Monday, February 28, 2011

FTT Off-Topic: A Few Words For Subway Stairway Dawdlers

I realize that most of you do not have a mass transit commute, or bounce between six trains in three to four hours of travel per day. Hell, no one does that; that's plainly insane. But humor me while I drain the poison from the swamp, and say this.

If you are on approach to a subway turnstile, and the train that is in the station isn't yours, so you are in no hurry for it...

Can you please, for the love of a lack of public rage, shake a leg or step to the side and let the people who are clearly hauling cheek get to their freaking train?

And yes, I know, there will be another train in five minutes or less, and I should just be more sanguine about missing this one. Or more likely, not. And when that next train is late, as it now has to be, or so jammed that entry is impossible or at least remarkably unpleasant... and so is the connecting train that I need to make the third train? The five minutes becomes 20, or even 40. I've got New Jersey Transit covering the last leg; the final leg of the journey can be *any amount*. But let's call it 40.

And the 40? That's my evening workout, or the time I get with my kids before their already too-late bedtime. So either way, my reasons for remaining a healthy, positive and upbeat person are going south.

All because you can't be present enough to trudge your sorry self off the single-file steps at anything beyond a disinterested shamble. And for the purposes of this little thought experiment, you are not old, infirm or injured, and the only reason you are taking for freaking ever to clear the area is because you could not care less about any life but your own.

So... move it, willya? Please?

Is Tyrod Taylor the Eagles' new Michael Vick?

So my man Tracer Bullet wants the Eagles to draft Tyrod Taylor, the Virginia Tech QB from Hampton, VA (hey, that's where Allen Iverson is from!) with the obvious physical skills and reasonable resemblance to our current hero, especually when he's tucking the ball and running. Check out the 2:45 highlight agsint UNC; that's Vick-esque. And sorry about the backing music. I know it's a bit much.



Which led me to ping an old friend of mine who happens to work at Va Tech, and has been watching the local team for some time. Here's what she had to say about him:

He can run OK, but we won't see him as a quarterback in the NFL. He hasn't got the brains. Yes, I know.
Which leads one to wonder how important that particular attribute is, really. Vince Young supposedly had a 6 on the Wonderlic and still won games in the league; his behavior, more than his intellect, has been his downfall. Every week on my tee vee, Dan Marino, Phil Simms and Troy Aikman prove that QBs don't have to be able to think, much less talk, to have had good careers. And for the most part, super brainy QBs like Ryan Fitzpatrick aren't stars; most of the times, guys like that are backups at best. (Oh, and when the back up is a white guy with odd ideas about life, a la Koy Detmer and his just pack a toothbrush joie de vive? He's an eccentric, never a dummy. Heh.)

But getting back to the point... If you are a really smart football player, I actually think that you aren't going to be as good as a guy with an average intellect. Mr. Brain is going to go to class rather than the weight room, and he's going to slide or run out of bounds rather than kill himself for yards, especially when the game is out of hand. He's got the ability to think about his future, and that's not a good thing between the lines.

The bigger issue for me with Taylor is that he is only a 57% passer, and has the Vickian disease of taking contact at the end of runs. He also doesn't look too big to me, so he could have all of the flaws of the original without the magic. But all in all, these seem to be better problems to have, in that they are coachable... and you would have to think that if he went to the place that made Vick his most dangerous, that might work out well. I also like that Taylor's Tech teams won a lot of games. That helps.

Not that, of course, I know college football for sour apples, or have any real idea when my laundry would need to spend a pick on this guy. Given that they currently have two capable starting quarterbacks and potentially no capable starting linebackers, it's also not an area of need, assuming a Kevin Kolb trade isn't in the works. Finally, by talking about him, we drive up his buzz and make the team have to select him earlier then they might like. So, um, forget we said anything.

(But for the record, the last time I thought about a guy for my laundry before he put it on, and the guy played in front of a friend? DeSean Jackson. And that worked out pretty well and all...)

"I still have my dignity"


Um, not so fast, CBS golf announcer David Feherty. And if you ever find yourself, in any situation, wearing clothing that has bullseyes on it? Dignity isn't so much part of the equation.

Bonus and obvious comment for your Caddyshack / Rodney Dangerfield fans... "I shoulda yelled two!"

Top 10 reasons why the NFLPA will decerify

The Internets report that in an effort to prevent the widely-feared NFL owners lockout, the players' union will decertify next week. As always, we have the real reasons beyind the move.

10) Decertifying will make for fewer meetings, making it easier for the players to join their union brothers and sisters in the protest in Madison, Wisconsin

9) It promises to really cheese off the owners, and that alone makes it a win right about now

8) Promises to ensure legal billing, and when lawyers make money, that's just a win for everyone

7) Would open up the league to lawsuits from individual players, which given the league's in and out nature about concussions, expanding the regular season games, and making people work for Daniel Snyder, should scare the owners silly

6) About the only thing they can do to keep NFL fans from paying way too much attention to the televised reading of names in a few weeks

5) Might have the delightful effect of tossing the salary cap and franchise player aside, leading to the large market owners going into a dog eat dog bidding frenzy of salary madness

4) Gives individual players the chance to finally join the Arena League or Lingerie Bowl and follow their true dreams

3) Might be the only way to get a pro-union story into the minds of the media and general public who enjoy child labor, unsafe working conditions, outsourcing and corporate robber barony

2) It worked in 1989, and might be the only thing the NFL players union has ever done that actually, well, worked

1) Preventing the owners from locking them out is really more important than anything else, obviously

Paper Heat Tiger

Tonight in Miami, in front of a national audience, the Heat blew a 15-point lead to lose to the new-look Knicks... yes, the same Knicks that lost to the woebegone Cavaliers the other night. And while some might see this as how the Knicks are dangerous when they play defense, or how the Heat just can't seem to get over the hump in close games, especially against good teams... well, um, whatever. Because despite the records involved, and the seeming weakness of the top teams in the East... well, I just can't shake the feeling that what we're watching is a sideshow.

Chauncey Billups hit the go-ahead three, Dwyane Wade struggled, and the Knicks took advantage of 20 Heat turnovers. Miami fell behind the Bulls and Celtics for best record in the East, the Knicks continue to look like the #6 seed assuming that the Sixers can't get white-hot, and all that you really need to know about how hollow the Heat are is that the Knicks shot 39% from the field in a road game and won. In front of a packed house, with a ton of celebrities, with the full attention of the NBA-watching nation...

And honestly, can anyone see either of these teams going past the second round?

If the season ended today, Boston gets Indiana in the first round, and rolls them. Miami probably struggles a bit with the Sixers, but prevails. Chicago rolls New York, and Atlanta beats Orlando, since they should be better now that they've got Kirk Hinrich instead of the corpse of Mike Bibby. Which sets up a second round in which Boston beats Atlanta again, and Miami loses to Chicago. Leading to a final in the east of Boston and Chicago, and nine months of Superteam Speculation that doesn't amount to a damned thing, really.

Too harsh? Probably not. Neither of these teams has a bench, gets stops, has players that have really performed under a playoff spotlight. Neither of these teams should be able to do much in a Finals against the Lakers, assuming that Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant can turn back the clock one last time, and if the Thunder break through, I'd also take them over either of the "super" teams.

But that's not really why, of course, the teams are attracting attention. The Association has always been a game in which stars make scenes, and with four of the best players in the league on the floor at one time -- even if those four players might not fit perfectly well together -- you can't really fault people for paying attention. Especially when Boston plays such a horrific game to watch, the Lakers are exactly old hat, and only the cognescenti know enough about the Thunder to truly love them. Besides, there's that whole Odious Carpetbagging Owner situation to ignore.

So it's not so much who the Heat and Knicks are now, as opposed to what they might eventually become... and how much people are willing to go for the Next Big Thing. Because, well, that's not the Lakers or Celtics. And a freaking men to that.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Top 10 takeaways from the Kendrick Perkins Trade

10) Shockingly, Celtics Fan is showing signs of liking the new white guy, and not liking the new black guy

9) After two days of crying, eating ice cream and chocolate and taking Midol, the Celtics' locker room is starting to show signs of accepting the move

8) Beating the 21-40 Clippers in their first game back from an 11-game road trip after trading away their point guard proves that everything's going to work out OK

7) Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic are going to be much better now that they have real NBA fans rooting for them, rather than those clueless Oklahoma yahoos that just show up for every game and shower their team with love and encouragement

6) It will be Highly Educational to see if Kevin Garnett remains a first-class wrestling heel now that Perkins has been replaced by a finesse player

5) When Delonte West gets more minutes than Green, that's not exactly selling jerseys in the greater Boston area

4) The fact that Perkins has an MCL sprain and might miss a few weeks means the Celtics have already won this trade

3) If Perkins thugs a guy in a future game against the Celtics, it will show that he was always overrated and the team won without him

2) The idea that someone would actually want Antoine Walker's number kind of boggles the mind, really

1) This trade is much more important than the Carmelo Anthony deal, the Deron Williams trade, and anything else involving teams that aren't the Celtics

Higher Nerd: Making My Fantasy Baseball Draft Day Better

So it's just three weeks from one of the best days of the year -- my fantasy baseball draft, which has a live auction, in a keeper league, with 10 out of the 12 original owners still on board. And because I'm just wired this way, I'm always wondering how to make the draft better. Part of the job is already done, because the draft happens in my Man Cave, which gets periodic upgrades every few weeks since I host a poker game, but still. If I can't win my league (and, well, I haven't yet, though I have cashed from time to time), at least I can win the appreciation of my owners.

I already stepped up my game last year with a jumbo sized board and labels (available from www.brunosdraftkits.com, and no, this isn't a paid endorsement -- Bruno's the second provider I've used, and just provides a better product). The food is always top-grade barbecue, which plays into the league's name and theme (House of Meat, which is the name of a local deli, and also ties into the classic baseball nickname of calling a pitcher "Meat"). There's usually Wifi and ample electric outlets for everyone's laptop, a conference call number for the out-of-towners and Web back up. So there isn't an obvious move to make things better... except, of course, for two enhancements that I probably can't work out. Maybe.

The first is a devoted auctioneer or assistant. As an active owner and commish, I'm at a slight tactical disadvantage when running a draft, since I can't spend as much time on my own pick as owners who don't have a draft to run. But as you might have guessed by now, I'm a bit of a control / OCD freak, and letting the draft go into the hands of someone new just puts things into an uncomfortable place for me. It might lead to a better league, and it might not... and all things being equal, I'd rather have a good league than the best team.

Besides, it also gives me a great excuse for when my teams fail.

The second possible enhancement is to go digital on the board, rather than have the paper and labels. At least a half dozen times a draft, you make a mistake in placement or price on the labels, and wish that you could have something more manageable. Whether that's a magnetic plate situation, where the names can be moved and updated without potentially wrecking your board...

Well, there's actually a better option, of course. A fully digital one. But to do that would require a high definition screen that's just absurdly large and expensive, which isn't feasible or responsible for my family situation. So long as I'm dreaming, I clearly need my auctioneer or draft assistant to be a hot babe to distract my more salacious owners, too.

Anyway, if you've got other suggestions to offer, or things you've seen work out in your own draft, I'd love to hear them. Similarly, if you are local to central New Jersey, free on Saturday, March 19, know baseball and want to blow an afternoon doing clerical work for barbecue, I'd also love to hear from you. That's what the comments are there for; have at it.

Top 10 takeaways from the Carmelo Anthony / George Karl Beef

Now that the star forward has been moved out of Denver, Nuggets' coach George Karl had this to say to the national TNT audience:

“Defense is commitment. I’ve got young guys and if they don’t give me the commitment, I’ve got other guys who will give me the commitment. The system sometimes ties you up from getting the commitment. You have to handle what Melo gives you. I’m not knocking Melo, he is a great offensive player. Melo is the best offensive player I’ve ever coached, but his defensive focus, his demand of himself is what frustrated us more than anything.”

Leading to 'Melo responding with this Jay-Z lyric on his Twitter feed:

"WHEN THE GRASS IS CUT THE SNAKES WILL SHOW"

and

"Damn, are u serious. Some people never seize to amaze me. Unbelievable"

and another direct quote to a beat writer, the next day:

"That's him. That's George Karl so I don't really try to pay too much attention to that. I know that what I've done there in the 7 1/2 years I've been there; going to the Western Conference Finals. Last year, we were top five in a lot of categories. All that stuff, I don't know where it's coming from. I try not to pay too much attention to it."

So now that you know the background, here is The Rest of The Story...

10) As a fellow Syracuse man, it's very troubling to see that Carmelo doesn't know the proper use of cease versus seize

9) The fact that Karl is regarded as a great coach despite having undisciplined teams with no rings shouldn't be brought up, since he's fought off cancer and all

8) Carmelo's timing to lose in a defense-free effort against the terrible Cavs was kind of pitch-perfect

7) Sadly, Denver does not play New York again this year, unless (um, sure) it will be in the Finals

6) Given that the Nuggets still employ J.R. Smith, Ty Lawson, Al Harrington and Danilo Gallinari, we're kind of thinking that Anthony wasn't the only defensive problem here

5) 'Melo might not want to rest on his Denver laurels, seeing how the team only got past the first round once, and probably won't this year, either

4) The next star player that Karl coaches that he doesn't throw under the bus, the second that he's no longer coaching him, will be the first (see Shawn Kemp, Gary Peyton, Glenn Robinson, Ray Allen, Sam Cassel and Allen Iverson)

3) If this incident somehow results in another weird NBA snake nickname, ala Kobe Bryant being The Black Mamba, that's all good

2) This won't affect Denver's ability to attract another top-tier talent at all

1) For a guy trying to not pay too much attention to Karl, 'Melo sure seems to be paying too much attention to Karl

Top 10 takeaways from the Piston Mutiny



Following a suspiciously under-attended shoot-around before Friday's game in Philadelphia, rumors have been rife that the veteran Pistons players are trying to get their coach, second-year promoted assistant John Kuester, canned. Here's all that you need to know...

10) When your players are laughing at the coach as he gets ejected, that's not a good sign

9) We're not saying that Joe Dumars has had a bad few years as GM, but Pistons Fan is starting to wonder if Isiah Thomas is better at this

8) This won't affect Greg Monroe's decision to re-sign after his rookie contract is up at all

7) Somehow the team didn't rally to win as a short-handed six-man team on the road after all this

6) Given that this involves one of the teams that employed Allen Iverson, I'm required by NBA blogger law to make a remark here about talking about practice

5) This team can't be sold, contracted or replaced by D-Leaguers fast enough

4) The next team that willingly employs Rip Hamilton, Tracy McGrady or Ben Wallace will not be a very good team, either

3) Between this and Miguel Cabrera drinking Scotch during his DUI interview, it hasn't been a particularly strong month for Detroit Fan, but given that he also roots for the Lions, it's not as if they aren't prepared for such things

2) When the coach on a team that has seen better days basically stops playing the most respected player on the team, and the team does not rade him, Bad Things Happen

1) The fact that the team came back to win the next night against Utah tells you all that you need to know about how the Jazz are doing after the Deron Williams trade

The Return Of The Vacation Hand

Poker Diary Time. This weekend, I went back to the Casino of Doom, aka Parx, the big poker room that's far too close by, and usually filled with weekend maniacs that has made me, on several occasions, reconsider life as a poker player. And in the upset of the year... it didn't suck!

The table, for once, was to my liking -- tight, with relatively few crazy pre-flop raises, and little in the way of maniacal behavior. I got to see a lot of flops without putting too much of my stack at risk, and after a half hour of minimal play and losses, I finally started to catch hands and flops. A pair of queens got called for a pre-flop raised; the flop was rags, and my continuation bet took it down. A big blind middle pair flop got called all the way to the river, but the other guy was chasing a flush and whiffed, which got me back above my starting stack. Ace-3 suited flopped a house that I checked to the river, but no one else caught much of anything, so I took a pretty minimum pot. In about two hours, I had added about 50% to my stack... and that's when the table changed with a maniac taking the seat to the left of me.

How maniacal? Into a table where the pre-flop raises hadn't gone much past $10, he's going to $25 on the first hand, then shoving all-in after the flop, showing pocket kings. It's white-knuckle time and I get the sense that things are going to change hard, one way or the other. And well, that's what happened, thanks to the return of my favorite hand.. King Jack.

I know, intellectually, that this isn't a great hand, especially when it's off suit. But like many not particularly great hands, it can pay off big when it hits, especially if you call a pre-flop raise with it. That's exactly what happened as the flop came down K-5-5. With a pot of $50, I bet $25, and get just the maniac calling. A turn low spade puts a runner-runner flush on the board, and I put another $25 out to a call, dreading that I'm just paying off trips. Another call. The river fills the runner-runner club flush chance, and I just want things to end, so I put out $20, hoping that the under bet will confuse. Instead, he comes over the top for another $55. I go into the tank for a good couple of minutes, watch his hands for any chance of a tell, and think it out. The runner-runner flush doesn't enter my consideration, there's no straight chance, and I'm obviously beating any other pair but aces. So it really comes down to trips or nothing, and he's obviously aggressive enough to try to bet me off it... and well, the amount, and the way he's touching his chips, just make me think my kings are good. I called it, and he throws his cards into the muck; just one of the better moments of my life as a player, really.

My last win is another pre-limp raise called with K-J against several callers, including my ride, who goes all-in for his last $25 on a night when he's just running bad. Flush with chips and priced with late position, I call and catch a really nice flop, with the straight filling on the turn, and this time, my under-bet $20 on the hit knocks out the other callers; probably my worst play of the night, in that a check might have brought some more chips my way. So after about three hours of work, I'm up to 2.5 times my chip stack, with the two big wins coming down from K-J, and I can't tell you how useful the cash was. It's especially true now, since I'm dreaming of getting out of credit card debt for once and for all, and the house needed groceries. Plus, the room doesn't scare me any more. So that's a... win? Probably. Knock wood.

And if you are playing against me, and not thinking that I'd stay in a hand with K-J? Well, you must not be reading the diaries...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Top 10 thoroughly shocking pre-spring training MLB developments

10) The Reds and Cardinals have managed to upset each other through the careless use of language

9) Jimmy Rollins guaranteed something or other

8) Brian Roberts missed some workouts, but says he'll be totally fine

7) The federal government lawsuit against Barry Bonds moved forward but did not finish

6) Rich Harden is dealing with an injury

5) Miguel Cabrera had a regrettable episode with alcohol

4) Joe Mauer downgraded any possible health issue

3) Yankee coverage revolved entirely around the weight of various pitchers

2) Dutiful stories were filed by Royals beat writers about the team's incredible young talent

1) The Mets embarrassed their fans with the off-the-field misadventures of their management

Superteams Only?

So with the Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams trades to the New York teams, there's much hullabaloo in NBA scold circles that the developments are bringing the league to a new era of top-heavy teams.

And, well, I understand the prejudice against major market clubs that seem to be taking advantage of superstars that are gaming the system... but, um, what?

The Association is the most top-heavy championship situation in major American sports. The number of teams that have won a championship in the past 25 years is trivial compared to the NFL and MLB... and well, even if free agents are coagulating and conspiring, why is that any worse then the awful trades that have helped the Celtics and Lakers?

There's no reason to think that the Heat are going to be the prohibitive favorites to win a championship this year, especially now that Boston has made the Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green trade. (I love the trade for the Thunder and much less so for the Celtics, but from the standpoint of Beating The Heat, it works for Boston. Just not Orlando, the Lakers or the Thunder. Moving on.) The Knicks have become Nuggets East -- an entertaining but defense-free fraud, and while everyone seems to think that they are going to get a Chris Paul or Deron Williams level point guard as soon as either man becomes available, that's not really a given. There isn't any other "superteam" that's really on the radar, and if a new CBA and/or hard cap kicks in, there might not be another one of these, anyway.

And even if the stars all align... well, so what? When has ungainly collections of mature talent ever worked out perfectly, without any ego or injury or unforeseen developments ever cropping up?

As I write this, Miami is playing Chicago, and the third wheel of the Superteam, Chris Bosh, is 1 for 18. That's one of the worst shooting performances in the history of the Association, and it's more or less a pattern for Bosh in big games this year, which is why the Heat's record in tight games against good opponents is not good at all. The Heat also have two points from their bench. In other words, they are a bad elbow to LeBron, or a revisit from Dwyane Wade's prior injury history, away from being a fraud contender. Hell, for all we know, they are already a fraud contender, given Bosh's softness, and the fact that the Heat do things like leave wide-open corner threes in crunch time. (Ye gads, that was awful. But I digress.)

So what's driving the hand-wringing, beyond the usual dislike for sportswriters for when well-paid labor gets to choose where they work? Well, it's a couple of things. First off is that the biggest media guys are from teams that have won it before; there isn't really a Heat or Nets writer that's getting major publicity. Secondly, many NBA fans are older and in cities that aren't ever going to be a magnet for NBA stars; the next superstar that's genuinely excited about living in Salt Lake City won't be the first, but it's not exactly common. So there's a certain level of defensiveness and insecurity that's just palpable.

And finally, there's the need to show off your massive brain and your curmudgeonly ways. The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and you do know not just who's going to win it all in June, but for the next five to ten years. The chance that a completely left-field team could break through and change everything, despite the fact that the Association brings in incredible new talent from all over the world every year... well, no. Because we know these guys, and everything. Or something.

Top 10 NBA Trade Deadline Takeaways

10) Oklahoma City really isn't interested in waiting to contend for a champ-ionship

9) If you are going to trade for Kirk Hinrich to get more athletic, you pretty much have to previously own Mike Bibby

8) It's not going to be awkward at all for OJ Mayo and Josh McReynolds to stay with their teams after that failed trade

7) Marcus Camby got Joel Przybilla shipped out of Portland by threatening to retire, which isn't exactly the first time someone has threatened to quit in Przy's presence

6) Byron Scott's year, in which he was the coach for a team with a record losing streak, somehow got worse, since he now gets to deal with Fat, Sad And Rich Baron Davis

5) Celtics Fan is really hoping that Jeff Green shows more than he did in the last playoff, and that not having Kendrick Perkins doesn't mean the team is really counting on The Dessicated Remains of the Brothers O'Neal

4) Phoenix got tired of waiting for the Goran Dragic of last year's playoff to show up, but not nearly as much as Houston wanted to get rid of Aaron Brooks

3) An NBA team actually traded for Hasheem Thabeet

2) While the Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams deals got all of the publicity, the Troy Murphy / Brandan Wright / Dan Gadzuric blockbuster will be the one that totally changes the balance of power in the Association

1) Shockingly, the trade deadline actually delivered real surprises and meaningful moves

Um, wow.



H/t, Deadspin. And Soccer Fan wonders why Other Sports Fan hates him, and his game. Wow, wow, wow. And if I were the guy whose arm he used, I think it's totally OK to go get a real, uncalled shot in return. (The cheater got a free kick out of this.)

The New Big Stein Fails Language

"Socialism is never the answer."

So says Hank Stein-brenner in discussing the horrific problem that is $130 million in revenue sharing and luxury tax programs that his Yankees' have to pay for the drawback of having to deal with "teams in minor markets." (One wonders, on some level, what Big Stein Junior knows of economic theory, since he's never had to work a day in his life, being the scion of a wealthy convicted felon and megalomaniac. But let's just let that go.)

And, well, he's right. It's wrong that baseball gets criticized every day and twice on Sunday for the fact that a third of the teams are DOA on Opening Day... just as it's wrong that there are only a handful of teams that are willing and able to get to the point of playing for top-tier talent. The idea that only about a half-dozen teams are realistic options for the best hitter in baseball is, well, crazy.

But, um, Hank? It's not socialism.

You see, socialism is actually a lot closer to what, say, the NFL is. You know the NFL? That artificially neutral market, where Green Bay and Pittsburgh just played for the championship in a game that set ratings records, despite the local media for both teams not even being the biggest in their also-ran population states?

That's socialism. With a nice side order of monopoly.

Baseball, on the other hand, is like a a poker table where half of the players come with bags and bags of money, and others are coming with the spare change contents of their sofas. The big money guys have to pay bigger blinds and antes, but if the little fish actually take down a pot or two, it's taken off the table, because the short stacks still have to buy gas to get home, and groceries and maybe a prescription medication or two. So they might win a few hands, but they aren't going home with money. Or, at least, they won't unless the big stacks start playing the dumbest game of poker you ever did see.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Top 10 takeaways from Deron Williams going to the Nets

10) In the past month, the Jazz have lost their legendary coach, their occasionally All-NBA point guard, and most of the reasons why the franchise shouldn't be contracted

9) Williams is said to be unhappy with moving from Salt Lake City to the greater New York area, which means he might not be very bright

8) On the bright side for Devin Harris, he'll get to roast Jason Kidd more often, and acquire an actual fan base

7) The Jazz will also receive several first round picks, which could be high enough to be prominent free agents once they are able to get the hell out of Utah

6) Since Williams isn't signed to a contract extension, Theoretically Existent Nets Fan gets to spend the next 18 months hoping that he doesn't want to spend a televised hour with ESPN in front of child props

5) The Jazz say they will market basketball without a star, which is to say they will market losing basketball while insulting Al Jefferson

4) Whether or not the move works out, Nets Fan feels good about upstaging the Carmelo Anthony trade, and theoretically paying less for a better player

3) Every NBA fan is thankful that the Jazz and Nets proved that you can still pull off a major trade in the Age of Twitter that happens quickly and surprises people

2) Now that they have Favors and all of these high picks, the Jazz will finally be able to lose with athleticism

1) Jazz Fan may finally be able to accept the idea that Chris Paul is a better player than Williams

Raining on the Melo Garden Party

So I caught the tail end of the new era in Knicks Basketball, where the Melo Boyz shook a pesky Bucks team for a win... and if you just watched the ESPN highlights, you would have thought the Knicks won in a runaway, seeing how a 6-point win was accompanied by a full minute of Knick-only highlights, and a postgame Melo serenade from the Garden faithful. And while the home team was really never in danger of losing this game, if you actually *watched* the flow of the game, rather than the highlights, you saw a very different story.

Milwaukee is not, to be kind, any kind of a team. Last year's 46-win feel-good bunch is now 22-35. They have one mildly tolerable big man, center Andrew Bogut, who has never really recovered from an elbow problem. The ball is dominated by "point" guard Brandon Jennings, a low-percentage shooter who seems more interested in highlight films than winning hoop. Tonight, they were carried by John Salmons, who had 27 and should never, ever, be the best player on the floor for an NBA team. And yet they were right there in this game, with Anthony going for 27 and 10, and Chauncey Billups contributing a 21/6/8 line, and streaky scrub Toney Douglas firing in for 23 on 10 of 12 shooting.

How did the Bucks do it? Well, here's a microcosm moment. With 2:50 left, after a Bogut travel, the Knicks led by six and looked poised to put it away... but Melo's driving layup was blocked by Bogut cleanly, with the ball going to Jennings. He got out into transition for a 3-on-3 break, got the ball back a solid seven seconds after the block... and beat his man, rookie shooting guard Landry Fields, off the dribble for an uncontested layup, since no New York big man had gotten back to defend. Thirty seconds later, Salmons dunked on a baseline drive, once again on an unprotected rim.

Am I making too much of the lapses? No, and here's why. Only eight Knicks got minutes tonight, with Amar'e fouling out in 34. Carmelo played 39 minutes, Fields played 42. The point, and it's a simple one, is this: this team isn't good defensively when they are fresh, and they aren't going to ever be fresh, because their bench, especially in the bigs, would shame a D-League team. And if you go hard at Stoudamire, as any intelligent team will, you can make them even worse defensively, since he's fairly foul-prone.

If they can be tested at home by a pretty terrible club, how exactly are they going to fare against, well, a good team? Probably OK, actually: the Bucks did hit a mess of threes tonight. But the bad defense late told me a lot more than any of the post-game highlights did. These guys are frauds until proven otherwise.

On the inevitability of female pitchers

So the cute / fun / inspiring story this week out of spring training camp is jow Justine Siegel, a 36-year-old assistant coach from Springfield, MA, became the first woman to ever throw batting practice. (And yes, yes, yes, feel free to make your Carlos Zambrano, Oliver Perez and Bronson Arroyo jokes here.) And sure, it's just a nice little stunt, and there's nothing really meaningful to the little Japanese teenaged knuckleballer who got tattooed in Class A as a stunt last year... but, well? This is how things start.

By start, by the way, that's nowhere near finish. MLB is still expanding its talent market into Latin America and Asia, with any number of whippy fireballers who aren't being co-opted into basketball, football or boxing. American girls also have the very real option of softball, since that's gotten some television and Olympic play.

But eventually, if for no other reason than pitching is a pretty pure meritocracy and MLB teams will take any entity that has bat-missing stuff, regardless of velocity or any other factor. It will first come across as a high school phenom that doesn't just do it, but does it well. Then, there will be a college pitcher or two, at low levels and increasingly higher ones, or somebody getting outs at single or double A... and then a publicity stunt move for an also-ran team that wants to sell tickets, and so on, and so on.

Eventually, this will happen, for the plain and simple reason that there will be money to be made. It's a pretty simple equation, really.

Return of the Prodigal Moron

So the word on the Intertubes is that Isiah Thomas, also known as the man Knicks Fan most wants to be set on fire, drowned, buried, decapitated and then it gets personal... wants his due credit for the fact that the team paid a king's ransom to acquire Carmelo Anthony and 35-year-old Chauncey Billups. And all I can say is... classic, classic Zeke. Take credit for the move now, before anyone can tell if it actually works out, because in all likelihood, it won't. And I'm not just saying that because I have no use for Thomas, or think that in a better world he'd be doing time for the whole sexual harassment situation, but just, well, from having seen what happens when 'Melo gets paired with a high usage offensive first player before. Because he got the last good years of Allen Iverson, and those were actually pretty good years. You might recall those Nugget teams winning 50 regular season games a year, then getting pimp-slapped in the first round by the Lakers. Feel free to swap in the Celtics, and you get how this will likely end. Very different!

And sure, it's insane to compare Amar'e Stoudamire to AI, since they are wildly different players... but, well, still. The Knicks are going to be playing up-tempo basketball without a bench, or a net. Their best player is still going to be a guy (Amar'e, of course) who has had microfracture surgery and serious eye issues, and who hasn't been the same since coach Mike D'Antoni gave him way too many minutes in way too few games about a month ago. And neither guy is terribly adept at making his teammates better, caring about defense for every position, or not going into Hero Mode when things start to get rough.

Could this work? Sure; the East are not filled with juggernauts, and since Knick Fan was ready to plotz over a .500 team and a playoff berth, he could really go for a .550 team with a chance to actually steal a first round series. If they catch Boston with injuries, the Heat with alpha dog and final minute issues, or the Bulls with Joakim Noah integration trouble, they could seem much less fraudulent than they probably are. The bar is not very high here at all, really, and if they are still in the market for more parts (a more up-tempo alternative to Billups, a three-point shooter to replace Danilo Gallinari, a better center idea than Rony Turiaf, or just a couple of stray dog defenders to go with rookie find Landry Fields), Knick Fan could be as happy as they've been in, well, decades.

But the overwhelmingly more likely alternative is that Zeke has presided over yet another Frankenstein's Monster of a team, with intriguing parts that don't fit, stars that don't defend, and an overall lack of ball movement or depth that will wind up causing the starters to get run into disrepair to keep important games close. And if -- or more likely, when -- Stoudamire gets dinged up... well, Anthony is going to look around and see a much worse roster than he left behind in Denver. And hear it from a much less forgiving fan than the ones that rooted for him since he was the dew-eyed savior, in a division where he gets thugged up by the dirty old men in Boston and the stat-killing defensive hammer that is Andre Iguodala in Philly, in a conference where Miami's already got their own super group, Orlando's got the best center and Chicago's got the best point guard and talent roster.

Oh, and if Donnie Walsh has any pride, sense or options, he'll also have the worst GM in NBA history at the helm, with Zeke coming back to receive his just dessert and credit for making the latest roster.

I actually hope I'm wrong, in that 'Melo got my college a championship, and no one needs to see a repeat of the Zach Randolph Experience in New York.

But really... Isiah Thomas is involved, Knick Fan. You sure you still want to be hopeful about all this?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Top 10 features of Derek Jeter's new 30,000+ square foot house

10) Room with cunningly scaled down infield so that Jeet can practice grounders in a confidence building arena

9) Spare rooms to house his leadership, character and intangibles

8) Exit-only bedrooms for starlets that are not, shall we say, True Yankees

7) Sound system with full recordings of Bob Sheppard for those clutch situations

6) A dock for Joe Torre's run-down houseboat, for when Joe stays over while doing the gardening and pool-cleaning

5) Train line with a #4 subway car, so he can feel more at home

4) A food court with everything served at the new Yankee Stadium, so he can have a qualified opinion on any cuisine

3) The actual corporate headquarters of the YES Network

2) A seven foot high fence, extra garages, and enough space to fit your average Best Buy

1) Secret subterranean shark tank (sharks! sharks with frickin' lasers!) who live on a diet of kidnapped sabermetricians

Top 10 reasons why the Saints cut Jeremy Shockey

10) Want to put Marques Colston in the tight end spot to remind and infuriate Yahoo fantasy football honks

9) He was only Drew Brees' 9th favorite guy to target

8) The role of brittle name without results is already filled here by Reggie Bush

7) Finally finished reading all of his tats, so all of the mystery is gone

6) Jimmy Graham is bigger, faster, younger and healthier, and really only needed to be one of those things

5) Team and fans kept confusing him with Kyle Turley, which is a little sad for a guy who is supposed to catch passes

4) Even Shockey has stopped taking Shockey in his fantasy league

3) Was worried he'd scab for them during the lockout

2) Haven't actually paid him for years, and just recovered a stapler from him

1) Realized that he wasn't, in fact, a member of the media

Taking It

Tonight on my commute home, a portion of my trip that should take 40 minutes took two hours... and that's the optimistic estimate, considering that I am writing this in the middle of it. This has happened, on average, about once a month since the rates took a 25 percent hike last summer, and short of telling my employer that I'm not coming in anymore, I will continue to take worse service for more money into perpetuity. With the Middle East in the throes of oil-company unfriendly upheaval prior to a gas price run-up, and my family down to one car, there really isn't any other option. I'll take it, and take it, and take it, for as long as I want to be employed in New York City.

You can try to be sanguine about this sort of thing, or try to take pleasure in the increasingly rare times when the service isn't boning you without lube, but to be honest, it's just a level of lying to yourself that I can't quite achieve. Especially now, as my hamstrings tighten, my toes remain bitter (like an idiot, I waited on the freezing cold platform, rather than just going into the terminal, for the ever-growing delay - rookie commuter mistake to actually believe the board), and I try to ignore the odors of those around me while not adding to it... It's all lies, lies, lies. Every part of this is loathsome, and every time it happens, I hate myself a little more for not figuring out some way to, well, prevent myself from ever being here again. I'm 41 years old, and over a dozen places have paid me to work a desk for them; the idea that I keep ending up *here* is insane. (Along with any hope that the service will improve. Why should it, when there's clearly no reason for it to get better?)

Oh, and of course there's a gibbering infant who has the frequency to cut through my iPod earbuds. You had to ask?

Which leads us, quite easily, to the NFL negotiations, and to a lesser extent, the NFL itself. It won't be the last time we go down this road, because there's too much money and ingrained behavior for there not to be encores. It also won't get better, or easier to endure, or any less infuriating.

Oh, great. I think Junior has soiled himself. That helps.

And even as it happens, and ruins the off-season and puts road trips in peril, and prevents free agency and retards off-season coaching and personnel integration...

Well, I'll be on this train tomorrow. And the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that. No matter how long the lockout goes, no matter how loathsome I find the management and the media, and no matter how many times they fail to even keep the status quo, let alone deliver an enhancement.

Cheery, no? Knew I shouldn't have written this mid-commute...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Top 10 takeaways from Carmelo Anthony going to New York

10) Getting Melo is nice, but Knick Fan is really even more excited about The Return Of Renaldo Balkman

9) Many Western teams are now hoping like mad that Denver will somehow hold on to a playoff spot

8) Some day, Anthony will be able to get over the disappointment of not playing in Newark

7) While Nugget Fan is probably glad to have this all over, he can't be too happy about being all-in on a big man named Timofey

6) The line and negotiations for Nene Hilario starts now

5) Poor Ray Felton will look back on his half-year with Amar'e Stoudamire as the only time in his career when he had hope

4) Now that this is finally over, we all owe LeBron James an apology for the comparative class and decorum used in making his move

3) In the final analysis, this deal can best be summarized as Melo wanting to get back to his Syracuse South roots

2) Once the Knicks get a point guard under 30, they will... still lose in the second round, since their stars don't play defense and they won't be better than the Heat, Bulls or Celtics

1) If you want to know who won the trade, just remember that the Knicks didn't make this move until Isiah Thomas got involved

This Design Is Not Working

One more piece of inside baseball for Blogfrica... about a month ago, Deadspin updated their design. They've done this before, and it's the same as every other Web site; yelling and puling for a time, then a recovery to the old levels, and if there is a benefit to the new approach, it's more or less missed. Design overhauls tend to work out just for the design agency, not the consumer.

And then there's what Deadspin did.

I've tried to give this time to work out. Heaven knows that trying new stuff should be encouraged online, and trying to do something more than just copy another site is a big deal. But there's good innovation and bad innovation, and boy howdy, is this bad innovation.

To navigate Deadspin, you have to accept a unique site architecture that does not encourage the review of past content. Maybe it works for if you are on the site constantly, but as good as some of this content is (I'm an unabashed Drew Magary fan, and the Masked Writer's "Dead Wrestler of the Week" column is as good as it gets), it's just lost in the silliness here.

And try as I might, I can't figure out why they did it. It's not as if it makes for a better advertising experience, or classes up the place. Traffic cratered after the change, and is only now starting to come back (though to be honest, February is the dead time for everyone in the business). Well, say this for them: you never forget what site you are on when you are there.... and it's not like New Coke killed that company. But hoo boy, it's just not easy to see how this is anything but a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Negotiating In Bad Faith

For reasons best left not discussed, I have a limited-time subscription to USA Today, which gave me the opportunity to read some remarkably biased coverage of the situation in Wisconsin. It's telling, really, that the Gannett read of the situation is that the workers need to agree to a situation where they can never again receive a raise above inflation, can't negotiate for anything beyond wages, and have to accept a promise from the governor that there will be no layoffs, as if a promise from a guy who is trying to roll back 50 years of collective bargaining gains is worth a damn. All while exempting said treatment from the unions that supported him in the last election. I don't care what your opinion of public employees are; this is just rank, and the coverage of the same is just obviously corporate.

And I'm sure that will lead to comments from y'all on my hopelessly left-wing nature, and OK, whatever. But it's really not what I want to get into, since this is a sports blog, despite the rampant off-topic nature of life in February. Rather, let's think over the NFLPA's situation. They are going to have to take an 18-game season whether they want it or not, whether it's going to work out from a health standpoint or not. They are going to have to take less of a cut of the revenue, and so on, and so on.

But what they don't have to do is, um, actually honor any of it.

Imagine the first two games of the upcoming NFL season where the players have decided to make the games meaningless. On the first play from scrimmage for the home team, the road team defense simply parts and allows a score to happen. If the road team is in offense, the QB simply hands the ball to a defensive player, who walks it in for a score. And for the next three hours, both teams run the kneel down play. After two games, every team would have a 1-1 record, and then the games would actually start in earnest.

Oh, and the world would end.

Sportsbooks would have either closed up shop, or taken an unbelievable hit. Fantasy sports leagues would have to throw out the first two weeks. Ratings would plunge through the floorboards, sportswriters would pule about how the season had lost all meaning, the public would burn jerseys and boo themselves hoarse at games, retributive moves would be made towards union reps... and there would be furious smoke-filled room negotiations to make sure that it didn't happen again.

Sessions with, well, actual leverage for labor. At least in the short run, and when it comes to football players, that's all there is, really.

Top 10 reasons why Kevin Millwood rejected the Yankees

10) After the Texas experience, didn't want to risk his career numbers by working half of his games in an even worse bandbox

9) On the whole, would rather be in Cleveland

8) Still, in his heart, too much of an Oriole to take their blood money

7) Didn't want to have to gain the 40 pounds necessary to fit in with the rest of the staff

6) Suspects that his time in pinstripes might involve too much Trenton

5) Can't imagine beating out titans like Bartolo Colon, Freddie Garcia and Sergio Mitre

4) Prefers to work in anonymity, which is to say, most of the rest of MLB

3) Given his stuff and strikeout rates, would rather not spend his starts working in front of an aging, overpaid and overrated defensive players

2) Having a hard time imagining the fans and media would be supportive of his season

1) Now that George Steinbrenner is dead, the Yankees can't buy anybody

The Poker Diaries: Clear Air Turbusuck

So I'm playing in the steadily growing home tournament, in a field of 17, at a table that's mostly made up of people who I've played against for years now. In the first hour, I might have played three hands, but one of them was pocket deuces that improved to a full house against a nut flush, so I'm one of the larger stacks in the field. I haven't been at risk at all, but I have seen some rag folds hit like hell, which is never a good sign. A big blind special pays nicely against a call any pair opponent, as my trips stands up proud, and despite being irritated at myself for playing too tight and not taking advantage of my stack, I'm still poised for a deep run.

And in ten minutes, it all goes to hell.

First it's a classic cooler hand against a player that is a routine eat or be eaten opponent; that takes half of my stack and gives him big life, and I can feel my brain just hating everything, but mostly myself. Stepping outside of it, I know that I've still got chips, still got a tight image that should help with a bluff, and have played with most of these guys long enough that they shouldn't put me on tilt, even when I am... and suddenly my pre-flop crap cards are picking up. A-Q suited, under the gun, the first big ace of the night. A jacks or better 4X pre-flop raise gets called by three players, bringing the pot up to about 10% of my stack. It's not a massive pot, but it's a nice momentum raise to take it down, and the flop is rainbow rags, 10 high.

The texture of this table is that if I don't bet it, someone else will, and that's going to be hard to call with air. I'm also the kind of player who likes to end hands when I'm ahead; I bet the flop more than most. I'm also not interested in getting cute here, or thinking too hard about things; if I have what I'm representing, I'm not taking too long. I shove.

The good player at the end of the table stares me down, hating the move, but believing my story and, I suspect, hating his middle position. And then the big blind, a guy that calls any pair, asks for a count, and eventually ships it in. He turns over an offsuit 10-rag, and of course, it stands up on the turn and river.

It's in moments like this that my desire to be a good host keep me from, well, being the kind of player that I don't invite back to my game. The man hit top pair after all, and read my overbet as a continuation bet bluff, which is to say, exactly what it was. And yet, as the rest of the regulars at the table look at me as if I've just been deeply wronged, I get why. Because the big blind called a fairly indefensible hand, then made an indefensible bet against a presumably tight player. I'm pretty sure that none of my other regulars would have made that call against me with anything less than two pair or trips.

As I mark out my exit and do the dumb things I gotta do, the anger turns quickly to self-hate. It's not as if the guy I'm playing against will respect an overbet, or that I needed to make that move then and there. The same knowledge would have come my half with anoher 4X bet, rather than the 10X all-in. It's a four hour tournament, and I just made a second or third hour move in the first hour. Just dumb all over, as Frank Zappa once sang, and a little ugly on the side.

And making matters worse? I had the same guy, earlier in the tournament, pay off my trips with a 4X bet. If I'd have gone all-in there, maybe he pays off the big hand to the full extent, and I don't have to worry about him later. Because it's not enough to play your cards, or your position, or your board. Remembering who you are playing against in the first place? Kind of more important, really...

FTT Off-Topic: Your Blog Is Old

According to the Gray Lady and the Pew Research Center, blogging is down by half among children ages 12 to 17 in the last four years. What's replaced it is increased Twitter and Facebook usage. Which makes all the sense in the world...

Except for, well, the existence of content farms.

Content farms, for those of you who aren't deeply involved in online nonsense for a living, are sites that suck up content for the sake of linking and organic search engine links. Examples in the sports blogging world include Bleacher Report and Distributed Content, but there are others. And many of them are now squarely in the crosshairs of Google, who introduced a modification in the latest form of their popular Chrome browser so that you can exclude a content farm from showing up in your search results. If enough people blacklist a site, that's information that the engine will use to exclude a site from, well, everyone's results.

So the consolidation of media continues, and the amateurs are leaving to talk to each other on social media... which means that it's just like every other post-boom business, right? Not really, because the boom has just moved to social media. Thanks to declining response rates in online display, delivery issues for email, and less action in console gaming (and more in casual, online stuff, especially in mogile and handheld machines), social media is now the new land rush. So if you blog, you also Tweet and pimp your Facebook account about your work, and you really hope that other people push your work out to those feeds, because that's how traffic booms now.

It used to be that we all lived and died on links from big traffic sites. Those still help, of course, but for the most part they have dried up; Deadspin doesn't push out links anywhere near the level they used to, SI's Hot Links aren't going to little guys, and YardBarker's traffic has been pretty much spread out among other sites.

So, well... the traffic sources aren't as good as they used to be, which means the money isn't as good as it used to be.... but the audience? Better. Because really young people don't interest most advertisers, and if the content farms really go by the boards, the search engine traffic's got to be better. And since most keyword advertisers find you via those engines, the chance for a nice, out of the blue payday can definitely happen.

Besides, I'm stubborn. And not, well, young. Chances are you aren't either. So on we go, confident that we'll bury all of those young punks, or just outlast them, really...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

All-Star Ehh

I'm an odd kind of NBA fan: I like the games more than the moments, want to think about teams, and generally dislike the whole need to go all-in on Alpha Dog Magic Man thinking. Which is why things like the All-Star Weekend don't do much for me, especially when they are as predictable as the Los Angeles Darlings (Blake Griffin for the Slam Dunk Championship, Kobe Bryant for the All Star Game) rule the roost and get the love.

(Props to Griffin for arranging the choir and giving the trophy to the family of a dead high school teammate, though. This man is going to change the league's competitive balance as soon as he gets out of ClipperLand.)

But it's still a little telling to see moments like Rajon Rondo blowing a layup to try to set up LeBron James for a follow-up dunk, or Kevin Durant having a quiet monster game on points, or the Celtic-heavy East lineup failing to have defensive intensity as the West pulled away. Because these are telling points, really. As was the James' effort to throw it off the backboard and dunk while down 15 with 9 minutes left; turnover, no highlight, no biscuit. They tell you that Rondo cares more about his assist numbers to the point of detriment, that Durant is fantastic but might not ever be the *best* player in the league, that the Celtics conserve their energy better than anyone in the business... and that James might just be, shh, an attention-seeking glory hound. Though watching him dunk like a runaway freight train never gets old. (And only a curmudgeon would note that the train dribbled as much.)

It was also interesting to see the East trim the lead late, if ony to watch the best players in the world caring hard for the final five minutes. James had a triple-double, the crowd started to sweat it out, and we actually got a few minutes of hard hoop. How hard is a matter of debate, of course, and it will all pale in comparison to a good seven-game series between talented teams that don't like each other. It was just nice to see James go into full coach / leader mode; it told me that the Heat's upcoming playoff loss might not be quite so pre-ordained. Though watching him defer to Chris Bosh for a missed three, then watching Bosh blow the defensive rebound, tells me that if you get them to the final minute of games, you will go home happy.

But all of this is, of course, water under the bridge, because it's a meaningless exhibition game played in mid-February, which is to say it's a game that should not ever be watched, and yet is. When Bryant takes a flat-footed free throw miss rebound, then hits the jumper to follow for a three-point play, you are no longer watching basketball; you are watching basketball-esque masturbation. And, well, you should probably stop. And be grateful that the West won in regulation. Real games again on Tuesday.

Twenty Five Years Ago Tonight

I can't say it any better:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/blogs/scocca/archive/2011/02/20/len-bias-in-chapel-hill-february-20-1986.aspx

Friday, February 18, 2011

The MVP

So in the last game for a week that I will care about -- honestly, this week and the time around the baseball All-Star Game is just death to anyone here that doesn't enjoy movie reviews and FTT Off-Topic -- Derrick Rose showed the nation why you don't have to be the best player in basketball to be the most valuable.

Against a Spurs team that scares no one despite their pedigree and record, Rose brought the wood. The jumper was falling, the speed in transition and on secondary breaks was revelatory, and if you didn't know that San Antonio is actually pretty great on defense, you'd have never guessed it from this game. Rose has been getting to the line a ton this year, and yet he was so quick in this game, he only went six times. In 39 minutes. Yeesh.

The Spurs shot well, hit threes, didn't turn the ball over, and generally played a road game that wins, well, anywhere. They lost by 10. Rose accounting for over half of the Bulls points, if you count assists for buckets, and you probably should. He turned the ball over once. If he had the three-ball working, he'd have scored 50. While being, well, an actual point guard. Just crazy valuable.

This isn't to say that Rose is the best player in the game; he's not, and it's not close. You are better off starting your team with LeBron James and Dwight Howard. It's also not to say that he's a perfect point; the shooting percentage can still trend too low, the three stroke is better this year but still not great, and for a freakishly quick player, you'd like to see more steals and a better overall result on defense.

But for a Bulls team that needed to be healthy to get cohesion among new players, and hasn't been at all, he's been immense. Take him off this roster and replace him with a serviceable point, and you've got a below .500 team. If Howard's off the Magic, that's a similar drop, but the Bulls have a better record, so that makes Rose the MVP. Takes James off the Heat, and they are still a top-5 seed, as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would up their usage to good effect. There is no one in the West, now that the Lakers and Kobe Bryant is in retrograde, that compares. (Yes, yes, Dallas Fan and Dirk enthusiast, I hear your howls. The last five years of Mark Cuban crying in a first round playoff loss kind of makes me deaf to your man. Not to say he doesn't deserve better, but I just can't stay awake long enough to care that much.)

In the last 30 games of the year, Rose's MVP year will be eclipsed by the thundering hoofbeat of James, or Howard getting love from a Magic run. His counting stats will dip as the Bulls management tries to limit his exposure for a playoff run, and they try to get Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer on the same page. There will be a movement to give the award to the league's best player, especially since with each passing day, James' move from Cleveland looks more and more reasoned. Other point guards will have similar numbers, if not impact, taking more of the shine off.

But that won't change what Rose has done, or how important he's been to his team, or, well, the facts. Derrick Rose has been the most valuable player in the NBA this year, and should be recognized as such. Even if, or especially so, he's never considered for the award again.

Tick, Tick, Tick: The NFLPA Does Not Do Well With Free Time

Here's the one nasty little fact about a possible NFL lockout that no one wants to say out loud...

Every single day that the owners prevent the players from coming to work is a good day, from a negotiating standpoint, for the owners.

There is no danger -- none -- for the long-term market of people wanting to watch football. Even if there is no professional football in 2011-12, there will still be high school and college, and a lifetime of people wanting to watch this, and team loyalties and knowledge that overwhelms every other sport. If you give Philly Fan the option of one Eagles championship or a full boat of the Phillies, Sixers and Flyers winning, they take the Eagles. It's been 50 years and counting; they just want this more than anything else. And the same thing goes for Chicago Fan, and Detroit Fan, and New York Fan, and so on, and so on. The NFL isn't just the biggest sport in America: it's the biggest five sports in America.

Hell, there's even people who prefer to root for the owners, since Americans love a winner, like to imagine themselves as preposterously wealthy people, and resent people who play a game for making money. Along with hating any union. It's a strange situation. But moving on.

Since there is no other league that will spring up to take over fan loyalties, the NFL owners hold all the cards in the long-term. Sure, there will be some that fall by the wayside due to debt service issues, but there are no shortage of billionaires with ego issues that want to buy into something with a more or less guaranteed equity win. There will also be a PR hit, but you don't get to be a man of those means by being overly caring about what the general public thinks about you.

Now, let's look at the NFLPA members.

They are all candles, most of them with blowtorches, some going at both ends. They have spent decades honing their bodies and easing their excesses with the scheduled discipline of mini-camps, off-season workouts, and the six months of training camps, pre-season and the regular season. They do not have the time off to get truly healthy, or the idle hands necessary to get truly crazed.

Now? Um, not so much. You already have guys talking about boxing careers (hoo boy), sniffing around pro wrestling, trying to be reality show stars, or just fighting the natural urge to continue eating like they are living a life of a nonstop motion machine. When this happened for half a year to the NBA, one of the best athletes in the league (Shawn Kemp) got fat, and never, ever got thin again. This can't end well for them.

And that's why the players will take less money, even in a time of prosperity. And that's why the owners will get the benefit of the PR doubt (along with the fact that, um, the networks aren't going to bite the hand that feeds them the only broadcast show that keeps getting higher ratings in a time of media split), and the NFLPA's leadership is going to take the pipe.

If not now, then eventually.

With every day creating more useless rancor from the fans, and less leverage for people who have none. Even the millionaires.

Well, That's A Relief

So Michael Vick was supposed to go on the Oprah Winfrey show, then canceled. And after a day of thinking this over and trying to come up with a reasonable opinion about this... well, it just seems like a bullet dodged, really.

The thing about being a Vick fan -- and let's face it, I just am at this point; he's an unprecedented artist at the position, even if he's probably never going to win a championship -- is that you are really just tip-toeing past the news section every day. I don't want to hear about anything from the guy, except what happens between the lines. That's true of every athlete, really, but especially so with Vick. Off-field work means that we're worried about injuries, or that so-and-so still wants him hurt, or that his entourage was mean to some media provacateur, or etc., etc.

This also avoids the whole issue of what the Eagles will do with Kevin Kolb, assuming there's going to be a league and season. Luckily for Vick, Kolb doesn't have a ton of public support in town, for whatever reason, but if the Texan gets moved for less than a king's ransom, then turns out to be the better option, it more or less signs Andy Reid's release papers. Which, of course, a sizable percentage of Eagles Nation wants. Along with the rest of the NFC East. But I digress.

And Vick, being an athlete under financial duress (due, of course, to his own malfeasance, but still), has to try to get from under the whole thing by going outside the lines. He needs to get commercial endorsements back. Maybe a ghost-written book (shudder). Even a biopic, or more tentative steps towards the mainstream. Just because he got skittish about Oprah, that doesn't mean he won't give a shot to a late-night host that he feels will stay positive. He's got to... and if there's a lockout, he's really got to. And if he doesn't feel like he's going to get that, he'll go back to Oprah, and it'll be worse than before. (Perhaps with book in hand. Then, at least, the interview makes some kind of sense. As in dollars and...)

So while it's a relief that the Vick Show didn't create huge headlines this week, it's more a matter of when, not if. I'm still on board this bandwagon, especially given the relative weakness of the offensive line. But it's not going to be a smooth or easy ride, really.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Top 10 reasons why the Lakers lost to the Cavs

Last week, the Cavs were in the midst of the longest losing streak in league history. In the middle of that streak, they lost by 55 to the Lakers in LA... and tonight, they beat the defending NBA champions. What gives?

10) Laker bigs are strangely vulnerable to D-League call-ups

9) Ron Artest's 1 point, 2 assists, turnover and block in 18 minutes was somehow not enough

8) Just might have had their minds primed for the All-Star Break, seeing how they've now dropped three in a row, and spent the second half asking if the bus was warming up

7) Derek Fisher can not be expected to guard a point guard with the pedigree of Ramon Sessions, which is to say, a point guard with a pulse

6) Their hatred of LeBron James is so total, they had to throw this game

5) Now that the Cavs broke that losing streak, they're primed to go on a playoff run

4) Team is trying to make sure that Phil Jackson isn't reconsidering that retirement talk

3) Since Byron Scott played with Kobe Bryant at the start of his career, he knows he to turn him back into a low percentage liability

2) Rattled by over 20,00 fans in attendance, because Cleveland Fan is, somehow, unprepared to stop caring about hoop

1) Wanted to give the Association's writers something to dwell on during the All-Star break

FTT Off-Topic: Finally

On their surprisingly good 1999 comedy album (surprising because their best work was twenty years before that), the Firesign Theatre had this lovely little moment in the midst of a radio station's day.

The album, on the off chance that you care, is called "Give Me Immortality, Or Give Me Death." After an over the top intro for a news segment ("Double The Now!"), there's a silence. Then, the officious announcer intones, "And the terrible news drought continues." Then, more silence.

That's kind of how I feel about February. And why this little bit of timewaste went down real, real easy.

He had me at Drunken Hobbit.

Now, a few caveats. First, I've never bought a pay per view event, and likely never will. Giving cash, even the tiny trace amounts from a CPM ad buy on basic cable, to people who just tried to buy a Senate seat so that they could make this country's government even more regressive, is just distasteful. The enjoyment per time spent ratio is sad; you basically get a few minutes of PG trash talk at people you (or, at least, me) are not all that interested in. The people who do this stuff are, for the most part, hacks; they'll mess this up. Dwayne's awfully good on the mic, but he's going to need someone to play off, and I don't know if he's got enough there.

But I can't say I didn't enjoy it, or won't peek in again later, or that I'm not glad that the guy is back doing what he does.

Or that the devil behind all of this didn't pick the best possible moment on the calendar to play his ace.

Top 10 Next Teams For Albert Pujols

Yes, we know, we know - awfully preliminary. But with today's hardly shocking announce-ment that the principals have not come to terms, let's have at it. After all, it's mid-February, and it's not as if the writing isn't all over this particular wall. Let's take a look around the majors and see who might pony up for His Machineness, shall we?

Note: I actually think the Cardinals will wind up keeping him and regretting it, but only after he has a massive 2011 for a team that doesn't quite have the horses to make the playoffs anyway. So the target list isn't for teams with an immediate need -- remember, Albert has to agree to any trade -- but the ones that will be in market in four months to a year.

10) Tampa. Well, someone's got to be 10th, and if the Rays are ever serious about being anything more than an occasional irritant to the Coke and Pepsi Yankee Sox, they are going to actually have to bring in talent, rather than export it. Couple it with a new stadium or TV deal, and you could see a real power transfer in the East. It won't happen, but it's nice to dream, especially when you wind up watching 120 games or so of Dan Johnson.

9) Texas. If only to make the fantasy nerds drool at the concept of Albert in a bandbox, but there's actual possibilities here. Texas is going to go to war with Mitch Moreland this year, after watching Chris Davis and Justin Smoak fail to deliver; they might want to upgrade in a big way. And since they went hard after Cliff Lee without success, and have their own TV network, there is money to spend.

8) Seattle. Severely under every form of radar, but not without a need (Smoak at first, MLB's worst 2010 offense in runs, batting average, OBA and SLG last year) or pockets. Remember, these guys had a nine-figure salary with a 100-loss team just a few years ago, and thanks to the Decade of Ichiro, they are basically Japan's MLB team. If Albert wants cash and comfort, along with his Octobers free of stress, he could go here. (And won't. But they might bid up the price for someone else.)

7) NY Mets. Sure, Ike Davis is a nice young player, and the club isn't spending money... now. But in six months, once the Bernie Madoff heat is gone, with the team in the hands of a new (Trump-esque?) owner? Well, that's a mighty fast way to compete with the Yankees in the media, if not the field. As this franchise has shown time and again, that's really where they measure success anyway.

6) San Francisco. The defending champions have Aubrey Huff manning the position, which is to say they've got nothing to keep Albert from settling in. There's money here, a taste for championships after last year's blue snow experience, and the dream that is Barry Zito getting hit by a bus to free up bucks. Besides, Zito's deal has to end at some point, doesn't it?

5) Los Angeles Dodgers. Another team with issues at the present time (due to the divorce issues of the McCourts) that might clear up with a fresh new owner by the time Albert hits the market. They have the power-free James Loney at the position, and ever since Manny Ramirez left town and Matt Kemp turned sulky, there isn't nearly enough thunder in the lineup to support that quality pitching. I think he'd like it here.

4) Colorado Rockies. Kind of a dark horse / under the radar pick, but Todd Helton is old enough to be routinely subbed these days, and if they could ever keep Troy Tulowitzki healthy with Albert, that's a terrifying order, especially at altitude. Matched with reasonable pitching, and I think you could see a return to the days when Denver filled the yard every night. That wasn't so long ago, really. People like offense, and winning.

3) Atlanta Braves. Let's just say that I'm not a believer in the Freddie Freeman Era, or the idea that Atlanta Fan, aka the most fickle major market follower in America, is going to show up for 85 wins a year while teams avoid Justin Heyward. Put Albert here, and the Braves become a ratings draw on TBS again, and a real threat to pass the aging Phillies, especially if that club suffers an injury to one of the Big 4 starters.

2) Chicago White Sox. As the Adam Dunn move shows, they aren't afraid of major shake ups to a team that was knocking on the door a year ago, and Paul Konerko is 34 and might have had his last great year. Considering how much the Cubs want him, you have to think the ChiSox would love to poach, and in the always up for grabs AL Central, he could make a major difference. A middle of the order with him, Dunn, a rejuvenated Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin... it could do some things. Even if those things are hit into a lot of double plays.

1) Chicago Cubs. It sticks the needle in hard, and it fills a definite need; even if Carlos Pena has a decent year on the North Side, he's no Albert. Besides, it's not as if you couldn't get away with trotting one of those guys out to left, especially when they play 81 games a year in a shoebox, albeit one with wind. Theoretically, they've got cash to spend, too.

Top 10 reasons why Donald Trump should take over the Mets

10) As history shows, bringing Trump in means that your league will end in three years with a disastrous anti-trust suit, and given what's happened to Mets Fan in the past few years, that's a win

9) It might prevent him from running from President

8) Steinbrenner's spawn just don't seem crazy enough to drive the day-in, day-out needs of the New York press

7) Best way to ensure that the NL East remains a nice cushy playoff aid to the Phillies

6) On some level, the Mets' ownership really should always refer to itself in the third person

5) MLB's ownership ranks getting more and more comfortable with guys who are bankrupt and insane

4) That orange wig is a natural for merch sales, and already on brand with the Mets' logo

3) We might finally get a good tie-in with the casino industry and baseball, since the game has such a good history with that sort of thing

2) Mets Fan will at least have the fun of watching many people he hates get the Trump public firing treatment

1) It's not as if the bar has been raised very high here

Well, So Much For That Rampant Hope

Tonight in Memphis, the Sixers came into the game on a definite high. After last weekend's solid work of taking down the Spurs at home, then following up with an avoidance of the obvious trap game in Minnesota, they were just two games under .500, within closing distance of the Knicks to step up to 6th in the East. New York really has only had one good stretch this year, so running past them didn't seem too impossible, and once you get there... well, you never know. It was just nice -- odd, admittedly, but nice -- to feel positive about the town team. And with a road date against the .500 Grizzlies, there was even the possibility of keeping it going, since the Grizz were getting back suspended guard OJ Mayo, and OJ has spent the 2010-11 season just making everything he touches wither and die.

And then the Grizz came out with a 26-10 first quarter, and closed in the fourth with a 25-16 stanza, en route to a pretty easy 102-91 win. Gahhh.

I suppose we should credit the club with a third quarter that got them back to nearly even, with the bench crew of Thaddeus Young and Louis Williams doing damage. Bu whenever you are playing a game with a deep deficit, you need to take the lead on your run; getting close isn't enough. And it's really not enough when you get outscored 22-10 at the point, or give up a 21/10/7 to a guy (Zach Randolph) who is generally a black hole.

Tomorrow, in their final game before the break, the club plays in Houston, who didn't play tonight and are coming off a home game runaway against the Nuggets. Not exactly a recipe for ending the All-Star Break strong, or keeping the momentum they had developed, and the bottom part of the conference (Indy, Charlotte) keeps looking better and better. Can't expect them to win tomorrow night, but it's not as if Houston has dominant talent...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

FTT Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds

I have issues with Quentin Tarantino; I'm not a fan. For all of his vaunted skill, cinema love and tireless research and attention to detail, I find his stuff formulaic and simplistic. Time passes, men who do very bad things become predictable, and the final product feels a lot like something he's already made. I know people love the guy, but he just seems like a twitching ball of nerd to me.

But, well, it's a good formula. And when the strengths outweigh the positives, as they do here, you get something to chew popcorn to.

Brad Pitt gets the lead role as an American insurgent inside Nazi-occupied France, and he chomps the scenery for all that he's worth as an American redneck soldier and captain with a taste for scalping his victims, and carving swastikas into those that he spares. Like any cheerful maniac, he's a load of fun in the role, especially when positioned against the cool and polished evil of Christopher Waltz, who plays the lead Gestapo operative and detective.

Three things really stand out from this, and make it worth the rental:

1) Melanie Laurent as Shosanna Dreyfus, the bridge point between the grueling but great opening scene, and the climax. She's really good, never a problem to look at, and equal parts vulnerable and deadly. She's going to get a lot of work from this.

2) Tarantino's cheerful gender-neutral nature towards violence; this is not a director that's afraid of his actresses and stunt women taking a beating, and

3) The simple but effective plot stroke to have people actually speak in French, Gernan or English, rather than the usual WW2 movie convention of everyone just talking English and forgetting about things. It works on every level, and makes you wonder why every movie set in that time frame doesn't go there. We've got white people killing white people, for the last time on the planet in terms of organized warfare. You could pass for the enemy, so long as you stay quiet... but eventually, of course, you can't. That's good tension.

Blu-ray extras are easily skipped, though the making of the Nazi propaganda movie, complete with interviews of the prominent Nazis from the film talking in character, is disturbingly funny. Like most of Tarantino's work, really. Worth a spin.

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