How All-Star Games Should Work

Attention Mr(s) Goodell; Stern; Selig,

This is how you do an All-Star Game!  Perhaps the only redeemable thing Gary Bettman has ever done.  Seeing the excitement having a player draft has created in the NHL All-Star game, the only remaining question is simple:  why can’t other sports do exactly the same thing?

The NHL took the game of “shinny” (a Canadian thing, look it up – all you need to know is it involves a pond and a bunch of sticks thrown into the middle of the ice) and turned it into a whole bunch of fun.  The players are ridiculously excited.  The fans are ridiculously excited.  All-Star games have gradually become a draining waste of time where disinterested players forget how to play defense and spend most of the time actually playing the game for fun.  The NHL saw that the game meant nothing to anybody other than the players invited and made a move to improve the game.  It worked out, big time.

Well, except for Phil Kessel…

(Though – he did get a car and charity money)

Why can’t other sports apply the same “pickup game” style?  The answer: They can!  Here is what it could look like!

1) The NFL

Why It Needs to Change –  The Pro Bowl is in desperate need of some kind of change.  A couple of years ago they moved the game a couple of weeks forward so that people do not have to go a week without a football game before the Super Bowl.  Okay.  Okay.  I am still waiting to see how this possibly makes sense.  The two Super Bowl teams are obviously not going to send anyone to the game (and they are objectively the two teams with the most All-Stars).  It was a dumb change and the NFL has continued to stick by it because they believe the ratings will be higher since after the Super Bowl people are drained and done with football for six months. 

How it Can Change – Football is a difficult sport to do a draft in since it is so position specific.  However, if you made it a round by round positional draft – round one both teams take a QB / round two both teams take a RB / round three both teams take a WR…and so on – it would completely work.  Think about how much people love the NFL Draft (bigger than any NHL event) and there is serious potential for this to be huge.  The strategy involved would be intense: Would you take Brady first or Manning?  What if the draft happened right after the Super Bowl?  Would you take the on-field hero?  How would the mix of players work out?  Imagine Tom Brady throwing to recievers from either league!  Or handing it to Adrian Peterson?  Or watching the corner tandem of Charles Woodson and Darrelle Revis shut down the Johnsons (Andre and Calvin?)  I am talking myself into this more and more…

Movie Connection – “Little Giants” also know as the kid Cowboys vs. the kid Giants except the Cowboys are a terrifying team of boys who are definitely not twelve and the Giants feature players who may be seven.  Think about a ragtag team versus a juggernaut, maybe then some fans would finally come out.  The NFL could even try out some other names like Knights or Scorpians – or maybe the fans could contribute the names and design the jerseys.

Awesomeness Factor – 8 out of 10.

2) MLB

Why it Needs to Change – After the 11-11 extra innings debacle of a few years ago that left fans livid, Baseball made a change.  They are the first sport to actually make the All-Star outcome count for something; the winner gets homefield advantage in the World Series.  This was a great idea, yet we are still trapped by the separation of the two leagues.  Given all the interleague play that now takes place it makes a lot of sense for the teams to switch up the players.  You could take away World Series homefield advantage but add another incentive of some kind – such as the Winning Manager (NL or AL) gets the World Series advantage.  This would mean All-Star coaches actually have something to do. 

How it Can Change – As with the NFL, Baseball’s draft would have to be positional.  However, given the plethora of talent it would be extremely interesting to watch the battle unfold over pitchers.  Imagine a team with Roy Halliday starting, and Mariano Rivera closing.  Sounds pretty sweet?  I would continue the “one inning per pitcher” rule, however…I would allow starters back into the game in the later innings.  I would do so becuase of the Diamondbacks/Yankees World Series in 2001.  Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson came in to relieve in the final games on no rest and it was incredible.  The performances earned both co-MVP honors.  I want to see that fire in an All-Star game  too!  Most pitchers sit around the game with their families and throw twenty-five pitches at most.  Hitters at least get the Home Run derby to show off their skills, Pitchers should have more to look forward to.  Give them a chance to make a real impact on the game’s outcome.

Movie Connection – “The Sandlot”.  In fact the inagural draft MLB All-Star game should be called “The Sandlot game” (maybe even played on a dirt field).  This is how children grow up playing baseball in the summers!  Let the All-Stars have a chance to be kids again and pick their teams like this.  I mean, honestly, “The Sandlot” may not just be the best baseball movie of all time – it may be the best kids movie of all time.  Since it was set in the 60’s the story really holds up; this was something that could have happened to you and your friends in any given summer.  We should give Major Leaguers the chance to return to the days of the sandlot just pause and imagine the looks of pure joy on their faces (except A-Rod of course).  Additionally, each year the game should start with an escalating insult contest that eventually ends with the immortal taunt “you play ball like a girl”.  How sweet would that be?

Awesomeness Factor – 9 out of 10.

3) The NBA

Why it Needs to Change – Actually, the NBA has the All-Star game least necessary to change.  Sure, the scoring gets out of hand at times given that no one actually plays defense, but that is beside the point.  Players do spectacular things in the All-Star games and some of the contests have been awesome (1992 – the MVP return of Magic Johnson).  However…one of the major problems with the NBA All-Star game is the Fan Voting.  Yao Ming is currently the starting center for the West Squad and he has not played for 90% of the season.  Additionally, I can see the future – an aging Kobe Bryant, whose skills continue to diminish is voted a starter year after year.  (In defense of Fan Voting: they did get it right in the East this year and the starting five are all perfectly deserving)  Fan voting in their favourites is not cool when there are so many young players who are going to be eligable and deserving of nods.  The snub list in the NBA grows each year because aging vets continue to hang on and play at All-Star levels.  Take this season as an example: Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Lamar Odom, Steve Nash, Tyson Chandler – at least one or (more likely) two will not make the team.   

How it Can Change – For the next few years anyways, how about a Young Bucks vs. Vets all-star game.  Lebron and Kobe teaming up to take down Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and others in the craziest, most dunk happy game in All-Star history.  Given how popular Playground hoops are, how can the NBA not have an All-Star draft?  It could even keep the fan component: the top two vote getters are team captains.  They pick 11 more players from a pool of 30 players (yes, I am suggesting some do not make it – what kind of motivation would that snub give someone?  Get ready for the most intense playoff push ever!).  Take this scenario:  Team Kobe vs. Team Lebron…I am nearly giddy with anticipation, already.  Lebron takes Dwight Howard; Kobe takes DWade; LBJ gets Blake Griffin; Kobe gets Durant….That is right, Lebron to Blake Griffin for alley-oops…in the All-Star game.  They would break attendence records worldwide.  It would be an NBA fan’s dream.  They could even bring back “Great Rivals” to coach each time (Bird v. Magic?  Isiah v. MJ?).  This would completely make the All-Star game must see TV.  How to make it better?  Play it streetball style on an outdoor court like Rucker Park

Movie Connection – “White Men Can’t Jump” / “Above the Rim” / “Hoop Dreams”: This would be crazy.  I am still hyped up on this idea.  How can the NBA not do this?  If they have a lockout, this would save them!  Please NBA try it out for one year and if it fails you can always go back to the old format.  However, you are entering a new era and if you want to make it a pay-per-view I would gladly be willing to pay to view this.

Awesomeness Factor – 11 out of 10.

Regards gentleman,

A Concerned Fan

Future Hall of Famers

We live in an era of good players; not in one of great players.  An important question that demands asking: If Sports were to stop tomorrow, who would make the Hall of Fame?

Keep in mind we are talking about players currently active.  Just-retired people do not count.  Retired and waiting players do not count.  Only players who are currently dragging themselves onto the court, field, or ice are eligable.

In no particular order…Here we go:

1) Hockey

In: Nikolas Lidstrom; Martin Brodeur; Sidney Crosby.

Explaination: Hockey is probably the sport with the most “really good but not great players”.  I am sure you are sitting there asking “Crosby?”  Name me another players with A) 500 plus points  B) A Stanley Cup C) The greatest goal in Canadian sports history (apologies to Paul Henderson in 1972 but the Cold War has been over for more than two decades).  Crosby is a borderline candidate but he deserves it without question given the current slate of slim pickings. 

2) Baseball

In: Albert Pujos; Chipper Jones; Derek Jeter; Mariano Rivera; Ichiro Suzuki

Explaination: Big, big, big asterisk here – if you are keeping out one player who used steroids then theoretically you have to keep them all out.  Kind of sucks but there has to be a standard.  That means no Barry Bonds (who deserves it for his pre-steroid career – ditto Roger Clemens), no A-Rod etc.  There are a lot of good baseball players but the “who used and who did not” debate is far from finished.  These are the four guys I am keeping my fingers crossed are clean.

3) Football

In: Tom Brady; Peyton Manning; Ray Lewis; LT; Ed Reed; Charles Woodson, Tony Gonzales

Explanation: The NFL has one of the largest pools of Hall-worthy talent.  I chose to ignore the Brett Farve may return conundrum and focus on players still in the league.  One of the people left off this brief list is Randy Moss.  He is arguably the best wideout of the past ten years…but can you have a guy in the Hall who plays when he wants to?  Given all the Wideouts still waiting for the call – Chris Carter (what?!) being one –  I just cannot see many of the guys from the inflated recieving stats era making it.  Big Ben should he win a third Superbowl in two weeks would also join the list.

4) Basketball

In: Kevin Garnett; Tim Duncan; Shaquille O’Neal; Kobe Bryant; Steve Nash and…Lebron James

Explaination: Ridiculous number of players fit into the “good but not great” category: Ray Allen (who will probably make it), Paul Pierce (who will also probably make it), Dwyane Wade (ditto), Dirk Nowitski (borderline), Amare Stoudemire (too early to tell), Chris Paul (too early), Yao Ming (not enough time).  Nash makes it because you no two time MVP has been denied entrance…which brings us to the enigma of Lebron.  Why does he make it?  He can do things on the basketball court that others have never been able to, and he makes it look easy.  He is an evolutionary player and we cannot fault him for not wanting to be the next Michael Jordan.  As such, it is pretty difficult to keep one of the 17 best players in the history of the NBA out of the Hall of Fame. 

Ladies and Gentlemen: Your For-Sure-Future-Hall-of-Famers.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – January 27, 2010

Is Lebron James turning into some kind of NBA version of Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight?

Lebron James still seems to be the most hated man in the NBA – and one of the most hated athletes in sports at this particular moment.  However, more and more it seems like he has become a villain that we love to hate. 

How much do we love to hate Lebron?  Even as he stirs controversy with each and every word; we just cannot get enough.  We desperately want to know what is happening with Lebron – all the time.  Foxsports.com has a “Heat or 3Peat” tab on their NBA page; ESPN has a “Miami Heat Watch” page and Sports Illustrated may as well have a Heat page given all the coverage they have tossed the Heat over the 2010/2011 season. 

Take the recent example of a Foxsports writer who provided midterm grades for all NBA teams – he gave Miami an F (lower even than the lowly and truly awful Cavs or Raptors).  Why would he give them this ranking?  To increase readership and to ensure that we continue to love to hate Lebron.  The Heat are the third or fourth best team in the NBA right now (Spurs / Celtics / Lakers / Heat) .  Do they deserve an “A” at this point in the season?  No, not even close…but a “B” or “B+” would probably have been a more appropriate grade for a team that has reeled off 2 long win streaks and at times appeared ridiculously dominant. 

Sort of like Ledger owning The Dark Knight:

The Dark Knight’s iteration of the most famous of Batman characters was that of a dark and extremely twisted induvidual who truly believed he was “good” by proving himself the world’s ultimate representation of “evil”.  He was a suicidal anarchist who was showed how powerful one man can be against the system – when that man literally has no rules to follow.  The Joker’s master plan was a sleight of hand so devious that Batman missed the entire point of his plot – corrupting the white knight of Gotham (Harvey Dent) in order to show how delicately one must tread the line between good and evil.  Batman fights every night not to cross the imaginary line into the grey zone the Joker occupies…but sees how easily he could slip over.  Ledger’s performance was so captivating that he was rewarded with a well deserved – and unfortunately posthumas – Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Lebron?

For a man allegedly hated incredibly deeply by all but Miami Heat fans, he sure has an uncanny ability to draw in the biggest crowds in the NBA.  It is Lebron and his Heat teammates who have brought the NBA to newfound heights of popularity.  Bill Simmons, ESPN’s The Sports Guy, was one of the harshest critics when Lebron made his fateful “Decision”.  Now?  He believes Lebron will be MVP again this year and has begun giving him begruding respect for maintaining his status as the NBA’s alpha dog while sharing the ball with the 2nd or 3rd best player in the league; Dwyane Wade. 

To top it all off? His Oscar Moment:

Lebron is the leading vote getter for the NBA all-star game which seems pretty unlikely for the most hated man in the NBA to achieve.  (Then again, can we really trust All-Star voters?  Who are the people that vote Yao Ming into the starting lineup whether he has played ten games or not…and Kobe always seems to make the starting lineup despite his years of , ahem, “difficulties”) 

People hate Lebron, and yet, like Ledger’s Joker we cannot turn away when he is on the screen because we are fascinated by what he may do next. 

And terrified that we will miss it.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – January 18, 2011

As the hobbled Heat continue to contemplate life without Lebron James, Chris Bosh and possibly Dwyane Wade (this has to be some kind of cruel joke?  They are all going to be on the court next game, popping up like they were just having a laugh, right?) the NBA’s other disgruntled star, Carmelo Anthony has started to drag his sort-of rival Lebron into his ongoing “I want out of Denver” saga. 

Melo, who you may remember, has had some troubled times in his career.  He was suspended for a long period of time following a brawl and needed a lot of help to get his career back on the right track.  One of the places he made a positive impression was at the 2008 Olympics, where he was helped by LBJ (and others) to regain his place among Basketball’s best. 

Now, however, Carmelo has almost totally succeeded in destroying all the good will he has built up since 2008.  He has torn his team apart with his desire to leave Denver, and his ongoing drama has morphed into the sorry step brother / younger brother of last season’s “where will LBJ go?”  The major difference?  LBJ never let his impending departure ruin his team’s title shot (at least until the second round against Boston), while winning a title for the Nuggets this season seems to be pretty low on Carmelo’s list of things to do before he slinks out of town. 

However, in a vain attempt to partially save the image he is so casually setting fire too, Carmelo has gone and fired the final missile in his arsenal.  He used Lebron and “the decision” to try and make himself look better. 

According to Carmelo “I would never go about it the way Lebron did.  If he could do it all over again, he wouldn’t do it that way – he would do it a totally different way, I can guarantee you that.  Unfortunately for Nugget fans, Melo has not stopped talking – “People throw away that whole seven-and-a-half years, and that’s what makes me laugh.  Because I’m like, me?  Out of all the people, you’re booing me?  Out of all the people.”

Really, Carmelo?  Really?  You’re playing the Lebron card?  You would never leave Denver the way Lebron left Cleveland because you imply you have never had the stomach for underhanded moves?  (While making a completely underhanded move!)

Are you trying to show us how much better you are by throwing all the loyalty of your fans in their faces for an entire season – or part of a season – before you callously leave them one day for a destination more suited to you and your wife’s career desires in the entertainment industry?  In many ways Carmelo does bring up a valid point, he would never have his own decision because he is not big enough to have one.  Lebron is a once in a generational talent who wants desperately to win, so much so in fact that he was willing to blindside his home state’s franchise on national television because he has a better shot at a title in Miami. 

Carmelo on the other hand, is destroying a team for his own selfish reasons that have nothing to do with winning anything but rather with satisfying Carmelo (and his wife).  Now, I am not saying Lebron’s move to Miami was not one of the most horrific assassinations of a team we have ever witnessed – but at least he has provided the illusion of sacrifice.  He took less money and smaller stats to sign with another top three player so that they could create a dynasty.  Sure, Melo has been bandied about as a potential New York Knick (joining with Amare and Chris Paul? or Raymond Felton to create another Big Three) but their biggest star, Amare Stoudemire, thinks the team is doing just fine as it is. 

Amare’s subtle message to Carmelo: NYC is mine!

You don’t understand why the Denver fans are booing you, Carmelo?  Maybe because instead of living an entire season of hell like Cleveland, a season spent not knowing if Lebron is leaving – but hoping he will stay – the Nuggets know you are leaving.  There is no chance of your staying put.  They are being forced to go through the motions and feign interest and quite frankly, are sick of it.  Why should they cheer someone who has only acknowledged them by questioning the fact that they boo him?  Carmelo is completely and totally unwilling to accept the role of villain that Lebron has embraced, and by comparing his trade drama to the decision has attempted (and failed miserably) to cast himself in a different light.  Lebron, is, naturally enjoying being a bad guy and has thrived in the role.  Carmelo?  Not so much. 

By now, we know that Carmelo’s preferred destination is New York, which would put him in the Eastern Conference whether he goes to the Nets or Knicks.  Some observers have pointed out this could finally ignite a Lebron / Carmelo rivalry but I am not so sure.  Carmelo just does not seem to have the heart for it, and as I have written before, I do not see him regaining that desire anytime soon. 

Why it would not work for him in New York / having a real rivalry with LBJ:

1) The Knicks would not be his team– New York has filled the position of a “me-first” superstar who believes he is the greatest player in Basketball history; Amare Stoudemire.  As he has publicly said, he does not think the team needs Carmelo to be successful as they are doing fine now.  Carmelo wants the team to be built around him.  This does not seem like a DWade/LBJ/CB1 situation wherein they are more than happy to share the ball.  There will be major conflict and if there were ever two players who would not work well together you can pretty much pencil in Carmelo and Amare.  Sharing the ball may be the least of their problems (especially since neither is particularly interested in defending anyone).  I mean, really – Carmelo could not even coexist with a fading Allen Iverson.  How will he possibly mesh with a star in his prime? 

2) He can never top Lebron – Lebron outdid Carmelo completely with “the decision” and essentially stole the thunder from every future marquee free agent, none of whom could ever top what he did or how he did it.  Carmelo wants to portray himself in a positive light but all he is doing is further angering Nuggets fans.  It has been clear from the outset that he is only in it for himself…and his wife.  Carmelo must be sitting there saying to himself  “man, I just cannot get by Lebron” and is attempting to seperate himself and become distinguished in his own right.  He is too late.  The Decision happened and it has changed the landscape of free agency forever.  Carmelo and everyone else, were one-upped forever and Carmelo must be stewing about it.  If he goes to the Eastern Conference, he is always just following Lebron and always just one step behind.  He may be the marquee free agent this year, but not of all time.

Last week, Bill Simmons suggested (as I did months earlier) that perhaps Carmelo should stay in the Western Conference and lead a superteam there.  Simmons suggested his hometown Clippers who are building a pretty fantastic team right now around Blake Griffin.  Would Carmelo be a good addition there?  I could see Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon playing with small ego’s for awhile but this is the NBA!  They have a good thing going, and adding Carmelo to the mix may upset the balance completely.  Carmelo is fast gaining a reputation for being a team destroyer (and only compounding the rep further by pretending he is not) and may eventually go down as the NBA’s version of Terrell Owens – a supremely talented man whose narcissm has completely shattered every single team he has ever played on. 

Carmelo has a chance to avoid that, but with his recent comments he is not endearing himself to anyone in Denver or the NBA.  Plus, he probably pissed off Lebron something fierce – does he really want to play him a couple more times a year when he is this mad?  Or in the playoffs, where Carmelo is notorious for disappearing at crunch time? 

Carmelo will likely end up on the Nets, which at this point seems to be the only plausible landing spot for him near New York.  The team will eventually be playing in Brooklynn and he would (literally) be the only great player on the team.  They could build around him but he would be sacrificing years of his prime toiling away near the playoff cutoff while the team gets better.  Meanwhile, Lebron and DWade may be raising multiple championship banners.  Would Carmelo be willing to do that – give up prime title years on a rebuilding team? 

The answer is simple: Absolutely.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – January 14, 2011

Last night, Miami Thrice was Miami Twice and it definitely did not turn out very nice.  Without LBJ in play the Heat looked downright ordinary.

In the last few games against opponents who are nowhere near their calibre, the Heat have shown an increasing propensity to slow starts and overall laziness in the first half.  In several instances – against the Warriors, Trailblazers and Bucks – their three superstars were able to carry them through and give them dramatic victories.  However, these games against mediocre opponents were much closer than they needed to be and the continued slow starts have been troubling.

The trend finally caught up withthe Heat against the Clippers.  The first time I checked the score, the Heat were down by twenty in the first half.  It appeared to be a Clippers rout.  I was not worried however, because this is how their previous games have been going – slow start, furious rally, ridiculous Lebron / Wade combo to take the win.  This time however, the Clippers were more than able to counter with Blake Griffin / fat Baron Davis and Eric Gordon (And lets face it, at this point in the season the Clippers are playing way above their record, honestly if they make the playoffs they could be on par with last year’s Thunder team that nearly upset the Lakers).  The slow start ended the Heat’s road winning streak and, in another instance of “it never rains, it pours” Lebron James injured his ankle. 

Some have suggested that Lebron’s injury had something to do with the fact he sent out a tweet during Cleveland’s beatdown at the hands of the Lakers stating “Karma is a bitch”.  Yes, Lebron, Karma is indeed very fickle and given your precarious position at the top of the league pyramid I should think you do not wish to anger her.  Well, apparently she was angry (and still bitter about the Decision – who knew Karma was from Cleveland?).  Lebron sat out last night against Denver and the Heat never really had a chance.  It was their biggest loss of the season as we now can be relatively certain of the necessary formula for beating the Heat.

Wade + Bosh – Lebron = Heat loss.

The final score last night (130 -102) did not tell the full story – Wade was contained for the most part and Bosh was the leading scorer.  It was over relatively early and the Heat never really got close enough to make it a game.  I do not believe the Heat can win without Lebron.  With him, they are a title contender – without him, maybe they make the playoffs but they certainly are not creating any dynasties:  but, let’s take a closer look at the stats, shall we?

A few things jump out:

1) Let’s pretend LBJ had played – Mr. James is currently averaging 25 points and more than 7 assists, leading the team in both catergories.  Had he played last night, he would have been good for 30 points (combining his scoring / points he assists on) or already enough there for the Heat win.  Additionally, Lebron loves to play against Melo, and probably would have been so jacked for the game that it would have been over before it started.  We have frequently underestimated the impact of Lebron in the lineup: he terrifies teams.  To put it bluntly you cannot stop him unless you sleep with his mother.

2) Teams can key on Dwyane Wade – Last night, the Nuggets did just that.  They said “sure, let’s make Chris Bosh beat us” and he led the team in scoring with 24 points.  Wade?  Firstly, he shot free throws atrociously (28%) and secondly, he was not the same player he is when Lebron is in the lineup.  A lot of times this season we have debated who is better / who is best.  The answer is pretty clear: LBJ can win without Wade,  but we may not be able to say the opposite.  With James in the lineup, maybe Wade hits his average (24 points), with him scoring 24 – the Heat probably win the game.

3) The Heat are good on the road – Well, actually, Lebron is good on the road.  He plays better in opponents arena’s because he feeds off all the negative energy in the crowd.  The formalities have been dispenced at this point in the season: LBJ is a villain, he has accepted this and  he will keep doing ridiculous things off the court which only further cement his newfound reputation.

The larger question about the Heat’s slow starts remain.  They took over the league much faster then most people anticipated and now they may be paying the price for it.  Are they going through an ’86 Celtics kind of faze?  The kind of times when Larry Bird would shoot everything left-handed because he was bored with all the winning?  If so, they are way too quick to jump to “lazy starts because we can beat anyone in the fourth” mode.  For one thing, they have yet to beat their greatest Eastern conference rivals – The Celtics and the Bulls (who they play on Saturday).  I for one, seriously hope they grow out of this quickly. 

The Heat need Lebron against the Bulls.  It is time to make another statement (like against the Lakers), and against fellow MVP candidate Derrick Rose would definitely be the perfect time.

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – January 11, 2011

Just when we were getting used to the idea that both Lebron James and Dwyane Wade were playing at MVP level they go and do something like this:

At times early this season, Lebron’s on court skills seemed to be underestimated by a lot of people.  While his transformation into a villainous figure has alienated a lot of his former fan base – and led to controversy every time time he opens his mouth – it has also overshadowed his spectacular play. 

While it may currently be difficult to seperate Basketball Lebron  from Lebron the “I need 11 birthday parties and 500 k in corporate sponsership to make it happen”  guy; the differentiation needs to be made.  We cannot forget what Lebron is able to do on the basketball court no matter how ridiculous he is off of itSeriously, Lebron stop talking about anything other than basketball!  

Take the game against Portland on Sunday night – my brother, Just Ross – certainly did as he was lucky enough to drive down to Portland and watch the best basketball game of the season…in person.  (A few quick things to know about Just Ross: 1) He watched the game with me on Christmas Day and was cheering for Miami…and for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to have big games so his fantasy team did not suffer.  2) He improbably traded Zach Randolph for Carmelo Anthony and then regretted it.  3)  He is a huge New York Giants fan, and as such, refused to speak to me for nearly a week after their collapse against Philly and my subsequent text: “The legend of Mike Vick continues to grow – No playoffs for the Giants”).

In the immortal words of Just Ross, this is what transpired in Portland on Sunday night – “An all-time classic by the King.  The whole building was pretty quiet when they made that run (in the 4th quarter) and as soon as it went to OT they knew it was over.  There was no doubt every shot was going in.  I could tell he was lazy on D the whole game but from five minutes left he took it like four levels above anyone else on the court“. 

What Lebron did in those five minutes and then the overtime period is nothing short of remarkable.  He broke the entire crowd with his outrageous play and his final stat line – 44 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists – says as much.  As Just Ross said – he just was not going to miss in the fourth and proved it by hitting 3 of 5 three pointers while facing ridiculous pressure.  Essentially it was RIP Blazers, as soon as he got hot (despite Lamarcus Aldridge’s repeated abuse of Chris Bosh).  Honestly how can any team possibly expect to win when the big three combine for 96 freaking points!  It was the first game in the history of the Miami Heat that  two players have attained the 40 -30 mark (Wade had 34 points) in the same game.  Terrifying to think how many times LBJ and DWade may do that in their careers playing together.  Could we even see a 50 – 40 game?  Crazy but not that far off (even a 50 – 50 game could be within reach potentially if all the shots fall right). 

The most remarkable thing about the entire game: the realization that it is increasingly clear Lebron knows when to turn it up and take it to the next level – and has the ability to do just that. 

 Not many current NBA players have that kind of skill.  Lebron senses the moments when greatness is necessary and is able to reach heights that few in the history of the NBA have been able to.  The only others I can think of that had / have this ability: Bird, Magic, MJ, Duncan, and (begruding respect) Kobe.  Wade seems to be able to do this as well at times but at the end of the night against Portland there was no way the Heat could possibly have won the game if Lebron did not take over. 

We can argue back and forth about whose team the Heat is, but the answer is clearly Lebron.  As he goes, so do the Heat.  His stats in the last five games are pretty reflective of that – his average: 31.6 ppg (would be the best average in the league by 3 points).  He is now third in the league in scoring – ahead of Kobe Bryant by the way – despite his teammate being sixth. 

However, unfortunately for all of us – Lebron just keeps saying things that take away from all the stats he puts up.  Every time he speaks, he seems to dig himself a deeper hole than that Chilean miner who had a wife and mistress waiting for him when he got to the surface (Editors Note: Still too soon?)

Lebron has talked about: contraction, racism, his greatness, birthday parties, and many other subjects that have drawn the ire of sports writers and sports fans around the world.  Has my Lebron-fandom blinded me to the fact that he is being a complete idiot off the court? 

Absolutely not.

However, unlike most people who are willing to dismiss him as a petulent, immature 26 year old – I am able to contextualize what he says within his growing role as the NBA’s greatest villain.  He can say whatever he wants as long as he keeps playing like he does.  I will tolerate his absurd comments much more readily than a Kobe fan will.  One of the best recent Lebron comments?  The time he told sportswriters that he and DWade had taken themselves out of MVP contention by teaming up…in a blatent attempt to draw attention to his growing MVP stats.  Absolutely brilliant and undoubtedly villainous.  Really folks, you can’t even make something like this up.  (Possibly the best part of his continued image destruction: he keeps pretending he was misquoted anytime something does not go his way).  

Once you accept Lebron as a villain you can start to enjoy what he is doing on the court all that much more.  A friend of mine sent me an email detailing how sick he is of Lebron, but we desperately want him to keep drawing attention to himself.  We want to know if he can pull this thing off.   When he left Cleveland, we knew there would be an adjustment period and many people were willing to gloat when Miami was struggling (“I feel bad for Lebron”), yet now that they are toying with teams and playing frighteningly well there has not been the same grudging respect – just anger and pettiness.  If you are going to slam him, you have to be willing to give him props for his game at the very least – what he did in Portland was something few others could have and he is playing MVP calibre ball – with another MVP candidate looking downright ordinary beside him. 

When I asked my anti-Lebron friend what one team he would want to see live (just after a five minute rant about how Lebron has ruined the beautiful game of basketball) his response was instant – “Miami”. 

Even in hating LBJ and co. we cannot help but watch because at the bottom of it all, we are all genuinely amazed by his basketball skills and we are curious as to whether or not he can do it.  Either way, we will enjoy the ride.

So go on Lebron and keep being ridiculous – on and off the court.

Good, Luck?

Andrew Luck may have just made the best worst decision of his life.  Luck, the consensus number one pick in the upcoming NFL draft, is going to return to Stanford and finish his degree. 

Finish his degree?  How can he leave 60 million dollars in guaranteed money on the table? 

Yes, he is leaving a lot of money on the table and time will tell if the new NFL collective bargaining agreement ends up costing him most of that money when he declares in 2012 (An NBA style salary cap is in play – something like the 3 year 9million rookie contract).  Luck’s decision seems to have been quietly accepted by most draft pundits but, obviously, has completely reshaped the draft landscape.  Suddenly the second (Gabbert?) and third (Mallet / Newton / Locker) best QB’s in the draft become #1 and #2.  Everything shifts and the Luck”y” Draw gets pushed back a year. 

In the past, other college players have been huge beneficiaries of this situation – most notably Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez.  The number one pick in that draft was Sam Bradford who chose to return for his senior season at Oklahoma.  Sanchez was thought to have needed another year at USC (and coach Pete Carroll made several “he’s not ready” claims) but benefitted immensely from a weaker QB class and went to the Jets at #4. 

So, Luck is not exactly  in a unique situation.  NFL draft prospects have returned for their senior seasons before and yet, “luck” is never on their side.  Returning for another year has almost always hurt their draft stock.  Another year of NCAA ball gives scouts all kinds of time to pick apart the game of any player – and pretty much make up weaknesses in order to show how well they are doing their jobs.  This kind of added pressure and scrutiny has hugely damaged future prospects. 

Take the case of Heisman winning, former USC star and National Champion Matt Leinart.  Had he come out as a junior – on the heels of his Heisman and National Championship – he would have gone number one overall.  San Francisco, desperate for a quality quarterback, would have been his destination.  For Leinart this seemed like a complete victory.  Not only did he get to ride off into the sunset having accomplished as much as he ever could at USC – but he would get to stay in California!   No brainer right? 

Not exactly.  Leinart of course returned to USC, lost a heartbreaking national championship game to Vince Young, lost his second Heisman to Reggie Bush “vacant” and dropped to #11 in the draft.  Why did he drop so much?  Suddenly, scouts could not clamour fast enough to find faults with his game – prototype qb, no mobility, weaker arm. 

His vacant spot in the draft went to Utah’s Alex Smith (who rode a wave of momentum following his Fiesta Bowl Victory) and San Fran has been searching for a quality quarterback ever since (even going with fellow one year wonder Troy Smith at times this season). 

Leinart is not the only player who has hurt his draft stock by returning to school – Jake Locker would have been the number two player last year, now he is not even in the top twenty of most mock drafts.  Sam Bradford came back and hurt his shoulder, jeopardizing his entire career but was lucky enough to still be the first overall pick a year later (for more guaranteed money than the previous year’s player Matthew Stafford) in possibly the only example of this situation working out well. 

Why will it be so hard for Luck to hold onto the number one ranking in the 2012 draft?

1) Flaws are accentuated – Suddenly all the positives disappear from the repetoire of any staying-for-the-senior-year QB.  Throws that were definitely in their wheelhouse as a junior are suddenly picked apart and become a negative.  Matt Leinart was always thought to throw a really nice deep ball – until he became a senior and suddenly his arm was nowhere near as strong as the year before…allegedly. 

2) The Out-of-Nowhere-Contender – This player is someone who performs exceptionally well for one year and seemingly has all the tools to succeed at the top level.  Most often they do not play in a pro-style offense and have little accuracy – Akili Smith / Cam Newton / Vince Young / Jamarcus Russell are prime examples.  These players have great bowl games and declare at the perfect time.  Often they are able to completely steal the thunder from the consensus pick or players who are alot better than them.  After they fail spectacularly everyone pretends they never saw this coming and were completely blindsided by such downsides as: lack of prep / complete inability to read defenses /  inability to throw with any accuracy / laziness / too much money conundrum.   

3) The Next Generation #1 – This may be where Luck faces the most competition in 2012: Matt Barkley.  Since he has led USC from the time he was a freshman, Barkley has shown time and again that he has all the tools to be an NFL star.  Like Luck, Barkley plays in a pro-style offense, can make every throw and is a very intelligent football player who understands the game.  The race for the top pick in 2012 is officially on! 

Luck will probably be the top pick in 2012 simply because he is a great pro prospect and at Stanford he will continue to develop his skills by playing against top level competition.  Hopefully things work out for him and he escapes injury and holds on to his place as the top player. 

But I’m not counting Barkley out just yet. 

A more important question remains though? 

Why in world would Luck want to continue to be the big man on the Stanford campus? 

Oh – right…

Canada lost the World Juniors – So What?

For the second straight year Canada’s World Junior team has fallen in the finals.  Unlike 2009 when the team dominated the tournament from start to finish, this year’s group fell to both Sweden and…sigh…Russia in the finals. 

Fortunately for me: I am not totally upset

Why?  How?  

As a proud Canadian – one who take his Hockey very seriously, I assure you – I am still living on the high of the single greatest hockey moment my generation has ever seen.  If you have not guessed by now, I refer of course to:  The Sidney Crosby goal of 2010.   

You might remember that goal?  The next generation Paul Henderson ’72 moment that all Canadians will remember for the rest of their lives?  Could you possibly forget witnessing our young leader put the team squarely on his shoulders – in overtime against our hated rival Americans – and then delievered with the entire nation hanging literally by the edge of their seats?  Yeah, you remember and so do I.  

How do I know that most people Americans remembered?  From the outset this was definitely not Canada’s World Junior tournament.  The American crowds were hostile (especially during an ill-advised 10 goal drubbing of Norway) and at points even Canadian viewers felt the team took a few too many liberties.  (Like, perhaps, continuing to score in a pretty “un-Canadian” attempt to get one player 6 goals – in a ten goal game).  It was a Dream Team-esque beat down on a completely overwhelmed opponent.  If “the goal” was not enough to turn Americans against young Team Canada, then that sealed the deal. 

And you cannot tell me that crowds cannot have a huge impact on the outcome of a game – particularly a junior hockey game when the young 18 and 19 year olds are still pretty impressionable / not used to huge hostile crowds.  I have been fortunate enough to take in a few World Junior games in my time (including witnessing one of the best assembled collections of Canadian talent ever in Alberta 1994).  A few years ago, when the tournament was in Vancouver, I got to see a game between the US – Switzerland.  Now, bear in the mind, the USA had the most talented team in this tournament: featuring the likes of Phil Kessel and Jack Johnson.  They were the overwhelming favourite to win the whole thing.  What happened?  The crowd was so pro-Swiss that it swung the outcome of the game.  In my life I have never before seen a team rally behind a crowd like the Swiss did.  At one point the entire team stood up and waved their sticks high in the air to thank everyone in the arena.  It was surreal moment and the crowd responded by pounding on the glass and nearly bringing the house down.  If the American team was not broken in that moment then they had already been broken earlier.  Needless to say, the Swiss rallied from a 3-0 hole and tied the game 3-3.  Team USA never recovered and they lost the tournament to a nowhere-near-as-good Team Canada.

The only other time I have witnessed a crowd taking over like that was in the very first Vancouver Grizzlies home game.  In this instance the crowd absolutely brought the house down and willed the Grizzlies to an overtime victory (of course it could not be maintained for the season since we lost the next 23 straight games – thanks again for the memories Big Country). 

This year in the finals, with the crowd unsure of who to hate more – Russia or Canada, a funny thing happened.  Russia proved they plain needed to win more, and I can understand that too.  Team Canada had to win in Vancouver or there would have been riots across the country.  There was no way we would take that loss sitting down – hell, it was a solid month before I (begrudingly) came around to liking Ryan Kesler again and he plays for my hometown team! 

The Russians (remember that time in 2010 when Sports Illustrated picked you to win Olympic Gold in Hockey?) were thoroughly embarrassed in the Olympics by just about everyone.  They were so humiliated that the whole Olympic debacle nearly caused an international incident. 

El Presidente, Vladimir Putin had to go on television and assure the world that Russia would not take this Hockey loss lightly.  Nor have they.  The Russian junior team outplayed Canada in the last two periods last night.  Thoroughly.  They needed this – complacency was not an option in this tournament or in the Olympics.

 There is a tremendous amount of pressure on Russian hockey players to perform in their own Sochi Olympics in 2014 – just like we Canadians put on our team.  The big difference?  We were coming from a solid foundation, while the Russian program appeared to be coming apart at the seams.  Last night they took the tentative first steps toward solidifying a 2014 Gold Medal Showdown with Canada – although I would not be surprised if they quite simply had to be triumphant.  Win or do not bother coming home, was the vibe I got from their desperate play god knows what the coach told them between periods

Ultimately though, I was not too torn up about the whole game.  Sure we collapsed in a pretty awful way but, we won Olympic Gold – and Russia did not even collect a medal.  So go ahead and take your tiny victory Russia – we will see you next year…and we’re already looking forward to you having to face down Jonathon Toews, Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby in 2014. 

Until then, I will just be totally satisfied to leave you with this:

 

Miami Thrice Title Quest Diary – January 4, 2010

The Miami Heat continue to roll through the regular season but, with their dismantling of the rest of the league comes a new, unique challenge for the team: dueling MVP candidates who are also teammates. 

Lebron James and Dwyane Wade have played astoundingly well in the past month – so well in fact that the Heat have won 18 out of 19 games and 11 straight on the road.  On Christmas Day, in one of the biggest regular season showdowns in recent years, they dismantled the champion Lakers and thoroughly embarrassed Kobe Bryant. 

The largest part of the winning tear?  Lebron and DWade finding completely unique ways to coexist…and dominate.  Against the Lakers Lebron was fired up and ready to go from the opening tipand the Heat showed what they were capable of as a team.  Last night against Charlotte however, Lebron and DWade showed what they are capable of on their own. 

Lebron – 38 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists

Wade – 31 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists

The Heat’s two signature players combined for 69 points, 20 rebounds and 9 assists – add in Chris Bosh’s mostly forgettable (due to foul trouble and LBJ / DWade takeover) 11 points and 4 rebounds and the big three threw down 80 points and 24 rebounds.  Charlotte scored 82 points total.  The Big Three essentially outscored an entire professional basketball team.  Astounding.  Right now, the Heat are dicing up the competition with more efficiency and regularity than Miami’s other slash and dash artist, Dexter Morgan:

Naturally, with Lebron and Wade playing so well together, some have begun to track their duel MVP candidate stats.  As Miami writer Chris Perkins writes “…why not throw James and Wade into the MVP mix?  You always give consideration to the best players on the best teams”.  For the Heat this statement clearly has more than one meaning when your team’s best player is definitely “best players”. 

How does one possibly attempt to seperate Wade and James?

The short answer: not easily.  The NBA did not even try to sort it out when they made James and Wade co-players of the month for December.  There is little doubt the two have taken their respective and combined game to another level in the last month.  For one thing –  they are much more comfortable on the court together and that makes defending them a tricky proposition.  Currently they are fifth and sixth in the league in scoring average (both ahead of Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose…and just a hair behind Kobe Bryant) and they play on the same team.  Think about that for one second in this context: Kobe Bryant is 3rd in the league in scoring – his next closest teammate, Pau Gasol (on the supposedly balanced Lakers), is in 27th place

How is that for sharing the ball?

Lebron and DWade have clearly figured out how to coexist on the basketball court and that has been reflected in some recent MVP predictions as credit must be given where credit is due.  The “consensus”: Lebron will win his third MVP award this season.  Are they giving it to the right player?  Lebron is a walking triple double and his versatility is incredible but in the month of December, Wade has ascended to a place few other players have.  His play has been unbelievable and he has been virtually unstoppable.  A few people (like Michael Wilbon) have suggested that Wade is the new NBA alpha dog and that having Lebron on his team has unlocked his ceiling, as clearly he just continues to ascend. 

Wait one second though

Sure, Wade is one of the top three guys in the league…

At this point in the season, the league breaks down for me like this:

5) Kevin Durant – Difficult pick because of the emergence of Russell Westbrook, who is challenging his authority on his own team.  Durant still seems to be a year or two from complete dominance as the draining summer spent playing for Team USA has hampered his usual all-around style. 

4) Dirk Nowitzki – Absolutely dominating right now and has the Mavs positioned to make a deep run in the playoffs, even with a soft bench.  Shooting the lights out night after night.

3) Derrick Rose – Only one word can describe his play right now: amazing.  He is the heart and soul of the Bull’s return to prominance and he plays like it every single night. 

2) Dwyane Wade – Destroying teams right now, absolutely unstoppable when he drives for the basket.

1) Lebron James – If I had to pick one player to build a team around, it is Lebron.  The biggest reason?  He is shooting well, and not just on his dunks and layups, with his jumper from 15 – 20 feet.  Watch the highlights from the Golden State game or against the Bobcats – at one point he is pushed, steps back and hits a rainbow three with a defender in his grill.  Sure he still dunks the ball a ton, but Lebron with a jump shot to go along with his 7.3 assists per game?  Truly terrifying. 

Key Omissions – Kobe Bryant (not playing well right now and dragging the Lakers down with his typical “me-first” attitude), Deron Williams (almost there), Kevin Love (a rebounding machine), Dwight Howard (play has fallen off as of late), Carmelo Anthony (mired in trade trouble), Amare Stoudemire (should probably have been on the list), Russell Westbrook (one more year and he could leapfrog Durant), Blake Griffin (will be on the list in a couple of years – maybe topping it). 

Why Lebron over Wade or Wade over Lebron? 

In the opinion of ESPN’s Mike Wilbon: “LeBron is a better all-around basketball player. But if you ask me who I want in the final two minutes of a game, my answer is D-Wade. And that’s precisely what makes Miami so damn good. And why there might not be anybody in the league who can beat them.”

Yet it almost seems like while we are giving Wade his just due, we are short-changing Lebron (and vice-versa).  For one thing Lebron is so effortless in his dominance that at times we neglect to remember just how difficult the things he does are.  In addition, Lebron has always made his teammates better – he draws so much attention and creates so well that it is a natural by-product that his teammates get great scoring opportunities.  With so much attention focused on James, Wade has been able to join him on an ever rising plateau.  How high can the two teammates go?  When you throw Chris Bosh into the mix they are an incredibly tough team to beat, especially now that they are firing on nearly all cylinders.  Miami is in an envious and unique position in the basketball world because of their duel alpha-dog MVP candidates. 

Have any other teams faced a similar situation?  Sure, but never with two players in their absolute primes (in the NBA anyways…):

1) LA Lakers 2003 – 2005: This team featured MVP worthy performances by both Kobe and Shaq (in 2003 they finished 3rd and 5th in voting), but neither won the award while both were at their combined Laker peak.

2) Chicago Bulls 1996 – MJ won the award, Scottie Pippen finished 5th.  This may be the closest we ever come to a modern parallel to this situation.  However, in this case, there was little doubt as to who was the alpha dog on that team.  While Jordan was willing to share – it was his team, bottom line.

3) Edmonton Oilers 1980’s – Wayne Gretzky dominated hockey and won a slew of MVP awards; yet Mark Messier was at times just as deserving (including winning a Conn Smyth trophy for Playoff MVP during their first run to the Cup).  Two alpha dogs on one team in their primes, but again – Gretzky was better…until the Oilers became Messier’s team when Gretz was traded to the Kings and the Oilers still won the 1990 Stanley Cup. 

4) Vancouver Canucks 2010 / 2011 – My local team features last year’s MVP Henrik Sedin and his twin brother Daniel, either of which could take the award this year (if not for Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos).  If only one could differenciate himself from the other…

At this point in the season it is impossible to pin the MVP award on any player, let alone decide between Wade and James.  The final tally may come down to one simple question: who is more valuable to the Miami Heat?   The answer is not as simple as the question because at times it will be Wade and at others it will be Lebron – at others still it will be Chris Bosh.  What is clear is that when Wade and James each score thirty points in a game they will be impossible to beat and we may see it happen with increasing frequency. 

For me, though, there is larger question: was Miami a title contender before Lebron made his decision?   The realistic answer was that no, they were not.  Now, because of a single, villainous act – they are and Lebron is the major reason.  He has transformed the team frommaking the playoffs to title contender.  Miami is currently the team to beat and few teams have found a way to do it now that Lebron and Wade are playing so well together. 

At the end of the season I hope the NBA decides to do then what it did in December…

Co – MVP’s? 

What do you think?  Who would you vote for MVP – Lebron or DWade or neither? 

Cam Newton: The Second Coming of…

This season Cam Newton has played like the second coming of…Vince Young, David Carr, Jamarcus Russell, Akili Smith and yes, Ryan Leaf.  Right now, you may be asking how the reigning Heisman winner who has yet to play his final college game has been added to this illustrious group.  The answer is really quite simple – he will be a huge NFL bust just like all the others

No doubt many team’s are looking at Newton’s “evolutionary skills” and thinking about how great he would look in their uniform, especially now that it appears Andrew Luck will return to the college ranks for another season.  The only problem is that Newton has all the markings of a one-year wonder NFL bust. 

One year wonder NFL bust?

Yes a bust and remember you heard it here first when Newton falls flat on his face in the pros.  Has he had a remarkable season against one of the toughest schedules in the nation?  Absolutely – but when it comes to making a pro football quarterback that is not the only indication of a sure thing. 

Journey with me, if you will, back to 1999.  Three quarterbacks were about to be selected 1, 2, 3 in the draft.  One of them, Tim Couch, was a dink and dunk, noodle-armed player who in hindsight never really had a chance in the pros.  The second was a strong armed one year wonder from Oregon.  The third was Donovan McNabb. 

Only one of them was entering with the perfect combination necessary for NFL success – McNabb.  For a couple of years he had been a solid player for Syracuse and had all the tools necessary for success in the big leagues. 

Naturally he is the only one who had any semblence of a career out of the three men.  Smith (who some, like SI touted as a potential top pick) fell to the Bengals with the third pick in the draft.  However, the warning signs for his eventual NFL failure in the pros were evident even before his name was called.  How does this bear on Newton, the one year wonder de jour?

1) Appeared from nowhere to rise to the top of the Collegiete ranks – Like Akili Smith, no one gave Cam Newton any publicity for the Heisman this season.  No one gave Auburn a national title shot.  Some left them completely out of the top 25.  One of the reasons was that Newton came into the season an unknown who transferred out of juco and Florida.  Yet, at the end of the season he stood on the podium hoisting the trophy amidst allegations his father recieved money from schools and that he recieved academic “help” while at Florida.  (Auburn naturally ignored the fact that this was happening since they were winning football games for the first time in the last five years)  Akili Smith, David Carr, Jamarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf all had similiar leaps into the front of the national stage.  With each of their miraculous seasons they jumped to the top of draft boards despite their shaky and non-existent long-term histories.  (Exception to the rule: Vince Young who had a great career at Texas and went into the draft on the high of his National Title victory…a la Cam Newton?)

2) A Prototype NFL QB…or an “Evolutionary” One – Some scouts stated Jamarcus Russell had the best arm any of them had ever seen.  While he could throw it a long way, unfortunately he could not hit the broad side of a barn at the best of times.  Ditto David Carr…ditto Akili Smith…ditto Ryan Leaf…Newton on the other hand appears to be a semi-accurate college QB, completing 67% of his throws this season.  However, that does not always translate to the pros.  David Carr could throw accurately at times too.  Guys like Newton, Young and Smith draw in GM’s with tantalizing potential that they can never live up to.  Vince Young never had the right attitude to become an NFL quarterback, Jamarcus Russell never had the drive (because he was paid 40 million dollars before playing a snap), David Carr never had the right situation or the body to hold up, Smith and Leaf were just downright terrible.  Teams have often played up “the prototype” and in some cases the guys they draft in the sixth round (Tom Brady) live up to it a lot more than the first round players.

3) Lack of an overall great college career – Jamarcus Russell did well enough at LSU to secure himself the number one selection overall thanks to his monster arm.  He was a “can’t miss” prospect.  He missed…badly.  Philip Rivers completed 73% of his passes while at NC State and people felt he would be hit or miss.  Which one of them is playing in the Pro Bowl?  Not Russell.  Vince Young rode a wave of glory in the Rose Bowl to declare for the draft.  He went third and is mired in an ugly divorce with the Titans due to the fact that he is downright terrible.  While college success does not always indicate a good pro prospect (see Tebow, Tim) at times it can be a solid way to make a pick.  Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford were great in college (but avoided the unreachable-tantalizing-potential problem) and have become all-stars and franchise players in the NFL.  One of the major problems with players whose potential exceeds their limitations is that teams never quite know what they are getting themselves into since they enter the league a bundle of raw talent.  With Vince Young, Alex Smith or Jamarcus Russell their knowledge of intricate pro-style offenses was extremely limited.  They could run and throw but they never understood the progression of recievers; they either threw short or long.  Another thing that doomed them was the limitations of the pro system as running became less and less of an option against fast, tough NFL linebackers and safeties just waiting to knock them clean out of the game.   

The best example of how it may turn out for Newton lies with the improbable return of Michael Vick.  In Atlanta he admits he had no idea how to run a pro-style offense.  His physical gifts were unlike any the NFL had ever seen and yet he barely scratched the surface of his abilities (for one he had the best arm in the league and chose to throw randomly all over the field).  Only now, after he has been incredibly humbled, has Vick begun to play to his potential.  He is patient and uses his running ability to keep defenses honest while he surgically dismantles them with his powerful arm. 

While Newton (character issues!  character issues!  Lazy?)  has potential to go either way, it is my firm belief he will ultimately be an NFL bust due to the fact he will struggle with pro offenses and will not work hard enough to improve.  He will be coast by on his natural abilities and believe they can move him through the rough patches and frighteningly fast defences.  Unfortunately, none of his “evolutionary skills” will carry him very far in the pros without an equal amount of dedication and hard work; thus his career may be similiar to Russell’s or Smith’s or, more likely, Vince Young’s. 

Then again – he will be getting paid, and we all know how hard he plays for a good payday