Dear Bulls: Don’t Fire Tom Thibodeau

It seems like we talk about basketball teams irrationally firing (or potentially firing) their coaches in this space.  It’s going to become a ritual, I feel.  I could have written an article bemoaning the Monty Williams firing in New Orleans, but it was far less abominable than what is most likely about to happen in Chicago.  Tom Thibodeau, coach of the Bulls, cultivator of one of the league’s best defenses year after year for the last five years, and creator of an undeniable, tenacious, no-excuses culture that has grown in the Windy City and has been demonstrated the two seasons largely without former league MVP Derrick Rose, is about to be fired.

We all know what’s up here.  According to reports, the man they call “Thibs” and team management simply do not get along.  It isn’t even a dispute about money or contractual obligations, either: Thibodeau has 2 years and $9 million left on his contract.  Surely, the organization feels like it probably should have won an NBA championship by now, and while that can be easily said, it is constantly underrated by fans and executives just how difficult it is to win a championship in the NBA, and its no wonder why the Bulls haven’t; injuries.  It can also easily be said that Thibs’ rotation management and his minutes allotment has been, uh, not great (Luol Deng playing himself sick in the 2013 Playoffs to the point of having to receive a spinal tap, which briefly put his playing career and possibly his life in peril; keeping Derrick Rose in Game 1 of the 2012 Playoffs’ first round when the game was in hand, at the end of which Rose tore his ACL and would never be the same), he has constantly gotten the most effort and the best performance possible out of his team.

Over his five years with the Bulls, Thibs has accumulated a .647 winning percentage, making the playoffs every year in which he was there.  Also, he never finished lower than second in his division, and while that division has not exactly been hyper-competitive in Thibodeau’s tenure in Chicago, we have to give credit where credit is so obviously due.  The Bulls also won 50 or more games in three of those five years, and while that has been done in the inferior Western Conference, credit is also due there.  Also, he has helped bring along the defensive prowess of young players such as Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Rose, and Taj Gibson.

While this year’s result is clearly not what the Bulls wanted, they shouldn’t fire Thibs because of it.  They ultimately will fire him, only because it is apparent that he has absolutely no relationship with the higher-ups in Bulls management.  Their performance against the Cavs last night was not exactly killer, but management should not overreact to that either; the Cavs are much better without Kevin Love than I think we all thought they were. However, it’s a shame for the Bulls organization, as they will be missing out on one of the best head coaches in the NBA for at least the next two years.  If and when Thibodeau is canned, it is likely either assistant coach Adrian Griffin, Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg, or Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry who will take his place.  Thibodeau could then either go to New Orleans or Orlando, and it is at least possible that the Bulls could trade Thibodeau for draft picks, as the Celtics did with Doc Rivers in 2013.  If he goes to the Pelicans, oh boy.  A young team, learning under one of the defensive masterminds of the game, a budding superstar and MVP in Anthony Davis, with all of that to learn?  Watch out, NBA.  That is the more likely scenario.  He could also wind up in Orlando, but that will be a much longer rebuilding process than with the Pelicans, who already made the playoffs this year.

However, he won’t be in Chicago.  That’s wrong.

My MLB Greatest Living Players

This year, Major League Baseball announced that, for the game’s 86th edition, they would have something known as a “Franchise Four” for each team; an opportunity for fans to vote for the four best players in each team franchise history.  There is also something that can be voted on that is known as “Greatest Living Players;”  the four best players in MLB history who are still alive.  To be honest, this was a fairly easy vote, as the candidates were Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Johnny Bench, Rickey Henderson, Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Willie Mays, and Tom Seaver.  Without further ado, here are my four greatest living players:

Hank Aaron

Sandy Koufax

Willie Mays

Tom Seaver

Let me know what you think.

Time to End Hack-a-Jordan

Last night saw the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers play in game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.  It also saw one of the worst-played, aggravating, least watchable games the NBA has seen in a long, long time.  Most, if not all of the game’s awfulness was due to the Rockets using the strategy that has come to be known as “Hack-A-Jordan”, the fouling of the Clippers’ worst free throw shooter DeAndre Jordan (40%) incessantly, so much so that he shot 28 free throws in the first half, an NBA playoff record.  The league rules state that once a team fouls the other five times, each defensive foul leads to two automatic free throws.  Every time the Clippers got into the bonus penalty situation, Houston and coach Kevin McHale would have one of its players (non-rotation bodies such as Clint Capela and Kostas Papanikolaou) foul Jordan, obviously, blatantly.

The history of fouling opposing players with poor free-throw percentages seemingly dates back to the late-1990s to the early-2000s, when coaches would foul Shaquille O’Neal (career 53% free-throw shooter) in hopes of stopping him and the Lakers’ offense.  In the video below, the Portland Trail Blazers, in the 2000 Western Conference Finals, try to come back by fouling Shaq over and over again in the fourth quarter, to mixed results.  While the Blazers were trailing Los Angeles by thirteen points going into the fourth quarter, they did get Shaq to shoot just 12-for-25 from the line in the quarter.  However, the Lakers outscored Portland by two in that quarter, and the Big Aristotle’s free throws accounted for half of their points in the fourth.

However, the strategy actually dates back to the days of Wilt Chamberlain, who only shot 51% in his career from the charity stripe.  Despite his pedestrian (at best) free-throw shooting, Chamberlain was possibly the most dominant basketball player of his generation, and it could be assured he would be on the floor in late-game situations.  This led to teams wishing to put Wilt on the line to try to mount a comeback in the late going.  As you can imagine, the game of attempting to foul Chamberlain turned into sheer ridiculousness and distracted from the game itself.  Reacting to this, the NBA decided that, in the last two minutes, a foul away from the ball (otherwise known as an intentional foul), would result in two free throws and possession of the ball for the team fouled.  With the perpetual fouling of Shaq and DeAndre, it is done before there is two minutes left in the game.  Often, between five and two minutes left in the game, teams ramp up the hacking, trying to get it all in before the two-minute mark.

So how should the rule be changed?  It’s simple: if a team fouls Jordan (or anyone else, for that matter), away from the ball, without the fouled player attempting to get to the ball, it should be deemed an intentional foul.  The fouled team should consequently get two free throws and the ball.  Want to really discourage “Hack-a…”?  Let the oppressed team choose which player it wants to shoot the free throws, just like technical fouls.  Personally, I am in favor of doing this as well.  Think about if Chris Paul (86% from the line) or J.J. Redick (89%) would have shot the free throws as a result of the Jordan fouls.  The game would have been over in the third quarter, which would not have made any difference in terms of the game’s watch-ability.  If anything, making the game a 50 or 60 point game due to the fouling would have saved us all from watching any more of that game than we would have had to.

Here’s my point: does watching a team foul the other’s worst free throw shooter time and time again make the game more enjoyable for the fan?  Sure, there are more strategic possibilities upon performing Hack-A-Jordan, but there is absolutely zero flow and rhythm to the game.  We often complained about the length, but more importantly, the pace of baseball games before this season saw the addition of clocks between innings to cut out dead time. The pace of games during the Rockets’ Jordan-hacking has been as bad, if not worse, than baseball was.  In a game that is growing exponentially and around the world, how can anyone on Earth stand to watch these “theatrics?”  And, especially considering that the Clippers play on the west coast and the Rockets play an hour behind in Houston, how can children who are just beginning to grasp the game of basketball bear to see this?  They actually should be thankful that they aren’t allowed to stay up late and watch the games, because they would be bored out of their minds and never watch basketball again.

As a final warning to the reader: don’t blame opposing teams for fouling Jordan.  It’s a smart strategy, especially if you are behind, as the Rockets were for most of the game last night.  Kevin McHale and Gregg Popovich are simply trying to create more possessions and interrupt the Clippers’ offensive rhythm.  It’s not their fault; it’s a strategy that dates back decades.  While Jordan isn’t the dominant player Wilt or Shaq was in their day, he wreaks havoc on the glass and is an enormous presence on defense.  However, he has not been discouraged by his results from the line, and it hasn’t affected other areas of his play.

If the Clippers win an NBA title this year on the legs of DeAndre Jordan’s free throws, then look for the rule to be changed.  If they lose out on a title due to DeAndre Jordan’s free throws, then look for the rule to be changed. History has shown that NBA commissioner Adam Silver is open to change (i.e. lengthening of the all-star break, talks of a mid-season tournament in Las Vegas) and will look at all options in regard to this story.  The rule will likely be changed, and it’s about time.

It’s time to put an end to repercussion-less Hack-A-Jordan.

A-Rod Should Get His Money

As you probably already know, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez hit his 661st home run on Thursday night, passing Willie Mays for fourth all-time on the home run list.  However, the feat has now turned into a childish fight over whether A-Rod should get paid a $6 million bonus that was promised to him in 2007.  When he signed his contract then, it stated that he would be paid the bonus, as it is (or was then, anyway) a “marketing opportunity.” However, the Yankees’ organization does not plan to pay A-Rod the bonus because it is no longer a marketing opportunity, due to his repeated PED use and his hitting a good deal of good deal of those home runs while supposedly juiced.

First of all, I’ll tell you my opinion right now, straight up: I think he should get the money.  When an organization signs a player to a contract, it should at least have to fulfill the obligations of that contract.  If the player is forced to play out the contract for the team that signs him, the team should have to fulfill its end of the bargain as well. After all, this is an organization that is able to pay its players large sums of money to its players, especially those who are older and past their prime (Rodriguez is making $22 million this year, the product of the worst MLB contract of all time.)  They are far from financially constrained; they can give up $6 million for one of its players giving their organization publicity, good or bad.

Second, let me just say how ridiculous it is that a player’s organization is regarding an incredible accomplishment as nothing more than a “marketing opportunity.”  Sure, A-Rod cheated (a lot), but for a player to attain an accomplishment as impressive as this in pinstripes?  People will identify that moment forever with the Yankees. More that that, however, for Alex Rodriguez, at this point in his career, this achievement is one that will last a lifetime.  Can the same be said about “marketing opportunities?”  I don’t think so.  I look at this contract just like any other incentive-based deal: if the player reaches the milestone that is outlined in the contract, the team should just pay him the money.  It’s just like if there is a $1 million bonus for a pitcher to reach a certain number of strikeouts.  If the pitcher reaches that number, the team pays him, not for the “marketing opportunity”, but for the accomplishment attained.

Personally, I find this debate to be one of the stupider and more childish sports debates we’ve had in a long time.  It is also stupid and childish on the part of the Yankees to not pay him the money because of so-called “marketing opportunities.”  I wish that the organization would just do the right thing, fulfill its contractual obligations, and pay him his well-deserved money.  But that won’t happen; they won’t pay him voluntarily.

Long live “marketing opportunities.”

My MLB All-Star Game Ballot

The 2015 MLB All-Star Game is being held at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati on July 14th of this year.  The game is an exhibition of the game’s best talent (and worst rules), while much of the controversy gets pointed toward who does and doesn’t get chosen to play.  I know this is a little early, as the voting closes on July 2nd, but I filled out a ballot for the game based on the first four months of this year.  There will probably be more than one of these, so expect the ballot to change.  Here goes:

AL

1B: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

2B: Jose Altuve, Astros

SS: Jed Lowrie, Astros

3B: Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays

C: Salvador Perez, Royals

DH: Nelson Cruz, Mariners

Outfielders: Mike Trout, Angels; Adam Jones, Orioles; Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox

NL

1B: Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers

2B: Dee Gordon, Marlins

SS: Zack Cozart, Reds

3B: Matt Carpenter, Cardinals

C: Buster Posey, Giants

Outfielders: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins; Matt Kemp, Padres; Justin Upton, Padres

Fire away in the comments section!

Why the Atlanta Hawks Should be Very Concerned for the Rest of the Playoffs

Last night, the Atlanta Hawks finally dispatched of the eight seed Brooklyn Nets in the first round of this year’s NBA playoffs.  It was by far their best game of the series, as they shot 51% from the field and made 13 three pointers. However, they should be very concerned for their next-round series against the Wizards.  Here’s why.

First, the Wizards present the problem of size.  The front line of Nene and Marcin Gortat, with their physicality and rebounding ability, will force Al Horford and Paul Millsap to pack it in in the paint and have to box out and give full effort on the glass for 48 minutes, every game.  I just don’t know if they can continually handle the physicality if the series gets to and 6th and 7th game.  Also, the Wizards have shooters on the perimeter as well, in Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce.  They will test the defensive mettle of guards Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague.  It remains to be seen who DeMarre Carroll guards, but it will most likely be Paul Pierce.

The Hawks like to hang their hat on their offense, and, in particular, their movement, passing, and team play in general.  However, Washington tied for ninth in opponent points scored in the regular season and only gave up 96.3 points per game in their four-game sweep over the Raptors.  This, again, is mainly due to the Wizards’ size in the paint and perimeter defense.  This may very well force the Hawks to live and die by the three pointer, which may be an ineffective strategy, considering that they average nearly 32 threes a game and have made only 11 per game. for a 35.4%  While this is tied for 6th in the playoffs, take a guess who has the #1 three point percentage in the postseason. It’s the Wizards.

As for those who would be more worried about the Hawks’ matchup with the Bulls or Cavailers, that’s probably accurate. However, the Hawks should be far more worried about the Wizards in this series.  Don’t worry about the Bulls or Cavaliers yet, Hawks fans, because you may not get that far.  Take the Wizards seriously.

5 College Football Coaches Who are on the Hot Seat This Season

We are still five months away from the beginning of the college football season.  However, it is never too early to think about which coaches will be receiving their pink slips after this season.  The next five coaches I am about to list should be taking a look over their shoulders, and if they don’t perform, could be shipped out.  What is important to understand about this article is that we should not celebrate firings in college sports, and while most of the coaches on this list are held to ridiculously unrealistic standards, that is simply the business that college football is.

#5: Les Miles, LSU

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 29:  Head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers reacts during pre game before playing the Arkansas Razorbacks at Tiger Stadium on November 29, 2013 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

This is clearly the out-of-the-box “hot seat” choice.  However, when examined closely, it makes much more sense.  LSU raked in the #6 recruiting class this year, per Yahoo.com, and this included 5-star recruits such as running back Derrius Guice, wide receiver Tyron Johnson, offensive lineman Maea Teuhema, and defensive back Kevin Tolliver II.  None of those recruits play quarterback.  While Brandon Harris flashes potential, he has not yet reached the quarterback that many expected him to be.  Running back Leonard Fournette may very well win a Heisman this year, and it may be in vain.  This is a team that has also failed to make a BCS/NY6 bowl in the last three seasons.

#4: Larry Fedora, North Carolina

Larry Fedora

This team returns ten out of its eleven starters on offense.  They will be able to light up Saturdays and outscore many an opponent.  Also, it has brought in former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik to run its defense; but it shouldn’t make a difference.  The defense will continue to struggle as it did last season.  Last year, the Carolina team defense was, uh, not great (11th most total yards allowed in the country).  Consider these factors as well as an incredibly weak schedule as you look at this Carolina team.  If they underachieve, look for Fedora’s ouster.

#3: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Pat Fitzgerald

This one is relatively simple: Northwestern has not reached a bowl game in the last two seasons.  While it did achieve quality wins over Notre Dame and Wisconsin last year, it 3-7 outside of those games  The big wins almost served as smokescreens for the rest of the team’s games.  Worst of all, the team won ten games but three years ago, and was 4-0 to start the 2013 season before falling apart after a tough home loss to Ohio State.

#2: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

Bob Stoops

Virtually all of the team’s featured talent from last season is back from last year, including FBS single-game rushing record holder Samaje Perine and star wide receiver Sterling Shepard.  Also returning is enigmatic quarterback Trevor Knight, whose struggled last season before going down to a frightening spine injury.  While the running back position is deep with Perine and Joe Mixon, the defense, and, in particular, the secondary will struggle due to its being very thin/young.  This one largely depends on where the OU athletic department’s expectations lie for the upcoming season.  If they expect a NY6 bid and the team underachieves, Stoops is gone.  But if they don’t Stoops should be safe.

#1: Al Golden, Miami

Fear the Tie

This one is just too easy.  Golden is entering his fifth season at “The U” and has gone a mediocre 28-22 over his first four.  However, in fairness, he has put under strict recruiting restrictions due to the Nevin Shapiro scandal.  This is the make or break year, though.  With the amount of coaches who would love to coach in Miami (including late 90s-early 2000s Hurricanes’ savior Butch Davis), the expectations are naturally way too high here.  Quite a few of the team’s starters return from last season, including promising young quarterback Brad Kaaya.  Throw in the third-toughest schedule in the country, and underachievement is bound to happen.  The likeliest outcome here is Golden’s firing.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this article stated that the Miami Head Coach in the late 1990s-early 2000s was Butch Jones.  Obviously, it wasn’t; it was Butch Davis.  I sincerely apologize for the error.

In Support of the Universal DH

Over the years, there has been much debate about whether the National League should keep up with its counterpart American League in adopting a Designated Hitter.  The American League first adopted the DH in 1973.  The National League never has.  Another thing that has caused all this debate has been recent injuries to pitchers Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals and Max Scherzer of the Nationals, both suffered while at the plate.  Scherzer jammed his wrist while batting while Wainwright severely injured his Achilles while leaving the batters’ box after hitting a ball into the field.  After the Wainwright injury, Scherzer came out in favor of the DH, telling CBS Sports, “I wouldn’t be opposed.”  These injuries to two of the game’s best pitchers have rightfully brought up an important question: why are we making our pitchers hit when so few of them create offense anyway?

In the very early portions of this season and going into tonight’s action, pitchers in both leagues are hitting a combined .089.  This underscores an important fact: most pitchers, except if they are bunting, are not even interested in hitting.  After all, we’ve learned a cautionary tale over the past week:  if pitchers try too hard, they can potentially get injured.  I believe that these injuries will lead to pitchers giving an even more apathetic effort at the dish, leading to that number getting even lower.  Another disadvantage to National League (or American League, in a National League Park) pitchers having what amounts to an almost automatic out is that it tips the scales even more towards the pitchers in a game that already favors them.  No, I don’t want a repeat of the steroid era: I just want an evenly balanced game between offense and pitching.  It pitchers going to try even less at the plate, fans will be less likely to be interested and hitting numbers in the NL will continue to stay the same or decline.  But they’ll continue to be interested in this guy, at least:

bartolo-colon1

Another point needs to be made here: why do two different leagues have a set of rules?  Hypothetically, what if the NBA’s Western Conference allowed a sixth player on offense?  Teams could plan for that luxury.  How many three-pointers could the Warriors hit then?  Or what if cornerbacks in the NFL’s NFC could get away with more hand contact/pass interference than in the AFC?  Would the Seahawks ever allow a point again?  Look, the point is, teams that are better at pitching in the National League are set.  Take the Mets, for example.  Their team ERA is collectively, under 3.  Actually, take the entire National League.  Three of the top 4 teams in ERA hail from the NL, but the top five teams in runs come from the American League.   Also, in 19 games, the American League has scored seven more runs, has hit three more home runs, and has an OPS twenty points higher then the National League does. This can clearly be attributed to the added production of having a Designated Hitter in one league, and making a position of players that have hit a combined .089 this season hit in the other league.

The bottom line here is that two pitchers got injured this week doing something that they are not comfortable doing. One will be back soon.  The other is not coming back this season.  While he could have torn his Achilles going out to his car or walking a flight of stairs, he did it at the plate.  There’s a tragedy in that.  What if a team’s franchise middle-of-the-order hitter was made to pitch and got severely injured and missed the rest of his team’s season?  His team might not reach its expectations for this season.  That may happen to the Cardinals without Wainwright, just in the opposite scenario.  Why should a team have to deal with this when it could be easily avoided by a simple rule change? This rule should be changed as soon as possible.  Another famous injury we cannot forget about the Yankees’ Chien- Ming Wang, who suffered a foot injury while running the bases in the then-National League Houston Astros’ stadium in June of 2008.  After that injury, Wang was never the same.  He went from a Cy Young Award-winning caliber pitcher to one who averaged a 5.31 ERA in the four years that he pitched after the injury.  He hadn’t been used to running the bases, and it can be speculated that we were robbed of one of the best pitchers in the game in his prime due to his having to run the bases and suffering the injury.  There’s a tragedy in that, too.

While I understand the argument that “baseball purists” may make for National League baseball being superior to that of the American League, I think the rules should be the same in both leagues: there should be a DH, all the way around.  We cannot allow any more pitchers to be injured over the course of a baseball game doing anything other than pitching.  I’m sure this article will probably be met with disagreement by purists and those who generally like to watch pitchers hit (I don’t know anyone who does, unless it’s Bartolo Colon), but there should be a DH in all of Major League Baseball, and this rule should be enacted as soon as possible.

I wouldn’t be opposed.

Assessing the Cavaliers Chances Without Kevin Love

Even though the Cavaliers finished off the Celtics in a sweep today with a 101-93 win, they paid the price for it.  In the first quarter, the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk and Cleveland’s Kevin Love were chasing a loose ball near the sideline when Olynyk appeared to foul love by holding his left arm.  Love then appeared to grimace in pain, and he was in a lot of it; he grabbed his shoulder and ran toward the bench area.  Then, something strange happened.  Love didn’t stop at the bench to receive attention; he ran (sprinted, actually) toward the Cavs’ locker room.  While the severity of the injury is not yet known, Love missed the remainder of the game and was diagnosed with a dislocated or separated shoulder.  He will receive more medical attention when the team returns to Cleveland.  For his part, Love felt that the play was dirty and said so after the game, saying: “I thought it was a bush-league play.  I have no doubt in my mind that he did it on purpose.”  While we should not accuse Olynyk of foul play, we can assess if the Cavs have any chance to win the championship without him.

First, the important thing: the average timetable of return from this type of injury is normally four weeks.  That would bring him back for around game 3 or 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals if his team gets that far without him. Assuming the Bulls close out Milwaukee at some point, there will be major matchup problems for the Cavaliers to compensate for.  For example, Love would be matched up on Pau Gasol of the Bulls.  While Love’s defense is not the greatest, what he brings on the offensive end cannot be ignored.  His ability to space the floor and make life easier for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to create shots will be missed.

Speaking of Love’s three point shooting, 41.2% of his field goal attempts this season have been from three point range, a career high.  While much has been made of this as a negative for Love, as all of his major statistics have dropped this season, it could have been expected with his being traded from the Timberwolves last season.  However, his ability to shoot three pointers is vital because it brings the big men of other teams out to the perimeter, making them guard him at least 20 feet away from the baskets.  This creates more room for jump shots, and even if they are missed, allows bigs like Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson the ability for easy putbacks.  So the next time you complain about Love staying out at the perimeter too much, realize that he is actually helping his team that way.

In one of my previous articles, I had picked the Cavaliers and the Bulls to play each other in the conference semifinals.  In that same article, I said that the Cavaliers would win said series in seven games.  Well, that was then and this is now.  I do not believe that the Cavaliers can beat the Bulls without Kevin Love.  While it is not the same type of backbreaking injury such as the torn ACL that Bulls star Derrick Rose suffered in the first game of the 2012 playoffs, it should make the difference between the Cavaliers winning the series by a hair to them losing it by a hair. While they will not lose a step defensively with the athletic Tristan Thompson manning Love’s position, the team will suffer offensively, as Thompson cannot shoot jump shots very well.  This inability to spread out the defense will also lead to the Bulls being able to help/double team on LeBron and Kyrie.  This will lead to more difficult shots, and while Thompson is a better offensive rebounder than Love, getting shots to go in in the first place will be an enormous task.

Another thing to think about is how long J.R. Smith will be out after his decking of the Celtics Jae Crowder.  Early in the third quarter, Smith and Crowder were fighting underneath for position.  Smith hit Crowder hard on the jaw, and Crowder also suffered a nasty leg injury on the play.  After the game, Smith said he was “nervous as hell” about a potential suspension.  This is important because Smith, in the starting lineup, has an innate ability to shoot three pointers off the catch rather than having to dribble to create.  If forced to sit, it is unknown who would start in his place.  Potential replacements include backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova, or, in the more likely solution, defensive ace Iman Shumpert.  Both are solid three-point shooters, but are not as good as Smith.

Given the injury and impending suspension, look for the Cavaliers to struggle.  Because the Bulls are coming.

Yes, the Mets are For Real

The New York Mets are baseball’s hottest team in the early season, accumulating a 13-3 record and winning their last 11 games.  They went 10-0 on their last homestand, which was a first in the history of the franchise.  The 11 game winning streak is also tied for the longest streak in their history, and the 1986 World Series Champion team also won 11 in a row.  Sure, the Mets have been baseball best team in the first two and a half weeks, but are they legitimate contenders?  They are.

Over their first 16 games, the pitching staff of Bartolo Colon, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harver, Jonathon Niese, and Dillon Gee have combined for a 2.81 ERA, good for second in the major leagues.  Those same starters have combined for 12 quality starts, tied with the Padres for the most in the league.  Newly minted closer Jeurys Familia has done a fine job in replacing overthrown Jenrry Mejia, leading the majors with eight saves; this adds up to a ratio of saving a game every two days.  Sure, he won’t get 81 saves this year, but he’s still off to a great start.  The pitching staff also walks the second-least batters in the game with just 31 total walks.  They’ve walked less than two batters per game. The bullpen has been paced by Familia, lefty Jerry Blevins, who suffered a forearm injury and will be out for at least the next six weeks, other lefties Alex Torres and Sean Gilmartin, Buddy Carlyle, and workhorse Carlos Torres.

While the lineup is generally regarded as being a weakness for the team, it has performed capably in the early going of this season.  It ranks seventh in the league in on-base percentage, ninth in the league in runs, and 12th in the league in batting average.  At leadoff, Curtis Granderson, even though he is only hitting .200, has been on-base one way or another 37.5% of the time.  David Wright had been hitting second until last week; he tweaked his hamstring on a slide into second base and is out for at least three weeks.  Lucas Duda has hit .359 in the three hole and leads the team in slugging percentage.  New acquisition Michael Cuddyer has performed well as the cleanup hitter, with an on-base percentage of .355.  Daniel Murphy has struggled out of the gate, but if he gets going, it adds another dimension to the lineup.  Defensive stud Juan Lagares is hitting .270, but is more noted for his defense.  Wilmer Flores has led the team in home runs with three, and has performed decently at shortstop.  And Travis d’Arnaud was the starting catcher until being hit on the hand with a pitch.  Now, he is likely to be out for around six weeks.  He has been replaced by prospect Kevin Plawecki, who has played in two game behind the dish.

With its core of players built around pitching, defense, and just enough offense, this team can compete for a division crown and potentially even more.  The team is tied for eighth in the league in fielding percentage at .986.  With a gold glove defensive center fielder, the team should definitely be able to stay near the top of the league in fielding. With these critical components, it is looking more and more like the Mets are for real and could contend for the playoffs and beyond.

No more LOLMets.