26 June 2007

NBA Draft Preview/Mock

This Thursday, destinies will be forged. Greatness will be found... or lost. The right pick can propel a previously moribund franchise into the upper echelon, making it an instant contender; the wrong pick can derail even the most seemingly invincible of basketball dynasties.

So, at least, those who benefit from hyping up the NBA draft would have you think. Truth be told, while the draft is important, it's hardly the only way in which teams can be built or destroyed - after all, Isiah Thomas has drafted several excellent players - David Lee and Renaldo Balkman in last year's draft, for example - but the Knicks suck, while the Pistons have been built largely through free agency - of their starters, they drafted only Tayshaun Prince.

That said, the draft, when combined with deft salary cap management and prudent free-agent acquisitions, can be a significant factor in building a team. So, after a long (possibly overly long) intro, let's get to the mock. I'm just going to look at the top 11 spots - they're the most interesting, anyways. This mock assumes that there will be no trades.

1. Portland
Greg Oden, C, Ohio State
. The more or less unanimous choice; Oden is, after all, a "once-in-a-decade type player."

2. Seattle
Kevin Durant, F, Texas
. No surprise here. If Durant gets taken at #1 (as ESPN's John Hollinger tries to argue that he should be here) then Seattle will gleefully take Oden; it is interesting to note that neither Portland nor Seattle, if Portland takes Oden, will be meeting a need - Oden will be playing more or less the same position as last year's #2 overall pick LaMarcus Aldridge, while Durant will play the same position as 22.4 ppg scorer Rashard Lewis.

3. Atlanta
Mike Conley, PG, Ohio State.
My first departure from conventional wisdom. I simply can't believe that the Hawks are willing to become the Detroit Lions of basketball by taking forwards in the first round of five consecutive drafts. Conley is by far the best point guard of this draft; he has shown elite quickness, and, on a team full of swingmen, would be a terrific catalyst.

4. Memphis
Al Horford, PF, Florida
. Should supply some much-needed toughness to a Memphis team that gave up the second-most points in the league and the worst field goal percentage allowed.

5. Boston
Joakim Noah, F/C, Florida.
I see Noah as a solid player in the league for a long time. He won't be a superstar, but neither will be be an absolute bust. His hustle and intelligence should be useful to a Celtics team in dire need of a big man.

6. Milwaukee
Corey Brewer, SF, Florida.
Milwaukee actually has a pretty good team right now; the addition of Brewer would more than make up for the "loss" of Ruben Patterson to free agency. If the Bucks can avoid the injury bug that hit them last year, and can resign Mo Williams, they should be a playoff team.

7. Minnesota
Spencer Hawes, C, Washington.
A big, fundamentally sound center who doesn't suck. As opposed to Mark Blount and Mark Madsen, the T-Wolves' current centers, who are undersized, lack fundamentals, and do suck.

8. Charlotte
Brandan Wright, PF, UNC.
The Bobcats are firmly in development mode, and Wright fits with that plan. Given a couple of years to develop physically - he's a bit of a stringbean right now at 6'9", 200 lbs - he could turn into a very, very good player. This is a bit of a fall from most other mock drafts, but it makes sense.

9. Chicago
Yi Jianlian, PF, China.
The Bulls, with their starting lineup more or less set, can afford to wait for Yi to mature. With as much potential as he has, it should be worth the wait.

10. Sacramento
Acie Law, G, Texas A&M.
The Kings still think that they can compete. With Mike Bibby's future up in the air, it only makes sense for them to draft a player who can step in at his spot if he decides not to return.

11. Atlanta
Jeff Green, SF, Ohio State.
And the Hawks continue their tradition, drafting another swingman. This is a simple case of "best player available", as Green has "explosive leaping ability" (what NBA swingman doesn't?) and should be a solid piece in the Hawks' continued rebuilding attempts.

23 June 2007

Fight Night

15 minutes to showtime... Spike is showing Diaz's fight from the semifinals against Maynard. I'm picking (and, in an unrelated note, cheering for) Manny in the final; Nate hasn't looked especially impressive in either one of his last two fights - he's consistently been on the bottom, simply capitalizing on his opponents' mistakes. Manny, on the other hand, has ground-&-pounded his opponents into defeat. I don't think that Manny has the power to knock Diaz out, but neither will he make the mistakes that Diaz's other opponents have made; therefore, my pick is Manny by decision.

10 minutes to showtime now (8:50 EST), and I'm going to go ahead and make my pick for the Penn/Pulver fight. I'm picking Pulver by tapout in the 2nd, but I kind of hope it doesn't happen. Penn just plain seems like a nicer guy; something looks "off" in Pulver's eyes - while that isn't a good thing in the so-called Real World, it very well might be an asset in the ring. The preview show was talking about Penn training harder than he ever has before, but I don't put a whole lot of faith into that; he seems like he's very athletically talented, but I don't know if he has the disposition to be truly dominant, as he would need to be against somebody of Pulver's quality.

9:00 PM, and the show is getting started. Operatic, gladiator-infused opening, complete with grainy, b&w interview footage. Then a hard-rock riff with a montage showing champions from previous seasons... pretty standard stuff. Gotta give the UFC credit, they know how to promote their events. I don't know if their actual fights are more fun than boxing (good article on that here), but their television production is a heckuva lot better.

9:09 PM, Huerta vs. Evans about to start. Who are these guys, exactly? Undercard material, filler, from what I can tell. I'm sure they're both quite talented, but it's not what we came to see. UFC's strength isn't necessarily the fighting - though that is often quite good - it's the way they draw viewers into the stories, get them to cheer for one fighter or the other without resorting to cheap tricks like pro wrestling. I don't really care about either one of these fighters - so I watch just in order to get to the more important fights.

9:18, first round of Huerta/Evans over. Definitely won by Evans, who was apparently a high school wrestler of some talent before starting MMA. An entertaining fight so far - Evans has been striking and grappling well, while Huerta hasn't been able to do very much.

9:23, fight stopped at 3:30 in 2nd round; Evans made a nice takedown, but Huerta managed to flip it, then just pound an increasingly uncoordinated Evans until the referee stopped the fight. Definitely a good stoppage; Evans was more or less lying on his stomach while Huerta straddled him and pounded his head.

9:26, official announcement of Huerta's victory; also, the first d-list celebrity cameo of the night, as the cast of "American Body Shop", apparently some new Comedy Central show, was shown sitting in the audience looking confused. Gotta give props to UFC for their product placement - it's relentless. They sneak advertisors in at every opportunity, and sometimes create opportunities solely (it seems) for the purpose of sneaking in a couple more sponsors.

9:33, and another undercard event is coming up - Leites vs. Sword. Two more guys I've never heard of, though Leites is apparently "highly touted" for his jiu jitsu.

9:40, fight over; Leites looked in better shape, stronger, and more skilled the entire fight; he took Sword down two or three times, and eventually got Sword in a triangle - Leites got his arm around Sword's neck and shoulder, then just tightened it until Sword tapped out.

9:49 - another undercard, but this time two guys I'm familiar with - Grey Maynard and Rob Emerson, two fighters who were eliminated earlier in the season. I guess the question is what these guys are doing on the show finale, since the point was that if you win the show you get into UFC, and they didn't win the show and they're fighting in the UFC... hm... I've got Maynard in this fight - when in doubt, pick the guy with tattoos.

9:57, and the first round is over... one of the more exciting UFC rounds I've seen in a while, with an absolutely electric flurry at the start. Maynard was clearly the superior fighter, working from a solid wrestling background and delivering elbows/knees after Emerson inexplicably chose to take the fight from standup - where he had a slight advantage - to the ground, where Maynard is very, very skilled.

10:00, and the fight is over; not very long into the second round, Maynard picked Emerson up and absolutely drove him into the ground - Emerson tapped out immediately, but Maynard drove his own head into the ground with the takedown and knocked himself out! So... Maynard, an unconscious guy, wins, in one of the more bizarre-yet-awesome fights I've ever seen.

In other news, this is turning into a truly monster post, so I'm going to hold off, unless something really incredible happens, until the Gamburyan-Diaz and Penn-Pulver fights later this evening.

10:04 - ohh... wow... they just called it a no contest, so a draw... Maynard is absolutely livid.

10:45, and Gamburyan is entering the ring. During the montage, Manny said something that really impressed me: "the only way anybody is going to beat me is to out-train me." That sort of encapsulated his attitude throughout the show. He's only about 5'5", but that might not be such a bad thing - he's absolutely built. Nate Diaz (the little brother of Nick Diaz) is coming in now, in a white robe over a black hoodie. He looks, if possible, even more angular since the end of the show - he looks kind of like an angry Matt Damon.

10:56 - end of a very good round 1. Gamburyan had the edge, as he was able to keep it tight and nullify Diaz's 6" reach advantage; the fight almost ended at 4:20 left in the first when Gamburyan tried a guillotine. Very exciting fight so far; Diaz keeps trying for submissions, but Gamburyan is a slippery little fellow.

10:57, early in the 2nd round, and it's all over! Manny Gamburyan dove in for a takedown and badly dislocated his shoulder or broke his collarbone or something - major pain, immediate tapout. An unsatisfying ending to what was looking like it would be a classic fight. Nate Diaz is "The Ultimate Fighter", but he doesn't look all that happy about it.

11:09 - okay, Spike has accomplished their main goal for the night... I really want to see Transformers. Not that I didn't before.

11:26, and it's showtime. After a long couple of intro videos showing BJ and Jens training and talking about how much they hate each other, they're entering the Octagon. BJ is wearing some sort of Hawaii black t-shirt with "Knowledge Unity Sovereignty" written across the front, entering to what sounds like a Gregorian chant. He looks pretty fit, like he's lost a bit of weight since the show.

11:29, and to some sort of 1980s rock/techno beat, Jens enters. He looks just as unhinged as I thought he would - a very significant contrast to BJ's centeredness and calmness. Really bad haircut, though.

11:40, end of the first. Please don't ask how Pulver managed to survive that round! Penn completely dominated the first three minutes - two big takedowns, an armbar that Pulver somehow spun out of, and a very tough triangle that had Pulver's head turning purple. Near the end of the round, though, Pulver did manage to score a few points with some boxing.

11:44, and Penn just choked out Pulver. Penn absolutely dominated the second round - after some early skirmishing, Penn took it to the ground and Pulver was struggling just to survive. Good defense from Pulver, escaping several submissions, but Penn finally got him with a rear choke. The official announcement will come in a few minutes, but the action in Las Vegas is done for the evening (or the UFC action is, at least).

Penn and Pulver was a bit of a letdown after all the buildup; Penn completely dominated the fight, significantly outclassing Pulver, especially on the ground. That said, it was still a great evening. Several good fights - especially Maynard-Emerson, which was a classic - and a lot of entertaining material.

20 June 2007

Mailbag

I've gotten a surprising number of emails regarding the last two posts - apparently, people really care about golf and lacrosse. Alternatively, they don't, but can't resist responding to my "moronity" (thanks, Tom from Nashville - you make Dixieland look smart... or not...).

Just in honor of Tom's vocabulary, we'll lead off with his email:
"The PGA should be embarrassed about Oakmont. Angel Cabrera wins it at plus-5? Who the [censored] is Angel Cabrera? That course was terrible, and so is Chris DiMarco, so will you admit that your pick was wrong?"

Well, Tom, I'm not sure exactly what Oakmont has to do with my pick, but I was wrong to choose DiMarco - clearly, Billy's waffling has exhausted the Gator karma I relied on. For the record, though, I liked the way the tournament played out. It was cool to see a winner who isn't either fanatically devoted to fitness (has anyone else noted that Tiger is starting to look like one of the guys from Under Armour?) or Lefty. Cabrera, with his gut and his grin, was a refreshing change of pace. Also nice: a course that rewarded skill, and punished stupidity. All four rounds, it seemed like whenever a player mishit a ball, he was immediately punished, and when he took a good shot, it paid off. This is how it should be. You could tell from players' faces how a shot had fared, because they knew even before it landed. It was a good week.

Second is Adam from Tallahassee, who says that
"The Gators Suck! What kind of karma are you talking about? DiMarco is a no-talent hack, Donovan is overrated, and you'll see exactly how overrated Tebow is when he's staring at the sky above Ben Hill Griffin stadium with Andre Fluellen standing over him. Go Noles!"

As I see it, there are two ways to respond to this email. The first would be to say something like "Oh, the Gators Suck [sic], do they? Did they suck when they beat FSU 21-14? Did they suck when they beat the consensus #1 team in the country, OSU, 41-14? Did they suck when they won the national championships in football and basketball? No, dude, I'll tell you who sucks - the team that finished 6-6 in the regular season and only finished above .500 by virtue of a win in the Emerald Bowl."

The second, of course, would be to take the classy road and just walk away (figuratively, of course; I'll keep sitting at my keyboard). That's what I'm going to do.

Third (and, in the interest of keeping this post to a reasonable length, last) is Charlie from Orlando, who has an interesting take on the Duke lacrosse case:
"This is just like OJ or Jacko - everybody knows they did it. They're getting off because they're rich and the case is on TV. If the Dookies were normal people, they would be in jail where they belong right now. Also, props on the NBA live blog from a couple weeks ago, you did a good job."

Well, Charlie, I disagree with those comparisons. OJ was debatable, and you could say that his case was similar insofar as both his case and the Duke case were badly mishandled by the prosecution, but Michael Jackson is, at this point, so far removed from the rest of humanity that any comparisons to any other situation are fatally flawed. I honestly don't think that we can apply any standards of human behavior to Jacko - he nearly qualifies as a separate species. Regarding Duke, though, the case was so badly handled that, even if Seligmann, Finnerty, and Evans had been guilty of anything more than stupidity (which I doubt), there would have been nothing that anyone could do.

And thanks for the compliment on the live blog - I'll hopefully be doing another one this Saturday with the UFC finale. Penn vs. Pulver should be very interesting, and Gamburyan has become a guy that I actively root for.

17 June 2007

The Ouroboros

Mike Nifong was disbarred today. Poor Mike Nifong.

Actually, I have very little sympathy for him in this situation.

Nifong made a series of statements that served to further inflame an already touchy situation. He ascribed a racial motivation to a crime on very specious evidence. He made accusations of rape based on the word of one witness and no corroborating evidence. Worst of all, he allowed his personal goals to interfere with the pursuit of justice. By doing this, he cost a group of young men a full year of intercollegiate competition.

“The circumstances of the rape indicated a deep racial motivation for some of the things that were done. It makes a crime that is by its nature one of the most offensive and invasive even more so.” So said Nifong in March 2006. He said this based on the fact that some of the players (none of the three who were later indicted) allegedly yelled racial slurs at people walking past. Hmm…

In that same statement, as well as in others, Nifong started from the assumption that Evans, Seligmann, and Finnerty were guilty. He seemed so intent on defending the “witness”, who was supposedly stripping to “pay her way through college” (where have I heard that before? Oh, wait) that he swung completely to the other end of the spectrum (and yes, that is a mixed metaphor) and threw out all semblance of logic and law. “It doesn’t mean nothing happened. It just means nothing was left behind.” Wha???

The sad thing is, it almost worked. There were protests against the lacrosse players’ racism, accusations that if the racial roles were reversed the players would have been quickly jailed. Nifong won reelection, and the Duke lacrosse team – one of the top teams in the country – had their season cancelled.

Nifong is done. He deserves to be. Nifong did what was natural – a promising case was thrown into his lap, and he tried to use it to his greatest advantage – but in this case, what was natural was wrong. Justice has been served; it’s a pity that in this case, it had to be an ouroboros.

14 June 2007

US Open Preview

The U.S. Open starts today. Big golf tournament, in case you didn’t know. Kind of famous. Kind of a big deal. People know about it. Wow, I’ve been watching too much Family Guy and Anchorman – I’m starting to talk like the love child of Stewie Griffin and Ron Burgundy.

Early reviews have focused on a few issues, especially the difficulty of the course and Phil Mickelson’s wrist injury. To me, however, both of these are nonissues. Whether the tournament is held on a muni course (as seemed, to some extent to be the case last year) or on the beaches of some uncharted, magnetically sealed island will make little difference – everyone plays the same course. And, quite frankly, I’m sick and tired of people adoring Lefty. It’s getting annoying.

No. I’m going to do something original, something earth-shatteringly innovative. I’m going to predict the winner. But wait! It gets crazier: I’m actually going to pick a player that none of the ESPN people and none of the SI people chose: Chris DiMarco. Why? Here are two reasons.

First: He’s good. 97th in driving accuracy, 147th in distance. 66th in putting accuracy. 154th in scoring. Those are some big numbers. On first glance, you may be a bit nonplussed. But look deeper, spin the numbers a little bit: he’s top 100 in driving accuracy – in the world. He’s top 150 in driving distance – in the world. Isn’t it crazy how a little bit of spin can make even terrible situations look good? But enough politics – we see enough of that on CNN.

Second: He’s from UF. And it’s the U.S. Open Championship. In the wake of football and basketball titles, and of Billy Donovan spurning the Magic, can a Gator really fail to win another national championship? Logic, and karma, don’t get any tighter than that.

So enjoy the tournament, in whatever way you choose. Responsibly, of course. And when Chris DiMarco lifts that trophy and walks away with the $1.25 million dollar first prize, grin and know that 90% Mental predicted it. If by some strange chance he should come up short (though, of course, that could never happen) ... oh, well - at least I was right about the NBA finals being competitive.

12 June 2007

Today's News

-Rafael Nadal winning the French Open
-Dale Earnhardt Jr. leaving DEI for Hendrick Motorsports
-Amanda Beard in Playboy

Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer convincingly, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, to take his third consecutive French Open championship. Nadal is now 8-4 against Federer, and has established himself as the greatest clay court player alive; he's 121-13 on the surface, 21-0 at the French Open. But until Rafa diversifies his game and becomes as good (or nearly as good) on other surfaces, where he is only a comparatively modest 98-44, he'll never maximize his vast potential. Nadal has been ranked 2nd in the world for almost three years now - behind Federer. He's the only player in the world who has the ability to consistently play at Federer's level. With luck, he'll live up to that ability - tennis needs him to.

Also, today, it was announced that Little D decided to leave his old team - the team now run by his stepmother - for Hendrick Motorsports. The move from DEI has been brewing for a while now - Junior hasn't gotten along well with Teresa Earnhardt in several years, according to all the information I've seen. I'm not a big follower of NASCAR, so I don't know a lot about Hendrick Motorsports beyond that they already have Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Casey Mears, so adding Dale Jr. to the team would make them pretty big-time stuff.

Finally, Amanda Beard posed for Playboy. And by that, I mean that Amanda Beard posed for Playboy. It seems like every reasonably attractive female athlete these days winds up posing unclothed in some magazine, whether it be "Australian" (Lauren Jackson), "Playboy" (Beard), or "Maxim," "FHM," and "Playboy" (Danica Patrick, who is rapidly becoming a caricature). C.S. Lewis, relating the sex drive to hunger, asked whether people would pay to see a piece of veal slowly uncovered, asserting that, if so, there must be some sort of significant food shortage. Foucault would, no doubt, speak of a Western obsession related to the Scientia Sexualis. I, not being an intellectual on the level of Lewis or Foucault, will state it more simply: the pattern is a problem not because it necessarily objectifies, demeans, or otherwise harms women, but just because it's so absolutely stupid. Hm...

09 June 2007

Man Law

Billy Donovan. Kobe Bryant. Michael Vick. A-Rod.

All of these sports figures have drawn criticism lately for their actions: Donovan, for his decisions first to go to the NBA and then to leave it; Bryant, for his demand to be traded and his backpedaling; Vick, for his dogfighting fiasco; A-Rod, for distracting Blue Jays third baseman Howie Clark.

All of these players have transgressed against the spirit of former San Antonio Spurs center Moses Malone, who had a simple slogan that he taught Hakeem Olajuwon while The Dream was still a fledgling Phi Slamma Jammer: "Be A Man." Malone toughened Olajuwon up during a long summer of streetball, worked him over in the post - remember, at that time, Malone was one of the preeminent low block players in the NBA.

Donovan, Bryant, Vick, and Rodriguez have each gotten away from Malone's advice; each of them has failed to "be a man," and the only way that each of them can reclaim a part of their public image is to "be a man" and deal with their problem.

Donovan first broke a contract to leave the University of Florida, then broke another to leave the Orlando Magic. That's not Being A Man. Now, Billy will be seen as untrustworthy, unreliable, dishonest; it will impact his recruiting - nobody wants to play for a liar who could leave at any moment - and his future - what leverage does Donovan have now that he's been effectively barred from the NBA for the next half-decade?

Here's the solution, Billy: Be A Man. Admit that you were wrong to leave UF. Admit that you shouldn't have signed with Orlando. Admit that, once you signed with Orlando, you shouldn't have backed out. And then shut up and coach the Gators for the rest of your record-breaking contract. You messed up, and it's going to cost you, but you can still reclaim some portion of your integrity by admitting it.

Kobe Bryant ripped his team's owner and GM in the media, asked to be traded... and then backed off his demand a day later. That's not Being A Man, especially in light of a more significant Not-Being-A-Man incident from Kobe's past, when his defense against a rape charge was that he was just having an affair.

Here's the solution, Kobe: Be A Man. Admit that you messed up. Admit, publicly, that you shouldn't have taken your grievances to the press. So it was in response to an article saying that you drove Shaq out of LA? "They did it first" is only a defense in a gunfight. Admit that you were wrong, and then shut up and do what you're very, very good at - just play basketball.

Michael Vick is being investigated for allegedly (okay, more than allegedly - almost certainly) holding dogfights in his home. When he was asked how the public sees him, he said, "Everybody love Mike Vick, it don't matter what I do."

Here's the solution, Mike: Be A Man. Admit that not everybody loves you unconditionally. "With great power comes great responsibility", and as all your Nike commercials have shown, you have great power. Be A Man, Mike - If you (as seems likely) fought dogs, own up to it, pay the penalty, and go on with your life. You'll be more respected if you do.

Finally, A-Rod, who admitted to yelling "Ha!" as he was running past third base, but has been mum on whether it was wrong - he said it was a part of the game. He's also been quiet on his visit to a New York strip club with a blonde woman who was not his wife.

Here's the solution, A-Rod: Be A Man. Admit that yelling was a bush-league move. Admit that you messed up by going to that strip club. Be A Man. Will things die down? Probably not for a while: you live in New York, the biggest media market in the world. But eventually, if you walk the straight and narrow, own up to whatever mistakes you make, and generally Be A Man, people will come to respect you.

And that's what Being A Man is all about: respect. Respect for your peers, respect for the fans, respect for the sport, respect for yourself. Be A Man: do the right thing; admit when you're wrong; move forward. It's really that simple.

06 June 2007

NBA Finals Preview

The NBA finals start tomorrow, as Lebron James and Cleveland visit San Antonio to take on Tim Duncan and the Spurs. Conventional wisdom is that the Cavaliers have no chance against the mighty Spurs: No ESPN prognosticators picked them, and out of more than 138,000 voters in one internet poll, only about 30% believed that the Cavaliers could win. Conventional wisdom is wrong.

Here’s why: Lebron James right now is playing some of the best basketball he has ever played. Even if you don’t think he can repeat his performance from game 5 against the Pistons, he’s more than capable of putting up numbers like he did in the clinching game 6 – when, despite shooting only 3-11 from the field, he scored 20 points, pulled down 14 rebounds, and dished out 8 assists.

Here’s why: the rest of the Cavs are finally giving Lebron some support. Larry Hughes is healthy. Sasha Pavlovic is finally turning into the player the Cavs hoped he would be when they drafted him in the first round in 2003. Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Anderson Varejao are pulling in rebounds like David Blaine’s magnets are attached to their hands. And Daniel Gibson has developed from nowhere into a deadly outside shooting presence that perfectly complements Lebron’s, Hughes’, and Pavlovic’s drive-and-kick abilities.

Here’s why: the Spurs aren’t invincible. They don’t have anyone who can match up to Lebron (who does?). They’re weak at center, where Francisco Elson and Fabricio “Oh boy!” Oberto each give up at least 3 inches and 15 pounds to the lumbering, stumbling Zydrunas Ilgauskas. They have a relatively shallow bench; only 7 players play as many as 20 minutes per game.

Am I saying that the Cavaliers are going to win the NBA championship? No. San Antonio is, overall, the better team. But the series will by no means be as lopsided as some pundits would have you believe.

Spurs in 6.

04 June 2007

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not...

Billy wants out. Two words: Not Cool. Donovan ruffled feathers by leaving the Gators; he had a chance to establish a legacy, and he left that behind in order to pursue fame, glory, and the almighty dollar in the NBA.

Now he wants to come back to the Gators. But he’s already signed a contract with the Magic. Not Good Things, here.

Donovan has put everyone in a bad position with his waffling. The Magic, who have to decide between letting their first choice leave – and losing the revenue from the season tickets that have been selling like the proverbial hotcakes since his signing – and forcing their head coach to stay against his will.

The Gators, who had begun looking at new coaches – they had already interviewed former assistant Anthony Grant, and were reportedly also considering current assistant Larry Shyatt.

The candidates for the UF head coach position, who find themselves in a no-man’s land – having (with Grant, especially) already begun to burn their bridges behind them by simply being interested in another position, but now finding themselves with, potentially at least, no position to be interested in.

Lastly, and leastly in my consideration, Donovan, who will be battling the ghost of William Henry Harrison as he attempts to end his short reign as Magic head coach. A lot has been written about how much Donovan agonized over his decision to join the Magic; likewise, a lot was written about how he made the right choice.

Billy: this was the wrong choice.

02 June 2007

Detroit-Cleveland Game 6, Live Blog

I’ll be checking in every little bit throughout this game. Game 5 was a classic, with Lebron’s ascendance; hopefully, this one will measure up. If it doesn’t… well… first off, it’s sports, so it’s good anyways, but I’ve got Diet Coke and popcorn, so the evening should be pretty good.

8:03 PM
Right now, TNT is showing taped interviews with Lebron, talking about his performance in game 5; I have a feeling that, as great as it was, I’ll be sick of hearing about it by the end of the evening.

8:26
TNT just showed a poorly photoshopped photo of Charles Barkley as some sort of... obese woman with a fruit-hat. Huh?
Antonio McDyess interview... platitudes and fluff, nothing of substance.
Barkley just said that Cleveland would "pound" Detroit tonight. Hm... maybe not the best choice of words, in light of the McDyess/Varejao incident?

8:31
Wow, but "1408" looks like a dumb movie. Just sayin'
Craig Sager, interviewing Eric Snow, has a very, very bad toupee. And Snow just said that "we have to make them score against our 5-on-5 defense." Um... isn't the point to make them not score?

8:36
Pistons win the tip. Sheed makes a bank shot. Zydrunas Ilgauskas misses a wild, fall-away hookshot.
Why do the Cavs go inside to him every game? I can understand the logic, but it never works...
Sasha Pavlovic jump-faked Tayshaun Prince into the bleachers, then got fouled driving to the lane.
Rip Hamilton is the primary man guarding LeBron, who hasn't taken a shot yet. Every time he gets the ball so far, he's doubleteamed.

8:43
Larry Hughes just hit his second 3-pointer to cut the Pistons' lead to 12-11. On both of them, his guy has gone to guard Lebron and left him wide open.

8:50
Ilgauskas just accelerated to a ponderous jog and followed the ball into the stands... he's been replaced by Anderson Varejao.
Technical foul on Chris Webber... also a double technical on Pavlovic and Rip Hamilton.
There's the replay - Webber shoved Anderson Varejao, and then Pavlovic stared him down. Hmm... really don't see why the double tech there. Shoulda just been the one on Webber, I think.

9:01
Varejao just made a nice little hook shot over (I think) Webber, and drew a foul - he's got a lot of energy. And really cool hair.
Then he draws an offensive foul on Delfino. Nice shot of some kid in the crowd wearing a Varejao wig.
Gibson shoots a three with 2.2 seconds left... Mohammed runs out, jumps, and lands on him. Three free throws. Really a bad play by Mohammed.

9:05
27-21 Cavs, end of the first quarter... kind of a funny moment there, as the buzzer didn't go off, so the Pistons (who had the ball) just kind of stood there awkwardly for a few seconds before they walked off the court.
My thoughts so far: Pavlovic, Varejao, and Gibson look solid for Cleveland, Rip Hamilton looks good for Detroit. Lebron's attempted one shot, which it probably too few, but he's been double- or triple-teamed every time he's gotten the ball, so he's been making the smart plays. Still, at some point, he's going to have to go on a little scoring tear.
Sloppy play overall in the first - Detroit committed some flat-out stupid fouls, and Cleveland's had about three or four wild cross-court passes intercepted. An entertaining game, even if it's not a very well-played one.

9:14
The funny no-buzzer moment continues - now the arena people are trying to replace the electronics. Bad-toupee Sager just announced that they'll be using a handheld airhorn if they can't get the buzzer to work.

9:21
Still delayed... the arena music people are playing the Vonage song (people do stupid things...) in the background... really an awkward interview between Toupee Man and a ref - Sager tried to make small talk, some sort of weak joke (if you move all the cameramen from courtside, will you let ours stay?) and the ref totally blew him off.

9:25
They start the second quarter... no working shotclock, no working scoreboard; the p.a. announcer is going to call out at 10 seconds and 5 seconds left on the shotclock. Donyell Marshall misses a shot.

9:31
Detroit's trying to guard Lebron with Lindsay Hunter now, and it's not working; James has driven past him twice in a row. Non-shooting foul on the first, shooting foul on the second.

9:40
Lebron is sitting; Ilgauskas and Varejao are on the floor together. McDyess just got his third foul.
Daniel Gibson looks really, really quick. 34-30, Cleveland, with 6:51 left in the second quarter.

9:48
5:36 left in the second, Cleveland up 37-35. The Cavs look confused about how to run any sort of offense right now - they're passing the ball around the perimeter, shooting a three with a couple of seconds left, and then playing defense.
Ilgauskas just put in an offensive rebound. I'm on him a lot, but I've got to grant him this much: he's tall.

9:56
2:49 left in the second, tie 43-43, commercial break. Truly ridiculous continuance there; Webber faked Gooden up in the air, then made another fake after Gooden landed on him, then threw up a shot. Should've been a foul on the floor.
Gibson's been exploited a couple of times down low - I guess there's a tradeoff for his quickness, in that he's pretty small. Hamilton is just plain bigger than Gibson is.
Lebron has started driving a little bit, and he's getting hacked every time he goes inside. I don't think he's made a field goal yet, but he's starting to get into gear.

10:04
0:45 left in the 2nd. Big moment here - Lebron absolutely stuffs Rip Hamilton, and then Hamilton committed a frustration foul. That's three on Hamilton, who's been pretty much carrying the Pistons. Hamilton takes a seat.

10:09
Halftime. 48-48.
Thoughts so far:
1. The Cavs haven't run a cohesive offensive set so far. Everything's been either wild passing or "hand to Lebron" followed by wild passing. Players are trying to do too much, and making really stupid plays. Examples have included Varejao dribbling 1-on-3 downcourt, throwing up a wild layup attempt and then trying to draw a foul, Pavlovic making several really, really bad passes - passes to no one in particular that have led to Pistons fast breaks, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas trying to back Rasheed Wallace down - from the three-point line - at least twice.
2. Chauncey Billups is playing horribly. He's not turning the ball over too much, but he's made no offensive contribution. In 20 minutes, he has 5 points and no assists.
3. Lebron isn't scoring, but he's seeing open people. This has been the only real offense for the Cavs so far - James is 0-for-2 from the field, but he has assists on 5 of the 13 Cleveland buckets.

10:29
11:30 left in the 3rd. Billups just took an off-balance, fall-away three from the corner, with a man in his face. Terrible shot. Not even close. Still a tie game. The clock is working again.

10:34
8:02 left in the 3rd. C-Webb got kneed in the groin on a Sasha Pavlovic offensive foul. 56-52 Detroit now, but Cleveland is looking a lot better than they did during the first half.
Make that 56-54 - Lebron just drove to the basket and made his first layup of the night.
Cleveland is working what looks like a sort of bastardized high post against Detroit's 3-2 zone, with Ilgauskas around the free-throw line. He can't move well, but he's tall enough to see through the zone for open players.
Webber picked up his fourth foul and, to add insult to injury, got hit in the groin again.

10:43
5:30 left in the 3rd. Coming off a commercial break, TNT cuts to Daniel "Boobie" Gibson, and starts a little montage of Cavs players who have had funny nicknames. This is relevant how?
Gibson then proceeds to brick a free throw. Poetic justice.

10:48
3:13 left in the 3rd, 63-62 Detroit. Larry Hughes looks awful right now; he's taken a couple of long threes, he pump faked and then just sort of... stopped around the elbow until Rip Hamilton took the ball away from him, and, running up the court uncovered, he just threw a lead pass to a double-covered Lebron. James tracked it down, but wound up out in the corner with two Pistons on him.

10:57
End of 3rd quarter, 67-66 Cleveland. The Cavaliers are back to scrambling around the court and accomplishing little or nothing on offense. Their last three shot attempts of the 3rd were threes, including one from Anderson Varejao that had the TNT commentators laughing. Daniel Gibson continues to impress, as he now has 12 points for the game, including 7-9 free throws. Lindsay Hunter hit a big 3 with 54.9 seconds left in the 3rd to keep Detroit close; they've been doing little of note on offense themselves, but they haven't been looking quite as spectacularly bad as have the Cavaliers.

11:01
11:27 left in the 4th, 70-66 Cleveland. Gibson just made another three, this one right over Flip Murray. The kid has skills.

11:03
10:44 left in the 4th, 73-66 Cleveland. After a travel from Tayshaun Prince, Gibson makes yet another three. Marv Albert said that Gibson is "becoming a legend", and I can't disagree. Expect to see him getting more playing time next year. Tonight, he's got 18 points in 18 minutes.

11:08
10:32 left in the 4th, 76-67 Cleveland. Lebron takes the ball away from 'Sheed, dribbles downcourt, makes the layup, and gets fouled. Cleveland is starting to pull away. Impressive stuff.
And now (10:02) Billups commits an offensive foul! Detroit is playing like it's their first time in the conference finals, and Cleveland is starting to play like they're used to this kind of pressure.
9:42 left, 79-67. Yet another Daniel Gibson three. Wow.
9:12 - Hamilton makes a nice driving layup for Detroit to make it 79-69. He's really been the only bright spot for the Pistons so far.

11:17
7:44 left, 81-69 Cleveland. Rasheed Wallace just fouled out; now he's gone ballistic at the refs and picked up two technical fouls - if Detroit somehow manages to rally, he won't play in game 7. Really a terrible play from Wallace - a bad offensive foul on one end, then just blatantly grabbing Lebron on the other. The Pistons are absolutely falling apart here.

11:21
6:49 left, 86-71 Cleveland. Daniel Gibson just made another three, and Detroit called a timeout. The momentum is completely in the Cavaliers' favor right now; Detroit has not been able to do anything whatsoever offensively, and they are whining about every call. Unless something changes drastically, the Cavs are going to the NBA finals.

11:29
4:27 left, 92-77 Cleveland. Detroit has gone to a four-guard lineup, with Antonio McDyess the only real "big man"; Varejao is cleaning up on the offensive glass. I'm starting to wonder if Gibson may have become Lebron's Scotty Pippen tonight - he just made a running layup over two Pistons, and now has 31 points on the night. Lebron is having a really odd evening - 17 points (on 2-for-9 shooting), 13 rebounds, 8 assists.

11:34
3:33 left, 94-79 Cleveland. Rip Hamilton just fouled out, and it's all but official. Hamilton had 29 points and had been Detroit's only real offensive option all night. Chauncey Billups has been embarrassingly bad - 9 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist; Tayshaun Prince has scored 5 points.

11:38
With under a minute left, Cleveland is up 98-80, and neither team is going at it anymore. Tomorrow, Cleveland can start looking ahead to San Antonio, where they'll be the prohibitive underdogs. But for tonight, let them celebrate - Cleveland will be going to the NBA finals.

11:40
It's official - the Cleveland Cavaliers are the Eastern Conference champions, defeating the Detroit Pistons 98-82. Lebron's final total: 20 points, 14 rebounds, 8 assists; Daniel Gibson finished with 31 points and 6 assists in 29 minutes, and is getting the postgame interview from Craig Sager. Gibson's analysis: "My shot was falling, and it was great." The kid can barely speak. Ilgauskas is hugging James, there's confetti on the court, and everybody's celebrating.

01 June 2007

No Laughing Matter

So, A-Rod yelled out "Hah!" or "Mine!" (depending on who you believe) while he was running past Howie Clark.

The Blue Jays aren't happy. The press aren't happy. Joe Torre's not happy about it. And, as we all know, if Joe ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

But I find myself wondering: what's the big deal? Some folks are saying it was a "bush league" move. So? Nobody got hurt, it didn't affect the outcome of the game - the Yankees, lest we forget, were already ahead 7-5 and about to turn the game over to Mariano Rivera - so why does it matter?

If it's "the principle of the thing", then that's simply laughable - why, when the integrity of the game has been shattered by the whole steroids mess, should we care about a player shouting? What "unwritten rule" can hold its power when confronted with the plank in baseball's eye that is the continually more substantiated steroids problem?

Perhaps it's because players don't do steroids on television - all we see is the home runs. We can cheer for home runs.

This A-Rod scenario exemplifies much of what is wrong with baseball - the sport is simultaneously bombarded by the present and unwilling to shed the facade of the past. While it should be dealing with bigger issues, like its slipping place among America's top sports, it remains fixated on following "unwritten rules" laid down generations ago.

Was A-Rod's shout a "bush league" move? Probably.

Does it matter? Not really.