Go West Young Man!

Carmelo Anthony should stay in the Western Conference.  Period.  End of discussion. 

By now it is clear he wants out of Denver and the chance to create his own superteam to rival that of “good friend” Lebron James.  Carmelo with a superteam…to rival that of Lebron? 

Awesome.  I am all for it.  As I have previously written, I think what Lebron, Wade and Bosh did was start a new era of NBA togetherness.  An era that has to be full of superteams in order to keep competition high within the league. 

There is just one little problem: Carmelo wants to go to New York. 

In New York he would have a “sort of” ready made superteam featuring the newly signed Amare Stoudemire.  With the two of them playing together it would be no stretch to envision their ability to draw in another young superstar to join them (Chris Paul has already expressed interest).  I have no problem with Paul teaming up with Anthony, I just do not want it to happen in New York. 

Would New York be good for Anthony?  Marketing / money-wise?  Absolutely.  Career wise?  Not so much.  Everything depends on what Anthony wants to get out of playing basketball.  Does he want to win championships?  Does he want to make money (lots and lots of money) and rule New York for five years?  Does he simply want to up his profile and get out of Denver to a much larger market? 

No one really knows.  Denver was a team built to win championships, and they had a solid young core that rocketed to the top of a very deep Western Conference a couple of years ago.  Injuries, suspensions and other inexplicable cirumstances stopped them from attaining the heights that were well within reach.  Could you see a team with Allen Iverson, Carmelo, Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris “Birdman” Anderson not winning a title?  (Okay, maybe not the best example…)  The point is, they had a good core of role players built around a young superstar.  They were more than capable of the pinnacle.  So how come Denver missed out on the parade? 

Anthony did not want it enough.

Flashback to March Madness 2003: the entire basketball world was focused on the usual contenders, Duke, Kansas and a deep Texas team.  In NBA draft circles only one name was resonating with the general public: Lebron James.  What Carmelo Anthony effectively did was put on one of the greatest performances in the history of College Basketball.  From the opening tip-off of the tournament, he dominated like few others ever have.  In the Final Four he carried Syracuse past Texas with a 33 point explosion.  In the final he was all over the court against Kansas, and Syracuse, behind their fabulous freshman won their first ever NCAA basketball title.  Anthony had one of the best seasons by a freshman in the history of College basketball – the draft had found its number two player. 

I remember watching the tournament and game after game it was remarkable to watch Carmelo Anthony dominate.  It was like the first time I saw Allen Iverson at Georgetown or Greg Oden at O-State.  These were players  who did not belong.  They were too good for the college ranks.  Anthony belonged with the big boys and, despite originally planning to stay at Syracuse for 3 years,  he rightfully declared for the NBA draft.  It made sense.  He was on top of the world and had unselfishly led his team to their first ever title. 

Additionally, he was a natural rival for Lebron.  It helped that he could throw down dunks like this with some serious ferocity:

Lebron needed a rival it seemed, and before it really made any sense some insiders were asking: “Lebron or Melo?”  Who would you take first?  The answer was a forgone conclusion, Lebron is simply a better player, but at the time Melo was coming off a season that showed his promise:  He was a proven winner!

The only other college sports equivelant of the 2000’s?  Vince Young on the heels of his Rose Bowl performance against USC declaring for the NFL draft and going third overall.  In the 1980’s it harkened back to Magic Johnson coming out after knocking out Larry Bird and Indiana State. 

So what the hell happened in the NBA?

Melo has had his share of ups and downs, especially pre-Olympic Redeem Team.  There was the fight and large suspension, where Anthony came off thuggish and unrepentent.  His growing selfishness and tough exterior prevented his teams from reaching their potential.  He was given the label dreaded by all NBA superstars: Headcase.  If you watched their rookie years (LBJ and Melo) which one would you have picked to make the NBA Finals first?  99% would have said Melo.  He didn’t.  He is still waiting for that chance to play on the biggest stage.  Now, like Lebron, he wants a superteam.  Unlike Lebron it is less clear if it will work out for him. 

Melo is a more typical NBA superstar than Lebron has been.  He is a scorer who needs the ball, and needs shots in order to score.  His a brilliant swingman who can rebound well.  On a superteam he would need to sacrifice some of those shots and stats to help the team win.  So far he has seemed unwilling to do so.  At Syracuse his motives and goals were clear; in the NBA they have been less so.  Does he want to go to a big market and become a huge star?  Will he end up as the Barkley to Lebron’s Jordan ( realizes too late he wants a title but never quite wins one despite late efforts) or a Drexler to someone’s Olajuwan?  Is he a great teammate?  Sure, his record of backing his mates in brawls speaks for itself.  Can he play with other stars? 

However, I have been avoiding the biggest question of all: where should Melo go and who should he play with?

New York Knicks – Carmelo’s preferred destination where a superteam is on its way to coming together with Amare Stoudemire already in place.  The city would also give Carmelo the higher profile he seeks (as well as giving his wife a chance at more of a career) and is the largest market in American sports.  New York has the cap room to bring in Melo and another star and the new regime appears committed to winning even if they have insane methods (such as an impossible to explain allegience to Isiah Thomas).  Who else could join the high profile team?  Chris Paul wants to join  very, very badly.  New Orleans is very, very hell-bent on this scenario not happening.  Melo, though, should not do this deal for one simple reason: Staying in the Western Conference will be much better long-term. 

New Jersey Nets – Another Melo destination (and if the news is to be believed the closest to happening thus far) where he would have been miserable.  Why?  New Jersey has a couple of good players (Brook Lopez) but this is a rebuilding team that Carmelo cannot win a title with at present.  They have little cap space for players other then him.  While the new owner is probably building a winner, it would be after Melo has finished his 3 year deal.  Additional reason not to go there: Not in the Western Conference! (My reasoning will be explained soon, but let’s face it, if you have made it through 1300 words you will probably stick it out to the end at this point)

Chicago Bulls – The most attractive destination for any superstar looking to build a superteam.  In fact, this may already be on the way to being a superteam.  The Bulls boast Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer (eventually, fingers crossed), Luol Deng and Joakim Noah.  Adding Melo to that mix (subtracting Deng at the least) would make a potent team ready for greatness.  If I was a player, I would want to play in Chicago.  Tough to pass up, but they do not have the trade bait Denver requires (since Noah is off limits) so it is unlikely Anthony will end up there.  Also…yup, Eastern Conference (why does this guy want out of the West so badly???)

Why not the Eastern Conference?  Simple: they already have their superteam.  Where should Melo go?  Pick one:

Los Angeles Clippers

Utah Jazz

Golden State Warriors

New Orleans Hornets – (waiting patiently for the laughter to subside)  While it would take a couple of years, any one of these teams could become the Superteam Melo craves so desperately.  Take LA – the biggest market, something Anthony wants – they have a solid young core.  Yes, their ownership is atrocious but given all the lottery picks this team has stockpiled in the past decade at some point it  statistically has to pay off.  That time is fast approaching.  Blake Griffen and Eric Gordon are for real…add Melo to the mix and you have a playoff team that could make a deep run.  In a couple of years?  Hell they could be in contention: build up the Clips while the Lakers erode from age and when the torch needs to be passed, Carmelo becomes the new Kobe.  Just like in the Godfather.  Also, once that Baron Davis contract comes off the books – hello new star!  Paging Chris PaulGolden State is a tougher sell, but it is still in California and how would the North Cal v. South Cal battles play out?  Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry are both good and they could dump some other players to bring in another forward or shooting guard.  Maybe even a power forward.  Utah?  Deron Williams is better than Chris Paul (so they say), teaming with him would give Utah their best chance at a title since the days of Karl Malone and John Stockton.  Melo and Williams could bring a killer pick and roll, I am salivating already and this is only theoretical!  New Orleans already has Paul but little cap room.  Melo and Paul however could help rejuvinate the city like the Saints have.  If Melo goes there and plays his heart out, he will be a hero to an entire state. 

Bottom lineStay out of the East.  Please.  There are already more stacked teams in that deck than needed.  If you add to it, someone loses.  The Heat should (fingers crossed) rule the conference for a few years to come and battling with them in the playoffs every year will be absolutely exhausting.  You might as well hand the title to the Lakers or Thunder.  Keep some superteams for the West!  Instead of giving us an awesome Eastern Conference Title Series every year give us an awesome title game!   That is what we have been waiting for since Lebron and Carmelo came into the league together.  We want to see them in a seven game series, facing off.  Maybe then they would finally ignite a true rivalry like that of Bird and Magic.  Sure those two were friends off the court, but once the ball was tipped they might as well have been USSR – USA.  The NBA needs a Melo vs. Lebron superteam final because if there is a lockout, that is what the league will need to bring back fans. 

So stay West Melo, and give us that Finals we have wanted.  It may take a couple of years to dethrone the Lakers but it will be worth it.  The Heat will be waiting.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – October 28, 2010

Game one and two of the Miami Thrice are in the books.

A quick recap for those who either ignored the whole thing or spent the past few weeks trapped in a Chilean mine (too soon?  Editor’s note: Yes, yes it is)

Game 1 Celtics 88 – Heat 80

And it was not that close.  The Heat never really had a decent shot of winning this game.  Wade and Bosh (who apparently suffered some sort of temporary amnesia around the fact he is deadly from 10-15 feet) were so cold they might as well have been frozen.  The team had more turnovers (Lebron with particular frequency) than General Motors.  Big Baby (Big Freaking Baby!?) ate them up in the post all night, and the game had a demonic Game 7 finals-type of energy.  Everyone seemed incredibly nervous throughout the entire thing and it showed in how sloppily the whole contest played out.  Sure, Lebron scored at will in the second half (31 pts) but his assist-to-turnover ratio was a horrendus 3:8.  The team struggled to get into any kind of offensive rythm and when they should have held their driblle to draw in one or more defenders, both Wade and James made  quick, ill-advised passes.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Defensively they allowed Rajon Rondo to run circles around them all night and Ray Allen to shoot the lights out.  Where the hell is Mike Miller when you need him?

Somewhere Dan Gilbert is laughing maniacally and prodding his Lebron voodoo doll with completely renewed zeal

Game 2 Heat 97 – Sixers 87

Now this is more like it!  Sort of…not really.  Better, in any event as apparently it was Wade’s turn to go off for 30 (is Bosh up next?  Is that how they are working out the “who is the man” quagmire?)   Offensively they were smoother, as Wade and Bosh both shot 50% and Lebron passed better – leading the team with seven assists.  The other James hit more three’s than the entire team in Game 1 and managed to finish with 20 pts.  Defensively the team put in another solid effort but the offensive / defensive cohesion is still developing.  Hey at least they won!

 

The Lessons so far:

1) The offense will take time to sort out – Some fans and insiders (cough, me, cough) felt the three superstars would instantly click and provide us with enough highlights to fill ten hours of Sportscenter from the get-go.  Obviously that will take time.  The three have had very little playing time together and are still working out their various roles.  None has ever had quality players in the lineup with them before and it will take an adjustment period before they are ready to dominate offensively like we know they can and will.

2) Down Low = A long way to go – One of the big concerns about the roster was how well they could bang with the big boys underneath the basket.  “Who is going to be tough enough down low to stop Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, Big Baby?”  We assumed Haslem or Bosh would really have to elevate their rebounding skills and take a major step in becomming a defensive force down low.  Neither has made that transition yet – and I am not saying Bosh cannot rebound, he can, but he is still finding his place.  Lebron also needs to step up his normally superb rebounding skills, especially on the offensive end since some players are still learning how to shoot jumpers.  Who led the team in rebounds against the Sixers?  Five dollars says you did not pick 6’4 Dwayne Wade.  Sigh. 

3) Playing “B” defense will not win a title – Against the Celtics the team was excellent at shutting down Paul Pierce and KG, but struggled mightly with Ray Allen (in addition to the whole center of the floor).  In the second half they did a much better job, but Rajon Rondo’s quickness was not matched by the Heat defenders and he made passes at will.  To go all the way to the title the Heat need to settle down on defense. 

4) They really and truly are playing to win a title, not rack up stats – Chris Bosh barely getting 10 points?  Lebron finishing with 15 and the team wins?  No one really seems to care much about the stats as long as they are winning.  For basketball this is downright revolutionary.  In some countries the “three bandidos” would be on Wanted posters by now (what, Dan Gilbert is offering a reward for LBJ dead or alive?).  Can they keep it up?  Given their desire to take it to the next level, it seems like they can.  Additionally, how many teams can say they are waiting for a breakout game from one of their three superstars?

Conclusions: It will take time for the Heat to gel, both on offense and defense but the potential they have flashed in the first couple of games is promising.  Bosh will rediscover his scoring abilities and Lebron will start dishing out 9 or 10 assists a game.  Wade will maintain his skills as a slasher and must be salivating at the passes he will get.  Once they come together it will be pretty unstoppable.  One thing is clear, for me, the excitement has not dimmed even one bit.  Did Rome get built in a day?  I am in for the long haul (5 years like LBJ) and cannot wait to see a team I have believed in from the second they came together go for a title.  Call me an apologist or an optomist or even a bandwagon jumper, but I don’t care; I am not only jumping on the bandwagon, I am happily shackled to it. 

The superteam will only get better and day by day the rest of the league gets slightly more nervous about facing them. 

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – October 26, 2010

Is this the most highly anticipated NBA season in history?

The answer is an incredibly enthusiastic “YES!” 

While other seasons have been eagerly awaited, there has never been a hyped opener quite like this one.  As much as people may not want to face it, most NBA fans have been counting down the days until this season starts.  Now they are ticking off the hours, minutes and seconds.  Lebron and his “decision” have taken care of the hype.  Now, the time for talk is finished and the real challenge begins: living up to the hype that has surrounded the Heat since the moment Lebron made his choice.  All summer we have heard how they will match up against the other contenders and how badly everyone wants to beat them.  As tip-off approaches there are still questions to answer, not the least of which is: How hilarious is Lebron’s new commercial? (Miami Vice reference #1)

What other seasons can possibly match up to the excitement of 2010/2011?

1) 2008: Celtics Debut “Big Three” – Like Miami, the Celtics brought in two marquee players to help Paul Pierce win a title.  They rapidly reshaped the power structure in the Eastern conference and stormed to a 26-3 record.  Unlike Miami their marquee additions(Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett) were nearing the end of their careers and gearing up for a last shot at a title – not, like Wade, Bosh and James who are nearing their respective primes.  How it turned out: Celtics win!  The team triumphed over the Lakers in six games giving their aging vets a ring. 

2) 2003: Kobe vs. Shaq – The season the Laker’s dynasty fell apart.  Completely.  This whole thing was an absolute train wreck from start to finish due to a combination of: aging vets desperate for a ring (Gary Payton / Karl Malone), an emerging superstar accused of rape who had to stand trial during the season (Kobe Bryant), and an increasingly bitter superstar in his prime (Shaq).  The whole season was a soap opera that led to a blood feud still going on to this day.  Plus, as an added bonus the season led to a Phil Jackson book on the whole ordeal entitled “The Last Season: A Team in Search of it’s Soul”.  How it turned out: Lakers lose!  The team self-destructed completely and was dominated by the Detroit Pistons in the finals.

3) 1998: MJ and the Bull’s last run – Epic start to finish all the way from the opening tip to the final shot.  The perfect way to end a career for the greatest athlete of all time (unfortunately Jordan did not get the memo).  How it turned out: Bulls win!  Of course they did, thanks to Jordan’s steal and game winning jumper that sealed his place forever in the pantheon of greatest athletes. 

4) 1980: Magic and Bird debut – Given how much they had done for college basketball and the Final Four, there was great anticipation they could do the same for the NBA.  They delievered.  Big time.  It also helped that both players went to storied franchises which further helped fuel interest in the league through their rivarly.  How it turned out: Lakers win!  Magic was a second tier player but helped his team to the title.  Bird would have to wait a year. 

How will it turn out for the Heat?  There are a few possible outcomes to consider:

Possibility #1) The Heat Dominate – No team is able to match up with the Heat offensively and they gel quickly on defense.  Jerry Stackhouse (Penny Hardaway was not available?) contributes valuable bench minutes and helps solidify the supporting cast while also turning into Larry Bird from beyond the three point arc.  Lebron and Wade become better shooters / defenders and Chris Bosh significantly improves upon his career bests in points and rebounds.  Then they stay healthy throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs before slapping the weary Lakers around in the finals. 

Possibility #2) Heat Win…barely – The Heat win a lot of regular season games, scrap to get into the finals where they are taken to the absolute limit by Bryant and the Lakers or one of the other emerging contenders from the Western Conference (OKC, Portland, San Antonio).  In game seven the Heat pull it out. 

Possibility #3) Heat make it to the Title Dance but Lose to the Lakers – The ultimate painful scenario due to Laker fan gloating for months and months while the Heat salivate for a rematch.  Or, failing LA, another team beats up on the Heat because of all they have expended their engery battling to the finals (although is the victory lessened by not going through the Lakers?  It seems as if everything has built to that showdown and fans will be disappointed by anything less.  Would a San Antonio – Orlando Title Series be the final nail in the lockout coffin?)

Possibility #4) The other Eastern Conference teams are too strong for the Heat – Maybe the Heat dominate the regular season but when it counts they cannot overcome the depth of Boston or the Shaq-like performance of Dwight Howard.  They lose in the East Finals, while the Lakers sit back and count their next ring. 

What will happen?  Time will tell (I predict Heat over Lakers in six due to LA’s previous troubles handling the Celtics Big Three).  All I know is that something is definitely “in the air tonight” (shameless Miami Vice reference #2)

Attention BCS – The College Football Gods Have Spoken

Attention BCS,

It seems that the Gods of College Football have spoken this season and they will not rest until you rightfully award Boise State with their well-deserved number one ranking. 

I know, I know, that makes you feel like you are being punched in the stomach but they deserve it!   In the preseason, you were nice enough to give them the number three ranking, figuring perhaps  neither Alabama or Ohio State (their overratedness could be an entire column) would lose this year.  Unfortunately: they did.  The gods had spoken and their message could not have been clearer –

Boise State is number one.

But what did you go and do?  You chose to jump Boise with several undeserving/overrated teams that went on to get beaten and then, despite all the evidence to the contrary you continued to deny them the number one slot! 

Is it that you fear a Marlo-esque “My name is my name” outburst (from The Wire) by the SEC? 

Even if that is true why do you continue to deny Boise?  You clearly rode an emotional victory by Auburn to give them the number one ranking, and given the way Oregon is throwing people around you made them two.  Boise?  They unfairly remain stuck where they began the season at number 3. 

Here are a couple of reasons they deserve a shot at number one:

1) While they do not play the toughest of schedules they have quite literally beaten all challengers including highly ranked teams.  Last year: Oregon and TCU.  This year: Virginia Tech and Oregon State and ? (in the Fiesta Bowl?)  Plus, who can forget their epic win over Oklahoma in what may be the greatest college football game of all time?  Boise showed something in those games, and proved they will and can win on any given day.  Against Oklahoma they countered a strong defense with more tricks than the circus.  Plus they went for it!  With a tie on the line in OT, they went for two with the most perfectly executed Statue of Liberty play in history.  This is the team you want to keep out of the title game?

2) Give them a chance!  Would they go undefeated in the SEC?  Probably not, but (as SI.com’s Stewart Mandel pointed out) neither did Alabama or LSU.  What do you lose from giving Boise a shot at number one other then the most anticipated title game in history?  Boise has one of the best quarterbacks in the country and the best overall defense.  They have beaten an “allegedly better” Oregon team than the one fielded this year and can shut down duel-threat quarterbacks like Auburn’s Cam Newton (See: VT’s Tyrod Taylor).  If you deny College Football viewers the chance to see them on the biggest stage it is for shame.  This is the year you cannot duck them like you always have: they are simply too good to be denied a seat at the table.

The only question left: will you give them the shot they truly deserve? 

Best Regards (and do not even think of screwing this up),

College Football Faithful

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – October 18, 2010

Miami…Twice?

By now you have most likely heard that Dwayne Wade will sit out the opener for the Miami Heat.  In a season where expectations are, how do you say, through the roof this would normally be a cause for concern. 

You see, in the past when there was no secondary option of James or Bosh, Wade would definitely have fought through this sort of injury to suit up for game one.  As would James or Bosh.  Now?  Not necessary, because Wade does not have to play through.  The team…can and will win without him on the floor.

Wade (and Bosh and James for that matter) have never had teammates who are of their caliber.  If they did not play for their former teams – the team simply did not play well.  Need some proof?  Look at the prospects facing the Cavs and Raptors this season: not exactly predicting a return to the playoffs for either squad.  These three players are so used to shouldering the load that the opportunity to rest for a game without the world falling apart is still a novel and exciting prospect.  Imagine being able to return refreshed and fully healed from an injury you would normally fight through.  It is one of the reasons the Heat have the opportunity to contend for a title this season: they can intermittently rest the big three and still have one of the best records in basketball.

Take the final game of last season: Kobe Bryant shot 6 for 24 and had an all-around horrendus game with the entire season on the line.  The Lakers won.  Had James, Bosh or Wade been in that position they would have been blown out so badly the pain would still be felt to this day.  How did the Lakers pull it out?  They have more than enough talent around Bryant to be able to win (Gasol, Artest, Bynum).  Bosh, Wade and James all saw that happen and decided they wanted a similiar experience: now, they are a real life Pro Stars:

However, the NBA’s new elite team may end up playing less like any basketball team we have ever seen (except for the 80’s Lakers) and more like the Edmonton Oilers who set up a Canadian NHL dynasty during the goal happy 1980’s.  Some of the players this team had were ridiculous.  A quick lineup rundown reveals that not only did the Oilers have the greatest hockey player of all-time Wayne Gretzky (2,857 pts – more assists then anyone else has points) but also:

Mark Messier (1887 pts)

Paul Coffey (1531 pts – most goals by a defensemen in one season 48)

Jari Kurri (601 goals)

Grant Fuhr (the best goalie of the 80’s). 

As the four hall of famers above demonstrate, with or without Gretzky the Oilers were a stacked team.  Stacked enough to win the 1990 Stanley Cup after Gretzky departed for the LA Kings.  How did these guys do with Gretzky?  They were the greatest offensive team in the history of any sport.  How will the Heat do with James?  Now that they have their Gretzky (James) all of the big three could end up Hall of Fame bound while others (Mike Miller) could be in for a career year. 

Miami has something like the Oilers, and it will help their players not only get better but also be well rested for a deep playoff run.  Not only that, but given the ages of the big three (James is 25, Bosh is 26, Wade is 28) the Heat should have significantly fresher legs then the comparatively older Lakers or Celtics.  So is Wade’s tender hamstring a huge concern?  As I wrote before it may be an opportunity for the team to get stronger, deeper and for the “Big Two” to step up and show people what they have been underestimating all summer long: 

 Lebron is angry.  Very, very angry.

Not just “hmmm, a couple of media outlets think Kobe is a better player then me” mad but “Delonte West is getting awfully close to my mother” full on white-hot rage. 

Lebron badly underestimated how “The Decision” would be recieved and how much “Heat” (that sure was a terrible awesome pun!) he would be facing going into the season.  Now, he is totally focused on the singular goal of winning a championship and creating a dynasty in Miami.  The rest of the league has no idea what will happen once the season starts but this much is clear: a rampaging Lebron is a terrifying thing.

Would you want a 6’8 265 pound behemoth with evolutionary skills bearing down on you?  No, you would not.  Lebron is playing with a huge chip on his shoulder and for the first time in his  7 year (?!) career, he does not have to dominate every single night for his team to win. 

How would you like to face a well-rested, 6’8 265 pound behemoth with evolutionary skills? 

Good luck rest of the the league, good luck.  Now you can begin to understand how the Calgary Flames felt in the mid-80’s.   

Ladies and gentleman strap in, the time for talk and anticipation is over, the real basketball season is ready to begin.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – October 14, 2010

Hamstring Hijinks Hamper Heat! 

 Exhale, deep breath, exhale, deep breath, exhale…

Miami Heat fans are starting to get a serious case of the Uh-ohs as Lebron and DWade sat with hamstring injuries.  As a former Vancouver Grizzlies fan, the Uh-ohs were a very common experience; “Uh-oh Big Country looks a bit out of shape for training camp” or “Uh-oh, Stromile Swift is checking in again”.  Now with two of the three amigo’s out with hamstring pulls, it looks as if Cavs owner Dan Gilbert continues to torment his LBJ voodoo doll with moderate success.  Do Heat fans have reason to worry?  Two of their best players out with hamstring injuries?  Sort of terrifying.  At the end of the day though, it is only the preseason and it means about as much as any other preseason (not at all).  Without Wade and James they did not win but…

Their absence was also an opportunity:

Chris Bosh showed some of the incredible ability that people have been doubting since he signed with the Heat.  Bosh (24 points, 9 of 14 shooting in 23 minutes) was easily the best player on the floor against the Hornets and as the team continues to gel they will only get better, even if they are missing one or two players.  Over the course of the next five years, LBJ and DWade will be taking games off.  They might get banged up a little bit due to their slashing styles but having the combination of the two of them is going to ultimately prolong their careers.

 How?

The “Len Bias” principle. 

The Len Bias principle?

Yes, The Len Bias principle which simply states that having two players who are superstars will prolong and deepen each of their singular talents.  They do not have to put the team on their shoulders every single night – they can take a night off and still have a good game as long as the other player dominates.

Len Bias would have made all the difference in the world to the declining years of Larry Bird’s career.  Had Bias been able to spell Bird and provide secondary (or even primary) scoring, Larry Legend may have been able to play well into his late 30’s.  Instead, he ended up having to play big minutes when he was hurt which effectively cut his career short.  Bias was certainly a talent, a man who may have been the great rival Michael Jordan was missing for most of his career. 

LBJ and DWade could have been rivals on the level of Magic and Bird…but of course made “the decision” to work together to create a dynasty.  Then something happened that most other teams and cities will never experience (other than the stacked Lakers) – they signed a third amigo that can also carry a team to the playoffs.  It would be like the Celtics of the 1980’s not only getting Bird and Bias but also David Robinson.  No one would have doubted for one second they would dominate for more than a decade. 

The Heat will do the same.

While the hamstrings may act up at times, the fact that they are playing together will ultimately extend the careers of Miami’s Big Three (except maybe Bosh who will really have to hit the boards with some serious ferocity).  Lebron will not have to slash to the hoop on every offensive play and nor will Wade.  Both will also have the chance to better their overall games, working to develop their shooting touches while the other slashes to the hoop.  Over time, they may become unstoppable. 

Does the Len Bias principle always work

No.  For the principle to be at its best, you need two players with very similar styles.  Bird and Bias were swingmen who could pass, shoot and finish.  Lebron and Wade are slashers who get to the basket better than anyone else in the game.  Robinson and Duncan were the Twin Towers (although Robinson’s career was all but over).  Would Melo and Paul fit the bill?  Not exactly, as they would undoubtedly win, but they are not candidates for the Len Bias Principle since they play with different styles…however, add Amare and you might be in business. 

Too bad we will never get a LBJ, Bosh, Wade vs. Bird, Bias, Robinson game, but Melo, Amare and Paul might well be worthy challengers one day.

The Strange Journey of the Gunslinger

Brett Favre, in case you have not noticed, is under a significant amount of fire these days.  While that may be a slight understatement given the pressure mounting against him, one thing is certain: the sexual harrassment investigation by the NFL will end quickly and quietly without any consequences for Favre

Why?

Face it – he is Brett Favre, certified NFL legend and no one really wants anything to do with the whole situation.  Commissioner Roger Goodell seems to want the sordid affair to disappear faster than the “Mike Vick for MVP” Chants, which is why he has ordered the whole thing to be wrapped up at light speed.  Favre has maintained silence and spoken only to complain about his sore elbow and ankle.  Jenn Sterger – the alleged victim – has maintained distance from the investigation and does not seem particularly interested in helping in any way. 

So why pursue the matter in a half-hearted formal investigation anyways?   

Two Words: Ines Sainz.

In case you’ve already forgotten her semi-infamous week during this crazy, scandel ridden NFL season – she was the “sideline reporter” who was harrassed by the ogreish New York Jets.  She walked on the sidelines and they hounded her like the construction-worker types they are.  What else would you expect from the Jets!   Now, with the 49ers maybe you could expect some decency, but the Jets?!

Naturally, like Sterger, Sainz wants to work in the football business so she chose not to pursue any real consequences for what happened.  To be fair, if what Favre is alleged to have done actually transpired it is yet another (signficantly) creepy step in dismantling the careful image the Gunslinger has been steadily destroying for years now

Just what did he do?  According to Deadspin.com, Favre sent some creepy and steadily desperate messages seeking Sterger’s company while both were with the Jets organization.  (Again with those guys!  Are we surprised anymore?)  Several of these messages allegedly included photos of lil’favre in all his glory. 

To be honest, the only person who will be able to verify the charges is Mrs. Favre, and she has kept silent thus far in terms of her husband’s package.  However, more than anything, we are entering a new world and athletes are still struggling to come to terms.  If they send text messages involving photos of their private parts – they are not deleted!  It is not like the old days when rumors swirled about the extramarital dalliances of our favourite hero without any proof.  Nowadays the proof lives in cyberspace forever.   The distance athletes once maintained with their private lives and sideline conquests has been shattered and many are still coming to grips with these facts. 

The Favre investigation is likely to go away quickly even though news is hitting at a time when sexual harrassment needs to be addressed maybe the Jets could just forfeit games like USC because a solution is going to be tough to come by.  What is Goodell going to do to Grandpa Favre?  The league keeps him in stasis for the offseason on his Missisippi property so they can drag him back out for more mediocre football year after year.  He may not play another season after this – his 20th.  The Vikes are rapidly going down the tubes after being hailed as Super Bowl contenders.  There will be no suspension or real punishment, so we may be spared another moment like this one:

Favre will not apologize to anyone for one simple reason: he is Brett Favre, NFL legend.   As the lines between public and private continue to blur, we will see more and more athletes entangled in these sorts of scandals.  Other players should be forewarned: you are not Brett Favre, and somewhere down the line, someone is going to get nailed with a mountain of evidence like the case against Favre and recieve a real consequence for something that has nothing to do with football.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary October 6, 2010

With Miami Thrice’s first game in the books it is now time to take a look at the expectations for this season.  “The Decision” was a disasterhuge moment in NBA history,  and like it or not it made the NBA relevant on a whole new level.  When else have people talked about the NBA straight through August?  Whether you support the new look Heat (I do!) or not, you must admit you are waiting with baited breath to see them play. 

Last night was certainly eye opening.  For three incredible minutes the tiny spark of expectation blossomed into a raging bonfire like someone poured gasoline all over it.  After those three minutes? 

It got bigger, wilder and more out of control than ever.

For the first three minutes it appeared everything was on track to get really out of control with the big three weaving their newfound style together.  Then, in typical panic-move fashion, Dwayne Wade pulled up holding his hamstring.  A collective gasp echoed in bars, living rooms and across the state of Florida.  Could Lebron and CB1(?) hold it together and beat the Pistons? 

Yes.  They flogged the Pistons so badly that the police will likely be investigating an assault complaint.  Here are some of the highlights:

Without Wade, Lebron and Bosh put on a show worthy of the Showtime Lakers run by Magic Johnson in the 80’s.  Saying that Chris Bosh is going to lead the league in uncontested dunks is like saying the Joker might be the villain in The Dark Knight.  Both players appeared to be in mid-season form, combining for 38 points and 9 rebounds.  I know, I know, it is just preseason but there was a sense of seeing the beginning of something special.  Immediately, the rabid fan might start thinking something along these lines:

“They had a combined 38 points…if Wade was there it could have easily been around 60 combined points – in the preseason, when they sat out most of the second half!”

Why are fans so high and haters so angry about the 2010 Heat?  (Other than “The Decision?”)

A few simple reasons:

1) Lebron and Bosh or Lebron and Wade could win this thing if they had to – Of course having the three biggest stars together is the best option, but if Wade were to get injured (he won’t) or Bosh (not a chance) LBJ could work with his other teammate to carry them through to the playoffs at the very least, and the title at best.  Why?  How?  

Lebron has never had teammates in his professional career who are of the calibre of Bosh and Wade (See West, Delonte).  With even one of his superfriends, Lebron will draw the majority of defensive cover and pressure.  If you give him a chance (and respecting his scoring skills you have to) Lebron will find the open man and put him in a position to score.  Watch the highlights again: Chris Bosh has an underrated offensive skill set, and given all the bashing he has taken as the “weak sister” of Miami Thrice,  most definitely has something to prove.  Bosh can hit fifteen footers, or he can get to the hoop for a thunderous jam.  His mid-range jumper is going to be absolutely deadly to teams that crowd the paint to keep Wade and James out.  All season long he will be raining it down from 12 feet.  Picture Wade or James barrelling to the hoop, drawing in two or three defenders.  Bosh slides away to twelve feet, gets hit with a perfect pass and buries it.  Or…James or Wade slams it…or they find the other coming in for an uncontested slam…or they kick it to Mike Miller who has not been covered since the season began for a three with the nearest defender in a different zip code.  The possibilities are endless. 

Lebron’s superior passing skills will get his Heat teammates to their previous scoring averages and could lead them to career years.  Hypothetically, imagine Wade gets hurt for a couple months (frantically knocking on wood to ensure this does not happen) Lebron can step back from his ridiculous setups to teammates and carry the scoring load by pulling his average from 24 ppg to somewhere around 30 ppg.  Bosh could contribute too, picking up maybe 26 or 27 ppg.  This is a scary, scary team to have to attempt to match up on even at the “worst” of times. 

2) The other teams will not be able to stop the numbers from adding up – If the Big Three pull down numbers like these, they will be unstoppable and the other teams might as well file a grievence with the union right now:

James – 24 ppg, 10.1 apg, 10.2 rpg

Wade – 27.2 ppg, 4.5 apg, 4.0 rpg

Bosh – 25.0 ppg, 2.0 apg, 10.5 rpg

Are these numbers far fetched?  James rebound numbers may be a little stretched, but the Heat will need him to be strong on the boards for those quick transitions that will leave other teams in absolute terror.  Bosh should definitely increase his scoring average and possibly his rebounding since he has never played with a passer on the same level as Lebron.  Wade will most likely carry the largest share of the offensive load but will gladly do so (slightly sacrificing his numbers from the previous year). 

All told Miami Thrice could combine for somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 points.  80?!?!

Eighty points per game is more than some teams can score!  (Looking at you Clippers!)   More than that, imagine other guys like Mike Miller, Carlos Arroyo – coming off a good showing in the world basketball championships, or Mario Chalmers having career years as a result of the new kids in town.  Lebron made Mo Williams into an all-star (any takers he will continue to play as one this season?)  so what can he do for teammates now that he has guys who can actually put up great numbers?  As much as other teams might hope to contain James, Bosh and Wade, even if they contain  one of them, in most scenarios the other two will finish anyone. 

3) Lebron does not have to score to win a title – This is not the ’07 Cavs, and this could be an evolutionary Lebron.  Imagine a year where he scores only 20 a game but throws out 14 apg while grabbing 11 boards?  Is there any reason why he could not?  The more we learn about Lebron and his ultimately noble desire to be part of a great team the less we actually know about what he can or cannot do on the basketball court.  He could turn around and become the best three point shooter in the league and it would hardly be a suprise to many people.  Perhaps he is about to tap into an entirely new skill set that has been rarely glimpsed.  Sorry for hammering the same point but, as MVP last year he nearly averaged a triple double.  While passing to Delonte West.

(Waiting the appropriate time for this to sink in)

(It has now sunk in)

The Heat could play like a created dominant video game team (or the most unstoppable sports video game character of all time).  Hell, they are literally my fantasy team from last season!

Ultimately, Lebron may not have to do everything he did with the Cavs.  The reality?  He may have simply scratched the surface of his incredible talents.  Do not think for one moment this idea is not keeping most NBA GMs up at night.

4) The surface has only been scratched – Last night was simply a tantalizing glimpse of what could be to come.  Yet, it was more than enough to send fans into delirium and leave the rest of the league uncomfortably pulling at their collars which suddenly became incredibly tight (“You mean we have to play these guys?  Please do not let us get embarrassed…”) 

Because, do not believe for a moment that the Heat are not out to embarrass people.  There was a lot of resentment towards them (even if nearly everyone was totally stoked to see them play) and they have something to prove.  Will there be speed bumps?  Of course.  Will they lose games?  Absolutely.  In two years could they be two time champs and even more ridiculous then they already are? 

Only time will tell, but consider me sold thus far and eagerly awaiting the chance to watch the shows start in October once these previews are finished. 

Agree?  Disagree?  What do you think of a Canadian Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary?  Let me know in the comments and make sure to check back at least once a week for Diary Updates and other posts!

MLB Playoff Preview

What better way to preview the race to the World Series then to imagine this year’s MLB playoff teams as classic movie villains?   

NL Teams

1) Philadephia Phillies =  Michael Corleone

Why:  The Phillies are hands down the team to beat this year.  Pitching is a major strength and for the most part that is how championships are won.  Imagine, if you will a seven game series against the Phils – they could pitch (2010) Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, former Ace Cole Hamels (who could be the number 1 pitcher on 90% of the teams in the league) and recent addition Roy Oswalt twice.  If they each win one game, you are going to game seven.  Halladay will not lose and Oswalt has been on fire.  Throw in one of the best lineups in the National League anchored by Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and the Phillies are one of the most complete teams in the postseason.  Like Michael Corleone they have a plan and can execute it at a very high level.  They are ruthless and can outmanuever any team they face.  The competition will not know what hit them, only that they have had their ranks completely decimated in moments. 

2) San Francisco Giants = The Joker

Why: While the Giants sport a solid starting rotation their lineup is less terrifying then most of the other teams in the playoffs.  That said, their starting pitching, should it come alive, could be enough to carry them through to the NLCS at least.  Tim Lincecum has turned it on in September and the team has really refused to lose, ultimately snatching the division away from the Padres down the stretch.  Their hitting may leave more to be desired but the Giants are coming into the playoffs nearly as hot as the Phillies.   

So why Jack Nicholson’s Joker?  The Giants are a tad back and forth to say the least.  Their pitching could dominate but they may not be able to put any runs on the board.  Barry Zito could regain his Cy Young winning abilities or he could completely fall apart.  Like the Joker they may be able to make some plans that will put them through to the next round, but against a superior pitching team like the Phillies they will struggle to get on base and score runs. 

3) Atlanta Braves = Hans Gruber

Why: The Braves have returned to the playoffs thanks to a thrilling victory that enabled them to avoid a one game playoff with the Padres.  They certainly have a spark, playing for manager Bobby Cox in his final season as Skipper.  Cox knows how to win in October but the team is “inconsistent” to put it mildly.  Rookie Jason Heyward best exemplifies the team with his back and forth play – at times he has looked like a superstar while at others he has appeared plain and ordinary (struggling down the stretch).  Veteran leadership and clutch hitting has been missing most of the season thanks to an unfortunate injury to third baseman Chipper Jones.   Their bullpen is strong but the Braves may not have enough to finish out.  Like Hans Gruber of Die Hard fame the Braves have a classy leader who definitely has some tricks up his sleeve.  They may have enough to last a few rounds with the Phillies but in most scenarios will be thwarted by being tossed off a roof. 

4)  Cincinnati Reds = Dr. Evil

Why: The Reds made a valient effort getting into the playoffs, even winning out their division from the champion Cardinals….however, their young nucleas has a serious lack of playoff experience that may come back to haunt them.  While Joey Votto has been in triple crown contention all season and their pitching better than average (13th overall) they definitely do not have enough to take the Giants or Phillies.  Dr. Evil has a lot of plans and appears fearsome at first…then he throws out the elaborate sharks with lasers death plan and proves to be less terrifying then originally believed.  The Reds may turn out the same way. 

AL Teams

1) Tampa Bay Devil Rays = Darth Vader

Why: Excellant pitching and a young (but experienced) core that has been to the World Series help the Rays push to the top of the NL.  All season they stood toe to toe with the Yankees and ended up on top of the division.  Winning over the Yankees means a lot because now the Rays can play Texas instead of the Twins.  Overall the Rays have played great all-around ball this year led by Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria.  If those two can keep it up and the pitching remains solid there is no reason the Rays cannot make it back to the Series.  Darth Vader appeared as a terrifying menace that could not be defeated, an all around power and symbol of the seductive power of evil.  In the end: not so much as good overcame evil, even within his own soul.  Will the Rays lose their edge too against the daunting Yankees who they have slugged it out with all year? 

2) Minnesota Twins = Jaws

Why:  The Twins are scarier then they may appear at first.  The Yankees wanted desperately to avoid playing them.  So did the Rays.  Like Jaws, they are lurking out in the water waiting to strike at any time.  Yes, they are not at full strength due to a rash of injuries but they still have the power and pitching to be very dangerous in the playoffs.  A couple of hot starts by boy wonder Joe Mauer could make all the difference.  If their pitching can maintain its overall ERA of 3.50 they can win a series or two.  There are a lot of “ifs” for this team but no one wants to play them in the first round at full strength or not.  The other teams may definitely need a bigger boat if they want to put the Twins away. 

3) New York Yankees = The Wicked Witch of the West

Why: The defending Champs certainly have an uphill battle if they want to plan another parade down Broadway.  For one thing they have struggled down the stretch and gave up the division crown to the Rays.  Head to head they have struggled against Tampa and may have trouble putting Minnesota away.  The Yanks also sport a roller coaster ride of a bullpen (even the unflappable Mariano Rivera has had trouble lately) that may give away close games.  However…on talent alone the Yankees are the best team in either league.  CC Sabathia has been one of the best pitchers this year, Rivera will probably be Rivera once October gets going, Kerry Wood and Joba Chamberlin had good finishes to the regular season.  Mark Teixeira and A-Rod have earned their money at the end of the season.  The only possible comparsion for them?  The Wicked Witch of the West who is incredibly dominant but cannot stand a little water.  New York may be a house of cards waiting for one bad outing to blow them down.  Otherwise, they can win the whole thing.

4) Texas Rangers = Freddie Krueger

Why: The Rangers can play…maybe just not as well as the Yankees or Rays.  They will not be an easy out, especially when Josh Hamilton is at the plate (.359-32 homers-100 RBI).  Cliff Lee is a great pitcher and could go twice in any series and the young team has a lot of potential.  The problem for the most part: they have not fully reached it yet.  They will and this is an important first step in gaining valuable playoff experience but it may not be their year just yet.  Freddie Krueger likes to slice and dice and the Rangers have similar abilities but if they want to win it all, they are dreaming of next year already. 

World Series Pick: Rays vs. Phillies

Champion: Phillies in Six.