Friday, July 29, 2011

Are you ready for some Football?!

Its been 136 days but the wait is finally over. The NFL season has been saved! The Lockout is over! Football being my favorite sport it was excruciating to not have Football for the majority of the summer. To not speak about free agency, we weren't able to see what teams were improving and how. No rumors about who was getting traded and who was going to hold out and what not, it was all legal talk about the Lockout and how a bunch of billionaires can split they're money. Well now that its over, how about we move on to the fun stuff like Free Agency!

So far since the NFL has been back in business very little has happened which was too be expected, but still things are coming into fruition. Teams are signing players, while others are releasing them to make room for draft picks and just cap space in general.

So Far In The NFL:

Flying High

Kevin Kolb is finally going to get a chance to show us what he is really about. The Eagles agreed to send Kolb to Arizona in exhange for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2nd Round pick. Kevin Kolb has had a lot of hype around him ever since he was drafted. He was expected to replace Donovan McNabb but it didn't quite work out that way, a man named Michael Vick came along and put that position under lock and key. The Cardinals as well all know were desperate for a QB, Derek Anderson was just awful and at the time rookies Max Hall and John Skelton weren't really the answer the either. That desperation made them give up a very good and young corner in Rodgers-Romartie and sent him to the Eagles, with Rodgers-Cromartie along side Asante Samuel, that's one tough pass defense. Kevin Kolb will finally get a chance to run a team and be the head honcho, lets see if he is really up to the task.

Seahawks Reloaded

The Seattle Seahawks are trying desperatley to revamp their roster while still trying to make the playoffs again. The Seahawks acquired two Vikings this offseason, Sidney Rice and Tavaris Jackson. While Tavaris may not have been the hot commodity that Sidney was/is its still a step in the right direction. This team's offense should be much better than last years Seattle team, the only question mark is the QB position. Does Charlie or Tavaris have enough to get it done? I'm not too sure, they've both showed some promise, but the good outweighs the bad in this situation. Even though they have re-tooled, I don't think the Seahawks will be making it into the playoffs this year, but they are moving into the right direction.

Jets re-sign Santonio Holmes

The New York Jets re-signed WR Santonio Holmes to a 50million dollar deal with $24 million gaurunteed. The Jets saw what Santonio did for their team last year during the regular season and the playoffs. They believe that he has put his past mistakes and his bad habits behind him and that he has completley matured into a top reciever in this league. I just wonder what is going to happen to Braylon Edwards now. There is no way the Jets are going to give him a similar contract but I'm sure that he will be asking for it. He has been productive in his 2 years with the Jets and I'm sure he believes he deserves it more than Santonio (even though Santonio is a Super Bowl MVP). Will the Jets also re-sign Antonio Cromartie? For how much? Giving Santonio this big of a deal gives the Jets less wiggle room with other players that they need or wanted to re-sign. After seeing this contract, Braylon and Antonio will both walk away from this Jets team.

Vikings and Redskins have trade in place for Donovan McNabb

Those Vikings really love the veteren mobile gunslinger kinds of QB's don't they? First you bring Brett Favre back from retirement, twice, and now you're bringing in Donovan McNabb? After McNabb was traded from the Eagles to the Redskins, he had a terrible year. The Redskins were just an awful team that couldn't do anything right whether on the field or off the field. Troubles between players and coaches all around, between McNabb getting benched for Rex Grossman multiple times and Albert Haynesworth barely playing at all, there was nothing good going for that team. The Vikings bringing in McNabb could be a great thing. He could be a great mentor to Christian Ponder (QB from Florida St. Drafted with the 12th pick) and maybe he could do what Brett Favre did and take them deep into the playoffs. Sidney Rice signing with Seattle is a big loss that I'm not sure they can recover from so easily.

Wait What?!

Not only did the Redskins get rid of troubled QB Donovan McNabb, but they got rid of an even bigger problem, I mean that figurativley and literally. That's right, the Redskins have finally solved their Albert Haynesworth problem. The Redskins and the Patriots have agreed on a deal to send Albert to the Patriots in return for a fifth round pick. The Patriots didn't stop there however, they also traded for playmaker and self-promoting wide receiver Chad John- whoops I meant Chad Ochocinco. I am excited for the both of them coming to the team, I really am. I am also worried however, will these players buy into the Patriot way? Team first structure with Bill as the head honcho. A lot of people are concerned with Albert Haynesworth coming to the team. Sure he has been overweight for the past two years and hasn't played up to that giant contract. No biggie! This is the Patriots! We always bring in the guys that are outcasted! Look at Randy Moss, Corey Dillon, Wes Welker (couldn't stay on a team to save his life) and the most recent Deion Branch. Bill Belichick has a very unique way of getting these guys to play their hardest,at least for a couple years anyway. I'm excited to see what kind of defensive formations we'll see from Bill, this could be a real dominant defensive line now, not exactly how its been the past couple of years. Can you also imagine Tom Brady passing to Chad Ochocinco? Chad is a great addition to our offense that was becoming a bit one dimensional since the loss of Randy Moss. This Patriots team is poised for great things!

Other Moves:
Reggie Bush takes his talents to South Beach
Giants Re-Sign Pass Rusher Kiwanuka
DeAngelo Williams re-signs with Carolina
Eagles sign Jason Babin
Clint Seassion inks deal with Jaguars

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The NBA's Coastal Power Shift

As a fan of an Eastern Conference team living in a different Eastern Conference city, I always favored this side of the country when debating which conference was better in the NBA. Granted, this was incredibly difficult to do when you looked at each conference top to bottom. When the 8-seeded Golden State Warriors (42 wins) defeated the 67-win Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2007 NBA playoffs, it was something that we never considered could happen out East. The same year, the 8-seeded Orlando Magic (sub-.500 record) got swept by the 53-win Detroit Pistons. Think about that: the overall seed in the Eastern Conference won 53 games. The Houston Rockets (5th seed in the west in 2007) won 52 games.

Now it’s 2011 and it seems as if the once lopsided balance of power amongst the league’s conferences has balanced out. In fact, some think the East is better than the Western Conference these days. Some people think the East has the three or four best teams in the entire NBA. Does that make it the better conference today? Well, which conference is better all-time?

Let’s answer these questions.

There have been 62 NBA championships handed out since 1950. Which conference do you think has won most of those 62? Think of an answer without googling. Believe in that answer. Don’t doubt it. Hold onto that answer and we’ll get back to it.

Since Michael Jordan’s retirement and the 1998 lockout (go ahead and make a joke about how they had something to do with each other), there have been 13 NBA champions. The only teams out of the East to win it were the 2004 Detroit Pistons (who beat a better Lakers team in an all-around strange NBA season), the 2006 Miami Heat (thanks to some questionable officiating), and the 2008 Boston Celtics (the best team that season). You put all that

in perspective and it is hard to imagine someone saying the Eastern Conference has been better in the post-Jordan NBA. The conference also allowed multiple teams with .500 or sub-.500 records into the playoffs with the most embarrassing being the 2011 Indiana Pacers with 37 wins, the 2008 Atlanta Hawks with 37 wins, and the 2004 Boston Celtics with 36 wins.

The past thirteen seasons have been somewhat of a joke for the East. After Jordan retired, the conference was dominated by the Pacers, Nets, Knicks, and Heat. The Knicks and Heat quickly trailed off after we entered the 2000’s, while the Pacers and Nets couldn’t get past the Lakers dynasty featuring Kobe and Shaq. Detroit emerged soon after, putting consistency on clear display for the entire league to see. They averaged 55 wins, made two finals, and won a championship in the 7 seasons between 2002 and 2008. If you think about it, they were the Indianapolis Colts of the NBA. The next juggernaut after Detroit was the Cleveland Cavaliers, and we uh…all know how that turned out. Today? The Celtics and Magic are current contenders while the Heat and Bulls have plenty of contention years ahead of them. So is the Eastern Conference the better conference? Yes. Have they been? No, but this feels like the beginning of a new era. The post-Jordan era ended when the Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the summer of 2007. That move triggered the Lakers who triggered the Heat, Knicks, and Nets years later. I’ll boldly predict that the East will dominate this decade and that their only real threat out West will be the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Now let’s go back to the question I asked a few paragraphs ago: Which conference do you think has won most of those 62? If you answered the Western Conference, you were incorrect. The East has won the Larry O’Brien trophy 35 times in 62 tries. If you take away the past thirteen seasons, they won the trophy 32 times in 49 tries, including a sweep of the entire 1960’s decade! The decade by decade breakdown of the title winners goes like this:

  • 1950s: 6-4, West
  • 1960s: 10-0, East
  • 1970s: 6-4, East
  • 1980s: 5-5
  • 1990s: 7-3, East
  • 2000s: 7-3, West
  • 2010s: 2-0, West

As you can see, the West’s domination of the NBA is fairly recent and I’m calling it over. The Dallas Mavericks’ parade was the last hurrah for the conference. The East will get back to dominating the league with the Spurs, Lakers, and Mavericks finally heading towards the door. Behind the likes of Derrick Rose and stable management, the Bulls will surely bring a championship back to the Windy City in no time. All the Heat have to worry about is the new collective bargaining agreement. It is very possible the new CBA can force the Two-and-a-Half Men to separate and split up their South Beach dreams. Either way, I'm sure Pat Riley will find a way to help build a team that will compete for championships over the next decade.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Summer of 2002 for the Montreal Expos (and the 2011 Pirates)

In the summer of 2002, then Montreal Expos GM Omar Minaya was trying to not only keep his job, but save a franchise. The Expos haven’t been to the playoffs in 11 years and did not have a winning record since 1996. The worst was when they were 74-40 and in first place of the NL East before player strike canceled the rest of the season and any shot of the Expos making a World Series run. Ownership was trying to sell the team, and rumors of the Expos moving to Washington seemed to look more realistic. So when Minaya’s team was 5 games back of the wild card in the last week of June and a team with young but talented players (Jose Vidro, Orlando Cabrera, Fernando Tatis, and Vladimir Guerrero were all 27 years old) he knew he would need a top tier pitcher to solidify the rotation.

A then 29 year old Cleveland pitcher Bartolo Colon had a 10-4 record with an impressive 2.55 ERA, but was pitching on a last place team. The Indians made it very clear that they were willing to trade away their top pitcher, but in return was looking for top prospects. Minaya spent the low years of the Expos into rebuilding their farm system so that one day the Expos can rid their demons from years past, and hopefully last as a franchise. The trade goes through, with pitcher Tim Drew (Older Brothers of JD and Stephen Drew) and Colon going to Montreal shipping 4 prospects over to Cleveland. Although Colon pitched well (10-4, 3.31 ERA in 17 starts), the Expos were not able to over take the Braves during their 14 year dominance of the NL East and missed out on the playoffs for a 12 straight years.

While the Expos knew they might have made their last run for a championship, the Indians had some nice pieces to work around from the trade. Along with first baseman Lee Stevens the Indians received future all stars Grady Sizemore (3 Time All-Star, 2 Time Gold Glove), Brandon Phillips (2 Time All-Star and Gold Gloves) and Cliff Lee (3 Time All-Star, 2008 Cy Young Award). The Expos during the offseason traded Colon to the White Sox for pitchers Rocky Biddle and Orlando Hernandez & first baseman Jeff Liefer to clear their high payroll. 2 years later, the franchise known as the Washington Nationals (Natinals on somedays…) came to being and Montreal was without a baseball team.

With the MLB Trading deadline 4 days away, Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington might have found himself in the same position as Omar Minaya was in 9 years ago. The rich history of the Pirates dates back to 1891, winning 5 world championships during that time and having arguably one of the greatest decades of any professional franchises during the 1970s.

But with the Pirates only 1 game back of the NL Central Leading Cardinals this late in the season, the city of Pittsburg is buzzing with Pirate Fever. For the die hard fans that haven’t even seen an over .500 record since Barry Bonds (in his final season as a Pirate) and the 1992 Pirates lost game 7 of the NLCS to the Braves, have been waiting for a year like this.

When the question comes if the Pirates should go out and make a trade for an established veteran bat like Carlos Beltran for what would only be a ½ a season rental, it has many comparisons to the 2002 Expos. Both had fan bases that haven’t seen a playoff game in many years, both were young teams that would need a veteran starter and both stock piled good young prospects in their farm system. But with the Pirates exceeding anybody’s pre season expectations, are their fans just going to be ok with a .500 record, or do they feel like they need to make the playoffs now? It wasn’t too long ago that frustrated Pirates fans participated in a walk out of their own team to show the front office that they were unhappy with how the team was being run.

As the deadline looms on, the ghosts of Omar Minaya circa 2002 watches over Neal Huntington like an angel and devil on his shoulders. On one side, he tells him to go make the trade to give the fan base hope even if that means giving up on a top prospect or two. On the other side it says to keep building, let the rest of the season progress how it has been for the first 4 months and continue to keep building through the farm. What ever decision the Pirates make from here, Mr. Huntington hopes will not land him in history as one of the biggest trades (or no trade) of the 2010’s.
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