Vince Carter. That could start a trend all over the league just to get attention and, plainly, to compete.

This isn't a new trend. Remember that the Big Three of Boston came together in the summer of 2007 when the Celtics dealt for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett (to join Paul Pierce). The Lakers dealt for Pau Gasol to pair with Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum.

The difference there is that those guys were all traded to their new teams (technically, so were the Miami Thrice as Bosh and James got sign-and-trade deals from their original teams). Gasol was a salary dump from Memphis. The teams dealing with Boston all were on the outskirts and were trying to get younger.

The Miami cats all were free agents and all three wanted to combine as one. Somehow, Chris Paul will get his wish. Maybe Carmelo will, too.

With the new CBA ready to come down next year, this kind of thing can happen a lot easier. The league is hoping to reduce the max years of contracts to the 4 or 5 year range. That would most likely mean that players will be signing for 3 or 4 years and having options after the second or third years. That will cause more turnover, more free agent bonanzas and more opportunities for teams to form these powerful teams.

Remember that LeBron, Wade and Bosh all saw this. All three signed similar deals that all ended this summer. They had kept in touch and knew that this was a great possibility since Miami had shed all kind of cap space. You can't tell me that other players won't follow suit ... especially guys who aren't already on one of these elite clubs. I mean, couldn't Oklahoma City with all their astute spending find a way to lure a couple of stars down there (it's hard to see anyone announcing they will be "taking their talents" to the OKC)?

That means that most of the stars in the league will be hoarded onto the top 5 to 10 teams. Meanwhile, we'll have a ton of teams wading at the bottom just hoping to draft the next big thing ... and watch him bolt to South Beach/Big Apple/Hollywood less than a decade later.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why the MLB All Star Game Has Become Unwatchable

The MLB All Star game came and went on Tuesday and no one seemed to care. According to ESPN, the game earned its lowest rating ever.

Why doesn't anyone want to watch it anymore? Why is it being pushed aside?

"THIS TIME IT COUNTS": I hate this. I loathe it. An exhibition game should not determine who gets home field advantage in the World Series (the league with more interleague wins should get the nod). It's a bad idea ... even to those who think it's a good one.

By the way, since the fact that home field advantage was on the line and no one still watched (which was the entire reason for pinning that prize to the game), can we just stop it? It doesn't work so let's scrap that.

While that prize puts a little more emotion and drama to the game, it doesn't make it better. One of the most memorable All Star moments in my adult life was the battle between Randy Johnson and John Kruk. Or remember Cal Ripken Jr's final All Star apperance and A-Rod game him his customary shortstop position when they trotted out on the field? Those kinds of things can't happen anymore. They cannot fart around, have fun and do things out of the ordinary.

And then the game gets weird. The managers are trying to find the line between getting everyone in there to play and actually winning the game. It's like Little League.

TOO MANY PLAYERS: Sorry, but there are just too many players on the All Star team. It reminds me of the proposed 96-team NCAA Tournament -- they hate leaving a couple teams out that they are willing to invite unworthy teams in. Same thing here. There are tons of guys having All Star worthy seasons but they can't all get on this team.

Of the 70 or so All Stars ... there were about 20 of them that I hadn't heard of until Tuesday night. And I've probably forgotten them already. To fit them all in, a manager has to use one to pinch hit, one to pinch run and one to be the defensive replacement the next inning. It's just stupid.

PITCHING IS TOO GOOD: We are just coming down from the steroid era where offensive numbers were staggering. After everyone got de-juiced, pitching has started to dominate. In an All Star game, a manager can run out about 4 or 5 aces ... then bring in dominant closers to get the game home.

Good pitching beats good hitting. So rotating great pitchers to the mound will keep the game low scoring and not as fun to watch.

People watch the NBA All Star game for the high offensive theatrics. The NHL and NFL All Star/Pro games are usually higher scoring than an average game. The great pitching makes the MLB All Star game lower scoring than an average game. We don't get to see those great hitters doing anything.

HOME RUN DERBY: I'm not a fan of this event, but I know people who love it. It's gotten so big that it ... at times ... trumps the game itself. Sort of like how the Slam Dunk Contest used to be in the NBA.

I just told you that pitching rules during the game, so the majestic offense fireworks are invited the night before it.

NOVELTY IS GONE: With free agent movement and salary dump trades all the rage in baseball ... not to mention interleague play ... the novelty of the game has worn off. It used to be that you could only see Roger Clemens pitching to Barry Bonds in an All Star Game. Now a David Price-Albert Pujols battle can easily have been seen before.

Friday, July 9, 2010

"The Decision" Was As Disgusting As I Had Figured It Would Be

What LeBron James did on Thursday night was nothing short of disgusting. It was sickening. It was way too much.

Some of it wasn't LeBron's fault. The half-hour homage to how great LeBron is before the decision was announced was all ESPN. To call this the "biggest free agency signing ever" is a slap in the face to Shaquille O'Neal. Remember that in 1996, Shaq's free agency was epic and ... as revisionist history will show ... changed the landscape of the NBA entirely. He would win three titles with the Lakers while the Magic have been back to the Finals just once. Sure, LeBron James was waaaaaay more hyped and there's waaaaay more money involved.

But the spectacle was overblown. Especially since ESPN had led the entire day that LeBron James was picking the Miami Heat. That was the word all day long ... yet ESPN found it in their hearts to try to keep that "but it's not a done deal" and "he could change his mind at the last minute" so that we may actually watch "The Decision" with some suspense and purpose.

I watched the entire program ... including the bonus features. I guess that's the point all along. Who cares if it was wretched TV? We watched it.

Still, LeBron came off a lot worse than I though he would have. He seemed just as narcissistic as people have whispered about. He talked in the third person repeatedly. He kept talking about "taking his talents" to Miami. He just looked smug.

It's fine that he's moving on. He has every right to look at every opportunity out there and take the one he wants. Thoughtful people understand that. And he should be happy about his decision ... so seeing any joy in it is fine. He should be excited.

But why the show? Why the charade? Why the dumb drama? It would have had a ton more meaning if we hadn't been told all day long that Miami was the destination. LeBron must have millions of fingers since he said he could count all the people who knew his decision on one hand. Instead, the drama was replaced by a slow painful death for the city of Cleveland ... as well as New York and Chicago.

New York and Chicago will get over it pretty quickly. They never had LeBron. They have never seen him wearing their teams' jerseys before. While it was yearned for, it never happened. Cleveland, however, lost its star. Lost its hometown guy. Lost its sporting soul again.

Just look at the Cavs owner, Dan Gilbert. He ripped LeBron just moments after the decision was made ... going as far as calling LeBron a "coward" and saying "he quit" on the Cavs during the playoffs. He even dropped this awesome line: "Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there."

While I'm fine with his decision, I'm definitely not fine with the way it was given. Just have someone announce it to the media ... then have your news conference. That's what everyone else does and what is expected.

But LeBron always thought he was better than everyone else.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Balance Of Power In The NBA Is NOT Now In The East!

One of the things I keep hearing from people around the media is that with all these free agents changing teams, that the balance of power in the NBA has moved from West to East. The Eastern Conference is now the better conference with more dominant teams.

I'm not buying it.

You can point to the fact that Amare Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer went to the Eastern Conference from the West. I get that, but that doesn't mean anything to me.

Sure, a LeBron-Wade-Bosh team in Miami would make the Heat as powerful as anyone in the league. But it doing so, Toronto and Cleveland have become ghost towns. Remember that Cleveland has been one of the best teams in the NBA over the past four years, getting to the Finals once and finishing the last two seasons with the NBA's best record. Now that team will be a borderline playoff team.

The band is back together in Boston. We all remember that this team was dominating Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals until the Lakers got it together and got past them. Still, this team is a year older and will be mere months removed from a long, long playoff run of tough physical series and ending in heartbreak.

Atlanta is pretty much all back together, but that team needs some tweaking to become elite.

Chicago and New York have signed big name power forwards and both have money to get a few other parts in some way. But neither are really power teams yet. Chicago is closer but isn't in the elite class yet. New York needs some other star to pair with Amare to make them relevant again.

Orlando has done nothing (oh, they brought in Chris Duhon). Charlotte will lose Raymond Felton and probably Tyrus Thomas. The only other team that dramatically improved this offseason was the Milwaukee Bucks.

I'm not saying the West is as powerful as it once was. San Antonio's window is barely open. It will be interesting to see how the Suns perform post-Amare (more on that later). But all is not lost. Utah may have lost Boozer, but they've been preparing for that for two years now (um, Paul Millsap got a huge deal to be his replacement last year).

The Lakers, in case you forgot, are the defending two-time champions. The core is still young enough to put together another run or two. The Nuggets were supposed to be the team that challenged the Lakers last year, but George Karl's battle with cancer took the life out of this team. Say what you want, but Karl is the perfect coach for that team of ... well ... interesting individuals. A healthy Karl could get them back on track.

Karl isn't the only "addition" to a team that was already there. Yao Ming will be back with the Houston Rockets next year. They fought most of the year for a postseason spot without Yao last season. Remember that this team added Kevin Martin during the season and has a nice group of role players. Blake Griffin missed his rookie campaign with a knee injury. He'll infuse some much needed bang with the Clippers.

Oklahoma City will be the next power out of the West. They have outstanding talent, a bona fide super star, a great front office and tons of flexibility to make changes to the roster when needed. Portland was supposed to be that team, and still could be. Dallas was the buzz team during the second half of last year.

The Warriors and Kings have some huge young talents (Curry, Ellis in G-State; Evans and Cousins in Sacto). Memphis has a formidable roster. New Orleans still has Chris Paul.

All I am saying is that the East hasn't taken the mantle of best conference. How about winning a title (the East has won just three of the past 12 titles) to prove me wrong.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

LeBron Is About to Kick Cleveland In the Nuts

I have a hunch that LeBron James is not coming back to Cleveland. Just a hunch.

Why hold an hour long "special" to announce you're not going anywhere? It can't be used as a recruiting tool for free agents to come to the Cavaliers. They lack the funds to make a play for any other big dogs ... not to mention that most of them have already agreed to deals.

Why hold this presser in Greenwich, CT ... just a few miles away from New York City? Well, there is a reason for that. He's in Carmelo Anthony's wedding, which is this weekend in Greenwich. Still, with the demands on LeBron and this wedding, why would he bother having this charade just to announce he's coming back?

(If I had to put some cheese on this, I'd say that LeBron is heading to New York. Amare Stoudemire is already there, he could become a world icon and own that city. In a city with A-Rod, Eli, Rex Ryan and Derek Jeter, LeBron would still be king.)

(NOTE: The big rumor throughout the night and morning is that LeBron would go to Miami. Again, why not have a triple news conference about that with Wade and Bosh on Wednesday?)

I'm sorry, but LeBron James has looked really bad through all of this. A likeable guy, LeBron has turned himself into a somewhat hated fellow. We're tired of all of this. Pick somewhere! If it is Cleveland, then all of this was a royal waste of time. If it isn't Cleveland, thanks for holding this event to kick Cleveland in the nads.

That would be the most classless and cruel exit I'd could ever see.

I'm not a fan of the city of Cleveland. It isn't really anywhere I'd want to go. Their sports teams could be loveable losers if it wasn't for the way they lose. Jose Mesa. The Drive. The Fumble. Of course, only Mesa involved a championship that was in their grasp. His meltdown against the Marlins in 1996 clutched defeat from the jaws of victory. The Drive and The Fumble kept them from the Super Bowl, but it wasn't as if the champagne was chilling in their locker room.

I do feel bad for the sports fans there. Art Modell pulling the Browns from the city and moving them to Baltimore was crushing. It's about the only thing that could compare to LeBron ditching his hometown Cavs for whomever. The only difference is that the NFL almost immediately guaranteed that they'd put an expansion team in Cleveland, name them the Browns and keep all of the franchise's history. A couple years and the team was back.

With LeBron, there ain't no coming back. If he leaves, there is no other super star that's walking through that door to replace him. They'll have to pray that someone falls in their lap ... at some point ... in the next decade or two ... via the draft. In fact, you could make the case that no star in their right mind would ever choose to play in Cleveland. If a guy who lived his whole life there doesn't want to stay ... then why would anyone else?

I'm not being overly dramatic and saying the entire city of Cleveland will burn and sink to the bottom of Lake Erie if LeBron doesn't come back. But it will take the sporting soul out of this town. The Cavs of the last seven years have been the closest thing they've had to a champion. Now it could all be gone.

Friday, July 2, 2010

I Can't Blame College Athletes Taking the Money

The joke about college sports is that it takes a lot of cash to land these five star recruits. We see stuff like this happen all the time ... and sometimes they even get caught. That's what happened to USC involving Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo. Now it seems to be happening with John Wall and Kentucky.

First off, I knew Wall was going to bite Kentucky in the rear. There were schools that wouldn't touch him because they knew there was some dirt linked to him (famously, my UNC Tar Heels refused to recruit him even though he wanted to come there). Still ... duh.

It has to be extremely difficult to be in that situation. Go back to when you were 17 or 18 years old and someone said, "look, I'll hook you up on the down-low if you remember me when you go pro" to you. Despite all your morals, you'd think about it. Don't lie. Stealing is wrong but we all had that "hook-up" at McDonald's back in high school that scored us free food or the friend who worked at the music shop that got us discounted stuff. Did that feel wrong back then? That's part of life: getting the most bang for our buck. It happens when you are an adult, too. Remember that whole "scratch my back" adage? Same thing. I'll do something for you now if you do something for me later. We all ask it and we all receive it.

Granted, receiving money or benefits while you are an "amatuer" may seem more harsh ... but is it? I mean, what really do you OWE anybody? High schools and those AAU-type leagues exploit these guys. Then the NCAA does it. All for free. So why wouldn't a kid who has limited resources decide to cash in a little on HIS TALENTS!

Remember, he's selling something that everyone is buying. The NCAA and the University of Kentucky had no problem pimping John Wall every chance they had. He was the face of one of the elite basketball programs in the country. They made tons of money off of him ... and all they had to "pay" him was a scholarship. They will even profit off him by saying "remember that John Wall went here!" You think the name "Michael Jordan" doesn't come out of Roy Williams' mouth when he's recruiting? Wall will forever be linked with Kentucky and all they had to do was pay for one year's tuition and the cost of the expenses of him being on the team. Yeah, that's nice and all but that doesn't even remotely equate his worth to the university or the NCAA.

That's why I think that all this agent stuff should be thrown out. Let these cats go ahead and get an agent ... even when they are in high school. Who the heck cares? As long as the university, the conferences or anyone linked with any school isn't funnelling money thru the agent ... what's the big deal? The agent then knows he has a client down the road and you won't get the feeding frenzy as you do now. Heck, have that agent work with the university about using him in advertising.

Of course, Kentucky or the NCAA doesn't want that because they have darn near free labor and making a gazillion dollars off it. Plus, this will still get pretty messy and this problem would then trickle down to the high school ranks.

Of course, just dumping the one-and-done rule would help a ton. Too bad the NBA doesn't want it. You don't see them punishing agents that are involved in this junk. They profit indirectly from this whole deal. John Wall is a much bigger name coming into the league because he went to Kentucky for a season. Sure, he was known around hoops circles during high school, but he wouldn't have had the draw if he came directly out to the NBA. Not just him, but the Xavier Henrys and Derrick Favorses of the world. Heck, not many people knew who Dwight Howard was until a couple of months before he was drafted No. 1 overall by the Orlando Magic.

The point is, I can't blame these kids for pocketing some money. Chump change to what they've made for other people. And ask Wall, Bush or Mayo if they feel bad about it right now. They don't care. That's all in the past and can't really hurt them if they don't want it to.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Sportz Assassin's Free Agency Predictions

Since everyone else is doing it ... so will I. I'll reach into my butt and attempt to pull out where all the big dog free agents are heading this offseason.

Let me just say that this is all pretty cool, actually. To see so many big free agents out there ... as well as all these teams that can actually shop for these guys ... is awesome.

LEBRON JAMES: I think he stays in Cleveland. I think the lure of the big cities and all of that isn't enough for what he has built in Ohio. It may hinge on the Cavs bringing in a second tier free agent, but I think somehow this gets done. If not there, then ... Chicago.

DWYANE WADE: He stays in Miami. Unless the Heat totally disrespect him, I think he's not going anywhere. If not there, then ... Chicago.

CHRIS BOSH: Now it gets tricky. I don't think he'll go to Cleveland because they'd have to deal away a lot to get him (as well as Varejao ... which would make Bosh a center, which he doesn't like). I don't think Miami has anything to offer Toronto in a sign-and-trade. Maybe they can just sign him outright. Still, he has the same problem in Miami as being the lone inside threat. I think he heads to Chicago. The Bulls already have a team on the rise, an All Star in Derrick Rose and the money to add another dog. If not there, then ... Miami.

JOE JOHNSON: Two days ago, I would've said New York. Now Atlanta is throwing the bank at him and that has to sway him back home. If not there, then ... New York.

DIRK NOWITZKI: He stays in Dallas. The opt out is the cash in on a big contract now and to gain that rare no-trade clause. If not there, then ... New York.

PAUL PIERCE: Same thing here. Pierce stays in Boston to get a big payday and that same no-trade clause. If not there, then ... New Jersey.

AMARE STOUDAMIRE: This one is tough. I think he'll stay in Phoenix, but I can really see him going to New York to play for Mike D'Antoni. I think he'll like the fact that the Knicks would be built around him and he stays in a high octane offense that fits his skills. This is by far my thinnest limb I'm going out on. If not there, then ... Phoenix.

CARLOS BOOZER: While I think Stoudamire would be a better fit, I see Boozer taking the big money in Miami. It isn't the LeBron-Wade-Bosh trifecta, but Boozer gives the Heat a scorer down low with a very good mid-range game. If not there, then ... Chicago or New Jersey.

DAVID LEE: This is a really tough one. If the Knicks sign Amare, would they still want Lee? I think so. I think a Mike D'Antoni offense with Amare at center and Lee at power forward would be pretty darn good. I think New York resigns him. If not there, then ... Phoenix Suns.

RUDY GAY: This one is really difficult. New Jersey has money that I don't have them spending yet -- and they could use him. I'm leaning on him heading to the Los Angeles Clippers. They have money and a gaping hole at small forward that they need to fill. If not there, then ... New Jersey.
--UPDATE -- Gay signed with Memphis for a max contract. I can't blame him for that. No one could/would/should offered that for him.

RAY ALLEN: With Doc Rivers back and Paul Pierce most likely locking in a long-ish deal, I think Allen would come back to Boston for a little less to take another shot at a title. Chicago is a very, very interesting option if they show him the money. If not there, then ... Chicago.

TYRUS THOMAS: He stays in Charlotte. He'll shop for a big deal, but I don't see anyone offering one. He takes the one year tender. If not there, then ... New York.

LUIS SCOLA: He stays in Houston. They'll have to pay him. If not there, then ... Toronto.

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL: I think he globs on to Dallas. He wants another shot at a ring and he's burned enough bridges in Los Angeles and Miami that Dallas will be the next best choice. It's a shame that this guy will be known as a guy who chased rings at the end of his career. If not there, then ... Boston.

JOHN SALMONS: I think he stays in Milwaukee. He realizes that this Bucks team is on the rise and were a horrific Andrew Bogut injury away from doing some real damage in the playoffs. Plus, they just added Drew Gooden earlier today. With Michael Redd most likely out of the way, Salmons has the gig all to himself. If not there, then ... LA Clippers.

RAYMOND FELTON: Charlotte just can't afford him, so I think he gets nabbed by the Indiana Pacers. They need a point guard and have been aggressively trying to get one. They have enough young guys to deal back in a sign-and-trade. If not there, then ... New York.

STEVE BLAKE: The LA Lakers want him badly and he fits their style perfectly. Will Jordan Farmar gone, I think Blake would be a nice fit. If not there, then ... Charlotte.

BRAD MILLER: I think it depends on a few things. If the Bulls load up on talent, I think he'll want to stay in Chicago. If it doesn't go like that, I think he heads to Boston. If not there, then ... Chicago.

Man, Movies Are Expensive!

I know this is my sports blog and I usually keep it on the sports tip ... but I just had to get this off my chest.

The movie industry is just killing me!

My wife and I took our two nieces to the movies on Tuesday. We saw the new Adam Sandler flick, "Grown Ups". It was cute, family friendly and funny. The only issue is that amount of money I had to pay to see it.

Again, it was a Tuesday. At 2:45pm. In Charlotte, NC. I had to pay $8 per adult ticket and $6 per child ticket. Yep, that's the matinee prices ... which were the expensive prices a decade ago. So that was $28 just to walk in the door. Not horrible, but still stung.

Now we head to the concessions. It cost me $17 for two large drinks and a large popcorn for me and my wife. It cost me $15 for two regular drinks and a regular popcorn for my nieces. There was $32 for the food. I haven't seen one second of the movie and I've already spent $60.

Isn't there something wrong with that? Heck, we stopped at Walgreens before we went to the movies to stock up on candy (they have the same boxed candy there for $1 ... $2 to $3 cheaper than what it would have cost to buy it there).

See, this is a movie I figured I would like. My wife and I will rarely go "try" a movie anymore. If we aren't absolutely sure that it's right up our alley, we won't go. We got burned on this recently on "Shutter Island". Sure, the reviews were good for it, but it sucked. It was boring, drawn out and extremely predictable. You could see the twist a mile away (at least we could) and were disappointed in the movie. For the two of us, we spent $20 on tickets and $15 on concessions -- $35 in total -- for us to have a bad time. That sucks.

It's not like I'm one of those people that drones on about this. I was a movie nut back in my single days and when I first got married. I used to go to movies all the time back in the day ... when I was broke ... and never was taken aback by the prices I was paying. But now when I make more money than I ever before, it really is getting to me.

I don't have kids (working on it). So I really empathise with families and how much it costs to do anything anymore. That includes sports (see, I knew I could get back on task!). If I had to pay $60 every time I went to the movies then I won't go to as many. Same thing with sports. I went to a Pirates-Reds game with my wife, my two nieces, my sister, my mom and my wife's two cousins. Yeah, I've blacked out what I've spent there.

I know no one cares about this because as long as schmucks like me keep buying tix, then it won't go away.

By the way, the four of us were the only people in the theatre to see Grown Ups. The only people.