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.