Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Randomness: Free Agency Edition

Since tomorrow is the start of free agency in both the NHL and NBA, I figured to use my Randomness article to get everyone up to speed in both leagues the start of some hot stove action. Let's start with Glen Sather best trade ever, Scott Gomez and a couple prospects to Montreal for Chris Higgins and a couple of better prospects, including the Habs best prospect, defenseman Ryan McDonagh. For Rangers fans, we're speechless, since we didn't think Slats was able to fleece a team like he did here. Higgins is a hardworker from Long Island who fits well in the 3rd line. McDonagh brings more organizational depth to the defensive side of the ice and can either grow or get flipped in a trade for Dany Heatley.

As for Gomez, he becomes another in the long line of Devils who bombed out with the Rangers, though in the case of Gomez, it was more Sather overpaying like he did with Bobby Holik. He now goes from one of the biggest pressure cookers in the league to the biggest in Montreal and already Habs fans are crucifying Bob Gainey. As an added plus, anytime Leafs bloggers and fans enjoy a Canadiens move the way Ranger fans used to when Mad Mike was running the Islanders into the ground, you have to make the move.

As for the rest of the Rangers preview, now they have $5 million in cap room ($7 million if they don't tender Higgins) to pick up that scoring winger they desperately need. Dany Heatley has been tied to the Rangers for weeks but now Edmonton wants him and the Sens seem willing to take Dustin Penner's awful contract (more fodder for Leafs fans, only Redden-for-Heatley would be better). Signings can start tomorrow and look for Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik to be sought after, though I really don't want either. Hossa isn't a number one scorer and should be paid like one, while Gaborik is too risky unless it's a one-year deal. Of course, Sather is prepared to give the fans who put up with rising ticket prices a big eff you as Blair Betts, Fred Sjostrom and Colton Orr.

UPDATE: The Oilers offered Andrew Cogliano, Penner and Ladislav Smid to Ottawa, but Heatley, after asking for a trade, didn't waive his no-trade clause. How ironic.

As for the rest of the NHL, Jay Bouwmeester signed with Calgary for five years with a cap hit of about $6.68 million. It makes the trade of a guaranteed draft pick to Florida for the right to negotiate early a good one for the Flames. The Gomez trade knocks the Habs out of the Sedin twins sweepstakes and now it's the Canucks, Wild, Leafs and maybe now the Rangers will be after him. The Wild could be players this year with a new regime in Minnesota and I know Brian Burke wants to be active in Toronto. Marian Hossa is as good as gone in Detroit and LA looks like a fit for a veteran scorer.

The Knicks seem interested in Jason Kidd, which would be a colossal mistake because he's not fast anymore for D'Antoni's system and would get eaten alive by guys like Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo. If you follow my Twitter updates from a few days ago, you would know I want the Knicks to trade for Ricky Rubio, even though the pieces that the Knicks could trade aren't really there. As for their two big restricted free agents, David Lee and Nate Robinson, let Nate go and don't go higher than $8.5 million for Lee. Hopefully, if Lee gets a great offer, let's hope that they can do a sign and trade.

Elsewhere, Ben Gordon I think is the best free agent out there in a weak class that has too many old names. He should go either back to Chicago or to Detroit. Hedo Turkolgu opted out of his deal with the Magic and with the trade for Vince Carter, the Magic won't overpay for Hedo. Portland can be a possible destination. Cleveland needs someone in their mid-level exception who can contribute with perimeter defense and a good shooter. Carlos Boozer made a smart move by not opting out and remaining with Utah until next season. It would be ironic if Boozer left Utah for New York and LeBron follows. Then, Cleveland fans can envision what should of happened for them this decade in New York with those two back together since the debacle with Boozer and the Cavs leading to his move to the Jazz.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

What's the Future of Soccer in America?

Once the NBA and NHL season's end, sports tends to slow down with a bunch of tedious regular season baseball games being the bulk of sports; thus we as American sports fans look for something to take our attention. Obviously, the Olympics are the best example of a distraction for three weeks, but that only every leap year. We want the last three golf majors and Wimbledon to be that, but it only occurs if Tiger is on the leaderboard in golf, and if the Williams sisters, Federer/Nadal or an American player in general go to the final. It gets pretty desperate that the Little League World Series is regularly treated as an important event.

Well, for the past week, soccer proved to be the latest distraction. The United States went on a run that has been unparalleled in the history of men's soccer. They reached the final of a FIFA event for the first time ever, beating powerhouse Spain along the way and giving Brazil a run for their money before bowing out 3-2 after a Brazilian comeback. The end result of this defeat can go one of two ways, either we are encouraged by the fact we can hang with the best in the world and start to follow the sport greater than ever. Or we are disillusioned because the team choked away victory.

The best way to look at the future of soccer is to gauge the past to see where there were opportunities for the sport to make it's splash here. Despite appearances in three of the first four World Cups (including a memorable upset of England in 1950), soccer didn't make any headway on the American sports scene until 1975 when Pele starred with the New York Cosmos in the NASL. His influence would prolong the league another nine years, but couldn't keep it from eventually folding. However, the framework was there for a grassroots effort to bring the U.S. team back to respectability and back to the World Cup.

1990 would be the year the U.S. would return to the World Cup and lost all three games. However, they were chosen to host to the 1994 World Cup and that would set up the second opportunity for soccer to grow in the States. I should know, it was the first time in my life I was into soccer, and USA-Colombia served as an appetizer to Knicks-Rockets Game 7. That was the first USA victory since 1950 and we realized how serious people take this sport when Andres Escobar, the man responsible for the deciding own goal in the U.S. 2-1 victory over Colombia was killed ten days later. The U.S. advanced to the knockout stage and a meeting on July 4th against Brazil, losing to the eventual champs 1-0 after a goal in the 72nd minute. The success of the World Cup led to the creation of the MLS, which is still in business, even though it is a minor league when compared to European club teams. 1998 was a forgetful year as the USA finished 32nd or 32 teams in France, but 2002 would see the greatest success in the modern era of U.S. soccer. They would beat Portugal and tie South Korea to advance to another knockout stage, then beat Mexico 2-0 to advance to the quarters, before losing to Germany 1-0.

At this point, it seemed like soccer only would become important every four years for the men. Women's soccer, however seemed to also grab some attention during the late 90s when the U.S. Women's Team won the 1999 Women's World Cup. Of course, most of that attention was due to Brandi Chastain's celebration after the game-winning goal including her taking off her shirt, revealing only a sports bar. Unfortunately, women's soccer peaked at that time as they could get a professional league off the ground and has been marginalized as of late.

Soccer, it seems has started more of a push since the 2006 World Cup, despite the U.S. not faring well. Part of the reason is because that was the first time I spent the bulk of the World Cup working in Manhattan, and saw more games on TV's in bars and restaurants. Still, it was being watched and not only the USA matches, but matches involving Brazil, Spain, France, etc. The Italy-France final was a great match and based on the Italian-American population in New York, it was treated as it should be and certainly is in the rest of the world. I believe that since the 2006 World Cup, there is much more soccer that's watched here than ever before. Whether it's the annual Champions League tournament, Euro 2008 or this years Confederations Cup.

The ratings for the match was a 2.7, around the same as some USA World Cup matches and that doesn't include those who watched it on Univision (both for Spanish-speaking individuals and for those like me who wait for the announce to say GOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLL). However, this was due to a belief we had a chance after beating Spain and that Brazil was the opponent. Without the USA in the final, the game stays on ESPN2 and maybe gets 1/3 of the audience. The fact about soccer is that it is the fifth team sport in this country and now that the NHL is starting to regain the lost attention that occured from 1995-2005, it seems like fifth is where soccer will stay. However, as long as baseball is the only sport from June-August, there is a place for soccer to grow, since most of the high profile tournaments happen in those months. Plus, tennis isn't what it used to be, NASCAR is starting to decline and the WNBA is lucky to still be in business. Now if only Tiger Woods left golf, soccer would be fifth overall.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

NBA Draft Preview

It's NBA Draft time and unfortunately, this is one of the weakest drafts since 2000. It's makes me doubt who will be good and who will be flat out busts. Despite that, the Draft is still one of my favorite dates of the year because I find trade buzz and who goes where exciting, plus you get Dan Wetzel's live blog during the Draft and Bill Simmons Draft Diary to read the day after. I will be tweeting my Draft thoughts throughout the first round, but here is my preview for the lottery teams. Basically, I will spell out what these teams should do and what they will do.

1. L.A. Clippers- They are pretty easy to figure because they will draft Blake Griffin after announcing it during the Lottery. However, the Clippers really aren't in good position to be the number one pick or number two to take Ricky Rubio. The Clippers are chock full of big men and are stuck with them, plus Baron Davis.
What they should do. They should try to trade the pick to Oklahoma City so they can bring in the local hero. Try to see if they can extract Durant, if so, pay any price; if not, ask for the 3rd pick and either have them take on a Randolph/Kaman/Davis contract (ideally Randolph, likely Kaman) or get either Jeff Green or Russell Westbrook. Also, fire Mike Dunleavy.

What they will do. Draft Griffin, continue to inflict Dunleavy on the 20 Clippers fans in the world.

2. Memphis- Probably the most pathetic franchise in the league, even more so than the Clippers where no one wants to be. Ricky Rubio has said he wants no part of Memphis and it seems like there is no commitment to winning from ownership.

What they should do. Either draft Rubio and force him to decide to stay or play here, or trade down. Minnesota now have the 5th pick, along with their other first rounders to offer, Sacramento would offer the 4th, the Knicks would take on Darko's contract and give up the 8th. Minnesota looks like the best deal and the Grizzlies should try to get both the 5th and 6th or 5th and 18th.

What they will do. Either draft Thabeet because they need a big man, or trade down.

3. Oklahoma City- The fastest growing team in the league is in a good position to pick up perhaps the final piece that puts them in the playoffs. Durant, Westbrook and Green leads a solid core and can use either a shooting guard or a bigman.
What they should do. The best player for them to take is Rubio if Memphis doesn't select him. James Harden would be a good consolation prize, but now that Minnesota has four 1st rounders, I would put a call into them because the Wolves want to move up and the Thunder can get Harden or Stephen Curry at five I believe and get another 1st rounder.
What they will do. The Thunder play it safe and take Harden and not worry whether or not Rubio wants to play there.

4. Sacramento- The Kings have a lot of places to fill in, but the Draft talk seems to say they want a point guard. Rubio seemed to be guaranteed to fall no further than the Kings until lately when the buzz has them thinking about Evans and Jonny Flynn in addition, or even replacing Rubio.
What they should do. Draft Rubio, no question about it. You can't let this guy who will be great in the NBA, based on his performance against the Redeem Team in the Olympics, among other things. I also don't think the Kings should trade, but if they are against taking Rubio, the Knicks, Bucks and Suns could use Rubio.

What they will do. I can't see the Kings pass on Rubio when it's all said and done.

5 and 6. Minnesota- The Timberwolves have already made the biggest move thus far and picked up the Wizards pick for Randy Foye and Mike Miller. They also appear to be selling the 28th pick to the Knicks. They are in need of a true point guard and a shooter to pick up the slack from the trade.
What they should do. They should trade up and grab Rubio instead of hoping that he drops to five. They have 3 first rounders left and there's no reason they can't trade with Memphis or Oklahoma. Thabeet and Harden both could be left at number 5 if either makes the trade. If there isn't a trade to be made, then hold and take Stephen Curry. Tyreke Evans or James Harden would be a nice fit at number 6 if they stay at this spot.

What they will do. They will find a way to make a deal. David Kahn seems to be willing to trade to prove that he should be the GM and they will get up to either 2 or 3 and nab Rubio.

7. Golden St.- The Warriors seems to be, along with the Clippers, not looking to trade among the top 8, at least in terms of draft position. They traded Jamal Crawford to Atlanta today, which is always good because you can't win with Crawford. Seems like the obvious need is a point guard to replace Baron Davis, but if Monta Ellis plays the point, then the Warriors could look for the best available.

What they should do. I don't think they should trade up because they don't have many trade chips; instead look at Terrance Williams as a versatile player for Don Nelson to use. Either pick him at 7 or trade down and coax another pick out of someone who wants Curry, Evans, etc.

What they will do. If Curry's available, they will take him. If not, Evans and Jordan Hill are on their radar.

8. New York- The rebuilding process continues for the Knicks and they are in need of everything. Stephen Curry was initially thought to be a lock at number eight, until he started to move up the board. Now, there isn't a consensus for who they should take as Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holliday, Gerald Henderson and Jonny Flynn have been mentioned as possible picks.

What should they do. I've always been in the camp of trading up for Rubio or trading down for more picks, especially if it can net them a first rounder for next year to replace the one that Isiah traded in the Marbury trade. If a trade isn't in order, then they should pick Henderson, an NBA-ready guard unless one of the top 7 (Griffin, Rubio, Harden, Thabeet, Curry, Evans, Hill) drops to them. In that case, grab one of them.

What they will do. They will grab one of those seven if they drop; if no one does, then I think they will take Holliday, though it wouldn't help right away.

9. Toronto- With Shawn Marion and Anthony Parker as free agents, the Raptors could use a swingman to take their place. They also have to decide how to proceed with Chris Bosh's last year under contract. Do they have any chance to keep him? Should they trade him now and get something for him before free agency?

What they should do. Unless a top-7 guy drops, they should pick DeMar DeRozan as a replacement for Marion. It just makes sense.

What they will do. Pick DeRozan, unless a top-7 guy drops.

10. Milwaukee- The Bucks are looking at point guard and after trading Richard Jefferson for expiring deals, they are looking to finally fully rebuild, so they can go with potential here.

What they should do. Here's the perfect place to take Jrue Holliday and let him grow into Scott Skiles system. If he's gone, Brandon Jennings would also suffice.

What they will do. It seems like Jennings is going to be the pick, but it's either him or Holliday.

11. New Jersey- The Nets are looking for either another body up front or another shooting guard for the day that Vince Carter is traded. Gerald Henderson and Tyler Hansbrough have been looked, as well as Terrance Williams.

What they should do. Draft Williams for his versatility, plus watch the comedy unsue with him, Brook Lopez and Chairman Yi. He could replace Robin as Brook's equal on this team off-the-court.

What they will do. Draft Williams, though don't be surprised if they reach for Dejuan Blair.

12. Charlotte- The Bobcats were finally close to the playoffs last season and look to build on that for next season. One thing the Bobcats need is another scorer, someone to could have most of the touches in the end of games.

What they should do. They should grab Gerald Henderson in a rare time when drafting the local kid is the smart move.

What they will do. I would like to think they draft Henderson, but I have a feeling Jordan's going to fool around and take James Johnson or even Ty Lawson because of North Carolina roots.

13. Indiana- The Pacers have been looking at a point guard so they can trade T.J. Ford away. However, they also need a big man and Blair and Hansbrough are in the mix with Jennings, Lawson, Eric Maynor and Jeff Teague.

What they should do. I think Eric Maynor will be great and he would be the perfect floor general for this team. Him, with Granger and Dunleavy easily puts the Pacers in the playoffs in the East and is a nice core for future success.

What they will do. They will go safe and pick Lawson, though it would be my second choice for them, so it won't be all bad.

14. Phoenix- This team has been most intriguing because of all the trade rumors that have surrounded them. Off the heels of the Shaq trade to Cleveland, now the Suns must decide if Amare Stoudamire is next in order to get another pick in the lottery.

What they should do. Trade Amare, get another first rounder either this year or next year. As for this draft pick, Earl Clark seems to be the best fit for their team; another versatile player, especially if Stoudamire stays put.

What they will do. Draft Clark, and they don't trade Amare.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Month of the Star

With the first round of the U.S. Open suspended due to rain, and no golfers getting through the round, this is the perfect opportunity to talk about how Tiger Woods could make this a perfect month for the preeminent stars winning championships. It's been a particularly successful month for the faces of basketball, hockey and tennis. Kobe Bryant finally won a championship as the top player after years of answering questions about his inability to win without Shaq. Sidney Crosby avoids a second consecutive loss in the Stanley Cup Finals, as the Penguins won Game 7 on the road in Detroit; now he's the youngest captain to lead his team to a Cup at age 21. Meanwhile, Tiger's buddy Roger Federer finally one the French Open a couple weeks ago to complete the career Grand Slam and tie Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles.

As for Tiger, he has a chance to join the three of them by winning consecutive U.S. Open's and his 15th major, closing in on Jack Nicklaus' 18 majors. Here at Bethpage Black in Long Island, it seems like his biggest competition, aside from the weather, is once again Phil Mickelson. Mickelson is always the people's choice, especially in New York, but with his wife's breast cancer fight, he's also the sentimental favorite to win as well. If he plays as well as he did ten years ago, when he finished second losing on a birdie from Payne Stewart as Amy Mickelson was due to deliver his child. However, Tiger just won the Memorial after hitting 49 of 56 fairways and completed a great comeback in the final round. The fact is, either man winning would be the story NBC wants in terms of ratings. Tiger winning, however, would have him in the company of the best in the world of sports, which he is an annual member.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Introducing Shanahan to the Chiefs

Bruce Garrioch is a columnist in Canada for the Ottawa Sun who once reported that Evgeni Malkin was going to be traded to the L.A. Kings. As it turned out, it couldn't be more than false as Malkin signed a contract extension with the Penguins and now they are Cup champions. However, this has forever earned the nickname Bruce "Malkin to the Kings" Garrioch and anytime there is any rumors he breaks, eyes begin to roll and it's never believed (almost always the right idea). Puck Daddy no longer uses Garrioch's name whenever one of his stories make the headlines post, just Malkin to the Kings.

The best American equivalent is Chris Mortensen. Awful Announcing chronicled to accurate detail last August when Mort jumped the gun on the Cards naming Kurt Warner as starter (he was eventually right) all the missed reports Mortensen had. The best example was when Mort reported that the Chiefs fired Herm Edwards and replaced him with Mike Shanahan, because Adam Schefter called him out as being completely wrong. Now it's time to give Mort the same nickname that Garrioch was bestowed, so I hereby name him Chris "Shanahan to the Chiefs" Mortensen. I hope this catches on in the blogosphere.

Sosa used steroids and Pacquiao-Cotto

Big news day required me to do a second post today as we found out that Sammy Sosa's name was on the list of 104 who failed the drug test of performance-enhancing drugs from 2003 and that instead of Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao looks like he will fight Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas on November 14th.

First, this is actually the first time that Sammy Sosa was tied to steroids except for his performance during the Senate hearing when he forgot how to speak English. However, he has been assumed as a juicer by most people for years, even in this blog. It doesn't matter if he did because we have become too immune to steroid revelations. The PTI guys made an interesting point today; almost all the home run hitters of the 1990s and the early 2000s have been implicated one way or another with PED's. They mentioned Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey Jr.; I will add Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Jim Thome, and even Chipper Jones (who quietly have hit 416 homers and probably will reach 500) to the list of players who aren't associated with steroids. Not to harp on that earlier article, but who will be voted into the Hall of Fame in the 2010s? It's become clear that the current crop of sportswriters better put aside their steroid prejudices and vote for guys like Bonds and Clemens.

Now to the relevant story (though if you don't follow boxing, you would disagree), it looks like we are going to have to wait on a much hyped Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao match until 2010. Now that Floyd's injury is pushing back his fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao appears to have decided to fight with Miguel Cotto, who just won disputed decision against Joshua Clottey during his annual pre-Puerto Rican Day fight. As Dan Rafael said when asked on ESPNEWS, and I'm paraphrasing, Pacquiao sees Cotto as vulnerable though still a big enough draw to make money. I agree with that because I'm sure I would try to watch this, plus since both guys are under Bob Arum's Top Rank Promotions, this should be an easy fight to book.

Mayweather and Pacquiao will eventually fight because the money to be made is too great (plenty for Money Mayweather), and this actually should make a fight between these two take place during the biggest non-football sports weekend of the year, Kentucky Derby weekend. All of a sudden, there is always a big fight on the same day as the Derby ('05: Castillo-Corrales I, '06: De La Hoya-Mayorga, '07: Mayweather-De La Hoya, '08: De La Hoya-Forbes, '09: Pacquiao-Hatton). Add NHL and NBA Playoffs (usually a Game 7 in Round 1) and the Derby; plus the fact that it's my birthday weekend (built-in excuse to watch at a bar and/or with a group of people). Perhaps this is the goal for me to do for the readers of The Cycle; plan a trip to Vegas for the weekend of May 1 next year and give out an article from the fight.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Randomness While The Pirates Are As Close to a Title As They'll Ever Be.

First things first, congratulations are in order for the Pittsburgh Penguins and the L.A. Lakers for win their championships over the weekend. In the Penguins case, the real winner was America; as for the Lakers, the real loser was America. The Penguins championship capped off the most successful NHL season and playoff since 1994 both in style of play and in TV ratings. The Lakers win seemed too anti-climatic and the Magic threw away this series in Game 4 and once again, you can't go through an NBA season without officiating becoming a talking point. Also, anytime a series goes less than six games, it can't be good, unless each game had a game-winning shot.

On the plus side, the NBA playoffs did give us a chance to watch the Leroy Smith commercials, for once, a commercial that you can laugh at for comedic, not unintentional comedic reasons. (Hint, hint Nike, Vitamin Water)

It's about time DirecTV has put NBA TV on the same level on programming as NFL Network, MLB Network and NHL Network. Coming up on the network is years of NBA Draft, giving me a chance to look back on the best and worst of Draft fashion and to follow past Bill Simmons Draft Diaries. I reek of anticipation.

Be lucky I spared you from today's title Luis Castillo; it seemed funnier to see championship and Pittsburgh Pirates in one picture. However, here's some headlines that didn't work: Randomness while Luis Castillo Watches Tom Emanski's Defensive Drills Video, Randomness while A-Rod Thanks Luis Castillo for Sparing Him Further Yankee Fan Outrage.

Looks like Josh McDaniels has been taught well by Bill Belichick. First, he alienates his incumbent quarterback Jay Cutler; then he trades him. Now, Brandon Marshall is looking to get traded and the Broncos fan base already wants him fired. Sounds like Belichick's years with Cleveland. Meaning, Denver fans can anticipate the Broncos moving to L.A. in five years, followed by McDaniels becoming the coach of the Bengals turning them into the preeminent dynasty after years of losing.

These playoffs I've been a little too nice to Sidney Crosby, and I'm unfortunately taking his side in the handshake flap. It was his first Cup and it's not like he was actively trying to avoid shaking Red Wings hands. Yes, he missed Lidstrom and Draper, but give him a break, it was his first Cup. Now if he wins another Cup and does this again, then he deserves to be killed for this.

Real quote from Evan in RW/RR Challenge when he first started in the "Fresh Meat" season, "It was going to be the best experience of his life because he was competing 'with his idols.'" Also congrats should go to Evan for winning this season in New Zealand, as well as Rachael, but just like in the Stanley Cup, the real winner, America. This season had castmates complain about needing money and not finding work; perhaps because they always stop what they're doing to do this show. To top it off, the spelling bee was the greatest reality show moment in history. We get great words like "thron", "frate"and "mellinum".

Finally, it's time I give Kobe Bryant credit after winning this championship. I still say that LeBron is the better player because his size and skill set has never been seen before and that the Lakers won because they had the best supporting cast with Gasol, Odom, Ariza, etc. However, Kobe has solidified himself as a top-10 all-time player with the title and the pass he made to Derek Fisher for three in the OT of Game 4 that gave the Lakers the lead reminded me of Jordan's passing to Jim Paxson when he won his first title. I still can't get over how the Magic blew this series and making my preview column look foolish, but the Lakers deserved to win and I can't wait until next season. How will the Cavs get better? (Shaq?) Will KG be healthy next year? How do the Lakers respond after winning? Does Phil Jackson retire? All unanswered questions that will be rehashed in October.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Biggest Hockey Game in 15 Years

Game 7. No two words in all of sport due more to raise the hair on you neck, as been said too many times before. No matter what sport it is, whether baseball, basketball or hockey, Game 7 matters because it's winner take all, which most other sports have because it's one game.

The NHL is going to have its fifth Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final this decade tonight, but it hasn't been since 1994 when the league was in such good shape. The playoffs this season have been the best since the aforementioned '94 Playoffs and it's fitting that the NHL's renaissance would have the Pittsburgh Penguins, home of the face of the league in Sidney Crosby, a superstar in Evegni Malkin who's made the leap and a former first-pick goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury reaching his potential in this game, facing the most recognizable and successful American team and current dynasty, the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings with Nick Lidstrom, Chris Osgood, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, players who have been among the best at their positions for as long as the early 90s (Lidstrom) to as recent as last year (Franzen and Osgood).

And there is the factor of Marian Hossa, who chose to sign a one-year deal with the Wings after losing last year with the Pens, thinking he would have a better chance winning in Detroit, now enters this game playing a terrible series without a goal and really hasn't done much this postseason except a couple particularly good games. This game will determine if his decision was wise or foolish. It would be an embarassment for him if the Penguins skate around with the Cup and the ultimate egg-on-the-face moment in sports history.

Home-ice has been everything in this series, particularly in Detroit as Fleury has had trouble with the live boards the Joe Louis Arena has. Crosby has been unable to avoid Zetterberg in Motown and has been held scoreless on the road. I guess you might think this is a bad omen for Pittsburgh, but here's a good one. The Penguins get to win the Cup in the same city as the Steelers won their first Super Bowl in 26 years as Bill Cowher shed his choker label and Jerome Bettis won at home.

Another thing to consider, the Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoff MVP) is still up for grabs. If Pittsburgh wins, Malkin, Crosby or Fleury could each win. As for Detroit, Zetterberg, Osgood, Franzen and Datsyuk (despite missing six games) have a chance. Could Malkin steal the Conn Smythe in a loss? He does have 35 points, most in sixteen years, and a three-point night in a losing effort could get the vote to go to him. Remember, this award is for playoff achievement, not just Final and it's gone to a losing player five times before.

So get ready for the biggest NHL game since 1994, hopefully you won't be too indifferent to care about this. I know the Yankees and Mets play each other tonight, but after watching them flame out against their rivals, you should instead watch two teams who have come to play every night (except Pittsburgh's Game 5 stinkfest). I know it's Friday night and there's always a movie to see or a club to dance at, but instead watch this game, either at home or at a bar. And make sure that bar doesn't splash all their TV's with Yanks-Mets. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Where We Stand in the NBA Finals

Tonight will be Game 4 of the NBA Finals and since this is the most pivotal game in any NBA Finals, due to the 2-3-2 format, I figured this is the perfect time to write an NBA Finals review. This series has given us a little bit of everything thus far, including a scowl that can wreck a screen in HD, and no I'm not talking about Hedo Turkoglu.

It looks like we can say Game 1 was a throwaway game in accessing the series. Of course, my overreaction made me claim my Finals preview article was a fake column. However, how can you win when you shoot 28% when you're chances of winning depend on you shooting well, and that above all else? Game 3, it was the opposite for Orlando as they shot a Finals-record 63% from the field. The Lakers were close because of the hot start by Kobe who seemed to make every shot in the 1st quarter. Unfortunately for the Lakers, he tired down the stretch for the second game in a row as he couldn't make the shots you expect him to make. It didn't help that the Lakers played poor defense in allowing a record shooting performance.

Game 2 could prove to be the difference in the series as that was the game the Lakers begged to lose. Unfortunately, the Magic wanted the loss more, but it wasn't just them. Watching it live, I thought the calls the Magic were getting called were iffy; watching on NBA TV and following along Bill Simmons retro-diary, they were downright atrocious. Every call went against Orlando, as Dwight Howard got called with a couple weak loose-ball fouls, Turkoglu was being mauled by Trevor Ariza whenever he had the ball, the last two Mickael Pietrus fouls on Kobe and the Derek Fisher travel where he took FIVE steps before passing to Lamar Odom when he made the final free throws.

Despite that, the Magic had their chance to win, but lost for a few reasons: 1) Too much J.J. Redick. He shouldn't even be playing, let alone having him play crunchtime minutes in the 4th and OT. He apparently forgot how to shoot once he left Duke, which is pretty common for Duke grads. 2) Dwight Howard, though better than Game 1, still had trouble with the defense the Lakers were showing him and was again ineffective. And 3) Lamar Odom was great that night, all over the court, making plays on offense and letting Jeff Van Gundy suggest it's better to get Andrew Bynum fouled out, which is true when Odom is on. Still, the Magic came one difficult Courtney Lee layup away from stealing the game, which shouldn't be pinned on him, anyone who plays basketball knows that a layup right under the rim is very difficult.

The player I barely touched on in Game 2 was Kobe since I thought he was ordinary and in Game 3 he finished poorly going 4-15 from the field after the 1st quarter and was 5-10 from the FT line. He was a detriment to their game Tuesday night and the Lakers paid in the loss. Plus, his new scowl is fooling no one and should get rid of it.

So now we head to Game 4, a game the Magic absolutely must-win because they won't win three in a row. The fact that the last two are on the road hurt more than if Game 5 was in L.A., since if that game is stolen, Game 6 is home and Game 7 could go either way. Since the 2-3-2 format came out, the series that most often is the case is the home team wins 1 and 2, take one on the road (usually Game 4), and wins Game 6 at home. Now the Magic have finally started to shoot well and both Pietrus and Rafer Alston regained their confidence that was lost in the first two games. Meanwhile, Kobe looks tired and his play has dropped since Game 1, and the one day off won't help much. The Lakers need to treat this game as a must-win as well because this is their second chance to put the series out of reach, if they don't then you can argue that they should be down 3-1 and it's a best-of-3.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Never Say Never Again

Based on the crowd at Nationals Park yesterday, nobody in Washington knew that there was a future-Hall of Famer winning his 300th game, which is exactly what Randy Johnson did last night. Now that this milestone has been accomplished by the Big Unit, the question has been pondered if he will be the last 300-game winner ever in baseball. Tim Kurkjian was saying the other day that no one will reach it among the current starters.

However, I think there is an opportunity for a few players to reach the 300 milestone among the active pitchers. Now all of the pitchers in the 200-range; Jamie Moyer, Andy Pettitte, John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez; won't get there since Martinez can't find work, Smoltz lost wins when he was a closer, Pettitte probably won't pitch long enough and Moyer would need to pitch until 60 to reach 300. Here, though is a list of pitchers who have an opportunity to reach the milestone.

Roy Halladay

Currently, Halladay has 140 career wins, including the 9 he has this season. He turned 32 a few weeks ago. After winning 18 games over 4 years, he won 19 followed by 22 during his Cy Young season. He's averaged a shade over 14 wins a season since, mainly due to injuries in 2004 and 2005. However, the one thing Halladay has going for him is the fact that he is probably the most durable pitcher in terms of going long into games. He has 40 complete games this decade, more than any other pitcher. He also continues to pitch at a high level based on his 9-1 start with a 2.77 ERA. Halladay should reach the 150 win mark at the end of this season, and can reach 200 by 2012 if he keeps up this level which would leave about 100 wins to go at age 35. It then is up to how many years he continues to pitch, but if he pitches well to 40 and can stay in the big leagues until about 43, when the other 300-game winners pitched to in recent years, he will make it. I give his chances of reaching it at around 50%.

Tim Hudson

Honestly, the only reason I mention him is that he's only 33 and at 146 wins. However, he's hurt all year and has only had one 15+ win season since 2003. Hudson would be lucky if he ends with 200 wins, much less 300. 0%

Roy Oswalt

He's probably the most interesting case due to his talent and the fact that his team's performance is very indicative of his success. He's won 131 games through his career and will turn 32 later this year. Oswalt's strengths include the fact he has won more than 14 games all but once in his career and that he doesn't get hurt that often. However, this season has not been kind to Roy as he's only won 2 games in 12 starts and the Astros seem like they will be bad for a long time and his stats could go down because of it, unless he's traded (though Drayton McLane has never wanted to trade him). Honestly, Oswalt will pass 250 wins, but I think he falls short of 300 because he will stay in Houston too long and that will lower his win total. I give him a 10% chance.

CC Sabathia

If there's one active player is most likely to get there, it's CC. He has benefited from winning 10+ every year since his first year at age 20. Now he's 28 and currently has 122 wins. I'm almost certain that Sabathia will reach 150 at the end of next season. He also gets to have the Yankee offense scoring for him, though New Yankee Stadium will hurt his stats. He also is another pitcher who has stayed healthy despite his physique and tends to pitch a lot of innings as well, always a positive in getting wins. I also think he is able to get to 300 at many age 40 or even 39 so I do think he will get there and his chances to me are at 70%.

Johan Santana

What is true is that Santana is the best pitcher in baseball, based on his level of dominance in the American League and it's translated in the NL. However, the Mets have done an awful job giving him run support and his defense failed him a couple games this year. Add the seven wins he lost last year due to the Mets bullpen, and I think he will have a tough time. He's 31 with 116 wins lifetime. I don't think Santana makes it, but it won't matter since Santana can make it to Cooperstown without it. I give him a 15% chance.

Carlos Zambrano

Tonight, Zambrano won his 100 victory and will get his own paragraph because of that. He just turned 28 on Monday and has never really been hurt all that much thus far. He's never had less than 13 wins since he became a full-time starter in 2003. What hurts Zambrano is that he doesn't really pitch long in games and has yet to win more than 18 games and that only occurred once. He seems like he will fall short and something tells me that he won't play in twelve years, unlike some of the others who I mentioned, so that only gives him an 8% chance.
Updated 3:21 PM ET: That something it appears was Carlos Zambrano himself, who said that he plans to retire after his contract expires in either 2012 or 2013 (option). In that case, his 8% turns into 0%, though you never know how serious someone is about retirement.

The Best of the Rest

Livan Hernandez is listed at 34 with over 150 wins, but I'm sure he's older. Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland are at good ages to pitch a lot more, but they aren't aces who will average 15+ a year for 6 years at least to get in the discussion. Josh Beckett has only had 3 season with 15+ wins and postseason success doesn't always translate to gaudy regular season numbers (see Schilling, Curt). Brandon Webb is too old to be at under 100 wins since he's 30 and only Randy Johnson was at that stage at 30 and Webb ain't no Randy Johnson. Finally, Jake Peavy has yet to string along a bunch of consistent seasons, going from 19 wins and a Cy Young in 2007 to 10 in 2008. As for pitchers like Zack Greinke, far too young to really know what's coming.

So while it certainly hard to think that anyone will win 300 again, there are a few pitchers out there that if they stay healthy, continue to put up 15+ win seasons and pitch for long time can reach this milestone. In other words, we will see another scene like Randy Johnson's yesterday; well actually, we'll see a scene of people actually caring about a milestone being set.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

NBA Finals Preview: Life after the Puppets

Funny thing that happened on the way to the "inevitable" showdown between the Lakers and Cavs, a party crasher led by Dwight Howard muscled his way through, ruining ABC's and David Stern's collective wet dream, Kobe's excuse for losing and LeBron's reputation (maybe a little overboard compared to other instances of poor sportsmanship). Now we have a matchup between the Lakers and the Orlando Magic that if asked back when the playoffs began, would be the last one involving the top 5 in the league that would have been guessed.

Now we are set up with a very interesting series where we have a lot of people with something to prove. I decided against the matchup approach like I did in the Stanley Cup Finals because it's more interesting to use a cast of characters that this series will have because this is precisely what this series has.

The College Stars-turned-Club Trillionaires

Back in 2006, the top two college players based on the Player of the Year award voting were J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison. Now, thankfully these two great rivals will face off against each other in a battle on who can do the better job jumping up and down, high-fiving and all-in-all encouraging teammates. Redick actually received significant playing time during the Celtics series but was so awful when on the floor that I don't remember him playing since Game 5 of that series (in a related story, the Magic have played infinitely better since then). Morrison's already been successful because of his role as the second man in the Vlad Radmanovic-Shannon Brown trade. Now if we only can have a scene like this in the finals.

The Frenchman

The NBA Finals usually have someone from France playing a key role. Playing the part this year is Mickael Pietrus, as well as the role of Kobe-stopper. Now there is no such thing as a real Kobe-stopper, but Pietrus will have to do his best to make Kobe work as hard as LeBron did last series. To do that, Pietrus has a secret weapon, the ditching of his Kobe shoes.

The Floor General(s)

The Lakers have an obvious issue at PG as Derek Fisher has looked old this postseason and Jordan Farmar has been very ordinary. That leaves Shannon Brown who came to LA as a piece that was needed to get rid of Vlad-Rad's salary, but has turned into an effective backup to Fisher who can provide energy off the bench (as evident in Game 5 against Denver). As for Orlando, it is Rafer Alston's job, but now Jameer Nelson has a chance to play, a proposition that the Magic players are fully behind. Nelson would take minutes away from Anthony Johnson, who somehow is still in the league. He was the difference making in the two Magic victories in the regular season, but since Nelson can't possibly match that success, Alston must win the PG matchup and win it convincingly if Orlando's going to win.

The Bigamist

Tiger Woods grew up in California as a Laker fan. He currently represents Orlando's lone celebrity fan, going to games since he lives nearby. He has wrote in his monthly newsletter that he's "torn" about who to root for. Unlike Bill Cowher, who flagrantly abandoned the team he rooted for in the most public and gimmicky of ways, Tiger is straddling the fences and both fan bases will be angered, especially Laker fans since they take everything personal.

The No-Show

You'd think Lamar Odom lands here, but I saved this one for Andrew Bynum for his role on the Lakers playoff run. That role has been the hole in the middle, as he has done nothing in these playoffs. This is a guy who's absence in last year's Finals was considered the main reason that the Lakers didn't beat the Celtics. Now, his role is reduced to trying to divert the attention of Dwight Howard and to use up his six fouls on him. Basically, Bynum must go from no-show to part-time-show.

The Masters

Both Phil Jackson and Stan Van Gundy have been considered masters at some point. Everyone refers to Phil as a Master of Zen, while Shaq has refered to Van Gundy as a Master of Panic. Until Game 6 of the Celtics series, that was true (who else would give J.J Redick 4th quarter minutes). Then, all of a sudden, he found the right matchups, played Pietrus and kept playing him and now Dwight Howard has been rendered silent and a season that was about to be washed up and a job that could have been hot next year is alive and Van Gundy has play a major reason why. Now, Phil Jackson is still Phil Jackson, but he isn't the Phil from 92 or 98 or even 03. Doc Rivers outcoached him last year and Van Gundy is no worse than Doc. This is surprisingly even.

The Money Men

This is the role for Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu not only because of their ability to make clutch shots as they have done in the first three rounds. They get this role also for their respective contracts. Lewis is in the second year of a six-year, $110 million deal that has been deemed as one of the worst contracts in NBA history. This playoff run, however, has now made Lewis at the very least slightly overpaid, not extremely overpaid and unmovable. As for Turkoglu, he is a free agent after the series and is trying to put the finishing touches to one of the better contract playoff runs in history, along with Tyronn Lue and Jerome James, though he actually plays well. Both men will have to maintain their performance in this series if the Magic are to win.

The Former Player

In November 2007, Trevor Ariza was traded by the Magic to the Lakers for Brian Cook and Maurice Evans. Both men have did nothing for the Magic (though Cook was moved for Skip to my Lou) while Ariza has become a starter for the Lakers (and reaching the potential he should have reached with the Knicks and yes I'm bitter enough to use parenthesis twice in a sentence). For awhile, Ariza was more energy guy, but this postseason, he started hitting the open 3's that are left for everyone because of Kobe. He needs to be able to keep the Magic honest when they guard him and to maintain the defensive intensity that a couple certain stars have.

The Men of the Middle

Both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are going to get their stats. Howard will score 20 points and get 10-15 rebounds a game. Gasol will scored at least 17 a game with at least 8 rebounds. Gasol won't be responsible for Howard because Howard would dominate on offense, but I think we will see Howard defend Gasol whenever possible and that will prove to be the second most important scenario when the Lakers have the ball. If Gasol can be frustrated in anyway, this will make this guy's just a lot harder.

The Legacy

This series means everything to Kobe Bryant. His place in history is on the line and it can go two different ways. Win this series and dominate, Kobe can make a claim as a top-5 all-time player, though I would still have Jordan, Magic, Russell, Bird, Kareem and Shaq ahead, with Wilt, West, Baylor, Oscar, Duncan and Olajuwon along side him. If the Lakers lose this series, then Kobe will remain behind all the players I mentioned because he would have lost three NBA Finals as the best player in the series, something that's out of the ordinary in the NBA. Add that the three titles he won were during Shaq's years as the alpha dog and Kobe was the second banana and Kobe has plenty of incentive to win. As far as his play will go, Kobe will do everything in his power to win the title. However, Kobe isn't the difference maker in determining a Laker victory; that honor goes to...

The Candyman

Lamar Odom. He is the one that will be the difference between a Laker championship and a Laker choke job. He will have to give up the sweets for a couple weeks in order to avoid having any kind of down games. And seriously, how can you let candy and stuff like that affect how you play, according to this doctor. Odom, like Turkoglu, is in a contract year; unlike Hedo, he hasn't played for his next contract. He even hurt himself on the open market by stating he only wants to play where there's a beach, leaving the Clippers, Heat and Lakers. When Odom is on his game, he causes all sorts of matchup problems for Orlando. He can guard Lewis and leave Gasol on Howard (where Gasol has a better chance than on Lewis), he's too big for anyone except Howard (which wouldn't matter if Pau's on the floor), he has a natural ability to rebound that when he plays well, you can see. Odom can't afford to take games off if the Lakers are to win this series, especially Games 3-5 in Orlando.

The Prediction

Both teams can win this series; it's not lopsided at all so the Lakers won't be winning in 4 or 5. The gameplan for the Magic is simple: Have Pietrus try to make Kobe earn his 30 a game, Alston must win the matchup against Fisher, the three's must keep falling and Howard must stay out of foul trouble and make life difficult for Pau. The Lakers have more to worry about than the gameplan; this is the stated goal and everyone must play hard and they can't afford to take a chance and give up one of these home games. Odom must show up nightly and perform and cause headaches for the Magic, not the Lakers. If the Lakers are hitting open 3's, they will win, but I can't count on that. Everyone's picking the Lakers and once again, no one's picking the Magic. However, I am. Magic in 6.