Tuesday, March 27, 2012

NBA MVP 2011-12 Season

We’re entering the final stretch of a condensed, but amazing NBA season.  The MVP race is one of the hotly debated topics within basketball circles, so I thought it would be a good time to unveil my top 5 for this race.  We’re counting them down and I’m sure I’ll hear a few opinions on these.  Before we commence with the countdown, there are a few things to keep in mind in judging an MVP candidate: stats, defense, “clutch” ability, leadership and removal.  What I mean by “removal” is that if you took the player off the team, what would this team be?

Without further ado, here is the countdown:

5. Kobe Bryant; Los Angeles Lakers

Before you attack me as a “Laker hater”, there is legitimate reason behind this.  The Lakers are a winning and better team when the offense is going through their two big men, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.  The Lakers have lost leads and lost momentum when Kobe has re-entered games after being on the bench for rest.  He has had some absolutely horrible performances (8 for 26 vs Detroit, 9 for 31 at Washington, 3 for 20 vs Utah, 5 for 17 vs Portland) in March.  He’s forcing shots and not utilizing his options.  Yes, he leads the league in scoring, but his shooting percentage is the worst of the 5 MVP candidates I will list and is 79th in the entire league.  Add in that his “clutch” (Stat defined as: 4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points) shooting percentage this season is 27.9% and you have an extremely strong case against him as the MVP.

Hypothetically, let’s take Kobe off of the Lakers.  What are you left with?  You have a point guard in Sessions with the ability and knowledge to utilize the height advantage.  Andrew Bynum would be a consistent 20-15 player.  Gasol would be a consistent 20-10 guy.  The Lakers might dip slightly in scoring, but they are a strong defensive team that could make up for it.  Add in that their style would be a slower, low post game and they would likely make up for Bryant’s absence by shooting more free throws and controlling the number of possessions.  Would they be better off overall?  Definitely not, but it would be an intriguing style change that would work well against the under-sized Western conference.  I believe they would be a 7-8 seed in the playoffs, but a likely first round out without Bryant.

Despite everything above, Bryant will always be in the discussion simply because of his reputation.  The team has struggled, but no one will ever count them out because they still have Bryant.  That has to count for something.  He is leading the league in scoring, regardless of percentages and shot selection, and his defense is always elite.  He has helped the Lakers to the 3 seed (so far) in the extremely tough Western Conference.  It’s just not enough to be higher on my list.  His talent will always be appreciated, but it is becoming clearer that without the guiding and trusted hand of Phil Jackson, he is not playing up to his potential as an MVP candidate.

4. Dwight Howard; Orlando Magic

                Now that we’re finally out of the “Where will Dwight go circus”, it’s time to focus on his game.  The main knock that I will always have on Dwight is that he does not have that leadership that an MVP and superstar need to have.  He led the Magic to the NBA Finals a few years ago, but it was simply due to raw talent.  The kid is a genetic freak.  I would like to see him get serious when he needs to.  The problem is, you can’t teach leadership.  You either have the intangibles or you don’t.  If Chris Paul walks in the door, Dwight would gladly take a backseat.  That is likely why he will never be the alpha dog on a championship team.  He needs someone to lead him.

                Hypothetically, let’s take Dwight off of the Magic.  This would be a team in disarray.  They are predicated on working the ball inside to collapse the defense and free up their shooters.  The players they have do not have the ability to create their own shots.  This team would easily drop out of the playoffs without Howard.

                On the positive side, he is the sole reason that the Orlando Magic is in the 3rd seed in a brutally tough and top heavy Eastern Conference.  He is surrounded by mediocrity everywhere he turns.  He made Ryan Anderson into a weapon.  He’s been saddled with a mid-level point guard in Jameer Nelson.  He’s running the court with two below average starters with Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu.  There is no way this team should be a 3 seed.  Once you see Dwight leading his team in scoring, rebounds, blocks and steals, you realize the dominance of this player.  The most important stats are his performances against the 1 and 2 seeds, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls.  Against Miami he is averaging 19.8 points and 18.8 rebounds and against Chicago he is averaging 25 points and 15 rebounds.  When your stats against the best in the league are that impressive, you’re a definite MVP candidate.  However, the lack of leadership and reliance on another player to take over in crunch time prevents you from being an MVP for me.

3. Kevin Love; Minnesota Timberwolves

                I don’t think the casual NBA fan understands how simply amazing Kevin Love is as a basketball player.  He is the best power forward in the league.  He’s tougher and a better rebounder than Gasol.  He has a better overall game than hype machine Blake Griffin.  He is a leader and has taken the Timberwolves from a laughingstock to a fringe playoff team with minimal talent around him.  They were making a serious playoff push before rookie point guard Ricky Rubio went down for the year, but Love has prevented this team from fading into obscurity.  While they are not currently in the playoffs, this Love led team is making strides and could slide into the 8 or 7 seed this season.  The problem with him as an MVP is that they currently are not a playoff team.  MVP’s do not usually come from fringe or mid-level teams.  However, if you remove Love, this is a bottom of the barrel team.

                If you removed Love from the lineup, this team is nothing more than a lottery team.  Rubio healthy would improve that status, but not by much.  They would be working towards a top 5 pick.

                For those unfamiliar with Love here are a few stats that should back up my case.  He’s 4th in the league in scoring.  He’s 2nd in the league in rebounding.  He’s played in 46 games this season…and has 42 double doubles.  In other words, he is giving you double digit points and rebounds in 91% of the games he has played in.  That is a mind boggling stat!  This is more than anyone else in the league and a double double percentage that no one is even close to.  These are hard facts that should make you seriously look at and consider Kevin Love as the league MVP.  Unfortunately being on a mid-level team (at this moment but watch them in the future) will prevent him from winning MVP.

2. Kevin Durant; Oklahoma City Thunder

                There is a groundswell out there claiming that Sunday’s game against the Heat pushed him into the lead for MVP.  One game does not make an MVP candidate.  It was a strong game, but let’s get serious, he’s still got some work to do.  He’s an amazing offensive talent, but will lapse from time to time on defense.  The biggest negative for me is the same thing that we see with Dwight Howard, he has yet to show leadership.  It is arguable that this is his team or Russell Westbrook’s.  If Durant took charge of this team, they would be the odds on favorite to win the title.  They have a stacked team with Westbrook and James Harden off the bench.  They have players who absolutely know their roles with Perkins, Ibaka, Collison and Cook.  The addition of Derek Fisher could go a long way in regards to leadership.

                If you remove Durant from this team, they would still be very interesting as Westbrook would gladly shoulder the responsibility and embrace the “alpha dog” status.  Would that equal wins?  I don’t think it would.  I think that without Durant they would look like the Timberwolves with Love, a fringe playoff team that couldn’t quite get over the hump.  Westbrook is good, but wildly inconsistent and the team record would reflect that.

                The positives for Durant are immense.  He’s the premier clutch performer and can seemingly get his shot at will.  He’s a tremendous scorer and has improved his passing to open teammates.  He’s starting to develop that aspect of his game and once that comes around, he could take the title of best player in the league.  The lack of leadership and questionable defense at times does prevent me from giving him the MVP this season.  That could change as this decision is getting closer than in previous weeks, but right now, Durant is just short of the MVP.

Without further ado, the 2011-12 NBA MVP (so far) goes to:

1. LeBron James; Miami Heat

                Right after LeBron James made the now infamous “Decision”, I wrote the following: “He (LeBron) may have removed his name from any future season MVP ballots.”  I love to admit being wrong in this case as LeBron James is the unquestioned MVP of the NBA this season.  In my opinion, he should have been last year also but the world was so angry about “The Decision” that they decided to give it to Derrick Rose.  While Rose had a great season, it wasn’t on par with James.  The funny thing is, so many analysts are gushing about LeBron’s stats this season which essentially match the stats he put up last year.  Interesting, isn’t it that those numbers that are so impressive this year weren’t viewed as such last year?

                I’ve discussed quite a few things above that prevented others from being MVP’s this season.  Let’s see how LeBron measures up to those categories:

-          Statistical: James’ season is the epitome of efficiency.  He leads Miami in points (26.7), rebounds (8.3), assists (6.6) and steals (2.0).  There isn’t a player in the entire league that is the leader of their team in these four crucial categories.

-          Defense: James is an elite defender and has been for most of his career, garnering 3 (and soon to be 4) consecutive All NBA 1st Team Defense honors.

-          “Clutch”: There seems to be a mentality that the premier closer in the NBA is Kobe Bryant, but that is not statistically the case.  Statistically we have seen it is Kevin Durant, but never in that conversation is LeBron James.  Due to a poor performance in the NBA Finals last season, the world seems to think he is not a clutch player.  Let’s evaluate this again.  He is top 3 in rebounds and assists in the clutch.  He shoots a better percentage (40% to 28%) than Bryant.  He averages more points per 48 minutes in the clutch than Bryant.  Why is it that this is not acknowledged?  The kid has come up in the clutch on a number of occasions in his career.  The Heat do not make the Finals without James carrying them there (How quickly you forget how poor Wade played in the Eastern playoffs).  In case you forgot…he’s shown clutch for a long time.

-          Leadership: There seems to be a disagreement amongst some as to “Who is the real leader of the Heat?”  I find this laughable.  We can pretend there is a discussion but from the moment he uttered the words “I’m taking my talents to South Beach”, this became LeBron James’ team.  The ball goes through his hands.  He distributes and controls the game more than their point guard or Dwyane Wade.  He is vocal on defense and the huddles.  This is LeBron’s team.  Like it or not.  LeBron takes the “heat” for going to Miami, but it really was Wade begging for help that made this happen.  Wade knew he was doing nothing but leading a .500 team before LeBron, all while James was leading the Cavs to the best record in the league each season.  Those who are against LeBron will never admit it, but the numbers and body language don’t lie.  It starts at LeBron and everyone else falls in line.

We’ve seen the Heat without James and they were a .500, easy first round elimination.  Granted, that was without Bosh, but would that really matter?  Bosh helped lead the Raptors to the playoffs twice, and were quickly eliminated in the first round.  After those two seasons, they quickly became a perennial lottery team so I’m not sure the Bosh-Wade connection gets you much more than a .500 record as neither player led a team in the way LeBron did.  Before the Wade defenders jump up, please do not forget that he had a motivated Shaquille O’Neal leading that franchise to a title.  Wade had a great Finals, but without Shaq, hasn’t done much but get eliminated in the first round or not made the playoffs at all.

What are the negatives to bring up here for LeBron James?  He’s carried the team to victory without Wade and Bosh for stretches due to injuries or personal matters.  He consistently contributes to the game, whether with points, rebounds, assists or defensive prowess.  There truly are no holes to his game.  That is why LeBron James is the clear MVP for the 2011-12 NBA season.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tebow to the Jets? - My Snap Judgement

"Y bring Tebow in when we need to bring in more Weapons for @Mark_Sanchez let's build the team around him. We already signed to 3 year ext.

- Jets Cornerback Antonio Cromartie, Minutes after the Tebow-Jets trade was announced

                And we’re off to a great start to Tim Tebow’s second NFL team, the New York Jets.  This was the immediate reaction to the trade that brought the controversial and divisive quarterback to the Big Apple.  It appears that the Jets locker room reputation of being toxic is alive and well.

                I don’t even know what to say about this trade.  Tebow, who is 9-7 as a starter with an AFC West title to his credit, was traded for a 4th round pick.  A 4th ROUND PICK?!  Seriously, how desperate was Elway to rid himself of Tebowmania?  I must be missing something because you could surely have gotten a 2nd rounder on the simple case of marketability.  Whether you like his game or not, he has a way about him that inspires teammates and wins games.  This Jets team is going to challenge Tebow’s ability to inspire.  This is a group of “me first” players and quick to place blame.  This is a group that has unnamed players calling out others, not man enough to put their name behind their comments.  Their coach is more bravado than ability.  He was a great defensive coordinator in Baltimore…or was he?  Was it really Rex Ryan who was the genius or was it the leadership and all-time greatness of Ray Lewis?  Based on the fact that Baltimore is still a top 10 defense without Ryan answers my question.

                There is one good thing about the Jets deal.  The offensive coordinator is Tony Sparano, who showed the ability and creativity (remember that word from yesterday’s blog) to bring in the Wildcat offense to Miami a few years ago.  I can imagine him using Tebow’s unique skill set in a very positive way, especially since the Jets wanted to be a more “ground and pound” team going forward.  Tebow’s ability to run and make the running backs look good in his offense, could add an interesting dimension to the Jets offense.

                There is the little subject of Mark Sanchez, who the Jets just extended for 3 seasons making the remaining part of his deal 5 years worth $68.25 million.  If you give your quarterback that kind of money, you really aren’t bringing in Tebow to challenge for the job.  Does that mean they expect Tebow to sit back and be happy as an occasional player?  That’s not how that kid is wired.  He’s a competitor and showed on the field, he can get the job done.  We all know that the New York crowd isn’t pleased with Sanchez and he seems to have a thin skin about it.  The New York fans will eventually rally to beg for Tebow and destroy any minimal confidence Sanchez has.  Sanchez and Kyle Orton could eventually get together and start a “Tebow Supplanted Me as A Starter” support group.

                Maybe I’m crazy but this was clearly John Elway flipping Tebow the middle finger as he pushed him out the door.  He sent him to the most dysfunctional team in the league right now, with a coach that clearly isn’t right for him.  This will not work.  Tim will say the right things and work harder than anyone else.  Unfortunately, even for Tebow, this may be too much to overcome.

Carmelo Is Leaving...

It has become inevitable.

It will be ending.

I guess the old adage is true; "All good things must come to an end."

Sources have reported to ESPN that Carmelo Anthony will most likely not be returning to the Denver Nuggets. "How does Ryan feel about it?" I know this is a question I will be asked countless times in the upcoming months. Well, my LeBron article garnered some attention and answered questions, so what better way to approach the 'Melo situation than to put it out there.

For those of you who may not know, I have followed and been a 'Melo fan since the first time I watched him. ESPN was televising a high school game featuring junior sensation LeBron James. They were playing against Oak Hill Academy and their senior star Carmelo Anthony. In all honesty, I was tuning in to watch LeBron. I hadn't heard of 'Melo. As I watched the game, and the country was becoming enamored with LeBron, I was drawn more to 'Melo's game. The kid was smooth. There was just something impressive to watch. When I heard he had committed to attend Syracuse University the following year, I was pumped. I grew up watching Big East basketball, namely Georgetown and Syracuse. As I always say in regards to college basketball, "If it ain't the Big East, it doesn't matter." I loved watching these programs with players such as Patrick Ewing, John Wallace, Alonzo Mourning, Derrick Coleman and my personal favorite, Allen Iverson. Carmelo Anthony going to Syracuse was just icing on the cake. I was going to follow this kid his entire career.

I got to watch him win Freshman of the Year, and more importantly, the National Championship. He just got better and better, especially under the tutelage of Jim Boeheim. What I didn't know at the time was that a rare incident was about to occur.

I am a Denver Nuggets fan. I have been as far as I can remember. Granted, there were quite a few seasons I just didn't admit it. They were awful. I grew up, though, loving guys like LaPhonso Ellis, Alex English, Fat Lever, Dan Issel and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (Chris Jackson before the name change). The Nuggets had just finished another historically bad season, but the light at the end of the tunnel was near. The Nuggets went into the 2003 NBA Draft with the third overall pick. They were in the lottery that could have landed them LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony or Dwyane Wade. As everyone knows, LeBron was drafted first to Cleveland, leaving the Detroit Pistons at number two. They decided, in one of the NBA drafts largest blunders, to draft Serbian project Darko Milicic. How did this happen?! How did my favorite team luck into my favorite collegiate player? That rarely happens!! I was overjoyed...to the point that I own 17 different 'Melo jerseys now.

Over the last 7 seasons, I have watched Carmelo lead the Nuggets to the playoffs every single year. He averaged over 20 points a game every single year. LeBron didn't get the Cavs to the playoffs in his rookie year. 'Melo did. He has started his career averaging over 20 points per game each year, a distinction he only shares with LeBron. 'Melo has been everything we wanted and more. He's a true superstar that makes Denver a destination. He makes ESPN, ABC and TNT want to broadcast Nuggets games. He produces on the court.

Unfortunately things are not ending the way we had all hoped. However, if you think this is all new, you would be dead wrong. The seeds of this were all planted the summer of 2008. During the summer, rumors were rampant that the Nuggets were listening to trade offers for Carmelo from the Detroit Pistons (oh, the irony) and the New Jersey Nets. These rumors went on and on for a few weeks without any word from Carmelo or the Nuggets. The rumors stopped when Carmelo went to Nuggets headquarters and asked what was going on. Management reiterated that they were not shopping him and wanted him to be a Nugget for a long time. Who knows if this is true or not? They may have taken calls, listened to offers but never really had intentions of trading him. However, if you're Carmelo, do you feel a bit betrayed? I would and I believe he did also. The Nuggets did pull the trigger on a trade, but instead shipped Allen Iverson to Detroit for Chauncey Billups. The Nuggets went on a magical run to the Western Conference Finals. They were three plays away from winning that series, but shot themselves in the foot and lost. They truly were the better team (I'm sure bandwagon Laker fans will disagree, but re-watch the series with an open mind and you'll see it). Getting so close just made 'Melo want that title that much more.

This is where things get bad. Management decided that they would stand pat and not improve any areas (and actually stepped back by letting defensive specialist Dahntay Jones get away). The regular season was successful but not as much as anyone had hoped. Then there was the embarrassing first round defeat to the Utah Jazz and the feeling started to come in that the window of opportunity had closed. Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen struggled with knee injuries. JR Smith continued muddling in mediocrity. 'Melo and Chauncey willed the team to another 50 win season, but could not carry them in the playoffs. Individuals can win in the regular season. Teams win in the playoffs. 'Melo was embarrassed and ashamed by the team's showing and lack of heart in the playoffs. His career has hit a crossroads. The Nuggets have a 3 year $65 million deal on the table for him.

So that's enough back story. You're reading this because you want to know what I think about the very likely possibility Carmelo Anthony will no longer be a Nugget.

I'm disappointed completely, but not for the reason you think. I'm disappointed the Nuggets did not make the right roster moves to keep Carmelo and give him confidence in the franchise. I understand where 'Melo is coming from. I really do:

1. He was born in Brooklyn and played at Syracuse. He's a New York kid who wants to play in New York. You can't get angry at a guy following his dream.

2. He doesn't have confidence in the franchise. They have crippled themselves with bad contracts and have not made the most intelligent personnel moves.

3. He wants to win. He led his team so close to the promise land, but they didn't step up when he needed them the most.

4. He wants to win a championship. The window for this current team has closed. If you're going to be part of a team rebuilding, why not go somewhere you've always dreamed of playing?

5. He probably still feels somewhat betrayed that he was brought up in trade talks two years ago. He was playing at a high level, top 10 player in the game, and the face of the franchise. To shop him for no real reason is mind-boggling and has to sting.

Look, I hope and pray that a resolution can happen. I want 'Melo in Denver for his entire career. Unfortunately it looks more and more like that boat has sailed. I'm just begging the fans of Denver to show the world how to handle a player leaving in a classy way. We will not burn jerseys in the street. We will not have our owner, Stan Kroenke, lose his mind and verbally assault 'Melo. We should thank 'Melo for giving Denver a winner and for taking us as far as he could. We were so close but unfortunately too far away.

I'm also hoping that if a trade happens, he ends up in New York. I'll give you three great reasons why this would make the pain a little easier:

1. The rekindling of the Knicks-Heat rivalry. If you don't remember the rivalry from 1997-2000 between these two franchises, please look it up. It was one of the most intense rivalries in the league. In a day and age where rivalries are manufactured, this could bring a legitimate one back. 'Melo and LeBron may be friends, but they love competing against each other. Their head to head match ups are classic.

2. Walt "Clyde" Frazier doing play by play with Mike Breen on the MSG Network for Knicks games. If you haven't heard Walt's play by play, you're missing legendary mic work. He's a big reason I buy NBA League Pass every year.

3. More jerseys for my collection. (On second thought, that's a bad idea.)

Well there's my explanation, feelings, justifications and thought process. Yep, it's going to suck. One thing I know for sure, I will not stop being a Carmelo Anthony fan. I was a fan before he was Nugget, while he was a Nugget and after he's a Nugget. I'll still be watching and cheering for him, whether he's in Denver, New York or somewhere else. I'll always be a Nuggets fan too. One player doesn't define the love for your team.

At least I've still got NBA League Pass to watch everything, right?

LeBron's Decision

I’m appalled. No, not by LeBron James’ choice to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers.

I’m appalled by the actions of fans.

I’m appalled by the media acting like his “show” was the worst thing ever televised.

I’m appalled by the venom spewing from multiple editorials.

Since when did it become okay to tear someone down for making a personal decision that affects him and his family? Yes, it hurts Cleveland as a franchise and as a city, but it will recover. I’ve been asked quite a bit about my opinion on this situation because everyone knows that I am a diehard NBA fan. I’ve enjoyed watching LeBron play since the first time I saw him as a junior in high school. The kid is an amazing talent. So to answer the question that I keep getting asked, no I was not a fan of the decision when I initially heard him announce it. I yelled an expletive because I hoped he would give Cleveland one last run. I was hoping that if he did leave, that he would go to New York to revitalize the Knicks. I badly wanted to a rekindling of the Knicks-Heat rivalry and LeBron and Stoudemire vs Wade and Bosh would have given me that. Alas, it did not come to fruition. However, once hearing his rationale, I’m not angry or frustrated or disappointed. The best word I can describe it now is…intrigued. Heck, I’ll probably take the short trip up to Minneapolis to watch this spectacular trio when they play the Timberwolves.

Let’s start this whole discussion with his rationale. His rationale made a lot of sense to me. He referenced the classic dynasties (not just teams, but dynasties) or the 80’s and 90’s. The Celtics, Lakers, Pistons and Bulls teams all had multiple stars on their teams. You are kidding yourself if you think Mo Williams, Anderson Vareajo, Anthony Parker and Shell of Shaq come anywhere close to the supporting cast that the aforementioned teams had. Examine the supporting casts of the superstars of these teams; Jordan (Pippen, Rodman, Grant, Kukoc, Harper and a slew of solid role players who knew their job), Bird (McHale, Parrish, Johnson, Ainge, Walton, Maxwell and a slew of solid role players who knew their job), Lakers (Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Cooper followed by Shaq, Bryant, Horry, Fisher and both teams had a slew of solid role players who knew their job) and Isaiah (Rodman, Johnson, Laimbeer and a slew of solid role players who knew their job). Would you trade any of the supporting casts above for what LeBron has been carrying? Not a chance! Let’s face it, he’s surrounded by overpriced mid-level players that don’t step up in big games. They stand and watch LeBron. When in his entire career has Mo Williams stepped up? The players that were brought in tied up salary cap money and weren’t worth what they were paid. That’s not an opinion, folks. That’s based on numbers and facts. These guys are solid in the regular season but don’t know how to elevate their play in the playoffs, when it counts. LeBron has shown on a number of occasions that he can raise his game up in crucial times. Unfortunately the cast around him didn’t.

I’d also like to mention Charles Barkley’s attack on LeBron. He mentioned that when he was 25 he tried to win a title on his own and that’s what LeBron should do. Quick newsflash for Charles: you didn’t win a title! He whined and complained his way out of Philadelphia and got traded to a Suns team that had All Star Dan Majerle and one of the truly underrated point guards of all time, Kevin Johnson. Again, he didn’t win a title but that was because Jordan’s supporting cast was better. Ah, but here’s where it gets interesting. Barkley then goes to Houston in an attempt to win a ring with Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and later on, Scottie Pippen. So Charles is going to bash LeBron for doing the exact same thing he did, yet LeBron does it at a younger age? Did Charles bash Karl Malone when he turned on Utah and went to play for the Lakers? No, he didn’t. For some reason, it’s better to look desperate at the end of your career (essentially begging for players in their prime to carry them to championships) than to make a change in your prime and possibly build a dynasty? I am really glad Charles didn’t sound like a pathetic hypocrite on this one.

I also want to discuss the ESPN show, which I call “The Infomercial”. While I understand Cleveland fans and their frustration that he didn’t tell them first, I need someone to explain to me how else he should have done it. Regardless of if the announcement was made on ESPN or local news, Cleveland was going to be pissed. What did they expect him to do? Walk the street and tell everyone individually? In this day and age of 24/7 “media” and technology being what it is, it was a better move to go on ESPN and address everything. He went in, answered every question and we can move on. He doesn’t have to do 50 separate interviews now because we’ve got all the questions answered. Yes, it was a self-serving show, but what do you expect? This story has been kept alive, not by LeBron, but by ESPN and the media for two years. The event had become bigger than the story itself due to the unbelievable attention pushed upon LeBron. He stopped talking about free agency before the season. Did that stop ESPN, NBA TV, Fox, etc from talking about it and speculating? Of course not. The days of a simple press release are gone, unfortunately. The digital age has caused this. I’ve heard a lot that his arrogance and ego led him to do this TV special. People really should take a step back and realize this kid has immense talent and has been told so his entire life. When you have ESPN covering your high school games, Sports Illustrated putting you on the cover and NBA scouts telling you that you are the greatest player walking the planet all before you’ve even graduated high school, you might develop a bit of an ego. He’s been under a tremendous microscope for about a decade and has always been praised for his maturity. Now, all of a sudden, he’s an ego driven narcissist? Yes, he has an ego but so does everyone playing professional sports. You have to have one. You have to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will? Let’s think for a second, though. If you have this immense ego, do you sign with a team to share the spotlight and fame? Do you leave between $30-50 million dollars on the table that he would have gotten in Cleveland if you have an immense ego? Do you sacrifice part of your fame and eventually part of your legacy in the NBA if you have that big of an ego? Quick answer to all of those questions…NO!!! It takes someone who has control of their ego to sacrifice money, unconditional fan support and “The Man” status for the drive to win a championship. He may have removed his name from any future season MVP ballots. It takes a controlled ego to do that.

Let’s just admit it, LeBron James is a phenomenal talent but doesn’t have the killer instinct that Michael Jordan did. We’ve seen LeBron take over games. Who can forget the 48 Special against Detroit in the playoffs a few years back? He’s shown it at times, but that’s not his game. LeBron is at his best when he’s making his teammates better. He’s more Magic Johnson than Michael Jordan, and you know, Magic did pretty well with his 5 rings.  His scoring numbers will drop, but his assists and rebounding will go up. If he averages a triple double (a very real possibility now), will he be bashed for playing good team basketball? Here’s a little secret; Dwyane Wade has a killer instinct. He’s shown it a number of times. Having LeBron and Wade together takes the pressure off and makes things easier. Defenses have to worry about both. Dwyane can kill with his shot and will do so more than LeBron does. However, in crunch time, which guy will defenses try to stop? I can guarantee you can’t stop both. This will work. Chemistry is a tough thing to fabricate. LeBron, Wade and Bosh are good friends. Can anyone tell me that when you play, you wouldn’t rather have your real friends on your team than anyone else? Everyone loves having a real friend on their team because the game and chemistry are natural on the court. It makes the game and winning easier.

I’ve also read about how he’s hurt his “brand”. Let me tell you, winning solves all of that. I know my Lakers friends are going to love me for this, but if Kobe Bryant can survive the rape allegations (I believe they were true but I won’t go into that), LeBron can survive this. Kobe was dropped by a couple of sponsors. His “brand” was down for a few years, but look now. He’s with Nike now (which is a step above his original endorser Adidas), Coca Cola and has been featured on a number of video game covers and commercials. All LeBron did was leave a city via free agency, which is his given right through the collective bargaining agreement. What did he do that was so wrong? Where does it state that just because you were drafted by your hometown team, you have to stay? I know what you’re thinking. “Where’s his loyalty?” Loyalty? Loyal to a guy who five minutes after LeBron’s announcement releases a letter labeling his personal decision to leave a “cowardly betrayal”. Loyal to a franchise that traded Zydrunas Ilgauskas after 12 years with the team? (Yes, I know they brought him back but how is that not a slap in the face? They brought in Shaquille O’Neal and relegated Big Z, who had been the franchise before LeBron, to the bench. Classy and loyal, Cavs.) Fact is, this is a business. LeBron made a business decision, but it wasn’t a decision based on money. How anyone can say it is about money when the three players are leaving roughly $100 million dollars combined out there is beyond me. The decision was based on winning championships. That’s the business LeBron wants. He wants to win championships.

Here’s a little kicker about loyalty…where’s the loyalty to LeBron? The “fans” that have followed him since he was in high school and are now calling him every name in the book and burning his jersey have no right to speak about loyalty. I’ll tell you right now, I’m a Denver Nuggets fan and have been since I can remember. I remember watching Alex English and Fat Lever. I loved watching LaPhonso Ellis. I love the Nuggets. I am also a huge Carmelo Anthony fan and have been since I saw him play against LeBron in high school when Melo was at Oak Hill Academy. I was ecstatic when he went to Syracuse because I have always followed Big East basketball. I got lucky and my second favorite player of all time (Iverson being number one) was drafted to my all-time favorite team. It’s amazing luck! However, if Melo decides not to sign the 3 year extension the Nuggets offered and leaves to go to New York, I’m not going to burn my jerseys and hate the man. I’ll stay a loyal Nuggets fan but I will sure as hell stay a Melo fan wherever he goes. Would it suck? Absolutely. I would hate to see it happen, but I understand the business. I understand he wants the front office to get him more help. If they don’t help him, why should he sign? It’s about winning.

The final subject I have to mention is that I’ve read a few places that Miami is “buying” a championship. This is one of the most ludicrous things I’ve read. This isn’t MLB. You don’t buy titles in the NBA. MLB has a luxury tax thresh hold, not a salary cap. The NBA has a salary cap. Yes, because of the Larry Bird exemption teams can go over it but then a tax kicks in. You don’t buy titles in the NBA. Also, these guys wanted to play together. They made it happen by taking a lot less money. I can’t stress enough how huge that is. In a day and age where Albert Haynesworth is asking to be traded just a year after signing a $100 million contract and holdouts for more money, these guys sacrificed millions upon millions of dollars to play together. Instead of being greedy, they took a pay cut.

So there it is. Stop the bashing. Stop the jersey burning. Stop the whining. LeBron made a personal decision that he felt was best for winning a title. He made the announcement on national television where everyone else announces decisions or has press conferences. He answered the questions he needed to. He went to Miami because he feels his best chance to win titles is to join two great players in their primes.

Why is that so wrong?

New....Old Blogs

So I ran across two older blogs I had written but not posted on this site.  Just wanted to put them up for fun.  It's my reaction to LeBron's "Decision" and my early reaction to Carmelo wanting out of Denver (which was written 6 months before he was traded).  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Manning to the Broncos

“I was really happy with his progress.  I know Tim is going to work hard this offseason, and we’re hoping that he’s going to be the guy for a long, long time.”

- John Elway, February 24, 2012

It appears that the new definition of “long, long time” is 24 days.  Various reports have indicated that former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning has instructed his agent to negotiate solely with the Denver Broncos, spurning the offers from the Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers.  I wasn’t shocked when the decision came down, despite my belief that Manning fit better with other teams.  It was clear the Broncos organization was offering everything under the sun to obtain him.  Within minutes of the decision being made public, my text messages and Twitter blew up with friends trying to contact me wanting my opinion.  Yesterday I just wasn’t ready to respond.  Today…I am.

First and foremost, I want it to be known that I am not arguing with bringing in an all-time great quarterback to hopefully lead the Broncos back to the Super Bowl.  I would be a fool to not want a player of that caliber on the team I have followed since birth.  Please keep that in mind as I continue because it may not seem like it at times.

I am disgusted by the total lack of loyalty within professional sports.  It has never been clearer that loyalty no longer exists.  The Colts cut Manning after 14 years with the franchise.  The Lakers traded Derek Fisher after 13 of 16 seasons with the team.  John Elway committed to Tim Tebow, after showing a complete lack of faith all season, then openly recruiting Manning weeks after thus finding a way to ship Tebow out.  It’s a business.  I get it.  I just find it wildly hypocritical that so many experts and front office executives complain about players not showing loyalty and staying with teams, but then refuse to look in the mirror and admit they are even more disloyal than the people they are complaining about.  Why couldn’t the Colts organization talked with Manning and asked him to restructure his deal, maybe just for a season, and still draft Andrew Luck to study behind him?  Why couldn’t the Lakers trade an equally worthless Steve Blake, showing loyalty to Fisher and asking him to retire at season’s end?  Why can’t Elway keep his word to Tebow that he’d have next season to improve?  If it didn’t work next season, then move on.  Loyalty and honesty seem like dirty words in the sports world nowadays.

Anyone who has known me for any amount of time knows that I am the furthest thing from a Peyton Manning fan there is.  I absolutely respect his skills and acknowledge the fact that he is one of the five greatest quarterbacks in history.  (My rankings: 1. John Elway, 2. Tom Brady, 3. Joe Montana, 4. Peyton Manning, 5. Steve Young).  There’s just something that annoys me about him.  It started during his senior year at Tennessee.  My brother was such a supporter of his Heisman campaign that when Michigan stud Charles Woodson won the award, he wore a black arm band in protest of the decision.  I still believe that Woodson was by far the best college player of that season.  Manning may have deserved it for a lifetime achievement, but that is not what that award is about.  Woodson led an undefeated Michigan team by playing shutdown defense, big plays and receiver and as a kick returner.  He led his team to a National Championship, something Manning was unable to accomplish (yet they won the season after he left under quarterback Tee Martin).  I don’t know why this sparked my distaste for Manning but it hasn’t left me…and it has been 15 years!  I’ve cheered against him at every level.  I will argue that despite all the records and talent he’s had around him, he isn’t as good as Tom Brady, who won rings with far less talent.  My distaste could come from the humiliating losses Manning handed the Broncos in two playoff games.  It could just be his goofy demeanor.  I can’t put my finger on it, but I am not a fan.  Never have been and never will be.  Just because he is in a Broncos uniform doesn’t mean I can flip a switch and cheer for him.  It has too much of a bandwagon feel to it for me.  Maybe I’ll launch a personal Broncos Boycott, simply because I can’t cheer for the guy.  I doubt I’ll take it there.  I’ve been a Broncos fan for 34 years.  I can’t change.  I was born right before the 1977-78 season, which was their first Super Bowl appearance.  I’m conflicted and I don’t like it.  So to answer a sarcastic question I’ve been asked many times, no, I will not be buying a Peyton Manning Broncos jersey.

From Manning’s perspective, I don’t quite understand the choice of Denver.  San Francisco seems like a great choice.  They have a top defense, a stud running back and a strong group of weapons.  Vernon Davis looks amazing with Alex Smith.  Can you imagine him with Manning?  They also just signed Randy Moss and could have been an amazing connection.  I truly think Manning would have made them Super Bowl favorites.  Arizona would have been a good choice, simply because throwing to Larry Fitzgerald sounds like a great option.  Add in their dome and you have a Manning-friendly environment to play.  Tennessee has a great running back and a solid defense.  The receiving options are somewhat questionable, but if Kenny Britt returned from injury at a high level, they could have been a great connection.  Miami, before the Brandon Marshall trade, would have made sense.  They would have had a top five receiver, a great weapon out of the backfield with Reggie Bush and a solid tight end in Anthony Fasano.  They have a top ten defense and could have contended with the Jets and Patriots for the division.  The choice of Denver is such an odd one, to me.  The outdoor stadium with tricky Colorado weather doesn’t sound like the optimum choice.  The aging running back and inexperienced receiving core doesn’t sound appealing.  They have a young and good offensive line, anchored by Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin, but they lapsed at times.  It just seemed like an odd choice.  Does this all boil down to hero worship?  Was John Elway’s presence really the deciding factor?  I can’t help but wonder if Elway begged Manning to come so he could relieve himself of Tim Tebow.  It’s not out of the realm of possibilities, is it?

I’m also shocked by the reported terms of the contract.  From everything that has been reported, the Broncos will be paying Manning $96 million over the span of 5 seasons.  If he was coming off of a strong season, I’d get it.  He’s coming off of four neck surgeries instead.  I know there will probably be provisions in the deal, but it is still a massive risk.  I know what your response will be; “It’s Peyton Freaking Manning!”  Do we know that it really is Peyton Manning?  Are the Broncos getting the record setting Manning or are they getting a depleted version?  If they are getting the strong, accurate and dominant Manning then the deal is great.  There’s a huge question mark, though.  It is one thing to throw the ball at Duke University but it is another thing to hear the footsteps of Tamba Hali, Jerome Harrison or any other defensive lineman coming from the blind side.  How does he react?  Does he panic and throw a bad ball?  He’s not the most mobile guy and we all saw how well an immobile Kyle Orton react to pressure given up by the Broncos offensive line.  One massive hit could end this whole thing and where does that leave the Broncos?  It leaves them with…

Here is where this plot thickens.  Within minutes of the report that Manning would sign in Denver, the second part of the story comes that the Broncos will try and trade incumbent starter Tim Tebow.  Wait, what?  Did Elway simply use the Manning name as a conduit to rid himself of Tebow?  It’s by far the easiest way to push him out of town and not upset the local love that Tebow has garnered.  This is where I get completely frustrated and angry at the Broncos organization.  I feel lied to.  I feel like they have been saying all the right things but more than willing to contradict themselves if the opportunity presented itself.  Is there a logical reason to trade Tebow, other than that Elway and the coaches did not want to follow through on their word to help make this kid a better quarterback?  I don’t comprehend why you wouldn’t keep a quarterback who has gone 9-7 as a starter, with the same group of players (minus their best receiver in Brandon Lloyd) that went 4-14 with Orton as a starter.  Tebow helped take them from a laughingstock to 2011-12 AFC West Champions and an improbable win against the Steelers in the playoffs.  If he’s the back-up, he gets a chance to learn behind two of the top five quarterbacks in history and has shown the ability to win games.  Why wouldn’t you want a winner on your team?

Last season the Denver Broncos coaches showed an ability to adapt and be creative with the offense.  It worked.  It took a horrible running game and took it to the best in the league.  Willis McGahee looked like he was fulfilling his potential at the age of 30.  I hate to break it to him but Tebow is the reason. Tebow put him in the right spots to succeed and he had his best season since 2007.  I would encourage the Broncos to keep Tebow and cultivate their creativity with a Manning-Tebow duo.  I can only imagine how effective a Manning run hurry-up offense followed by a Tebow led punishing running style could work.  Defenses would be tired and beat up quickly, especially in the thin Denver air.  They could line Manning up in the shotgun with Tebow next to him and let the fun begin.  Defenses would not know what to do.  Hypothetically, Manning could toss to Tebow and let him run or pass.  It could work with a fake pitch to Tebow and let Manning pick a defense apart.  They’d be on their heels!  There are so many options that we’ll sadly never see because Elway is too singularly focused on making sure he jettisons Tebow from the franchise. It’s sad.

I have found so many comments from analysts and “experts” interesting over the last 24 hours.  The one that sticks out to me is that, while questioning Manning’s decision, they are saying the Broncos receivers aren’t very good.  Hold the phone!  Are you telling me that the same receivers that Tebow had last season weren’t very good?  The same receivers that dropped multiple passes, yet the full brunt of the blame was on Tebow, are not very good?  So for Manning these receivers aren’t very good, but for Tebow they were good and he wasn’t getting them the ball?  Welcome to Hypocrisy and Inaccurate Reporting 101.  Your professors are sports journalists throughout the country.  Let’s just admit it right here and now.  The journalists and analysts who are so anti-Tebow dug in before he ever played a snap in the NFL with their “he can’t play” mantra and were never going to change.  Despite winning games, unorthodox as they were, they were always going to blame him for anything they could.  Dropped pass?  His left handed throwing puts a different spin on the ball making it harder to catch.  (Yes, that was a real comment I heard many times.  I don’t remember that problem with Steve Young or Mark Brunell.)  It’s just people looking for reasons to attack his game.  “He’s not getting the ball to his receivers.”  Now that Manning is signing, those receivers aren’t good.  Thanks for the consistent reporting guys.  Keep up the biased work.

I’ve also been shocked and saddened by how quickly fans have turned on Tebow.  Believe me I understand that it’s the name Peyton Manning.  I completely and totally get it.  How can these same fans that professed their belief by chanting and putting up billboards begging for Tebow, completely turn their back on him?  Let’s call a spade a spade, he took an irrelevant and joke of a franchise into the biggest sports story of the year.  We watched a real life Disney movie, but so far this sequel sucks.  The Denver Broncos went from the AFC Championship game in 2005 under Jake Plummer.  That offseason, Mike Shanahan developed a crush on Jay Cutler and forced Plummer to the bench despite being 7-4 and in control of their playoff chances.  The following seasons with Cutler resulted in failure to make the playoffs, Shanahan’s firing, Cutler being shipped to Chicago, McDaniels coming in, Spygate Junior, Orton’s mediocrity and a joke of a team.  Tebow came in and gave hope to a franchise and city that had been spoiled in the Elway era.  He was 9-7 as a starter in his first 16 games and put up stats that while not always pretty, were better than Brady, Young and Elway’s first 16 starts.  How quickly the fans and front office forgot such recent history.

I’m not going to blast Broncos teammates that have jumped up for joy with the Manning signing.  It’s hard not to get excited for a future Hall of Fame player joining your team.  However, there have been comments that didn’t sit well (looking at you McGahee), but I want to thank stud rookie linebacker Von Miller for echoing some of my views:

“I'm hoping that some way, or somehow, we can work it out and somehow keep Tim there.  If he could just learn one or two things from Peyton, I think Tim would be one of the best one or two quarterbacks in the league. I think with Tim's personality and Tim's work ethic, it doesn't matter who's going to come in. He's going to go out there and compete.  In my opinion, I think that it can be a co-existence."

It’s a nice thought that there can be co-existence, but unfortunately the front office appears set on sending Tebow packing so they can move forward with their prototype quarterback and carbon copy offense.

The crux of the Tebow problem is that NFL front office personnel and coaches live in a black and white world.  Things are done a certain way.  Quarterbacks look and throw in a certain way.  No other way could possibly work.  Yet Tebow showed in his first 16 starts that things aren’t always black and white, they can be seen in beautiful Technicolor.  I’m sure the first time a forward pass was unveiled the league went nuts.  The shotgun formation was a wild change.  The hurry up offense blew minds.  The 4-6 Buddy Ryan defense was revolutionary as was the zone defense.  There have been so many innovations and differences over the years.  At some point someone has to admit that football is not black and white.  For all we know, Tebow is to football what Phil Jackson’s Triangle Offense was to the NBA.  We may never get a chance to know because so few NFL executives have the guts to try it.  My hope in all of this is that Denver trades Tebow (which kills me because I know he is capable of leading the Broncos, but I am tired of Elway’s disrespectful way of treating Tebow) to the New England Patriots.  I can only imagine the creativity of Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels (yep, the guy who drafted Tebow) using Tim in great ways all while coaching him and learning behind Tom Brady.

I don’t think I’m asking for anything unrealistic here.  I want to see loyalty in sports.  I want people to speak words that can be believed.  I want coaches to coach.  I want players to improve.  I want to see creativity.  I want to see Tim Tebow learn the game from Peyton Manning and John Elway.  I want to see the Broncos offense utilize both players’ strengths making it difficult to plan for them.  I want quarterbacks who come from the state of Tennessee (Manning-UT, Cutler-Vanderbilt) to stop taking over for players I am a huge fan of (Plummer, Tebow).  I want to see an NFL executive realize that past the obvious marketability of Tebow, that the kid can play and win football games.  I want a team to commit to Tebow so that he can excel in a positive environment.  I want a million dollars.

Sadly, nothing above seems to be realistic.  We’re stuck in a black and white sports world where nothing is as it seems.  Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear when it comes to the daily press conferences.  You can’t listen to any of the analysts, journalists or “experts” as they know just about as much as we do.  They may have “sources” but who really knows what that means.  It could be his kid or it could be legitimate.  You just take it with a grain of salt and wait for something official to be said by the player.  At the end of the day, sports franchises fear what they don’t know and don’t understand.  I think they are afraid to think outside of the box.  Tebow will always be out of the box, whether coached or not.  He’s a quarterback, but also a playmaker.  I also believe that Elway didn’t truly want to work with Tebow, preferring to sit in his office or standing on the sideline not having to work.  Elway didn’t believe in Tebow from the start and now he gets to ship him out.  His actions clearly speak louder than his words.  So congrats Johnny Boy, you got your wish.

You know what?  I think I hate sports…