Thursday, June 30, 2011

Top 10 reasons why the Blazers tendered Greg Oden

10) It's not as if Paul Allen routinely spends money with any sense

9) Even at his most injured, Oden moves better laterally than Joel Pryzbilla

8) Marcus Camby can't give him all of his injuries forever

7) It's not like you can just find centers who will give you 9 and 7 a game with foul problems and no offensive prowess

6) One look in his big, sad, soulful eyes and they were as weak as kittens

5) Just don't have enough sad with Brandon Roy on the roster, so they had to double down

4) This will allow the Blazers to match any other offer that Oden gets, and the poor deluded dears actually thought there would be other offers

3) Want the eventual historical footnote to passing on Kevin Durant (Kevin Durant!) to seem a little more poignant

2) He's still just 23, as if you could possibly believe that

1) Convinced that modern medical advances, cybertronics and voodoo will finally let him play more than 50 games in a year

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

As Good As Advertised, And Maybe Better

So tonight in Phila-delphia, Cliff Lee conquered one of his few remaining demons on this earth: the Boston Red Sox. In the opening game of an interleague series that many believe to be a World Series preview, Lee dialed up the usual magic: 9 innings, shutout, 4 baserunners, 5 Ks. Against a Boston team that might not be at full speed right now (Mike Cameron, in particular, should not be anyone's idea of a MLB outfielder by now), but isn't exactly a collection of Oakland/Seattle weaklings, he set down the last six in order, never faced more than four batters in an inning (!), and only allowed one man to reach second base. All on 112 pitches, on a night where Phillies manager Charlie Manuel doesn't really know who to go to for a save (Ryan Madson's on the DL, along with Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras, so we're on the fourth-string idea of Michael Stutes or Antonio Bastardo now), against a team that's so patient they even managed to bleed out two walks out of Lee. And to think, the man's ERA coming into this game was over 4 against this club.

I won't mention the offense, even though they snuck home five tonight, which is a virtual bonanza in this day, age, and town. (Dom Brown had a night, which is good, seeing as he's still hitting .220. They don't make phenoms the way they used to, folks.) It's also his third straight shutout -- no, seriously -- and the home team is now 50-30. For Lee, the scoreless inning streak is now at 32, which is to say halfway to immortality, or something, and he's 5-0 with an 0.21 ERA in June. Even in the modern dead ball era, that's absurd.

Say this for Phillies Fan as well; they do appreciate the man. He's probably the most popular player in town right now, since unlike the position players, he's doing everything that's been asked of him, and unlike Roy Halladay, he told the Yankees to go pound sand by coming here. And he isn't, at least not by the numbers, the best pitcher on staff. That's still Halladay. And hell, Cole Hamels isn't exactly laying down with his 9-4, 2.49 ERA self, either. Perhaps they slip a bit with Roy Oswalt now on the shelf, but that's not really the point to be made. Rather, it's this.

As good as the Phillies starting staff has been this year -- and isn't it kind of nice when something you predict to be great just is? -- the numbers might not actually do them justice. They might actually be pitching in some poor luck.

No, seriously.

Look at Halladay. In 127.1 IP, he's given up 115 hits and 16 walks, for a WHIP that's *barely* over 1. He's also striking out nearly a batter an inning, with 123 in 127. Considering that he keeps the ball on the ground with only 7 HRs in half a year of work, the 2.40 ERA... is actually, well, a little high. It should probably be closer to 2.

Hamels is nearly the same story. 112 IP, 86 hits, 21 walks -- OK, the WHIP is actually sub-1. Just 6 homers given up, with 108 Ks in those 112 frames. He also obliterates the running game, not that this really has too much impact on your ERA, but hey, when you are shaving fractions, any port in a storm. 2.49 ERA that again, should be closer to 2.

Lee's numbers are only getting this deadly to the white-hot June, but after tonight he's worked 122 IP with 103 H and 27 walks; WHIP is just over 1 and falling fast. 119 Ks in 122 IP, and to think that people used to think this man wasn't going to keep piling up big whiff numbers with ordinary stuff.

Oh, and remember, these guys spend half of their games in a bandbox. Ye gads.

With a strikeout/walk ratio for the three now at 350 Ks to 64 walks -- no, seriously, they average over 5 whiffs for every free pass -- there's nothing fluky about the ERAs. Assuming these guys stay healthy (and as Roy Oswalt's year is showing, no, you should not assume such thing), that rate is going to stay. And maybe even go down. Just totally freaking absurd.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Sport That Doesn't Matter Anymore

Every year around this time, I find myself remem-bering my childhood sports consum-ption... and, well, Wimbledon.

When I was growing up, this mattered. It was unique, in that it was the only sporting event that ever came on in the morning, thanks to the time zone change from the UK. It had real characters, in John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Bjorn Borg, Roscoe Tanner, Ilie Nastase... and that was just the men's game. The women were also totally watchable (though I didn't quite get into that Evert-Navratilova rivalry), and even the doubles matches were interesting, because the stars would show up in that, too, and when were you ever going to see doubles?

So you'd get up early and make yourself something special, since the Brits were loading up on strawberries and cream and God knows what else. And you honestly cared who won or lost, since there were Americans battling foreigners... and sometimes the foreigners were who you rooted for, since Connors and McEnroe could be downright hard to take. Until, of course, you watched them play, and all of that WWE stuff was played up. There's a reason why Star Trek named its villain the Borg; Bjorn's play was simply that mechanical, that errorless, that inhuman.

Every year, I'd watch Wimbledon and wonder why I didn't watch more tennis. I mean, the drama was that good, and since tennis is a game without teammates or obvious strategy, it can be some of the most compelling action you can watch. Just like boxing, really, only in an arena where you don't have to feel too bad about the participants having brain damage.

And sure, things stayed somewhat interesting later with Andre Agassi and Michael Chang and Pete Sampras, I suppose... but every year, what made this interesting became less and less important. Sports in the morning stopped being important, because we could get sports anytime, even if they were just highlights of last night's West Coast games. The NFL became more and more important, to the point where training camp actually got important. Fantasy leagues made baseball useful to more than the fans of good teams. The Internet gave us all other things to look at. And every year, the tennis got less and less interesting.

The players stopped seeming like WWE performers, for good or ill; there's never been another McEnroe. They also stopped playing differently. You used to see serve and volley guys against net players, guys with big serves against players who were better at returns, and so on, and so on.

Now, thanks to the technology -- that plus year-round training and conditioning -- there are no more net guys, or long points, or high drama. Instead, it's a tank battle, and so long as your tank hits its serves, it wins. So what's the point in watching, really?

I'm also not sure there's anything that can be done about it. Had this been NASCAR with restricting plates, maybe they could have kept the toothpaste in the tube... but they didn't, and after decades of slow erosion, they have no idea to do anything else. They can't make the area any bigger, they won't make the rackets less responsive, and there's no way to have the players lose strength.

So why does anyone still watch this game, really?

Monday, June 27, 2011

One Perfect Hit

For the first time in a dog's age, I found myself on a golf's course this weekend, as part of a payback to a group of friends for a huge favor. So despite a flu that would (and still, as of this writing, not quit), a throat that felt like daggers and a 102-degree fever... well, a man's word is his word. And I gave mine that we would do this, and 18 holes in a cart isn't going to kill me. So, game on.

I had been out to the range a few times before the round, just to try to get the rust off my decade-old mid-90s to mid-110s game. Realistically, I was only hoping to get the ball in the air from time to time, and not lose too many balls in the effort. So my final 115 wasn't unexpected, but playing the entire round on one ball was. So were the dozen straight as an arrow iron shots, the occasional bunker escapes (I loathe bunker shots), and the holed-out putt or two (I had the group's long one, a 25-footer where my pace was true). If I just played this game more often, I'm sure I'd get back to my old forgettable self, and find something new to do other than to spend time cleaning my house or being a better father to my kids. Ah, golf.

But that's not, of course, the real allure of the game. No, the true appeal is what happened on one of the par threes, where I was prevented by the yardage from hitting my even more erratic wood off the tee, and instead had to pull out the 4-iron from 175 away. The course we were playing is very forgiving, with little water and forgiving rough, but this 175-yard hole has a water carry for at least 120 yards -- just enough, of course, to get in the heads of weak rusty golfers like the four of us. So when I walked up with the four in my hands, and struck it true?

Well, the landing on the green was nice, and so was the roll to within 15 feet of the cup for the day's one true chance at birdie.

And the inevitable crappy three-putt from there to bring me right back to the self-hate?

Well, there's a reason why, in the words of the comedian Lewis Black, golfer is Scottish for a word that my advertisers would rather have me not say...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tell It To Me

So last night in the home poker game, I'm in the cash portion of the evening, since the tournament has become a bad joke. (Seriously, when you are 0-for-6 on your last six all-in bets, it's time to adjust your expectations.) And I'm in a hand with pocket sevens in middle position, at a table with players who are likely better than me. Or, at the very least, ready to tell me that I have tells.

Ah, the poker tell. The conspiracy theory of the poker world, in that whenever you are called down with something and suffer a wretched fate, it must be the tell; that little thing that you are doing that makes you open, John Malkovitch in Rounders-esque, to losing all of your chips and looking like the biggest chump that ever walked. It's a lovely thing to suspect, really.

A week ago at a roast-like event at my old job, an ex-coworker of mine took me to task for my terrible poker face, doubting that I ever make money at such things, since I had reacted with obvious disappointment at company-wide meetings when I didn't receive an award. (At which point the only response is that you are allowed to react when the hand is *over*, jackass.) Afterward, my best poker game regular, who was also in attendance to a workplace connection, complained that he had convinced me over the years that I didn't have one, and here goes this guy, spilling the beans.

Being funny, of course. Real funny. I'd have done the same thing if the roles were reversed. But still, now I kind of want to bust his ass and take all of his chips. Just a little more than usual.

So with my over but not crazy raise getting called by two players, here comes the dream flop of the ages: 2-2-7. The Love Boat, right there on flop, the second nuts behind only a pair of deuces, which really doesn't seem too likely, because really, you'd have to be running pretty bad to have the only better hand for that flop dealt and still in the hand with you. And I know they are ready me for tells, and I want this hand to get paid.... so hand on the mouth to show how weak I am, and scared of smirking as I try to bluff this pot? Oh yeah, you're getting that. Nervous look-off stare moment? Sure, suck on that, too. Hesitating and disgusted check that shows my Ace-Queen has missed yet again, and that I know that if I continuation bet this, I'm just going to run straight into someone else's two pair or trips? But of course. My target thinks about betting the flop, but doesn't. Slow play for pay is not yet the way.

The turn is a 6, making a straight and flush draw alive, and hopefully pairing someone up enough to come bet. That's what happens, with the target going for it. I smooth call him, again out of disgust, since I've got those six pretend outs for my ace and queen on the river and just can't give this up yet, because I'm stubborn and stupid.

The turn is an 8, opening up the straight (huzzah!) and giving my target enough reason to bet. I min-raise, trying to look stealish and weak; it works with an all-in bet, which I snap call for the payoff that fuels a good night in the cash game.

Tell, indeed. Suck on my tell. And rock on...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Watching Sports On The East Coast Is Simply Inferior

So I'm wrapping up the first week of work for the new gig, and everything is going pretty well. I like my new coworkers, there's lots to keep me busy, enough new stuff to keep me up at night, the opportunity to build my own team and forge my own role in a place with a lot on the ball. The weather is the perfect NoCal bright; dry heat and not an unbearable amount of it, the chance to wear my good sunglasses and not feel like I've packed them for no reason, and everyone wants to put food and drink into me without my having to pay for it. Short of the inevitable end of the trip mild flu / all over body ache that this much forced social behavior seems to brew up inside me, and the usual pain and suffering that is a new health plan and IT minefield, I'm good with all of it.

And tonight, in the post-work bar food and drink fest in a nice little room near the train station, with plenty of pool tables and big screens, I'm reminded of the final little coup de grace over how, on some level, I'm going to regret buying a house in New Jersey for ever and ever.

It's the A's game. In New York. And it's going to extra innings; lots of 'em. Way too many, really. The stands are emptying out, notable even for the distressed property that is Shea. The players are looking wiped out beyond all endurance. How could I possibly be awake to watch this? Oh, right... because it's happening at 9pm my time, rather than midnight in the east.

(They wound up losing, by the way, snapping their longest winning streak of the year. It's as if they knew I was heading out soon, and wanted to make it OK. Or something. Moving on.)

Just like how the NFL ends when the sun is still out, and you don't feel like a total slug for blowing your day watching it. Just like how the early NBA game for your favorite East Coast laundry happens over a thoroughly sane breakfast, and the night games for the Western teams end when you want them to, rather than challenging your commitment to not being old and tired.

Everything -- and I do mean everything -- is better for the sports fan on Pacific Time. Want to ignore the Yankees and Red Sox? Even their interminable games are more than half over by the time you get home from work, making them 50% less regrettable. Can't stand the zombie-like shuffle of watching SNF/MNF NFL action? You can catch the first half in the break room at any humanely run start up, and be done with the whole thing by the time the kids go to bed. Want to crush your fantasy league with daily moves? Stream to your heart's content with the information that only late night closer carousel moves can bring you, and scoop up the best available starting pitchers via the waiver wire that is suited to your time zone, and yours alone.

It's really just better. And like many things about living out here, it's damned deadly difficult to want to give any of it up, or live anywhere else.

My flight leaves tomorrow at 7:15pm PST, and I get back into my part of the world at 6:02am. Can't, um, wait.

Now, when do they want me back out here again?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Praying The Gay Away

I realize this is going to seem like Off-Topic, but it's actually not. Stay with me a little here; there's a little bit of sport going on, assuming you believe soccer is a sport.

In the Gray Lady, here's a story that just redefines sadness, really: it's the story of the Nigerian women's soccer team, and a coach who is taking credit for making sure that her team doesn't have The Gay.

I'll just let that sink in for a while, really. Her God is so powerful that she can make other people, those who rely on her for making sure that they can play the game they love for their country, do not engage in the sexual practice that they were in all likelihood born and hard-wired to be.

And I'd say more about this, really I would, but you already know what I'd be saying, right? That even the most thuggish and sluggish of us should be able to live and let live, that even the most demeaning people should feel little more than pity for the way in which others are, that the overwhelming likelihood that this person's players are simply repressed and covert, and that even the hetero players in their midst are now being suspected due to the coach's protesting too much... and that this stance is only bound to catch more attention, disgust, judgment and attention, thereby reflecting even worse on the person in question...

Well, you knew all of that already.

So let me just finish with this single point, since the site hasn't quite lived up to its mission statement recently...

On first glance of the photo, were you sure of the gender? And did you have a sense of what the sexual partner of such a person would be?

Let's just say an accessory would be in play. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Ashes to Dumbness

So here's a lovely story in the NY Times over the preparations in place for the upcoming 3,000th hit of Derek Jeter's career. And I know that you don't care, and should not care, and yet... they are going to be scooping up the dirt from the field, and selling it.

No, seriously.

Now, I get, on some level, the desire for artifacts. It's hard-wired into humanity, and it's not even all that new. The origins of modern tourism are based in religious pilgrimages, which were the only defensible reason to leave your hometown back in the day. There's a lovely bit in the Sarah Vowell book "Assassination Vacation", which I started reading on a plane the other day, of how a ruinous king of Spain was forced to share the bed with the rotting corpse of Saint Francis in the misguided hope that close proximity to the recently deified would have to revive the dying king. (There's something really wonderful, I think, over the idea of a pampered king being made to bunk with a corpse. But I digress.)

But, um... Derek Jeter isn't the baseball equivalent of a saint. Those people back then didn't have television, or the Internet, or the data that told them that any number of diseases could be better treated by cleanliness ad diet, rather than prayer, leeches and praying with leeches. There is no baseball equivalent of a saint, if only because saints do not come with OPS ratings, and defensive statistics that look awful on their face.

And even if he were... y'all do realize that you are buying dirt here, don't you? Dirt? The stuff that sane people spend their time trying to get out of their lives and houses, rather than seal up and imbue with Significance?

But on some level, I'm deeply thankful for this, if only because it's the ultimate counter for when Yankee Fan talks about how knowledgeable they are, at least in comparison with the people who root for other laundry. Yankee Fan, you buy dirt. You put your hard-earned money in the hands of people who will scoop up dirt, then ladle it out like it were a precious metal, rather than, say, dirt. The emperor has no clothes, the shortstop is a .260 hitter with no power or range, you pay to watch baseball in the most expensive stadium ever, your team isn't as good as you think it is, and some of you are paying for the dirt beneath The Holy Jeet's cleats. So knock it off with the smarter than thou and more cynical / jaded / urbane than thou routine.

You buy dirt. Own it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Top 10 reasons why the Marlins hired Jack McKeon

10) It will give Hanley Ramirez the great-grandfather role model he clearly needs

9) Gives us all a chance to take that damned Connie Mack down a peg

8) Bound to increase the fan interest in the Marlins from non-existent to morbid

7) The hire will help the Marlins spend less on the post-game spread, since it will be put out at 4pm

6) His medicine ball, ointment and steak and booze training regimen is the only thing that can save Mike Stanton

5) Hoping he can reenact the 2003 charge, Pickett's Charge, or Hammurabi's March Over The Alps

4) Looking forward to seeing how his old-school ways will ruin the arbitration eligibility of the starting pitchers

3) Best way to get the team the inside track on the best remaining talent in the Negro Leagues

2) Desperate hope that the team won't be able to quit on an old, old man, the way they've been quitting on every one else

1) In Miami, this is how you bring in the walker-in crowd

The 25th Year Anniversary Of Boston Fan Feeling More Than You

So I'm currently in San Mateo, CA, on assignment for the new job, in a shared computer in a "business center" (i.e., room with open terminal and web access) in a Best Western. (Hey, stop on by. We'll work out in the similarly mini-sized room with the six pieces of equipment, assuming the little kids are done goofing off in there.) I check the web mail accounts and the blog to make sure things haven't caught on fire, and hey presto... lookie here! Right there in the right rail, the stories about other blogs that I recommend you look at during slow times in the FTT posting order, it's...

Wow, Len Bias has been dead for 25 years! Isn't that important? Worthy of comment, and publicity, and a Wot It All Means Now, Innit Important, 500 words of grating pain piece?

Only, of course, because it happened to a Boston team...

You see, Bias dying was a *tragedy*. Not like what might happen to your team, of course. Pelle Lindbergh drank and drove and died for the Flyers of my youth, cutting short a brilliant goal tending career, but this matters not at all to anyone, partly because we all knew that drinking and driving was stupid, partly because hockey doesn't really travel in the same Wot's It All Mean Then circles as basketball, and mostly because it didn't happen in Boston.

Am I overstating the case? Wasn't Bias's game so transcendent, so magical, so filled with game-changing goodness that he was... oh, I can't even finish the devil's advocacy; I'm not going to make myself and you sick over seeing it again. No, no, no and hell no, it wasn't. I don't care if the man's sweat smelled like fresh bread, he never missed a jump shot when he cared because he had telekinetic powers, or that his Maryland teams only lost when the opposition and the referees conspired to keep the Terrapins down because no one needs the word terrapins when we already have tortoises and turtles. (Really, it's a scuttling amphibious lizard with a hard shell. It needs three names?)

I was watching ESPN Classic the other day (don't judge), and they have on the terrific 1993 NBA Finals, where Michael Jordan's Bulls took down Charles Barkley's Suns in one of the best series in my lifetime. I remember watching that series for the first time in a hotel room (what is it with me and hotel rooms?) in Key West, Florida, on my first honeymoon with my first wife, sunburned beyond the point of tolerance and hoping against hope that the Chuckster had enough with him to win. That Suns team benefited from the smooth game of Richard Dumas, a scoring wing player who was a rookie then, very athletic, heady beyond his years, and held all sorts of promise. Dumas fell to the Suns following drug issues in college. With Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Oliver Miller and a solid bench, the Suns looked primed to contend for years, especially if Dumas was able to develop his game in the way that he looked like he was going to go. Here's a rookie on the stage with the two iconic NBA stars of his era, and he's more than holding his own. I liked every part of Richard Dumas.

He, like Bias, had issues with illegal narcotics, and liked them more than he liked being able to continue playing basketball in the NBA. Dumas never fulfills his promise, never helps the Suns get over the hump. And he's so well known for this tragic career that you can barely find him on the Internet. Here's an interview from eight years ago. Enjoy.

A few years before Dumas, there was Roy Tarpley, who's an opera waiting to be written; suffice it to say that he was twice the player that Dumas was, though very different, and he more or less cost the '80s Dallas Mavericks any chance at a title. You don't read much about Tarp these days, either.

Finally, my favorite player to watch in my home laundry prior to the Allen Iverson Experience was Andrew Toney. No less of an authority than the Chuckster called him the best player that he ever played with, and considering that Chuck worked with Moses Malone, Julius Erving, KJ, Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, that's kind of saying something. Following a missed diagnosis and a persistent ankle problem, the man they called the Boston Strangler was gone after barely reaching his prime. I can still see his cobra rattle jump shot and ridiculous first step when I close my eyes and concentrate, and had he simply been able to stay healthy, maybe the Sixers get another title or two. Don't hear too much about Andrew, neither.

But Len Bias? Oh, that's tragedy. Much more tragic than anyone else's tragedy. Beyond the pale of tragic, that a franchise that's won more championships than nearly any other might have an athlete go pop in the noon day sun, just like what happens to franchises every damned year, in every damned sport, and at least three times a year if they are named the Clippers. But now that he's 25 years gone, and fewer and fewer people who care about sports actually remember seeing him play...

Can we finally let it go, Boston Fan? Even for you, this amount of wallowing is unseemly. (And if you use this bashing to wallow some more over how y'all are just persecuted for caring too much... well, bravo, really. And can't you start trying some of Lenny's drugs just to get a greater understanding of his demons? Please?)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

FTT Off-Topic: Self Cinema

As always with FTT O-T, this is Not Sports and the rest of the Internet awaits you, yada yada yada.

I'm writing this from the Shooter Wife's computer as she sleeps, because I am temporarily ride-less, a transitory condition brought on by the change in employment from one start-up to another. The last one went for four years until I ended it, and the last two weeks has been that awkward phase. I kept busy as best as I could, but man alive, that only really works for about a week. The new gig starts on Monday, and it's work from home after an initiation week in California. I fly out tomorrow morning.

I don't know about you, but when I go through times like that, where it's not just that You Are Leaving but that the finality of things kicks in -- no more daily walks through New York, no more of the things you do every day, no more seeing the people you hired or have worked with for years -- it's as if your consciousness leaves your skull. The body of me continues doing what it does, but the soul/memory/mind moves up and out, takes a 90-degree turn, moves off about 10 feet and begins a three-camera shoot. I felt this way during certain Big Moments, the ones where you know that you will remember this, but that you also know that what you are doing isn't that taxing. Walk across a stage, become a graduate. Walk to the subway for the last time. Drive down a road that you will never drive down again.

And try to figure out a soundtrack. This was mine for yesterday.

(Oh, and the goodbye roast? Some nice efforts from a few people, but what really struck me about it was how many people who would have gotten into it had already left the company. Four years is a long time, especially in a start up. Also, thanks to the nature of anonymous comments and the experience of being a wildly unpopular sports blogger, my skin is probably thicker than most. I should have written something for someone else to read, really: it might have gotten them to open up a little more. Live and learn.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Can The Mavs Repeat?

The case for: NBA champions are frequently repeat affairs. The organization is top-notch, and the experience of getting all the way to mountaintop is big and meaningful. Key components of the team are getting better (those would be JJ Barea and Tyson Chandler). They get Caron Butler back, and he's a major upgrade over DeShawn Stevenson. They've got enough of a bench to get them through the regular season without wearing out the starters. Coach Rick Carlisle showed his chops in every series this playoff season. Owner Mark Cuban will spend to win, and the team has a serious home court advantage.

For years, they've mostly gotten in their own way in the playoffs. At this point, you have to think that they are playing with house money, and since they did this as an underdog, they will still come into next year with a chip on their shoulders, rather than having to worry about complacency and hangovers.

The case against: The best players are Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry -- all way past the point of their careers when they would be getting better. They made a ton of hay this year with a zone defense in the playoffs,and teams that play zone rarely have good defense in the long run. Shawn Marion was absolutely crucial for many of these games, and he's also on the downside. DeShawn Stevenson is capable of getting arrested at any moment, and the big man combo of Chandler and Brendan Haywood doesn't exactly create big confidence.

Oklahoma City and Los Angeles could be better -- much better -- fairly soon, either from emerging talent or from aggressive personnel management. They were healthy during their run this year, and as an older team, that's not a given. If Kidd falters, and he's got an astounding number of miles on the tires, this team will falter, since there isn't any other pure point on the roster, and Kidd's renaissance also gave them a strong defensive presence.

The prognosis: It's impossible and silly to even consider predicting the season before it begins; if the Lakers manage to, say, swing an Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard move, or the Magic send Howard to another contender, that would swing the balance of power a ton. Chris Paul is getting closer to free agency as well, and as the early part of the Laker series showed, he can swing games just by himself. I also still think the world of the Thunder, and wonder if Kendrick Perkins was actually healthy.

I don't think they are getting there again, but I didn't think they were getting there for much of the playoff year. So add your own opinion in the comments...

The Eternal False Promise Of Rich Harden

With 3/5ths of the starting rotation and the opening game manager gone, the A's have become even less competitive than usual.. but two wins in a row is two wins in a row, and it's not as if the AL West is filled with monsters. And then there's this news... Rich Harden threw 40-plus pitches in a rehab game, striking out three in two innings of work. The fastball looked explosive, too.

I know it seems as if Harden has been around forever, but he's still just 29, and it's not as if he's bereft of promise, especially in the pitching-happy world of the Coliseum and the AL West. And he's always been catnip to me from a fantasy standpoint, since he's usually been great or crap. But 2010 was terrible -- 5.58 ERA in 92 walk-tastic innings for Texas -- and we are talking about a guy who has never thrown more than 189 innings at the major league level. He'd probably best be used in a relief role, or in a six-starter rotation where he keeps the pitch count down... but that's not the way the world works, or how a down-market team with severe attendance and money issues works, either.

So my guess is that as soon as Harden is ready to let loose and take the hill, the A's will have him go as long as he can... which will be. in all likelihood, for about 50 to 75 innings before it all goes down again. That's just the way he's made... and the only question is whether or not he's actually effective in the time before he's hurt.

But if he is effective? He'll suck us all right back in, back to the times when he first came up and looked as good as anyone the A's produced... yes, even as good as Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder or Barry Zito. Because when he was on his game, that's just how good the man was.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

FTT Off-Topic: Roast Me

So part of the reason why the blog hasn't been updated so much recently, beyond my steadfast and well-considered opinion to ignore the NHL (I'm sorry, but anything that gives Boston Fan joy should not be viewed, much less tolerated, in a just society) is that I'm starting a new gig. And I'm consequently swamped by all of the things that you've got to do when such things are done, including but not limited to swapping out computers and cell phones, making sure your people are taken care of, clearing out all old business, etc., etc. It's been a lot, and I'm very happy there is a lot, because I like being busy... but between all of that and the fact that sports right now is down to MLB and just the MLB, it's really the worst time of the year to be a sports blogger. Some people dread the February post-Super Bowl time as Sports Dead Zone, but for me, it's the 2+ months between the end of the NBA season the start of the NFL, especially in years where my A's are unwatchable. In other words, every year between June and September, really.

But back to the ending of the job. For the past four years, I've been immersed in a situation where I've managed a team that worked on hundreds of pieces per month, under deadline pressures, for dozens of clients, both inside and outside of the company. It's been a fun ride; the second longest gig of my career (I've been at a lot of start-ups that haven't worked out), but it's time to move on... and I felt it was only right, especially as I move into a work from home situation at the new job, to give everyone who wants one a chance to speak their mind on the way out.

So I told my people, if they are so moved, to throw me a roast.

Now, I have no real expectation that this is actually going to happen. My people are designers and advertising personnel; they are funny, of course, but they aren't professional comedians. They also have to come to work with each other next week, and the week after that, and not have any hurt feelings about the experience. They also, I suspect, aren't completely convinced that I'm going to take any real ribbing the right way, which just seems sad, really. I'm a 42-year-old man who dresses on the cheap, with a couple of kids, living under house arrest due to falling property values, and I'm about as tall as your average hobbit. You learn to laugh at yourself or you don't get along, really. Hopefully, they'll do what they can, alcohol will be involved, and I'll go out with something memorable.

But my manager, a sweet guy who did his best for me the past few years, said something peculiar to me about this. Namely, why would I want something like this to happen? And it reminded me of taking my kids and mom out to dinner the other night.

There's an Asian buffet place within walking distance of my place, in a little strip mall that's handy for a lot of things. And it's mediocre stuff, like most buffets, but when you have little kids and you want them to eat, a buffet works like gangbusters, because there's no waiting and the desserts are just right there, ready for the earning. So we chowed down well enough, and in the back of the place, far away from the popular entrees and the traditional fare, was some stuff that showed you that the place actually had some authentically Asian people in there to eat from time to time.

Namely, chicken feet and pig feet.

Now, a quick word. My diet is pretty bland most days. I try to stay healthy and avoid fast food, watch my caloric intake and do what I can to balance things out. But if you give me the opportunity to eat something unique, I'm taking it, mostly to say I've tried it. Gator, goat, buffalo, ostrich, a ton of fish, bull balls... it's all been on my plate, and most of it hasn't gotten a second chance. But hey, you are dead a long time. Try some stuff.

So as soon as I saw the feet, I knew I was going to be eating a few. Mostly to freak out my kids, and partly because when you write, you are always looking for some stories to throw into the mix... but mostly because, hey, when am I going to have the chance to eat feet again?

They are, by the way, disgusting. Wrong texture, bad aftertaste, nothing to recommend them. But it's not as if they hurt me more longer then it took to wash the taste off my tongue. No big deal, really.

So a roast seems like it'd be fun to me; more fun than just sitting around a bar hearing how I'll be missed.

And if it's not?

At least I can say I've done it.

So have at it, you soon to be exes of mine...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dammit, We Were Promised A Trainwreck

So the word on the Internets is that an NFL labor deal is 80 to 85 percent done, and that progress has been going great... so good, really, that there's still hope for a normal training camp year and a full schedule of games.

And I suppose that I should be, along with everyone else in Blogfrica, happy to hear the news. We can all go back to caring too much about the games, ranking players for our fantasy leagues without wondering if it's even more of a timewaste than usual, planning road trips and buying jerseys and just forgetting the last 3+ months of hateful stupidity never happened... and well, isn't this just kind of a letdown, really?

I was, in some perverse way, really looking forward to this, kind of in the same way that you really look forward to seeing twisted metal by the side of the road after being trapped in a traffic jam. Dammit, we've *earned* some carnage for the years of threats and fear. If they walk this down in a safe and sane manner, it's going to be like the fall of the Berlin Wall all over again -- a stumbling half decade of wandering around, not having anyone or thing to hate. You know what we got the last time that happened? Grunge rock. The birth of reality television. Newt Gingrich. In other words, small cancerous growths that never, ever go away. Much like Roger Goodell, Jerruh Jones, Jerry Richardson and everyone else involved in this game of brinksmanship will just be grinning at you for decades.

But take hear, disaster lovers: 15 to 20 percent is still more than a fair chance of all of this going straight down the memory hole, and a thermonuclear wave of self-immolation happening on the most hubristic men on the planet. The cleansing fire of player leagues, contraction, declining ratings, social media and Flash mob uprisings, and maybe even the occasional Unfortunate Incidence of Violence And/Or Assassination. Stout heart!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Top 10 takeaways from the Heat's mistaken championship ad

10) Macy's really must have been banking hard on not just a Heat win, but in six games or less

9) To be fair, they've been selling this stuff since last summer

8) They really go for Eastern Conference championships down there

7) Since the Game Three winner takes the series the majority of the time, the Heat losing this series must be some kind of clerical error

6) The parade's been planned forever, so you might as well have clothes to wear on that

5) It's not as if people still read newspapers

4) This is the first regrettable thing that Miami or its fans have done this year

3) Seeing how the stars have promised so many rings, you really are going to need to stock up on a lot of gear, whether it's accurate or not

2) From watching ESPN's coverage of this series, you can understand why the under-informed thought Miami must have won, seeing how they got the majority of the coverage

1) These are the same people who couldn't figure out a butterfly ballot, so expecting them to count to four isn't cutting it either

Range Kids

So after two weekends of beyond challenging work where a few good friends helped me do something that seemed borderline impossible, I've decided that the only way to repay my karmic debt is to take them all out for a round of golf. Which also, well, means that I've got to play, and I haven't done that very much since the eldest daughter, now 11, was born. So it's time to get my butt to the range and shake all of the hideous rust off my equally hideous game...

But, well, the kids want to come with. And who am I to discourage this, really? Let's go the tape on this.

If I take the kids to the range, I

1) Get to teach them something that we could conceivably do together when I'm old, and need something to talk to them about that doesn't really matter all that much

2) Look like a better Dad in the eyes of the Shooter Wife, who has been with them all day and enjoys some peace and quiet, and

3) Impress them with my meager abilities and feel better about my game, since it's not as if they've seen anyone better than me just yet

So get in the car, kids, we're off. Now, if you haven't brought kids to the range with you -- and especially little ones or those who might not actually want to hit a few balls -- here are some tricks to make it worthwhile.

1) Just one bucket. Kids do well with set limits and parameters -- and that's true for the things you want to do as well as the things they want to do. So for me, it's one large bucket, and if I'm not thrilled with how my session has gone at the end of the bucket, that's too bad. You can't change the rules on them mid-stream.

2) Let them bring stuff. My youngest especially is into dolls these days, and that's good for a decent amount of time in the stall. So you go with a plan, and make sure they've got what they usually bring. Simple.

3) Don't go overboard on the coaching. I got my eldest a club and gave her a dozen balls, and only jumped in to correct her when, well, she asked. The point is to not take it too seriously. Hell, that goes for my own "game" as well...

Finally and most importantly... positive reinforcement. So long as mine stay safe and patient for the 30 to 45 minutes that I'm working, the post-game treat is assured... which hopefully won't be the same thing twice. Maybe it's water ice, or Carvel, or a late movie or board game; what it is doesn't really matter, so much as it's a clear quid pro quo. Why? So the next time you want to go to the range, they're jumping in the car... or even suggesting it themselves. And who knows, maybe they'll even get good enough to go play a round someday...

Monday, June 13, 2011

How To Lose Your Fantasy League: The 2-Start S*** Stream

So in news that could not possibly interest you, my fantasy baseball team is in contention, and it's my ideal team in many respects -- offense working well, pitching a source of constant tinkering, but if we can just get ordinary ratio numbers happening, we should pull back some money at the end of the year. Which is, of course, when the following two things have to happen:

1) Injuries on offense, especially when you finally feel confident enough in your starters to make a trade for pitching, and

2) Ruinous streaming decisions on two-start pitchers.

Which leads us to this week's fateful decision to revisit the horror that is Javier Vazquez. He's freely available in your fantasy league and mine

Now, I get that JV is, well, JV. There's a reason why he was freely available talent, after all. But this week, he had two very winnable starts, and a month of improving velocity and numbers. He's always been a good man to have for strikeout / walk percentage, which is a rare stat that my league does, and I always struggle with. So let's roll the dice, right? What's the worst that could happen?

Monday -- 4 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 6 Ks
Saturday - 3.2 IP. 7 H, 7 ER, 3 BB, 6 Ks

15.26 ERA, 2.48 WHIP. But hey, 3.00 K/BB!

Just how bad was Javy? There was one starting pitcher -- one! -- in MLB that was worse in the past seven days, Texas' Colby Lewis. (Colby's also probably available in your league now, too) Javy, for the record, was ranked 1,302 in the Yahoo game, and was 25% owned, so I'm clearly not the only idiot that went near this bag of garbage.

But help is on the way, folks. Jose Reyes, the hottest hitter in the NL, was moved to bring in the 2-start goodness of Dan Haren. Just in time for Martin Prado to go on the disabled list. Remember point #1 from the list...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ten Most Surprising NBA Finals Developments

I don't know about you, but this playoff season was just filled with surprises -- both small and huge. Such as...

10) Jason Kidd would win his matchup in four straight series, despite finishing the regular season so badly that he was more or less given a leave of absence

9) Chris Bosh would be much more clutch in the Finals than LeBron James, and better than Dwyane Wade in the elimination game

8) JJ Barea would go from defensive sieve and questionable rotation player to unquestioned asset and starter

7) The Heat would go to Eddie House and Mario Chalmers in crunch time

6) DeShawn Stevenson would go from a guy who in no way justified his minutes in the first three rounds to a dead-eye three-point shooter in the Finals

5) Miami's biggest failure would be in crunch-time defense

4) Mark Cuban spent an entire playoff year keeping his mouth shut and away from the camera

3) It took 100 games for teams to figure out that the Heat don't like to play against a zone

2) Brian Cardinal helped an NBA team win a championship

1) James shot 60% from the floor in Game Six, but refused to shoot for most of the game...

Just amazing, really. Hope there's a season next year...

50 Mavs Heat Game Six Takeaways

The end of the best NBA playoffs in recent memory, despite a dearth of Game Seven dramas. Congrats to the Old Men That Could, your 2010-11 NBA champions, the Dallas Mavericks...

50) Mario Chalmers responded to a starting role by missing everything

49) Offensive rebounding appears to be something the Heat only do at home

48) The longer the playoffs go, the more it becomes obvious that it's JJ Barea's world

47) LeBron James started 4-for-4, which proves that he's better than Michael Jordan after all

46) According to Mark Jackson, a five point lead after five minutes is the perfect start for the Heat, mostly because he does not know the meaning of the word perfect

45) Brian Cardinal is now officially taking Peja Stojakovic's minutes are regrettable weak link

44) Jason Terry hit his first two shots to make sure that, just like every other game in this series, there would not be a double-digit lead for Miami

43) ABC/ESPN covered CoughGate for a full minute before saying "Who Cares", then cared about for over a half dozen possessions more, including a Mavs run that gave them the lead

42) James missed his next three shots, proving he's gutless and a loser

41) Eddie House came in before Mike Bibby, as Erik Spoelstra finally got the memo that Bibby is beyond horrible

40) Once again, the Dallas zone gave Miami problems, since the Heat clearly don't have coaching enough to adjust to such things

39) DeShawn Stevenson came in for a steal and a three, capping a 17-point turnaround, because this series is just that run-tastic

38) Mike Breen announced Brendan Haywood as Spencer, which is fairly flattering to Spencer, in that he might move better laterally

37) Ian Mahinmi finally made some energy plays, proving that the series has gone on long enough

36) Stevenson hit back to back threes to give the Mavs a 12-point lead to a surprising amount of cheers, proving that Heat Fan is ready to root for any winning team, really

35) Barea tried to sell a flop from a shove from behind, which was too innovative for the refs to call

34) Dirk Nowitzki was 1 for 12 in the first half with 2 fouls, proving that his mighty Teutonic heart is not capable of being mocked for sniffles

33) Dwyane Wade blocked a 7-footer, leading to a House three, a Mavs timeout, and a shoving match that ABC/ESPN needed to go to commercial rather than show

32) The resulting fracas led to several technical fouls, no ejections, five minutes of No Ball and if the series continues, days of absolutely unbearable talk, and one Dallas point

31) The big Heat run came with James on the bench, proving that he's the whole problem

30) Tyson Chandler was upset that he was called for his third foul for an elbow to the kidney to Wade while the man was in the air, at the rim, as if anyone would be watching him then

29) Both teams went small, just to make sure that drives to the rim where even more successful

28) Terry managed to avoid drooling too much at House attempting to guard him

27) James missed both of his free throws on his first trip to the line, which was more than telling

26) Isolating James now just means that you take more time off the clock before some other Heat player gets the ball

25) The idea that the Mavs would lead at the end of the first half with Dirk shooting 8.3% is beyond amazing

24) Dallas kept defending James as if he actually wanted to shoot

23) Miami kept missing free throws, not that the broadcasting crew noticed

22) Dallas got away with Barea on James, mostly because James had absolutely no interest in shooting

21) Chris Bosh was much, much better than LeBron James, proving that he's better than Michael... aw, you know the rest

20) When Brian Cardinal flagrantly fouls Chris Bosh and doesn't get called for it, all of White America smiles

19) Miami's vaunted defense obviously doesn't extend to the three point line

18) Cardinal finally got a charge call, leading to a Wade technical as well

17) James' first shot in the third quarter came after 10+ minutes of court time, so I guess he's saving up his energy for.. what, again, really?

16) The announcing team finally noticed the missed free throws for Miami when it got to ten

15) Jason Kidd hit an excuse-me three to give the Mavs an eight point lead at the end of the clock

14) Mahinmi hitting a quarter-ending shot to give the Mavs a nine-point lead after three is one of those Maybe It's Their Year moments

13) One for two was a better trip than many for the Heat from the line in this game

12) Wade finishing with an and-one at the rim against Dirk was game-changing... and was capped, of course, by a missed free throw

11) You really don't want to know James' plus/minus in this game

10) Barea shook House for a back-breaking three, which House could not answer on the other end

9) If you really want to know the Mavs' true MVP, it's Terry

8) No member of the Heat seemed all that interested in defending Barea on a drive

7) Barea was called for a blocking foul / three point play against Chalmers, giving the broadcast crew their first chance at an outraged Mark Cuban reaction shot

6) Chalmers turning the ball twice late was one of those Forgetting Your Role moments

5) Wade not getting the and-one call with 3:30 is tiny payback for 2006

4) The Heat didn't even foul late, just to prove that the fourth quarter didn't have to last long

3) This was the worst game of a great series

2) Miami was much, much, much better tonight with James off the floor, despite the fact that he led them in scoring

1) As good as this was, and as mean as this is to Dallas... don't bet too much on either of these teams being back in the Finals next year

Friday, June 10, 2011

40 Heat Mavs Game Five Takeaways

H/t, SI's Jimmy Traina for the image.

40) The Mavs didn't have Brendan Haywood, depriving them of fouls and dumb plays

39) Jason Kidd got a couple of steals right after being cited for his defense, so I guess they are smart or something

38) For a guy playing the game of his life, LeBron James sure didn't seem interested in venturing into the paint

37) Brian Cardinal actually scored some points and hurt Dwyane Wade, which is to say he had the best game possible for his talent and athleticism

36) Erik Spoelstra countered the Cardinal move by bringing in Juwan Howard, just because Howard is pretty much the same guy

35) DeShawn Stevenson ran 40 feet away from James in a thoroughly innovative flop

34) Mario Chalmers nailed a running 40-footer at the end of the first quarter to give Miami the lead, because he's actually kind of good at the long heave

33) Ian Mahinmi scored his first points of the postseason, then remembered who he was and gave up a three point play

32) ABC/ESPN decided that Dwyane Wade limping stiffly was worth the same amount of screen real estate as the game, and given Wade's value, they may be right

31) Dallas actually lost ground with Wade out, which will open up all kinds of new psychological musings on Miami, because that never gets old

30) Chris Bosh continues to defy our need for him to be soft and sucky

29) Both teams spent the first half knocking down threes as if it were easy, giving credence to the tired legs don't defend theory

28) There was actually an Eddie House sighting, which is the biggest sign yet that Bibby has actually died, and that first half minutes don't count

27) Jeff Van Gundy wants a DVD of every shot that Dirk Nowitzki has taken, because he's just that creepy

26) Shawn Marion got a technical after complaining, correctly, about the refs missing a double dribble on James

25) When Tyson Chandler scores, the Mavs really are getting one of the better centers in the Association

24) When the Mavs hit their threes, it really is damned deadly difficult to beat them

23) You kind of know it's not Miami's night when Wade can't play big minutes

22) I hope you weren't too surprised by the Heat blowing another fourth quarter lead

21) The fact that James doesn't shoot free throws that well might be playing into that whole jack a three in crunch time moment, especially when they don't get a critical block/charge call

20) Dallas closed with a 15-3 run, and that's starting to sound like a broken record

19) Honestly, Jason Kidd is 38 years old, and it's not like he hasn't played a lot of minutes in those years

18) Terry's backed up bailout three to crush is proof, not that you needed it, that bad offense trumps good defense when the shot goes down

17) Perhaps the lack of referee respect for the Heat late is home court, and perhaps it's Winking Flop payback

16) Once more with everything: the Heat have trouble closing, though this one was more defense than offense

15) Wade's injury shows just how paper-thin the Heat's dynasty hopes are

14) Jason Terry outplaying James in the fourth quarter might be the most surprising thing in the Finals, given that he's, well, just not that good

13) For a team that's sold on defense, the Heat are just not getting it done

12) In re James, that's one of the more underwhelming triple doubles you will ever see

11) You're going to hear the Dirk 52, LeBron 11 fourth quarter point stat a few thousand times before Game Six

10) It pains me to agree with people on ESPN, but this really has been one of the best played Finals in years

9) For a nine-point game, this one was super close, too

8) While Cleveland Fan is just a game away the shadenfraude moment of the century, they are also just two games away from the kick in the teeth of the century, too

7) It's really hard to see how this doesn't go seven games, if only for the More Ratings factor

6) That "Bad Teacher" bit slamming LeBron looks like it will be remembered longer than anything else from the movie

5) Whether or not you like the Mavs, you pretty much have to like Dirk

4) Terry is just a game away from making a lot of guys think about getting a trophy tattoo

3) Heat Fan is so bummed about this loss, they are going to feel bad for, like, minutes

2) There is no truth to the rumor that David Stern will declare a lockout a minute before he has to give Mark Cuban the trophy

1) This isn't so much of a series as it is an opera

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Top 10 reasons why the A's fired Bob Geren

10) If they didn't make a move, the remaining 8 people in the Bay Area who walk up to games might stop

9) When someone with the track record of Bob Melvin is available, you just gotta get him

8) It's not as if 334-376 buys you job security, especially in the AAAA AL West

7) After 10 years, the last half of which in a down cycle, Billy Beane needs a new distraction trick

6) Someone needs to take the fall for Daric Barton being horrible, beyond, well, Daric Barton

5) Now that Bob Melvin is in town, they are sure to fix that stadium problem with a quickness

4) They've lost nine in a row and someone has to pay, assuming that someone isn't Beane

3) Failed to tap the incredible potential of offensive specimens like Hideki Matsui and David DeJesus

2) Jenile Weeks hasn't set the world, country, state, city, zip code or nearby match stick on fire

1) Reminded everyone who reads the ESPN crawl that Oakland does, in fact, have a team

Vacant LeBron

"Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" - John Lydon / Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, to the crowd after the band's final gig in 1978, when they played one song and left

So in the off day before the pivotal Game Five of the Finals (in that odd-numbered games are always Pivotal), it's time to Flay LeBron James, who has only scored nine points in the first four fourth quarters of the Finals, is clearly not the Heat's MVP for this Series, and is showing all of the signs of being Not Michael Jordan.

Now, of course, had the Heat simply been a few points better in the fourth quarter in Game Four, James would be lauded for his unselfishness, or at least, would be tolerated for that and blessed for his defense. If you want to be equally charitable while still pointing out that James Is Not Jordan, you could also note that every possession in crunch time, he's getting double-teamed, and he's also logging huge minutes.

The older I get, the more I try to ignore everything that athletes do outside of the arena... but the Heat make it so damned hard. And so does James. Now, look at what the man did at the end of the first quarter. It's everything that's wrong in the Association right now.

But there's also this about LeBron.. he might work harder than every other superstar in the Association, especially on defense. The chasedown block that's all the rage in the league now? More or less a James invention. He also locked down Derrick Rose to close out the Bulls, erased the Celtics with steals leading to dunks, and basically answered the enmity this spring with goofy acceptance and near MVP play.

And now, suddenly. not. Why the hell not?

Psychoanalyzing athletes is never a great idea, despite the fact that we constantly do it. I tend to give more credence to this idea: since James can do anything on a court, he frequently does not do enough. Players that are truly like him in NBA history pretty much begins and ends with Magic Johnson, and Johnson always had the clear mandate of Being A Point Guard, even if he really wasn't one, at least not physically. What James really is, at this point, is the world's most overqualified energy player, who doesn't have the clear confidence and total focus of a go-to move; that's Dwyane Wade. He's like Meryl Streep in an improv comedy, a still-ungimmicked skill guy in wrestling, Prince or Beck at the start of their careers, when everything seemed limitless and potential-laden, or Babe Ruth in a future age, not sure whether to concentrate on pitching or hitting.

He's also way too far into his career to not know who he is, and what he does when the money is on the table. It's what makes him fascinating to watch even if you aren't rooting for him. James is the superstar with every gift, who works harder than just about everyone, who still manages to be unsatisfying on some level to watch, because we have no idea what he's supposed to do. Only hurry the hell up already and do it.

Blame it on coaching, or his ego, or the fact that he's been so far beyond every league and teammate up until this year. Call him Mozart without a click track, with flaws (turnover prone, weak at the line, character issues as shown by that flop and the constant ref puling) not befitting an elite talent.

Or call him a man with not enough sense of The Moment, since he's known for way too long that all of this is just about selling more jerseys and shoes, and that The Brand is going to be with us for another decade or more, so don't get too hung up in things like another year without a ring. That seems like a reach given how hard he plays, but hey, long-distance psychoanalysis is fun.

I don't have any answers, and neither do the twerps with pre-written storylines that are paid to cover this. But my guess is that now that his back is truly against it, and with his running mates finding clear purchase as his team slowly establishes that it's the better unit even if it doesn't have the better closing decorum, he throws down numbers tonight.

Then fails to do so in a closeout opportunity in Game Six, then gets it done in the home court womb in Game Seven.

And if he doesn't?

Well, he's still selling shoes, and there will always be people willing to point the finger at his role players for not being good enough. Compared to him, they never will be. But flags fly forever, even more than commercials.

Or, at least, they used to, before the commercials went up on the Internet and could be seen forever. You know, back when we only really cared about the games, or at least pretended to...

"Good night" - Lydon, again, same gig, final words

The FTT Movie Review: Black Swan

You've probably heard about this one already, seeing how Natalie Portman won the Oscar and the film made money, but it bubbled up to the top of my queue this week, so I gave it a spin. It's hard to watch at times, and I get why Portman won for it; it's showy.

Portman plays Nina, a technically skilled but emotionally stunted and aging ballerina who gets challenged by her creepy / demanding producer into giving a more visceral performance in a dual role as heroine and villainess in an opcoming production of "Swan Lake." The only trouble is that she's not quite right in a lot of ways, and there's really no one in her world that's interested in making her better.

Portman is great in this, and she's also ably supported by the game Mila Kunis, the overbearing Barbara Hershey, the scary Winona Ryder and the odious Vincent Cassel. There's also a lovely infamous scene for all of the readers of this blog that's actually important to the plot, and the direction, by the acclaimed Darren Aronofsky ("The Wrestler"), is top-notch. It's also obvious that the actors really drilled hard to get the dancing chops down; there isn't a lot of distraction from the momentum of the movie, which really goes hell for leather in the final reel.

Having said all of that, the movie fails for me on a few levels, not the least of which is an over-reliance on horror movie cheats and special effects that start to get really over the top. I get that all of this was done with thought and planning, and that's just the way the story goes... but at some point, it all gets to be a little too much, and it takes you out of the story. Portman certainly gives her all, and the piece has many merits, but its heart is too dark, and the execution too muddled, to really be as good as advertised.

Worth a spin if you really like the director or cast, and worth seeing, but not essential.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

40 Heat Mavericks Game Four Takeaways

40) Chris Bosh started hot, just to continue to irritate his haters

39) The entire game came down to a first quarter lane violation

38) Mark Jackson likes to call whistled fouls as clean plays, which just says all kinds of good things about Golden State's future

37) Brendan Haywood returned, and that just changed everything, really

36) LeBron James committed a terrible called and technical against DeShawn Stevenson and Rick Carlisle, because the world didn't hate him enough yet

35) Between the bricks and the flops, the first quarter made even Heat fans hate the Heat

34) JJ Barea kept ending good possessions with back-breaking misses

33) The difference between these two teams could be as simple as the Heat converting more in transition

32) Bosh's shooting touch is particularly amazing, given how he appears to be cross-eyed and a lizard

31) Stevenson made multiple threes again, just because he hates James that much

30) You have to think that when a guy flops as badly as James did, the refs eventually see the replay, and don't give him a call the rest of the night

29) Watching Dwyane Wade finish in traffic and rebound, you'd never guess that he was 6'-4"

28) Dirk Nowitzki didn't get to the foul line in the first half, because that's when the refs got the memo that he hadn't gone to the foul line

27) When Mike Bibby plays good defense, the announce team seems surprised

26) Brian Cardinal can't get a charge called to save his life

25) The James to Wade alley oop with 14 minutes left deserved every bit of the highlight reel treatment

24) Miami's 4-point lead at the end of the third seemed actually meaningful, given how tight the game had been all night long

23) Since Dirk didn't shoot well in this game with a fever, he no longer has any similarity to Larry Bird, or the heart of Michael Jordan

22) I missed the memo where the only way to describe a made jump shot became "knocks one down"

21) When the Heat take a lead from sharing the ball, the story is how James' teammates carried him, because the media really is that stupid

20) Dallas went to a zone, which helped, but then Wade decided to just be superhuman at both ends of the floor

19) Miami fell apart against a zone for vast stretches of the fourth, because the zone was just that unexpected

18) The Heat's defense in the fourth quarter seemed to consist entirely of Wade trying to block dunk attempts

17) You had to love this game if you are a James hater, seeing how he had 8 points and a shameful flop that will be replayed for 48 hours

16) Both teams looked absolutely gassed late, which the announce team attributed to manliness

15) Once again with feeling: the Heat have trouble closing

14) Dallas Fan actually groaned at a beyond obvious Stevenson foul with two minutes left

13) Chandler had 16 boards, all of them big

12) Wade's sneaky bad at free throws, which came back to bite Miami with 30 seconds left

11) For the third straight game, the contest wasn't decided until the final shot

10) Udonis Haslem couldn't stop Dirk in crunch time for the second straight game, and was lucky to not get whistled for an and one

9) Wade intelligently drove and dunked with 9 seconds left

8) Rick Carlisle put in an ice-cold Peja Stojakovic with nine seconds left, just to terrify Dallas Fan

7) Expect Miami to pule over the free throw disparity in the fourth quarter, as if that was the reason why they blew another lead

6) Wade's fumble and Miller's heave miss proves that Dallas has to win the series, since Dirk overcame illness and they've got momentum, aka the last win

5) Dallas Fan has to be happy, seeing how the boards showed that they also receive a free crispy beef taco

4) Let me be the first of millions to tell you that it's a best of three now

3) Seriously, look back at that first quarter lane violation, that's the whole key to the game right there

2) Since Dirk came through in the clutch, everyone can ignore the fact that Jason Terry struggled in the clutch again

1) I don't care if you don't like either of these teams, the hoop is pretty righteous

A Few Brief and Obvious Points About The NBA Finals That You Aren't Likely To Hear On ESPN

The ratings are the same, or better, as last year's Finals between Boston and Los Angeles, and the playoffs in general have been higher.

Dallas and Miami are not major media markets, and yet these Finals are doing fine.

The Association does not need, prosper, or benefit from the same teams going to the Finals every year, or for old and hard to watch players and teams winning.

This point will not be made by Boston or LA Writer or Fan, or just be argued away as Everyone's Watching Because They Hate LeBron James.

(Despite the fact that James had the highest selling jersey in the NBA this year.)

Rather, there is this:

Up and down basketball, with high degrees of athleticism and players who can take your breath away with stupendous feats...

Is more fun to watch than pick/roll/flop.

We now return you to the Finals, which are already more entertaining than last year's seven games of intestinal surgery...

Top 10 reasons why the Knicks lost Donnie Walsh

10) Unlike the rest of the management team, Walsh can be exposed to sunlight

9) Not having any fun being under the salary cap

8) No more talent needs to be acquired now that they have Carmelo Anthony

7) Best way to truly, um, motivate Mike D'Antoni

6) Desperate to increase the return they get from consultants

5) Having spent the better part of two years not being a laughingstock, just kinda miss it

4) If they retained him, then actually intelligent people might have been suckered into season tickets

3) Helps to ensure that Amar'e Stoudamire's microfracture, eye and back issues return

2) Still annoyed at him for somehow not landing Stephen Curry

1) You would not believe the quality and severity of the photographs that Isiah has over the Dolans

Top 10 reasons why the Warriors hired Mark Jackson

10) Can't wait to see how his Cookie Monster Voice translates to the professional level

9) Considering the low standard set by Don Nelson late in life, he won't be the worst they've had

8) Will be able to teach the Warriors' young point guards how to be heavy and slow laterally

7) Gives ABC/ESPN the ability for an All Van Gundy telecast in the next 6 to 9 months, and they are looking forward to that kind of war crime

6) Completes the set of ruined St. John's legacy cases after the Chris Mullin Experience

5) It's not as if defense wins games in the NBA, or that the Warriors need any help in that regards

4) As history has shown, hiring announcers always works

3) They are looking forward to him losing his attention span in the middle of games and discussing anything but the game that's happening in front of him

2) Travis Best said no, and knows that they are not, in fact, better than that

1) Convinced that his "Hand Down Man Down" wisdom is the only thing standing between them and an NBA crown

Monday, June 6, 2011

35 Heat Mave Game Three Takeaways

Why 35? Because I spent Sunday clearing out a home for my mother-in-law, and can barely move my fingers as is. Let's just get into the takeaways for the third straight wildly entertaining game to watch...

35) Dirk Nowitzki at the three point line shows the world just how little Chris Bosh can cover him

34) Shockingly, the announce team was OK with the NBA 's decision to give Lenny Wilkens an award

33) Calling Bosh afraid to shoot is more or less accurate, which is odd given how the final stretch went

32) LeBron James gets upset on obvious foul committed

31) Tyson Chandler is the kind of hustle player that only really shows up at home

30) Both of these teams look utterly helpless in the face of a run

29) Dwyane Wade actually had Peja Stojakovic one on one and didn't score

28) When the Heat hit their threes, they really are a championship level team -- but only then

27) Both teams are starting to look like they don't have the legs to defend the three point line

26) Shawn Marion became the first man in the Finals to agree with a foul called against him

25) Someone actually bought a jump fake from Juwan Howard, as if he can still jump

24) Mario Chalmers is starting to look like a much better idea than Mike Bibby

23) Dallas showed that when a single drink is spilled, it takes then five minutes to get it cleaned up

22) Ian Mahimi got whistled at more than a Playmate at a construction site

21) I'm really not sure I'm going to be able to take a long series with this announcing crew

20) If you are defending the Mavs pick and roll, giving up a three to Dirk seems like a worse option than a layup attempt by JJ Barea

19) No one buys flops when they come against Barea

18) Wade's poor three point shooting was cited, as if Wade was actually good at shooting threes

17) James was actually called for a travel on a fast break

16) Wade's rebounding was, once again, huge

15) The Heat's best defense seems to be make Jason Terry beat us

14) Miami's celebrations in the fourth quarter seemed muted this time around, at least in comparison to Game 2

13) I can't be the only household having intermittent sound from the World Wide Lemur's HD coverage

12) James turning the ball over is greeted with the same glee as a wrestling heel taking a blow from his own manager

11) While the Heat look like the better team, they don't necessarily have the better nerves when closing

10) The first 43 minutes seem kinda pointless when you just play even games every night

9) Dirk's really quite good at this shooting free throw things

8)_When the Mavs get into the bonus, it's scary, since it means Dallas can score from offensive rebounding fouls

7) Targeting Bosh in crunch time is all kinds of smart

6) Wade looked like a guy who has won a Finals before tonight, but so did Dirk

5) James is no longer getting calls in crunch time, which is just making 90% of the people watching the telecast gleeful

4) Bosh actually hit an important long jump shot to give the Heat the lead, just to make traditional NBA fan throw up

3) Why Dirk is passing to Shawn Marion with 30 seconds left, we'll never know

2) Udonis Haslem shutting down Dirk on the final shot was all kinds of 2006-ish

1) Since Miami was able to win the last 5 seconds of an essentially coin flip game, the series is clearly over

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Killing Football To Save It

With the recent talks between the owners and players in the NFL contract kerfluffle, and the desperate-looking messages that I'm starting to get from league providers and draft companies that tell me I need to start preparing for the season that might not happen, a small moment...

Imagine, if you will, how this might look if we were drawing things up from scratch.

We currently have thousands of high school football teams that feed hundreds of college clubs, slucing down to dozens of professional teams in relatively concentrated cities across the United States. If you are fortunate enough to live in an area blessed with an NFL team, you have a clear interest and laundry to go for, but that relationship is tenuous. The team can subject you to decades of ill management and abuse (hello, Redskins) from people who decent people would not urinate on if they were on fire (OK, I'm still on the Redskins). If the team decides that their stately pleasure palace is not up to snuff, they can negotiate with the local governance and leave you twisting in the wind as they court new areas with more pliable public dollars. And all of that is, of course, your *best* possible rooting interest, assuming that you have a desire to take the purest stuff into your veins and not pollute it with the more amateur variants.

One of the guys in my weekly poker game has been after me to go see the local arena team in Trenton. They are staffed by the usual pro football flotsam and jetsam and sons of people who have names, and they made the playoffs. They've also drawing, it seems, and proving once again that there is a market for the game that knows no bounds. We are, as a whole, starting to get to the point where the market for football is resembling the market for boxing -- a fan base that is underserved by the rapacious actions of management, made to pay and pay and pay for the best stuff in a supply that's much less than the demand.

Now, let's look with clear eyes at the college game.

There is no -- as in none, zilch, zero, nada, squadouche, bupkas, zip -- relationship between the act of playing football and the act of earning a college degree. The skills do not overlap, the experiences do not collate. One is an all-encompassing sport that demands total attention to preparation and the physical willingness to endure pain to compete; the other is a broad adult life preparation exercise in which you prove your intellectual merit and work ethic. You can play football even if you are borderline illiterate; you can graduate college with crippling physical ailments. There is no reason to link the two, beyond whitewashing away the considerable injury risk in playing football, especially when it takes up so much of the American underclass.

It also means that a poor percentage of people who qualify as pro football players will wind up with that profession. From sea to shining sea, we have people willing to pay money and attention to football; we also have teams willing to take their money. We just don't have an actual meritocracy in determining which teams or cities matter. Instead, we have a fixed monopoly that benefits the top league, a league that abuses the public trust while enriching the very small number of ownership groups to an unconscionable level.

If you wanted to make the life of football fans in this country better in a heartbeat, you'd do this: Make it illegal for colleges to have football programs, and declare the NFL to be an unlawful monopoly, and break up the league.

There would, of course, be something close to blood in the streets over this. Fans would react with absolute murder in their eyes at the disruption of their rivalries. I'm sure we'd have something approaching suicides among some of the more unhinged fans. This blog might cease to exist, along with fantasy football as an industry, broadcast networks as a group, networks dependent on the big NFL number, etc., etc., etc.

And here's what might arise from the ashes: a nationwide confederacy of club level teams, playing in off-time high school and the abandoned college and pro arenas. Close cities forming leagues that were regional enough to make for easy trips and rivalries. The biggest cities and money centers signing up the most famous players, but no slave minor league system being in place, since that would run afoul of the anti-monopoly laws. Teams moving up or moving down as they dominated or failed. Fans in areas with the best management watching as their hometown heroes not only won games, but increased the stature of their towns.

Tens of thousands of people getting paid to play pro ball. Every city with the opportunity to become its own Green Bay, every area with the ability to tell a scumbag owner to go do something anatomically impossible if he threatens to not play without a public handout, and more league opportunities, in the long run, for a fantasy player to even contemplate.

In other words, a dramatically better market, much higher uptime of game, 24/7/365 output on your television set of games that matter, and the ending of the sad lie that is poisoning the American educational system. More jobs in more places. Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder homeless. (OK, probably not.)

But a man can dream of something good -- really good -- coming out of the end of the status quo, can't he?

Friday, June 3, 2011

42 Mavs Heat Game Two Takeaways

Why 42? Because it's my birthday, and I'm old. Good grief, what a game. Ladies and gentlemen, WE HAVE A SERIES. I'm so relieved.

42) Mark Jackson advocated deliberately injuring Dirk Nowitzki, because he's just that kind of douchebag

41) LeBron James showed great effort and hustle in creating multiple turnovers

40) DeShawn Stevenson now has consecutive games with not just points, but made three-pointers

39) The Heat routinely score on plays that are just plainly dispiriting

38) Peja Stojakovic is the world's ugliest, slowest and least flamboyant matador

37) James actually was called for a travel and did not dispute the play; no, seriously

36) Watching Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler run the pick and roll is just sad

35) If you need someone to scream after a putback dunk in the first quarter, James really is your man, and the Heat really are your team

34) The telecast felt compelled to remind us that Mike Miller is tall, despite his best efforts to make us forget that

33) Bailout shots from James are just going in at an absurd percentage right now

32) During a back and forth offense flow sequence in the second quarter, ABC/ESPN chose to discuss the day-old retirement of a player who did not play for either team

31) Dallas shot the first 11 free throws in taking a 6-point lead, which has to be proof of some kind of conspiracy

30) The Mavs' best defense against putbacks appears to be asking for offensive goaltending calls

29) Dallas calls timeouts like a wrestling heel rolling out of the ring, i.e., when the other guy hits a big exciting move

28) Any half where Dallas gets three made three-pointers from Stevenson is one where they should lead by a lot more than, well, nothing

27) Wade and James went back to missing free throws, which could be one of those hidden indicators of fatigue / portents of doom

26) The way in which the Heat, especially Wade and James, react to poor officiating really has to be earning them back all of those older fans than dislike how the team was put together

25) The telecast crew decided that we needed to hear a roll call of 1960s Oakland Raiders, because they are on drugs

24) Once the Heat decided that the free throw differential was a problem, it ceased to exist, but they didn't make enough free throws

23) The Mavs lost the lead when James missed time in the first half with foul trouble, when one presumes their opportunity was greatest

22) When you turn the ball over against Miami, it's just deadly, since there might not be a better team in transition in the past 20 years

21) Shawn Marion keeps scoring in the post, which really has been huge for Dallas so far in this series

20) If Dirk can actually get a touch with solo coverage and patience, he dominates, but that's not exactly common in this series

19) Kidd is starting to show signs of losing the defensive mojo he's been using for the past six weeks

18) James and Dirk got into each other, leading to a baffling technical against... Mavs coach Rick Carlisle

17) The telecast crew decided to discuss the off-season antics of Scottie Pippen, rather than, well, the damn game

16) Brian Cardinal actually got into a game, which must have meant that Carlisle wanted somebody fouled, and because Peja was just that useless

15) Bibby made a three over Cardinal to give the Heat their largest lead, just to make everyone at home wonder if they were still watching the Finals, rather than the D-League

14) Shocking the public, the telecast crew advocated more aggression as the cure to all of Dallas' ills

13) Jeff Van Gundy gave Steve Nash grief for not watching the game, as if he's got any room to talk

12) Bibby actually had a make that wasn't a wide-open three

11) The highlight reel for James in this series will involve a large number of moments where no Mavs big man feels interested in meeting him at the rim

10) You have to admire the Mavs' innovative strategy of tiring the Heat out by giving away a huge number of uncontested dunks

9) JJ Barea's idea of defense is to continuously prod for the best possible flop

8) When Dallas goes small, it doesn't really solve their athleticism problem, or their rebounding issues

7) Since Wade had a big night, I guess we can forget about him being hurt

6) Honestly, the refs are allowed to call a technical on James or Wade; I checked the rule book and everything

5) OK, maybe Miami does have a problem closing out games after all

4) Udonis Haslem being called on to make a critical stop the run jumper in the stretch is not what's advertised for this team

3) Dirk's go-ahead three made me laugh out loud, and I picked the Heat to win this series

2) Mario Chalmers earned his "Wire" references with the answering three, not that Jason Terry covered himself in glory for that "defense"

1) The way this game ended seemed almost perfectly designed to give Dallas Fan Maximum Possible Release

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