Archive for February, 2011
So you and your work buddy are standing at the water cooler discussing a number of topics.
The Carmelo Anthony to New York trade. The Deron Williams to New Jersey trade. Who’s really No. 1 in college hoops. The hot new intern that just walked by.
With that, your buddy tosses his cup into the garbage can and begins the slow trek back to his cubicle when one last thing pops into your head.
“Wait! How about the fall of Tiger Woods?”
Now there’s a conversation worth having.
See, the sports world needs Tiger to be Tiger and soon because, like the hot new intern, the NBA is going to be here today and gone tomorrow when the finals conclude in June thanks to a lockout that could last forever.
Same goes for the NFL and, at some point in the near future, Major League Baseball.
This worst-case scenario would leave sports fanatics with soccer, golf, tennis and, thankfully, college sports.
I try not to imagine such a gross existence. No one cares about soccer, period. No one cares about tennis outside of the eight weeks of the year that Grand Slam events are being played.
And no one cares about golf; that is unless Tiger finds his swag.
The world isn’t out to get you, Tiger. In fact, we all want to love you again in the worst way, but you make it so difficult.
First was the whole adultery thing, where you had sex with about 174 women in 12 different nations. Then came that bogus, robotic apology last winter that only a drunk or an absolute moron took to heart. Then the spitting incident.
The funny thing is that all of the above is forgivable in the eyes of your fans. We don’t care if you wreck your personal life. Go ahead, they’re your consequences to deal with.
We got over the apology that basically emphasized your belief that the American public is brain dead and will believe anything, and the spitting thing wasn’t a big deal.
I understand golf etiquette, but the gentlemen who claimed Tiger’s opponent was at a competitive disadvantage because he had to putt over the wet spot created by Woods’ saliva should be ridiculed at least as much as Tiger was for his untimely discharge.
What fans can’t dismiss is all of this losing. No one seriously expected Tiger to win the 2010 Master’s in his debut last April, but everyone figured he would’ve captured a tournament victory to kickstart his comeback by now.
Wrong. Woods hasn’t raised a trophy and smiled for the cameras since Sept. 13, 2009, when he won the BMW Championship with a score of 19-under par.
In 2010 he played in 15 tournaments, finishing in the top-10 just four times. Tiger’s worst showing came in August at the Bridgestone Invitational, when a weekend of 18-over par had him tied for 78th.
At his final tournament appearance of the year, the Chevron World Challenge, there was a glimmer of hope that 2011 would bring the Woods of old. He shot 16-under, good enough for second place.
Unfortunately, this year’s first six weeks have played out much like the previous 57, dating back to Nov. 2009 when he began his collapse. Two events, one 44th-place finish, and an embarrassing first round exit from the Accenture Match Play on Wednesday.
Woods was 9-1 lifetime in the first round of the event and was oddly awarded a No. 1 seed, obviously based on reputation.
Thomas Bjorn, the No. 16 seed, sent Woods packing after he conceded the 19th hole due to losing his ball in a lovely realm of cactus.
If it weren’t for that reputation, Tiger would be irrelevant.
If his game doesn’t come around fast, a new reputation will set in and Woods, as well as golf in general, will be irrelevant.
Here’s some advice, or a plea to Eldrick: find the old Tiger, win a few tournaments and maybe a major, and all will be forgiven. Both you and the wide world of sports can’t afford another loss.
Otherwise male bonding at the water cooler will become a thing of the past.
Carmelo Anthony has been traded to the New York Knicks.
The move that every NBA owner, general manager, player and fan saw coming last summer is complete. At last, all parties can move forward and we no longer have to hear “the latest” on the Anthony trade rumors every five minutes on ESPN’s hourly live SportsCenter broadcast.
A shout out and a job well done to Ric Bucher, Marc Stein, Chris Broussard and every other NBA insider across the map that has been working this story for the past seven months. You’ve all earned your paycheck.
For those unfamiliar with the reported parameters of the deal, it looks like this:
Denver receives Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, a 2014 first-round pick, as well as additional picks and somewhere in the range of three million dollars in cash.
In return the Knicks get Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter, and Renaldo Balkman.
To spend hours analyzing who got the better of the deal would be foolish because the obvious answer is New York. The Knicks finally got the true superstar they have been seeking for years, one that can bring a coveted championship to Madison Square Garden.
They also received a championship point guard in Billups, the 2004 Finals MVP, who has been there and done that.
The Nuggets basically came away with three former starters on a team that sits at 28-26, good enough for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Chandler, Gallinari, and Felton are nice pieces, but none will ever play in an all-star game or develop into what Melo already is: a bonafide superstar.
You don’t win championships in the NBA without at least one. The Knicks now have two. The Nuggets lost theirs and are left with nothing close to resembling one, thus the winner of this deal is clearly the New York Knickerbockers.
Get it? Got it? Good.
What I don’t get is how some extremely credible basketball writers are saying that the Knicks aren’t much better today then they were yesterday. Or how Carmelo is only worth a few extra wins to the Knicks than the old roster would have been.
Here’s my question to Michael Wilbon and John Hollinger: have you learned nothing from the events of summer 2010?
The first thing everyone said after Miami signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh was that the Heat would crash and burn because outside of James, Bosh, and Dwayne Wade, they’re chopped liver.
I, for one, bought into that assertion and so did you.
And how dumb have the Heatles made us look thus far as they sit atop the East at 41-15?
Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey famously pitched to Bosh in the first hour of free agency that a roster comprised of three superstars and ten rookies, has-beens, or middling players would max out with a win total of 45.
Morey is great at what he does, but was certainly in the wrong here.
The Heat have three superstars, 41 wins and a legitimate chance to reach the NBA Finals in year one of their experiment.
Houston’s only superstar has appeared in five games over the past two years due to injury, leaving it with a glut of above average role players that have 26 wins and a 12th-place standing in the Western Conference.
Again, superstars find ways to win if they’re really in that class.
Looking at what is left of the Knicks roster and the remaining schedule, I predict New York will win 18 of its final 28 games, which will have them at 46-36 heading into the playoffs.
It’s unlikely that they will pass Atlanta for the five-seed, so the Knicks are looking at either Chicago or Orlando in the first round. Both are serious title contenders, but have flaws that could cost them in a series against a team with Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Billups.
I put the odds of them advancing into the second round this spring at 35 percent, or about 30 percentage points higher then I would’ve given yesterday’s Knicks.
But like the Heat, this deal wasn’t made for the present. Owner James Dolan and Head Coach Mike D’Antoni have an eye on the future.
Because what quality free agent or unhappy superstar wouldn’t want to come to The Garden to chase a title with Anthony and Stoudemire on basketball’s most hallowed playground?
The NBA season has reached All-Star Weekend. With about 25 games left on the schedule for most of the league’s 30 teams, it’s time to hand out some hardware for what has been accomplished through the first two legs of the marathon.
Much can and will change in the final sprint, but here’s who is most deserving at this stage:
Most Improved Player: Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota doesn’t have much going for it. In fact, if it weren’t for Love, the Timberwolves would probably be just as popular of a candidate for contraction as New Orleans (how are they not, regardless?).
Love is having a phenomenal year, one that earned him a spot on the Western Conference All-Star Team, his first of many to come. He’s averaging 21.1 points, which is seven more than he averaged last season, and a league-best 15.5 rebounds, up from the 11 he snatched in 2009-10.
Love does everything well. He’s shooting 47 percent from the floor, 42.5 percent from three, and almost 88 percent from the free-throw line, all career-highs. You look at those numbers and forget that he’s a power forward.
If Minnesota wasn’t so inept, Love would probably be up for league’s Most Valuable Player. Instead he’ll have to settle for its most improved.
Sixth Man of the Year: Jason Terry, Dallas Mavericks. David Stern should consider naming the Sixth Man Award after Terry, as this could be the second time in three years that he won the award.
The Jet’s engine is still running strong at age 33, giving Dallas 16 points and four assists off the bench on a nightly basis. His 3-point shooting percentage is down four points from his career average of 38 percent, but he continues to provide the Mavericks with an emotional lift on nights when they seem to need it most.
Because of the outstanding job Mark Cuban has done constructing his team, Dallas has almost always had the luxury of bringing Terry- a starter-quality player- off the bench, so the second unit rarely misses a beat.
The Mavs are rolling along at 40-16 and Terry is a big reason for that. He’s the game’s best sixth man and, once again, should have the hardware to prove it.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic. I was tempted to give it to Rajon Rondo because watching him play perimeter defense is a treat, and Howard was the recipient of the award in each of the past two seasons.
But he shouldn’t be penalized for being great, right? And the numbers don’t lie; Howard is the NBA’s premier defender.
The reason big men often win DPOY is because they not only can lock down their man, but the great ones can shut down even the best guards just by discouraging dribble penetration. Rondo can’t do that, but Howard does it better than anyone.
Superman is second in rebounding, averaging 13.8 per night, and is fifth in blocked shots at 2.13, a number that would be much higher if opposing slashers weren’t so terrified to enter his territory.
Orlando is always credited as one of the league’s best defensive teams, which it is, but for no other reason then the man in the middle. Look at the Magic roster and find another premier or even above average defender. Ryan Anderson? Gilbert Arenas? Hedo Turkoglu? J.J. Redick?
The Houston Rockets were a top defensive team for five or six years with Yao Ming, but in the last two seasons played without him, they have become one of the worst.
If Orlando’s seven-foot deterrent magically disappeared, the Magic would experience a similar decline.
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers. Remember when there were people seriously debating whether Griffin or John Wall would win this award? And remember when about 90 percent came away convinced Wall would win?
That was only five months ago but it sure seems more distant, doesn’t it?
Wall has had a solid rookie campaign, averaging 15 points, nine assists and four rebounds, numbers that would garner the award in most seasons. Unfortunately, Griffin is pretty stiff competition.
The human highlight reel- move over Vince Carter- has been dominant all season long.
B.G. is averaging 22.8 points, 12.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and four ferocious dunks a night for the lowly Clippers. This franchise has been a punch-line for the entirety of its existence, but Griffin’s antics give Clippers fans hope for the future.
The scary thing is he has yet to develop a consistent mid-range game. Once he does that, there’s no telling how great this beast is going to be.
The present still stinks for Clippers faithful, and the future looks frightening. Only this time, I’m speaking on behalf of the rest of the NBA.
Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls. As with every award, there are a number of other candidates deserving of this award. Apologies to Gregg Popovich for his greatness being taken for granted, and to Erik Spoelstra, who deals with so much B.S. down in Miami that you could argue he should win by default.
However, there isn’t a team or a coach more overlooked than Thibodeau and his Bulls. Chicago finished 41-41 and at the bottom of the playoff bracket the past two seasons with much of the same personnel on the current roster.
Carlos Boozer was the only significant addition, but even he has missed 18 games during his first season in the Windy City. Despite that, Thibodeau’s crew is sitting at 38-16, just two games out of first in the Eastern Conference. That’s with Joakim Noah being out for the better part of the past two months and Keith Bogans starting at shooting guard.
He doesn’t exactly have Phil Jackson’s or Doc Rivers’ roster to play with. Thibodeau has also helped Derrick Rose take his game to another level. Rose is arguably the best point guard in the NBA today and has thrust himself into the league’s Most Valuable Player discussion.
Thibodeau has lived up to his reputation as a defensive wizard, as Chicago is surrendering just 92.4 points per game, second only to Boston.
So in a little over half of a season, Thibodeau has helped turn his young quarterback into a star and a previously mediocre roster into a serious title contender despite serious injuries sidelining two of his best players.
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, Miami Heat. Only three players in league history- Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, and Bill Russell- have been named league MVP three years in a row, and I’d be surprised if that small fraternity didn’t add another member in 2011.
Believe me, I hate it as much as you do, but James is once again the NBA’s most valuable. He embarrassed himself over the summer and continues to lack any honest understanding of what he did and why his public image sunk so low.
With that said, nothing about LeBron has changed on the hardwood. He is still the most talented, most versatile, and most feared player in basketball.
His numbers are down, which isn’t surprising since he is sharing the rock with two other all-stars. If you’re averaging 26 points, seven assists, seven rebounds and two steals, and your production is slightly down, you know you’re the best player in the world.
While it’s hard to appreciate James these days, we should all admit that his level of play this season has been impressive considering all that has happened in the past seven months.
He went from hero to villain. Loved to hated. Cheered to cursed. On and on. It would be hard for the average player to have continued success under the circumstance, but LeBron is far from average.
In fact, he’s still the best there is.
All-NBA teams (Non-political and Center-eligible version):
Guards- Dwayne Wade, Miami Heat; Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls.
Forwards- LeBron James, Miami Heat; Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder.
Center- Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic.
Guards- Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder.
Forwards- Amare Stoudemire, New York Knicks; Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers.
Center- Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks.
Guards- Deron Williams, Utah Jazz; Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers.
Forwards- Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves; Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies.
Center- Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame opened its doors in Canton, Ohio in 1963.
In the 48 years since, 21 wide receivers have been enshrined and only one, the great Jerry Rice, had a career more prolific than Cris Carter.
Carter, who spent 16 seasons in the NFL with Philadelphia, Minnesota and Miami, was the second best pass-catcher of his era and the argument could be made that he is second all-time behind only Rice.
Rice was a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, but 2011 marked the fourth consecutive winter where Carter failed to make the cut.
Somebody owes both he and football enthusiasts everywhere a darn good explanation because his exclusion simply makes no sense.
When Carter’s career ended following the 2002 season he was second all-time in receptions (1, 101) and touchdowns (130) by a receiver. He is the Minnesota Vikings’ all-time leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns, and was named to the NFL 1990′s All-Decade Team.
Carter was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, a three-time All-Pro, and the only player in league history to twice catch 120 or more passes in a season.
His contributions off the field were also second to none as he was named the NFL’s Man of the Year three times- in 1994, 1998, and 1999. Most players are honored just to be his team’s recipient of the award, but Carter managed to outwork and outspend each and every one of his peers in their respective communities three times.
It would take at least 1,000 words to list the rest of his statistical accomplishments and contributions, so I’ll stop there. But what’s with the snub?
Carter made an indelible impression on and off the field during his career and has continued to be a valuable commodity to the league after retirement. He is an NFL analyst for ESPN, and a good one at that, and has twice spoken at the rookie symposium, which is basically freshman orientation for first-year players. The NFL doesn’t select just anybody to speak to rookies about how to handle the rigorous and complicated life of a professional football player.
To put the cherry on top, Carter is an ordained minister! Whether or not you believe a higher power exists doesn’t matter. What that says is he is a good man of high morals, which you don’t get with every ordained minister, but we know this about Carter because it has been on public display for almost three decades.
What does the NFL have on this guy? Why won’t the committee open the golden gates?
Is it because of the alcohol and drug abuse that ultimately earned him a pink slip from Buddy Ryan’s Eagles in 1989? Uh, hello, Michael Irvin has a bust and his drug problems continued well after his playing days, while Carter’s were solved shortly after that initial kick in the groin.
It can’t be because he never won, or even participated in, a Super Bowl. James Lofton, a former Buffalo Bills receiver, was one of many ringless inductees. Yes, he made it to three title games, but his career numbers aren’t even comparable to Carter’s.
Maybe it’s because he never made the switch from that useless cloth chinstrap to the more practical padded strap that 98 percent of the league donned in the mid-90′s, and the NFL took that as some sort of slight against its never-ending pursuit of player safety.
As you can see, this argument is going south fast and that’s because there is no good argument to make. Cris Carter is a Hall of Famer and should have been a first-ballot selection in 2008.
ESPN’s Chris Berman stated countless times “all he does is catch touchdowns” just before showing another one of No. 80′s spectacular highlights.
Berman was wrong because Carter caught a little over a thousand other balls between the goal lines, wracking up 13, 899 yards in the process.
He also showed himself to be a valuable member to his community and to society in general, while living up to the high standards the league holds its players to.
All the NFL needs to do is recognize that its House of the Holy is missing a member well-deserving of his place.
Let’s hope the committee gets it right in 2012.
The NFL season is down to its final game and fans couldn’t ask for a better matchup.
Super Bowl XLV features the Packers and the Steelers. Arguably the league’s hottest team against the steadiest.
Aaron Rodgers versus Ben Roethlisberger. Arguably the league’s best quarterback against its steadiest.
That’s what this game boils down to. The flavor of the week (Green Bay) trying to knock off a franchise that has been there and done that both recently and throughout the course of football history.
Pittsburgh has won six Super Bowls, including two of the past five. It is a perennial contender and the model of consistency, yet the Steelers seem to be stuck in the middle of the league’s pecking order, behind Indianapolis, New England, Dallas, Baltimore, and even the Jets.
Why that is I’ll never know. The general lack of respect or whatever it is is evident in this game as well. The Steelers finished 13-3 and were crowned champions of the AFC North. The Packers squeaked into the playoffs at 10-6. Guess who is the three-point favorite in Vegas? Not Pittsburgh.
The Steelers have the better defense, better running game, better coach, and have more experience on this stage, so it must come down to bookies preferring Rodgers over Roethlisberger.
I would take Rodgers over Big Ben too, but not by much.
Rodgers may have to steal the show for Green Bay to win because, as we have seen throughout this postseason, you aren’t going to run effectively against the Steelers defense. Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, LaDanian Tomlinson, and Shonn Greene couldn’t do it, so why should anyone believe Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn are going to?
The problem is, despite his 121-yard performance in the AFC Championship Game, I don’t see Rashard Mendenhall doing much against B.J. Raji and the Packers’ front seven either, especially with center Maurkice Pouncey out of the game.
As has been the case all season, this game will come down to the quarterbacks. If you have been reading my playoff predictions then you know I said from the beginning that the easiest way to pick playoff winners is to simply pick the team with the better man under center.
You would also know that I picked a Green Bay-Pittsburgh Super Bowl back in September, but what I never mentioned is who I picked to win.
That would be the Packers, and while I’m skeptical at best, I’ve been riding Green Bay all along and refuse to reverse the pick now.
I love the Steelers and all they are about. Say what you want about Roethlisberger as a person, but one can’t deny his greatness and incredible toughness between the lines. The defense anchored by Troy Polamalu has been the best all year and Mike Tomlin might be second only to Bill Belichick on the NFL’s coaching hierarchy.
But I can’t get Rodgers out of my head. His 344 yard and four touchdown performance in Atlanta three weeks ago still lingers. He has also taken his team to and through two of the NFL’s toughest backyards in Chicago and Philadelphia.
Dallas will mark the friendliest confines the Packers have seen since hosting the Bears in Week 17, and their offense on turf is a scary thought.
Think back to the last time they played on turf. Rodgers racked up the above numbers and the offense scored 48 points in a one-sided affair against the Falcons.
Pittsburgh’s defense is on another level then Atlanta’s, but Green Bay’s isn’t chopped liver. It has, in my opinion, the league’s best player on that side of the ball in Clay Matthews, and other studs such as Raji, Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams.
Big Ben is the hardest quarterback to bring down and because of that he turns a play that looks disastrous into a thing of beauty. I just don’t see him getting out of Raji or Matthews’ grasp, and Green Bay’s corners matchup well against Roethlisberger’s targets.
On the flip side, look for Rodgers to exploit the Steelers weakness at corner. Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor can’t stick with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and James Jones for 60 minutes.
Rodgers knocks off the Steelers and with that goes the pesky monkey off his back. After tonight, he will have all Packers fans saying “Brett who?” if they aren’t already.
To many, Green Bay is just the flavor of the week, but yours truly saw this coming all along. The Steelers will be back, but tonight belongs to the Pack. Green Bay wins 24-17.
AFC/NFC Championship Games: 2-0