Archives for posts with tag: NBA

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON THIS PAGE IN 2013 and 2017.

What if?  It’s the saddest sentence in the English language that says so much yet nothing of substance at the same time.  Today is the 56th anniversary of the JFK assassination- if it were an actual person the assassination is now ten years older than the man was when he was killed.  Instead of wondering what the world would have been like had Kennedy lived, six ears ago I imagined a world with Lenny Bias living past that dark day of June 1986.

 

NOVEMBER 18, 2013—Len Bias turns 50.

 The University of Maryland honors its Basketball Hall of Famer with a star-studded evening…almost a “This is Your Life” at the Comcast Center (popularly called the “Driesell Dome”).

Lefty Driesell’s expected to make the trip up from Virginia Beach where he’s enjoyed retirement since stepping down in 2002.  After posting 696 wins over 32 seasons as Terps coach the longtime rival of Dean Smith left the game same time his constant nemesis did (Driesell joked that “Dean was done in ’97…but only stuck around so I wouldn’t have a crack at his record”).  Although Bias didn’t lead Lefty to the Final Four, he helped set the stage for the recruiting classes that finally did in 1991.  They’d lose to to Gary Williams’ Ohio State Buckeyes;  despite the disappointment it was something special to see Williams get the most out of top recruit Jimmy Jackson.  OSU would fall to Duke in the finals that year because the Blue Devils always got the calls then but the seeds were sown for an era of Terrapin dominance in the decade of the 90’s.  Lawrence Moten arrived on campus that fall and scored over 2,000 points (try imagine the unassuming guard with high socks pulling that act in the rough and tumble Big East)… and with Joe Smith dominating inside the Terps would reach the Final Four again in 1994 and ’95.  Smith and Moten would end their careers by beating UCLA for the championship in 1995.  This allowed Lefty to finally say that Maryland was in fact the “UCLA of the East”, to the surprise of absolutely no one.

Larry Bird’s supposed to fly in from Indianapolis…his back that gave him issues in the late 80’s after the Celtics’ third championship in a row needed more surgery this past summer.  Remember Boston coach KC Jones trademarking “Boston Three Party” and making a mint off the merchandising?  Savvy move.  Kevin McHale will be in town as well;  how about when as a rookie Bias stepped into the starting lineup so McHale could fully recover from foot surgery for the playoffs?  That not only allowed the Celtics to repeat as champs in 1987 but also kept McHale in prime shape for the ’88 and ’91 title runs.  Robert Parish may bring down the house with his deadpan wit (“the closest I came to smiling was watching Lenny play”).

Michael Jordan will be on hand as well.  The duo’s rivalry defined the decade like Bird & Magic or Russell & Wilt.  Jordan’s Bulls ended the Bird era by bouncing the defending champs in 1992…and although it took a while for the “Bias Bunch” to reload they were able to keep key cogs like Rick Fox and Brian Shaw on the roster to let the new talent know what it meant to be a true Celtic.  Titles in 1996, 98 and 2000 bookended Bias’ first three championships.  The last one was especially sweet as the Celtics beat a new generation of Lakers in Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant…especially with Larry Bird in the front office.  Bias probably kept Jordan from winning five or six rings.

And even though he coached a different sport, Bobby Ross will make an appearance…probably to bask in the 25th anniversary of the National Championship team that upset Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.  When Bias left College Park, Ross was fresh off guiding the Terps to a 9-3 season (with losses to eventual #2 Michigan, #3 Penn St. and #9 Miami)…and with a supportive Athletic Department Maryland was able to take things to the next level over the next decade.  Ross finally retired after the 2000 season, handing the program to Ralph Friedgen who promptly led the Terps to another ACC Title and an Orange Bowl in his first season.

What a celebration– and what a what-if.   It’s still too soon–over 33 years later.

We don’t often have Christmas in June, but the local NBA team delivered just that.  The Wizards traded their second round pick to New Orleans for Pelicans guard Tim Frazier.  The Penn State product fills a major need for the Wiz as he’ll be expected to back up John Wall;  Frazier averaged 7 points and 5 assists over 24 minutes per game last season.  If there was one deficiency with this 49-win team that screamed over all of the others, it was the second unit.  And second unit efficiency begins with a productive point guard.

What’s also nice is we won’t have to see which player they’ll take in the second round.  Since Ernie Grunfeld came on board over a decade ago.  The Witness Protection Progam should envy the Wizards’ second round success…although there aren’t a lot of players who stick in the NBA once you get to pick #45.

Here’s a glimpse at what the Wizards have wrought over this decade…:

2016- nothing.  The first rounder was dealt for Markieff Morris and the second rounder went towards bringing Kelly Oubre Jr. to DC. Two pieces that are much more promising than Georgios Papagiannis (the Suns’ pick) and Isaia Cordinier (Atlanta’s selection).  The only rookie worth mentioning this past winter was Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon, selected by Milwaukee with the 36th choice.

2015- forward Jerian Grant (Notre Dame) in the first round, forward Aaron White (Iowa) in the second.  Grant was dealt to Atlanta as part of the Oubre deal and is now with Chicago (averaging 17 minutes per game last season).  White has yet to play a minute in the league and the 11 players picked below him have played a combined six games in the NBA.

2014- the first rounder went to Phoenix as part of the deal that delivered Marcin Gortat. The Suns took Tyler Ennis with that selection–and the guard has been traded three times in three seasons as a pro.  The second round saw the Wiz take Jordan Clarkson (forward, Missouri) with the 46th overall selection…and then trade the combo guard to the Lakers for cash considerations.  Clarkson is one of the more productive players from that draft, averaging 14 points over 70 plus games for LA in the last three years.  Nobody taken after Clarkson has seen a third year in the NBA.

2013- Georgetown forward Otto Porter went third overall and is one of the ten most productive players from that draft (according to “win shares” on basketball-reference.com).  Question is, can they sign the forward this summer?  Both second round picks were traded to Philadelphia that night:  South Dakota State guard Nate Wolters (38th selection) played 79 games in the NBA and spent this past season playing pro ball in Belgrade (Serbia) while Oregon forward Arsalan Kazemi didn’t play a regular season minute in the league.  That’s life after the early second round-only three players picked after Wolters reached a fourth year in the NBA.

2012- Florida forward Bradley Beal went third overall and has more than answered expectations during his five years with the team. Tomas Satoransky from the Czech Republic was taken 32nd overall…and averaged 13 minutes over 57 games this past winter in his first season with the team.  Time to hide your eyes:  Jae Crowder, Draymond Green and Khris Middleton were picked 34th, 35th and 39th that year.

2011- Jan Vesely.  With the sixth pick.  The Czech Republic forward voraciously made out with his girlfriend on draft night…and that was the highlight of his tenure in DC. Vesely averaged 4 points and 4 rebounds per game over two years with the team…and saw his NBA career end in 2014 with Denver.  Who did they miss out on? Kemba Walker (9th) and Klay Thompson (11th) would have looked nice not making out with their girlfriends and even nicer in the red, white and blue.  Florida State forward Chris Singleton seemed to be a decent pick at #18…but the Seminole washed out of the league after three years at 4 points per game.  Available? Tobias Harris (#19) and Jimmy Butler (#30).  The Wizard took Shelvin Mack with the 34th overall selection;  the Butler guard has developed into a productive pro–just not in DC.  Guards available at the time?  Forward Chandler Parsons (38th) and guard Isaiah Thomas (60th and last player selected). Ugh.

2010- Before you go off about how easy it is to get the #1 pick right, think about Kwame Brown.  Kentucky freshman guard John Wall has been the player this franchise has been built around over the last seven years, and he’s developed into one of the best point guards in the league.  Paul George may have more “win shares” and a higher “value over replacement player”, but would you rather have the guy who’s trying everything he can to get out of Indy?  The team took Marquette swingman Lazar Hayward and Serbian forward Nemanja Bjelica with the 30th and 35th overall selections…and neither would play a regular season minute with the Wiz.  Both were shipped to Minnesota for Trevor Booker and Hamady N’Diaye.  Hayward was out the of the league after three years and 72 games while Bjelica didn’t play in the NBA until the 2015-16 season with the Timberwolves;  he averaged 11 minutes per game last winter.  Only two players of significance were taken after the 35th pick:  Landry Fields (Knicks-39th) and Lance Stephenson (40th-Indiana).

So in the last seven drafts we’ve seen a couple of slam-dunks and a couple of air-balls.  So brace yourselves when selections #22 and #52 are announced…

What if?  It’s the saddest sentence in the English language that says so much yet nothing of substance at the same time.  Thirty-one years ago today Len Bias died from a drug overdose, sending his school and his future employer into separate spirals that clouded both the University of Maryland and the Boston Celtics.  Three and a half years ago I imagined what Lenny’s 50th birthday extravaganza in College Park would have been like.  It was a pleasant distraction from another 50th anniversary–the JFK assassination.  So we’re always imagining a better world.

 

NOVEMBER 18, 2013—Len Bias turns 50.

 The University of Maryland honors its Basketball Hall of Famer with a star-studded evening…almost a “This is Your Life” at the Comcast Center (popularly called the “Driesell Dome”).

Lefty Driesell’s expected to make the trip up from Virginia Beach where he’s enjoyed retirement since stepping down in 2002.  After posting 696 wins over 32 seasons as Terps coach the longtime rival of Dean Smith left the game same time his constant nemesis did (Driesell joked that “Dean was done in ’97…but only stuck around so I wouldn’t have a crack at his record”).  Although Bias didn’t lead Lefty to the Final Four, he helped set the stage for the recruiting classes that finally did in 1991.  They’d lose to to Gary Williams’ Ohio State Buckeyes;  despite the disappointment it was something special to see Williams get the most out of top recruit Jimmy Jackson.  OSU would fall to Duke in the finals that year because the Blue Devils always got the calls then but the seeds were sown for an era of Terrapin dominance in the decade of the 90’s.  Lawrence Moten arrived on campus that fall and scored over 2,000 points (try imagine the unassuming guard with high socks pulling that act in the rough and tumble Big East)… and with Joe Smith dominating inside the Terps would reach the Final Four again in 1994 and ’95.  Smith and Moten would end their careers by beating UCLA for the championship in 1995.  This allowed Lefty to finally say that Maryland was in fact the “UCLA of the East”, to the surprise of absolutely no one.

Larry Bird’s supposed to fly in from Indianapolis…his back that gave him issues in the late 80’s after the Celtics’ third championship in a row needed more surgery this past summer.  Remember Boston coach KC Jones trademarking “Boston Three Party” and making a mint off the merchandising?  Savvy move.  Kevin McHale will be in town as well;  how about when as a rookie Bias stepped into the starting lineup so McHale could fully recover from foot surgery for the playoffs?  That not only allowed the Celtics to repeat as champs in 1987 but also kept McHale in prime shape for the ’88 and ’91 title runs.  Robert Parish may bring down the house with his deadpan wit (“the closest I came to smiling was watching Lenny play”).

Michael Jordan will be on hand as well.  The duo’s rivalry defined the decade like Bird & Magic or Russell & Wilt.  Jordan’s Bulls ended the Bird era by bouncing the defending champs in 1992…and although it took a while for the “Bias Bunch” to reload they were able to keep key cogs like Rick Fox and Brian Shaw on the roster to let the new talent know what it meant to be a true Celtic.  Titles in 1996, 98 and 2000 bookended Bias’ first three championships.  The last one was especially sweet as the Celtics beat a new generation of Lakers in Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant…especially with Larry Bird in the front office.  Bias probably kept Jordan from winning five or six rings.

And even though he coached a different sport, Bobby Ross will make an appearance…probably to bask in the 25th anniversary of the National Championship team that upset Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.  When Bias left College Park, Ross was fresh off guiding the Terps to a 9-3 season (with losses to eventual #2 Michigan, #3 Penn St. and #9 Miami)…and with a supportive Athletic Department Maryland was able to take things to the next level over the next decade.  Ross finally retired after the 2000 season, handing the program to Ralph Friedgen who promptly led the Terps to another ACC Title and an Orange Bowl in his first season.

What a celebration– and what a what-if.   It’s still too soon–31 years later.

PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-the sports department wrote “fantasy pieces” on the next DC area team to win a championship (we all know the correct answer is the Washington Kastles)…and I drew the Wiz.

Do not make vacation plans next spring.  Plan on purchasing red, white and blue shorts for next June’s championship parade.  Or at the very latest a parade in 2018…when those shorts will still be in fashion.  Yes, the Washington Wizards are that close to winning an NBA Championship.

This year’s playoff miss?  Merely a bend in the road as opposed to an end of the road for this young nucleus.  Coach Randy Wittman has to be credited for building a new culture and playoff contender, but he wasn’t the guy to take this team to the next level.  It happens often in the NBA when a Rick Carlisle (2004 Pistons), KC Jones (70’s Bullets) or Avery Johnson (2008 Mavericks) outlives their usefulness…and the next guy gets it done.  Brooks is a proven winner, an sharper tactician and a better communicator than his predecessor and that will help this team reach not only the conference finals for the first time since 1979 but win a title for the first time since 1978.  Has it really been that long?

The Wizards title run begins with point guard John Wall.  The Former #1 draft pick remains the catalyst on both ends of the floor and Brooks will get to the All-Star and make him more vigilant defensively and a better game manager offensively.  Sometimes a different voice spurs a player from very good to great.  Bradley Beal should shake the injury bug after being handcuffed the last few years and flourish.  No longer hampered by not getting along with his coach, Marcin Gortat will show us why this team is paying him 12 million dollars a season.  Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre will benefit from a new coach as well.

The big boost comes this summer in the form of free agent fish.  We all know that the big fish is Kevin Durant…and if the Montrose Christian product elects to return to DC this team will be mentioned in the same breath as the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Even if they don’t land Durant, there are more than a few productive pieces out there that can contribute to the Wall-Beal guided nucleus.

The road to the title is a little easier as the “Washington” means the district and not the state.  The Eastern Conference is a little more manageable than the West…with two teams winning over 50 regular season games this year.  Even though Lebron James and whichever coach he wants at the moment resides in Cleveland (for now), the Cavaliers are getting older.  Toronto?  The Raptors are a couple of free agent defections away from being .500-and don’t think that won’t happen with Canadian taxes and weather coming into play.  A retooled and refocused team plus the right coach doesn’t have that much to leapfrog in order to be playing for a title next June.  And it will be against a Western Conference team battered from three rough rounds.  Sometimes luck and where you live make just enough of a difference.

So buy your lawn chairs for the parade.  Update your wardrobe so your Wizards t-shirt fits.  And by all means get some sunscreen.  Because it will be sunny and hot on the day this team holds its NBA Championship parade.  I’ve even purchased red, white and blue colored lenses for my glasses.  In fact, I’m wearing them now.

Previously Appearing on WTOP.COM…and even though the coaching search is over, word is that Brooks hasn’t put his name on the dotted line just yet.

 

Last May the world of the Washington Wizards revolved around the shaky sun of “what if”.  What if John Wall didn’t fracture his hand in Game 1 against Atlanta?  What if Paul Pierce’s three counted in Game Six?  What if the Hawks didn’t hit a last-second shot in Game Five?  Last fall, plenty of optimism surrounded a young team that had made the playoffs consecutive years and was only going to get better.  Only they didn’t.  For the 2015-16 Wizards, the high point was a 2-0 start that came crashing to earth with a home loss to the hot-mess Knicks.  A 6-5 mark in December would be the last time they’d have a winning record.  A maddening game of tag with the .500 mark while chasing teams ahead of them seemingly running in place would take over the season’s final three months.  A three-game winning streak to end the season would provide little consolation as a 41-41 mark meant no playoffs and the end of the Randy Wittman regime.  What happened?  What now?  And What’s next?

 

What Happened?

It became apparent early in the season that this team was not the same defensively as the previous two units that made the postseason:  last year’s team allowed the 10th fewest points in the league and was second in lowest opponents’ field goal percentage.  They were tied for third in rebounding margin, ranked 6th in turnover margin and were 14th in defending the 3-point shot.  This season’s edition finished 21st in points allowed, 23rd in opponents’ shooting, 25th in rebounding margin,  and 26th in turnover margin as well as defending the three.

Perhaps going with a smaller lineup and playing at a quicker pace exposed this team.  Coach Randy Wittman said that after the All Star Break they tinkered defensively and were much better down the stretch.  They also lost 284 man-games to injury, third most in the NBA.  But this was still a team that could never find the consistency necessary to make a playoff push.  The locker room was also reportedly fed up with Wittman’s motivational style and more than a few had checked out by April.  Wittman should be remembered as the guy who inherited the hot mess of Nick Young, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee and made this franchise somewhat respectable.  Instead, he’ll be recalled as the coach who got the Wizards to a certain level but couldn’t break the 50-win barrier.  There is consolation for Wittman:  he departs DC as the winningest Wizards/Bullets coach in the playoffs (12-9, .571).

 

What Now?

General Manager Ernie Grunfeld has been with the team since 2003 but has made for all intents and purposes just one coaching hire:  Flip Saunders in 2009.  (Eddie Jordan was hired 11 days before Grunfeld joined the team and Ed Tapscott finished the 2008-09 season after Jordan was fired, while Randy Wittman was promoted from assistant when Flip was fired before being retained as head coach).  What sort of coaching hire will he make this time…and how much power would he give up to get the coach necessary to lead John Wall & company to the next level?  Ex-Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau has already been snapped up by Minnesota…and that might be a good thing as he has a history of playing starters a ton of minutes and Bradley Beal is known for his minutes restriction.

Scott Brooks is the hot candidate.  The former Oklahoma City coach has a history with Grunfeld, having played with the Knicks in 1996-97.  He also has a .620 winning percentage in the NBA and has experience dealing with superstars of John Wall’s level (ever hear of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook?).  His recent history with Durant may be an intriguing bargaining chip as the Montrose Christian product is due to become a free agent this summer.

Mike D’Antoni is the guy who you would have wanted to hire if he was fresh from leading a basketball revolution in Phoenix…as opposed to the one who led the Knicks and Lakers on long roads to nowhere.

Mark Jackson was successful in building Golden State to the point where Steve Kerr could take over and lead them to a title, but Jackson had issues getting along with others in the Warriors front office.  Would Ernie be cool with “creative conflict”?

Sam Cassell was an assistant with the Wizards during the early years of Beal and Wall…and he’s won as a player (3 NBA titles with Houston and Boston).  Can this team afford to burn a year of John Wall’s prime in order to get a rookie head coach up to speed?

 

What’s Next?

The new coach might not have 100% say in personnel matters, but this will be a different team in 2016-17.  While their top five players (by minutes played per game) return, seven become unrestricted free agents while two more become restricted free agents and Drew Gooden has a non-guaranteed team option.  That leaves plenty of cap room for summer shopping.  Anybody notable hitting the market this summer?  Anyone with DC area ties?  The elephant in the Wizards’ long-term planning room for the last few seasons has been Kevin Durant…and even though his mother says KD’s stating put in OKC, the Wiz will make a genuine run at him.  Other frontcourt big splash possibilities include power forwards Al Horford and Larry Sanders as well as small forwards Harrison Barnes and Nicholas Batum.  A big question surrounds the status of Bradley Beal: he is a restricted free agent and is reportedly looking for a max contract.  But the guard has shown a knack for being banged up, having made 60 starts just once in his four year career.  Does the ghost of previous max deals (ahem, Gilbert Arenas anyone?) haunt this front office as they make a decision on Beal?

What also remains to be seen is which-if any-players with expiring contracts return.  Brazilian big man Nene’s off to compete for his nation at home in the Summer Olympics;  who knows what happens after that as he’s 33 years old and has been limited as of late by injuries.  Drew Gooden has played well when healthy-but he’s 34 and needs ice bags on his knees more often than not after games. Jared Dudley admits he’s “not a first, second or even third option for most teams” but wouldn’t mind returning.  Ramon Sessions played in all 82 games this past season and averaged 18 points and 10 assists while starting the last five games of the year.  Both are decent “glue players” every good team needs, but each is 30 years old.  Garrett Temple is 29 and mentioned that the Wizards were the first team where he actually felt like he was owning instead of renting (4 years in DC after spending first his two years with five different teams)…but may be one of those players who gets lost in the shuffle with a coaching change.  Alan Anderson says he’d like to return to justify the 4 million dollars the Wizards paid him for just 13 games…but what will he cost and what should a GM risk given Anderson’s recent injury history?

Twelve months removed from what felt like the best May in the franchise history since the 1970’s…the Wizards brass has more than enough questions on their plate.  The next twelve weeks will go a long way towards determining how Ernie Grunfeld’s tenure as team architect will be remembered.

 

Summer came later this year for the winter residents of Verizon Center…for the first time ever the Wizards and Capitals advanced to the second round of their respective playoffs.  Sadly the confidence of sweeping Toronto and the buzz of a seventh game triumph over the Islanders washed away with each team losing three straight games en route to similar summer vacations.  Plenty of progress made on each front– but exits that while aren’t unexpected (both lost to the conference’s top seed) still keep the teams in a familiar place.  Not even in position to get in position for a possible title.  The Capitals haven’t been to a conference final since 1998–despite more than a few chances with a multiple MVP winner.  The Wizards–let’s go back to 1979 when the Bullets were last in the NBA’s Final Four.  That was the year that Magic and Bird met in the NCAA’s Final Four–a demarcation line dividing pro hoops Jurassic Era from the “Birmagijordan Era” (apologies for an unwieldy mashup) that powered the league’s ascendance over a 20 year span (for those scoring at home…I guess the “modern” era of Duncan/Lebron is in its latter stages, I just need to come up with an equally bad title).  It’s been a while since either team had a chance to play for a title–what needs to be addressed as each reloads for a run?

 

The Wizards saw a 2-1 lead (thanks to Paul Pierce’s last-second basket) evaporate despite the late-game heroics of Paul Pierce:  yes, the truth is he missed a game-tying three at the end of Game 4–but his three put the club ahead briefly in Game 5 and his game-tying 3 was waved off in Game 6. Fans not only have those what-ifs to deal with, but the absence of John Wall for three games with 5 non-displaced fractures in his left wrist and hand will have the faithful thinking they could have swept the Hawks (fans are fun that way).  Their 46 wins were the most since the 1978-79 title season.  Can they build on that or will this be like previous nucleus peaks of 2005 (45 wins and a sweep by Miami in the 2nd round), 1997 (44 victories and a sweep by Chicago in the 1st round) or 1987 (sadly, 42 wins and a sweep by Detroit was as good as it got in the 80’s)?  Wizards’ needs include a producer inside (Nene was negligible in the postseason) and a second unit sparkplug (Otto Porter showed flashes in the postseason, but was always better when playing with the starters).  Kevin Seraphin picked a great time to let everybody know he becomes a free agent– his 13 points and 8 rebounds was the one frontcourt bright spot in the Game 6 loss (although Nene notched 11 rebounds, the Brazilian Big Man, Paul Pierce and food-poisoned Marcin Gortat shot 4-18).  Other players hitting the free agent market are Drew Gooden (who’s been a nice veteran presence on this club), Rasual Butler (who played in just 2 playoff games) and Will Bynum (who notched 19 points in 27 minutes against the Hawks in the playoffs).  Paul Pierce and Garrett Temple have player options;  while the 37-year old Pierce suffers from excessive mileage and might just decide to call it a career…you’d hope they’d find a way to bring #34 back.  Temple was hurt late in the season–and his money might be better spent elsewhere.  On the bright side, Andray Blatche’s amnestied contract finally clears the books this summer.

 

The Capitals didn’t necessary collapse in their Eastern Conference Semifinal Series with the Rangers–but it’s tough to ignore a blown late lead in Game 5 followed by sluggish start in Game 6.  The Game 6 implosion–although they rallied to make it a one-goal game–is what concerns me.  It was at home.  There was a chance to advance and they coughed up early and late first period goals.  Say what you will about the overtime losses in Games 5 and 7–but the one that still stings is the Mother’s Day defeat.  Year one under Barry Trotz saw a return to the playoffs…and another 50-goal season for Alex Ovechkin and another 60-assist season for Nicklas Backstrom.  Not to mention iron-man goaltender Braden Holtby (Glenn Hall, watch your back).  As always, it feels like the Caps are closer than the Wiz but there are still a few roadblocks on the highway to the Cup Finals.  Can they find a front-line scorer to compliment Ovechkin and Backstrom?  Only Spinal Tap drummers had similar shelf lives this winter on that line.  Will they get a solid second-line center to maximize the likes of Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky?  Do they even try to re-sign Mike Green?  It’s been six years since the defenseman’s offensive numbers peaked with 31 goals and 42 assists.  How do they address in-season acquisitions with expiring contracts like Curtis Glencross  and Tim Gleason?  Other unrestricted free agents include Eric Fehr, Jay Beagle and Joel Ward.  We’ll learn this summer if they were simply holdovers from the previous regime or guys Trotz wants in his dressing room.  Kuznetsov, Marcus Johannson and Braden Holtby are restricted free agents this summer.  Keeping #70 in DC is priority #1.

 

 

It’s amazing how different college basketball’s tournament is from its pro hoops version.  While the NCAA Tournament is a single elimination sprint–most of which is squeezed in over three weekends–the NBA’s four round marathon stretches out over three months.  Where every little variable comes into play during the Big Dance…the slow waltz usually comes down to talent and focus.  Instead of having to prepare for a team’s zone press or a player you’ve never seen on the floor, teams get opponents they’ve met at least twice during the regular season up to seven straight times.  Sometimes schemes and wrinkles do come into play…but more often than not talent wins out.

 

The Wizards are trying to take a 2-0 series lead over Chicago this evening.  They haven’t led in any series 2-0 since 1982 when first round series were best of three…and haven’t led 2-0 in a best of seven series lead since 1975 (Eastern Conference Finals against Boston–they’d win 4-2 before getting swept by Golden State in the NBA Finals).  Coach Randy Wittman was a freshman at Indianapolis Ben Davis High School that spring…

 

“Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence”.  Let the record show the Wizards rallied from a 2-0 deficit to the Bulls in the 2005 first round (oh the days of Gilbert Arenas)…but that was after Chicago won games one and two in the windy city.  Rarely does a team bounce back after starting 0-2 at home.  While it’s unlikely Nene will duplicate his 24 points and 8 rebounds from Game 1…Bradley Beal and John Wall will likely shoot better than a combined 7-for-25.  Can they continue to dominate defensively (held Bulls to 42%FG, 5-20 from 3 pt range)?  The dance continues against a coach respected for being a master tactician in Tom Thibodeau (no truth to the rumor he switches spelling his name to “Thom Tibodeau” after losses to gain an edge).

 

 

April is “anomaly or trend” month in baseball– because there are 162 games in a regular season a team’s highs and lows are always amplified in the first month.  It’s natural because as opposed to a hot streak or slump in July or August, there’s no previous body of work that season to use as a base.  Tyler Clippard’s less than ideal April saw the setup man allow 4 runs in the 8th inning of Monday’s loss to the Angels.  He’s been solid in that role before and the idea is not to panic this early…but when does an occurance become a trend?  Same case with Ian Desmond–the shortstop leads the majors in errors at his position (9 in 20 games) and committed two in the 8th last night (the first one jumpstarting the 4-run inning for the Angels).  Do you give Desmond a day off to clear his head?  Do you move Drew Storen into the 8th inning role to give the bullpen another late option?  Right now Manager Matt Williams is sticking with both in their current roles… and just like his aggressive base running has cost the team in some short-term situations, one has to buy into the longterm focus.

 

Boston Stronger– the city ran its annual Marathon yesterday…and for the first time since 1983 an American won.  Forgive me for completely forgetting Greg Meyer…but I thought Alberto Salazar was the last US runner to win in Beantown.  Meb Keflezighi finished first while Kenyan Rita Jeptoo set a women’s course record.  Clarksville, Maryland resident Tatyana McFadden won the women’s wheelchair division–on her birthday.  But the biggest winner was a city trying to heal itself one year after it was turned upside-down.  Patriot’s Day celebrates not just the birth of a nation but how a group of people banded together to claim their home–and it was nice to see the city of Boston stand proud once again.

For some, Miami finished off San Antonio by closing the same door in game seven the Spurs couldn’t close in game six; the Heat’s 95-88 win brought confetti to the court on South Beach but awoke the echoes of “the wrong team won”. We fall for sports as kids thinking that good vanquishes evil and the that myth translates to the field, diamond, court or ice. We want to believe that if we want it enough and try our hardest-we can outwork more talented teams. But great talent trumps smart strategy…and excellent execution exceeds fantastic chemistry. So you can say the wrong team won…but whenever the Heat needed to make a play in the postseason they responded.

But I will admit the Miami Heat aren’t the easiest team to embrace. From “The Decision” to Dwyane Wade being a dirty player to Chris Bosh being a Zeppo Marx in shorts, the South Beach Big Three has more than its share of baggage. There’s the Birdman and his technicolor tatoos. There’s coach Eric Spoelstra, the Chachi to Pat Riley’s Fonzie. Then there is the fair-weather image of the Heat fans that left the arena with under a minute to play only to try to re-enter once their team they gave up on sent the game into overtime. Compared to the humble image of the San Antonio Spurs, who wouldn’t suffer on some level?

Over the years I’ve enjoyed and covered sports, there have been a few teams that I just couldn’t embrace. And while I give props to the two-time champions, I welcome them to a select club. Now I’m sure there are those that still have it in for the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970’s and how they slugged their way past the smooth skating Buffalo Sabres…just like there are Houston haters who maintain they wouldn’t have won if Jordan hadn’t retired. Your comments are welcome if I’ve missed somebody or if you have these team’s posters hanging in your room.

College Football–1984 BYU–who did they play? Definitely not anybody good in the Western Athletic Conference while the Oklahomas, Washingtons, Floridas and Nebraskas were beating each other’s brains out. Who did they play in the Holiday Bowl? A 6-5 Michigan team that was Bo Schembechler’s worst.

NHL–1995 New Jersey Devils–hello neutral zone trap…effectively bringing Mike Fratello’s Cleveland Cavaliers to the ice. Successfully turned back the hockey clock to 1934 and helped secure second class citizenship for the league (no truth to the rumor Commissioner Gary Bettman was still on the NBA payroll).

NFL–1995 Dallas Cowboys–brash, arrogant and poorly coached by a bumbling Barry Switzer. This me-first bunch boasted a gloating Michael Irvin and self-congratulatory Deion Sanders…who joined the team midseason after baseball’s spotlight waned. Thanks to a pair of poor passes by Neil O’Donnell, this smirking squad never got its comeuppance.

Baseball–1997 Florida Marlins–while some were pointing at the New York Yankees as the best team money could buy…the Marlins were actually pieced together in a mercenary style that would put the Boba Fett and IG-88 to shame. Buoyed by a pair of classic clubhouse cancers in Gary Sheffield and Bobby Bonilla, the Marlins won a World Series and then held a fire sale–setting the standard for cut-and-run franchises.

College Basketball–2012 Kentucky–we know college hoops is more about hoops than college, but the rotating door of one-and-dones in Lexington recently made 90210’s Valerie Malone look stable. Add the Big Blue royal expectations…a subpar SEC…and a coach who took two schools to the Final only to have both trips vacated by the NCAA…and you’ve got a champ you appreciate but can’t really embrace. And that’s not even accounting for Anthony Davis’ unibrow.