Spyder You Aren't Here Yet

Monday, March 26, 2007

Thoughts on Sports

My mom sent me this article from the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/24/opinion/24queenan.html?ex=1175400000&en=f3bd764f54038524&ei=5070&emc=eta1) about Washington state outlawing booing in interscholastic sports. At one point, the executive director of the Interscholastic Activities Association aka "The Funsuckers," Mike Colbrese, says, “I don’t know why people think it’s acceptable to boo in the first place, it’s a pretty novel concept to me.” Is it? Novel? Meaning interestingly new or unusual? (Oxford English dictionary) Mike, maybe you shouldn't be in charge of an interscholastic sports association if booing is this interestingly new concept you weren't prepared for. Besides, when are people going to learn that booing fifteen year-old girls is another way to build CHARACTER. Both for the booer and for the girl. Okay, maybe not but at the varsity level, negativity is a good thing. Both for the atmosphere and for the home team.

When I was in high school, I got yelled at a lot for being "obnoxious" during high school hockey games. At one point, a Brunswick parent tried to get in a fight with me because I was ripping on his son for about thirty-five straight minutes. He said things like, if you're so tough why don't you get down there and play. I politely told him that if he'd look at the scoreboard he'd see I wasn't needed. Still, after complaints about our "goon squad" behavior, the headmaster would make speeches about the difference between rooting for your team rather than rooting against the other team. But, this makes no sense. I would, in fact, argue the exact opposite. It may not qualify as classy, but rooting against the other team is probably the only way to help your own team. And, I'm not being facitious. Because rooting against the other team, letting their goalie know that he's a sieve and "it was all his fault," is a way to get in the other team's head. And, any time the opponents spend thinking about you and not about the game is a serious advantage for your team. I can't imagine a scenario where saying "YEA MIKE! GO FOR IT!" has ever inspired Mike to do anything. But, if during a basketball game, you let Jeremy know he's getting a serious case of Swampass, there's a good chance Jeremy's going to get self-conscious and this may allow for a couple mental miscues. If they want to ban my favorite "Ref beats his wife" cheer after a particularly bad call, go head, I can see how no one benefits from that. (Except the ref's beaten wife, did you see that horrible foul call?) If they want to stop "Get off your knees ref, you're blowing the game," fine. I disagree but, again, perhaps that doesn't have a place in high school sports. But, to stop booing, which is an easy way to let refs know they screwed up, coaches know they shouldn't have pulled their star player and BOTH teams know when they've been caught with a cheapshot is yet another example of the ridiculous pampering trend unnecessary in American sports.

-Speaking of which, Tom Verducci just had a great article (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/writers/tom_verducci/03/20/matsuzaka0326/index.html?eref=nbcsports) on Daisuke Matsuzaka, finally taking the most important angle of his arrival in the United States: his throwing regiman. For years, the one concept I haven't been able to understand about American sports is why, when athletes are consistently becoming better in every sport, why are pitchers becoming more and more vulnerable to arm injuries? Why is throwing a baseball over and over the only athletic activity that humans are getting consistently worse at? I always thought the reason might be that pitchers these days are in such better, stronger shape, they are so much more finely-tuned that it takes a lot less for something to snap. But, after reading Bobby Valentine's comments and seeing that Daisuke's arm is in perfect shape, more likely, it's that Americans pamper their pitchers. And, since they aren't trained from a young age to throw, throw, throw, when they reach the majors, many young pitchers (see Prior and Wood) break down from overusage early on. And, with the ever-increasing media ready to jump down managers throats for overextending pitchers pitch counts and with Tony LaRussa's modern bullpen, pitchers only have to go seven innings in the majors. So, with that in mind, I have an inkling that youth baseball, forever emulating the pros, isn't ready to "abuse" kid's arms and our pitchers aren't being trained correctly. For, as noted in this article, it is a simple concept. Like any thing involving muscle memory, throwing over and over helps builds muscle memory and strength. Hopefully, Daisuke can not only be an effective major league pitcher (only because he's the ace of my fantasy team, not for any of this other fluff I'm writing), he can perhaps change the downward trend in the American pitcher's endurance.

-Watched the Florida-Oregon game last night and the first half of UNC-G'town. Then, like an idiot, I decided with it being midnight, I'd better leave the bar, go to sleep and get ready for Monday morning. Only, when I got home, I realized I wouldn't be able to sleep until I knew what happened and proceeded to refresh my box score until G'Town had come back and won in overtime. Last year I wrote about the return of the center in Roy Hibbert and how silky smooth Jeff Green was. As for Hibbert, he looks more and more like an NBA player. Sure, he lumbers up the court a little but he seems to score with an array of easy post moves and as he learns to foul less, I can see him entering the league and quickly replacing Chris Kaman at the top of the 2nd tier of NBA centers. I think Hibbert will play Oden to a draw although part of me wonders if Oden turns it up a notch. Final Four, playing a legit center for the first time, I could see him having that huge statement game.

But, the real G'Town story has to be Green. Watching highlights of the second half and seeing Green's incredible ability to assert himself within the flow of the offense (a rare ability for a college player, to both take over and keep everyone involved), and comparing that to any of the Florida players I think Green will be a better NBA player than all of them. That's not a slight of Joakim Noah who I think will be a very solid pro, but rather an endorsement of Green.

-One story that isn't getting enough attention is Kobe Bryant's 50 point run. Ha. Just kidding. But, seriously, the big story in the NBA right now has to be the bottom of the Western Conference and no one seems to be talking about it. First off, there is a serious possibility we get a Suns-Lakers first round rematch which was probably the best series last year. I'm sure Raja-Kobe II would be called much tighter by the NBA but the Lakers are a team the Suns don't match up so well with and I'm sure they'd rather face the emulating run n' gun Nuggets.

As for the eight seed, I thought the only big advantage the Mavericks would get being the #1 seed was an easy first round matchup. With the Suns/Spurs being destined to play the very dangerous Kobes (Lakers)/Streetballers (Nuggets), the Mavs looked like they had a four game sweep coming against the Warriors. But, now, with the Clippers rounding into form and looking like the likely #8 seed, the Mavs no longer have an easy street 1st round. I think the Mavs will put away the Clippers in five or six but let's remember the Clippers were one game from the Conference Finals last year and still have loads of talent. As for the Nuggets/Lakers, which team would you rather play? Jack McCallum needs to run one of those choose sides things. I think, at the end of the day, I'd rather face the Lakers because they just don't have as much talent as the tattooed Nuggets. But, with Kobe on fire, and the Lakers record against the upper echelon of the West, I think both teams could push their first round foes to seven.

-Tiger Woods won again. Yawn. But, he goes and watches Roger Federer play and this is national news. I love how nonchalant Tiger is when he gives this quote in the wrapup SI article, "The difference between myself and Jordan and myself and Roger is that Roger and I play individual sports. So there's common ground there that I didn't have with Jordan. It's still phenomenal to watch. It's neat and intriguing for me to talk to him and see what he thinks on certain situations, and we pick each other's brain a little bit. People don't realize how hard you have to work off the court and off the course to achieve the levels that we've been able to achieve. It's a lot harder than people think." The difference between myself and Jordan. I mean, I guess it's true, Tiger has reached the level where he can just launch into a quote about the difference between him and Michael Jordan but I still don't feel it's right. He's Michael Jordan! For the next fifteen years, don't all quotes have to start, "It's just an honor to be mentioned in the same breath...?"

-When watching a college basketball game at Duke, whether you love or hate the Dukies, you have to admire the energy in the arena and you know it would be a better experience being there than watching on TV. I went to a Czech Republic-Germany Eurocup qualifier Saturday night which the Germans, unfortunately, won 2-1. But, what an awesome experience. I know it's cliche at this point, but the soccer crowd (even at the small Praha Sparta Toyota Arena) creates a roar unlike anything I've experienced in non-college stadiums in the U.S. I remember going to an NBA Finals game at Madison Square Garden and it was nuts, and it was loud and we booed Bill Walton which was fun but it just didn't compare to the soccer atmosphere. The stadium was just so electric, you felt like the energy on the field was being controlled by the fans rather than the rational other way around.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

In case there was any doubt...

TANAKA!!!

Watch his reaction after his tip-in...Tyrus Thomas aka TAKA TANAKA!!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Notes

-Did you see that Ray Mysterio is a juicer? So, is Randy Orton? My girlfriend's crushed. She nearly killed me with her "Austin 3:16" sign when I told her Edge, her favorite, took HGH. I guess, suddenly, the WWE just doesn't seem real.

-People keep giving the NCAA tournament committee credit because the top seeds prevailed, as if this affirmed what a good job they did. Are you kidding? Without watching a minute of college basketball, I could've seeded the top teams. It's the choices at the bottom (the teams that got obliterated this year), who have the ability to shake up the tournament which matter the most.

-I was wrong about Renaldo Balkman. Isiah was right. (Although I still think Balkman is there nine picks later and the Knicks could've gone Lowry/Williams/Rondo/Rodriguez (any freakin' point guard instead of Mardy Collins) and Balkman.) With Balkman, Frye, Lee, Curry and Crawford the Knicks are like the Bobcats in terms of talent, just without the cap flexibility and the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie villain Walter Hermann.

-I love the Matt Schaub trade for the Falcons and like it for the Texans. It's too bad David Carr never got a fair shake in Houston, having to perform behind a terrible offensive line all five years and then having to be compared to Vince Young and Reggie Bush this past year. But, it was probably time to move on for the Texans and (with no statistical proof to back this up) I think getting a highly-touted backup who has been in the NFL for a few years is a better move than once again placing the hopes of the franchise on a rookie QB. Hopefully, this trade can work out for everyone involved. Carr can move to another team--wouldn't the Vikings be a perfect fit? Good offensive line, conservative game coach, a team that needs a stopgap before the Tavarias Jackson era--and become a middle-of-the-pack QB, Schaub can shine with Andre Johnson in Houston, Michael Vick finally silences the critics with Joe Horn and Bobby Petrino's high-octane offense (Why won't the Falcons trade for Randy Moss again? Especially now that they have two extra second-round picks??? If you want to find out if Michael Vick is an NFL QB once and for all, why not give him Moss and Horn?) and the Jets win the Super Bowl. What? They weren't involved in this deal?

-I've started having my typical pre-Fantasy Baseball draft nightmares. I never had those day before exams-stressed-out-where's-my-#2-pencil-dreams but every year about this time, when my work productivity is at its absolute lowest from ten to twelve hours a day of draft preparation, I wake up in deep sweats over something going wrong.

Last night, I had two. First, in my serpentine draft mixed league, my teammate Aaron and I got in the draft room late and Yahoo had autopicked two NFL defenses (Washington and Pittsburgh) in the first five rounds followed by a round six debacle where Aaron couldn't find the player we were looking for in the queue because he was looking under a "Jewish players I kinda like" category. I started screaming at him as we got stuck with Alfonso Epagulus. Whoever the hell that is.

This followed by my uncle and I bidding 33 dollars on Danny Ardoin in our NL-only Auction League, about 32 dollars too high.

Pretty standard tough pre-draft night but, hey, this is my life.

Monday, March 19, 2007

NBA Thoughts

At risk of pissing off two demographics that want nothing to do with each other, I have a terrible similarity to reveal to you. The NBA is a sport with incredible, jaw-dropping athletes. NASCAR is a bunch of rednecks driving in circles. Whoops! That's not where this was going. What I meant to say was have you noticed how the Suns, Mavs and Spurs have each acted like the lead car at different times this year deflecting attention from each other? Like in NASCAR where the car that, um, well, so, they have these pit crews and, I think if you're behind another car, you can go faster or maybe it's if you have a car riding behind you that speeds you up cause of wind physics or whatever. In which case, maybe I should be comparing these NBA teams to the pace setters in the Tour de France. I don't know. I really don't care about those non-sport activities.

Here's what I'm trying to say though, with the exception of the Mavs/Suns slow starts, there hasn't been a time this year when two of the three Western powerhouses haven't been red hot. And, through the double-digit win streaks each team has had, at different parts of the year, one team has taken the lead, had every article in the country written about them and allowed the other teams to regroup.

Now, the Mavs are going to be #1 and really, I hate to say it, but that just doesn't matter.

- The NBA Cruise Control

There's been a lot made about LeBron's "regression" this year. Just looking at box scores, I wrote my Cavs-fan friend in mid-December wondering what was wrong. He blamed the rest of the roster but hinted that LeBron might just not care. He was kind of right. And, unfortunately, with the way the NBA is set up, LeBron not caring is okay.

Having played last year at an unreal clip (and still not being voted MVP), followed by two seven-game playoff series and a summer of Team USA, LeBron might've realized that trying every night would leave him burned out come playoff time. Instead, LeBron, who we wouldn't expect to be so wise at 22/23, went into Jordan mode, turning it on only when necessary. Well, not quite Jordan mode since MJ was able to pack this into each game, coasting through the first three quarters and if necessary taking over down the stretch. But, as soon as the critics came crashing onto him, LeBron responded by singlehandedly taking the Mavs in Dallas to the wire and through a eight-game winning streak vaulted a crappy Cavs team to #2 in the East. Since February, the Cavs have been competitive in every game but one (a 90-78 Detroit loss where they got as close as seven with a minute and a half left).

Is it a good thing that the NBA rewards players who don't try hard? That it, as my friend AD pointed out, continues to be the only league where guys are labeled as "hustle" players? Probably not. Most people seem to demand of athletes the Joe Dimaggio mindset of "There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time, I owe him my best." Fans will whine that they are paying high ticket prices and the least these guys who get paid so well to play a game can do is try hard. And, I'm not dismissing that as a good point. However, if the goal is to win, then over the past eight years, coasting has become an effective strategy.

Post-Jordan, only one team, the 1999-2000 Lakers, has absolutely dominated the regular season and gone on to win the championship. A few things led to this. It was Phil Jackson's first year as coach, Shaq played 79 games, winning the MVP and scoring title because without his first ring he hadn't learned about the cruise control yet and Kobe continued to improve, getting named to the All-NBA 2nd team for the first time.

But, since then, Shaq has once again changed the game. Just like when he came into the league and made the center position obsolete (until Yao every big man with talent was a "power forward"), Shaq realized (and publicly declared) that he could turn it on for the last two months of the year and win a title. Now, I believe Shaq has his reasons for this, being 7'1'' and 350 lbs, his body couldn't perform at 100% for the course of the season and as he proved the next year, when the #2 seeded Lakers went 15-1 in the postseason, being #1 didn't really matter. Since 1999-2000, eight of the twelve final contenders have been #2 seeds, only three have been #1 and only one #1 (the 02-03 Spurs who tied with the Mavericks for best overall record) has gone on to win the title.

Shaq has been called lazy, he's been criticized for not taking care of his body, people will tell you he's just a large brute, but, whatever he does works. Post-Jordan, Shaq has clearly been the most successful player with five finals appearances and four titles in that span. No player besides Kobe (who was great...but based on Shaq's three Finals MVP's was the Pippen of those teams) and Duncan(three rings) should even be mentioned in the same breath as Shaq.

The same Tim Duncan whose #3 Spurs team has been praised for limiting his, Tony Parker's and Manu Ginobili's minutes to under 35 a game to "keep them fresh" for the playoffs. Clearly, the Spurs public relations staff is the best in the league. Led by the most boring superstar alive in Duncan, the Spurs have made it seem like Duncan/Parker/Ginobili are desperate to play and it's the stern dictator Popovich who is limiting playing time against their will. But, really, is there a difference between Shaq or LeBron's coasting and Duncan's being kept "fresh?"

Shaq can turn it on. When Dwyane Wade went down with injury (Can we please remove Dwyane from any "best player" talk? I don't care what the numbers say or what his PER is, you're not the best player if your team is 26-27 when you get hurt and 10-3 since.), Shaq realized that the Heat were in serious danger of not making the playoffs and he turned it on early. Now, the Heat have gone from the fringe of the terrible Eastern Conference playoffs to a game out of first in the division.

And, as it turns out, like Shaq, LeBron can turn it on. Both men have shifted to the next gear a little early. Shaq to save his teams playoff hopes, LeBron to silence the critics. Maybe they should be chastised for not giving it their best all the time, maybe, like Kobe and his 115-points-stops-this-seven-game-losing-streak-if-you-shoot-even-once-Sasha-Vujacic-I-will-use-Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia-products-and-force-you-to-grow-facial-hair, we've entered an age where playing hard all the time is a bad idea.

When the playoffs arrive, if the Mavericks and Pistons use home court advantage to advance to the Finals, maybe we'll see another shift in effort and conservation of energy. But, I doubt it. And, based on the past five years, the #2 Suns and #2 Cavaliers are good picks to make it through.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Weaker is Better

The 2006-2007 Western Conference is the strongest conference in any sport in my lifetime. Well, I shouldn't get all hyperbole on you, the NFC during the 80's/early 90's did win every Super Bowl but, in at least the past ten years, no conference has been tougher than the West this year. And, if like two of the past three years, an Eastern team takes the title after an unchallenging conference tourney, the NBA may need to step in and change it up.

In England's soccer Premiership, the team with the best record at the end of the season is the league champion. No playoffs, no tournament, the team with the best record wins. Simple. Rob Neyer, John Hollinger and other stat geeks must love this system that uses the largest sample size to decide who the best team is.

I hate it. Granted, it might be more "fair" than a team like last year's Yankees going 97-65 over 162 games only to play lousy for four games in the playoffs and be eliminated, but, playoffs are awesome and any solution must involve them. But, is there a compromise? Shouldn't there be a way to have both an effective playoff system and reward the best teams in the league?

Sure, it's conceivable, in a fair system, the Pistons could come out the winner. It's just that why don't we switch to that fair system? What would be wrong with going Premiership style and ranking the NBA teams, like they do in their own draft, 1-32 based on record? No conferences, no stupid divisions (look at the East where the Bulls are going to be ranked fifth with the 3rd best record) Top 16 teams make the playoffs. 1 plays 16, 2 plays 15, etc.

And, it's not just the NBA that needs to consider this change. If the Bears had won this past year, we'd be living in a sports world where teams from undeniably worse conferences were champions in all three major sports.

The NFL AFC this past year was comparable to the NBA West, with four teams (Colts, Pats, Ravens, Chargers) that would be favorites over any NFC representative. And, the American League last year absolutely demolished the National League in interleague play, only to send the Tigers, the worst of the four playoff representatives, to the World Series where they got beat by the worst World Series champion ever, the 83-79 Cardinals.

Tradition is wonderful and you couldn't really make this change in baseball where one league plays with different rules than the other. But, in basketball, where, like squash or tennis the better competitor should almost always win (over a seven game series), it's ridiculous to have a system that rewards teams for something as arbitrary as geographical location.

The NBA Finals team that comes out of the East this year will be fresher and will have overcome less obstacles than the team that represents the West. This isn't a prediction, this is a fact. With seven teams that could easily be #2 or #3 in the East, the West's 1st and 2nd round match-ups will mirror the intensity and skill level of the East's Conference Finals. And, if we're going to live in a media-driven world that doesn't reward the best team, but rather the one that gets out of the tournament, the NBA needs to take action and make its tournament as fair as possible.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Thoughts on Sports

A lot has happened in the last week or so (including three major items to my favorite teams) and I have to weigh in.

-Thomas Jones and the 63rd pick in the draft to the Jets for the 37th pick. Everyone's calling this a slam dunk for the Jets and admittedly, looking at Jones numbers, it seems like a good deal. But, I can't help but feel a little uneasy about it. I feel the exact same as when the Indians traded Coco Crisp for Andy Marte. I see the logic, I could see it working out but I don't like it.

First, the positives: Jones has been consistently good for the Bears the last three years and if the Bears hadn't invested so heavily in Benson, the Bears would have no reason to let him go. Plus, having been a back-up or part-timer every year up until 2005, Jones is one of those backs, like Tiki Barber, who didn't accumulate a lot of tread on his tires at a young age (compare Jones to the 25 year-old, over the hill Jamal Lewis) and might not hit the inevitable 31 year-old running back wall. And, by all accounts, Jones is an incredible team-player and locker room guy. I mean, it really does say something that the other Bears players ratted out Benson leaving the field early to the press during training camp last summer in order to move Jones up to the 1st team. (http://www.suntimes.com/output/sport...pt-bear22.html)

I really feel like we're getting a poor man's Curtis Martin here. And, yeah, if you want to build a winning culture, getting a solid, good-guy running back when you have the worst running game in the league is a good thing. But, Jones is 28. And, he has one year left on his contract. And, he's not one of the best twenty running backs in the league. And, I don't think this trade moves the Jets closer to a Super Bowl. Does it make them better? I think so. But, the AFC is too loaded the next couple of years and by the time the Jets (who, we have to remember, went 10-6 on creampuff schedule, only beating one team with a winning record) could potentially turn into a powerhouse, Jones will be over the hill. I don't know. This move has the feel of building a team that will be just not good enough as opposed to a championship team. On the other hand, the young Mangini-Tannebaum tandem did a great job last year so, considering it's a move down of 26 picks, that we get a real running back to replace the Kevan Barlow mess and that we still have two second rounders, maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt.

No, I'm sorry. I can't. They're going to torture me the next eight years with teams that either overperform and get ousted in the playoffs or go 7-9 and aren't bad enough to pick up superstars through the draft. But, at least, Mangini-Tannenbaum aren't trying for short-term fixes by getting involved in this ludicrous free agency spending spree.

-Speaking of which, I read some stuff on Lance Briggs, the Bears franchised linebacker, who said he will never play another snap for the Bears or something, he's all pissed off about being tagged. And, he's right. The franchise tag is complete crap. It doesn't bother me so much that teams have the right to keep their own players, I like the idea of that. And, despite costing a few guys a couple million dollars, the rule of being paid the average of the top five guys at the position, no matter what you could get in free agency doesn't bother me either. It's part of the compromise. But, with football being such a violent game, with serious career-ending injuries just around the corner and with players having short two to three year peaks, it's completely unfair that teams only have to give franchise guys one-year deals. If I was commisioner of the NFL, I'd have great hair. Seriously, check out Roger Goodell. But, I'd also change the franchise rule to "franchise players get a salary which is the average of the top five players at their position for x number of years (somewhere from 3-5) with all the money guaranteed (or work in some sort of signing bonus thing)." I don't have all the kinks worked out but that's where this has to go.

As for free agency, how nasty an off-season have the Patriots had? Thomas, Stallworth, the underrated Walker, they have reloaded in a big, big way. I really like everything I read about Adalius Thomas and giving Belicheck one of the 5 most versatile weapons to play with on defense is scary. Last year, everyone got on them for having left-over money, for not signing Vinatieri, for letting all their wide receivers go but the Patriots were being smart. In the free agency era of sports, you can make no worse mistake than spending money because you have it, you should only spend when it's a good investment. And, how could people be getting on them? C'mon, they're the Patriots. If one thing has been proven this decade, it's that Belicheck and Pioli absolutely know what they're doing.

-In back-to-back days, the Basketball Gods had a nice laugh at my expense. Except, I really really don't think it's funny. First, Syracuse doesn't make the NCAA tournament despite every columnist in the country thinking they were going to make it. When I looked at the bracket, in the first region I saw Notre Dame was only a 6 seed and I knew that spelled doom for Cuse. My biggest issue is that not only was Syracuse getting hot late, not only did they go 10-6 in the absolute powerhouse Big East conference but they had one game all year which they weren't in (the Notre Dame 103-91, it wasn't really that close blowout). And, how does Villanova make it over them? I guess because they beat Texas but it feels like if the two Syracuse-Villanova games were switched, with Syracuse winning at home at the end of the season rather than the middle, Syracuse would be dancing.

Also, I read the Andy Katz article that starts out discussing how shocked and appalled Jim Boeheim was with Gary Walters, the head of the tournament committee, but kind of spirals into another Walters issue, the play-in game where Walter didn't assign the two worst teams as the 64-65 seed.

"Walters said the committee is sensitive to putting in two historically black colleges in the game. Jackson State (who should be playing in the game) and Florida A&M, Niagara's opponent in the game Tuesday night in Dayton, come from the two historically black colleges in the SWAC and MEAC. "

Um, are you kidding me? Race is a very sensitive issue, I understand that. But, this is March Madness, America's best competition that is supposed to decide the National Championship as fairly as possible...DON'T BRING RACE INTO IT! If two historically black colleges are the 65th and 64th best teams in the tournament, they should be the 65th and 64th seeds. That's all there is to it. And, I don't want to say it because of the implications but, also, c'mon this is basketball. The last American white NBA all-star was Brad Miller. I don't think the NCAA tournament committee needs to be sensitive to race.

-Syracuse not making the tournament sucked. It did. But, they probably weren't going to win the whole thing, so I'll get over it after this weekend. Monday's news, which I'm not sure if I'm ready to talk about, I won't get over. I know I wrote a whole article about how I was divorcing the Knicks in December but I still have feelings for them. And, I would've gotten over my Nuggets affair if Isiah had left at the end of the season. Instead, James Dolan has given Isiah a multi-year contract extension for marked improvement. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!! 29-34! Why? How has this happened? Yeah, Eddie Curry has improved. Yep, Isiah is actually doing a 6 or 7 job coaching the Knicks this year. But, can't the Knicks just make Isiah the coach and give non-draft player personnel duties to someone else? Do you see what I've been reduced to? I'd take Isiah being in the organization as a coach, I could live with that. But, to extend him three more years as President? I don't like getting all political because clearly the ramifications are much larger in the real world but this is the sports equivalent of voting for Bush again in 2004.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that James Dolan is the Jesus Camp of NBA owners. And, that this whole Isiah fiasco has turned the proud, stubborn Dolan into a monster. He no longer just wants to win, he wants to win AND be right. For, if Dolan were to fire Isiah, all those critics would say, why didn't you listen to us four years ago you idiot? Now, by declaring Isiah a success, Dolan can turn his nose up at the press, at the critics and at the fans and potentially, should the Knicks win a title, say, "See, I was right all along." Except, the Knicks won't win a title. The press is right. And, now, Knicks fans have to live with another three years of the pompous and ineffective Isiah Thomas telling them to stop questioning him, he was a Hall-of-Fame point guard. I'm glad I'm a Nuggets fan. Sort of.

-I'd take Oden over Durant if I had the #1 pick next year. Granted, the last time I remember such a heated debate over who was one and who was two, I was in the Ryan Leaf camp. That didn't turn out well. But, in the NBA, dominant centers win championships, or at least come very close. Bill Simmons, in his lovefest of Kevin Durant, who I think will clearly be a star, compared Greg Oden to the one dominant center who never won, Patrick Ewing. Simmons said of Patrick, "Ewing didn't have a dominant personality, he wasn't an alpha dog, and above everything else that's why the Knicks never won a championship during his era." Now, that's just not true. I'd argue John Starks going 3-18 in the deciding game seven of the NBA finals was a bigger reason. I'd say Ewing's peak coming during the "6 titles in 8 years" Jordan era didn't help. Maybe it had something to do with Ewing never having a great sidekick his whole career. And, I think Oden will be better than Ewing.

-Bracket thoughts. Florida, Georgetown, Texas A & M and UCLA, ship it. Georgetown or Florida wins it all, I haven't decided yet.

-BASEBALL'S COMING....A team-by-team fantasy + reality breakdown next week.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

NFL MVP Wrapup

If one more person comes out and says Drew Brees is MVP over LaDainian Tomlinson my head might explode. I read Peter King's MMQB religiously because underneath all his preachiness is some good ol' analysis. But, the stubborness King has displayed in his Drew Brees for MVP campaign is embarassing for one of the top analysts in the country. Here was his Drew Brees for MVP wrapup in yesterday's column:

The final straw for me was seeing the Saints, 3-13 and orphans of Katrina 12 months ago, march into the Meadowlands last week and put a 23-point whipping on the playoff-starved Giants, with Brees -- despite his receivers dropping eight first-half passes -- piloting the way. Again, my decision to choose Brees over Tomlinson is based on four things: 1) how far the Saints have come in one year (from the bottom of the NFC South and the second-worst record in football to the top of the NFC South and the second seed in the NFC playoffs) and Brees was the biggest on-field reason for the climb; 2) how screwed the Saints would be without him, with Jamie Martin or some far lesser player at quarterback; 3) how well he has played, with an NFL-high 4,372 passing yards, and performances like his five-touchdown, 377-yard strafing of the Cowboys at Dallas; 4) to a much lesser degree, how much he's meant to a wounded city. "Drew's not only the MVP of the league, in my opinion,'' said Saints GM Mickey Loomis. "He's been the MVP of our city coming back.''


Where to begin? First of all, it's clear by the tone of his writing that inside, King knows he's wrong because of how defensive he is. It reminds me of when, in the mid-90's, I would argue Ewing was better than Olajuwon or Lofton was better than Griffey. Of course, I was twelve then. Do you notice the way King starts and ends the paragraph with references to Katrina? That's something else that bothers me about him. Look, we know, Katrina sucked, New Orleans was ravaged, but I don't think Drew Brees being MVP will make the city any better and I don't think it's fair to the rest of the league to give Brees an advantage because of a natural disaster last year. Why mention Katrina, Mr. King, both as the opening and closing argument to your Brees for MVP case if it's only "to a much lesser degree" part of your case? I was taught in writing that the strongest parts of your argument should be at the beginning and at the end because, you see Mr. King, the way the human mind works, it's apt to forget items in the middle. But, don't worry, I'll get to those too.

Your point about the Giants is laughable. I watched that game in full and I know the Saints dropped eight passes, but you may have noticed, if you looked at the box score, Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister ran for a combined 234 yards. You may have noticed that the Giants offense ran exactly ZERO plays in Saints territory. You may have noticed on the Saints killer 18 play 89 yard, 8:39 second quarter drive of the day that put them up for good before halftime, Reggie Bush ran 10 times for 70 yards. I know he handed the ball off to Bush all ten times but when Larry Johnson singlehandedly beat the Jags this past weekend did Huard and Green pilot the way? And, I think, when a team's defense doesn't allow the opposing team to cross the fifty for the last 57 minutes of the game, the Saints could've won this game with Jaime Martin at the helm. Also, it was the GIANTS!!!! These guys have been one of the ten worst teams in the NFL the last eight weeks.

Your next point, "how far the Saints have come in one year (from the bottom of the NFC South and the second-worst record in football to the top of the NFC South and the second seed in the NFC playoffs) and Brees was the biggest on-field reason for the climb" I like how the NFC gets mentioned three times. The NFC finished the season 16 games under .500 against the AFC. Did you know the Knicks were one game out of being the Atlantic Division champions and subsequent #4 seed in the WHOLE Eastern Conference? If they make that one game climb, will we be talking about the amazing turnaround Isiah Thomas and Stephon Marbury completed this year? How that is more impressive than what Dirk is doing for the best team in the west, Dallas Mavericks because Dirk's got more talent around him? I know the Saints played that last game like a preseason game but they finished 10-6...what would've gotten them tied for fifth with the Jets in the AFC. That Jets team being the guys who went 4-12 last year or one meaningless final game victory better than New Orleans. Under Kings's logic is Chad Pennington, the ultimate game-piloter, an MVP candidate? Or what about McNair, who piloted the Ravens to a more impressive seven game improvement, going from 6-10 to 13-3. Against the AFC, the Saints beat Cleveland and lost to the solid Bengals, Steelers and excellent Ravens. (Did you know the Chargers played the same four teams and actually went 3-1 against them? Interesting.) Look, I know the Chargers have more talent than the Saints but the difference between the Chargers 14-2 record and the Saints 10-6 record is the same difference between the Saints 10-6 record and the Houston Texans 6-10 record.

His next point, the "how screwed the Saints would be" point about Jaime Martin being the backup. I guess this an okay point because the Chargers backup running back is Michael Turner who is a better backup than Martin is. But, by this logic, isn't Peyton Manning the MVP? I mean, I think the Colts go 4-12 with Jim Sorgi at the helm? Or what about Tom Brady? Didn't the Patriots go 12-4 this year with a lot less offensive talent around Brady than Brees had in New Orleans? And, people seem to forget when talking about how bad the Saints were last year that Deuce McAllister, a Pro Bowl running back was out for the season. Maybe we can argue Brees is responsible for Marques Colston being good but in this past off-season, the Saints got McAllister back and picked Reggie Bush with the #2 pick. Those two guys, who could be expected to play well no matter who the QB, combined for 2562 yards this year.

His next point, King sneaks in here because he knows it's ludicrous, "how well he has played, with an NFL-high 4,372 passing yards, and performances like his five-touchdown, 377-yard strafing of the Cowboys at Dallas." Why is it ludicrous? Well, first off, shouldn't how well you've played maybe be the first criteria for MVP? And, second, if how well you've played is the criteria, doesn't the best season ever by anyone probably garner some attention over a league high passing yardage? And, I did some research on that high passing yardage Brees has accumulated. Discounting the last game where he didn't really play, in the five losses this year, Brees had 349 yards, 383 yards, 398 yards, 510 yards and 207 yards passing. So, of the eight times Brees threw for over 300 yards, the Saints went 4-4. When Brees threw for under 200 yards, the Saints went 5-0. So, maybe, just maybe, Brees' yardage doesn't have a direct correlation to Saints victory.

Meanwhile, we have Tomlinson, who, when the Chargers were 4-2, having just lost to Kansas City and sitting a game behind Denver decided to turn it on. The Chargers would go on to win their next ten ganes, In the next nine games he rushed for over 100 yards each game and he probably would've in the tenth if he hadn't been benched for a meaningless second half. During those nine games, the Chargers won six by less than ten points. Those nine games:
St. Louis, 38-24, Tomlinson 240 total yards, 3 TD
Cleveland, 32-25, Tomlinson 192 total yards, 3 TD
Cincinnati, 49-41, Tomlinson 158 total yards, 4 TD
Denver, 35-27, Tomlinson 179 total yards, 4 TD
Oakland, 21-14, Tomlinson 114 total yards, 2 TD (throws the other TD to Gates)
Buffalo, 24-21, Tomlinson 192 total yards, 2 TD
Denver, 48-20, Tomlinson 112 total yards, 3TD
Kansas City 20-9, Tomlinson 204 total yards, 2 TD
Seattle 20-17, Tomlinson 133 total yards, 0 TD

Discounting the last game, once all year Tomlinson didn't combine, through rushing and receiving to go over 100 yards. If a game in which Brees went 13-32, for 132 yards and had his second lowest rating of the year is Mr. King's final straw for why Brees should be MVP, then I guess, out of the seven games they would've lost had LT not played, I'd choose the game against the Chiefs as my "final straw" for why LT is MVP. In this game, in which Phillip Rivers went a Rex Grossman-like 8-23, for 97 yards, with 2 INT and a passer rating of 12.4, the Chargers still put up 20 points behind LT's 199 rushing yards and two touchdowns. But, if I could choose a second final straw, see because with my candidate, there's been more than that one Dallas statement game, I might go all sappy like King and choose a defining game where LT didn't even score a touchdown. A game where his qb led the Chargers to last second victory. A game, where at halftime, the Chargers led 7-0, thanks to a 62 yard run by Tomlinson. At halftime, Rivers was 1-10 for 9 yards. But, I wouldn't. I'd pick one of those seven other games where Tomlinson, passed, rushed or caught at least 3 touchdowns.

My ballot:
1. Tomlinson
2. Brady
3. Brees
4. Manning
5. L. Johnson (If Vince had won that last game and gotten the Titans to the playoffs...)