Friday, May 25, 2018

Cleveland And Golden State Move Another Game Closer To Elimination... Like None Of Us Expected

Heading into ever important Game 6s, both Cleveland and Golden State are down three-games-to-two, with their backs against the wall in must-win showdowns this weekend. Just like we all predicted, right?
I wrote about Golden State a few days ago and pointed out the fact that while they’re the most talented team in the league, and should win the title, they’re also extremely sloppy, don’t bring their best effort every night, and lack a killer instinct. I think that was proven out last night with how poor they were in the 4th quarter AGAIN. Somehow, finesse Mike D’Antoni’s team has been the more physical, tougher squad almost the entire series. Despite the fact that probable MVP James Harden has gagged horribly in this series, and become this generation’s Karl Malone, Houston has been able to slow the pace, muck up the game, and slow down the fast-paced, free-wheeling Warriors by turning the series into one straight out of the late ‘90s, when the league became a wrestling match, with every key possession being decided by each team’s best player going one-on-five.
Sure, Golden State losing Andre Iguodala, their best perimeter defender, has hampered them the last two games. That became pretty obvious last night, when with less than a minute to go, Quinn Cook was left wide open from three point range and was forced to fire up one of their biggest shots of the season, which he of course bricked. Iguodala’s absence doesn’t explain why Kevin Durant has disappeared quicker than the Invisible Man in Games 4 and 5, though. Houston doesn’t really have a guy that can slow him down, and they even had 6 foot tall Chris Paul switched on him during a few key possessions. Durant should be putting his head down and getting to the rim every single time, particularly against Paul, but instead, he’s screwing around, forcing up contested fadeaways from various distances and missing all of them. He’s the best and most talented player in the series; he should be enforcing his will right now. But again, no one on Golden State has any nasty, or wants to hurt the opposition’s feelings, except for Draymond Green, who has virtually vanished on the offensive end.
The same goes for Steph Curry, who apparently can’t be effective in a playoff series when the games get physical. Curry is phenomenal when he’s not getting pushed around and can get off three pointers, but when a defender is allowed to get up in his jersey and be rough with him, he suddenly turns into 50% of the player. Assuming the Warriors are able to win this series, it won’t get any easier for him in the Finals if the Celtics advance out of the East. Both Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier are physical defenders who don’t care to get their hands dirty, and if he were to get switched onto one of their wings, like Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, or Jaylen Brown, good luck there as well.
Golden State’s best hope to win this series is the fact that Chris Paul’s hamstring is acting up again (he missed 20 games this season because of it), apparently enough so that he’s now going to have to miss Game 6. Paul has been the best Rocket the last two games; some of the shots he was throwing in last night were other-worldly, particularly his double-clutch three over David West. I can’t imagine he’d miss a potential Game 7, but if he can’t go, it’s obviously an enormous blow for Houston, and despite how poor Golden State has looked, they should assuredly win the series if that happens. But if Paul plays in Game 7, and gives the Rockets a similar performance to what he did in Games 4 and 5, then I think they'll win the series.
Cleveland has different problems, one being that they get nothing out of their role players away from home. I suspect the Cavs will win tonight because Boston isn’t the same team away from home either, but good luck going back to the TD Garden for a Game 7 with that roster. Plus, LeBron, for the first time all season, looks tired. Why? Because he has actually has to play defense in this series. I know no one is supposed to criticize LeBron, and instead just scream about how he doesn’t have enough help, but his laziness on that end really hurt them in Games 1 and 2 of this series, when he repeatedly got beat back door for layups, or got caught ball-watching and lost his man. We’ve all heard about how LeBron saves himself on defense so he can contribute his full effort on the offensive end, but isn’t it pretty obvious too that the man is a bit stat-obsessed, and sags off his man so he can be closer to the basket to collect rebounds? After all, this is the same guy who made an Instagram post to congratulate himself for scoring 30,000 points. Plus, he knows he’ll get praise in the media from blowhards and sycophants (I’m looking directly at you Nick Wright) if he pads his stats.
Sure, they wouldn’t be in this series at all if it weren’t for LeBron, but doesn’t he have to take responsibility for how this roster has turned out? After all, Cleveland did trade Kyrie Irving because he and LeBron couldn’t get along. And let’s all not pretend like the Cavs didn’t sell their soul to LeBron when he came back, giving him control of basically everything. Why else do you think Tristan Thompson got $82 MILLION? It couldn’t have been because he and LeBron share an agent. No way….
I suspect both Cleveland and Golden State will force Game 7s, though I do think the Cavs are more vulnerable in their Game 6. We’ve all seen LeBron quit on teams when things start going poorly and he knows he’s out of there at the end of the season (the 2010 Celtics series? Game 5 of the 2014 Finals?). If Boston comes out hot to start the game, and LeBron finds himself facing an early deficit, I feel like it’s extremely likely he just packs it in, stops shooting, and begins mentally planning how he’s going to move all of his stuff across the country to Los Angeles.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Steve Kerr Opens His Mouth On The NFL Protests And Proves Just How Dumb He And The Media Are

On Thursday, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, no stranger to making political statements, ripped into the NFL for their new national anthem policy. The league, which has seen it’s television ratings drop by almost 20% since Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the anthem during a preseason game before the 2016 season, enacted new rules this week that required teams to either: 
1. Stay in the locker room during the anthem, or 
2. Come out for it and stand. If a player kneels during the anthem, his team will be fined by league office.
Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem because, as he put it, “I’m not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color… to me, this is bigger than football and would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Regardless of how you feel about kneeling during the anthem, it’s inarguable that this policy from the NFL is a good one. The league exists for one reason, to make money, and television is a major way in which they do this. And nothing about the league has changed all that significantly the last two seasons EXCEPT for the protests, which would make me think that this the major reason that the television audience is fleeing from the league. The NFL fanbase skews to the Right, and the league has made millions of dollars branding themselves alongside the armed forces and patriotism. It makes sense for the league to do this, since football is the ultimate American sport. It’s only really popular in our country, and the American values of hard work, pushing yourself to your limits, building towards a goal, and teamwork are more evident and important in football than in any other sport. Plus, sports are escapism; we turn them on because they’re fun and they allow us to travel somewhere else in our minds, if even just for a few hours. And they’re also the most obvious examples of common spheres that all of us in society can exist in. Regardless of your race, sexual orientation, gender, or political opinions, we can all come together and play sports, or sit down on the couch or in the stadium with each other and enjoy them. The NFL’s brand is toxic right now; millions of fans across the country don’t appreciate seeing the flag or the country disparaged over a controversial political opinion that there’s AT BEST circumstantial evidence to support. America in 2018 is the least racist society in the history of the world, and there’s no better place to ever be black in than in this country at this time.
The media is losing their minds over Milwaukee Bucks’ guard Sterling Brown’s arrest video. Brown was shot with a stun gun by the police back in January when a routine parking ticket incident escalated into an unfortunate situation. Did the cops screw up? It certainly looks that way. Brown, at least according the video, wasn’t hostile, and didn't do anything to warrant getting hitting with a taser. Did they shoot him with the stun gun because he was black? We have no way of knowing, but I’d say more than likely no. Why do we always assume that when a white cop does something to a black suspect, it’s because the officer is a racist piece of shit? Maybe he’s just bad at his job? Why isn’t that the narrative that’s being pushed? There are officers who are bad at what they do, just like there are people in your office who suck at their jobs. Why can’t it just be that? Why does it always have to be, “The police are racists, and they like killing black people, and THIS A HUGE F-ING PROBLEM!” Plus, BROWN IS SUING THE CITY AND WILL PROBABLY WIN MILLIONS OF DOLLARS. How is this an example of racist America? Sixty years ago, black people who were mistreated by the police would’ve never got a payout from the city, or even been able to take them to court in the first place. If your expectation is, “I never want the police to screw up like this again”, then you’re on a fool’s errand. Asking people to be perfect and never screw up is like expecting yourself to wake up tomorrow with an extra million dollars in your bank account. It’s literally impossible. People are going to make mistakes, even those in positions of authority.
FS1 blowhard Nick Wright, who is perhaps the dumbest person currently working in sports media, got all riled up on Twitter yesterday over the NFL’s anthem policy, tweeting out asinine things like, “This shit is exhausting, sickening, & terrifying. And if you’re not outraged you’re part of the problem. Period, point blank” and “You want me to stick to sports & I want my son not to get his ass beat for illegal parking. I’ll do the former when I can rely on the latter”. First of all, I hate racism and think it’s one of the worst sins in humanity, and that cops who break the law should be prosecuted, so I’m not sure how it’s my fault. As to his second tweet, yes Nick, black people always get assaulted by the cops during every stop for a parking ticket. Cops just roll up on a black person and are like, “Well hell, he parked illegally, so I guess we’ll have to teach him a lesson real quick. Boys, grab your stun guns and batons!” Do you know many times a day the cops deal with black people  across the country? Thousands? And how many of those incidents end with a Sterling Brown-type outcome? Less than 0.01%? Probably less than that?
All of this brings us back to Steve Kerr, who shared this opinion on the protests and the NFL today: “They’re basically using the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people. It’s idiotic, but that’s how the NFL has handled their business. I’m proud to be in a league that patriotism in America is about free speech, peacefully protesting”.
Wait a second… WHAT?
The fact that Kerr said this shows he might be the dumbest person in coaching. He’s literally criticizing the NFL for enacting a more lenient rule on the national anthem than his own league has. At least in NFL, teams can stay in the locker room for the anthem if they want to. You have to be on the floor for it in the NBA. Doesn’t this make the NFL and its owners more “woke” than the NBA and its owners?
The biggest problem with all of this, besides Kerr’s asinine statement, is that he’ll get almost no pushback in the mainstream media for this opinion. Sure, he’ll get questioned in a few places, but ESPN or TNT, the NBA’s television partners, won’t point out how dumb of a statement that is, and in fact, they’ll probably even praise his “wokeness” and continue to build him up as a thought leader. Facts be damned, Kerr holds the “correct” political views, and must be praised for his opinions, regardless of how ridiculous they might be.
The truth is, the media hates football. They despise its power, the values that come from it, and the fact that they are extremely dependent on it to make their living. The sports media would be a fraction of what it was without football. The NFL drives the bus, and they can’t stand it. It’s why they attack the league whenever they can. Think about it; the NFL has a few players get in trouble for hitting women, and suddenly the league has a domestic violence problem (no matter the fact that domestic violence rates are much lower for NFL players than they are for the general population). The concussion story is a completely media-driven narrative; most NFL fans players realize that yeah, you know what, grown men who hit each other at high speeds game after game and year after year might have health problems when they retire. But since the players are choosing to put their bodies on the line, and no one is forcing them to do so, it’s ok to enjoy it! Plus, they are extremely well compensated. It's why they put the pads on in the first place! No business in the history of the world has created more millionaires, particularly minority millionaires, than the NFL. And think about how many millions of lives football has made better. NFL players give their families the opportunity at wealth they otherwise wouldn't have access to without football. 
The media hatred for football is why they get criticized for the anthem, but the supposed “woke” league like the NBA gets a free pass. And it’s why hardly anyone in the media blinks when Steve Kerr says something stupid like he did today.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Warriors Have No Killer Instinct And It Doesn't Even Matter

Somehow, inexplicably, the Golden State Warriors are tied 2-2 with the Houston Rockets. After tonight’s marvelous third quarter, one that saw Steph Curry make five threes and start dancing, they entered the final quarter with a 10 point lead and a chance to take a 3-1 lead and put the series in a stranglehold. Instead of burying Houston, they were held to 12 points, settled for some of the worst shots imaginable, and let the Rockets come all the way back and win 95-92.
This Houston team has been trashed the entire playoffs for not being tough enough, for playing too much one-on-one ball, and for James Harden’s and Chris Paul’s lack of success in clutch moments. They, at least for a night, silenced their critics with a marvelous fourth quarter in a must-win game., Paul, who is really at like 75%, was the real standout, and his relentlessness kept them alive.
But this really isn’t about the Rockets. Sure, Houston was great when they needed to be, but I don’t think anyone leaves this game thinking about them. Golden State’s poor performance when they had the chance to basically end the series is absolutely inexcusable for a team that has two of the three or four best players in the league. Curry vanished in the 4th quarter, only surfacing from time to time when he chucked a dumb three. Kevin Durant was similarly disappointing, as was Klay Thompson. This team should be blowing everyone off the court like they did last season, but instead, they’re letting inferior teams hang around/beat them in the most inexcusable ways.
Not breaking new ground here, but G-State has no killer instinct. Who is the guy on the team that goes down shooting? The guy that takes over the game physically, and curb stomps his opponents? Who doesn’t let the opposition up for air? Curry can’t really dominate a game unless he’s knocking in threes, and Thompson doesn’t have the ball in his hands enough to really take over unless his teammates are finding him AND he’s extremely hot. Draymond is a loose cannon, and can’t really create his own shot. Durant is the most consistent guy they have, but he’s extremely passive at times, and no one has ever thought, “Wow, Kevin Durant is really competitive. That guy would rather get stabbed to death than lose”. I think he erased his, “I’m a killer” potential forever when he decided to join the Warriors in the first place.
This team was hungrier last season. They were coming off the loss in the Finals to Cleveland, and they added Durant who had never won a title before. This season? Meh. It’s been a jog since October. They have the potential every night to win by double digits against whatever competition, and no one in the league has a realistic answer to what they do. But they don’t because there isn’t the will on that team to destroy people. They kicked Houston’s ass in Game 3, only to allow themselves to be pushed around and out-hustled tonight.
The truth is, Harden really didn’t do much for Houston tonight in the second half, and they still were able to come back. If anything, G-State’s lack of edge has tricked everyone into thinking they can be beat in a series. The reality is, unless Durant breaks his leg in nine places, they’re going to win the title, even if they have to slog their way to it. As poor as they were tonight, I wouldn’t be shocked at all if they won the next two games in this series. And then when they’re in the Finals, neither Boston or Cleveland will have the horses to hang with them.
This could be an all-time legendary team. Instead, they’ll become another example of a could’ve-been-greater squad that won the title despite the fact that they played the entire playoffs in a malaise. Thus, we now have biggest problem facing the NBA. Sure, the league has had dominant teams before, but none have ever been like this Warriors team, who literally just doesn't try hard or fight enough when they lose. Magic's Lakers were great, but they had to compete with Bird's Celtics the entire '80s. Jordan's Bulls dominated the '90s, but they were at least challenged a few times. Same with Shaq's Lakers, who faced two Game 7s in the Conference Finals in 2000 and 2002. LeBron's Heat were pushed multiple do-or-die games, Duncan's Spurs never repeated as champions, and even Russell's Celtics played 10 Game 7s. This Warrior team might be pushed, but it's because of their own screw-ups or lack of interest, not because what anyone else does against them. Their lack of dominance makes them frustrating, not interesting, and since we already know that no one actually has a realistic shot to beat them, it makes the league and the playoffs less compelling. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Most Fun Braves Team In Years Should Have Their Eyes On A World Series Run

In what is the most surprising baseball story of the year, the Atlanta Braves, despite having almost no national buzz going into the season, currently have the best record in the National League.
This, of course, is fantastic news for me. My earliest sports memories are almost all baseball ones, and they begin with the fantastic Atlanta teams of the 1990s and 2000s that won 14 straight division titles. They spoiled me, and tricked me into thinking that the Braves would field playoff-level teams every single year, stacked with Hall of Famers like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Chipper Jones.
Those days have been gone for a long time. Between then and now there’s been a lot of average to downright awful baseball. There was the blown 8 and half game lead in the Wild Card race during the 2011 season, the “Infield Fly Rule” game in the 2012 NL Wild Card Game, the Upton Brothers Atlanta teams in ’13 and ’14 that struck out a ton and weren’t all that likeable, and a three year record from ’15-’17 that was a ghastly 207-278.
This 2018 team is the one we’ve all been hearing about, the one the organization has been building since they blew everything up following Atlanta's disastrous 2014 season. It just looks like they arrived a year or two earlier than everyone thought.
A couple things have happened that not everyone expected:
1. Ozzie Albies is really freaking good 
Yeah, not breaking any news here, but the man can flat out play. He’s my new favorite Brave, thanks to his powerful bat (he’s tied for the league lead in home runs, total bases, and extra base hits), his excellent defense, and the signature way his helmet always flies off his head as he attempts to stretch his single into a double. Never change Ozzie! He’s a sure-fire All Star and MVP candidate. 
2.  Nick Markakis is no longer a corpse
Markakis was the most frustrating Brave for me the last three seasons, mostly because I had no idea why he was on the roster. He wasn’t a home-grown guy, and Atlanta had no reason to throw money at him in the middle of their rebuild. Plus, he hadn’t hit over .300 since 2008, or had more than 23 home runs or 100 RBIs since 2009. The guy was in his early 30s and just seemed more washed up than King Theoden at the beginning of The Two Towers.
Which is why his sudden resurgence the first quarter of the season was totally unexpected. Did Gandalf kick in the door to Braves spring training and command Saruman to leave him? What else could possibly explain his .333 batting average, or league-leading 54 hits?

  3. Freddie Freeman is probably the National League MVP through the first quarter of the season
If Albies isn’t the NL MVP, than it’s assuredly Freeman, who is the top ten in all of baseball in batting average, on base percentage, OPS, and RBIs. Freeman has always been a solid, borderline All Star, but he’s jumped to another level this season. I never feel like he’s going to get out in a big spot, and despite the fact that he runs without using his arms, he’s on his way to the best season of his career. 
4. No major injuries (knock on wood)
Jesus, I feel stupid for even putting this out there. I swear, if Albies blows out his knee sliding into second tomorrow, I’m going to have a “who can slam their head into the coffee table the most times without getting a concussion” contest all by myself. Let’s just move on and pretend I never brought this up. 
5. The best offense in the National League
Atlanta is tops in the NL in runs, hits, total bases, batting average, on base percentage, and slugging, all while having the second fewest strikeouts.
6.  A young pitching staff that’s (mostly) held up
The Braves have the eighth best team ERA in all of baseball, and have posted the ninth most strikeouts and ninth best batting average against. The starters have been the real standouts, which has been a shock considering Atlanta had only two pitchers, Julio Teheran and Brandon McCarthy, who had more than 65 career starts entering the season. Mike Foltynewicz has had easily the best season of his career (2.87 ERA), and Sean Newcomb hasn’t allowed a run in his last three starts.
Not everything has worked out, of course…. 
1.  Jose Bautista has been a giant disappointment
I don’t think anyone expected Bautista to be a 50 home run, 100 RBI machine like he was during his prime in Toronto, but to have him bat a paltry .156 with just 2 home runs and 5 RBIs in 11 games makes me wonder why he’s even been in the Atlanta lineup with any consistency. Plus, it’s not like he’s anything special in the field defensively. Are we sure Rougned Odor didn’t knock his brain loose when he punched him in the jaw two years ago this week? Bautista was fresh off 6 straight All Star games appearances and four 35 homer, 100 RBI seasons, but since the punch, the only thing that’s plummeted faster than his career is his batting average. He played 157 games in 2017, and hit 23 home runs, drove in 69 runs, and struck out 170 times. In 153 games in 2015, he hit 40 home runs, knocked in 114 runs, and struck out just 106 times. Not since Ron Artest has a fight altered a players career so significantly.

Side note: Odor-Bautista was the biggest sports fight since the Malice in the Palace, and the best in baseball since Pedro Martinez threw Don Zimmer to the ground by his bald head during the 2003 ALCS. The most incredible thing about it was the fact that Bautista got absolutely clocked and somehow didn’t collapse to the ground completely concussed. I’m fairly certain that if anyone punched me like that, I’d literally have stars swiveling around my head like a cartoon character.
2. They don’t have a reliable closer
You can never have enough arms on a baseball team, but the biggest flaw on this Atlanta team is the fact that they don’t have anyone they can consistently trust to get 3 outs in the 9th inning. Arodys Vizcaino isn’t good enough; he couldn’t get outs on Tuesday night against the Cubs and blew another save. A.J. Minter looked shaky as hell in Monday’s game against Chicago, as he loaded the bases and walked home a run by hitting a batter. I don’t think the closer they need for the postseason is anywhere on this roster, though some people seem to think right handed Dan Winkler has potential to be the guy. This is all assuming he can stay healthy, of course. Winkler has already had Tommy John surgery, and he missed most of 2016 and ’17 with a broken elbow. I’d see what he has in that role, but I’d also be looking around the trade market to see if I could add someone. This all assumes Atlanta themselves thinks they’re contenders. Which leads us to our next point….
3. I’m not sure the Braves think, or want to be, contenders this season
Again, this season has been totally unexpected. I think the Braves assumed they were going to suck again, as did most people, and that’s why they left a few holes on their roster. If I were them, and I was the best team in the National League a quarter of the way into the season, I’d be going for it. Why? Because sports is weird, championships are nearly impossible to come by, and you never know when you’ll be in this situation again. In 2012, the Washington Nationals entered the postseason with the best record in the National League, and were considered to be the World Series favorites. If anyone was ever going to go all out for a championship, it should’ve been that team, right? Wrong. In September, the Nats decided to shut down their young starter Stephen Strasburg for the rest of the season after he’d reached the innings restriction they placed on him due to the fact that he’d had Tommy John surgery the year prior. It was a mistake then, and it was proven so when the Cardinals eliminated them in the NLDS. Look, I’m not saying they definitely win the World Series with Strasburg, but he was also one of their best starters that year, and a guy capable of a big outing if you needed one. But they pissed it all away, I guess because they assumed they had a young team, and that they’d be in this position for years to come. And sure, while they’ve been to multiple postseasons since then, they still haven’t won a playoff series. Maybe things turn out differently in 2012 if they had him. We’ll never know.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are another example of this. OKC made the Finals in 2012 a year or two earlier than anyone expected, and were favorites to get back to their in 2013 as the season began. Or, at least they should’ve been the favorites, until they stupidly decided to trade their third best player and, at the time, sixth man James Harden, to Houston, basically because they didn’t want to pay him in at the end of the year when his contract expired. There was no reason they couldn’t have just held onto him for all of the 2013 season and pushed all in for another run at the title. But they didn’t, I’m assuming because they thought they’d been so lucky in the draft that they’d just be able to draft another Harden that they could pay next-to-nothing for the next couple of years. This, of course, worked out horribly for them. Harden became an MVP candidate with the Rockets, and the Thunder never made it back to the Finals after the trade. Russell Westbrook got hurt in 2013, which torpedoed their chances; they lost to the Spurs in the 2014 Western Conference Finals; Kevin Durant broke his foot in 2015; and the 2016 team blew a 3 games to 1 lead against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Four years, no rings, and a waste of the first half Durant’s and Westbrook’s career. You had all three of those guys before their primes? That should’ve been MULTIPLE titles. But it wasn’t, all because they were too cheap.
Which brings us back to Atlanta. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, next season, or in ten years. Freeman could break his leg in ten places, Albies could stop suddenly stop hitting, and Ronald Acuna Jr. could just be another Jason Heyward. When you’ve got a chance for a title, you have to go for it. You can’t assume you’ll be back next year, or have the same shot again, no matter how bright you think your future is. Because it can change in an instant. Which is why they should be active buyers on the trade market the next few months. I’d be taking any bullpen arms they could get. Go for it!
Regardless of what happens, this is definitely the most fun and loveable Braves team in years. Fans always gravitate towards the home grown guys, because there’s a sense that they’re really “our guys”, and not a bunch of hired guns. This Atlanta team is full of “our guys”, and it’s been a great first month and a half. Here’s to hoping it continues.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Reminding Everyone How Overblown The NBA Draft Lottery Is

With all the excitement over tonight’s NBA draft lottery, and the hubbub surrounding it as multiple teams spent all year trying to out-tank each other, it’s important to remember just how little success most of the lottery-winning teams actually have with the number 1 pick they've selected. Since the implementation of the draft lottery in 1985, only four first overall picks have won titles with the teams that drafted them: David Robinson, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving. And Robinson and Duncan were teammates, just like LeBron and Kyrie! Throw in the fact that Robinson never made the Finals until he was past his prime, LeBron left Cleveland, won titles, and then came back, and that Kyrie was the second option as a champion, and then got traded, and you’ve got exactly one example of a player-team combo winning a championship in their prime without any snags or departures. 1!
And don’t forget this; just because someone gets drafted number 1 doesn’t mean they’re going to be a great player. Or, very obviously, a champion. Or even make the Finals! If we throw out Duncan, Robinson, LeBron, and Kyrie, the only number 1 picks to play in the Finals in their primes were Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Dwight Howard, and Patrick Ewing. And that foursome played in just a combined FOUR NBA Finals with the teams that drafted them. Only Shaq won a title, and that was after he had moved onto LA and Miami.
Here are all the number one picks since 2005:
2005, Milwaukee: Andrew Bogut: Made NBA All Third Team once (2010), and won the 2015 championship with the Golden State Warriors. Was probably the fifth most important player on the team.
2006, Toronto: Andrea Bargnani: Never made an All NBA team or All Star team, averaged a career 14.3 points per game. Prototypical soft European.
2007, Portland: Greg Oden: Perhaps the biggest bust in NBA history outside of Sam Bowie, since Kevin Durant went immediately after him. I think we all should’ve known he was going to have injury problems, since one of his legs was longer than the other, he was less than 100% his entire time at Ohio State, and the fact that he was supposedly 19 but looked 45.

2008, Chicago: Derrick Rose: Won NBA MVP in 2011, led the Bulls to the best record in the NBA that season…. and then blew out his knees multiple times, which completely tanked his career. Really sad.
2009, LA Clippers: Blake Griffin: Half of the Lob City Clippers (along with Chris Paul). Made five NBA All Star teams and three Second Team All NBAs. One of the most exciting players in league history until he too was derailed by injuries. Never made it past the second round of the playoffs, and was a part of two of the most memorable collapses in NBA history (Game 5, OKC, 2014 and Game 6, Houston, 2015), losses that basically eliminated his teams from advancing further in the playoffs. He was shipped to Detroit this season, and is certainly on the back half of his career at this point. Dunked over the hood of a car once in a dunk contest, which is impressive for slow white guys like me, but not much for someone who might have springs in his legs like Griffin did.

2010, Wizards: John Wall: Made the conference semi-finals three times (2014, 2015, 2017). Eight years in and he still doesn’t have a consistent jump shot. Made five All Star teams. Hell of a dancer.

2011, Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving: The most successful career of this crop of dudes, though he’s been injured basically every year. Also, the two teams he played on the last two seasons, Boston and Cleveland, are meeting again in the conference finals, and arguably aren’t any worse without him. The Cavs won one fewer game without him this season, yet they’re still the favorites to win the East, and then go get annihilated in the Finals by the Warriors again. Boston defends better without him, and despite the fact that they haven't had him since March, they're still playing their best basketball of the season. Are we sure Kyrie is all that valuable? To his credit, he did hit one of the biggest shots in the history of the league when he made the Finals-winner over Steph Curry in Game 7 in 2016.

2012, Pelicans: Anthony Davis: For all the talk about how Davis is going to “take over the league”, he’s won exactly one playoff series. And he gagged against a Golden State team in this year’s playoffs that realistically didn’t have anyone who could guard him. We’re not talking about Hakeem Olajuwon here. Let’s slow up with the “second best power forward in league history” hot takes.

2013, Cavaliers: Anthony Bennett: An atrocious pick, considering most people who watch sports regularly either hadn’t ever heard of Bennett, or if they had, ever watched him play a single game. Sheesh. Selecting Bennett first overall was second greatest example of someone trying to outthink the room, following only the time when Tywin Lannister counseled Joffrey.
2014, Cavaliers: Andrew Wiggins: He never played a single second for the Cavs, and instead was shipped off to Minnesota, where he has become the third best player on a borderline playoff team.
2015, Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns: Too early to say on Towns. Just made his first playoff appearance.
2016, Sixers: Ben Simmons: After a month of “HE’S THE NEXT MAGIC JOHNSON!!! HE’S THE BEST YOUNG PLAYER IN THE LEAGUE!!! KEEP HIM AWAY FROM THE LOOSE WOMEN AND DRUGS, HE’S THE BEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN!!! OH MY GAHHHHHHHHHHHHDDDDDDDDDDDD!!!!!!!!!” hype, he was atrocious in the Celtics series, including a one point effort in Game 2. Again, it’s too early to make a call on him, but he ain’t taking over the league either if that’s all he’ll ever have in the playoffs.
2017, Sixers: Markelle Fultz: At this point, the odds of Fultz becoming a great player in this league looks like a long shot. And, yes, that’s pun intended, since he apparently has… forgotten how to shoot a basketball. It wasn’t great either that he literally made no impact in their playoff run the last few weeks. If I were them, I’d be trying to trade him for anything I could get. A rotation player? Sure, why not? New bench chairs? Are they sturdy? They are? Check. A coffee mug? Of course!

So no matter who wins the lottery tonight, just remember that the only thing less likely than the lottery winner capturing a championship with the player they draft is Kanye West saying he and Donald Trump are brothers because they’re both “dragon energy”….
Wait a second…
That happened? Crap. Well just think about how unlikely you thought that was before it happened. And I’ll try to do better with the pop culture analogies.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

On-Field Results Are What Will Tell Jeremy Pruitt's Story On Rocky Top, Not His Words

When Tennessee brought to a close it’s embarrassing head coaching search last fall by hiring Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, Vol fans loved it. “Hell yeah, this guy worked for Saban! He’s a hard-nosed guy! He really coaches them hard!”
And when he criticized the fanbase for their poor showing at the spring game a few weeks ago by saying this, “The ones that were here, I’m proud they were here. They’re fired up. They’re ready to get going. And then there was some that wasn’t here that had legitimate reasons. They couldn’t be here. Then there were some people that wasn’t here that, why wasn’t they here?” the reaction was the same. “Pruitt tells it like it is! He’s not afraid to call out any and everyone!”
I don’t know why we as Tennessee fans, after the Butch Jones tenure, allow ourselves to be seduced by coach speak, no matter how it sounds, from our head coach. Or why anyone would care that former Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson, who played for Pruitt at Hoover High School, declared this week that Pruitt scares him more at Tennessee than Kirby Smart does at Georgia. Great! Thank you! What are you basing this on? The fact that Pruitt is utterly unproven, at this point, as a head coach, while Smart has already won an SEC Championship, and was extremely close to winning a national championship in only his second year?
The fact is, everything that is said right now, from Pruitt himself, or about him by others, is totally and utterly pointless. Again, WE’VE SEEN THIS BEFORE!!! THIS WAS THE ENTIRE BUTCH JONES TENURE!!!  Butch’s “brick by brick”, “champions of life”, and “five start hearts” might as well be Pruitt’s “the fanbase needs to be better”, “Aight”, and his misuse or misunderstanding of wasn’t/weren’t.

Pruitt is going to have 12 opportunities, or if they win enough, 13, to prove himself on the field this fall. And what’s said right now has zero impact on how those 12 or 13 games will play out.
The fanbase is starved for a winner. It’s been over a decade since their last 10 win season or SEC Championship game appearance, and over twenty years since their last SEC Title and National Championship. This has been an extended period of wandering in the wilderness, a stretch dominated by poor coach hires, flagrant mismanagement in the athletic department, and about 500 different gut punch losses. Think about this: Pig Howard fumbled out of the side of the end zone in overtime to lose a game against Georgia in 2013, and as fluky as that was, it wasn’t even one of the worst 10 Tennessee losses over the last decade.

If there’s one thing Butch did well in Knoxville, it was increasing the amount of talent on the roster. Pruitt is inheriting a significantly fuller cupboard than the one Butch stepped into back in December of 2012. There was the talent on the 2017 Vols to go at least 8-4, but the season went into a tailspin after how atrocious they were in what was an extremely winnable Florida game. It was like everyone gave up on the season after they crapped away a million different chances to win the game, and then lost on a Hail Mary.
A bowl game appearance in Year 1 for Pruitt should be an expectation, not just a hope. And then the Vols should compete for the SEC East in 2019. If Pruitt is going to be a roaring success in Knoxville, he should be able to get this thing turned around relatively quickly.
Never forget this fact: since the implementation of the SEC Championship Game in 1992, every coach that has won the conference had at least 9 victories at said school by his second year. Meaning that if a coach is going to be successful at his school, he wins at a high level early. There are no three or four year rebuilding jobs for great coaches. We’ll know what we have in Pruitt by the end of 2019. And if it’s back-to-back 6-6 campaigns, it may be time for another coaching search.