Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Brief And Obvious Point About The Spurs Winning Game 3 Against The Clippers Without Big Contributions from Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili

Not Always Needed
(Yes, I made the mistake of turning on the World Wide Lemur this morning and getting a fresh blast of Stupid A. Smith...)

The Spurs have more than those three players.

Most specifically, they have the Defensive Player of the Year in Kawhi Leonard, the best coach of his generation in Gregg Popovich, and a bench of guys who would have qualified for the playoffs in the East, so long as Popovich was the coach.

They don't actually *need* Parker, Duncan and Ginobili to be their old selves to win playoff games.

Especially when they are at home, and facing a team whose bench is one offense-only scorer (Jamal Crawford), one guy who is only in the NBA because his dad is his coach (Austin Rivers), one power forward with the coordination and lift of a drunken seal (Glen "Big Baby" Davis), and the least intimidating 7-footer since Brad Sellers (Spencer Hawes)...

Chris Polk, We Hardly Knew Ye

I'm sure these are Gang Signs
> Eagles rescind restricted free agent offer to RB Chris Polk.

Consider this to be yet another in a long series of Andy Reid's Picks Need Not Apply. Polk's only -- repeat, ONLY -- failing as an NFL running back is a relatively slow recovery pattern from injury. In terms of speed, blocking and catching, he's all league average or better. He's also young, not on the downside of his career, Not Small, and has a track record of high production in limited carries. While some saw him purely as a short yardage back due to Franchise Nero Chip Kelly's use of him last year, he's also taken kickoffs the distance, and scored on long runs. He's got wheels. In short, he's everything you want your RB2 to be. In Nero Kelly's Eagles, he's RB4, and hence, gone.

What this reminds me of, on a lesser level, is when the franchise pissed away Charlie Garner in the mid 1990s. The fan base loved Garner as the young speed back to Ricky Watters, who was the veteran power guy. Management saw Garner as too small to stay healthy. Garner wound up being a poor man's Brian Westbrook for the better part of a decade, most of which was spent in Oakland during the last years that franchise was worth a damn.

Anyway, back to Polk. If you want to defend the move... you can't. He had to go because Nero Kelly had to have expensive small back Darren Sproles a year ago, and Sproles didn't age out last year. He had to go because trading LeSean McCoy, the best RB in franchise history, was necessary because McCoy was an uppity Reid guy, and Nero Kelly had to have his Oregon guy in Kiko Alonso. (Hope he's healthy! Oh, wait, I forgot, I don't hope he's healthy. I hope the Eagles go 0-16 next year with Tim Tebow getting all the starts.) He had to go because letting DeMecco Ryans and his aged-out knees go wasn't possible, because Ryans is Nero Kelly's personal binkie. He had to go because Nero Kelly had to replace McCoy with overpriced injury-riddled guys in DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews.

In short, it's just another bad move, predicated by the dozen-odd bad moves made before it. Quick, someone find out if any of his friends growing up have ever been in a gang.

And honestly, given the injury history of Murray and Mathews, and the size of Sproles... he might have been RB1 by the second half of next year's Disaster Team. But Nero Kelly has Magic Smoothies, so I'm sure all of the hurt guys will be fine.

Have a great rest of your career, Chris Polk. I know that being let go sucks, and that it's all kinds of worrisome about where you'll play next, and how you'll make your money. But trust me, getting away from Nero Kelly will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to your career...

Friday, April 24, 2015

Homey Don't Eat That

So I was watching Chris Rock's treatise on HBO as to how baseball has become a sport that's more or less ignored by African-Americans, which transfers to a sport that is more or less ignored by Young Americans. You can see it here, and it's pretty great. (Warning: it's a little blue.)

Rock's got an awful lot of good thoughts to think about here, but I can't help but wonder if he missed a few . The first is that this change in the makeup of the game is part of the reason why offense and home runs and general excitement is all down, down, down. (Not that there haven't been a bunch of great black pitchers, but, um, more great black hitters.)

Which sounds like I'm slagging the Asian, White and Latin talent that has taken their place, but that's a too-simple way of looking at things. It's more that the overall talent level isn't as high, because the pool of players that are feeding it isn't as vast. Consider, for a moment, just how many preternaturally young players have managed to come up and dominate recently. That's evocative of what happened a long time ago, when you had guys as young as 16 have use at the major league level. A similar point can be made about how truly bad teams now are much more likely to lose 100+ games than they were a few decades ago. Deeper talent pools make for smaller differences between good and bad teams.

Finally, I want to bring it back to the actual stadium experience itself. Rock ties this into a comically sinister desire to revisit a world before integration, where the crowds, like the players, are just overwhelmingly white. And while there's easy humor in this, I think there's actually a point to be made.

When I went to games 20 and 30 years ago, it was affordable... not just to get in the building, but also to eat there. You could bring your own food, for one thing. And baseball isn't like other sports; you are more or less expected to eat, and you are going to, because the game is three hours long and leisurely, and it's just so much in the culture of being there. No one is singing songs about concessions at hoop, hockey or football...

And all of that was fine when the concessions were cheap and democratic.  But when the stadiums got better, so did the food. Now, the park is better seen as an upscale food court where if you don't have bank, you probably feel bad as you watch people all around you tucking into oversized insanity and nouveau riche stuff.

That can't be a comfortable time out, especially if you've got kids, and the kid is wondering why they can't have the big monster hot dog. Along with the overpriced merch, and these seats are really far away, and suddenly this really doesn't seem like such a great time out, amirite?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Most Attractive NBA Coaching Vacancy Ever

Buh Bye
With the possible exception of when the Warriors ran off Mark Jackson last year, there may not be a more attractive NBA coaching job in recent memory.

You walk into a situation where you've got...

1) One of the most athletic point guards in NBA history, and a guy who nearly dragged a team to the playoffs by his own damned self, in Russell Westbrook.

2) The probable return of the best defensive power forward in the league in Serge Ibaka.

3) The probable return of ex-MVP Kevin Durant, who, if healthy, will be unbelievably motivated for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that he might have the biggest Free Agent Contract Year ever.

4) A full season to integrate C Enes Kanter, the franchise's first low-post offensive threat from an actual honest to God big man.

5) A reasonable first round pick in a deep draft.

6) A thoroughly useful nasty young big in Steven Adams, a very promising benchie big in Mitch McGary, a decent three and D benchie in Anthony Morrow, a decent offensive point benchie in DJ Augustin, a talented but troubled gunning combo guard in Dion Waiters...

7) A roster that looked, for weeks in the second half of the season before Ibaka went down, like the most terrifying 8 seed in NBA history, and...

8) A situation where, if Durant leaves, you just cut the chutes and get the hell out of town your own damned self, because the franchise would go straight to the lottery and worse, and will never, ever attract a real FA. Because, um, Oklahoma.

If I'm an NBA coach of anything but the top 10 situations, or with very high security in my job, I'm asking my people to ask Thunder GM Sam Presti for a confidential interview, before I pull a Jason Kidd In Brooklyn.

If I'm a college coach that wants out, I'm sending Presti hot meals, and seeing if there's any way I can cozy up to Westbrook and Durant.

Because this franchise could be in the NBA Finals next year... and taking over from a coach who never seemed to have a bigger plan than let Kevin or Russell Play Hero Ball late?

Dunking on six foot rims.

While trying hard not to giggle, or make Mark Jackson Cookie Monster noises.

The Best First Round NBA Playoff Series Is Being Ruined By Idiot Rules About Fouling

Goddamnit, NBA
Tonight in Los Angeles, the Clippers trailed in the fourth quarter. The Spurs intention- ally fouled C DeAndre Jordan relentlessly, destroying pace and racking up the bad karma... but the Clips kept grinding, getting loose balls, forcing turnovers, and eventually taking a 2-point lead in the final minute. One last steal gave the Clips the ball with 30 seconds left, Chris Paul pounding the dribble with a 2-point lead. All he needed to do was score or get to the line, get a make, and seal up highly deserved doom for the karmic misery that was relentlessly intentional fouling... only karma is a story and stories aren't facts, so Paul turned it over, then fouled in the transition game, and the Spurs tied it, with Patty Mills doing the honors. Then Paul missed an end of regulation jumper, and hey, more basketball.

In overtime, the game got good again. The Spurs didn't foul, made some shots, played actual defense against Jordan, and took the early lead. Paul fed JJ Redick for a tying three. Tim Duncan made an absurd shot while falling, part of an unreal throwback night, then Mills leaked out beautifully for a fast break to make the lead five. Blake Griffin turned it over twice in overtime, Kawhi Leonard snuck in for a backdoor layup, and the road team lead by six with a minute left. Paul made a hero three, but Redick missed a tying three attempt in transition with 15 seconds left on Leonard's late contest. Mills made more big free throws. Redick hit a three. Mills made two more to ice it, Griffin missed a too-late three, and the Spurs escaped with a 4-point overtime win. This is your only 1-1 series in the first round.

In short, the overtime was everything the fourth quarter should have been, and probably wasn't watched by anyone on the East Coast or Central time zones. Because it all happened past 1am EST, and after a half hour of Cover Your Eyes, teeth grinding misery.

Please note that I have no dog in the Spurs-Clips fight. San Antonio wins too often to be lovable, with their fans being way too fat and happy. I've never had love for them based on appreciation for a fantasy guy, since coach Gregg Popovich spreads the minutes too much to make that a winning play. The Clips have been difficult to love for a generation due to their ownership, and even the current renaissance has been spoiled by the presence of ex-Celtics. My only hope for this series is Good Basketball, and I'd be getting that...

Except that the NBA hasn't fixed the utterly reprehensible intentional fouling rules.

This should be about Tim Duncan. The man is about to turn 39, and was the best player on the floor for most of the game. He's the best power forward ever, played 44 minutes tonight and had 28 points. It should be about Mills, who was huge when the team needed him the most, and might have to be that big the rest of the way if Tony Parker is hurt. It should be about Leonard, so good defensively, so much of a team player on offense that he never demands touches, and always seems to come up big.

Instead, it's about fouling.

Look, I don't care, and no one who actually watches the games should care, about the strategic merits of this. And if you seriously want to argue to me that Jordan should just be better at shooting free throws, all that tells me is YOU DON'T WATCH THE GAMES. Because Jordan is a wonderful player with the exception of this one damned thing, so you don't care about how it looks. Besides, there is no other sport where everything stops because one guy isn't good at one small thing, and the other team can make the entire game about that.

Basketball is art and sport, with athletes from every continent coming to play here, at the highest level. You can't say that about any other sport. No one who plays this game is at risk for their future health. Franchises all have the same amount to spend, and small market franchises can keep their superstars if they are smart about it. The playoff season is fantastic.

But I just spent 3+ hours watching a game that should have ended in 2, and watched a team win that spit in the face of the Basketball Gods...

Because of the damned fouling.

Please, NBA, for the love of the game... fix this. Make the rules for the last two minutes the same as the rest of the game. It would end this in a heartbeat, and make everything better.

I don't care that you aren't supposed to change the rules in mid-year. Just tell your refs to tell the coaches, the day before the game, that if you do it, they are going to call illegal defense and technical fouls to compensate, and 2X every infraction. Also, that there will be punitive fines and the removal of draft picks if they go to the media about this.

Just. End. It.

Because there is no absolutely no excuse for the post-game to be about stupid fouling, and for a great 2-hour game to be hidden in an unwatchable 3-hour game.

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