Hockey Narrowly Averts Total Disaster with Blackhawks-Lightning Stanley Cup Final

In this year’s NHL Conference Finals, both the East Series (Rangers vs. Lightning) and the West Series (Ducks vs. Blackhawks) went to seven games.  On Friday night, the Eastern Conference Finals were settled: the Lightning won the game 2-0 and the series 4-3.  They won decisively in the Rangers’ home, Madison Square Garden and handed the Rangers their first game 7 loss in their last seven outings. Last night, the Blackhawks and the Ducks played their game 7 in Anaheim. The Blackhawks took a commanding 5-3 win to secure a date with Tampa Bay in the Cup Final.  And NHL commissioner Gary Bettman better be glad that they did.

First of all, the absolute best match-up for the Final would have easily been Rangers-Blackhawks.  This would attract the attention of two of the three largest media markets in the United States (New York and Chicago) and make for a generally very compelling and competitive series.  This series would have also had stars abound; Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews for the Blackhawks and Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers.  This series also would have featured two teams from hockey’s “Original Six”: along with the Rangers and Blackhawks, these were the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, and Detroit Red Wings.  Not included with the “Original Six” were the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Anaheim Ducks.

I’m sorry, but when I think of hockey, I just don’t think of Anaheim, California and Tampa, Florida.  Point being, there is not nearly as much hockey tradition and, much more importantly, market support in these two regions.  For example, take the Lightning’s only Stanley Cup in their history.  They played the Calgary Flames in one of the best Cup Finals in recent memory.  The series went seven games, and the last four games were all decided by one goal.  Take a guess how that series rated, but first, watch this video to get a sense of how intense and exciting game 7 really was.

So how were the ratings for that series?  The series averaged a 2.6 rating for ABC and ESPN.  Game 7 drew a 4.2 rating, but ratings always increase as the series gets further along.  For context, last year’s Rangers-Kings match-up averaged a 2.8 rating, and that series only went five games.  If it went to six or seven, the ratings would have assuredly been higher.  In 2007, hockey was dealing with a nightmare match-up too: Ottawa vs. Anaheim.  With games 1 and 2 of that series on Versus (which is now NBCSN), the rest of the series would be shown on NBC. However, game 3 of that series, on NBC, drew a 0.4 rating.  0.4.  For reference, the lowest rated TV program for 2014 was the CW’s Masters of Illusion, and that elicited a 0.3 rating. That’s right, a show broadcasting magic tricks nearly matched one year’s game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals in viewership.

Lastly, there is an argument here of tradition.  The Rangers and Blackhawks have tradition, as well as a history of winning and excellence.  Oh, and the Blackhawks have what is easily the league’s coolest goal song:

The Rangers also have a really cool, originally composed goal song and another originally composed “Victory Song”, which was written in 1940 and is played every time the Blueshirts win.  Here is the instrumental:

The bottom line here is that both teams are synonymous with the game of hockey.  The Ducks and the Lightning cannot say this about themselves.  Also, I know this will makes me a culprit of “palm tree profiling”, but I’ll do it anyway.  The fact that both the Ducks and Lightning play in warm-weather climates hurts them in terms of marketability.  People do the same thing I do: they think of hockey and they think of a handful of teams (Red Wings, Blackhawks, Bruins, Rangers, etc.), and rarely are they located in warm-weather cities.  An example of this is the Los Angeles Kings: while they have won Stanley Cups two out of the last three years, they fall victim to potentially being under-marketed because they play in Los Angeles.  However, a team that has not had as much success in the past five or so years, such as the Detroit Red Wings, are consistently marketed by the NHL; they are an “Original Six” team, and Detroit, in reference to the Red Wings, is often marketed as “Hockeytown”.  So while it didn’t happen, a Ducks-Lightning final could have been disastrous for hockey.

But we better be glad it didn’t.

Handicapping the 2015 NBA Finals

As you probably already know, the matchup for the 2015 NBA Finals is set.  The Warriors and Cavaliers will be squaring off for the Larry O’Brien trophy, but first, they’ll be healing key injuries, as there is an eight day layoff between the end of the Conference Finals and the NBA Finals; that is a new NBA record. There are two key injuries for the Cavaliers in this series.  One is star point guard Kyrie Irving, who has been dealing with knee tendinitis since midway through the Cavaliers’ conference final series against the Bulls.  The other is to power forward Kevin Love, who separated his shoulder in the team’s first round series; he won’t be back.  The key injury for the Warriors is to Steph Curry’s running mate, Klay Thompson.  He suffered an ear laceration after being accidentally kneed in the face in Game 5 of the West Finals by the Rockets’ Trevor Ariza: (Warning: some may find video graphic and/or disturbing.)

That unsurprisingly manifested itself into concussion-like symptoms which was changed today to, *stunner*, a concussion. (This is pathetic, especially in these times of medical research and caution with regards to head injuries, but that’s another article for another time.)  Warriors’ back-up power forward Marreese Speights has been out with a right calf injury, but he could be available to play after the long layoff.

As for the two teams’ seasons?  Let’s start with the Cavaliers.  They played hot and cold at the beginning of the season, and were staring straight down the barrel at a 19-20 record and a low playoff seed on January 13th.  During their struggles, LeBron James was never really healthy, and as a result, took time off to heal from various injuries. After that, however, they ripped off a twelve-game winning streak, and catapulted up the Eastern Conference standings in the process; LeBron was back to his healthy and MVP-candidate self.  Most importantly, however, the team escaped the season largely healthy and unscathed, save for Anderson Varejao, who tore his Achilles on December 23; news has recently surfaced that Varejao could be activated for the Finals. However, disaster struck on April 26th, when in game 4 of the Cavs-Celtics series, Love separated his shoulder fighting for a rebound with the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk. The team has pressed on, however, without Love, and newly-pressed starter Tristan Thompson has given the team another dimension of toughness and grit, especially with his rebounding.  They defeated the Bulls in the Conference Semis in six games and then swept the 60-win Hawks in the Conference Finals.  They were expected to be here.  as for the other team…

The Warriors, with a rookie head coach (Steve Kerr) and a team that returned most of the same players off of last year’s team that lost to the Clippers in the 2014 Playoffs’ first round, were simply not expected to win or compete for a title this year, especially in the stacked Western Conference.  This year, however, they made their grand entrance into the league’s title discussion, in more ways than one:

Most surprising about the Warriors emergence, however, has been the utter dominance with which they have defeated their opponents. They outscored opposing teams by an average of 10.1 (10.1!) points per game this year, and their true dominance came at home. They were 39-2 in the regular season, and their only two regular season losses came at the hands of the Spurs and Bulls.  They’ve only lost once at home in these playoffs, and that was to the Grizzlies in the second round.  Point being, this team is nearly impossible to beat at the place they call “Roar-acle”, and in the one game the Cavaliers played there this season on January 9th, the Warriors came out with a 112-94 victory.  Simply put, the Cavs need to win at least one road game, but more likely two, to win a championship, and I just don’t know if they can.

As for the two teams now, the Warriors are still remarkably healthy. Other than the Thompson and Speights injuries, they basically have none.  They survived a scare when Steph Curry suffered a vicious fall in game 4 of the team’s Western Conference Finals series against the Rockets.  However, Curry was largely unhurt, and came back to the game.  Video of the fall can be found right here: (Warning: video may be disturbing for some.)

The difficulty for the Cavaliers in this series is, assuming they are both able to play, stopping Golden State’s splash brothers: Thompson and Curry.  They should be guarded in this series by Irving and J.R. Smith respectively, and that could cause Cleveland big problems. Look for the Cavaliers to play Matthew Dellavedova more in this series, as he is a defensive nuisance who will look to instigate trouble with the Warriors players.  Another matchup problem for the Cavaliers is Draymond Green, whose shooting, defensive, and play-making ability will keep the Cavs on their toes at both ends of the floor.  On defense, he will assuredly have the assignment of guarding LeBron, and LeBron may guard him for the Cavs defense as well. Andrew Bogut has also played well for the Warriors these playoffs, averaging nearly nine rebounds per game, serving as a catalyst for the Dubs’ wide open offense, and protecting the rim on defense.  The same can be said for back up center Festus Ezeli, who has spelled Bogut when he has had to go to the bench for foul trouble or rest.

The Cavaliers can counter Golden State with jump shooting of their own.  Smith and Irving are excellent jump shooters in their own right, and, if given to him, LeBron can spray the defense with his as well.  If bench players James Jones, Dellavedova, and Iman Shumpert get open looks, they are all quite dangerous as well.  However, the Cavaliers will have to win this series with their defense. They allowed 98.7 points per game in the regular season, good for 13th in the NBA. However, in the Playoffs, that number has sunk to 92.6 points per game. Also, they have allowed 91.7 points per contest without Love around, a harbinger of the Tristan Thompson effect (Hint, hint: Thompson is a better defender than Love).  Their defense was much maligned in the regular season, but it has really tightened up in these Playoffs.  With much concern for the Cavs in Cleveland and beyond from writers and those who follow the sport (including myself), their defense has helped ensure their playoff longevity.  Thompson and Timofey Mozgov, the team’s big men, need to help the team win the rebounding battle, which they should be able to do, considering that they are first in these Playoffs with a rebound differential of +6.5. (The Warriors are third in that category in the playoffs at +4.0.)  This is how they secure the upset and bring a title, something, anything back to Cleveland for the first time since 1964.

My feeling about this series is that the Warriors are an absolute juggernaut. They are difficult to stop, and even though some analysts think that a jump shooting team cannot win an NBA title, I disagree. Here’s why: they’re not just a jump shooting team offensively.  They penetrate, pass for open shots, and the jump shots they take are usually good ones.  The jump shots that Curry and Thompson take may not always look like good shots, but with them, any shot they take can go in, so is there such a thing as a bad one?

Most of all, the Warriors can win in many different ways, and I don’t think the Cavs’ defense can slow them down for a full game.  Take their last game against the Rockets, for example.  Curry was not having his best game and Thompson missed virtually the entire second half with foul trouble and his concussion (*-like symptoms*). The Warriors still won by 14 because a new player emerged in the fourth quarter: Harrison Barnes.  He kept the team afloat offensively, and their defense was the catalyst for their offense, causing MVP runner-up James Harden to turn the ball over 13 times, a new NBA record.  They consistently find new ways to win, and who knows, maybe another player emerges at a critical juncture for Golden State. Maybe it’s Leandro Barbosa, Shaun Livingston or Andre Iguodala off the bench that helps them win an all-important game down the stretch.  Or maybe it’s Curry and Thompson, like we all expect.

Like I expect.

While the Cavaliers have a fighting chance because of James, Irving, and their defense, I don’t see many (if any) ways that they can win this series.  It will be competitive, and maybe more competitive than it should be, because I think the Cavaliers are over-matched here.

The Warriors will win this series in six games. How do you feel about that, Riley Curry?

All statistics courtesy of and Basketball-Reference

Early Heisman Trophy Predictions for the 2015 College Football Season

We are closing in on 100 days left until the beginning of the college football season on September 5.  If you don’t believe me on that, you can simply find out how far we are away from week one here:

Until then, here is a (somewhat) early breakdown of the top candidates for the sport’s highest honor, the Heisman Trophy:

5. Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson)

Watson returns for his sophomore season after impressing with his running and throwing in somewhat limited action last season.  He missed three games in October last year with a broken bone in his hand, but he came back and played the last eight games of the season.  Also, he led the Tigers to a 35-17 defeat of in-state foe South Carolina, all the while playing with a torn ACL (!).  With returning talent at most of Clemson’s offensive skill positions, Watson has the potential to light up Death Valley in 2015.

4. Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)

The hard-running power back for the Buckeyes comes back off of last year’s campaign in which he produced over 2,000 yards from scrimmage.  Four out of the five projected starters on the Buckeyes’ offensive line are upperclassmen, and all five linemen started on last year’s championship squad.  Also, the Bucks lost the best wide receiver off of last year’s team, Devin Smith. Crop top or not, look for Elliott to be in New York this December.

3. Dak Prescott (QB, Mississippi State)

With the returns of top wide receiver De’Runnya Wilson and star running back Josh Robinson, look for Prescott to expand on last year’s breakout season in which he threw for nearly 3,500 yards and ran for almost another thousand. Whether the defenses in the SEC West stand up to him or not remains to be seen, but I anticipate that Prescott will do even better than last year in unleashing a full Dak Attack on the college football world.

2. Trevone Boykin (QB, TCU)

Okay, so you probably know what is coming by this point, but let’s talk about Boykin first.  He threw for 3,901 yards and ran for another 700 in last year’s Playoff-worthy campaign that ended in a 42-3 drubbing of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl.  With the return of top wide receivers Josh Doctson, Kolby Listenbee, and Deante’ Gray, as well as all (all!) of TCU’s line returning together, Boykin will rip it up in 2015.  Just not as much as the #1 player on the list, however…

1. Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU)

Fournette comes back to Baton Rouge after rushing for 1,000 yards last year and averaging 5.5 yards per carry in doing so.  The question mark here is that LSU has five all-new starters at offensive line and while they have looked solid in spring practice, it remains to be seen whether they can perform in the SEC. However, with the Baton Rouge Bears’ quarterback disaster situation being what it is, Fournette will get a lot of carries this year.  And I think he’ll win the Heisman Trophy.

D’Angelo Russell is the Best Player in This Year’s NBA Draft

The NBA Draft is just about exactly a month away and mock drafts and big boards are abound.  Many mock drafts have either Duke center Jahlil Okafor or Kentucky power forward Karl-Anthony Towns going #1 overall. Many big boards say the exact same thing: Either Towns or Okafor is the best player in the draft.  Personally, I would take Towns over Okafor for various reasons, but I really don’t think that’s the conversation we should be having here.  I think that the best player in the draft is neither Towns or Okafor: It’s Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell.

First, let’s look at Russell physically.  Russell is tall for a point guard, at 6-foot-5.  While his frame is only at 180 pounds right now, that should fill out over time.  While these are positives, there is one large, glaring negative with Russell: athleticism.  He does not get high off the ground, and some see this as the one trait or quality that will serve to doom his career.  However, he realizes this, and he plays as a low to the ground player, with a solid mid-range jumper and floater game.  Also, his basketball IQ is through the roof, routinely seeing plays before they develop and making the simple play.

Second of all, Russell is easily the most offensively polished player in the draft.  He is a pretty good post player, occasionally using his size to post up smaller guards.  Also, he has the potential to be a very good shooter in the NBA. While his shot is streaky, he can develop it; what also helps is that he’s just 19 years old.  He’s a versatile scorer, too, using all aspects of his offensive game to score.  He is also an incredibly unselfish player who passes to open teammates.  Along these lines, he is a very good rebounder, and after getting a rebound, he uses his IQ and unselfishness to push the ball ahead in transition, which creates a chance for open teammates at the other end.

What will hold him back, as I mentioned earlier, is his lack of explosiveness and athleticism.  Because of this, he consistently avoids contact at the rim and relies far too heavily on his floater.  He will most likely also struggle against size and shot blocking defenders at the NBA level, which will force him to take too many jump shots.  Taking too many jump shots, however, will force him to work hard on that shot, which has the potential to get much better. Also, he has lapses on defense.  He is too often caught watching the ball on defense and sometimes lacks the effort necessary on an every-night basis in the NBA.  However, this should improve with time and repetition, and Russell has the upside and potential to be a good defender at the next level.

Finally, the biggest positive that goes along with Russell is his swagger and confidence.  When he was asked at the NBA Draft Combine why teams should be interested and/or draft him, he said succinctly:

He’s right.  On an Ohio St. team that struggled at points last season, he was willing to shoulder the load on offense to try to get his team back into the game.  While his game isn’t all the way there yet, that’s okay, because no player in the draft’s game is.  Some may say that Towns is the best player in the draft, but he is really inconsistent in all areas of his game, and while not an unproven player, is a bigger risk who will take much more time to develop.  Some may have Okafor at #1 on their boards, he is not a great defender and is in-explosive, just like Russell.  Those people can think what they want, but Russell will be the best player to come out of this class.  In most mock drafts, Russell is going to Philadelphia at #3.  This is the perfect situation for him, and he has the potential to blossom there.  Actually, he has the potential to blossom anywhere he goes.  I think of him as a less explosive version of Damian Lillard; can score in bunches while setting up teammates all the while.  People who favor Okafor or Towns can think what they want, but Russell will be the best player to come out of this class.

And here’s why: he’s the best player in the draft.

On Bryce Harper Getting Ejected the Other Night

Bryce Harper and his streaking Nationals were at home on Wednesday night playing the Yankees.  The Nats have won five games in a row and surged to the top of the NL East over that stretch.  However, Wednesday night’s win would be overshadowed by an incident between Harper and home plate umpire Marvin Hudson.  Basically, the first pitch of the at bat was a strike that looked to be down in the zone or out of it altogether.  Supposedly, Harper then “refused” to get in the box, and Hudson ejected him.  Manager Matt Williams then cane out to argue on his behalf, for which he was ejected.  The ejection, in my eyes, was completely wrong.

First of all, players argue balls and strikes all the time.  If I had a dollar for every time a player was discontented with a ball-strike call, I could be really, really rich.  Harper was very unhappy however, and something that is important to note when considering the other side of the argument is that the pitch was only strike one.  Also, the at bat took place in the third inning, and there is still most of the game left at that point.  Think what you want about Bryce Harper, but he is an extreme competitor.  He wants everything to go his way, and sometimes if they go the other way, he becomes unhappy.  However, be clear of his intent; he just wants to win.

Second of all, if I pay the money to go to a Washington Nationals game, I would much rather watch Bryce Harper do what he does than watch Marvin Hudson do his job.  I have never heard of anyone that has gone to a baseball game and paid a real significant amount of attention to the umpires; they want to watch the players.  And without the best Nationals position player on the field, the game is simply not as exciting.  On a Wednesday night when people are most likely coming straight from work to see the game, depriving them of one of the most exciting players in baseball is simply not right.

Finally, along these lines, I am sick and tired of watching exhibitions that are not-so-affectionately known on social media as “#umpshows.”  Like I said in the first paragraph, I don’t watch baseball for the umpires.  It’s a great game, but the umpires are a blight upon it, no doubt about it.  Hudson did not exactly shy away from the arguments with Harper and Williams, either.  In the video above (which was shared by MLB’s YouTube account), not-so-nice words are blurred.  When Williams goes out to confront Hudson, he launches a bunch of these (examples of them rhyme with duck and spit).  However, Hudson did the exact same thing.  Don’t think of umpires as higher authority of better than the players, because they clearly don’t act it.

Finally, one of the reasons why Hudson wanted Harper to get back in the box (other than to create an #umpshow) is that he wanted to speed up the game.  This side of the anti-Harper argument is understandable.  However, the attempt backfired in Hudson’s face.  Not only was he embarrassed by Williams, Harper, and his own actions, the arguments took roughly two minutes, which doesn’t exactly speed up the game.  While this year’s pace-of-play rules have clearly worked, this was a miss.  An attempt to speed up the game by five or ten seconds wound up setting it back for two minutes, which does not look good for the game of baseball.

Any way you slice it, I think Harper should not have been ejected.

But, hey, let’s all get together to watch another great #umpshow sometime soon.

Analyzing What the NBA Draft Lottery Results Mean for the Draft

Last night, the NBA held its annual ping pong tournament Draft Lottery in New York.  While the 76ers had the possibility of acquiring three lottery picks, they will only be held to one because the Lakers held their top-five protected pick (moving up to #2) and the Heat held their top-10 protected pick (staying at #10).  The Sixers acquired the third pick, however, while the Knicks fell to #4 after having the second best chance at the first overall slot. Orlando rounds out the top five, which was expected because they had the fifth best chance for #1 to start off with. So what does this all mean?  Well…

The Timberwolves, sitting at the top of the draft, are in an unenviable position.  While they have a great problem in choosing between Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, they have an interesting and difficult decision to make.  Do they draft the Power forward in Towns and leave the oft-injured and somewhat under-performing Nikola Pekovic in an center?  Or, do they draft the center in Okafor and potentially leave the aging and regressing Kevin Garnett to haul a heavy load playing in what will likely be his last season in the NBA?  Also, does the Big Ticket decide to come back?  If he doesn’t, and Okafor is the choice, who plays the four?  Again, it’s a good problem to have if you’re Minnesota, but it’s  problem nonetheless.

The Lakers are sitting at two, and while their choice seems like a no-brainer, it is actually more of a trick question than you think.  While it seems as if they would take whoever the T-Wolves don’t in front of them between Towns and Okafor, I think they could make it a surprise with this pick.  With no point guards on the roster headed into next season (no, I’m serious) except for Jordan Clarkson, they could, and I emphasize could, take either Emmanuel Mudiay, who originally would have played at SMU this season and turned them into a championship contender, or Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell here.  It’s a stretch, but not a huge one.  A much bigger stretch would be fast-rising Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis, who has made waves for his shot creating and three point shooting.  The Lakers need almost everything here, however, and Byron Scott has his own personal vendetta against 3-point shooting, so no Porzingis here.  After all, I don’t really think he fits the Lakers anyway, but on a team with Nick Young and Kobe Bryant taking all the shots, who does?

At three, look for the 76ers to go point guard.  The expected choice here and what seems to be the common sense one is Russell.  He is one of if not the most polished offensive player in this year’s draft, and could have a season like that of Michael Carter-Williams two years ago.  This works out perfectly for Philly, if Russell or Mudiay are available, and there’s no reason to think why at least one of them wouldn’t be there.  However, if Towns of Okafor are avaiable, they most likely would not be taken here, as the last thing the Sixers need is big men.  Again, this is a great position for Philly to be in here; with potentially no Towns or Okafor available here, they can still get their point guard of the future, whoever that may be.

This is just the first three picks.  The rest of the night is a litany of fun, trades, and booing that gives us plenty to salivate over until October.  Until then, we wait for the draft.  I hope to do a mock draft at some point, but the Playoffs will have to hold us over until then.

Chris Paul, Meet Alex Ovechkin?

The Clippers ended their glorious and horrendous self-destruction yesterday with a lifeless performance in game 7 against the Houston Rockets.  The Clippers were up 3-1 in the series but lost the last three (two on the road) to lose the series.  They had won game 1 in Houston and games 3 and 4 at home; they looked as if they were unbeatable and also had a real possibility of a conference final appearance or even an NBA title.  Most sad about these happenings, however, is that star PG Chris Paul failed to reach the conference finals for another year, as he has for the rest of his career.

Another player in another major sport had his team in his conference semifinals.  After a 7-game series in the first round (just like the Clippers had vs. the Spurs), his team won game 1 on the road and lost game 2.  They went back home for two games, winning both.  While this team and player did not look as unbeatable as the Clippers did after their game 4, they still looked as if they would win the series with ease.  Of course, the next three games happened, and the team lost in 7 games.  The other team I was just talking about was the Washington Capitals.  Their star player is Alex Ovechkin.

So, are CP3 and Ovie one in the same?  Well, not quite.  Statistically, Ovechkin’s numbers in the regular season are generally higher than those in the postseason.  For his career, he scores 0.63 goals per game in the regular season, but in the postseason, that number drops to 0.5 goals per game.  He averages 0.47 assists per game in the playoffs, but in the regular season he averages 0.55 assists per game.  Points per game suffer the most precipitous decline however, as his numbers in that category from the regular season to the playoffs go from 1.18 per game to 0.97 per game.  Is this all his fault?  Probably not.  Hockey is generally a more random game than basketball, more dependent on bounces of a puck and players that are on the ice at any particular time.  However, the numbers don’t lie; he’s not as good a postseason player as he is a regular season player.

Now we move on to CP3.  He was drafted the same year as Ovie (2006) and has played in the same number of second seasons as Ovechkin (seven).  However, his numbers actually increase across the board come playoff time.  His points per game are up about two from the regular season to the post, from 18.7 to 20.9.  His assists per game are somewhat down, from 9.9 to 9.5, but in the playoffs, rotations get shorter and star players need to do more offensively for their teams.  His regular season field goal % is 47%; his playoff field goal % is 48%.  He also shoots better from 3-point range in the playoffs, hovering around the 38-39% range.  All of these numbers have been accrued in about two more minutes per game, which is an advantage Ovechkin doesn’t have.  However, it’s clear: Paul is not a playoff choker, by any means.  If anything, he’s actually better in the playoffs.

What I’m trying to say is that there is much more at play here than just the performances of Chris Paul and Alex Ovechkin.  Their teammates and organizations have not exactly helped them out in terms of personnel moves and big performances.  However, one thing is clear: there’s a lot here.

They are much more similar than you would think.

The Clippers are done for this year, and everyone is now looking to Chris Paul for the answers.
The Clippers are done for this year, and everyone is now looking to Chris Paul for the answers.

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.