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Monday, August 18, 2014

Kevin Love, Part 1: KAHN!!!

So Kevin Love, an All-Star still hitting his prime, is getting traded. What a mess. Can we all just say it one more time? KAHN!!!!! I don't know David Kahn personally. Maybe he's a nice guy. But his body of work with the Minnesota Timberwolves is nothing short of sabotage, with losing Love as the coup de grace. After LeBron to Cleveland (which seems to be widely and wildly acclaimed), this has taken over as the basketball story of the summer. The situation has stirred analysis from a variety of angles from the obvious (DAVID KAHN!!!) to the ambiguous (is Kevin Love even that good??). I thought I'd throw my hat into the mix looking at three basic questions:

  1. Why is Minnesota losing Kevin Love?
  2. Where does Kevin Love fit in the NBA hierarchy? How good is he, and can you win with him?
  3. Which situation fits Love the best? I know he's going to Cleveland, but would another team had made more sense?
In this part, I'm focusing on the Minnesota Kevin Love. So about David Kahn. I'm not talking about Johnny Flynn or Wes Johnson - those moves are horrible in hindsight, but a little more defensible at the time. Flynn could dribble and get to the line - seriously, take a look at these stats:

College numbers from Sports-Reference.com

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Better Championship Trophies

I love Bill Simmon’s periodic podcast with Kevin Wildes in which the two discuss half-baked ideas. Why? We all have half-baked ideas that we think could be doable if only we had the resources to make them happen. But many times we keep those ideas to ourselves (or our spouses, depending on the level of support you can predict) for fear of derision. It’s refreshing to hear a guy openly talk about his ideas and have his friend critique them.

Many of Kevin’s ideas are more than half-baked. Like his ideas for alternative sports trophies, or even championship belts, in the latest podcast. Love it. This entire post is about taking that idea and running with it. I will focus on individual awards first then team awards.

PLAYER AWARDS

The coolest pieces of individual hardware, hands down, are the championship belts used in boxing/wrestling. What makes these belts so cool? Their functionality. Unlike a trophy you leave at home, belts are worn to events, especially to title-defending matches. They become part of the champions’ persona which rarifies their status. This is one reason why Lord Stanley’s Cup is known as the best major sports trophy – the winning players get to spend a day with it, be seen/photographed with it, and generally do awesome things with it. Nobody lugs the Larry O’Brien trophy around to parties.

So first and foremost, individual award trophies need to need to be just functional that players would bring them out but a little ridiculous as well. I’m also looking for things that work well for the sports they represent. Since it’s baseball season, I’ll start with the American pastime.

Cy Young Award - Ball Cap

New Era already produces awesome hats. The idea would be for the 2 Cy Young Winners to get together with those guys and make an awesome hat that will be worn during games. Just like the yellow jersey lets the audience know who the man is in the Tour de France, distinctive caps will let fans know who bossed last season on the mound. And pitchers need the swag – usually it’s the position guys that are the prima donnas. Not so if the ace has a hat that only he can wear.

This is best part of this idea: the first pitcher to beat the Cy Young winner the next year gets to claim the cap until he himself is beaten, after which it reverts to the Cy Young winner for the remainder of the season. This is awesome for a few reasons: Once the guy with the cap goes on a run, it will be a thing for the media. Can you imagine how hard the guys with the cap will try to not take a loss? And the managers – we already know managers make suboptimal decisions because of dumb stats (like pitcher saves). Can you imagine Clayton Kershaw winning the hat then going undefeated in his first 10 starts next year? How long before Don Mattingly starts pulling Kershaw as soon as he gets in trouble? One out and two on in the 4th with a 2 run lead? Send in the bullpen! I am generally in favor of anything that can make the jobs of managers/coaches more difficult.

MLB Gold Glove - Gold Glove

Let's see him try to repeat his performance with an actual gold-encrusted glove. Good luck. After 5 wins, we move to platinum.

MLB MVP - Alternate Uniform

Kind of like the Cy Young cap, I wanted something the players could wear that would A) look awesome, B) stir resentment in the clubhouse, and C) turn guys into preening showboaters. Unlike the Cy Young cap, the MVP would keep his uniform the whole year.

NFL MVP - Gold/Silver Helmet (depending on team color scheme)

We hardly know what football players look like. They are always stuck under helmets, facemasks, eye shields, eye paint, and the works. Might as well make the helmet look dope. As an added bonus, bright reflective helmets make the MVP a target for the other team. We’re pretending that football doesn’t have a concussion problem.

NBA MVP - Necklace

Remember how NBA players rolled before the dress code? This is a throwback to that era. The trophy would be an awesome bling necklace that players can wear to games. The MVP gets to re-design it every year – the NBA can even stipulate how big it can be depending on how impressive the MVP season was (another Simmons idea). I would love to see KD rock up with a golden, diamond encrusted Bible strewn around his neck. He can afford it and he has the security.

NHL Hart Trophy - Different Uniform

Hockey was hard to do. Like football player, they have a lot of equipment. Unlike football players, it's hard to tell in the fray who is who. Seriously, flip on a hockey game and you spend 5 minutes trying to figure out what lines are out, who's doing what, and such. They need a red jersey or something so you can tell which of all the guys is the MVP at all times. Yeah, I recycled an idea. 


CHAMPIONSHIP TROPHY - INDIVIDUAL

It's pretty customary to get a ring after winning the title. Mark Cuban discussed bracelets after his Mavs won the 2011 Finals, but was shot down. It's actually not a bad idea, but not for basketball:

MLB World Series Champs - Bracelets

Every member of the Series-winning team gets a sweet bracelet. I've always liked the WSOP bracelets - they're different and iconic. Baseball needs some of that. The bracelets would also be wearable in-game. Can you imagine the Yankees winning the Series, ordering massive, diamond-filled bracelets for their players, then watch as guys try to bat and field with the things on during the game? At what point would the manager light himself on fire? What if someone strained a wrist? Hilarious. Moving on...

NFL Super Bowl Champs - Rings

Football rosters are so big that it necessitates something a little laid-back. And I was running out of ideas. 

NBA Finals Champs - Watches

These guys have enough rings. Bill Russell has too many for his hands. Let's give them something awesome, like a sweet IWC Portuguese or a spanking Breitling Navitimer or a kickin' Bell & Ross aviator. Way, way, way better than a ring. An awesome watch is something you can actually wear out to parties and not feel ridiculous with. And the players want to feel rich. Last of all - imagine the marketing potential. Best thing is, each year, the winner would try to out-do last year's model. I can't wait.

CHAMPIONSHIP TROPHY - TEAM

NHL - Lord Stanley's Cup

Just wanted to get this one out of the way. The Stanley Cup is perfect. And the player's get to spend a day with it, so it qualifies as their individual trophy, too.

MLB - Babe Ruth's Bat

I know the World Series trophy is supposed to represent the game or something, but it's stupid. It has nothing to do with baseball. But a gold-plated, titanium bat named after the Babe? THAT's something. Easy to hold and hoist, players could even take practice swings with it. Teams would get replicas so the Yankees could display a couple dozen sticks on their wall. Players get a day with it - done.

NFL - Vince Lombardi Trophy

The Lombardi trophy looks pretty cool, is easy to hold, and is named after a legend. Works for me.

NBA - Naismith Trophy

Seriously, enough with Larry O'Brien. Name the thing after Dr. Naismith (or at least Dr. J). The trophy itself would be a golden hoop mounted on an awesome pedestal. The O'Brien trophy is hard to hold, looks awkward, and can't be used for anything. Can you imagine the possibilities with a mini hoop? Like the Stanley Cup, players get to spend time with it - let's say a week each. Trick shots with the Naismith hoop! Beer pong into the trophy! YouTube videos galore!

That's a wrap folks. Many of these ideas are more baked than others. Vote for your favorite in the comments!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

2014 NBA Draft Grades

Chad Ford has his draft grades, I have mine. There are a lot of ways to look at a team's prospects and its draft: fit, potential, NBA-readiness, etc. But I want to concentrate on something that others may not be - how much a team's draft reflects and magnifies its organization's overall strategy. Does it show a unified, coherent, top-down strategy or dysfunction somewhere along the chain of command? Let's go through in Chad's order:

Atlanta Hawks: C

I'm grading on a curve here with a B- as the passing grade. The Hawks are a full letter grade below that. In the past few years, the Hawks have shown a willingness to go against the grain, divesting themselves of high-priced talent such as Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. They've decided to rebuild around a young core of Jeff Teague and Al Horford while maintaining the flexibility to move any and all players for a better team.

This draft doesn't fit that forward-thinking philosophy. Adreian Payne is a fine player who shoots well and rebounds his position, but the Hawks have a logjam at big forward with Horford coming back and Paul Milsap/Mike Scott/Pero Antic in the fold. How are they going to develop him if he gets no minutes? Payne is also 23 years old and limits that flexibility the Hawks have craved - they have maybe 2 years to decide yes/no on him before the clock starts ticking really loud. This organization has chosen to be patient but didn't continue that in this draft. Any one of the Jusuf Nurkic, James Young, Gary Harris, or Rodney Hood types that went after Payne would have been a better fit both in terms of need and organization strategy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

2014 NBA Finals: What I Learned

I’m not going to bore you with a recap or an analysis of why the Spurs won. They obviously did because they were the better team and deserved to win. I will admit a dash of disappointment – watching the Spurs brand of basketball at its apex is exhilarating, couldn’t we have gotten a couple more games? I’m not going to talk about what I got right (Spurs need for another ball handler) and wrong (Heat shooters failing spectacularly). I wanted to share some of the things that I learned watching this series.

The Spurs’ Offense – If It Were Easy, Everyone Would Play Like This. The Spurs offense is so fun to watch. The ball flies around, from corner to corner, from one pick-and-roll into another, form dribble drives to shooters and back to the rim. Last year, the Spurs started figuring out the Heat defense, but Erik Spoelstra gamely made some lineup adjustments and Miami cranked up the pressure in Games 6 and 7. There was nowhere to hide this year. Guys rocketed of screens, made heady, quick decisions, and shot the ball with confidence. One of my favorite plays of the Finals was an innocuous Patty Mills leakout where, upon seeing no defenders back, Mills pulled up and canned a 3. Some coaches deride this kind of play – you can shoot 3’s any time, why not take it to the rim? But I enjoyed how decisive Mills was, how he was unafraid to take a three in this moment, and that open threes are what the Spurs’ offense is designed to generate in the first place – why not take the first one and push the pace?

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Quick Note About the French

No, not the French side that will be in Brazil. I'm talking Roland Garros, and specifically, a Spaniard at Roland Garros.

I've seen Rafael Nadal play a lot. I'm not able to catch every tournament, or even every match of the majors. But I try to tune in around the 3rd round or so at big tournaments and see how these guys are doing. The end can come terrifyingly quick for even the greatest of players, and I don't want to have missed any legendary matches while they're occurring.

So I'm no Rafa expert, but I do know his game a little. And it seems a little like a team from South Florida that's pretty good at basketball. Rafa is tennis' Miami Heat.

Flashback to the 2013 NBA Finals

I just wrote a post comparing the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs to their counterparts from last year's historic series. I thought it would be interesting to revisit my comments previewing that series, indicate where I was right or wrong, and how things have changed. Original thoughts in italics, new thoughts in orange.

Here's the one all of you have been waiting for. In fact, I've been waiting for it too because as of this writing I have no idea who will win this. First, let's get some logistical stuff out of the way:

The Heat have had 3 days off, the Spurs a week. Strangely I think this benefits both teams. The Heat don't need a long layoff, they need a light at the end of the tunnel. Dwyane Wade's knee is not going to feel better with a few extra days may actually have felt worse. I wouldn't be surprised if he had an arthroscopic procedure after the season to clean up bone spurs or something. On the other hand, the Spurs are a veteran team; I don't think the layoff affects them but will give Parker, Ginobili, Duncan, and Splitter extra R&R. I just can't imagine the Spurs coming out flat in Game 1. 

2014 NBA Playoffs: Finals Top 10

This is the series I wanted. I wanted Game 7 in San Antonio, with the River Walk, with Spurs fans urging their team to finish something 24 months in the making. After it became apparent that neither the Thunder nor the Pacers have any semblance of the depth required to compete with this Spurs team, I wanted the Heat just like Tim Duncan did. They can elevate the Spurs to a higher level with their athleticism, intelligence and depth. Erik Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich (possibly two coaches with the most miss-spelled names) took turns throwing haymakers at the other until neither had anything left for an epic Game 7. Both coaches drew deep from the well: lineup switches, ice cold guys getting hot of the benches, on the fly scheme and offense changes. And the players. Records fell. Young guys like Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green proved they were ready for the Finals. Old vets like Shane Battier and Mike Miller showed they had something left. And the stars were stars. It was brutal and beautiful series all at once.

This is my Twitter feed in the waning moments of that exhilarating Game 7:


2014 NBA Finals: 2 Games In

What well-played basketball. After 2013's magnificent spectacle, anything less would be a disappointment, and this has not been disappointing. Both teams are better. Miami have improved its spacing with Bosh and Lewis in the starting lineup and has a healthy Dwyane. San Antonio have a savvy Boris Diaw making plays all over the floor, spry-looking guards, and a fired-up Duncan. I wanted to examine how these year-over-year differences change the complexion of the teams and the series:

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Donald Sterling Problem

The NBA has a problem. Many think that their problem is Donald Sterling, the embattled owner of the Los Angeles Clippers franchise. Or perhaps their problem is with Shelly Sterling, Donald’s wife who has emerged as a feisty, combative wildcard. Maybe their problem is about race relations given that a high percentage of players and fans are black, and yet blacks are under-represented in the upper echelons of coaching, management, league leadership, and ownership. My contention is that none of these are truly the heart of the issue, none are the reason why this situation has made America so uncomfortable with race.

About Race

Donald Sterling's problem is NOT that he is racist. It is that he is despicable.

Let’s tackle that last part, the part about race, first. My comments on race may sound controversial, so hang on:

Donald Sterling’s problem is NOT that he is racist.

Donald Sterling’s problem is that he is despicable.

And those are two different things.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

2014 NBA Playoffs: 2nd Round

I know it's 3 games into the Conference Finals. I wanted to get this up earlier but have been working on a Donald Sterling piece that has taken a lot of thought and introspection. But these games keep coming and I can't keep falling behind. After a dramatic 1st round, the 2nd round had its work cut out and wasn't nearly as exciting. It did reveal something about each of the winners and losers, however.