According to the NY Post, Cervelli, Montero and Romine will compete for the starting catcher job next season. I hope Hip-Hip rebounds from his lackluster season at the plate and has one final, fantastic year where he channels the fearsome presence he was in 2007, but who thinks that is likely? The Bombers owe him 13M for the final year of his contract. It seems more likely that he’ll be paid to frequently ride pine as they shuttle more potent offensive threats through the DH slot for position player rest.
When a player gets a hot hand in basketball, whether through the sheer gully-ness of Mark Price in NBA Jam or a real example, it’s a sight to behold. When a whole team gets a hot hand, it’s a much different phenomenon. More »
Because no one reads the newspaper, and SportsCenter’s anchors are too perky for this early in the morning, Deadspin combs the best of the broadsheets and internets to bring you everything you need to know to start your day.More »
Allen Iverson went to see Besiktas FC’s Turkish League soccer match against Kasimpasa on Monday evening, and as he shook hands with old Turkish men, some 32,000 fans serenaded him in unison. Was it ever like this in Philly? More »
Duke Administration Cancels Tailgating After Minor Is Found Passed Out In Port-A-Potty [Duke Blue Devils]
A visiting teenager was found unconscious in a portable toilet after tailgating celebrations for Duke’s win over Virginia on Saturday. The university will now brainstorm different gatherings that reflect “the class and spirit for which Duke is known.” Right. More »
What we do here, it’s many things. Intellectually rewarding? Not what usually springs to mind. But this humble website played a rather large part in the Master’s Thesis of a recent LSU graduate. Let’s explore the world of academia. More »
All this quarterback has to do is kneel down to send a tie game to overtime. Instead he scampers about the backfield and inexplicably stops, allowing the ball to be stripped and run back for the gamewinner. More »
Catcher: Joe Mauer, Twins (Matt Wieters was better)
First base: Mark Teixeira, Yankees (Lyle Overbay by a mile)
Second base: Robinson Cano, Yankees (They got this one right, Robi was phenomenal)
Third base: Evan Longoria, Rays (okay, that’s not bad, but Brandon Inge was better)
Shortstop: Derek Jeter, Yankees. Wait a sec.. Let me think about it.. (?WTF?) Maybe I got hit in the head recently. Oh yeah, I did. Let me think about it some more (!!!WTFF!!!) I guess he “turned it on” in a contract year, or someone else might have, but I don’t get another gg for dj. Don’t get fooled by FP as Jeter won it because he made only 6 errors on the balls HE COULD GET TO.. the rest rolled/rocketed by a diving… this *is* a defense evaluation, isn’t it?– anyway, should have been Alexei Ramirez or Cliff Pennington
Outfield: Carl Crawford, Rays (Okay, that’s fine, but Juan Pierre played 1330 innings and made only *1* error, and recorded 307 POs)
Outfield: Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners (yep. f****ing amazing baseball player. Truly *BRILLIANT*, and we’re just talking defense, AREN’T WE??? but this guy is both offense and defense) Who would be surprised if he wins five more Gloves? Not me.
Outfield: Franklin Gutierrez, Mariners (can’t argue with it, but Adam Jones and Upton might have been a better pick
Pitcher: Mark Buehrle, White Sox (who cares I guess, but I’d pick Fausto Carmona or more accurately, *suppressing desire to evacuate gastric tract* Carl Pavano — Ick.. writing that tastes like I just crapped in my own mouth)
I like Losing Playoffs Season more than Winning Meaningless Awards Season.
There is World Series baseball. College football. NBA. Costumes, candy, and a general dread that if you aren’t in the partying mood you are a curmudgeon. Everyone’s doin’ it. I’ve got an allergic reaction to Halloween when it’s not on Halloween.
Phil Hughes faces Texas, who send Colby Lewis to the mound in Arlington. Comment away. (I know it isn’t the fourth game, but it worked when I screwed it up last time.)
|D. Jeter ss||.278|
|C. Granderson cf||.182|
|R. Cano 2b||.467|
|A. Rodriguez 3b||.133|
|L. Berkman 1b||.286|
|N. Swisher rf||.067|
|J. Posada c||.167|
|M. Thames dh||.200|
|B. Gardner lf||.250|
|E. Andrus ss||.294|
|M. Young 3b||.368|
|J. Hamilton cf||.333|
|V. Guerrero dh||.333|
|N. Cruz rf||.333|
|I. Kinsler 2b||.143|
|D. Murphy lf||.286|
|B. Molina c||.417|
|M. Moreland 1b||.364|
First off, congratulations to Devine and his wife who brought their son Malcolm into the world yesterday. Truly wonderful news, and blessings from all of our families here at the blog.
As the senior circuit championship series continues tonight with Philly phacing phinality, Halladay has already given up a run. I’ll be flipping twixt that and the Oregon/UCLA game. Go Ducks. Go Docs (just to wear them out, because)…
There’s no reason to not believe that the Yankees bats won’t stay alive enough to not win a game six against Texas, and then who does or does not know what might not happen? That’s a personal record for the most negatives in one sentence.
If there’s one thing that professional sports leagues don’t like, it’s seeing players get into altercations with fans. With that in mind, I think it’s safe to say that Vancouver’s Rick Rypien is staring down the likelihood of a major suspension after attacking a fan last night in Minnesota.
The incident came in the second period of a 6-2 Wild win, after Rypien was assessed a double minor for roughing and a game misconduct for a scuffle with Minnesota’s Brad Staubitz. As Rypien headed for the Vancouver locker room, he reached into the stands and attempted to grab a fan who was apparently heckling him.
In this clip, you can see the aftermath of the clash with Staubitz, followed by the actual incident. Afterwards, the fan and a companion of his were removed from the seats near the Canucks bench, but were allowed to stay in the arena and watch the game from some other choice seats.
While nobody should reach premature conclusions about exactly what happened between Rypien and the fan, the video shows that the fan was doing nothing more than applauding Rypien’s exit from the game—and that in fact it was Rypien who initiated the contact. That’s something that’s a little easier to see in this fan video that uses a DVR to slow down the action:
Despite the fact that the NHL rulebook says that any altercation with a fan will result in an immediate ejection, Rypien actually returned to the Vancouver bench, though he never got back on the ice. Safe to say, it’ll probably be a while before Rypien gets to watch the game from that close for a while. Expect a lengthy suspension, and we probably won’t have to wait long before Colin Campbell lays down the law in this case.
UPDATE: Rypien has been suspended pending a hearing.
I’ll be at Verizon Center tonight tweeting live during tonight’s game between the Caps and Bruins. Click here for a link to my Twitter feed. I ought to be up and running between 6:45 and 7:00 p.m. U.S. EDT. Hope you join me then.
POSTGAME THOUGHTS: Nobody like dropping a game at home (3-1), but there wasn’t a whole lot to complain about tonight when it came to effort. The Caps got the lion’s share of the chances, outshooting Boston 36-21, and head coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game that the team played as hard in the first 10 minute as they had all season. Unfortunately, the bounces weren’t going their way tonight—two great scoring chances melted away thanks to broken sticks—though you also need to tip your cap to Tim Thomas (18 saves in the 3rd period), who after all is a little more than a season removed from winning the Vezina Trophy.
I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Alexander Semin’s play. He let loose with a team high 10 shots on goal, and seemed to create a scoring chance every time he touched the puck in the offensive zone.
A couple of weeks back, I wrote a post about why intimidation still has a place in hockey, and having defensemen who can engage in a physical battle in front of the net can be so incredibly important. For an example of what I was writing about, be sure to watch the entire video of Milan Lucic’s goal. I don’t mean to pick on Jeff Schultz, who is a solid all around defenseman. He’s not a physical guy, and Lucic was able to take advantage in this instance.
Special teams continue to be a good news/bad news proposition. The penalty kill continues to be perfect as Boston went scoreless on four chances with the extra man. Without Mike Green in the lineup, Washington’s power play can’t help but be hobbled, and it went scoreless in four chances.
The big question tonight was about Michal Neuvirth, who was lifted just 12:42 into the game after giving up two goals. It turns our Neuvirth has the flu, and Boudreau admitted after the game that he had no idea anything was wrong until Neuvirth complained of dizziness and a headache. While Neuvirth didn’t say anything beforehand, it’s clear that Boudreau didn’t seem terribly upset, noting that he understood why a competitor like Neuvirth would prefer battling through an illness instead of sitting out.
Semyon Varlamov was more than adequate in relief, stopping 13 of 14 shots. Only a Matt Hunwick shot from just inside the blue line eluded Varlamov, a shot that he simply couldn’t see through a Boston screen. As for who will start Thursday in Boston, Boudreau wouldn’t say.
If there was one silver lining, it was seeing Marcus Johansson get his first NHL goal and first NHL point in the second period. Matt Hendricks did a great job on the forecheck to keep the puck below the goal line. Jason Chimera picked up the loose puck and popped it onto Johansson’s stick as he the rookie cut to the net on the right wing side. After the game, the kid said he didn’t know where the puck was, but that he’d be sure to keep it.
If you’re filling out a fight card, tonight’s game had what you were looking for with a pair of tilts: Matt Hendricks vs. Greg Campbell and John Erskine vs. Lucic. With his fight, Lucic snagged a Gordie Howe hat trick. We were almost treated to a heavyweight bout in the first period when it appeared that DJ King and Zdeno Chara might rumble, but it didn’t materialize.
Whatever you might have to say about whether or not moving the Winnipeg Jets to Arizona was good for the NHL or the game of hockey, there should be no doubt that the experiment with the Phoenix Coyotes has been part of an unmitigated disaster for Glendale, Arizona.
I say that after reading a tweet from David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail that Glendale is going to have to make up the difference in the purchase price for the Coyotes between what the NHL is demanding and what prospective new owner Matthew Hulsizer is willing to pay. It’s just another financial blow for the Phoenix suburb that had such high hopes when it decided to turn itself into a regional sports mecca with facilities for hockey, baseball, basketball and football.
As of today, Glendale’s total municipal debt for its sports facilities stands at a staggering $500 million. According to the Arizona Republic, by the time the debt is completely paid off, the actual cost of the borrowing will be more like $1 billion. Unfortunately, Glendale doesn’t have much of a choice but to cough up the dough to keep the Coyotes in town, as losing the team as a tenant at Jobing.com Arena could put the city’s credit rating at risk.
Granted, no one could have predicted that the nation would be suffering from the sort of economic contraction it has been enduring in recent years. Still, the story of Glendale ought to serve as an object lesson to cities around the country as to what the worst case scenario is in terms of downside risk when you use future tax reciepts as collateral on loans to build stadiums and arenas.
Yesterday in the New York Times, Bill Rhoden used an entire column to publicly lament the fact that Brett Favre didn’t have the decency to retire from the NFL before his legacy was tarnished. That led Slate‘s Jack Shafer to point out how all too many sportswriters seem to want to push older athletes out the door and into their dotage.
Then again, maybe not everyone feels that way. All the way back in 2002, I wrote the following when more than a few reporters were telling Mark Messier it was time to hang up the skates:
When you get to the point where Messier is in his career, it isn’t long before you start to hear calls for retirement from sports writers who never spent a moment of their lives upright on a pair of skates with a stick in their hands. We begin to hear calls for protecting the “legacy” of one’s career, and not wanting to sully the “memory” of their greatness with a few sub-par seasons during the time when there are fewer days ahead than behind.
Well, screw that. If Messier wants to play, I hope he does until Rangers management has to pry the skates off his cold, dead feet. And if that means some punk in the Rangers farm system needs to cool his heels, or more likely, work that much harder to break into the NHL, then fine by me too. Messier is simply one of the greatest ever to play the game, and every day he’s with us, the league is better off. Welcome back Mark, even if it is for only one more year.
As it would turn out, Messier would play for two more seasons, driving Rangers management batty in the process as his decision made doling out ice time all the more problematic. But the point still holds—Messier went out on his own terms and his own schedule, not one dictated by a sportswriter looking to fill some extra column inches.
I’ll be at Verizon Center tonight tweeting live during tonight’s game between the Caps and Islanders. Click here for a link to my Twitter feed. I ought to be up and running between 6:45 and 7:00 p.m. U.S. EDT. Hope you join me then.
POSTSCRIPT: The story tonight was a lot like it was against Ottawa on Monday: Caps allow an inferior team to hang around until Alex Ovechkin saved the day. Some other thoughts:
- Nicklas Backstrom might have scored the game winning goal and been named the first star of the game, but it was Michal Neuvirth who won the coveted hard hat from his teammates. The rookie had 23 saves on 24 shots, and came up big more than a few times, perhaps no bigger than when he stopped Matt Moulson on a breakaway in the third period. “I was just trying to stay patient. That was a big save for us,” said the beaming rookie after the game.
- Head coach Bruce Boudreau resisted the bait when asked about a budding goalie controversy, making it clear that Semyon Varlamov would play once he was ready, but that Neuvirth was clearly making the case in these first four games to keep the job himself.
- Speaking of Backstrom, he finally broke through and got his first points of the season, assisting on Ovechkin’s game-tying goal and getting a tip in for the game winner. Separated from Ovechkin by Boudreau in the first period, the pair were reunited in the second when the team woke from its slumber to put 15 shots on net—with the big strike being Ovechkin’s shot that beat Dwayne Roloson to the glove side to tie things up.
- Boudreau took a timeout after a Blake Comeau penalty to stress to his team that they needed to simplify things on the power play. Boudreau said that when his power play isn’t working he likes to fall back on his father’s advice: shoot the puck wide and look for tips. He got what he was looking for with an Ovechkin cannon shot from just inside the blue line that deflected off Backstrom’s leg for the game winner. The score was just the second power play goal of the season on 17 chances.
- As much as the power play has struggled, the penalty kill, one of the areas of concern in the offseason, continues to be perfect. Opponents have had 15 power play opportunities against Washington this season and have yet to score.
- DJ King got on the score sheet with his first fighting major of the season, a tussle with Trevor Gillies just 2:47 into the first period. The locals were clearly pleased.
- While the Islanders don’t ice the same level of talent Washington does, head coach Scott Gordon clearly gets everything he can out of his young lineup. They outhit the Caps and won 59% of their faceoffs. Considering that the Islanders were without power play quarterback Mark Streit, former #1 pick Jonathan Taveres, suspended defenseman James Wisniewski and winger Kyle Okposo, they acquitted themselves well. While they’re missing plenty of talent, it’s clear the Islanders have a very simple system and they execute it well. Against about 28 other teams in the league, that’s going to be enough, but not tonight.
- Mike Green left the game in third period and didn’t return. Boudreau told the press after the game that Green suffered a stinger, and is “day-to-day.” Check out the video for the sequence where he got hurt:
I’ll be at Verizon Center again on my couch tonight tweeting live during tonight’s game between the Caps and Senators. Click here for a link to my Twitter feed. Looks like Michal Neuvirth is getting the start in goal tonight for Washington. In the meantime, here are some previews from around the Caps blogosphere.
See you sometime between 6:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. U.S. EDT.
END OF FIRST PERIOD: CAPS 1 SENS 0: We’ve been told over and over again that there’s no substitute for hard work, but a combination of talent and a little bit of good luck came together to give Washington its 1-0 lead. Put simply, the puck squirted free from a scrum deep along the left wing boards and ended up on Alexander Semin’s stick right on the doorstep of the Ottawa goal. Looking at nothing but net, Semin wristed in the puck for his first goal of the season.
But while the Caps might be on top on the scoreboard, the play on the ice has been more even. While the Washington PK kept a clean sheet in three opportunities, Ottawa had more than their fair share of good looks at the net. Your goalie is always your most important penalty killer, and that’s been the case thus for for Washington, as Michal Neuvirth kept coming up with big saves during Ottawa’s three power plays. But while he was getting the stops, he wasn’t getting a lot of help from his teammates. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for Neuvirth either, as he gave up more than his fair share of juicy rebounds that Ottawa couldn’t manage to capitalize on.
END OF SECOND PERIOD: CAPS 2 SENS 1: While the teams traded tallies this period, the story of this game continues to be Neuvirth, who has 22 saves on 23 Ottawa shots. Though the Senators only had 10 shots on goal in the period, they’re generating good scoring chances, and Neuvirth continues to have to bat away shots from point blank range. The Sens tied the game at 9:57 when Jarkko Ruutu deflected a Matt Carknet shot from the right point into the net. The Caps responded just two minutes later when Matt Hendricks passed the puck from behind the net onto the stick of Eric Fehr, who skated into the slot uncovered. He tapped the puck into an open net to give Washington a 2-1 lead. The PK continues to get the job done, killing off another pair of Ottawa power plays.
END OF THIRD PERIOD: CAPS 2 SENS 2: Credit the Senators for playing smart hockey with more than a dash of tenacity. The game was tied at 7:20 of the third period by BC grad Ryan Shannon on the prettiest goal of the night. Peter Regin might have been pinned against the left wing boards, but he somehow managed to get the puck to Shannon, who split the Washington defense, cutting past John Carlson and putting the puck past Neuvirth. The story for the rest of the period was Washington’s continued futility on the power play, now just 1-for-13 on the season. The Caps had a pair of chances in the third, but couldn’t cash in on either of them.
OVERTIME: CAPS 3 SENS 2: All night long the Caps let an inferior team hang in the game, only for their captain, Alex Ovechkin, to save their bacon again. With just :32 left in overtime, Ovechkin sent a wrist shot through Pascal Leclaire’s five-hole to give Washington a 3-2 victory. Over the course of a season, talented teams manage to win plenty of games like these when they’re outplayed by a more disciplined team. Here’s hoping we see this scenario less often over the course of this season.
In case you missed it, here’s a reel of all of the fights from the third period ofthe Caps-Devils game from Saturday night. While I’m sure a certain set of folks got the vapors after watching the festivities, I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed myself this much since the Caps-Thrashers throwdown in November 2006.
You could be forgiven if after one period of tonight’s game between the Caps and Devils if you were wondering if the home team was ever going to get its act together and start playing hockey again.
Heading into the locker room after one period the Caps were staring at a 2-1 deficit. To be charitable, they had just played their fourth straight period of lackluster ice hockey, and this time they were doing it against a team best known for taking care of business in their own end in front of a goalie bound for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Fast-forward just one period later, and everything seemed right with the world again after the Caps scored four goals on just eight shots on their way to a 7-2 win. In the process, they chased Devils goalie Martin Brodeur and shamed a historically disciplined Devils team into gooning things up in the last five minutes of the game.
The end of the third period was most entertaining, as it included a sequence of four fights that began with Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk dropping the gloves with Mike Green, and ended with Devils winger Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond jumping Caps rookie Marcus Johansson.
- After the game, head coach Bruce Boudreau told the press that Alex Ovechkin took a lot of heat as the coaching staff reviewed the video tape from Friday night’s 4-2 loss to Atlanta. Ovechkin clearly took it to heart, tallying three points on two goals and an assist, including scoring on a penalty shot where he beat a lunging Brodeur to his glove side.
- Alexander Semin continues to impress, using his stick handling skills in close quarters to keep plays alive in the offensive zone—never more so than when his hard work behind the Devils net in the second period led to a Tomas Fleischmann goal that tied the game 2-2.
- After having a brutal first period where one of his giveaways led directly to a Devils goal, rookie Marcus Johansson settled down and started flashing some of the skill that led the coaching staff to keep him on the big club instead of sending him down to Hershey. He even got to be the center of attention late in the game when he twice refused to fight Letourneau-Leblond, but got mugged anyway.
- The Caps were perfect on the penalty kill, killing four Devils opportunities on the night. But the unit had its best moment at even strength when moments after a penalty to Jason Chimera expired, Fleischmann hit him with a pass as he popped out of the penalty box. Chimera streaked in alone on right wing and put a wrist shot past Brodeur to stretch the lead to 4-2.
- Fleischmann has taken a lot of heat from Caps fans, but he’s made the most of his first two games centering the second line, posting a goal and a pair of assists in two games. Despite the points, Fleischmann still doesn’t seem to have what it takes to win battles along the boards, but you can’t deny his skill, especially not after the tape to tape pass that sprung Chimera.
- Defenseman John Carlson continues to look like he belongs nowhere else but in the National Hockey League, getting Washington’s first goal and adding a pair of assists. It was the first multi-point game of his career.
- Michael Neuvirth got his first win of the season and kept the game close while his teammates were stripping their gears in the first period. But Neuvirth’s best work probably came in the second period when he turned aside 17 Devils shots. If the Caps care about their goalie, they’ll start doing a better job in their own zone, lest the rookie get overwhelmed.
- The close of the game was simply bizarre. With the game already over at 7-2, Kovalchuk sought to put a charge into his teammates by challenging Mike Green to a fight. Not much was solved as the two twirled for a few moments before both falling to the ice, but the Devils bench took it as a signal to ride to the sound of the guns.
- Next up were Matt Hendricks and Rod Pelley, a pair that fought to an unsatisfying draw. The third tilt featured Matt Bradley against Devils tough guy David Clarkson. Bradley, who had been on the wrong end of a few beatings last season brought the home crowd to its feet when he took down Clarkson with a solid right.
All in all, it was just the sort of night the team needed to wash away memories of a dog of a season opener.
POSTSCRIPT: New Jersey defenseman Anton Volchenkov was struck in the face shield by a Nicklas Backstrom slap shot in the first period. The shot broke Volchenkov’s nose and sent him to the locker room bleeding. Later, the Devils reported that Volchenkov required eight stitches to close the wound, but that he still expects to play in their next game on Monday.
We’ll have a game recap in just a bit, but for now, take a look at some of the shots that OffWing Photo’s Pete Silver shot during tonight’s 7-2 win over the Devils. Click here for the entire set.
Just a reminder that I’ll be tweeting live from the press box at the Verizon Center as the Washington Capitals take on the New Jersey Devils starting at 7:00 p.m. U.S. EDT. Click here for my twitter feed.
- Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe: “It was won in the beginning. It was preserved in the end. “Leads come and go in the NBA, where great shooters reside and where the 24-second clock eliminates the idea of holding the ball. Funky stuff happens at the end of games. Who makes or misses free throws usually seals the deal. But what people so often dismiss when a team such as the Celtics gets ahead of a team as powerful as the Magic by 20 points in the third quarter, and then hangs on to win by a 92-88 score, is how tremendously efficient and dedicated to the task they were in order to acquire that 20-point lead. Sure the Magic made a run. But it wasn’t good enough. The hill was too big to climb. ‘Once we settled down and started playing our brand of basketball, we were OK,’ said Orlando’s Vince Carter. ‘But we were 20 points down. That’s tough.’ “
- Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com: “Dwight Howard finished 3-of-10 from the field for a pedestrian 13 points and a condemning minus-9 in the plus/minus category. But that’s not the most impressive nine on the stat sheet. That would be the nine fouls the Celtics committed on Howard, whacking him four times in the first quarter alone and letting him know that he’ll have to earn every point he accrues this series. ‘You gotta be physical, he plays physical,’ said Rasheed Wallace. ‘That was the thing we looked at on film; over the last two series, guys just let him do whatever he wanted to do down there. We’re definitely going to fight him.’ The Celtics entered the series with a lengthy defensive checklist, including contesting Orlando’s 3-point shooters and stopping dribble penetration by Magic point guard Jameer Nelson. But being physical with Howard had to be at the top of that list in bold print, underlined twice, and smeared with yellow highlighter.”
- Ron Borges of the Boston Herald: “In professional sports, business is business, but it might not be as good business as some think to just let Ray Allen Allen walk out the door when this interminable NBA season ends. Allen reminded both the Celtics and the rest of the NBA of that by showing again what he brings to the arena on so many nights — reliability, adjustments to the night’s problems and coolness in the face of mounting hysteria around him. Allen responded to Orlando’s early efforts to take his shot away by driving to the basket for all 12 of his first-half points, not hitting his first jumper — fittingly a 26-foot 3-pointer — until 6:12 of the third quarter. But when the Celtics needed him to put down shots from long range he did in two of the game’s most critical moments of the fourth quarter — at a time when his teammates were unable to make a shot. … ‘There’s a lot of things I believe I can do and a lot of things I believe I will do, but a lot of times I just keep it to myself and just quietly work on them and prepare myself,’ Allen said after his dead-eye shooting finished off the Magic. ‘As a team we feel the same way. … When we started the playoffs, Doc wrote on the board resolve. He said we have to have resolve if we want to go where we want to go.’ Yesterday they spelled resolve R-A-Y A-L-L-E-N. Somebody in Boston better remember that.”
- Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: “No matter what they do in this series, the Celtics are not entirely going to escape LeBron James’ shadow. And for the most part, they simply don’t care. ‘There’s no disrespect to him,’ Ray Allen said. ‘He’s been one of the biggest stories of the year in the NBA. But now everyone has to watch us. I don’t need someone to look at us and say that we’re great. It will take care of itself. The bottom line is: Who cares? We have one goal: not for people to think about us, but to say that we’re the last team standing.’ There is, however, some lingering empathy for the Cavaliers star. ‘Hey, listen, we still win no matter what happens,’ coach Doc Rivers said. “I feel bad in a lot of ways — not bad about beating Cleveland and LeBron — but it’s the coverage the kid gets. It’s funny, when he said the other day I’m 25 and you guys are talking about my legacy, it made me stop and say, ‘He’s only 25?’ And then my second thought was, ‘He is literally just a kid still.’ It’s almost sad in some ways with the stuff you read and hear and the pressure. My God, I guess it’s the curse of being great at 25.’ “
- Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “The worst thing that was required from the last playoff perfect team on Sunday was that they were forced to play perfect. The Orlando Magic were so far behind that a late comeback needed to be error-free, every shot had to fall and every stop defended. Even the beer vendor couldn’t spill a drop. You can perhaps pull off that against lesser teams, but not against the Boston Celtics, who wrote the handbook on how to win titles. The fact is, the Magic had to mount a furious, fourth-quarter rally just to make their 92-88 loss seem respectable in the opening game of the Eastern Conference Finals at Amway Arena. This was as thorough a four-point beating as you’ll ever see. The Magic never led at any point, dug a 20-point hole and looked as if they were caught flat-footed when the Celtics charged out with a Paul Pierce haymaker of a ‘3.’ “
- Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “Now we get to see. Now we get to find out. Now we finally learn if the Orlando Magic really and truly are championship material. We know what the high-flying, free-wheeling Magic can do when opponents lay down and play the role of frustrated foot wipes in the playoffs. Now let’s see what the knocked-down, beaten-up Magic can do when they get punched in the teeth during the playoffs. We interrupt the clamor about where LeBron James will play next season to bring you this update from the Eastern Conference finals: Celtics 92, Magic 88. And to make it even more icky, Orlando Magic dancer Megan Clementi was one of the first contestants eliminated from the Miss USA pageant Sunday night. What’s worse: The Magic losing to the Celtics or a Magic dancer losing to Miss Maine? Coming soon: Stuff the Magic dragon getting his head ripped off by UCF’s Knightro in a loser-leave-the-city mascot death match? It was bound to happen sooner or later. They had to lose eventually. Come on, you knew they weren’t going to go through the playoffs with a perfect 16-0 record, right? These guys are good, but they’re not the ’72 Dolphins.”
- Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic: “When Steve Nash takes the floor for Game 1 against the Lakers, he’ll discover much has changed since his dramatic injury. Robin Lopez will be back in uniform. The Suns are underdogs once again. And with his team just four wins removed from a spot in the NBA Finals, the gritty point guard will feel the embrace of the nation. Of all the main characters left in the NBA playoffs, Nash is the most sympathetic figure by far. During his 14 years in the league, he never has been to the NBA Finals. No one ever has participated in as many playoff games (112) without playing for a title. Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller and John Stockton never won a championship ring. Nash has never even had the chance. Already a highly popular player among NBA fans, Nash’s quest will be one of the focal points of the Western Conference finals. And his determination will be defined by the stitches he took in San Antonio, returning to play the entire fourth quarter with an eye that was swollen shut by the end of the game. Sports fans across America love that kind of moxie.”
- E. J. Montini of The Arizona Republic: “Quick, answer this question: The Phoenix Suns would not be in the Western Conference finals Monday without …? No. It’s not Amar’e Stoudemire. Nope, not Steve Nash either. Steve Kerr? Uh-uh. Robert Sarver? No siree bob. Give up? It’s simple. The Suns would not be in the conference finals Monday without Jerry Colangelo. The fact is, without Colangelo, there might not even BE a Phoenix Suns. Colangelo moved here in 1968 to become the expansion Suns’ first general manager, the youngest (at 29) in professional-sports history. He saved the franchise in 1987, when the team suffered through a drug scandal. He brought in the kind of quality players that got the team to the league finals in 1976 and again in 1993. Without Colangelo, the Suns — and the city of Phoenix — would be something very different. And not quite as good. While Colangelo only severed his long relationship with the team in 2007, I have a sense that people here already are fuzzy on the details of his involvement. If they remember at all. That’s just how we are.”
- Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: “Finally, there will be a game. The Lakers haven’t played since completing a sweep of Utah a week ago, but the circumstances are more considerable, the results more weighty when they begin the Western Conference finals Monday against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center. They’re four victories away from a 31st appearance in the NBA Finals, but they’ll get there only if Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum shake off knee injuries that have basically kept them off the practice court the last week. Bryant recently had a significant amount of fluid drained from his swollen right knee, The Times has learned, and hasn’t practiced since the last round. Bynum practiced only once and said the torn cartilage in his right knee was “getting a little worse” after making it through Saturday’s scrimmage. Ready or not, here come the run-and-gun Suns.”
- Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: “Tag, Derek Fisher, you’re it. Again. First it was the young legs and ridiculous athleticism of Russell Westbrook. Then came the polished, dominant Deron Williams. Now comes crafty Steve Nash, whose perfection of the pick and roll, among other things, might one day land him in the Hall of Fame. Elite point guards, all of them. And each the responsibility of Fisher, whose success in neutralizing Westbrook and Williams in the first two rounds helped the Lakers reach the Western Conference finals. Now he must craft a defense to slow down Nash, the sly quarterback of the Phoenix Suns, as the Lakers try to advance to their third consecutive NBA Finals. Pressure, to be sure, but nothing new to Fisher, who has been down the road so many times it’s hard to keep track anymore.”
- Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register: “The Lakers are the ones in this series with the best player. And the best player must be feeling better than he has in weeks. But who knows for sure? Kobe Bryant chose not to talk Sunday. But honestly, was he suddenly going to start revealing things now? If the Lakers advance — the prediction here is they will in six games — let’s hope someone asks Andrew Bynum about his knee again. Just to see if he’s learning anything. Personally, this past weekend, we would have preferred hearing Bynum answer like this: ‘The knee’s OK, won’t hold me back any … and I’m not gonna agree Steve Nash carries the ball a lot, but I just saw where he led the NBA this season in rushing.’ “
Against a dominant Orlando team, Boston had to decide: Would they send double-teams down low to disrupt Dwight Howard or would they stay at home on the Magic’s lethal perimeter shooters and let Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis fend for themselves one-on-one against Howard? Boston chose the latter.
In today’s episode of Superstar Underachievement, Dwight Howard is stifled by the Celtics’ defense, despite confronting Perkins and Co. one-on-one. What held him back? We explore what happened at Orlando with David Thorpe:
Many thanks to the zillion people who have helped this thing stick around this long, and I’m hoping we’re just getting started!
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images
Is owning an NBA team about fun and games, profits, or both?
There are a couple of lawsuits going on down in Texas, and it’s much ado about nothing — except for one huge thing.
It began not as a fight about the Mavericks, but about the arena they play in. Mark Cuban owns the majority of American Airlines Arena. Unlike the Mavericks, the arena has made some money in recent years.
When you own a business that makes money, the nice thing is you typically get some of it. But not in this case. That led to the first lawsuit, last summer. Cuban took money from the arena and, instead of handing it out to arena ownership, loaned it to another business he owns most of: the Mavericks. Ross Perot Jr. (the son of the presidential candidate with the ears cartoonists loved) is Cuban’s minority partner in both businesses. He didn’t like that move, and sued, saying that loan was not it was fair and proper.
Cuban chastised Perot for whining about all that, especially with a great line about looking for some change in the couch cushions. The bad blood blossomed into a second lawsuit, this week, in which Perot accuses Cuban of running the Mavericks into the ground. He says they have lost a staggering amount of money, and are only still operating thanks to having borrowed around $200 million and counting.
Cuban tells TrueHoop Perot’s numbers are inaccurate. “None of it is right,” he e-mails. “He pretty much misrepresented the entire situation. His projections don’t take into account a new CBA and he has no idea what player salaries we will have. So he just made up numbers to suit his claim.”
Perot’s legal filings somewhat confirm Cuban’s notion that the actual financial picture of the team is murky, accusing him of refusing to open the team’s books as required by their partnership agreement and the law. One of the things the lawsuit seeks is better information about how the team is doing.
Nevertheless, Perot takes the position that Cuban’s mismanagement has been so staggering that a receiver ought to be appointed by the court to run the team in Cuban’s place. (Perot also suggests, as Lester Munson explains, that the Mavericks may have been overly generous in their dealings with some other Cuban businesses.)
Cuban, a billionaire, says he has the money to pay everybody who needs to be paid, so what’s the big deal? There is no chance, he says, the Mavericks will become insolvent.
“I back all the debt,” he writes. “All the other partners have no problem with how things are run. Perot is just being himself. Over time we will more than make it all back. And then some.”
A lot of that money the Mavericks owe, they owe to Cuban. The rest Cuban says he is good for, telling the Dallas Business Journal, for instance, that “everyone always has been and will be paid on time.”
Formever Mavericks coach Don Nelson — who shares Perot’s lawyers — might dispute that last point, but in general there’s no reason to doubt Cuban, and it’s worth noting that, stressed though the Mavericks may be on paper, this is not a lawsuit initiated by worried creditors. The people the Mavericks actually owe — besides Perot — haven’t appealed to the courts.
“We have invested in the team to turn it around from the joke the team became when Perot ran it,” says Cuban. “Look at it this way: It the team is mismanaged and undervalued because of losses, why wouldn’t he make me an offer to buy it, run it his way and immediately reap the benefits? He won’t because the team isn’t undervalued or mismanaged.”
On some schedule, Cuban and Perot will presumably work out their differences. Whatever happens will likely not matter all that much outside the swankiest quarters of Big D. Mostly it’s a couple of angry guys swiping at each other. Maybe somebody will get a black eye, maybe not. A few Texas-based lawyers will pad their kids’ college savings, and we’ll move on. Nothing here will mean much to NBA fans.
Except for one thing: When the shell on this lawsuit cracked, one very important chestnut did fall out, and it could have big ramifications.
Could it really be that the Mavericks — one of the NBA’s most successful franchises on the court, in a good market, with a modern arena — reallynowhere close to making money?
Perot paints a picture of total financial disarray, with losses of $50 million over the last fiscal year alone, while on track to be nearly $300 million in debt in the coming years, that over the last nine years net losses have exceeded $273 million, that the team has made “future cash commitments for deferred compensation” of more than $300 million as of last summer.
Who knows what the real numbers are. Presumably as the case evolves Cuban’s side will present their evidence that the team is in better shape than that. But Cuban does not dispute that the team has lost money, and Perot’s entire case would be a waste of time of Cuban was in position to easily demonstrate the team was doing well.
As fans and journalists we pretty much mock owners for being cheap, and we praise them for “going all out to win.” Our business analysis of team ownership tends to be along the lines of “you have to spend money to make money.”
Cuban rolled into the NBA nearly a decade ago as in icon of first-class thinking, and has never looked back.
Not too long ago I stood in the Nets’ sad locker room at the Izod Center, where the TV is not even high-definition. You can get a big HD screen for $300 at Walmart these days.
Mark Cuban wouldn’t do it that way, right? The implication is that’s because Cuban is smarter, more forward thinking, or classier.
Cuban has never made any bones about the fact that going all out — for free agents, extra assistant coaches, nutritionists, nicer lockers, airplanes and everything else — did not exactly pay for itself. For instance, he said at the Sloan Sports Business Conference a couple of years ago that the best way to make money from your NBA team is to be in New York, L.A. or Chicago, or to be “rebuilding” and spending the bare minimum on salaries.
His own approach of spending through the nose in a good-but-not New York market, by his own analysis, would be no recipe for financial success. It can’t be that big of a surprise to learn that he has been dipping into his own pocket pretty heavily to subsidize the Mavericks. He has also been clear that short-term profits take a back seat to winning.
But I think we always thought that there was some amount of money a team might make, and the Mavericks were spending somewhere close to that. If they lost $50 million last year, or anything like that number, doesn’t that change things a bit? If the team is close to making money, adding, say, Shawn Marion is a prudent insurance policy. If the team is already well into the red, how crazy is it to shell out another $40 million on a slowing role player?
Let’s say your rich neighbor likes fixing up cars, and spends $10,000 on his old Mustang. Indulgent, right? But how about spending $500,000 on that Mustang? At some price, hobby spending crosses into Imelda Marcos territory.
The way we think about how owners spend — believing, basically, that spending lots of money was basically always good — is colored by an amazingly rich sports business era that may have recently ended. George Postolos, former NBA and Rockets executive who advises sports team investors and is interested in leading a group to buy an NBA team, told me a few weeks ago that the last few decades have been special in way that may or may not be sustainable:
Between, say, 1980 and 2000 or 2005 or 2007 or whenever you want to define that period, you had such substantial appreciation in franchise value. A rising tide lifted everybody’s boat. It had to do with new stadiums coming online. Several broadcast networks that needed sports programming grew to be hundreds of cable channels. The development of all-sports networks, the development of suites, expansion of corporate sponsorship, companies using athletes to promote their products, and the economy in general was strong during that period … lots of thing were happening to increase values. The equity markets were growing almost as quickly as franchise values.
So the value of all companies was growing.
We may be in a different era now.
Postolos also said, in the same interview, that investors getting into sports these days are scarce, and choosy. By and large, they’re looking to be able to turn a profit. Which makes the Cuban model sound that much more outlandish — driving into an era of slow growth .
In recent months we’ve had the Bobcats sold at a loss, the Jazz owner saying almost any other investment the Miller family would have made would have been more profitable, as well as steep discounts on tickets in places like Minnesota and Washington. The Cavaliers, despite having one of the biggest stars in the sport, LeBron James, at a below-market contract, are said to be close to break-even. And even though the economy is weak, meaning it’s not an ideal time to sell, nearly a third of the NBA is either on the market or has recently changed hands, which tells you something about how those on the inside are projecting the next few decades.
Who cries for the owners? Nobody. But as fans, we want a league where teams can be run competitively as businesses, not just as hobbies.
All of which leads, of course, to the ongoing talks between the league and union about the next collective bargaining agreement. What is the main lesson of Perot’s lawsuit against Cuban? “It validates,” says Postolos, “David Stern’s argument about needing a new CBA.”
You never know whose numbers to believe, but the evidence is mounting that the owners may have strong reason to drive a very hard bargain with the players. The players union is coming up with a proposal of its own for the next collective bargaining agreement. I hope that takes the realities of 2010 into account.
- John Krolik of Cavs: The Blog: “The Cavs turned it over 24 times in game six, and most of those turnovers came from being overly aggressive rather than nonchalant. It was like watching a drunk throw haymakers and a karate expert calmly moving out of the way and countering. When this Celtic team plays defense like they’re capable of doing, there’s no way a one-dimensional attack is going to work.”
- Cleveland.com has a way for Cavaliers fans to tell LeBron James they want him to stay in Cleveland. Not sure how well that’s going to work. One of the top comments includes the phrase “and take the rest of the team with you.” (Maybe they should just let these chipper peoplespeak, or sing, for everyone. Once “Cleveland soccer legend Otto Orf” has weighed in, how could James possibly leave?)
- Bret Lagree of Hoopinion on Mike Woodson: “Tyronn Lue, Anthony Johnson, Mike Bibby, Flip Murray and Jamal Crawford each took their turn spotting up on the weak side while Joe Johnson had the ball. Each also took his turn guarding the opposition’s least-dangerous offensive player as Woodson cross-matched in an attempt to hide his point guard from quicker players. In time, this effort to hide, on the defensive end, players deemed essential to the offense turned the Hawks into a fully predictable team, one that switched almost every screen, both on- and off-the-ball, in an effort to maximize the involvement of its two good defensive players (Josh Smith and Al Horford) in each possession. In the playoffs — especially on the road, where the Hawks lost 12 of 14 games under Woodson — opposing teams took advantage of this defensive predictability to create whichever matchup they desired and/or to pull Smith and Horford away from the basket. It proved just as damaging as the more-publicized isolation-heavy offensive sets which too often failed to trouble sound defensive clubs in the postseason. It was damaging, because the Hawks never appeared to have any other options, either in terms of tactics or personnel, at their disposal.”
- Steve Luhm of the Salt Lake Tribune asked Jerry Sloan to name the highlight of the Jazz’s season. Sloan’s response: “Highlights are something people enjoy. But what happens from my standpoint …” You see what he just admitted there? That he’s non-human. Do with that information what you will.
- Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins bares his soul on all kinds of stuff in a long interview with Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. At one point, he goes off about young players’ work ethic: “It’s not as important to these players anymore. They’re already going to get paid. They’re going to get a second contract before they’re the player that they’re going to be. So what’s the motivation for you to go out there and bust your (butt) extra? We set up times before practice for guys to work and we set up times after practice for guys to work. Why do we have to set times? Because none of them will be in gym once that two-hour block of practice is over. They’re not going to come early unless you make them, they’re not going to stay late. That’s the whole group, that’s around the NBA. There’s very few where you see guys like LeBron is in the gym four hours before a game. That’s the exception, that’s not the rule. We’re dealing with a whole new group of young people who think they’re entitled to stardom and money just because they’ve gone through the process. And it takes a few years to get them to play together and understand it’s not about your numbers or his numbers but about the team’s wins and losses and going out there and playing every night.” Hollins was asked who on his team “gets it” and replies: “Marc (Gasol) is probably the No. 1 guy that gets it. And No. 2 would be right there, Mike Conley. They’re 1 and 1A.”
- Nice little chart of team scoring in the second round.
- How the Cavaliers helped Kevin Garnett have a good scoring night.
- NBA fans need to know a lot more about the Orlando Magic. Keep reading Magic Basetkball. What you learn will come in handy in the weeks to come.
- Omar Samhan’s charisma, on video.
- Betting can be bad for your eyebrows.
There was a certain irony to the postgame eulogies after the Orlando Magic put the Hawks out of their misery Monday night.
On the one hand, you had Joe Johnson, knowing the team wanted him to stay but hinting that he was probably gone, slipping into the past tense to talk about his time with the Hawks before returning to the dreaded it’s-a-business-speak that precedes all free-agent departures.
And on the other, you had Mike Woodson, who wanted to stay but knew he was a goner. He weirdly declined to come to the podium and gave his final interview as coach of the Hawks from the comfort of his office, where he said he’d love to come back and gave one final defense of his track record as Hawks’ coach.
Obviously, Woodson knew the feeling wasn’t mutual, and today we learned the Hawks have let him go after six years. We can’t say “fired” because Woodson’s contract expires on Monday and he’s technically becoming a free agent, but in effect it was the same thing — if Atlanta was interested in having Woodson continue to coach, he’d still be there.
Woodson’s tenure was one of paradoxes. His team improved its record in five straight seasons, yet ended his sixth, and theoretically most successful, year leaving the home court to a chorus of boos and with probably his most unhappy locker room.
On the court, the oddities were apparent too. He was an old-school guy who patterned his coaching style after Larry Brown, yet his teams were never particularly good defensively. He had players who were devastating in transition, yet his instincts were to slow the game to a crawl. He was criticized heavily for his team’s offense, yet that was the one thing that consistently worked; in fact scouts say he was among the best designing plays out of timeouts.
On balance, it’s easy to see why he lasted six years, and just as easy to see why it was time for a change. Woodson maintained a remarkably even keel and, although he had some incidents with Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia, his team played hard for him until the final few weeks.
At the beginning, this took the patience of Job — Atlanta went 13-69 his first season. In the early years the running joke was that his young, inexperienced team was unscoutable, because regardless of what play he drew up two players would run the wrong way.
He kept things relatively simple and kept the star player (Johnson) in his corner with heavy doses of minutes and shots, and by and large that formula worked. The Hawks made progress every year, and to Woodson’s credit so did the talented but volatile Smith. Woodson wasn’t afraid to play the young guys, but never before they’d earned it (this is why the criticism of his not playing Jeff Teague more rings so hollow — Atlanta had two point guards who were better).
With all that said, it was time to go — the Hawks had reached their ceiling with this general. His iso-heavy offense was too easily defensed in the playoffs, his other players were too restricted by the heavy diet of Johnson isos, and for a team that accumulated a ton of defensive talent they remained shockingly average at that end of the floor.
Don’t cry too hard for Woodson, who will land on his feet. He’ll be a contender for many future job openings and, at worst, figures to reclaim a seat next to Brown in Charlotte (or Philadelphia, or Chicago …).
Meanwhile, Atlanta will look in the discount bin for his replacement, with Dallas assistant Dwane Casey a likely suspect based on his previous relationship with Hawks GM Rick Sund and his solid record in a previous stint in Minnesota.
Whoever takes over, it’s likely that he’ll be encouraged to increase the tempo, run more elaborate offensive sets, and emphasize defense more than the previous regime. Johnson’s likely departure seems to open the door for Josh Childress’ return, and Teague may very well usurp Mike Bibby at the point.
Regardless of what moves they make, the Hawks will be hard-pressed to win 53 games again, even if Johnson stays. And if 2009-10 goes down as the high-water mark, it will only bolster Woodson’s resume in the future. While the Hawks hit enough bumps that one can’t argue the decision to change drivers, there’s also no doubt that he left the Hawks in a much better place than where they started.
You know it’s coming, but there’s only so much you can do about it.
That pick-and-roll attack is the primary reason Phoenix was the NBA’s most efficient offense this season. How good were the Suns with the ball in 2009-10? The gap between their top-ranked offense and Orlando’s second-ranked squad was greater than the distance between Orlando and #10 Dallas. Incredibly, the Suns have become even more efficient in the postseason, where they’re averaging 113.2 points per 100 possessions.
Virtually every team in the league incorporates the pick-and-roll and practices defending it tirelessly. So what’s the open secret that allows the Suns to bludgeon teams on a nightly basis?
Free agents like LeBron James will want to get a good look at what’s happening before making their final decisions. He’ll want to see which teams will have better rosters than Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, J.J. Hickson and the guys back in Ohio.
Which brings up an interesting question: What if those aren’t the guys back in Ohio? What if the Cavaliers do their own trading around draft day?
For some time, the Cavaliers have been unwilling to part with talent. If some other team wanted to make an offer for Varejao, Hickson or whomever, they really weren’t in the mood to deal, because they were loading the wagon to win the title, in an attempt to keep James, this year.
If anything would change that line of thinking, it’s what the Boston Celtics have done to the Cavaliers. Maybe that math all reversed late Thursday. Instead of “the same roster you always had!” owner Dan Gilbert’s new best pitch might be “a totally revamped roster!”
I spent a good chunk of the morning finding out from front office people around the NBA if such a Hail Mary kind of trade or two is even remotely possible before July 1.
Does any combination of Anderson Varejao, J.J. Hickson, Danny Green, Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison, Jamario Moon, Mo Williams, Delonte West etc. get you anything good? Should we expect a bold move to try to appeal to James?
You’d have to believe that the Cavaliers will be far more ready to deal now than ever before, and if they can bring in whatever it is James wants — a point guard, a big man, whatever — surely today the team would consider deals that wouldn’t have made sense before.
Get on the phone, Danny Ferry! There’s a new strategy to pursue!
I ran the theory by three front office people around the NBA, and three got out their buckets of cold water and started dumping.
In essence, it’s too risky or unlikely, for various reasons:
- Opponents would be unwilling to provide the player who would be the key to James’ staying in Cleveland.
- The Cavaliers can’t get a star with the assets they have, which means they have two options: To trade for older players, which is the mistake they’ve already made, or trade some of James’ trusted teammates for young players he may not know or trust.
- You wouldn’t want to make a big trade without James’ saying first that it would inspire him to stay. But by saying that, James would be giving up a ton of leverage that he’d be wise to keep.
- If the Cavaliers made a trade, and then James left anyway, the blame for his departure would almost certainly fall on the people who made that trade.
Do the Cavaliers have any assets worth trading anyway? Even if the team decided to go ahead with such a risky move, could they get anything? All my sources agreed that the two desirable players on the roster were Varejao and Hickson. The trade machine is open, if you want to play around with that, but it’s hard to see how the Cavaliers come up with a game-changer.
Everything on Thursday was so LeBroncentric that you probably didn’t even see Kevin Garnett when he and LeBron James hugged after the Cavaliers tumbled out of the playoffs.
You might have seen Garnett, but you didn’t really process him, or consider what he means in this whole LeBron saga that took on the feel of a Homeric epic this week. Garnett should serve as a marker, or perhaps a possible endpoint for the LeBron story.
James is already way ahead of Garnett by 25, an age at which Garnett was still two years away from winning his first playoff series. James has won at least one playoff series for five consecutive years (the longest active streak in the league) and reached the conference finals twice and the NBA Finals once.
But to take the next step and actually rule over the NBA, King James might have to leave his initial team. Just like Garnett did.
And what if LeBron needs to win a championship in the manner Garnett did, as part of the council instead of the tribal leader? What if LeBron isn’t a top solo rapper like Biggie or Tupac and is better when collaborating, like ODB?
As a man consumed with stardom, LeBron wants his name above the title on the movie poster, but his first instinct as a player is to share. He has become more aggressive and dominant in the fourth quarter because he was told that’s what superstars are supposed to do. He learned his lesson from the first game of the 2007 conference finals, when he took only three fourth-quarter shots and passed to Donyell Marshall on the final play, then had to deal with two days of fallout after Marshall missed the shot and the Cavaliers lost. If you’re going to get the blame you might as well shoot it yourself, a lesson he took to the extreme in his “48 Special” night four games later.
It’s not instinctive — you might recall his infamous admission to ESPN Magazine that he didn’t have the same basketball homicidal ways as Kobe Bryant – but he’s so talented that he can adapt to anything. He was able to treat the nebulous command to “be more clutch” and do so, in the same manner he raised his shooting percentage from 42 percent as a rookie to 50 percent this season. So he added big shots to his resume, most notably thatthree-pointer to beat Orlando in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals last year.
In Minnesota, Garnett used to get killed for not taking over in crunch time as well. He reluctantly began shooting more late in the games, but one of the reasons he flourished when he got to Boston was that he didn’t have to be that guy anymore. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were around to handle that, freeing Garnett to play defense and rebound and set screens … and become a champion.
LeBron James has to be a champion one day or we can’t grant him a place at the table with the other biggest names in the history of the game. For now, this second consecutive loss as the No. 1 seed in the playoffs disqualifies him from Michael Jordan comparisons, because, among other things, Jordan won all 23 series he played with home-court advantage (as San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami tweeted Thursday night).
Perhaps James will end up like Garnett, widely acknowledged as one of the best of his era but saddled with this tragic flaw of playoff shortcomings for much of his career. Garnett didn’t have the additional burden of playing for the local team and representing its chance at salvation after four decades of sporting hell. (A couple of World Series victories by the Twins took the pressure off the Timberwolves.)
Even though so many seasons were fruitless, ending the exact same way, Garnett stayed in Minnesota for 12 seasons, bound by a sense of loyalty to the franchise that drafted him as an unproven teenager and later signed him to a $126 million contract. In 2000, after Tom Gugliotta and Stephon Marbury had left and close friend Malik Sealy had been killed in a car accident and David Stern yanked the Timberwolves’ first-round draft picks for the salary cap-violating secret contract with Joe Smith, Garnett told me why he wasn’t demanding a trade.
“A lot of people tend to jump ship when they see things are bad,” he said. “I am not one of those types of people
“I don’t know why everybody expects me to leave when stuff is bad. You go through life dealing with bad days, but you still go. I’ve got a great perspective of the game. I just don’t jump ship when things are bad.”
Now he has an even better perspective that comes from an additional 10 years of living. And he says he was wrong.
“Loyalty is something that hurts you at times because you can’t get back youth,” Garnett told reporters Thursday night when asked about LeBron’s free agency. “If I could go back and do my situation over knowing what I know now, I’d have [left] a little sooner.”
I had been in the camp that believed LeBron was staying in Cleveland. Two things changed my mind: the start of this series and the end of this series.
Did you see the look on his face right before Game 1, when he hoisted his MVP trophy to the cheers of his hometown fans? He looked a bit sad and reflective, not at all the emotions you’d expect from a 25-year-old who’d just won his second consecutive MVP. He should have had a businesslike expression, as if to say, “Yep, this is just another one in a long line of these to come. I’m going to have to build an annex to my house just to store all of the awards.” Instead his demeanor seemed nostalgic, as if he were thinking “I’m going to miss these people.”
And after Game 6, after his team had been ousted from the playoffs in the second round, it was no longer feasible to say he should remain in Cleveland because that’s where he had the best chance of winning. The Cavaliers tried and tried to get a winning group around him, but they never did deliver another star in his prime. Shaquille O’Neal couldn’t replicate the dominance of his younger days. Antawn Jamison missed too many shots and was no match for Kevin Garnett. Mo Williams was too sporadic.
LeBron shouldn’t stay in Cleveland for loyalty. He should have the same freedom any other 25-year-old has, to go to a situation that suits him best and appeals to him the most. He can join forces with Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire or Derrick Rose if he leaves. None of those guys is coming to Cleveland.
His choice will reveal a lot about him. It will indicate whether he values being in the biggest city, or being with a coach and teammates that are the most familiar (perhaps even deferential) to him, or being with the best surrounding roster.
Garnett signed off on the trade to Boston after a year of rumors about him heading to the Lakers in part, I was told, because he didn’t want all of the sideshow hoopla that comes with playing in Los Angeles. James should follow the same priorities.
It’s fair — more like, accurate — to say LeBron hasn’t won. It’s premature to proclaim he won’t win. He might not be Jordan, but neither does he have to contend with a Jordan-like figure set to rule over the NBA for the next decade as Jordan did in the 1990s.
Maybe he can be Garnett, whose gratification was long delayed, but eventually brought him basketball salvation.
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: “To be the two remaining Western Conference teams, the Suns and Lakers had to excel at what they do best and those superlatives are unscathed. Something has to give now. When the conference finals start Monday, either the Suns’ league-best 3-point shooting is going to be taken down a notch – or the Lakers’ league-leading 3-point defense will snap. Phoenix can stake a claim to the best-ever 3-point shooting team with a 41.2 percent season that is second only to the 1996-97 Charlotte Hornets, who recorded a 42.8 percent record during a 3-year experiment that shortened the distance to 22 feet. The Lakers gave up a league-low 32.8 percent on 3-point shooting this season. Neither gave ground in getting to this point. Phoenix shot 41.7 percent on 3s in the first two rounds, making 10 per game. The Lakers surrendered 32.3 percent 3-point shooting, allowing six per game. ‘We’ve won games where we didn’t have to make a bunch of 3s either,’ said Suns coach Alvin Gentry, whose team got this 36-9 run started with 15 games of single-digit 3-point makes. ‘For us, it’s all about spacing the floor. If they’re guarding the 3-point line, hopefully that means there are alleys that we can drive.”
- Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: “It might have been the least memorable Lakers playoff series in decades, a meek five-game loss to the Phoenix Suns, but the off-season it spawned was anything but forgettable. Kobe Bryant stewed and steamed after the Lakers were eliminated in the first round in 2007, sitting at a podium within a few minutes of their ouster and putting owner Jerry Buss and the front office on notice. ‘Do something, and do it now,’ he decreed. ‘Three years,’ he said, and the Lakers were still ‘at ground zero.’ Indeed, it was the third season after the Lakers dealt Shaquille O’Neal, and Bryant had endured all the mediocrity he could handle. He demanded to be traded a few weeks later, a request that led to an unsettling off-season as the franchise lurched and rolled under the weight of its angry superstar. Only when Pau Gasol arrived with a midseason trade the following season did Bryant settle down, the Lakers now on their way to a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals if they could get past their old friends, the Suns.”
- Peter May for ESPNBoston.com: “In the space of six days, the Celtics went from the ultra humiliating, a 124-95 loss at home, to the ultra exhilarating, a rousing victory in Game 6 and a sweep of the last three games of this series. The team won’t — and can’t — dwell on the significance of this achievement, not with the menacing Magic awaiting in less than 48 hours. But when it’s all said and done, by eliminating the No. 1 team of the regular season, this might rank as the Celtics’ greatest playoff upset since the 1969 NBA Finals. No one foresaw this; not the ESPN panel of experts, none of whom picked the Celtics. Vegas didn’t like the Celtics’ chances. You had to think the Cavaliers regarded the Celtics as a steppingstone. And now that the Celtics have pulled off the Big One, where does that rate in Paul Pierce’s mind? ‘I’m really not that proud,’ Pierce said. ‘Our goal is to win a championship. We didn’t say we wanted to come in and beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs. Our goal is to win a championship. We can be excited for one night, but we only get excited here when we put a banner up.’ “
- Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: “On a night when a 25-year-old named LeBron James was trying to save face and carry his team to a seventh game, it was a high-mileage power forward, six days shy of his 34th birthday, who did the winning. Unable to play in last year’s postseason because of his right knee, Kevin Garnett appears to me making up for lost fun. He came out to find a change in Cavalier strategy with Shaquille O’Neal guarding him. So KG dropped in all four of his first quarter shots to make Cleveland rethink its plan. When Antawn Jamison moved back onto him, Garnett simply bulled his way inside and took over. ‘I really didn’t know what they were going to do,’ said KG. ‘I thought they would probably trap. This is my 15th year. I’ve seen almost everything possible during a basketball game. But when they put Shaq on me … my mentality throughout this whole playoffs has been attack, attack – to be the presence; when I get doubled to make a play. So when they put Shaq on me, my thought process didn’t change. It didn’t change at all.’ “
- Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe: “Hey, America. Remember the Boston Celtics? 17 titles. The Leprechaun. Red Auerbach and his cigar. The parquet. The banners. Russ? Cooz? Hondo? Larry? A couple of Big Threes? Tradition! Anyway, while all you out there in the Great Beyond tuned in last night to see what fate had in store for LeBron James, the Cavaliers, the city of Cleveland, the state of Ohio, and perhaps even how the balance of power for the next 10 years in the NBA might be affected, for those who care about the fortunes of the Boston Celtics this was Game 6, and nothing more. LeBron was just another villain standing in the way of another Celtics’ championship run. Boston is the only city in America in which people are saying this morning that the Celtics won, and thus will be playing Orlando Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Everywhere else, LeBron lost. Yup, the Boston Celtics capped off a great series with a great win, controlling play for all but a few minutes, absorbing a fourth-quarter incursion and then running off 10 straight points to ensure a 94-85 triumph and answer all the pre-playoff questions as to their real worth after concluding the season with a lackluster 27-27 record.”
- Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon-Journal: “Was this goodbye? After a 94-85 loss to the Boston Celtics on Thursday night in TD Garden eliminated the Cavaliers from the playoffs, fans were left to ponder that question about favorite son LeBron James for what could be months. The Cavs’ Game 6 loss might have been James’ last in a Cavaliers uniform and he fueled the speculation by not waiting long to shed it, ripping off his jersey in the tunnel leading to the locker room. With the season ended, he’s now a free agent. While James recorded a triple-double with 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists, he also committed nine turnovers and hit only 8-of-21 shots. But he showed no effects from his right elbow injury when he tried to rally his team with back-to-back 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter that closed the deficit to four. Eventually, the Cavs were doomed by 22 turnovers and 38 percent shooting, 5-of-17 from 3-point range.”
- Dennis Manoloff of The Plain Dealer: “Only In Cleveland. Only In Cleveland can a team finish with the best record in back-to-back regular seasons, and have the MVP on its roster, and not even make the finals of its sport. How else to explain what happened to the Cavaliers the past two seasons? 2008-2009: Best record in the league, MVP, out in the conference finals. 2009-2010: Best record in the league, MVP, out in the conference semifinals. I’m fairly certain this never has happened in the NBA. … I tell people who aren’t from Cleveland: You can’t possibly understand. Don’t try to understand, because you can’t. It’s not about a jinx or a hex or a curse. There are no ghosts. It’s just what happens to pro sports teams in Cleveland, at least since 1964. They can’t win it all.”
- Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: “Let’s have some stone-cold realism now. The Celtics were the better team in the series, which isn’t breaking news. They had a better plan, better poise, way better execution. If the Cavs had given better focus and better effort in Games 2, 4 and 5, then they might have had a chance to stretch it out. But none of the four losses were truly close. Game 5 will be the scar from the series and, no matter what anyone says, it will hang over the top of LeBron James for a long time. He will have to shove it away with a championship and that doesn’t seem all that close right now. Now for the harsh, real stuff. The Cavs were closer to beating the Orlando Magic last season than they were the Celtics this season. This is regression. Playing the way they did against the Bulls and the Celtics, they would not have beaten the Magic this season. Or the Lakers. Or probably the Suns. Right now the Cavs maybe, maybe are the fifth-best team in the league, and James and Shaquille O’Neal are headed for free agency. … So the brutal truth is this: Say what they want, the Cavs are a great regular-season team. But no more. Following them for seven years now and trying to be as truthful as possible along the way, I missed it. I thought it would work in a series, too. But obviously I was wrong with my predictions. So were the Cavs with everything in their planning and preparation.”
- Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post: “It’s inexplicable that in the final minutes, with the clock ticking down, the Cleveland Cavaliers would just let it all expire. No fouls, no desperation, no three-point heaves. They just let it go, the season and perhaps the future. Tick, tick, tick, gone. A wrap. The end. No stopping the clock, no one last timeout. If they didn’t give up they certainly gave out. Wow. They weren’t ready to win a championship, as it turns out, not the great LeBron James and not the Cleveland Cavaliers. They played hard enough through most of the game, even cutting a 12-point deficit to four on James’s daring back-to-back three-pointers. It looked then as if he had the stuff of Magic and Bird, of Jordan and Duncan. But the outburst was brief, a sputter. This can’t be about only LeBron James; an entire coaching staff and locker room full of players paid a lot of money let this happen. Mark Jackson, the ESPN analyst who played forever in this league, said at the end of the telecast of Game 6 that he was disappointed that the Cavaliers appeared to quit before it was over, simply surrender. They were, once again, dispirited in those final few minutes, defeated, overwhelmed.”
- Richard Schapiro of the New York Daily News: “LeBron James’ hometown mayor ratcheted up the rivalry between Cleveland and New York Thursday, ripping the Big Apple as a place unfit for any self-respecting Ohioan. ‘Who the hell would want to live in New York?’ Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic told the Daily News. ‘I think what he has here is a real connection to people. I hope he always remembers that, because there’s a lot of things in life that are more important than an extra million or two.’ The Cavaliers’ power forward is the reigning two-time NBA MVP — and set to hit the open market as a free agent July 1. The Cavaliers’ season ended Thursday night in a 94-85 loss to the Celtics. Plusquellic conceded he’s quaking over the possibility James will flee Akron’s scruffy suburbs — where the NBA great still owns a home — to play on the world’s biggest stage. ‘For sure, I’m worried about him leaving,’ Plusquellic said. ‘You don’t want to lose a guy like that. He means so much for this community.’ “
- Rick Morrisey of the Chicago Sun-Times: “In the last five years, the Bulls have won as many regular-season games as they’ve lost. Those of you who insist you’ve seen improvement might want to stare hard at that for about an hour. There’s no getting around the mediocrity. Rose and Joakim Noah can only take this team so far. So a hint of a suggestion that LeBron might entertain a thought of playing for the Bulls? Good enough for me. Imagine what the United Center would sound like with basketball, not marketing gimmicks, inducing cheers. Anyone who has stood by the Bulls the last 12 years would no longer have to question his sanity. A tag team of James and Rose would be the picture of reason. Can you imagine if Bulls vice president John Paxson pulled this off? First getting Rose with a 1.7 percent chance of winning the draft lottery and then James deciding against all reason to join the Bulls? It would be definitive proof that God loves Paxson. Before this, all we had to go on was that he went to Notre Dame. The James fantasy is a win-win for everyone not from Cleveland. Now all we need is for it to be true.”
- Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: “LeBron James is almost certain to consider a new location and the Bulls will no doubt be high on his list. They can offer a city James loves and already have two young stars in place. Chicago could conceivably give James his the best chance to win a title in the next few years. Then again, he might look at Kobe Bryant as an example. Bryant won three titles with a young O’Neal, then struggled until the Lakers added Pau Gasol to the front line. James could create an East Coast version of the inside-outside combo by convincing Chris Bosh to join him in New York. But James has the power to do whatever he wants. How about re-signing with the Cavs for two years, giving this group another chance to pull together in the playoffs, then jumping to the Nets in time for the move to Brooklyn? Teaming up with Dwyane Wade in Miami doesn’t seem like a great fit — one ball for two superstars. James did get to know most of the key free agents while playing with the national team the past few years, so personal relationships could help direct his decision. Something seemed to go wrong with the Cavs’ chemistry in the past few days, but James didn’t talk about it. James returning to Cleveland could have been a foregone conclusion. Now there is no telling what the summer will hold. The Bulls figure to be prepared for anything.”
- Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: “The season ends and the speculation begins: It is that sad, that simple, for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. No team won more games than the Cavs during the season and no player dominated the way the James, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player – but when it mattered most, the Cavs hardly looked the part of contender and James seemed a shadow of an MVP. And in the star obsessed world that is the NBA, the six-game loss of the Cavs to the Boston Celtics will pass: The defeat of LeBron James, though, will be discussed, debated, dissected, and then debated and discussed and dissected some more.”
- Michael Wallace of The Miami Herald: “The Miami Heat had gigantic expectations Wednesday when it officially opened a recruiting campaign to encourage star guard Dwyane Wade to stay with the team. Apparently, those goals weren’t big enough. Soon after launching a fan-friendly website and marketing blitz designed to flatter Wade, the site crashed because of excessive traffic. The Heat quickly shifted to a larger server that would accommodate http://www.wewantwade.com leading to the July 1 start of NBA free agency. Until then, Miami will likely have to wait along with many other league cities to learn of Wade’s decision. ‘I thought it was hilarious,’ Wade said of the surprising approach from a franchise that has largely been low-key in promoting players. ‘But I appreciate it. I do. I really do.’ In addition to the website, which gives fans pointers on how to show their support when they see Wade in public, the Heat also plans to plaster tributes and photo images of the six-time All-Star on billboards and banners all across South Florida. Wade appreciates the attention, but has said there is a simple way to make sure he re-signs with the Heat: Go out and get him some more help.”
- Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: “Say this for Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins: He doesn’t shrink from hard questions. I thought of as many as possible. I posed them over lunch earlier in the week. Only twice did Hollins ask to go off the record. The rest was open and free-wheeling. He does not think O.J. Mayo can play point guard. He does not think Hasheem Thabeet is a bust. He does not like the lame questions he often gets after games. He does not understand why anyone would be intimidated by him. … The man just signed a new three-year deal with the Grizzlies. Next to owner Mike Heisley, he may be the most influential person in the organization. He’s also blunt. Refreshingly so. But, then, don’t take my word for it.”