Last week the NHL rejected the New Jeresy Devils 17 year, 102 million dollar contract offer to Ilya Kovalchuk. They said the last four years were added on for the sole purpose of driving their salary cap figure down. Now the NHL Players Association has filed a grievance with the league. But the length of these contracts is what gets me. How can you lock a player in for over a decade is beyond me.
Things are pretty bad in Dodger land. The owners are in the middle of a heated divorce. Manny Ramirez is hurt, again. They lost their first six games after the All Star break. Now they are looking up at the top of the NL West from fourth place. If all that weren’t enough, they still pay George Sherrill to come in a pitch for them. What was lost in the debacle the other night is that Sherrill was the one that gave up a two run double in the ninth. He always gives up runs. That is just what he does. They could have done a lot better signing a leper to a $10 contract. Their ERA would be similar and you wouldn’t have to look at a silly goatee.
In this recession how can anyone pick up a paycheck for such ineptitude. You don’t see me going into my coworkers offices and just taking dumps. That’s what Sherrill does. He goes out there and just poops. Then Torre has to go out and clean up after him. Its just nauseating. Well I don’t blame Torre, the front office, or the like. I blame the parents. How people could raise such a lack of production is just beyond me. So please, parents, read to your children. If you don’t they will grow up to pitch like George Sherrill.
Why They’re Here: Nesbitt, Allen and Jones. This backfield trio carried Tech last year to the ACC title with only six scholarship seniors on the team. The triumvirate, which I will absolutely have to think up a name for (I was considering “The Blackfield” but that doesn’t really do them justice), is college football’s most potent rushing attack. Even after 50 years, teams still haven’t figured out how to shut down the triple option – especially when it’s run by the right players.
On defense, the team returns nine starters to a unit that was less than stellar last season. Tech will be instituting the 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Al Groh. If anyone can make the 3-4 a winner it’s Groh, a disciple of Bill Parcells and former Virginia head coach.
The Good: In addition to Nesbitt, Allen and Jones, adding Al Groh to the mix on the defensive headset is huge. Head Coach Paul Johnson’s triple option doesn’t look to be any less effective than it was in 1906 when he first started running it. The best thing about this offense is that it’s always a change of pace for defenses to prepare for. It completely changes the way linebackers, defensive ends and corners have to play. It also forces a defense to play disciplined football. Any team with players looking to make superstar plays instead of covering their assignment is going to get beat. And you couldn’t ask for three better guys to run it, Josh Nesbitt is a triple option coach’s wet dream in terms of running power and decision making. He can also put the ball in the air and make things happen.
The Bad: This ain’t Navy. Johnson has run the triple option successfully in the ACC for two years and as impressive as that is a) It’s been a down couple years in the ACC and b) ACC defensive coordinators get paid a lot more money and have access to a lot more resources. With the drastic improvements all over the conference, Johnson’s triple option will be going up against some serious challenges this year. Now that they’re the champs, the bullseye is squarely on the Yellow Jackets’ back. Then there’s the defense.
Tech was BAD on defense last year, but their offense was able to put up enough points to still win games. Adjusting to a new system and a new coach is usually not the recipe for a championship season, even with a good defense.
The Last Word: Iowa’s victory in last year’s Orange Bowl showed what a team with a strong and disciplined defense could do against the Jackets. Everyone is expecting the defense to be better under Groh, but it remains to be seen whether it was the system or the players that failed Tech last year. Heavy is the crown and Georgia Tech won’t be flying under anyone’s radar this season.
Final Record: 9-4
Why They’re Here: It’s the end of the Tebow era and no one is quite sure what that means. John Brantley is the man now and I think he’s got Peyton Manning Danny Weurffel-level talent. The defense lost five starters and so did the offense, which is a lot of leadership to give to the NFL. How good they are this year will be determined by how well they fill those holes.
The Good: Everyone in Gainesville is excited for John Brantley. He’s not Tim Tebow by a long shot, but he excels in a number of different areas. From what we’ve seen of him in Gator blowouts and this year’s spring game, he’s got a rocket for an arm and is tremendously accurate. They’ve also got freshman Trey Burton and the converted tight end Jordan Reed to run the option. Burton’s feet looked great in the spring game. He had a 76-yard scramble where he ran through tackles and spun around defensive backs.
This year’s recruiting class also has Gator fans doing backflips. Coach Meyer’s class was ranked number one in the nation by both ESPN and Scout.com. Word is, this class could be as good – or better (gasp!) – than the 2006 class that included Tebow, LB Brnadon Spikes, and WRs Percy Harvin and Riley Cooper. While the question of how good this class really is remains to be seen, if they can contribute the way the class of ’06 did, don’t sleep on this team.
The Bad: The Gators are basically playing this season without a senior class. In addition to the notable departures of CB Joe Haden and DE Carlos Dunlap, Florida also lost all-conference tight end Aaron Hernandez, PR/KR/WR Brandon James, one-half of the Pouncey twins, C Maurkice Pouncey; and S Major Wright. This is in addition to the stellar senior class that is gone and of course…this guy http://bit.ly/cDPJ8E. It’s tough enough to lose a leader and a player like Tebow and a group like the 2010 class, but losing most of the big names from the 2011 class may just be too much.
The Last Word: The questions for the Gators this season aren’t at QB, they’re everywhere else. There’s no doubt in my mind that John Brantley will be phenomenal. Had the 2011 class come back for their senior year, I would absolutely have this team rated in the top 5, maybe even in the top 3. But they didn’t. Even with all that, Florida still has the best head coach in the business and the best recruiting class in the nation. If guys like Burton, Jelani Jenkins and Dee Finley can be difference makers for the Gators, they can challenge Alabama again for the SEC title (Alabama-Florida III!). Even if all that happens, Florida’s schedule includes a tough Georgia team this year and Alabama at Tuscaloosa followed by LSU the next week. Add to that, they’ll face the biggest challenge from Florida State they’ve had in seven years.
Final Record: 11-3
Why They’re Here: Some people have the Huskers ranked above the Longhorns and the Sooners in the Big 12 this season. While I’m not going to go that far, I will say this team can be dangerous. Apparently Bo Pelini is a recruiting savant. Since he’s been in Lincoln the Blackshirts are finally back – I know the so-called experts say this every time Nebraska’s defense isn’t pathetic, but I think this is the first year it’s actually been true.
The Good: Bo and baby brother Carl Pelini have the Nebraska defense back at a level of respectability they haven’t had since the 90s. He’s also found his running game with the emergence of Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead. The offense also returns 10 starters, including four out of five offensive linemen.
The Huskers had a top 25 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com, which goes a long way in the ultra competitive Big 12 conference they’ll be leaving next year and the not-at-all competitive Big 12 North.
In fact, the Huskers only challenge in the North this year will come from Missouri, who they devoured 27-12 in a rainy day affair last year. They’ve also wisely replaced Virginia Tech on this year’s schedule with South Dakota State. Save for some monumental hiccup, the Huskers should be 5-0 heading into their October 16 showdown with Texas.
The Bad: The defense returns seven starters from last year’s defense, none of whom are named Ndamukong Suh. Here’s the thing, having a DT who can get 12 sacks, 85 tackles and 10 passes defended in a season will really help hide any deficiencies in your defense. Suh was a monster and probably one of the best to ever play the position (most people probably don’t realize how out-of-this-solar-system those stats are for a defensive tackle). Without him there to disrupt plays and pressure the quarterback, it remains to be seen what Nebraska’s defense is really made of. There’s also the question mark at quarterback. Zac Lee is back, but apparently his spot is being challenged by redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez and sophomore Cody Green, who were very impressive in Nebraska’s spring game. Quarterback controversy is never good for a team. To paraphrase the old adage, if you have three quarterbacks, you have none.
The Last Word: If Nebraska can settle on a starter before the season starts and stick with him through the season and if the defense proves to be more than 10 guys who rode Suh for 14 games last season, they could compete for their final Big 12 Championship. They’re almost assured to be there by virtue of the competition, or lack there of, in the North, but what’s important is what they do when they get there.
Final Record: 9-4
As a coach, Phil Jackson wins championships in threes. His Chicago Bulls won three in a row from 1991-1993. The second three-peat took place between 1996 and 1998. When he changed scenery to Los Angeles, the Lakers won from 2000 to 2002.
The current Lakers have won back-to-back titles. Do they have what it takes to continue the Zenmaster’s trend?
Jackson’s Bulls and Lakers never played in four straight NBA finals. If these Lakers make it to the championship round again that will mean more than 100 games played for four consecutive years.
That type of fatigue will take its toll on any human, even professional athletes. Too much sweat even for the champs. In about 1,460 days the Lakers will have played more than 400 games. That doesn’t include preseason games, practices, morning shootarounds, weight room sessions, media appearances and offseason workouts.
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol also played extensively in international play and the Olympics in 2008. Lamar Odom plans to play in the FIBA World Championship later this summer.
Where’s the rest?
The Health of Andrew Bynum
If he’s healthy, the Lakers are unstoppable. During their three years in the finals, Bynum was never 100 percent.
Against the Celtics in 2008 he wasn’t even active. Last season against the Magic, Bynum was coming off a regular season injury. This year, he missed a handful of games to finish the year and was hobbled during the playoffs. Bynum had his knee drained during the NBA finals and played just enough to squeak through the championship.
Bynum had impressive numbers during the regular season. The Lakers need his size, rebounding and ability to block or change shots. Without him, they have a gaping hole at center. Gasol could fill in admirably, but his natural position is power forward.
Lack of Depth
Whenever money becomes an issue it could change the dynamic of the team. Certainly, that will be the case with the Lakers. They have many free agents.
The team’s core will be intact, but what about the role players? Those are a serious question mark.
They have no point guards as Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar may all be gone. DJ Mbenga, Josh Powell and Adam Morrison aren’t in the Lakers’ future.
Brown recently announced he would opt out of his two-year deal.
Will Los Angeles be able to field a team? Which brings the next obstacle …
They Won’t Get Better
The Lakers have had the best eight-man rotation in the league the last two years. Bryant, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Ron Artest, Fisher, Farmar and Brown delivered two straight titles.
The only change from the ‘09 championship was at small forward. Trevor Ariza was a slasher who could hit open shots and defend the perimeter. Artest wasn’t the same type of offensive player, but his brute strength helped the Lakers match Boston’s physicality.
So will they get better? Probably not. They need backcourt help and an experienced big man. A three-man rotation of Bynum, Gasol and Odom works — if neither of them are in foul trouble or injured. A fourth frontcourt player is needed.
Not improving their roster will only diminish the Lakers’ chances of winning another title. In 2003, the Lakers did nothing to improve their stock which led to them getting stopped by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round. Not adding quality players will only help the rest of the league catch up.
The NBA Will Get Better
During the Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe years the NBA was chasing the Lakers. The same thing is happening again. Through trades, free agency and sheer willpower, the rest of the league — the Western Conference especially — has to catch up.
The only question is when. What team has the best chance to knock off the Lakers? Boston might be too old, Phoenix and Cleveland could lose Amare Stoudemire and LeBron James, and Oklahoma City is still a bit green. Some team will step its game up.
Jackson has announced that he wants to return to the Lakers. But will a coach make up the difference if the Lakers’ talent isn’t the same?
Los Angeles’ run has to end some time. It might be next year.
Why They’re Here: The Badgers return 10 starters on offense from a team that finished last year with 10 wins. It looks like the Badgers are back to hard-nosed, grind-it-out football, with a renewed commitment to running the ball. They’ve also got QB Scott Tolzien returning as the guy who gets the ball from the center and hands it off, which is a definite plus. Tolzien may not be a big stud with first-round potential, but he’s a senior and he’s had experience in the offense, which is always a good thing.
The Good: Wisconsin should have the best one-two punch of running backs in the Big (12?) Ten. All-conference hoss RB John Clay will bring the wood and at 6’2 and 247 lbs, defenders would be advised to watch out. Clay is a big, bad man who brings to mind recollections of Ron Dayne…and Shaft. The Badgers also have a great change of pace back in Montee Ball, who – at 5’11, 225 – is no punk, himself. These two big, beefy beasts will be running behind a line that returns all five starters, including All-Big Ten OT Gabe Carimi and OG John Moffitt.
The Bad: The defense will need to be rebuilt and Tolzien will need to be effective for the Badgers to be anything other than the third best team in the conference. And he will have even greater expectations now that backup Curt Phillips has torn his ACL and will be out for the season. If Tolzien is truly plebian, the Badgers could even finish fourth in the conference like they did last year.
The Last Word: This team will go as far as Tolzien takes them. Teams are going to load the box to try to stop Clay and will probably be daring the Badgers to throw on them. I’m confident that with Ball and RB Zach Brown to spell him, Clay will be a destructive highlight machine this year, the question is whether that will translate into big wins or just SportsCenter highlights. If the Badgers can put some wins together (they play Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Iowa back-to-back-to-back-to-back) Clay could be a finalist for the Heisman and this team could compete for the Big (12?) Ten title.
Final Record: 9-4
* The Celtics will complain for the rest of eternity that Kendrick Perkins didn’t play in game seven. Newsflash! Perkins wouldn’t prevent 23 offensive rebounds. He’s not Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain. Hell, he’s not even Dennis Rodman.
And remember, Rasheed Wallace gave the C’s much-needed offense. With Perkins it’s like playing four on five. Try getting the ball in the hoop like that. Boston gave the ball to Wallace in the post consistently. Wallace, the man with the most ejections in NBA history, scored the Celtics’ first bucket. All night he kicked the ball out of the post and ended up with 11 points.
Perkins can’t come close to doing that on offense. Wallace can at least come close to doing Perkins’ dirty work on defense.
* Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he thinks Wallace has played his last game. Before game seven Wallace told Rivers that he planned on retiring. Several sources have confirmed that statement.
If this is true, the career of the enigmatic and energetic Wallace will be a serious loss for the league. Supremely talented and short tempered, Wallace won a title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. His erratic antics didn’t earn him favors from the referees, who had no trouble whistling him for technicals.
For years he was one of the league leaders in this category, getting nailed for more than 306 technical fouls during his career.
Wallace had the ability to be one of the most talented players in the league. His dangerous post-up game and shooting range stretched the floor, causing numerous match-up problems, even with big men.
Good luck, Rasheed. You were an interesting character.
* Viewers tuned in to the NBA finals. The largest sporting event is the Super Bowl, but that’s one day. ABC and the NBA got their money’s worth.
A seven-game series in the NBA finals is rare and with a throwback series between the Lakers and Celtics you knew there would be butts in front of TVs.
An estimated 28.2 million people watched game seven which pales in comparison to Super Bowl XLIV’s gargantuan audience: more than 106 million, the most watched event in U.S. television history, surpassing even the “M-A-S-H” series finale in 1983.
While the ratings combined don’t quite measure up to the Super Bowl, it was a ratings victory for the NBA. This year’s championship clincher was the highest watched game since Michael Jordan won his last championship in 1998.
Two weeks worth of viewers coupled with hefty advertising means big bucks. The ratings can never match the might of one Super Bowl, but seven games can at least sniff the ratings title of the king of sports.
* Had the Lakers not won a championship the blame would have been on Ron Artest.
The only major change to this year’s roster, Artest, in place of the lanky Trevor Ariza, looked like a bust until the playoffs started.
Artest’s shooting was erratic, clanging open shots all season long and through the first two rounds of the playoffs. But his defense was stout during all of this. And he found his shooting touch against Phoenix.
In game seven against the Celtics, Artest carried the Lakers through three quarters. At one point he was the game’s leading scorer. Late in the fourth quarter he hit a three-point shot that gave the Lakers a cushion to hold off Boston.
Artest played with exceptional high school players in his younger days. Now he has joined Lamar Odom as the only player to win an NBA title from those years. He had played with Elton Brand, Brendan Haywood, Erick Barkley and Speedy Claxton.
Now he’s a champion instead of the goat many people thought he was the entire season.
* What team did WNBA star Candace Parker root for in the NBA finals? The Los Angeles Sparks NBA counterpart, the Lakers, or the Celtics, the team her husband, Sheldon Williams, plays for? The team that plays in her home arena or the breadwinner in the family?
Wait, is he the breadwinner? Actually, he is. Despite being a scrub in the NBA, Williams’ paycheck is much fatter than the female superstar. Parker, one of the most popular players in the WNBA makes $44,000 while Williams, an NBA journeyman, earns more than $800,000.
Conventional wisdom says she was pulling for hubs. But the Lakers winning must help the Sparks, right? Maybe? Who knows? It can’t hurt.
With low pay such as that how does the WNBA keep operating? The financial backing of the big brother NBA, that’s how.
* Kobe Bryant was asked what does winning a fifth championship mean?
“I got one more than Shaq,” Bryant said. “You can take that to the bank.”
Obviously, Kobe hasn’t gotten over the Shaquille O’Neal feud. Bryant and his teammate, Derek Fisher, have the most championships among active players.
At this point in their careers it is unlikely Shaq can catch Kobe. The Black Mamba is still playing at a high level and Pau Gasol is there to help with the heavy lifting.
Kobe’s earned the right to talk trash.
After all, it was Shaq who started the juvenile hijinks in 2008 after the Lakers got housed by the Celtics.
Boston made Los Angeles look silly, especially Bryant who looked, well, human, against the Celtics’ stingy defense.
After the NBA finals that year, Shaq ripped into Bryant, grabbing a microphone at a party and taunting his former running mate. “Kobe, tell me how my ass tastes,” Shaq dissed over and over.
After Kobe’s most recent jab, Shaq took it like a champ, updating his Twitter with this response: “Congratulations Kobe, u deserve it. U played great. Enjoy it man enjoy it. I know what ur sayin ‘Shaq how my ass taste.’”
The former Shaqtus, Man of Steel and three-time NBA finals MVP is taking it in stride. Good for him.
* The end of the veteran, gritty Celtics could be near. Rivers has announced he will be back, but the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce will only slow with age. Allen is a free agent and Pierce has opted out of his contract
General Manager Danny Ainge may gut the team that has been to the championship round two out of the last three years.
Boston’s run to the finals this year was improbable. As talented as Rajon Rondo is, another run seems almost impossible.
The Celtics craze will die down, but their resurrection literally came out of nowhere. Before KG and Jesus Shuttlesworth came on board they stunk. Certified losers.
Ainge pulled a rabbit out of his hat and with the right role players they went from being in the lottery to winning a championship.
Any GM would take that.
* Poor, poor Los Angeles Lakers. After having the highest payroll in the league the higher-ups are complaining that they are spending too much.
So instead of signing players, taking care of coach Phil Jackson and just basically ensuring that they are on track to win another title they are tightening belts.
Perhaps Odom will be moved. They might downgrade in the backcourt. A new coach could be on the sidelines (some of that has to do with health).
It doesn’t look good, Lakers fans.
After all, what an awful scenario for a franchise to have: they just won back-to-back titles and the dire money situation is that the Lakers only made $15 million to $20 million.
That’s right, during a recession this kind of cash was made. Every team in the NBA would love to win a championship while “only” netting $15 million to $20 million. Grow up, Lakers management.
Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street” said greed is good, but this is ridiculous.