Saving it for the Champions League?

There is a chance Jose Mourinho is sitting back in his cave, eating a steak and planning to win the Champions League with a pretty thin squad.  I hope that is what is going on because otherwise there is simply no explaining Chelsea and their outright brutal start to the season.  Some of the lowlights include: a 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace a team with freaking cheerleaders; a 3-0 drubbing to Man City who look rejuvenated and ready to win any and all competitions and finally, a 3-1 trouncing at Everton thanks to a remarkable hat trick by Steven Naismith.  If one pauses to throw in the near fist fight between Manager and Beloved team doctor, Lady Physio, the season has not exactly started out looking rosy.

John Terry has been benched, the defence suddenly looks 300 years old and our keeper got a red card and then knee injury in the span of three weeks.  On the bright side – it really cannot get any worse.  Sure we chose to mostly sit out he transfer window, pegging small targets and missing out on big ones (except for the Pedro theft…which seems to be working out for United okay) while allowing other teams to retool at our expense.  City got stronger in nearly every part of the field, as did United, and with all the TV money rolling in the mid level teams and even bottom tier are spending on players and getting results.  Chelsea simply looks tired and is struggling to repeat what went right last year, against all the odds.  We needed a deeper squad for all the competitions and we did not get it.

Another factor seems to be Mourinho and his bizarre habit of giving up on players way too soon.  Take Juan Mata who has become David Silva for United (and of course, previously, Chelsea) – I understand that Eden Hazard needed to grow as a football, but point out any contest where Mata was worse than Oscar.  You can’t: and then there is the letting go of Lukaku for nothing when strikers were desperately needed, and selling the very talented Andre Schurrle when he could have added the depth we so desperately crave.

In short: Jose either plans to win the title or he has crushed the spirit of the team through his draconian ways.  It has been said that there are 2 types of coaches: Doctor coach and Chemo Coach.  The doctor keeps you well but might not make you totally healthy or a champion; the Chemo coach will destroy everything and make you a winner, but then continues giving Chemo…because that is all they know.  Eventually they must move on because they are killing a healthy team.  It is becoming somewhat apparent which coach Mourinho may be and for Chelsea, that may not be what we need right now.

Unless of course this is all a ruse to win the Champions League which is not out of the realm of possibility.  So, well, at least there is that.

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Toews, then Crosby

As he hoists his third Cup in six years, Jonathon Toews has cemented his place as one of the best hockey players of all time.  No one doubts his peer, Sidney Crosby also belongs on that list.  However, if you asked even the most casual of NHL fans you might be hard pressed to find someone who would take Captain Canada over Captain Serious.  How can this be?  How could you take Toews over goal scoring machine Crosby?  The answer is pretty clear for three reasons:

1) 3 – 1 – Toews has three rings and seems to be a huge threat to win nearly every single year.  Crosby made back to back cups and won one…then seems to have fallen off the playoff map.  In hockey, the best players almost always win Stanley Cups – even Ray Bourque hoisted one with Colorado – but Crosby, arguably one of the five best players ever only had one.  Gretzky has 4, Lemieuex has 2, Sakic has 2, Mark Messier has 6 for crying out loud!  Amazingly Crosby does not even seem too threatening to return to glory.  Toews and the Blackhawks meanwhile could easily have won last year if they had come out on top in their 7 game war with LA.  Now they have settle for being a dynasty…without back to back titles.  Ho hum.

2) Toews gets better when it matters most – Since 2011 I have hated playing against Toews.  He always and I mean always scores when it matters most.  He is the most dangerous player in the world in a big game and you would want him on your team no matter what.  I would trade my draft pick for a decade and half my team and Chicago hangs up the phone first.  Unreal.  Crosby too gets better when it matters most but in the playoffs he has struggled to get the most out of his guys.  Toews rarely seems to have the same problem.  in fact, like Lemieux or Gretz, Toews has managed to keep alpha dog status despite playing on a team with perennial MVP candidate Patrick Kane and Norris contender Duncan Keith.  Just saying.

3) Crosby is an awesome regular season player but so is Toews – For his career Crosby averages 1.3 ppg, which is an insane 80’s style number.  Like Wilt Chamberlain he has video game stats.  They are mind boggling in an era of defensive hockey and schemes designed to neutralize scoring.  Like Bill Russell, Toews can play two ways, might be the best defensive forward in the league and kills himself to win.  He scores too, just under 1ppg and leads the aforementioned team by holding himself to a ruthless standard and then expecting his teammates to do the same.  Keep in mind that Chicago holds the record for most consecutive wins in a season (from 2012) and has been a Western Conference threat since 2008 in a particularly brutal era of competition.  Again, Chicago and LA have won 5 of the last 6 Cups!  Unreal.

So, like Chamberlain and Russell before them it goes Russell then Wilt and Toews…then Crosby.

Flash forward – is it 5 years ago?

LeBron James is in an interesting and enjoyable phase of his career: the “I will do whatever it takes to win even when I literally have to drag my team to wins” era.  Five years ago the Heat asked him to do the same thing at the start of his astounding prime, and now, despite all the extra mileage on his legs, the Cavs are asking him to do the same.  Basketball wise it makes sense to ride the greatest player of his generation (and probably #3 or 4 all time) but he is no longer a young 26 year old.  However, due to the massive amount of injuries and the loss of Kevin Love, LeBron is going into the Jordan ’96 portion of his game.  Even when he shoots badly or is a subpar defender he has to do just enough to get the Cavs the win and not surprisingly, he is managing to gut it out game after game.  Sometimes the things he does are spectacular and we as fans suddenly remember, and are stunned, that Bron is in fact only 30.  His block on Derrick Rose with the Cavs leading by two was a huge play by a big time player and completely swung the momentum of the series.  LeBron and his staggering iq of the game have turned him into what we have always envisioned he would become: a force of nature in the low post, a physical freak on defence and a player who is literally unstoppable in transition.  He is a devastating player and crunch time killer who thrives on pressure and as he put it recently, “just put the ball in my hands and I will win it”.

What must it be like to be fans of an opposing team and have to see LeBron on the court.  Psychologically it must be shattering, knowing he can take over and will his team to victory.  He no longer cares about home court or who he has to play because he truly knows what it takes to win.  It drives him now, it consumes him.  Like Jordan or Bird or Magic or Duncan it is what matters most to him.  We should enjoy this LeBron because like all those who came before him, he won’t be around forever.

Catching Up on the Sports World

Due to work commitments, it has been pretty hard to sit down and write a post (if only I could do this for a living…), but a lot has happened in sports over the past little while that needs to be caught up on.

The Pats deserved it – When the ball went ridiculously and improbably into Doug Baldwin’s hands, it seemed like Tom Brady simply could not catch a break.  He is in the conversation for best players of all time, and his second half performance is among the most impressive in Super Bowl history.  For the first time in some time, Brady ended up on the right side of the score.  Consider his legacy cemented.

The Cavs have turned it on…and they look strong – After an insane (completely and totally insane!) trade deadline in which the Heat appeared to vault back into contention through the pickup of Goran Dragic, the Cavs are the team who look like the top of the town.  They are moving the ball, getting the most of their role players and finally seeing their stars begin to mesh.  Does any team really want to have to play 7 games against LeBron James?  The answer is probably a strong “no”, as now that he has turned it on, it may be tough to stop him.  Take the recent contest with the Warriors – the league’s top defense – in which LeBron scored 42.  It did not matter which elite defender challenged him, he was not able to be stopped.   The unstoppable Cavs seems to be more of a reality, especially in the wake of some key injuries which will be discussed shortly.

The NBA Title is completely up for grabs – Could the Warriors or Hawks or Grizz steal one?  This seemed so far outside the realm of possibility that now that it is probable, it still seems shocking.  Even the Thunder could be serious contenders now that Russell Westbrook is playing out of his mind.  A fun year for the NBA all around in which a lot of surprises could be in store during the playoffs.

Injuries mar an otherwise great NBA season – Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Bosh and, sadly, Derrick Rose have all missed significant time this season due to injuries.  For Kobe this may be the end; Bosh, is fighting now for his health; Rose may need to accept that he will never be the player we once thought he could be.  Bosh, meanwhile, has blood clots in his lungs, discovered right after the Heat retooled with Goran Dragic.  The injury is a tough break for one of the most eloquent and hilarious guys in the NBA.  Rose ends his season early again for the 4th straight year.  His knees it seems simply cannot take the pounding of his brutal style of play.  Could he reinvent himself as a 6th man on a contender?  Would that not be the most terrifying sight ever?  His next round of contract negotiations will be very intriguing with all the injuries on the board.

Chelsea still in the driver’s seat – Chelsea gave away two much needed points on the weekend, but remain firmly in the top spot.  Matic took a foolish penalty that may have cost them the game, but they still managed to emerge alright.  Now that City has slipped (thanks Liverpool!) it is going to be important for Chelsea to continue to fight through all the way to the end.  Can the team push through to the end of the season as City, United and Arsenal mount a late charge?  Another down to the wire finish could be in the offering.

The World Juniors: From Start to Finnish

Get ready for a tournament rehash, top to bottom!  Plus: I fix the disparity of international sports once and for all.

As Canada raised the World Junior Championship trophy and put their gold medals around their necks for the first time in seven years, I was happy I watched this team in the tournament from start to finish.  The team was one of the deepest teams Canada has put out in recent years, featuring multiple top prospects and few current NHLers.  The main draws on the team included presumptive number 1 pick Connor McDavid and son of former NHL goon Max Domi.  Neither player disappointed as Domi won the top forward of the tourney and McDavid went nuts and scored key goals and racked up points with reckless abandon.

Among the subplots:

Canada facing virtually no challenge until the final – Even when potential number one picks McDavid and the US’s Jack Eichel went head to head, there did not seem to be a lot of energy or intensity.  Canada was clearly the best team in the tournament and they had the easiest road to the finals in recent memory.  From game one where they won by a full touchdown, all the way through the semifinal where they tuned up Slovakia 5-1, no game ever seemed in doubt at any point. Finland was an intense game but I never felt like it was in doubt at any point.  Canada was simply the best team in the tournament and there was no one who could prove otherwise.  Even in the final they were up 5-1 at one point and seemed to be on cruise control.

How is Domi not even invited to the “Arizona” Coyotes camp? – Domi was one of the best players in the tournament, hands down.  He played with energy and passion and his skills were very evident.  How did a horrible team (and I watched them lose 7-1 to Vancouver) not even give this guy a chance?  Maybe he needs to get a bit bigger, but he is obviously a talented player who can contribute to a pro team right now.

Canada has a lot of talent, and some big boys – Physically Canada looked like men among boys.  From Nurse through McDavid they were a big, big team who pushed everyone else around.  Part of the victory is skill, the other element this year was raw power and Canada dominated the tournament.

McDavid or Eichel? – The much hyped showdown between these two was sort of blah, and neither really separated himself (over the course of the tournament it seems McDavid grabbed the edge).  McDavid came into the tournament under an enormous amount of pressure after breaking his hand in a silly fight and everyone seemed to be waiting for him to prove himself.  He did?  I still do not know how I feel about McDavid; he was not the best player on team Canada, and he may not have been the best player on his line.  Most of his goals were gritty and tough but overall he kind of vibes a big Phil Kessel in style of play.

Canada won! – Explanation not necessary.

Russia fought hard – The game was seriously in doubt for the Canadians right up to the final seconds and much is due to Russia’s grit and skill.  They can score in a hurry and they proved it.  Also: their defensemen who blocked Canada’s open goal would have been a huge hero had they tied the game.  Great effort.

Now: how do you fix international sports?  The good teams have to play a series of semi meaningless games against countries who may have learned the sport the previous week (see Dream Team vs. Angola etc).  How do we fight through this disparity?  How do we even the playing field a little bit?  How do we make those opening round games more interesting and ensure full effort from even the best players?  The answer is simple: take the spread, say Angola is -25 points to the USA, and give the USA a score of -25 to start the game.  They are giving 25 points right off the bat to make up.  How crazy is that?  What if they were 40 point favorites?  How intense would that be as they furiously had to catch up?  Or hockey where a goalie can get hot and Team Canada is starting at -3 or -4 and need to score in the last few seconds to catch up.  Now, before you throw your computer out the window I am not proposing that this system continue through the knockout round, but it would definitely spice up the first few “warmup” games and give us more chances to see the best players in the world, actually play their best.

Because, really, at the end of the day is that not the point of international competition?  Michael Phelps never gets to take it easy, so why should Kevin Durant or Sidney Crosby?  Maybe they will have adopted my system by the time Finland in 2016 rolls around and as Canada defends the gold medal (or maybe, most likely, not).

Whiplash and the Price of Greatness

While watching Whiplash last weekend, I was struck by the connections between the character Andrew and the greats we all know and love.  The movie – which everyone should run out to see as soon as possible – examines what it means to be great.  The cost, apparently, of being great is staggeringly high.  It is, in fact, everything.

The movie first: earlier this year I tried to figure out what the best movie I saw this year was.  Whiplash blew them all away, handily and then some.  The final twenty minutes are so intense there were long sections where I completely forgot to breathe.  Whiplash is a pretty straightforward movie plot wise: Andrew is a student at a prestigious music school in NYC, he gets noticed by the leader of the Jazz band, named Fletcher (played by JK Simmons, best known to Oz fans as the psychotic Vern Schillinger, a character basically reprised in full minus the Nazi stuff).  It turns out that while Fletcher is a great conductor, he does not necessarily believe in just having a good band, but rather wants to foster greatness through whatever means possible.  This “teaching” includes berating and beating students, forcing them to practice at all hours and challenging them constantly.  The idea circles around to what he feels are the worst words in the English language “good job”, which celebrate mediocrity instead of pushing for more greatness which only comes through loss and brutality.  You can guess where this goes with poor Andrew who wants to be great at any cost and regardless of suffering.  After a particularly grueling round of practice this is evident when Andrew drops his bloody, torn hand into a bucket of ice.  Even then he still cannot get the tempo of the piece right and you see he has to give more, even when there is seemingly nothing more he can do.  To be great, the movie argues, you must be torn down and rebuilt completely.   Watch it and prepare to be blown away: for me this was one of the best movies I have ever seen.

How does this connect to the sports world?  How did Michael Jordan become great; and what did he have to sacrifice?  Many would argue that he too, sacrificed everything in order to become the greatest of all time.  LeBron too may have to do much of the same – and just how is he pushing Tristan Thompson to be more?  The Cavs have turned it on and many of their players are having among their best individual seasons and LeBron’s influence is a major part of that.  Are the Cavs players willing to sacrifice everything to win a championship for the city of Cleveland?

Very few athletes reach the peak of their sport, but all have had to sacrifice in order to even make it to the pros.  No one can accurately judge the cost of greatness except those who achieve it, and only those who are truly great, like Andrew, can judge whether or not it was worth it.

The 2014 Sporties Awards

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2014 Sporties our annual celebration of the best of Sport and the Sports world.  Let’s dive right in shall we:

Game of the Year – Last year of course featured the absolutely bonkers Auburn / Alabama game in addition to the Brady vs. Manning Bowl in which Brady staged an incredible comeback.  This year the contenders are much fewer and farther in between.  There were a couple of crazy baseball games and a couple of crazy football games.  However, the most exciting game I watched?  No question it was the bonkers World Cup match between the US vs. Portugal game which came down to the absolute wire and featured some of the top players in the world playing out of their minds.

Shocking World Cup Moment of the Year – Brazil gets tuned up by eventual champs Germany.  It was relentless, wave after wave of unstoppable strikers and you began to feel worse and worse for Brazil fans.  Simply awful.

Championship Dominations – One theme of the year was definitely beat downs in the finals: the LA Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Seattle Seahawks all cruised to victory over, in some cases, more ballyhooed opponents.  I will also not neglect to mention the Canadian hockey team and their punishing win over the US in the Olympic Finale.

Series of the Year – The best series of the year took place in hockey, and featured the LA Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks in a war that served as the real Stanley Cup final.

Breakout of the Year – The biggest winners of the World Cup was the Men in Blazers who are single handedly bringing soccer to the masses of America through their insanely brilliant show.  During the biggest sports event in the world, the two men locked themselves in a small room nicknamed “Bob Ley’s panic room” where they proceeded to break down football and culture simultaneously.  When they got home it was a quick shift to NBC Sports where they continued to have the highest rated podcast and a shockingly well rated TV series.  They are stone brilliant and they are now both a must watch, and must listen.

Pod of the Year – After the praise I just gave the Men in Blazers, you would rightfully assume they have won the Pod Award…but this is actually a battle that stretched beyond the sports world!  Three of my must listen pods: the aforementioned Blazers, Hollywood Prospectus and SerialHollywood Prospectus is highly entertaining and funny, and includes the occasional deep dive into the movies of David Fincher or the music of Taylor Swift.  It is fun and light and takes pop culture analysis to a whole new level.  Serial tells the story of a 15 year old murder allegedly committed by a young man named Adnan Syed.  The podcast is hypnotic and brilliantly conceived as we wander through the murky depths of a story where we may not want to hear the outcome.  A truly powerful experience; and a very addictive one as I powered through four pods believing I was only on the first one.  Wait?  Isn’t that only three pods when I actually mentioned four?  Yes, because it is high time someone gave praise to the true return of the Starters.   Last year I was almost out on them, as their 44 minute shows were simply not enough time to properly appreciate them.  Given that their time as “The Basketball Jones” was astounding and creative, it felt a little bit as if they were being contained in a small box that stripped away all their talent.  This year I was on the edge of being out completely when I heard they were cutting down to 22 minute shows.  I was done: I tried, but all their zany antics had been stripped away simply because there was not time.  In some ways it was good because it focused their great and insightful basketball minds.  However…it was putting them in a box.  I was done.

And then I heard the news.  On Fridays, the Starters would be unleashing “the Drop” a return to their old, off the walls ways.  Welcome back boys.  Before the first pod I waited with trepidation and had not looked forward to a pod like that for some time.  When I listened, all my fears vanished.  The boys were back.  In the following weeks, they have truly returned to their off the walls roots where their crazy energy and unstoppable hilarity continues.  What a glorious return.  Another year and you might be the pod of the year: right now it is the Blazers for their consistency.

Sports Books of the Year – I read some great sports books this year, many about football (American and otherwise).  The best: League of Denial by Mark Fairinua and Steve Farinua  / Showtime by Jeff Pearlman / Michael Jordan by Roland Lazenby / The Football Business by David Conn and Against Football by Steve Almond.  Another must read is the William Hill Sports Book winner: Night Games by Anna Krien which takes the microcosm of the misdeeds of the Australian Rules Football league and expands it through the sporting world.  An interesting take on the lengths teams will go to in order to protect their players and the depths players will sink to in order to fit in.  An important achievement and must read book.

Team of the Year – The Kansas City Royals because no other team did what they did, with the expectations that team had coming into the season.  Even in defeat they are worthy.  Runners up: San Antonio Spurs, Team Canada and Seattle Seahawks.

Off Field Moment of the Year – LeBron James returns to Cleveland…as read by Frank Caliendo playing Morgan Freeman.  Runner Up: Wait, is that Vladimir Putin and Sepp Blatter?  What could they possibly be discussing?  Is it possible for all the evil in the modern world ensconced in one luxury box?  Another runner up: remember when Bob Costas got pink eye in Russia?

Sportie Man of the Year – No one and I mean no one, gives Sidney Crosby enough credit.  He deserves to be the Sportie Man of the Year because he guided one of the most dominating hockey teams through a grueling slate to the finals.  It did not look good and certain points but the best players truly shine when it matters most and the way Crosby dominated at both ends of the ice in the final was astounding to watch.  He deserves more recognition for the way he dominates his sport in an especially competitive time: remember when Ovechkin or Crosby was a serious question?  Now it is likely Crosby or Toews.  Crosby though is our Sportie Man of the Year.

Mega Sports Blast

A lot has happened in sports in the last little while, which can only mean it is past time for a mega blast with quick takes on everything that has gone on.

The Cavs cannot win simply playing hero ball – Watching Cleveland play against Denver was an interesting exercise in seeing a stagnant offense both inhibited and freed by the wealth of players on the court.  LeBron could not be stopped when he drove on three consecutive plays to the basket after a series of dribbles and high picks by Kevin Love.  There are too many shooters on the floor for any kind of double teams to take place.  Still the ball movement was completely stagnant and LeBron seemed oddly detached for a guy who was completely dominant.  Love seems to be a bit lost right now finding his place and Kyrie Irving needs to understand what it means to win instead of simply ensuring he gets to score his twenty-two points per game.  Against the Pelicans they were way better, LeBron recording an astounding triple double (including 32 points) and both Love and Irving playing well.  To succeed this team may need the ball in LeBron’s hands – something he was hoping to avoid in coming to Cleveland – in order to facilitate movement.  These things take time and patience, but with the prime and legacy of the best player in the world at stake, time and patience may be something Cleveland finds in very short supply.

Chelsea are unbeaten, at the right time – As their main rivals for the Premier League title continue to play like shells of their former selves (Man City) and other teams are falling off bit by bit (Arsenal, Liverpool), Chelsea continues to rise.  They are a frighteningly consistent team, who are not afraid to play from behind and are not afraid to go into the last few minutes with their backs against the wall.  Their mid-field depth is astounding: Matic, Willian, Hazard, Oscar, Cesc and Schurrle are all fighting for playing time when any of them would be the top choice for any other squad in the premiership.  The depth has been astounding but what has been more impressive is how Chelsea have used their signings to make the team more complete; not simply to make a splash.  Obviously both Fabregas and Diego Costa have played wonderfully, but they have also served to make other Blues players more dangerous (Eden Hazard has been playing some of the best football of his career).  Additionally, it is more than past time that right back Ivanovic properly takes his place as the best right back in football; seriously, who else would take over him?  Even more impressively, Chelsea’s back line of Ivanovic, Cahill, Azpeliqueta and Terry have been consistent and strong.  There has been no major injuries and they have had time to develop a deep bond.  Could they run the table?   No, but a runaway league title is not out of the question at this point.

The Canucks are bad…and should admit they should be worse – Band aiding your team for several years is not the way to get better.  The Canucks have had some strong signings (Vrbata) but otherwise look like the same 8 or 9th best team in the West which continues to be the worst place to be in the league.  You have no chance of winning the Stanley Cup and you have no chance of getting better through the draft.  Had the Canucks hung on to one of their starting goalies perhaps they could have moved up…especially in this draft with the next Sidney Crosby potentially coming down the pipe (Connor McDavid).  Look at how the Avalanche or Chicago got better: by building through the draft and giving players an opportunity to develop the right way, not by scrapping with Minnesota to sneak into the playoffs and then getting run over by a California team.  The time to be bad is now and the Canucks are probably years from realizing it.

JJ Watt is the best player in the NFL…by far – JJ Watt is an incredible talent and his impact on the football field is far beyond that of any other defensive player and is on the same level that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have.  Seeing what he has done on the field this year is amazing and it is unfortunate he will not be up, rightly, for MVP consideration.  Please appreciate him, and what he does.

Will the NFL’s best team please stand up? – Is Arizona the best team in the NFL or is it New England?  Or is it Indy?  Or is it…(insert 3 loss team here).  We do not know, because it seems as if parity is more and more prevalent.  Anyone could win the title this year and that is an awesome thing.

Are the days of talent ending? – Cam Newton, RGIII, Mike Vick…all are players who get by on their natural abilities.  Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Tom Brady…all are players who seek to get better each and every day at what they do.  The best quarterbacks in the league seem to be those who strive to better themselves each day and work, intelligently, at learning their craft.  Tom Brady throws the ball to where it needs to be, avoids contact and makes plays when it matters most.  Cam Newton relies on his skills and does not seem to be interested in learning the intricasies of the game because he can run fast and throw the ball far.  Mike Vick played the same way each but has become better over time, learning to make two or three reads (one of the reasons he played so well against Philly) and becoming a stronger player.  Colin Kaepernick (one of the smartest players in the league) will be similar to Brady I think with how he uses his brain to get better.  Or at least I hope he will…

NBA Season Preview – Halloween Edition

Once again the bizarre convergence of Halloween and the beginning of the NBA Season are upon us and once again, both are set to be absolutely bonkers. Halloween is of course on Friday this year which guarantees ridiculous shenanigans; the NBA season has no clear favorite for the first time in four seasons because LeBron James improbably reversed “the decision” and even more improbably became one of the first athletes in history to return to Cleveland voluntarily! Do not discount this as being important, it has never happened before.

If only the Halloween similarities ended there…but they do not. Many athletes will appear as if they are in costumes as they play their first games with their new teams.  These “costumed” athletes include (but are not limited to):  Kevin Love – Cleveland;  Lance Stephenson – Charlotte; and, in the most ridiculous looking uniform swap ever, Paul Pierce on the Washington Wizards (maybe the most bizarre guy in a new spot ever).

A few teams are also looking rather terrifying going in to the new season, and a few are terrified for other reasons entirely…

Looking Terrified: OKC (have to play without Durant for at least ¼ of the season which means we get to see Russell Westbrook go off); LA Lakers (Kobe is going to jack between forty and forty-five shots per game, if there is a joke here I am not seeing it); Indiana (no PG-13 = horrific offense and an almost certain trip to the lottery! Yah!); Philly / Orlando / Milwaukee / Utah (none of these teams is good, none of these teams is good at all); Miami (no LeBron to save the day, probably okay, but the safety net is forever gone); Houston (A lot of pressure, and Dwight Howard probably could care less); New Jersey / Brooklynn (older and not as good and they no longer have Jason Kidd as their coach, which may be a blessing in disguise)

Looking Terrifying: San Antonio (they bring everyone back, albeit, a slightly older everyone); LA Clippers (They have a top five Coach in Doc Rivers, a PG with everything to prove in Chris Paul and an emerging MVP candidate in Blake Griffen – what else does a contender need?); Golden State (They have two star guards and will be running and gunning, expect epic offensive outputs); Chicago (Rose. Is. Healthy. Maybe.); New Orleans (New Orleans?!?  Ever heard of the third best player in the league…Anthony Davis?); Sacremento (Amazingly, DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay may lead a team to the playoffs); Toronto (A playoff lock, and with one of the best backcourts in the league as well as an emerging center); Cleveland (Let’s count the reasons, shall we? – 1) Kevin Love will be shooting wide open shots. 2) Kyrie Irving is a pretty decent third best player on a Championship team.  3) David Blatt may be the right coach for this team.  4) LeBron James, the world’s best player has returned home and is determined to win a Title for his team.  In preparing he has lost weight, added more post moves and now no longer has to handle the ball if he does not want to.  He will be literally unstoppable in the paint, where he will be getting the ball, and is surrounded by the best collection of shooters he has ever had around him.  At this point he is an unkillable bad guy headed for the cinema hall of fame and numerous title worthy sequels.  He is Freddy Krueger or Jason and he is ready to feast on completely unprepared teenagers.  It does not seem like the league has fully comprehended this yet, as they are still hiding in their cabins hoping they get passed by without losing their heads.  The only thing that can slow LeBron down at this point is a chainsaw…not unlike those movie villains of yore.)

The MVP will probably be: LeBron James

The Champion will be: Cleveland, Chicago, San Antonio, OKC or LA Clippers

Without picking five teams, who will be the Champion: (deep breath) the Cleveland Cavaliers for the simple reason that LeBron is going to lift that team to crazy heights…and the fact that he will now have Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on his team shooting open shots.  No one can double team anyone on the Cavs and LeBron will feast upon soft defenses.  Never bet against the greatest player in the world, especially when he is a man on a mission…and not just to lose weight.

The Cavs?!? (yes, I just wrote that) will win the 2015 NBA Title.

Timeless Songs Hall of Fame

Music is timeless, knows no cultural boundaries and is the pillar of our cultural arts.  Some songs are also timeless – but definitely not all songs.  What songs make the Timeless Songs Hall of Fame?  What is the criteria for said Timeless Songs Hall of Fame?  What truly makes a song “timeless”?

All I can say is that after countless hours on Youtube I am ready to make some tough calls on which songs deserve to be considered timeless (would this have been possible without Youtube?  No, no it would not).

Before we can begin with the inaugural inductees (and I know there are going to be thousands-ish of songs that fit this criteria and apologize if I miss out on your personal choice) we need to get some ground rules out of the way first:

Rule #1) The Song has to be good – This seems like a pretty logical step to take in choosing timeless songs, but some people’s definition of “good” is a little bit looser than others.  While “Romeo and Juliet” by Taylor Swift may have been popular…it is not timeless.  It is also not good.  “Since You Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson – a much better chance of winding up on this list.

Rule #2) The Song has to be able to come out and be a hit in any time period – The major reason for this: songs become very dated when you can hear specific references or the reflections of a particular time period.  Henceforth we will refer to this as the Kanye West / Eminem / Gangster Rap Rule.  Loving your Bugatti will not mean anything a thousand years from now.  Apologies to Flo Rida.

Rule #3) Whenever you hear the song you listen all the way through – You know those times you do not want to turn off the car because of the song currently playing and your innate desire to hear it all the way through?  These are those songs.

Rule #4) No specifics – Specifics ruin the whole time period thing, and if you are dropping the name of “Russell Wilson” before he has even completed his third season in the league I can guarantee your song is not making this list.  If Russell Wilson becomes one of the most memorable human beings in the history of the world I will stand properly corrected.  Another example: Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much” which mentions Brad Pitt.  Heartbroken I cannot include this song.

Rule #5) Could said song be used in a movie trailer? – A key make or break rule for those songs that are on the edge of making it.  Take some of the newer songs like anything by Demi Lovato – they may sound okay now, but in ten years they will not carry a movie trailer under any circumstances.

Rule #6) Can the song support multiple versions or survive in different genres? – Take Avcii’s great “Wake Me Up” (which set an unintentional record last year when I heard it for more than 180 straight days while driving to work), this song already has multiple versions! One of them is straight club music, and the other is a freaking country song!  If not for being in contention for the most random thing ever Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” / Country version “Gin and Juice” could have made this list.  If ever there was one song I never thought could be made into a country tune…it was a song about living in South Central in the eighties.  Again, how has more not been made of this?  Until you have heard a country singer refer to himself as “Snoop D-O-double G” or say “kick a little something to the G’s” or “we gonna smoke an ounce today” or even “rolling down the street smoking endo sippin on gin and juice, laid back”; I am not sure you have properly lived.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Inaugural Entrants to the Timeless Songs Hall of Fame are as follows (from time to time on this blog songs will be added to the list but the criteria will remain the same):

Changes (Tupac) – A stunningly powerful song, and almost more relevant today than when it was released this is a brilliant rap song with a social conscience that transcends era (and was sadly incredibly prescient).  For Tupac this was climbing Mount Everest and the song proved he had something to say…and could drop a wicked beat.

Imagine (John Lennon) – Probably the most widely played song from John’s post Beatles career, this is a thoughtful meditation on how to change the world that is applicable today and is as far reaching as any other tune.  As long as organized religion and war play a part within our world, this song will be timeless.  How many more masterpieces did John Lennon have in him?

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell) – When you hear this song on your IPOD or phone or even on the radio it is impossible not to turn off; in fact, you may immediately replay the song two or three more times.  The message is clear, beautiful and inspiring.  Believe in the power of love, period.  This will be used as a first dance song for as long as there are first dance songs.

In the Air Tonight (Phil Collins) – A haunting melody that has captivated listeners for decades and has improbably managed to shake the eighties off of it.  The iconic images this song conjures are those of the pilot episode of Miami Vice…but, it was also used in the Colin Farrell Miami Vice which basically proves its timelessness.  Additionally, you can play this before any situation to pump yourself up…or cool down.  Not many songs can make the same claim.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Israel Kamakawiwoʻole) – One of the most beautiful versions of one of the most beautiful songs ever written, there is no description that can do justice to this one.

(Brief Editor’s Note: When you search these songs on Youtube the recommended listens are all the other songs on this list.  Timeless, I told you!)

Hurt (Johnny Cash) – Every once in a while a song gets covered in a way that is better than the original.  Sometimes it is much better than the original.  In this case, the NIN original was a good song – until it got completely destroyed by an aged Johnny Cash who turned it into a song that radiates pure, heartbreaking pain.  If you ever want to know what pure anguish is like in musical form, this is the timeless song for you.  Yet, it is also one of the most incredibly beautiful songs ever, aided by Johnny’s once-in-a-generation timbre.

Tiny Dancer / Rocket Man (Elton John) – Anyone could remake these songs (and many, many, many have from My Morning Jacket to William Shatner?!! have); literally anyone.  The lyrics are poignant and you can sing it with your buddies (I have) and it could have come out at any time.  I challenge anyone to listen to the first few bars and change the station or stop listening, it simply cannot be done.  Put these in any movie trailer, drama to comedy and they work.  Just try and stop them.

What I Wouldn’t Do (Serena Ryder) – Bear with me for a second because I can hear people slapping the keyboard and yelling “what!?  Serena bloody Ryder?  What I Wouldn’t Do?  This guy is a complete idiot, how can a relatively new, CANADIAN, song be timeless already?”  Prepare to have your mind blown because I am going through this one point by point.  Firstly, be glad I did not include anything by Celine Dion.  Secondly, it is a great song.  Try and stop yourself from replaying it immediately.  It could be in any movie trailer, is not specific in any way and could – and this is the tough one – could be covered by the right artist. This is a wonderful song about love and loyalty and in a few short years it has become one of my favorite songs of all time.  Listen to it three or four times in a row and then tell me it is not timeless – it is.  This song holds up, and despite Serena’s pretty individual talent it could be covered one day, though I doubt the version would be better (then again, William Shatner covered Elton John).

So there you have the first bunch of songs with many, many more to come.  I invite your nominations and reasoning on any songs I have not yet mentioned.

Songs I am still figuring out how to include:

Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin)

Don’t Stop Believing (Journey)

Eric Clapton

Go Your Own Way (Fleetwood Mac)

Sound of Silence / I am a Rock (Simon and Garfunkel)

I Want it that Way (Backstreet Boys) – Editor’s Note: Not a joke.