Friday, December 17, 2010

An Open Letter Apology to Andy Reid

Dear Andy Reid,

Consider this my retirement letter from ever criticizing you in the future. I submit to your vast football knowledge. I can finally say, with all certainty, that you actually know more about the game than I do in my finite experience with Madden and flag football.

If you recall (since, ya know, you’re an avid reader of The People Say Booyah), I wrote something not too long ago saying that you had no idea what you were doing anymore. I said your time was running out, that you had lost your touch.

Be happy Andy. We now got your back.
So open your eyes real wide to make sure you read this. You may even want to imagine my extremely annoying and sometimes high-pitched squeaky voice saying this, just for an added effect.

I was wrong.

In fact, I was so wrong I considered pretending to be Billy King for even extra effect.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NBA Preview FAQ

Have you ever had one of those sports weekends, where at least three of your teams play and they all lose? Were they important games? No, that hasn’t happened to you?

Well, then you can take solace in my pain, as I just encountered the worst sports weekend ever.

To recap:

1. My beloved Northwestern Wildcats held a 17-0 lead over undefeated Michigan State at home, on homecoming. It was glorious, especially considering there is no team I hate more in the Big 10 than Michigan State (which makes turning their cheer “Go Green, Go White” into the highly offensive “Can’t Read, Can’t write” even sweeter). But a fumble at the goaline, a crazy fourth and 11 conversion on a fake punt by Michigan State, and Northwestern QB Dan Persa (who didn’t have a game where he completed less than 73% of his passes until Saturday) doing his best (it pains me to say) Donovan McNabb impression on our two last drives, and all of a sudden the ‘Cats lost 35-27. And yes, it seemed like it happened that fast.

2. Ryan Howard, for the love of God, swing the bat.

3. The Eagles secondary decided to make Kenny Brit look like a cross of Jerry Rice and Randy Moss, Kevin Kolb decided he didn’t want a quarterback controversy and Kerry Collins lead the Titans to a blowout victory (seriously though, Kerry Collins? The only reason he’s still in the league is because he needed one more paycheck. And you lose? Pathetic).

What is the point of me telling you this story. Well because you are my six loyal readers and I needed someone to vent to. Oh, and that I couldn’t be more ready to get into the most compelling NBA season ever. I need something to take my mind off of the horrendous end to the Phillies, Northwestern and Kolb seasons. I now realize that it’s more fun to watch sports when don’t have a team, or as it’s more commonly known, being a 76ers fan.
Will the Axis of Evil reign supreme?

It’s time for the Frequently Asked Questions.

Is there any reason to optimistic about the Sixers this season?
To answer this with a question: Would you be optimistic about a team with the worst frontline since the Puerto Rican national team, a second overall pick who has yet to show any discernable skills yet, a “best player” who was the 16th option on offense at the FIBA World Championships, a coach who hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1997, and Elton Brand still collecting eight-figure pay checks?

Most of these things we already knew: Marressee Speights is the Sixers best big man, Andre Iguodala is a third banana on any half-decent team, Doug Collins is not the long term solution at coach and Elton Brand is the basketball equivalent of Jason Peters.

But the major issue comes with Evan Turner, the second pick who was considered a sure thing. I want to avoid being the typical Philly fan who overreacts to every misstep and calls for everyone’s firing and benching at the first sign of trouble….but: 1. Turner was horrendous in summer league. There is no other way to put it. 2. His preseason line is as follows: 29 MPG, 7.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.7 APG, 2.2 TO, 31%. The only reason this is remotely concerning is 3. DeMarcus Cousins’ preseason line: 25 MPG, 14.3 PPG, 8 RPG with 3 offensive boards per, on 40% shooting.

The day of the draft lottery, when the Sixers secured the second overall pick, I was double rainbow happy, knowing that Evan Turner was waiting in the wings. Minutes before the draft started, I was making statements that Cousins’ would be the best player to come out of the draft this year, barring any future admittance to the insane asylum.

A lot of it has to do with Cousins: when is the last time you saw a rookie big man with his footwork, rebounding prowess and touch around the rim? But then there’s also Turner, who as I started re-watching some of his play, looked a step too slow to be an NBA swingman, has no range three-point range whatsoever (he’s attempted no threes in the preseason while Cousins is 3-4 from distance), was turnover prone and can only play with the ball in his hands.

I am now legitimately afraid of how Cousins may haunt our franchise. If he doesn’t go Sprewell on Paul Westphal, I am convinced that he will be a 22-13 guy in three years as he and Tyreke Evans battle Kevin Durant for the Western Conference crown. I’m going to have nightmares about his drop-steps as Turner throws up mediocre 13, 5 and 5’s for the next few years.

I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

What’s the most underrated story going into the season?
It might be just me, but Allen Iverson having to sign in Turkey is the most depressing basketball story I’ve heard since MJ decided to return with the Wizards.

Does anyone remember that it was Iverson that bridged the gap between Jordan’s first retirement or that he was the most popular player, by far, before Kobe’s resurgence post-Colorado, or that he was the only reason almost everyone you knew had Reebok’s, or that he was one of the top 5 unique players ever, or that he was the most fearless player ever, or that he was the fastest with the ball in his hands than any player ever?

Now he has to go to Turkey and play against ‘C’ competition for one last pay check? I feel like my childhood was a lie.

Can Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder live up to expectations?
Kevin Durant is expected to be somewhere between Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Mother Theresa and Abraham Lincoln. So, yes.

But in all seriousness, there is so much expected of the Thunder and Durant in particular, it’s almost impossible for them to meet expectations (a lot of people have them second in the West and those really concerned about Kobe’s knee have them in the Finals). But still, if you temper expectations, just reasonably, you will see that the Thunder and Durant have an unbelievably bright future.

The things they have in their favor: Durant and Russell Westbrook were the two best players on Team USA in the summer, hands down, Scotty Brooks is a really good coach, Sam Presti is smarter than your GM, and Serge Ibaka is better than you think.

Things not in their favor: They are really young dealing with expectations for the first time (usually ends poorly), Jeff Green, Thabo Sefalosha’s offense, and every big man not named Serge Ibaka.

I think they have more things in their favor than not, the only thing really concerning me is the lofty expectations. But Kevin Durant will finish in the top 2 in MVP voting again, probably lead the league in scoring and throw up crazy silly numbers. The Thunder will be in the top half of the Western Conference, win 50+ games, Westbrook will breakout even more than he did last year and get at least to the second round of the playoffs. Just remember that their best players are all under 25. Let’s not get carried away too quickly.

But we still need to be legitimately concerned about the expectations and pressures we put on Durant. We just got done witnessing LeBron not be who we wanted him to be (more on this later) this summer, not to mention the way we’ve torn down Kobe, Iverson, Bonds, Tiger among countless other athletes for all different reasons. I think we need to realize that athletes can’t always be what we want them to be. Durant might be super humble, loyal and respectful, but then again he might not. We’ve thought these things before. So while it’s great that we ascribe all the behaviors to him that we all love, including me, we need to remember that’s he’s human and going to make mistakes. We just need to accept Durant and every other athlete for exactly what they are: tremendous athletes and that’s pretty much it.

Which Western Conference teams are the biggest threat to the Lakers?
I think it’s a two team race between the aforementioned Thunder and Utah Jazz (though I think the Spurs might possibly, maybe have one last gasp in them if Tiago Splitter is good) especially since the Suns decided not to resign Amare and instead use that money to create TSFF (Terrible Small Forwards Fund).

The Jazz had the best offseason of them all (so good, I could Whip My Hair to it), getting the biggest heists PG (Post-Gasol) in stealing Al Jefferson for two late first round picks. Now they have the size to compete with the Lakers up front (Boozer killed them last year. He just couldn’t get his shot off against the length) and they still have the second or third or fourth best point guard in Deron Williams (because Chris Paul is unequivocally, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Simply Lemonade vs. Tropicana better and D-Rose and Rajon Rondo are closing fast), and a great coach in Jerry Sloan. I like the Jazz.

Who’s the Sleeper Team?
Hell is about to freeze over in three…two…one: the Los Angeles Clippers.

Obviously, they are the worst franchise in professional sports, and a lot of things can be said about Donald Sterling (which I will now proceed to say: he’s a dirty cheapskate racist who doesn’t remotely care about his product) but that doesn’t change the fact that there is still a lot to like about the Clip Show.
Blake Griffin is already one of the top 5 power forwards in the league (in order Pau Gasol, Amare, Dirk, Bosh and Griffin), Eric Gordon was the third best player this summer on Team USA (for reference Danny Granger, Chauncey Billups and Tyson Chandler were tied for the worst), Chris Kaman is an all-star and Mike Dunleavy is no longer the coach, making for an infinite improvement in that department even though I couldn’t tell you who his replacement is.

What’s stopping the Clippers from winning 45ish games and making the playoffs in a down Western Conference? Well their curse that will probably lead to Blake Griffin going Shaun Livingston on us or Baron Davis deciding to show up looking he did last year, where he weighed 15 pounds less than Shaq at the start of the season.

Still, with Houston not quite there, the Suns conjuring memories of the 05-06 Knicks with all their swingman, the Nuggets in limbo with Carmelo (Denver has no choice but to trade him. Get whatever they can and move on. The last thing they need is him on national television saying “I’ve decided to take my talents to Midtown”) and the Trailblazers having chemistry problems, the bottom two spots are definitely up for grabs. If the Clippers hand the keys to Gordon and Griffin, they should snag it.

How do the playoffs shake out in each conference?
For the west, in order: Lakers, Jazz, Thunder, Mavs, Spurs, Blazers, Clippers, Nuggets (if they keep Carmelo) or Hornets.

For the east, in order: Heat, Magic, Celtics, Bulls, Bucks, Hawks, Knicks and Wizards (by the way, I expect the Wizards and Knicks to win about 35 games each. The East is that bad).

If you’re the Lakers, how concerned are you?
I’ve been saying for years that eventually, the Lakers will have a 3-5 year stretch of continual lottery appearances (and what a glorious stretch that will be) and the way Kobe has looked so far, that time is moving mighty close.

However, it’s not quite here. If the Lakers and more specifically Kobe are smart about minutes, numbers etc, hands the keys to Gasol for the regular season and he rests consistently throughout the season, kind of the way Gregg Popovich handles Duncan or Doc Rivers handles his old guys, then Kobe should have just enough juice to get back to the Finals in a weaker West and put up one more 6-24 in Game 7.

The issue lies in the years beyond that. Kobe has officially hit the Tim Duncan circa 2009 stage of his career: he’s still good, can get his numbers but in no way, shape or form can carry his team past the second round the way we’re accustomed.

That means they will have to permanently hand the keys over to Gasol, hope Andrew Bynum can put together a full season (which is truly laughable) and find some way to get the atrocious contracts off the books (which should be easy, just put in a call to Chris Wallace).

Darker days are coming for the Lakers, but that doesn’t start until 2011.

Do the Magic, Celtics or Bulls have a chance against the Heat in the East?
Only the Celtics, if healthy, have a real shot. Last time I checked, the Magic still have Vince Carter, so in big playoff moments they play 4 on 5. The Bulls are much improved (and Derrick Rose has a beastly look about him), but don’t have the wing firepower to stay with Wade or LeBron.

Leaving only the Celtics with a real shot to stop the Axis of Evil (the name I’m giving them). Even though they’ve done their best to get the 2002 All-Stars back together (seriously, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, KG, Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal were all 2002 All-Stars), as we saw last year, they have an ace in the hole: defense.

If they can get one of the O’Neal’s to play pick and roll defense (or at the very least get Jermaine to awake from the coma he suffered in the playoffs last year), they have a shot at stopping the Heat.

The Heat don’t have anyone to matchup with Rondo, KG should be able to score on Bosh’s terrible defense and Pierce manages to give LeBron a hard time every time they play.

But you have to be concerned that Ray Allen may not have anything left, they don’t have near the athleticism to keep up in a track meet and all the years they beat Wade and LeBron, they only geared their defense to one guy, not three.

In other words, the Heat should make it to the Finals and make it pretty easily.

What about the Heat? Can it work?
The big question. Before the answer, let’s consider the factors:

1. The big offseason acquisition to complement the Axis of Evil, Mike Miller, is out for a while. It would be a big deal if his name was James, Wade or Bosh. Alas it’s not.

2. Chris Bosh has finally found his niche: open 15 jumpers created by the two best penetrators in the league. He doesn’t really have to rebound, post up or facilitate offense. His only job is to hit open looks. I maintain he’s the luckiest man in America.

3. Dwyane Wade can now only focus at what he’s really good at: finishing games. No longer does he have to worry about making sure Carlos Arroyo doesn’t blow it in the second quarter. He’s got one mentality: finish in the fourth quarter, which is scary.

4. Erik Spolestra has the most pressure on him of anyone in the organization not named LeBron. I don’t care what Pat Riley says. He’s no better than the Situation when he tries to swoop in and steal Vinny’s girl. Riles always has his eye on the job, and rumors will swirl at the first sign of trouble.

5. LeBron has a look about him that is so encouraging its scary. It was really funny when he tweeted that he was taking mental notes at the people taking shots at him but after watching the focus he’s shown in preseason, it seems like he’s serious. He finally developed a semi-post game after 4 years of people yelling at him to do so. He’s no longer loosy-goosy, taking pictures on the sideline and joking around. He’s all business. He’s Kobe on nights flying to games from Eagle, Iverson in 2001, Shaq in 2000, Jordan in 1996: on a flat out mission to shut all the doubters up. Say what you want about the decision but it has radically changed the way he operates. He’s no longer who we want him to be but exactly what he wants to be (as a really good Nike commercial with a not to veiled shot at Barkley shows). I think he’s finally got it. And all it took was him completely destroying his popularity. He could honestly throw up 22-9-11 and do it with ease.

So to answer the question, yes. I honestly hate this team with everything I got, just because of the way it came together, the way they celebrated like they already won the championship and the fact that it happened to one of the worst fan bases in sports. But this looks like it’s going to work. Everyone seems to accept their role. They are going to out athlete everyone. And it’s going to see all that talent on the floor at once will be amazing to watch.

It pains me to say but they are the best team in the league.

Who will win the major awards?
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin. Easiest award to pick if he stays healthy. He’s freaky even though John Wall will be really good.
Coach of the Year: Jerry Sloan. He’s just due.
Defensive Player: Dwight Howard. If he doesn’t win this award, we can stop mentioning him like he’s a top player right?
Most Improved: Jrue Holliday. The lone bright spot on a barren 76ers roster will rack up easy numbers
6th man: Jamal Crawford: He’ll win the backhanded compliment award for the second straight year
MVP: LeBron: It’s almost crazy how because of the summer, we forgot that this guy is still the best player on the planet. Just because he joined the Heat doesn’t mean that he’ll suck. He’s finally playing with good teammates. As much as I love Durant, LeBron is on a mission like he’s never been before.

Finals Pick
Miami over Lakers in 7

Game 7 will be played in Miami. The fair weather fans will decide that it’s an important enough game to go to. Kobe might shoot 5-24 in this game. Ron Artest will take that same three he made last year, only this time it will do what it’s supposed to and get sucked into Rick Ross’ fat orbit. Wade will close like he did when he won Finals MVP. LeBron’s decision will prove to be correct.

The reign of terror is set to begin.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Lost Touch

With further apologies to Jason Whitlock, I will be cackling and rolling that blunt now.

After lamenting the fact that I couldn’t get on my high horse for Sunday’s Redskins/Eagles tilt, I’ve now jumped on Secretariat and told him to start bucking.

The good no longer outweighs the bad with Andy Reid.
Reid has always made mistakes in games: horrible time-outs, an inability to grasp the concept of going for two, and the whole playcalling thing are well-documented throughout the history of the internet.

But what happened Sunday, which resembled a Kanye West meltdown (you could see it coming minutes before it happened, as it happened you could believe it was happening, when it was over, you were searching for cheap excuses for why it wasn’t that bad, even though, it was bad), is cause for serious concern.

If there’s one thing you can give Andy Reid for Sunday’s game, it’s that he finds new and inventive ways to butcher the game clock. He never blows time the same way twice. Sometimes, its blowing all your timeouts in the first quarter, other times its calling plays that go to the middle of the field with only seconds left and no timeouts, so the clock painfully runs out and the team doesn’t score.

Then there was Sunday. Reid calls timeout before a fourth and one near the goal line with only seconds left in the first half to call a play, forgetting only one thing: calling the play. The team takes a delay of game penalty and has to kick a field goal. Though, with the way the Eagles have historically converted fourth and inches, it was probably better.

But this is what he always bungles. The Eagles are past-due milk bad at the end of halves. Always have been.

There has always been a tradeoff for having Andy Reid as coach/GM/czar/resident fat man (the fat joke is required for every blog post that mentions Andy Reid. It’s in the rules of the internet. I’m not trying to be unnecessarily mean. I’m not. Really. C’mon, believe me).

You had to take the bad clock management, unbalanced play calling and soft offensive line to get the shrewd personnel moves, above average drafting and regular playoff appearances (even if they have all ended in heartbreak).

Except now, as Sunday proved, you are getting none of it right now.

Instead, you have a confused Reid who is struggling in and out of the game.

Over the last few offseasons Reid and the Eagles brass has:
1. Tried to replace offensive line stalwarts Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan with Jason Peters, the Andrews brothers and Winston Justice. One was crazy (Shawn Andrews), one was oblivious to how much he sucked (Stacy Andrews), one is pretty average (Justice) and one is the worst left tackle in football (Peters). Not to mention, three have had bloated contracts (everyone but Justice) and Peters is currently in the midst of a 6 year, $60 million contract.
2. Tried to replace Brian Dawkins with Sean Jones, Macho Harris and Quintin Demps, and tried to do it with a straight face.
3. The major free agent signings since 2008: Asante Samuel, Chris Clemons, Dan Klecko, Rocky Boiman, Stacy Andrews, Sean Jones, Leonard Weaver, Marlin Jackson and Daryl Tapp. The major trades were: Lorenzo Booker, Ellis Hobbs, Will Witherspoon, Ernie Sims, and the giveaway of Sheldon Brown and Chris Gocong for Mike Holmgren’s fat trimmings. Only two have worked out (Samuel and Weaver, very well I might add), with everything else reminiscent of a Friday night with Jason.
4. Then, there’s the biggie: the Kolb/Vick/McNabb fiasco.

All of these things had a major impact in Sunday's meltdown: the offensive line resembles a bad M. Night Shyamalan movie. The defense doesn't have any real players outside of Trent Cole and Asante Samuel (though Nate Allen is promising). And then theres the quarterback situation

Reid was ready to stake his reputation and job on what Corn on the Kolb was selling. He sold it everyone all summer. He traded his quarterback away to a division rival. And it all came crashing down.

It’s not that Corn on the Kolb isn’t good. I still don’t think we know enough about him to really judge (though after watching his checkdown-fest on Sunday, the name Matt Leinart keeps popping in my head). It’s the way Reid was so quick to throw him aside after one half of play. Of course he was going to come into the game with no confidence and just check it down. Of course he was going to make the offense look like Mo'nique after a night at Roscoe's.

With that change Reid essentially said this to Kolb: “Look, I really messed up with that Donovan trade. I forgot one crucial thing about watching someone in practice all the time. Everyone is going to look good in practice. Taylor Swift probably sounds remotely talented in practice.”

There are two things that Reid really misjudged in this situation (yes, I am making ample use of the list feature. Yes, it is lazy. Yes, I don’t care): First, he was way too quick on the Kolb trigger. If you really believed in the guy (a guy you are paying over $12 million for this season because you did), you wouldn’t have yanked him so quickly because you usually give guys you believe in more than a half. How do you think Tiger and Elin made it as long as they did?

Second, he bought into all the Mike Vick hype. Look, I think Mike Vick has played really well. And I also really like him. But haven’t we seen this before? Haven’t we watched him prove to us that he can pass from the pocket? Hasn’t he had two good passing games in a row before? And at the end of the day, wasn’t he the exact same guy? Before we anoint Vick as the next Steve Young, let’s see him do it on a semi-consistent basis.

All this shows is that Reid is completely unsure of his decisions. He’s wavering. Does 2005 Andy Reid waver like this? I don’t think so. He picks his guy and he rides him (though let’s hope he doesn’t actually ride the guy).

And that’s what this Andy Reid has lost. For all of his stubbornness about the offensive playcalling and flat-out hatred of the clock, you could count on him to go into his office and make the right personnel decisions.

But now, without that stubbornness, without that conviction, Andy Reid resembles the typical college coach who doesn't know what he's doing. Yanking quarterbacks back and forth, not really assembling the talent needed to win at a high level, making serious mistakes in the game.

Somewhere, McNabb, B. Dawk, and Brian Westbrook are lighting up.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Funny Little Feeling

Since the day Donovan McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins, I looked forward to the day that he would make his return to Philly. Even more so, I hoped and rooted for a huge Redskins victory and a career day from McNabb. I even secretly wished he would give the middle finger to the crowd, just as a final thank you for all the loving support they've shown since the day he was drafted.

Donovan McNabb is gone and 
I don't know how to feel.
I really was prepared to do the unthinkable: hope for a bone crushing Eagles loss.

I spent almost the whole summer getting ready for it: preparing my Andy Reid lard in the brain jokes, calling Joe Banner a cheapskate, making apparently racist (really?) Corn on the Kolb quips and throwing in gratuitous shots at Jason Peters for good measure.

Things were going swimmingly too. Corn on the Kolb was terrible in preseason, Andy Reid kept the hard sell through training camp and the first half against Green Bay made me think “When did we trade for Alex Smith?”

Then Reid did something I never thought I would see him do: fold to the outside pressure and start Mike Vick.

My fandom of Mike Vick has been well documented in the brief existence of The People Say Booyah. I felt he was wrongly treated by the media who wanted to crucify him like he was the second incarnation of Timothy McVeigh, which is why I firmly stood in his corner (which is why a small part of me is happy that the three PETA protesters outside of every Eagles home game take crap like they were wearing Tony Romo jerseys).

This turn of events threw a complete monkey wrench into my treasonous plans to root against my beloved team. I was completely prepared to sit on my high horse and as the great Jason Whitlock says cackle and roll a blunt as Reid’s handpicked successor, Corn on the Kolb, struggled even though he had really not shown anything that he had the ability to succeed the greatest quarterback the franchise has ever seen (and please, for the life of me, do not bring up those two games from last season. It makes me want to throw things. He threw three picks against New Orleans and embarrassed a Kansas City defense that noted terrible quarterback David Garrard played well against. So that’s that).

But with Vick at the helm, the story completely changes. I don’t want Vick to fail like I wanted Corn on the Kolb to fail (though wanting Corn on the Kolb to fail has everything to do with the misguided decision by the front office and wanting to see it explode in their faces and not reflective of my opinion of Corn on the Kolb). Instead, I want Vick to do very well.

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

There are conflicted feelings everywhere: on one hand, I want everything about this Eagles season to fail, just so Reid and the entire front office eat crow about the McNabb trade (though with Coach Reid, it’s probably already been eaten). Then on the other hand, I want Vick to be successful so all the fanatical animal-rights activists can have their heads explode (though most of them are caring, reasonable people, Jen Utley notwithstanding). But on my third hand, I want McNabb to rub his junk in the face of the hateful fan majority (though there has been some revisionist history that most people in Philadelphia liked McNabb. If you think that’s true, Bernie Madoff has stock to sell you). Then on my fourth hand, there’s always that little bit of unchecked optimism that this could be the year: a true year of destiny, a resurrection of the city and a quarterback once thought to be no more of a gimmick. So if you’re counting at home, I look like Goro from Mortal Kombat.

And when it comes down to it, there’s only one spot I can put my cheering alliance. As much as I liked McNabb, he: 1.) isn’t my favorite Philadelphia athlete ever (it’s still Iverson, though the longer the end of his career goes like this, it might have to be reconsidered) and 2.) he can’t supercede the team if he didn’t virtually singlehandedly drive a team to a championship in a Drew Brees/D.Wade circa 2006 way. It also doesn’t help that he’s coming off his annual “bad loss vs. inferior team on the road game” against St. Louis last week.

But that also doesn’t mean that I won’t give McNabb the biggest ovation from my dorm room that I’ve ever given or that I’m rooting for him to have an amazing game, because I most certainly will be.

But when the game starts, everything could change. I could realize that I’m not ready to break up with Donovan. I really don’t know. All I know is he’s coming home and I don’t know how to feel about it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

NFL Picks

It's Aaron Rodgers' world and we're just living in it.

This is really going to be a rare occurrence for the three regular readers of The People Say Booyah: a very short column.

I had a really elaborate plan to do the Frequently Asked Questions style column that I did for the NBA free agency review and then…I didn’t have any time. I’m too busy to throw 5,000+ words together in a coherent fashion.

This forces me to just do straight picks for the divisions and Super Bowls, while I will throw in a couple blurbs for the teams that deserve it (playoff teams in italics).

NFC East:
1. Dallas Cowboys (11-5): Please stop overreacting to preseason. It pains me to say but Tony Romo is really, really good. They have a defense with playmakers. The only concern should be this face.
2. New York Giants (10-6): If the defense is half-decent, the growth and maturation of Eli Manning over the last few years should propel them back to the playoffs.
3. Washington Redskins (9-7): I don’t care what their offensive line or receivers look like: Donovan McNabb wins and he wins no matter what is around him. He’s done it his whole career. With a solid defense, they’ll get the second wildcard.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (6-10): Don’t believe what Andy Reid or brainwashed Philadelphia radio hosts tell you: this team is rebuilding, and another thing: this team stinks. There are questions at quarterback, a horrendous offensive line, and a defense that struggled last year. Where are the positives? Look forward to the Aaron Rodgers air show in week one.

NFC North:
1. Green Bay Packers (13-3): Speaking of Mr. Rodgers aka Kevin Durant of the NFL aka my personal man crush, expect him to win the MVP. He may set records. I paid an inordinate amount of money for him in my auction draft. I had them going to the Super Bowl last year, so you can probably imagine how far I think they’ll go this year.
2. Minnesota Vikings (8-8): Brett Favre will return to his interception prone self without Sidney Rice.
3. Chicago Bears (5-11): Jay Cutler+ Mike Martz + a bad offense line= 5-11
4. Detroit Lions (3-13): Give them two years and they’ll be very dangerous.

NFC South:
1. New Orleans Saints (11-5): With Drew Brees, they will always be in contention. Especially in this crappy division
2. Carolina Panthers (7-9)
3. Atlanta Falcons (7-9): Don’t buy the hype: the defense is suspect and Michael “the burner” Turner is burned out.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-14)

NFC West
1. San Francisco 49ers (5-11)
2. Seattle Seahawks (5-11)
3. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)
4. Rams (4-12)
Is this above scenario possible? Probably not but when you’re dealing with the worst division in the history of sports, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE! Whenever you are being Sold Derek Anderson and Alex Smith as the guys leading sleeper teams, something has gone horribly wrong. I pray this will be the last time I ever write about these four teams this year.

AFC East
1. New York Jets (11-5) I was really high on the Jets last season. Watching Rex Ryan on Hard Knocks only made it better. Having Revis Island in the fold makes it even better.
2. Miami Dolphins (10-6): Chad Henne is good and everyone will realize this.
3. New England Patriots (8-8): I know Bill Belichick is a genius but his defense has no talent and he’s not spying on anyone anymore, so how are they going to stop people?
4. Buffalo Bills (1-15)

AFC North
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): If they can play .500 ball without Big Ben, he’s going to come back and light the world on fire.
2. Baltimore Ravens (10-6): I don’t entirely trust Joe Flacco or Anquan Boldin’s health, but Ray Rice is a bad man. Oh, and they still have Ray Lewis
3. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9): Dear everyone: Carson Palmer hasn’t been good since 2007.
4. Cleveland Browns (3-13)

AFC South
1. Indianapolis Colts (12-4): The last time they won less than 12 games, America just gained independence from England.
2. Houston Texans (8-8): I like Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson and nothing else.
3. Tennessee Titans (8-8): They can’t run Chris Johnson on every play.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13)

AFC West
1. San Diego Chargers (9-7): AJ Smith is an idiot.
2. Oakland Raiders (5-11)
3. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12)
4. Denver Broncos (2-14): Josh McDaniels is a giant idiot.

Super Bowl Pick
Packers over Jets

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Adjusting to Life with Kevin Kolb

Life as an Eagles fan has changed
with Kevin Kolb on board.
The writing was on the wall in 2007. The Eagles decided against getting immediate help in the draft, traded out of the first round with the Cowboys, giving a hated rival an impact player who made big plays in the playoff debacle this past January (Anthony Spencer), and drafted some quarterback from Houston that no one had heard of. Donovan McNabb had to know right then and there that he was not going to finish his career as an Eagle.

And even though there were still some magical moments left (the late season run in 2008 that should have culminated in a Super Bowl berth. Alas…), it wasn’t going to change that. McNabb would wear another team’s jersey.

Even though we’ve had three years to prepare for this, having the team turned over to Kevin Kolb doesn’t seem quite right, especially to a McNabb guy like myself. This is McNabb’s team, the franchise he helped to build almost singlehandedly on offense (to look back at some of the receiving corps from the early aughts is an exercise laughter, pain and front office incompetence. The Eagles would have been better suited starting horse dung at WR. At least dung could beat a press). He won a ton of games and got to the playoffs a lot. Simply put, he is the greatest player in Eagles history and you won’t convince me differently.

But that is all in the past, and Corn on the Kolb (yes, this is how I will refer to Kevin Kolb from now on. Deal with it) takes the reins of a team that could have been poised to make yet another run at a championship with that other guy. Everything about this Eagles season rests on his shoulders.

Yeah there are major defensive questions and there is an offensive line that can’t block J-Woww (Jason Peters is officially my least favorite Eagle ever, surpassing James Thrash, Todd Pinkston and Mark Simoneau. I hate Jason Peters. He only played well for two quarters for the whole season, in the first Dallas game, and then promptly got injured. Any half-decent defensive end consistently beats him. Ralphie May would be a better choice at left tackle. At least we got him in a bargain basement deal. Wait, we’re paying him $60 million dollars? And traded a first-round pick? @#%&!). But if Corn on the Kolb is good, the Eagles will be good. Good quarterbacks are always in contention. Period.

So, is Corn on the Kolb good? Andy Reid has gone out on the limb for this guy, risking his job if this guy stinks (That is the underrated part of this trade. Not that Reid had the arrogance to trade McNabb within the division. That’s the Reid I know. But for him to put his career and job security on the line for a guy with four touchdowns and seven interceptions either shows that he is the most arrogant coach to never win a championship in the history of sports or he really believes that Corn on the Kolb is really good).

It’s obviously a question we can’t answer now. I’m not going to judge him on his limited mop-up duty (where he stunk), two starts last season (where there were flashes) and underwhelming preseason (where the entire team stinks). That’s not right. But there are a few things we do know. And everything is now different surrounding the Eagles.

First of all, there is the perception of what Kevin Kolb is as a player. He is the more traditional west-coast offense quarterback. He doesn’t have the huge arm of McNabb but he is more accurate and better suited for Reid’s offense which will focus more on underneath routes and YAC (which is really bad for DeSean Jackson fantasy owners. At 5’11”, 98 pounds, Jackson isn’t really suited to be running the slants and other short routes over the middle. He’s too small. He won’t last. Without the guy who bombs away deep, Jackson’s production will suffer. You watch). He has a quick release, doesn’t hold the ball, blah blah blah. But then again, he doesn’t have the mobility to escape the rush and make the big plays downfield. But again, too early to judge what he does and doesn’t have.

But off the field is where this gets fascinating. He has a “fiery” demeanor, a “competitive spirit”  he takes the game so seriously, he’s willing to get in someones face, and all the other clich├ęs that give Mark Schlereth orgasms. This comes in stark contrast to what we had with #5. McNabb was loosey-goosey, always joking, and one his lasting images will be smiling at Tampa Bay linebackers in the 2001 playoffs, which people made a big deal about, but I could care less (I will, however, not miss the throwing up the field. Washington can have that).

Which brings us to the heart of life with Kevin Kolb: the fans. Eagles fans will eat that stuff up. Even if Corn on the Kolb throws an interception, they’ll enjoy seeing him get frustrated on the sideline. If a receiver drops a pass, they’ll be happy to see him get angry at the guy. He is the complete opposite of McNabb. The difference between the two makes them excited.

Everyone knew what they were getting in McNabb. The Eagles would be highly competitive in the regular season, challenge for the division title, maybe get a bye and make some moves in the playoffs. However, those moves probably wouldn’t include a Super Bowl title, because after 11 years, they hadn’t.

And people were sick of the monotony of competitiveness (which probably sounds really strange to a Browns fan). It was like the Tiger Woods-Elin Woods partnership. Tiger, the Eagles fans, knew they had a pretty good thing in Elin or Donovan. She was good-looking, gave us some good moments, and when we walked in the room, people knew that we were big time. However, Tiger/Eagles fans got bored by that. He wanted to dabble in something else, get a little change, even if it was something not as attractive, for the sole purpose that it was different. Tiger (Eagles fans) don’t have some contrived problem like a deep-seeded hatred for Donovan or a sex addiction, just a longing for a new excitement.

And that’s why so many people are behind the move. They reached that Tiger level of boredom: “Yeah this is great, but I need something new and I could care less if it’s a grenade.”

And it’s exactly why I’m not behind the move. Why trade away annual playoff appearances? Why give up on an era prematurely? In the playoffs, anything can happen: what if this is was the year? Why go out and grab Rachel Uchitel when you have a hot Swede?

I kind of liked the fact that the team was predictable. I think it’s kind of exciting to always be in contention. Yeah the frustration sucks. Yeah the frustration may get the best of me and I may or may not write some things sharing the sentiments I now loathe. But when the season got close to starting I had that satisfaction of knowing that my team would be good. Not the best, but good. So again, why?

You do it because there is the chance that this could turn out like the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie/Jen Anniston triangle. Obviously Pitt upgraded when he went with Jolie: she makes major bank, keeps the profile astronomically high with the humanitarian stuff and is one of the five biggest stars, period. What if McNabb is Anniston and becomes a complete wreck after the breakup? What if Kolb is Jolie and ready to take life to the next level?

That uncertainty that some people find exhilarating, I think sucks, which puts me in the weird position of maybe/maybe not rooting for the Eagles with my full heart. On the one hand, I’m an Eagles guy through and through, with memorabilia all over my dorm room and a fan since Papa West first explained to be the down system in 1998 as Bobby Hoying was throwing interceptions. But on the other hand, I (like my aforementioned father), want to see the Eagles have to pay for their arrogance. For believing that it is their own brilliance that keeps this team going from year to year. For trading the only quarterback I’ve really known and ending a successful era well before McNabb was done as a quarterback.

But at the end of the day, the Eagles come first (the only time I’ll root against them is when McNabb returns to Philly. I hope he goes crazy. Like Paris Hilton on cocaine crazy). Corn on the Kolb will have my support. I’ll give him the chance to be the next great QB. I’ll give him the chance to be a crappy QB. Uncertain is life with Corn on the Kolb.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

NBA Free Agency 2010: Frequently Asked Questions

The ESPN hype machine broke out in full force for nearly two years in anticipation of the most talented free-agent class in the history of professional basketball.  Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were the headliners.  Chris Bosh was tabbed as the superwingman (but please don’t put him on James; or Wade’s level).  Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer and David Lee rounded out a class of talented but flawed big men.  Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay were the other wing guys who did just enough to not excite you.  It was truly a sight to behold.

We should have expected that something crazy would happen.  Obviously, the decisions that these players made could shift the balance of power in the league for the next 5-10 years.  The future of the league was up for grabs.

We should have expected that some variation of the history of NBA free agency would play out.  GMs would make predictably dumb trades and handout outrageous contracts to players with enough red flags you would think Marvin Lewis was trying to challenge.  We should have expected that player’s egos would get in the way.  We should have expected that something would happen that would make us say: “Wow, that’s surprising.”

What we got instead was something that made us say: “HOLY MOTHER OF CLUSTERF**K”

The landscape of the NBA has completely changed.  We now have a superteam brewing on South Beach.  The legacies of so many players are now forever altered.  What has happened is completely unprecedented.   Basketball as we knew it is gone.  

To sort through it all, we have to make a Free Agency 2010: The FAQ.

Who was the Biggest Winner of Free Agency 2010?
Dwyane Wade.  And it’s not even close.  Wade was able to convince LeBron James, the guy with the potential to be the greatest player ever, to come with him to Miami and be his Scottie Pippen.  It’s one of the biggest upsets, and biggest heists, in the history of sports.

But beyond his John Calipari recruiting ability, this has major implications for his legacy.  He’s spent the last few years with a supporting cast that makes the 2001 Sixers look like Team USA.  His most consistent teammate since he won the title has been Udonis Haslem (ouch).  He’s had to deal with Skip to my Turnover, Carlos Arroyo, Jermaine O’neal’s corpse, Michael Take it Easy, Dorrell Wright, Chris Quinn, Mark Blount, Joel Anthony and the crap could continue forever.

Now?  He’s added top 25 player of all-time to his potential resting place in NBA lure.  He already threw up the best Finals performance by a guard since Jordan when he (with the help of the second best player in the league that year, Bennett Salvatore) carried the Heat on his back to a championship.  After two injury filled years after that, he’s finally recaptured that championship form, throwing up stupid-silly numbers (26 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds. last year, 30, 7.5 and 5 the year before).  With the chance to hog championships for the next 7 or so years barring injuries, he could end up with five total, while being the alpha-dog on every single one.

I think that his career has had a similar trajectory to Kobe: very early success, a mid-20s lull and now the opportunity to spend their primes in serious contention for championships.

If he can dutifully put up 25, 5 and 5, and end up with 4 total titles or more, you could conceivably be looking at a top-15 player of all-time.

Sounds like a winner to me.

Who was the Loser of Free Agency 2010?
I’m sorry Cleveland.  You guys have become the bizzaro version of that very annoying DJ Khaled song.

Who had the most underrated offseason move?
The Lakers signing Steve Blake to four years, $16 million, in the rare “team filling a need with a player who fits their system with a fair contract” move, something Minnesota GM David Kahn never wants to do.  The things Blake does on the floor fit perfectly with what the Lakers need him to do.  He’s played with a guy like Kobe in Brandon Roy, so he understands how to play point without the ball, he’s not a guy prone to take bad shots, he makes open ones out to the three-line.  He looks like a guy who would fit well in the triangle.  He can come off the bench or start.  He’s exactly what they needed.  You know the NBA is in bad shape when you have to commend a team for ACTUALLY filling needs with good players.

Who had the worst offseason move?
I thought watching last offseason’s Detroit debacle was bad (over $90 million for two bench players), but this was patently worse.  Joe Johnson made the most money this offseason for back-to-back playoff no-shows.  Darko got $20 million for having David Kahn as his GM.  Amir Johnson got $34 million, even though Amir Johnson has done nothing notable ever in the NBA.  Travis Outlaw got $35 million.  Drew Gooden got $32 million.  Brendan Haywood made $55 million for having one solid season in a contract year (Dallas apparently forgot their own mistake, because they did the same thing with Erick Dampier).  Rudy Gay got a max contract.  It doesn’t stop.

It’s like teams don’t learn lessons from previous years.  In the same offseason, the Sixers gave $80+ contracts to Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand, two guys who can’t be your best player on a championship team, but they definitely could play a role.  How’s that working out for Philly?  27 wins last year.  If you pay a non-alpha dog, alpha-dog money, you are going to suck and suck for a long time

The worse move has to be a tie between every time David Kahn walks into the office and the Johnson contract.  Kahn made the afformentioned Darko signing, signed some second round pick no one has ever heard of to a $13 million deal, traded for Michael Beasley just to give Miami more cap room while adding another undersized power forward who can’t defend to further his quest of having the most undersized front line of guys who can’t defend in NBA history.  Oh, and he dealt a top-three low post scorer, for nothing, to a team desperately needing a low-post scorer.

Then, there was Johnson, who bless his heart, isn’t a number one guy nor is he a number two guy.  And they gave him $120+ million dollars.  On offense, he’s a midrange jumpshooter who doesn’t get to the rim or the line.  He has no athleticism, can’t be a playmaker for others, and a below-average defender.  And did I mention that in back-to-back years he no-showed in all four of his team’s playoff series as their best player.  Atlanta was apparently following the little known rule that you have to resign a player to a massive contract after consecutive playoff choke jobs.  It’s in the CBA (See: McGrady, Tracy).

(Sidenote: the league is in real trouble.  Even with a lockout looming because of contracts exactly like the ones given out this summer, they are still handed out.  It doesn’t even matter if they radically change the salary cap structure, limit contracts amount and length.  As long as there are frustratingly incompetent general managers, and they currently make-up at least half the league, they will always handout cap-crippling contracts, leaving there to only be 5 contenders max.  The only way this gets fixed is if David Stern personally negotiates contracts himself.  And I wouldn’t rule it out).

Hey, it’s LeBron’s Ego and I’m wondering why you haven’t asked a LBJ question yet?
No comment.

Is there anything positive to take away if I’m a Knicks, Bulls or Nets fan?
If you’re a Bulls fan, you’re great shape.  If you’re a Nets fan, you’re in so-so shape.  If you’re a Knicks fan, find Donnie Walsh and throw him into the Hudson River.

The Bulls maintained their flexibility for next summer, added a low post presence in Carlos Boozer, signed sharpshooter Kyle Korver and still have Luol Deng as a trade chip, and they could get J.J. Redick (J.J. is underrated.  He’s a fantastic shooter, better than you think defender, smart, and better than Vince Carter).  The only negative is that Carlos Boozer, while productive now, isn’t a guy who can be the best player on a title team and could be Elton Brand in 3 years: undersized with no vertical who gets swallowed up by height routinely.

The Nets got a little anxious before LeEgo signed, inking Travis Outlaw to a $35 million contract.  But they still have a ton of cap flexibility for the future.  And they have that big billboard right next door to MSG (awesome to see in person).  And they have the most interesting man in the world as their owner.

The Knicks are boned.  Absolutely and completely boned.  They sold away every asset for two straight years for this summer.  They have given up 4 trillion draft picks.  They dumped contract after contract for 11 cents on the dollar.  And all they came away with was Amare Stoudemire.  Ouch.

I like Amare (I actually really like him) but if he’s your best player, all those draft picks you traded away are going to be in the lottery.  They don’t have a point guard, center, bench or anything else besides Amare and kinda Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler.  Because when I give away anyone and everything for 20 percent of their value, I want my team to be led by Chandler, Gallinari and Stoudemire.

Donnie Walsh completely screwed this up.  He geared everything for two years toward this summer, left the cupboard more naked than Eddy Curry, and put all of his eggs in the LeBron/Wade basket.  Obviously that didn’t work.

He didn’t hedge any of his bets.  Instead, he’s already gearing things toward free agency next year (possibly Carmelo) and the year after (possibly Chris Paul), completely ignoring the way you build is through smart drafting (the San Antonio/OKC model) or hoodwinking people in one-sided trades because someone formerly tied to your organization works for another team (Boston/LA model).  

I’m glad  you still haven’t figured that out Donnie.

Which team stands to lose the most because of Miami?
Orlando.  Look, I may bag on Dwight Howard for looking awkward in the post or missing free throws, but he is a superstar.  And Miami doesn’t have anyone who can guard him.  The problem is, he doesn’t have anyone around him.  Jameer Nelson won’t get it done.  Rashard Lewis is the most expensive spot-up jumpshooter in the history of the league.  And then they have Vince Carter, a guy who would shrink in a WNBA playoff game.  It also doesn’t help that his GM is an idiot who decides that cap space is best spent on backups who play 10 minutes a game instead of trying to get a crunch time scorer.

The Magic’s best chance is to kidnap Carter, Gortat and Bass to get them off their cap and then try to convince Carmleo to try and create the best rivalry basketball has seen in 20 years.  In the unlikely event that doesn’t happen, Magic fans will be left to wonder how 2009 would have played out if Nelson would have closed out on that Derek Fisher three or Courtney Lee converted that tough alley-oop.

Is Chris Bosh the luckiest guy on the planet?
Well, put it this way.  This guy has never won a playoff series, only been to the playoffs twice, missed the playoffs in back to back seasons, has only won three career playoff games in seven seasons, while spending his entire career in the dilapidated East with enough talent around him (Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani etc.) to be able to at least make it to the playoffs more often than that, while not playing well in said playoff games (43% shooting, only 9 rebounds per game).

He’s a porous rebounder (only 9.4 for his career when he should be able to grab more considering Bargnani rebounds worse than Jennifer Aniston) and atrocious post defender defender (the numbers say he’s worse than Amare, although, to be fair, some that has to do with the crimes against basketball committed by the Toronto defense).

Offensively he’s talented, but limited. He’s essentially a midrange jumpshooter. Everyone likes to make the comparison to Pau Gasol, but doesn’t have nearly the passing ability or the skill and variety of low post moves.

Of course, this is conveniently not mentioned when we talk about Bosh because no one has ever seen a Raptors game (unfortunately, I have, being the poor schlep I am who still watches Sixers basketball), then all of a sudden he’s considered in the same class of player as Wade and LBJ while never having won a big game in college or the pros.

So yes, he is pretty lucky.

I have been on record as saying I would prefer to have Amare over Chris Bosh, given past playoff performances (it seems like everyone forgets that he always abused a still-in-his-prime Greatest Power Forward of All-Time routinely when the Suns and Spurs matched up) because if I’m forced to decide between no-defense power forwards, poor rebounding power forwards, at least give me the one who’s won a playoff series.

Now, does this mean that Bosh can’t develop into the quality player the perception has him being?  Absolutely not.  He’s got the talent to be one of the 10-15 best players in the league.  Gasol went through the growing pains and learning curves to get where he is.  But let’s not anoint something that hasn’t happened yet.

What does this all mean for LeBron?
There are two ways to examine everything that’s happening with LeBron: on-court and off.

On-Court: If we could consider any part of LeBron’s highly contrived, ego-maniacal move from Cleveland to Miami smart, the fit on the floor would be the only candidate.  It showed that above all, LeBron knew exactly how he fit into the basketball world.

Questions were starting to develop whether or not LeBron was really a crunch-time guy.  Every once in a while, he made you say ‘what the hell was that.’  (I really was getting nervous about how he acted in the big moments this year, especially after his duel with Carmleo when he couldn’t guard him and couldn’t make anything happen on offense and that very weird three he took against Boston late in the regular season.  Did these moments stop me from picking Cleveland?  Of course not.)

Even with those questions, we still held out hope that he was what we thought he was: a guy with an unlimited ceiling of potential and a guy who could eventually be one of the five best players ever.  At every sign of trouble, we pointed back to the flashes of brilliance that made us remember exactly why we thought what we did.

But as we saw in the Boston series, where he unequivocally quit, he couldn’t handle that pressure of all those expectations.  He didn’t have it in him to be the man.  He didn’t have the killer mentality that a Jordan or Kobe have.  He didn’t have the crunch time chops.  He didn’t have the special “it” to go with the unnatural physical gifts he possessed.

The only thing is he realized this way before we did.  He realized that he couldn’t bear the weight of a franchise, be the guy in the last four minutes who won or lost the game or withstand the blame when he eventually came up short.  He realized that his ultimate destiny was, is and will be as the greatest wingman in the history.

And in that sense, this move makes all the sense in the world.  He can have the best of both worlds: put up great stats (he’s got triple-double average potential this year), get all the glory and love from the fair-weather Miami fans (I don’t think a fan base is least dersving of what just happened to it then Miami.  Their fans haven’t trekked to American Airlines Arena in four years, but now they are selling out welcoming parties for three free agency signings?  I like to give Lakers fans crap, but they know basketball and they always fill Staples Center.  Heat fans are a joke.), but not have to deal with being the guy in the last minutes or it being his team (having transferred those responsibilities to Wade).

The sad part of the story is we did not realize this, at least not in time.  Our hope in LeBron in all that we thought he was.  But in fact, he was none of those things.  LeBron has a second fiddle mentality with alpha-dog talent.

All of this has to be factored in when we look back on his career.  Yeah, he may average a triple-double this year, while doubling as point guard for the most fascinating team since the 2004 Lakers and one of the most interesting ever.  He may have a few rings.  He may have banged some of the hottest women on the world down on South Beach.  But he never, ever, EVER deserves to be mentioned in the pantheon of basketball players.  None of the greats would ever decide that they had to go to another superstars city, watch him take all the clutch shots, just for a chance at a ring.  I imagine that Bird would have rather retired title-less, rip his eyeballs out and stick a Red Auerbach cigar up his rectum than slum his way to LA to join Magic and Kareem to win some rings.

And that’s all we really need to know.  Yes, LeBron needed help to win a title, and yes every great player has needed another top-25 player in the league at the time to win a championship.  But, that doesn’t mean LeBron should go and be the help.  You don’t go and be someone’s wingman.  And because of that, LeBron’s ceiling went from evolutionary Magic/Jordan to evolutionary Pippen (And I love Scottie).  And that’s not a good thing.

Off-Court: This whole spectacle was a bigger disaster then Transformers 2: Revenge of the Extremely Racist and Offensive Twin Robots.  And it has nothing to do with leaving Cleveland, only the way he left Cleveland.

It appears clear now, once you break down all the signs that he was leaving.  And he knew he was going to Miami, at least going back to when he lost to the Celtics.  He strung out a decision so contrived in fake drama that he’s turned an entire populace of fans against him over the course of two weeks.

I don’t want to talk about the ‘Decision’ because there is nothing I could say about the one hour that hasn’t already been said.  It was a narcissistic, ego-fest where someone thought they were more important than they actually were.

But the ramifications of such a bad decision are astounding.  LeBron is no longer adored like he once was, treated like a King or anything like that outside of Miami.  The country has unified under one movement: Down With the King.

It’s just the way he strung along Cleveland only to treat them like ragged dogs.  It’s the way he thought he is, was and always will be the greatest thing on earth.  It’s the way he quit.

I was a LeBron guy, even after the Boston series.  I was captivated watching him.  I thought he was the best guy in the league and as such, defended all of the signs described above.

Now? I hate the guy.  I want him to lose like I haven’t wanted a guy to lose before.  I hate him more than I hate Kobe.  I hate him more than I hate Glenn Beck.

Even sadder, it ends the Kobe/LeBron argument.  Kobe won.  Now, I don’t want to make Kobe about to be some hero of basketball.  We had to suffer through Kobe’s own selfishness in destroying the early 2000s Lakers, drawn out free agency courtship and repeated trade demands.  But the one thing we have to give Kobe is that he did not quit on his team and city, say it was too hard and join Tim Duncan in San Antonio.  For better or worse, Kobe wanted to be the man, wanted to be the best, and wanted to be the best.  LeBron has given me even more respect for Kobe.

And he was able that in a mere two weeks.  Even Tiger Woods thinks that pretty fast to turn a whole country against you.

The Miami Heat will be the most disliked team next year and a lot of that is LeBron.  Even so, this is the most captivated and excited I’ve been for an NBA season ever.  I want Heat season tickets and the 29 jerseys of the teams they will play just so I can root against them.  I want to see if LeBron can successfully play point guard full-time, if the Heat can actually guard someone, if Chris Bosh can step up on the big stage, if the Heat are good enough to get past the Lakers and Celtics (having only added Mike Miller, Big Z and Udonis Haslem makes me say no, at least for this year, barring other additions), if Erik Spoelstra has the coaching chops to deal with all the ego (when you have a welcome party that has the slogan “Yes. We Did It,” like they won the presidency or the very least a championship you know ego’s are raging uncontrollably).  Like it or not, this arrangement has completely changed basketball.  If it’s for better or worse has yet to be determined.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

NBA Awards

One of the many dumb things sports leagues do is give out awards that have no bearing on the postseason. The NBA, NFL and MLB all give out their MVP, coach of the year etc., before the playoffs end, or have the voting before the playoffs begin. The most important time of the year, all the leagues say, have no bearing on who wins awards.

The NBA season just ended and I’m here to fix these problems. However, I’m not going to give out the irrelevant awards like 6th man (the league’s best bench player, really?) or most improved player. And I’m not giving out MVP or coach of the year or anything like that (all the major ones should stay the same). Instead, I’m giving out my own awards for this season. But first, an aside on the NBA Finals.

The series as a collective entity was compelling: the back and forth nature, the rise of Ron Artest (he gets his own post later), the fall of Jesus Shuttlesworth, Rajon Rondo vacillating between the best point guard in the league and Jamaal Tinsley, Kobe trying so hard to be Michael Jordan that he nearly shot his team out of games and the finals (more on this later), KG’s momentary resurrections followed by immense brain farts, Shrek and Donkey, Derek Fisher becoming an ageless and clutch wonder, Phil and Doc, and that’s just off the top of the dome.

The games in an individual nature? Intense but poorly played and at times, unwatchable basketball. Game 7 was only interesting and compelling to the outside observer because of the stakes (the rivalry, the legacies on the line, the fact that it was game 7), but as a watchable basketball game, it was on par with a Knicks-Heat rugby match from the 90s. Game 3 is probably the game that has the most rewatchableness (made-up word alert), but even that’s a stretch. Nothing from this series compares with some of the classic Finals games of my lifetime like Detroit-San Antonio Game 5 in 2005, Sixers-Lakers Game 1 2001, or the pantheon of games in my lifetime, Bulls-Jazz Game 6 in 1998 (the legendary lay-up, steal, game-winning jumper 49 seconds by Jordan remains the greatest sequence in basketball history).

The Lakers flat out deserved to win. There was no officiating controversy like there usually is with LA (the refs were very good in games 5, 6 and 7, once they got over the whole “the game is about us and our whistles” thing), they overcame a 13-point deficit at home and the Celtics really gave them everything that they had until their last gasp. I am glad that I correctly picked the Lakers before the series and the season started (I have taken the liberty to ignore my midseason pick and pre-playoff Cavs pick). Enough about the Lakers, let’s get to some awards.

Nas Award
Awarded in honor of a conversation I had with Solomon Parker where we discussed whether or not Nas is an overrated rapper. We didn’t necessarily say he was overrated, but at the very least, it was time to have the discussion considering the fact that his last few albums haven’t been that great. We all know Illmatic is and will remain in the hip-hop pantheon. But as Solomon Parker and I discussed his beats are always subpar and we both thought two of his last three albums (Street’s Disciple, Untitled) left a little to be desired. Again, we aren’t saying he isn’t one of the best of all-time, just that it was worth discussion (however, let the record show that I do love Nas and still feel that he is one of the top ever: God’s Son was great and I really liked Hip Hop is Dead)

Winner: LeBron James

Again, I’m not saying that LeBron is overrated. But it’s time to have that discussion. His no-show in game 5 versus the Celtics where he (and the Cavs) quit harder than Iverson in Detroit…or Iverson in Memphis…or Iverson in Philly (damn you Iverson), was completely unacceptable. He’s still the best, most talented player in the league (for the Kobe camp who will insist that Kobe is currently the best player in the world: against the same Celtics defense in a clinching-game, Kobe went 6-24, netting 23 points and 15 rebounds including the worse half of basketball he’s ever played with Artest, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher making ALL the plays down the stretch, while LeBron, while playing a fairly average game for him threw up a triple double with the other four Cavs on the court staring at him. So that’s that). However, we now, have a few more questions than we had before.

Last year against Orlando, LeBron was great from start to finish. He carried a team about as far as a single man could legitimately do against a very good team like last year’s Magic. This year, he never felt fully engaged in the playoffs going back to the Chicago series. It looked like he didn’t care about winning or losing. Everyone was well within their right to question his killer instinct. Everyone was well within their right to question whether or not LBJ was truly as great as we made him out to be.

My theory: he looked at his team after he went “We aren’t losing this game” mode after game 3 in Boston and realized that things were no different. Unless he’s carrying them with obscene feats of basketball ability that haven’t been seen ever, he realizes that they cannot beat any of the great teams. It also didn’t help that Mike Brown was completely oblivious to the Cavs athletic advantage up front when JJ Hickson was in the game, instead insisting that they play Shaq and Big Z, which played right into the style the Celtics wanted to play. So he takes it down a notch, plays good but not great except for game 5 when he was awful, and watches his team whither as the Celtics dare anyone not named James to make plays offensively. He was gearing himself for free agency and his eventual move to the Nets, unless the Cavs can swing a move for a legit #2 guy. Sad but probably true.

Now is LeBron overrated at this moment: I don’t think so. He doesn’t have the caliber of help superstars need to have to win right now. But that excuse can only go so far on 60 win teams. Eventually, you have to get it done at the highest level. If we are having the same discussion two years from now, he most certainly will be an evolutionary version of Iverson, Malone, Barkley, Ewing: guys who were great, but not great enough.

Billy King Award
Awarded in honor of former Sixers general manager Billy King, who during his tenure with the team had one of the greatest athletes of his generation during his best years, Allen Iverson, but felt that it was best to surround him with Matt Harpring, over-the-hill Toni Kukoc, drafting Larry Hughes over Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce, one-legged Chris Webber, small dog Glenn Robinson, Dikembe Mutombo and Keith Van Horn to be the second star. He signed Samuel Dalembert and Kyle Korver to ludicrous extensions and traded for Todd MacCulloch’s terrible contract. He thought drafting 5’10” Speedy Claxton to pair with Iverson was a good idea. He was entirely clueless as to what amounted to talent and what didn’t. King’s picture should serve as a constant reminder that most NBA GMs have absolutely no idea what they are doing.

Winner: Danny Ferry

Ferry came from the right organization (San Antonio) and seemed like the right guy to build a team around a superdupstar, considering he watched RC Buford build a four-time champion around the greatest power forward who ever walked the face of the earth, copyright Timothy Duncan. You need a little luck, some savvy veterans, excellent drafting and finding the complementary star to your superstar.

Ferry, never got any of that. He always seemed to be a step behind of what to do. Ferry never added a guy in his prime who could legitimately function as a second guy (Mo is in his prime, but he’s a number 3 guy because of his inconsistencies. Think about what the Lakers get from Odom or Bynum), never drafted an impact guy who played a major role (the Spurs drafted Parker and Ginobili and consistently draft well despite picking at the backend of the draft) and got extremely unlucky at times, especially with Jamison (at the surface, he appeared to be the right addition: a stretch four who could create his own shot off the dribble, in the post, spot up from distance and help create offense for others so LeBron wouldn’t have to carry the burden on every play. Alas, his defensive ineptitudes, lack of aggressiveness and inability to make any contributions down the stretched proved to be too much to overcome).

From the start, Ferry seemed to be building backwards. He was always trying so hard to get a team that could win today to better his chances at keeping LeBron that he lost sight of building a team. The goal should have been getting LeBron some young guys that could grow with him, take their playoff lumps together until they were finally ready to win a championship. Instead, he kept trying to hit homeruns, from the Ben Wallace/Delonte West/Wally Szcerbiak trade, to the Shaq trade and Jamison move. The best way to go about developing a young superstars team is to do what Sam Presti is doing with Kevin Durant: young talented guys that can take their lumps together and enter their primes all at the same time (Kevin Pritchard was also doing this is Portland, but Oden got hurt and now he’s apparently about to get fired, which means Ed Stefanski should also be preparing his walking papers so Pritchard can immediately step in as Sixers GM. Assuming I don’t get the job first).

Was he as terrible as Billy King? Not really but kind of. While he didn’t have the disasters that King had, he always got guys out of their prime or flat out not good enough to play with LeBron and that lands you in the same place as Billy King: the unemployment line.

Tracy McGrady Award
Awarded in honor of Tracy McGrady, who has stolen the pain of defeat from the jaws of victory more than any player in the 2000s. Whether it was when he proclaimed making it to the second round against the Pistons in 2003 after going up 3-1 before soundly losing the next three or his 10-26 stinker in game 7 versus Dallas as they got blown out, McGrady has made the simplest of tasks, making it to the second round, an exhibition in perfect choking technique.

Winner: Vince Carter

The easiest award to give out ever, narrowly surpassing Space Jam as the greatest movie ever made. Vince Carter took the Magic’s chances of going back to the Finals and setting up a rematch with the Lakers and assaulted them with a brutal fury, taking the Magic further from a championship then one of his fadeaways in the lane to avoid even the slightest of contact.

It was a mistake from the beginning to think that Vince Carter would be able to replace what Hedo Turkoglu did for the 2009 runner-up (my thoughts from last summer, ignoring the terrible sentence structure: “Where they really lose in getting Carter and losing Turkoglu is the playmaking ability that Turkoglu brought. In today’s NBA, you cannot have enough guys who can make plays for themselves and others. Carter is not a guy who can create offense for other guys. He mostly creates offense for himself, which is not a problem if they kept Turkoglu, but they didn’t. That leaves them with only one playmaker (Nelson) which isn’t a formula for championships.”). Those problems manifested themselves in the conference finals this year, where Orlando was as confused in crunch time as any team has been in recent memory.

Carter, choked as bad as anyone I can think of. He no showed 30 minutes at a time, was out played by J.J. Redick and not only did he not bring the playmaking ability of Turkoglu, but he also failed to create quality shots for himself. Point blank, when you looked in Vince carter’s eyes, all you saw was fear like a white girl suddenly falling in a horror film right in front of the villian: fear of contact, fear of missing, fear of the game. He feared the game like ABC fears black people.

So next time Vince Carter is the answer to the championship problem, you might want to rethink the question.

Man Crush Award
Awarded to the player who has stolen the heart of yours truly with a magnificent display of grace, attitude and talent. It takes a rare performance for me to truly love you (except if you Matt Forte, who before last year’s fantasy season was my bonafide pick at running back, I guy a loved unconditionally, only to be betrayed like I was Andre Rison and he was Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes. Thank goodness Aaron Rodgers came through or I was vulnerable to commit double homicide. Eff you Matt Forte). Past Winners include: Al Jefferson, Kevin Martin and Danny Granger.

Winner: (Unanimous) Kevin Durant

OK, maybe this was the easiest award selection ever. The unique correlation between each of the past winners is that I always picked them in my fantasy league the year they broke out as fantastic NBA players, further asserting my NBA fantasy dominance.

But on to Durant, a guy who could end up a top-20 player before his career is over. He has no holes in his game offensively. He can shoot from anywhere in the gym, city or state, post up, get to the rim, get to the free throw line (a skill not bestowed upon all NBA ‘superstars’ just ask Joe Johnson), and find his open teammates. He can defend and he also has the clutch gene (watch him close out Portland in Portland by abusing Nicholas Batum before the AS break, rain threes in Utah from 35-feet as he brings OKC back from 12 down with 3 minutes to play before he was robbed by an awful no-call in overtime or simply the fourth quarter of game 3 versus the Lakers). I agreed with Kenny Smith’s assessment that he will be the best player in the three to four years.

Think about it: Kobe will be at the Tim Duncan circa 2010 stage or worse, LeBron will start to lose that physical dominance and have to rely on the skill that haven’t shown many signs of development, D-Wade will be in this 30s probably at Kobe circa 2009 stage, leaving this slight little opening for Durant, who if he continues on this pace that he’s growing, could be averaging 37 ppg, 7-9 rebounds 3-5 assists, 50% shooting, 40% 3pg, 90% ft, which would have to make him the greatest player in the league.

The only thing he hasn’t done yet is learn to win. He was unable to make the necessary adjustments against Ron Artest, not playing to Artest’s weaknesses of moving laterally and always letting Artest get set on him and defend straight up. He can sometimes get to passive in crunch time, passing up opportunities to go at his guy to stay within the flow of the offense, which is fine in the second quarter but with four minutes left in playoff game, the ‘offense’ gets thrown out the window and your two best guys just make the plays.

He’s got to take his postseason lumps. Feel the despair of losing, get knocked down and out before he truly understands how to win. Dr. J and Moses Malone had to go through the Celtics and Lakers before they finally broke through in ’83. Jordan had to go through the Pistons and Celtics before he finally got it. Shaq & Kobe had to go through Utah then San Antonio before they could do it. Give Durantula four years and a serviceable center and he’ll bring Oklahoma City a championship. Having said this, somebody will run up on him Paul Pierce style and he’ll never be the same.

Resident Evil Award
Awarded in honor of the player or team that most resembles the kinda-crappy Resident Evil video games. They look like zombies, you kill them, you kill them again, you kill them again, you kill them again, and you finally think you have them beat. Until they bring another annoying, unsuspected wave that catches you just enough by surprise that they defeat you. The classic ‘never count out the heart of a veteran-laden team of champions.’

Winner: The 2009-2010 Boston Celtics

They were six minutes away from invalidating the 2009 NBA Finals, permantely damaging Kobe’s legacy as the closest Jordan imitator, making Kevin Garnett one of the greatest power forwards ever, opening a case for Paul Pierce as a top 5 player of his generation, vaulting Ray Allen to the greatest shooter in NBA history (past Reggie Miller), making Doc Rivers the greatest coach not named Jackson or Popovich in the last 15 years, Rajon Rondo the best point guard in the league, making the Ron Artest move look like a failure and me extremely happy, all while doing this after so many predicted them to lose to the lowly Heat.

Then they ran out of gas. That’s the only way you could describe it. The ferocious champion who rose from the regular season ashes (making its results utterly worthless, more on this later) didn’t have enough left in the tank to close it out. Allen didn’t have the legs to get jumpers to the rim. Rondo couldn’t get into the paint. Pierce had nothing left. Down the stretch offensively, the Celtics had nothing but a few miracle threes.

Their defense, in succession, successfully stifiled D-Wade, LBJ, the Orlando three-pointers and Kobe (and before the Kobe fans come out of the wood work, Kobe shot 40% from the field, 29% in fourth quarters and averaged 4 turnovers). Each of the elderly Big 3 had their big playoff moments: KG vs. Cleveland, Pierce against Orlando and the home games against LA, Ray Allen game 2 of the finals. Rondo took that team as far as he could. He was clearly hampered by some sort of injury from the Orlando series onward, as he never looked as explosive as he did in the Cleveland series.

But look, we need to give credit where credit is due. And the Celtics have earned their credit. They kept saying that they would be there when it counted and they were. They abused the Cavs (which caught me completely by surprise), owned the Magic and pushed the Lakers, who I thought would have a much easier time dispatching the old fellas, to seven games. There are two lessons to be learned from the Celtics.

First, chemistry matters and the way we measure chemistry should be completely different from now on. Chemistry like the Magic and Cavs had is all good during the regular season when there isn’t any adversity, the big time teams aren’t getting up for games like the playoffs and you get to face the New Jersey Nets four times a year. It’s much easier to do stupid handshakes and wacky pregame introductions when nothing goes wrong. The Celtics during the season seemed to clash, there were divisions based on Rondo’s standing on the team and everybody was looking at Rasheed like the 500 pound elephant in the room (though to be fair to ‘Sheed he was only 400 pounds). The Cavs and Magic joked around, made it seemed like they liked each other, and it looked like they had great chemistry: they didn’t. It doesn’t matter if it looks like you like each other or not, but whether or not you trust each other. LeBron may like Big Z, Shaq, Jamison, Mo and all the rest of the guys, but he certainly doesn’t trust them to make a big play in the big moment. When Pierce looks at Rondo, Shuttlesworth, KG and ‘Sheed, he may not have liked them, but he trusted them to handle their business. From now on, goofy handshakes don’t mean chemistry. The willingness to let your teammate make a play at the end of a playoff game and know that he is going to make it is.

Second, the regular season is worthless. Sure it’s cool to watch guys like Steph Curry light it up for a bad team, a worse coach and even worse management, wondering how wonderful it would be if he could truly fulfill his destiny and be playing for Mike D’antoni but other than that, its worthless. Regular season performance has zero bearing on playoff performance. The Lakers do it seemingly every year (the best example was 2002 when they lulled through the regular season, everyone wondered if this was the year C-Webb and the Kings would break through before they ripped their hearts out in game 7, in Arco Arena, game 6 game-fixing notwithstanding), where everyone gets into a tizzy about a slow stretch in February and March, before they roll through the playoffs. Now we have more evidence. With the Spurs, who annually decide to start playing basketball after the All-Star break, and now the Celtics there should be another rule added to the rules of picking the playoffs: If the team is well-coached and has been there before, no matter their age, regular season record or anything else except injury, that team can and probably will make a serious run at the trophy.

Jamie Foxx Award
Awarded in honor of Jamie Foxx’s career, which looked to be destined toward mediocre movies (Booty Call), bad television (The Jamie Foxx Show) and average stand-up, before he caught a huge break with Any Given Sunday, went back into mediocrity, then caught the biggest break ever with Ray. Now he’s got a Grammy and an Oscar. Foxx went from poor man’s D.L. Hughley to upper middle-class Will Smith in the span of 5-7 years.

Winner: Pau Gasol

Does anyone remember when Pau Gasol was a super-soft big man for the Grizzlies who couldn’t win a playoff game, was talented but couldn’t quite get it? I do, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone else who does.

In the span of four years, Gasol went from perennial loser who had that foreign enigma stuck to him (soft, not clutch, can’t build a champion around him, started with the epic busts of draft picks like Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Darko, wrapped and topped with a bow by Dirk’s constant playoff failures, highlighted by Dirk’s epic choke from game 3 onward in the 2006 NBA Finals) to the best big man in the world?

Say what?

Yes, it’s true. Gasol is the most skilled offensive big man in the league and underrated defensively. He rebounds, runs the floor, passes, shoots the midrange J, has the best collection of post moves, rotates on D. There’s nothing on the floor that he can’t do.

But it wasn’t always like that. He used to play in Memphis. And he used to choke and be soft. He got traded to the Lakers. He was the perfect fit offensively (he works beautifully in the triangle) and role wise (as the number two guy). He was a terrible fit everywhere else. KG, PJ Brown, Leon Powe all took turns making Gasol their personal Jenna Jamison. People questioned whether or not the Lakers would be able to win with Gasol.

Then he went home, put on some weight, started yelling and making turkey faces, made himself the most efficient offensive player in the league and started playing tough defense. He played very good defense against Dwight Howard in the 2009 Finals without losing anything on offense. But he hadn’t quite conquered those Celtics demons.

He has now. He came up with big plays in each of the Lakers victory. He grabbed the clutch offensive rebound late in game seven that virtually sealed it (it was over Rondo but still). Point blank, he made plays.

And that’s how you get to where we are with Gasol. You have to look at 2008, after back-to-back great years, as him still trying to rid himself of the Memphis losing stink and getting over his super-soft persona.

You have to give it up to him. He remade himself. He put in the work. But don’t blame it on the alcohol.

O.J. Simpson Award
Awarded in honor of his not guilty verdict in his double murder trial. After watching his 30 for 30 documentary (all which have been great), I am convinced he did it. No one drives around Los Angeles with a gun to their head threatening suicide if they haven’t killed their wife and wife’s friend. Johnnie Cochran has to be the greatest lawyer to ever live. Unfortunately, O.J. isn’t that bright and will be in jail for the foreseeable future because of an unrelated crime. Idiot.

Winner: Kobe Bryant

Game 7 was Kobe’s O.J. trial. He was singlehandedly trying to blow the game. He took shots in the first half that 2004 Finals uber-selfish Kobe would have passed up. He was doing everything he could to lose that game. Losing would be blamed on him. And then he was let off the hook by Cochran impersonators Ron Artest, Paul Gasol and Derek Fisher.

I cannot think of recent example where a great player played so poorly in the biggest game of his career and ended up winning. The same way I can’t think of a black guy who got off for a headline-making crime that he clearly did.

Kobe’s career legacy was saved by his teammates, the guy who never fully trusted his teammates at any point of his career (how’s that for irony). And now that his legacy has been saved, it has major implications for his standing in history.

First: he is now undoubtedly the greatest player since MJ retired the second time. He is now clearly ahead of Tim Duncan (I had Duncan ahead of him before game 7, because after all, he’s the greatest power forward to ever walk the face of the earth) and now way past Shaq (though he was already ahead of him after last season).

Second, he is the second best shooting guard of all-time, passing Jerry West and Oscar Robertson.

Third, in terms of all-time rankings, he’s now 6th all-time, behind in order, Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar, Magic, Bird and Russell, now ahead of Wilt, Duncan and all the rest. His longevity, consistency, work ethic alone make him worthy to be in this discussion.

However, we can now end all discussion between him and MJ. Forever and ever, to the square root of infinity. I don’t care if he gets seven rings. I don’t care if he gets 12. I don’t think we can consider him as good or even close to as good as MJ when you consider his horrid play in games 3-5 against Detroit in the 2004 finals, his petulance in ousting Shaq and Phil afterwards which cost him a chance at 1-2 more rings, the selfishness he showed from 2005-2007, his no-show in game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals, and he near choke job in game 7. I think that should be enough to end the discussion. But that is just me.

Every other spot is up for grabs. Give Kobe 2 more years at the level he’s at now, one or two more championships and he could wind up being the second best player in NBA history, which can lead to only one response:

I hate Kobe Bryant.