Tag Archives: nba

The NBA Free Agency Circus, Led by Ringmaster DeAndre

In case you have been on Mars, Pluto, or in a no-Internet zone, you have missed a WHALE of an early free agency period in the NBA.

LeBron is a free agent. Okay, not really. Dwayne Wade is a free agent. Speculation was that he would join LeBron in Cleveland. He did not. He stayed in Miami, the only home he’s ever known. There are countless others who are being courted, or who have already decided where they are going to play. To check out the full list, click here.

  • Kevin Love, off the market.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge, off the market.
  • Goren Dragic, off the market.
  • DeAndre Jordan, off the market. On the Market. Off the market. On? Off?

Jordan’s story is one of intrigue, indecision and reneging on his word.

According to the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement found hereThere is a specified time that teams can negotiate contracts BUT CANNOT SIGN them.

Each season, the NBA has a Moratorium Period in which teams may hold negotiations, but cannot sign contracts. Limited exceptions to this rule apply to Rookie Scale Contracts with first round draft picks, minimum contracts of one or two seasons (with draft picks and free agents) and acceptance of Qualifying Offers by Restricted Free Agents. The Moratorium Period for the remainder of the term of the CBA will be as follows:

  • 2015-16 July 1, 2015 through July 8, 2015
  • 2016-17 July 1, 2016 through July 11, 2016
  • 2017-18 July 1, 2017 through July 11, 2017
  • 2018-19 July 1, 2018 through July 10, 2018
  • 2019-20 July 1, 2019 through July 9, 2019
  • 2020-21 July 1, 2020 through July 8, 2020

The drama between DeAndre Jordan, the Dallas Mavericks, and the Los Angeles Clippers will surely change the landscape of this agreement. I would be surprised if this is still in effect next year.

In essence, the player holds all the cards. For example, Jordan agreed verbally with the Dallas Mavericks to join them as a free agent signing. He was courted by several Dallas sports icons, including: Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons, Dez Bryant, Tony Romo, Jerry Jones and others.

Ultimately, it was Jordan’s decision. In the NBA, verbal agreements mean nothing. In business matters, the only things that matter are signed contracts. Even then, they often aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on because of the “renegotiations” that occur.

Let’s say Player A signs a 4-year deal. After one year, he has a monster season and demands more money. He already has a signed contract, a legal, binding document. However, he is allowed to threaten to sit out games or a season if he does not get a new contract. This is where we are in sports. In real life, you would be sued in court for breach of contract.

deandre jordan dunk faceFor the purposes of this article, Jordan’s word was worth a $3 bill. It is within his right to do what he wants. It’s HIS life. His career. What he did to the Dallas Mavericks is both deplorable and juvenile, even for a 26-year-old.

How, you say?

  1. He held the Mavericks hostage, because once he agreed to terms with them, he locked up some $80 million dollars and change. Money they didn’t have to pursue others.
  2. By going back on his word, he hamstrung the Mavericks in every phase of the game. His indecision caused the Mavericks problems in going after other potential free agents. Granted, that was the Mavericks fault for not going after other big men once they thought they had landed their big fish. They let Tyson Chandler go. They let Monta Ellis go. They let Al-Farouq Aminu go. Thinking they got a good big man caused the Mavericks to pause and take a breather, and that will cost them dearly.
  3. His reported refusal to speak with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to let him know he decided to return to the Clippers was nothing short of childish. As a man, he owed that much to a man who was willing to pay him a LOT of money.
  4. Because of this decision, the Mavericks have not only lost out on Jordan, but the wheels are likely set in motion for Rick Carlisle‘s exit, as well. Carlisle is on record stating that he will not stick around for a rebuilding session.

This is a free country where we are free to choose what we will and will not do. Once upon a time, many moons ago, the Greatest Generation (baby boomers) did business with a handshake. To them, a man’s word was his bond. You did what you said, and said what you did. If you wanted to do something, no contracts were needed. Your word was as good as gold. Not anymore.

Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News
Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News

The days of true team players like Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan are coming to a close. These two men epitomize class and respect for the game. Both men have made a lot of money and left a lot of money on the table so that their respective franchises can compete for championships.

It will be a sight to see when the Clippers visit the American Airlines Center for the first time. It will probably be deafening inside, but not for the right reasons, if you are DeAndre Jordan. In fact, if you were to take a poll in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for most-hated  NBA villians, the following would probably be true:

  1. Los Angeles Clippers
  2. DeAndre Jordan
  3. James Harden
  4. Houston Rockets
  5. San Antonio Spurs

Take a step back for a moment and consider the most recent athlete to experience the ire of the entire DFW Metroplex. Bear in mind that this fan base really isn’t prone to boo. Only after exhausting their hopes and dreams will they resort to booing.

When Josh Hamilton played his last season for the Texas Rangers in 2012, he was by all estimations mailing it in. The strikeouts, jogging in the outfield, and lazy running to first base were all there for the fans to see, yet they did not boo. It wasn’t until he started making excuses for why he was not playing well that the tide started to turn, culminating in a remarkable moment in a game that would determine the 2012 AL West Champion. Hamilton dropped a fly ball in center field for a two-run error that gave the Oakland A’s a 7-5 lead in a six-run fourth inning. To make matters worse, he jogged after the dropped ball, with no concern or urgency. Fan anger began to bubble to a boil.

Then in the one-game Wild Card Playoff, after his awful at-bats where he swung at everything in the air or in the dirt, the fans finally had enough and let the boos loose.

Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports
Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports

As bad as that was, it didn’t compare to the booing he received when he came back to Texas with the Angels after he flippantly stated that Arlington was not a “baseball town.” The booing he received as an Angel was incredible. I was at a game and could not believe it. Not even Alex Rodriguez got that much hatred.

Josh Hamilton‘s experience will pale in terms of what DeAndre Jordan will get. I shudder to think of how that will sound in an enclosed stadium. Heaven forbid if he has to make free throws to win the game. It appears that he did NOT want to “be the man” in Dallas, but is perfectly happy being the “third option” behind CP3 and Blake Griffin.

Right now, I am sure Steve Ballmer, Doc Rivers, and CP3 are all removing their red noses and clown makeup. After all, this is the NBA circus.


Ronnie Garcia is the Voice of Reason at The Scoop. He is also an avid guitarist, educator, and all around smarmy guy. Ronnie co-hosts The Fanatics on Monday nights from 7-9pm on KTSR-db. You can follow him on twitter @TheRonMann.

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McDavid? Or, McSavior?

All eyes are on a once-in-a-generation player, about to join a once-proud franchise looking to turn a corner.

 Kevin Donnan


When Connor McDavid strides across the stage this week in Sunrise, Florida, he will join the likes of Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby.

It’s almost unimaginable how the fortunes and optimism of a city and an organization can turn the minute a “generational player” is all but locked down for a hockey team.

Larry Wong/Edmonton Journal/CanWest News Service
Larry Wong/Edmonton Journal/CanWest News Service
If you haven’t heard, by now, Connor McDavid is lined up to become hockey’s “next one” for the team that was the home of “The Great One.” For at least the past three years, the hockey world has been abuzz about the kid from just outside Toronto.

 

For every Crosby and Lemieux, there is an Alexander Daigle and Greg Joly waiting, but every hockey expert from Moscow to Moose Jaw has the 18-year-old poised to be hockey’s next all-world, all-consuming, all-watching, talent.

Fans, players and executives of the NHL are on pins and needles to see just what kind of impact the kid will have on hockey, and especially on one of the most success-starved franchises in the league.


Oilers Looking for a Lifeline

Seven days before the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery on April 18th, the Edmonton Oilers completed another embarrassing and painful season, finishing 24-44-14. For the third time in their past six seasons, the team had finished at least 20 games below the .500 mark, and 2014-15 marked their ninth season in a row without a post-season appearance, which only the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Timberwolves could truly envy.

But it wasn’t always this way.

NHL.com
NHL.com
The Oilers were once one of the most enviable franchises in sports. Borne out of the ashes of the old World Hockey Association, the 1980s in Edmonton were the epicenter of a hockey renaissance thanks to Gretzky and Messier and the team’s legendary Stanley Cup run that featured five wins in seven seasons.

Like all great teams, the success faded in the mid-90s, but with some savvy trades of their fading and expensive stars, they climbed out of the basement and returned to some measure of competitiveness. Always battling for a playoff spot at the bottom rung of the conference standings, the team remained relatively competitive, but never enough to truly satisfy the fan base, which hadn’t seen a conference final in 14 years since their last appearance in 1992.

The fan-base that was craving a return to prominence finally got a serious taste during a magical Stanley Cup run in 2006. But, like all things ‘magic,’ the fan-base and the organization were completely deceived into believing this was the start of a positive upswing or a return to the halcyon days of the 1980s, which was so long ago that back then Bill Cosby was a loveable ‘Dad’ and not a ‘suspect.’

The run eventually became the organization’s biggest Achilles heel. While it bought the overlord of the franchise, former Oilers defenseman Kevin Lowe, more time, all it really did was expose that the team, the media and the fan-base were living in the past with no plan for the future.

Over and over again, and with seemingly every hire of a former player, the organization became the most incestuous and ineffective old boys club in sports.

 

scoop 2The nine years of hell that this organization put their fan-base through featured a parade of ineffective and puppet coaches, one of the worst draft records by any team in any 10-year time frame outside of the first round, a pro and amateur scouting department that some estimate was 20 years behind the times, and an incompetent management team more interested in protecting their own personal legacies than making the moves necessary to get the franchise moving forward.

Since the glory days, the ‘small town’ attitude that has pervaded the organization is ultimately what sent this once proud franchise into irrelevance and laughing-stock status. The culture of the team became so toxic that any dissension in the media (including threats to pull media accreditations), among the fans or within the organization was defined as treasonous disloyalty. The Oilers have been so pathetic in the past decade that in spite of three first overall picks since 2010, the team became the biggest laughing-stock in hockey, with seemingly no way to get out from under it.

USATSI
USATSI
It’s the type of environment where an absentee billionaire owner who lives 12 hours away was given a free pass, and the local media, the organization and large groups of the fan-base continued to believe that the organization was always just ‘one or two players away’ thanks to a media strategy that featured an endless string of news conferences and tributes to the past with an unending parade of jersey retirements, all designed to placate the fans, but offer nothing in terms of anything resembling a ‘plan’ for the future beyond being in the draft lottery every year.

In spite of a wealth of draft talent in the first round, including three first overall draft picks in a row from 2010 to 2012, management literally had no answer. In fact, the amazing culture that was the lifeblood of the team during its heyday had become its ultimate undoing, all culminated within the last two years, and it all started with yet another news conference.


A Tale of Two Aprils

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
It was April 2013, and the Oilers were announcing the re-hiring of former golden era stalwart Craig MacTavish as GM. A former assistant and head coach who only generated three playoff appearances in eight seasons was now given the reins of the franchise as the General Manager, with zero experience at a management level and with his best pal Kevin Lowe as President of Hockey Operations, there was no clear line of demarcation. Perhaps the only demarcation was to take the heat off of Lowe, who was already starting to have his credibility questioned leading into what the organization tried to call a ‘fresh’ hire. Lowe started as a player, but has held virtually every title you can think of: Assistant Coach, Head Coach, General Manager, President, President of Hockey Operations, etc.

But it was what happened during that news conference that ultimately led to where we are today. Lowe, when questioned about his abysmal record as a hockey executive by a local reporter, literally went off with the arrogance, incompetence and horrific culture that had driven this team for years.

Lowe’s suggestion of “two tiers of fans” — one they listened to, which didn’t endear him to the faithful — but that was only the beginning of what has become the most legendary news conference in this area since we bid farewell to #99 on a sad Friday 27 years ago. Lowe capped things by stating that, “Only one person working in hockey had as many Stanley Cups as he had.”

The only missing element was this fact: Lowe won his last Cup as a player 21 years ago, and outside of the lightning-in-a-bottle 8th place finish, and the miracle in 2006, he’s pretty much been as close to the Stanley Cup as an executive as I have to becoming the career all-time passing leader for the Dallas Cowboys.

It was this news conference where the cracks started to form. The management team’s worst coaching hire followed (Dallas Eakins), and two more lost seasons, but it was after his “I know something about winning” comment that Lowe and MacTavish were doomed to the fan-base.

The fan-base was getting louder with their second year of demanding changes at every level, took to buying advertising, campaigning on social media, producing bumper stickers and holding rallies in bars.

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
After more than a decade of incompetence solely based on the myth that only former Oilers could run the franchise, the fan-base finally grew up and demanded better. Nearly 20,000 people signed up on social media, advertising was purchased, and even the media, who protected the regime more fiercely than the regime itself, had started to raise questions.

As the end of the 2015 season approached, one would think that the optimism of a new state-of-the-art arena would help, but even a new building set to open for the start of 2016 was clouded by the performance of the team and many fans openly complaining about how the new arena should be empty based on the performance of the team.

CBC
CBC
But then, April 18th happened, and with a slightly better than one chance out of 10, they pulled off what some are calling a miracle, and some have even wildly suggested that they pulled off the crime of the century.

While there was no sketchy, and some say culpable, Zapruder Film like in 1985 with David Stern and the NBA Lottery, those who love a good conspiracy theory believed they had some mileage when you consider how abysmally the Edmonton Oilers have handled the development of four first-round draft picks in just six years (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov), and they have an arena to fill.

It was a beautiful attempt based on the parallels, but outside of Gary Bettman and the Oilers brain trust checking the envelopes personally during the live broadcast, this lottery will never reach the conspiratorial heights of Stern in 1985.

National Post
National Post
As this was happening, Connor McDavid had completed a 120-point season, the endorsements of every hockey ‘expert’ from coast to coast, and picked up every major junior hockey award you can fathom, including a gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championship, and the MVP, Scholastic Player and Prospect of the Year trophies.


The Savior?

Just as the announcement of the Knicks in 1985 sent shock waves, consider the impact in Edmonton; the McDavid effect is no small force.

Prior to April 18, the management team had vowed to stay the course, building slowly and deliberately while offering no insight on the timetable for when the team would be competitive again, in spite of the treasure trove of first-round picks.

This was a team that prior to April 18, wasn’t changing any aspect of their organization, but, when a player who recorded 285 points in 166 games in Junior fell into their laps, the team realized that rather than meander as it had the last nine seasons with no palpable results, its entire future was firmly at hand.

The timetable moved up substantially and dramatically:

  • After the envelope was unsealed, six days later, Craig MacTavish was fired as GM (although he took a lesser role as “Assistant GM”) and replaced with Peter Chiarelli, who built the 2011 Bruins Stanley Cup championship team.
  • The team’s CEO and defacto leader of community-based projects was fired.
  • The new arena, which was shrouded in controversy and bad press over the seemingly ‘bad deal’ between Edmonton’s City Council and the Oilers, was suddenly and inexplicably the first answer when it came to ‘good news’ about the city.
  • Less than a month after that, the team had a new head coach (Todd MacLellan, ex of San Jose) who is clearly his own man, and who brought in his own assistants. Past coaching staffs were formed by management, and the coach was “given” his assistant coaches.

And, finally, even Kevin Lowe, of the owner and the firm leader of the franchise, was given yet another title. The title of “President of Hockey Operations” was removed, and he was moved to the new position as the “Vice Chair” of the newly minted “Oilers Entertainment Group.”

As a close friend of the owner Daryl Katz, who became pals in the glory years, the hiding and protection afforded to Lowe and his changing titles brings to mind how in the movie CasinoRobert DeNiro as ‘Ace’ was given every job title under the sun to ensure he could stay on to run the place. Seemingly, and on paper, he has been removed from all connections to the hockey team, and for many observers and fans of the team, fingers are crossed as the failings of this franchise for the past decade fall squarely at the feet of Lowe. Oilers fans are certainly hoping the latest change in job title actually means something this time, and keeps him away from the rink.

So as the Oilers plot a return to greatness, in just a few days, a pimply-faced kid from just outside Toronto will put on a ballcap and shove his head through a jersey, and once he emerges and the flashbulbs pop, an entire organization and a long-suffering fan-base holds its breath. Then the expectations start.

Here’s hoping this kid is ready and truly knows what he’s in for. But either way, an entire city and an entire sport, waits and wonders.


Kevin Donnan is a regular contributor to The Scoop and is a sports obsessed and self-confessed Pop Culture idiot savant trapped in a frozen, northern wasteland, yet, loves all things Texas and is the most “American” Canadian who has ever lived above the 49th parallel.

The Bow, The Ow and The Wow: LeBron’s Finals Journey

The 2015 NBA Finals for LeBron James was a microcosm of a career and a tribute to a once in a lifetime athlete

– Kevin Donnan


Some of you are preparing to *click* out of this article, and I understand.

Because outside of Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez, there is no more polarizing athlete on the planet than LeBron James.

You don’t need to be a NBA expert to know of LeBron James‘ career. Generational talent right out of high school, playing in Cleveland, “The Decision,” the flops, the money, the MVPs, the politics, “The Heatles,” the titles, the commercials, and of course “The Return.”

Through it all, whether you’re the obsessed or the casual observer, you typically reside in one of two camps:

1. LeBron James is an overrated, cramping, preening, flopper. Or,

2. You’ve named your children in tribute to the names of James‘ fictional Nike family, The LeBrons.

Nike
Nike

(Which means that those children, if not blessed with intestinal fortitude, will most certainly learn to acquire some as you try walking around with the names: Wise, Business, Athlete and Kid.)

Of course, James recently completed his sixth NBA Finals in 12 seasons. No matter on which side of the fence you reside, and in spite of his record falling to an overall 2-4 in the title series, this edition of The Finals, which was his fifth in a row, truly cemented his legacy as the greatest player of his generation, perhaps all time, and one of the most divisive players who has ever set foot in the sports arena in the eyes of fans.


The Bow

After earning a split on the road in the first two games, clearly James was confident. As a road team, a split is the ultimate goal, and has set the stage for innumerable upsets and “can-you-believe-its.”

In Game 3, though, LeBron pulled out one of those rare moments in sports. Say what you want about The King, but very few have had the keen sense of the moment as he has over the course of his career, and Game 3 was another demonstration.

A minute or two before tip-off, James strode towards his place at the circle, stopped, and made eye contact with a legend. That glance has become a now legendary moment. James‘ simple bow of acknowledgment to Cleveland legend Jim Brown was one of the most beautiful gestures of respect, admiration and love that has ever been seen in sports, and one that will not fade from memory anytime soon.

Later, in an article on clevelandbrowns.com, Brown called the move “one of his greatest sports moments.” There is no way anyone can underscore the power of that statement when you take into account the legacy of Jim Brown, the athlete and the man.

The demonstration of respect to one of the most legendary athletes in the city and the country elevated James‘ status as a true sportsman, and a young man who is respectful and reverential of the past and those who helped blaze the trail without fear, and with nothing but courage and character.


The Ow

USATSI
USATSI

With Cleveland entering Game 4 owning the only lead they would ever have, the Cavs mirrored their unabashed leader’s awkward fall under the backboard in the 2nd quarter. Detractors called it an embellishment that, might even make, yes, LeBron James blush, but his tumble into the camera lens rattled the Cavs. Once James emerged from the floor, this tumble was no joke, he was cut, required stitches, and was down for a few minutes.

(The sad fact, is that LeBron‘s skull was not the only, ahem, body part that was shown to the world in Game 4, but I really want this to be about basketball.)

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It was the defensive plan of the Warriors where the pain really emerged for the Cavaliers. In his first start of the series, the Warriors started defending James with eventual series MVP Andre Iguodala. James shot a miserable 7-for-22, and had his lowest point total of the series with 20. Two games later, Iguodala was named MVP specifically for his defensive play against James.

The 103-81 blowout elevated the Warriors back into the confident and mentally unflappable crew that had dominated the league all season. With home court re-established, and Steph Curry finding his touch again, the clock was striking midnight on the supporting cast. A bench that likely didn’t realize just how they had caught lightning in a bottle began falling to earth in spite of the heroics of James.


The Wow

For nearly all teams, losing two all-stars (Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving) in one season, let alone in one playoff tournament, typically spells complete and utter doom. But the sheer will of James, in spite of those losses, is what truly brought it all home.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports/REUTERS
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports/REUTERS

LeBron was the first player in Finals history to lead both teams in points-rebounds-assists (38-PPG, 13-RPG, 8APG), and captured that amazing designation by literally playing all five positions at any given time. When he wasn’t posting up, he was bringing the ball up the floor as the point guard.

He also was responsible for more than 38 percent of his team’s points. Only Michael Jordan ever posted a higher share, and the difference is within one-tenth of a point.

After Game 5, he said that any team he played on could never be considered a true underdog, and that he was the best player in the world. While these remarks only stoked the fires of his critics further, it’s hard to argue with the inherent facts.

LeBron James is many, many, many things to many different people, and in so many ways this series represented the odyssey that began when he left St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. Brilliance, drama, passion, and of course, a little showmanship for good measure.

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny his ability and his desire to win, with all of the flops, cramps, televised “Decisions,” and everything else that goes with LeBron being LeBron.

I don’t understand why this superstar isn’t more embraced. From one end of the spectrum to the other, you simply can’t ignore or take your eyes away anytime he’s on the court.


Kevin Donnan is a regular contributor to The Scoop and is a sports obsessed and self-confessed Pop Culture idiot savant trapped in a frozen, northern wasteland, yet, loves all things Texas and is the most “American” Canadian who has ever lived above the 49th parallel.

Could the Finals MVP be a Loser?

There’s a saying that the hardest truths to see in life are the ones that are staring you straight in the face, right in front of you. Don’t quote me on that.

With regards to who should be this year’s NBA Finals MVP, the answer is so glaringly obvious that I’m surprised anyone would actually try and say otherwise. What’s the counter-argument?

“Oh, well, a member of the losing team hasn’t been Finals MVP since 1923.” Or whenever.

NBA.com
NBA.com
It’s 1969, actually, and the man to do it was Jerry West. His Lakers lost the series in seven games, but he led all players in the series in minutes, field goals, free throws, defensive rebounds, assists and points.

That’s pretty much exactly what LeBron James is doing. I don’t see how even the most irrational of LeBron haters can go to bed at night after watching him in this series without having gained a little more respect for him.

We shouldn’t forget that Golden State was ranked No. 1 in overall in defensive efficiency throughout the regular season. When the Finals started a week ago, I was a bit stunned to see LeBron begin to pick them apart like he did, and then to see him do it again and again.

USATSI
USATSI
Golden State hasn’t been in a position this year where the same team gets to game plan for you a maximum of seven separate times. We shouldn’t be surprised that this is happening, especially with a player like LeBron who is so hell-bent on delivering a title to Cleveland AND having to do it with a supporting cast from the local YMCA.

It reminds me of what Russell Westbrook did earlier in the year during his ridiculous run of triple-doubles. He had no other choice but to carry his team and the numbers reflected what needed to be done.

If we’re going to hold the term “Finals MVP” to what it really means, then yes, absolutely LeBron is the Finals MVP. Cleveland would be losing every game by 25 points without him. With him, they STILL have a chance to win the series against a far superior opponent, albeit one without any prior Finals experience.

AP Photo/Ben Margot
AP Photo/Ben Margot
Stephen Curry or Andre Iguodala would be the only other viable candidates at this point, and I received a hearty dose of skeptical laughter after I suggested the latter at a Game 5 watch party, but really, Iguodala has been LeBron‘s kryptonite for the last three games.

He nearly had a triple-double in Game 5, and Steve Kerr even calls him his “security blanket.” His veteran moxie and experience have been essential to Golden State not collectively crapping themselves on the biggest stage in the league with the world’s best player on the other end doing his absolute utmost to will the Cavs to a title.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Curry showed in Game 5 why, if LeBron doesn’t win the award, he is the most deserving of the award. His ball-handling, composure and shot-making ability combined to liven the Warriors’ collective spirits and give them the final boost of energy needed to put away a Cleveland team which refuses to die, even they were running on fumes just days ago.

For those who cast the ballots at the end of this series, which I think will be Tuesday, they shouldn’t let 46 years of history sway them from picking LeBron. If we’re taking the award for what it is, then LeBron is the clear-cut choice, no questions asked.

It would be an injustice to pick anyone else.


Zack Cunningham is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @Zackerson.

 

Leaving a Legacy: Why the 2015 Finals are a Defining Moment

SportsUnbiased.com
SportsUnbiased.com

The annual skirmish for the Larry O’Brien Trophy is here. Mister O’Brien was not only the NBA Commissioner for roughly a decade, but also a former Postmaster General, just ahead of future President, Lyndon Johnson, in the 1960s. For those of you keeping track, the trophy was first given this name for the 1984 NBA Finals: a classic duel between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. That series further solidified the reign of one team over another for yet another season, as the fans poured out onto a familiar hardwood court, filled with a rather familiar cloud of cigar smoke.

Believe it or not, a mere eight franchises out of a possible 30 have taken home this trophy during these 30 some-odd years. For the first time since 2006, we will see a brand new team added to that illustrious list, regardless of who happens to win. As for myself, at the end of it all, I really just want the same thing that most professional basketball fans want: a competitive, 7-game series, complete with controversial whistle-blowing and as many down-to-the-wire finishes as humanly possible.

By the way, the number of Game 7s for the NBA Finals SINCE that magical 1984 season is staggeringly low. There have been six occurrences: three on the back end of the 20th century, and three more, here, in THIS century. That’s an average of about once every five seasons. However, there is a good chance that we will see a six-game series, as this is a much more common result. Some would say that the NBA has little to no parity when it comes to competition. I would hesitate to disagree with that claim, except when it comes to the NBA Finals. You see, in order for there to be a Game 6, both teams have to have lost at least twice. Does anyone complain when a baseball game is tied in the 8th inning, but is decided before the bottom half of the 9th has begun? Do football fans want EVERY single game to go into overtime? The point is, Game 7s should NOT be an every-year trend in the NBA. If it happens too little, there might be no one interested enough to see it happen, but if it happens too often, the effects of diminishing returns might make the exciting moments a lot less exciting.

USATSI
USATSI

The focus of the 2015 NBA Finals, no doubt, is on the current MVP Stephen Curry and the game’s current, most dominant player, LeBron James. Is anyone else reminded of when Magic Johnson led the Lakers to the Finals in 1988? He was from Michigan, returning to Michigan, to try and defeat the Detroit Pistons. Stephen Curry, from Ohio, will return to Ohio to attempt to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Let us not forget about LeBron‘s deep roots from the area, too. How quickly things have shifted just in the past five years: the betrayal of his hometown team, the “underachieving” four consecutive Finals appearances in South Florida, the current chance at redemption for a city that hasn’t won a championship in ANY of the four major sports since the pre-Super Bowl era of the NFL. Does anyone else remember the last time a player participated in five straight NBA Finals?

NESN
NESN

Well, the two previous players to do so, overlapped each other to appear in 10 straight NBA Finals, during arguably the best era of the league. Yes, this would be Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Obviously, it is a very narrow list for LeBron James to be a part of, AND Michael Jordan is not ON the list with him, THIS time.

If there is any discussion about which city/area is hungrier for this championship, let me try and set the record straight: it is not even close! The Bay Area might have been a hungry sports town before the 1970s arrived, but since then, they have won eight Super Bowls, seven World Series Titles, and one NBA Championship. Yes, that is correct. The Golden State Warriors have won an NBA Championship.

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

It was in the year of 1975, led by Hall of Fame great Rick Barry. They were, in fact, a long shot to win it that year, but they overcame the odds, particularly in the post-season. For a more modern comparison, try and remember the story of the 1994-’95 Houston Rockets. It is eerily similar. As for this season, on paper, the Warriors have to be the favorites, but there is something strange going on over there in Cleveland. No matter how bleak things have looked for the Cavs, LeBron and company have managed to will their way all the way back to the Finals.

The Michael Jordan/LeBron James comparisons do not always add up: Jordan was a skinny Shooting Guard, while LeBron is a massive Guard-Forward hybrid. One guy played out three full seasons in college, while the other jumped into the league right out of high school. The dissimilarities, for me, are in much greater numbers than the actual similarities. However, if there is one similarity, it is definitely on the line right now. It is the legacy of domination. No, LeBron cannot be 6-0 in the Finals, but he CAN be 3-3. Jordan was the most dominant player for his time, AND he backed it up with both personal and team accolades.

NBA
NBA

When watching LeBron James in this series, think back to Michael Jordan in 1993, versus the Phoenix Suns, and 1998, versus the Utah Jazz. Those were the only two occasions in which Jordan‘s Bulls were the visiting team going in. Furthermore, 1993 was one of only two occurrences in which Jordan was facing the current MVP on the other side of the court. The other occurrence was in 1997, against the same team as in 1998. What did Jordan do in 1993? What did he do in 1997 and 1998? The answer is the exact same for ALL three of those sample questions, and THIS is why Lebron‘s legacy matters in 2015!

As for Stephen Curry, well, he need only think about what happened to those virtually unblemished MVPs inside of those aforementioned examples: Charles Barkley and Karl Malone.

Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated

The only thing either of them failed to accomplish was winning a championship, and they both failed versus the same dominant player. Curry is still young, but allow me to ask this quick question about the NFL great, Dan Marino: how many times did he go back to the Super Bowl after he reached that stage in only his second season as a pro?


Alex Moore is a Contributor at The Scoop.

 

Where Have You Gone, Willie Mays?

AP Photo
AP Photo

No doubt, if you are a sports fan, you’ve noticed a couple of things. First, there is a vast disparity between the major sports in terms of color within that sport. Secondly, in some sports, there is virtually no diversity.

According to a report by Henry Johnson of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, for example, there are issues with diversity in basketball. The NBA, WNBA, and NFL are predominantly African-American, while MLB and MLS are predominantly Anglo.

Screen-Shot-2014-07-11-at-5.46.36-PM
Harvard Sports Analysis Collective

 

In a story written by Paul Hagen for MLB.com, fewer African-Americans are playing in Major League Baseball today than two decades ago; the percentage was 8.5 percent on this season’s Opening Day rosters. Some have estimated that number to be around 27% in the 1970s, but exhaustive research by Mark Armour, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, shows that the actual number never exceeded 19 percent.

So, what is Major League Baseball doing about this? Commissioner Bud Selig announced in April the formation of a task force to tackle the issue of on-field diversity.

“To be fair, the numbers have dropped. I believe the numbers have dropped from 18-19 percent, which is what they were for about two decades. From the 1970s through the ’90s, the numbers were in the high teens. Now they’re half that,” said Armour, who writes software for the Environmental Protection Agency. “What I determined, and I analyzed data from 1947, when Jackie Robinson made his debut up to 1986, is that the number never got to 20 percent. The black-player number, counting all dark-skinned players, was in the high 20s for a period. But not the African-American number. All the press stuff that comes out every April compares the African-American numbers from today with the all-black-players number from the ’70s. And that’s where they make their mistake.”

Even with all his data, Armour can’t fully explain why fewer African-Americans are playing big league baseball beyond the fact that there are so many players of other ethnicities, primarily Latin American and Asian, now in the game.

Let me hazard a guess: MONEY.

First off, where is the allure for baseball? While it may be “America’s Pastime,” the money can be made elsewhere. The NBA has shoe endorsements and multi-million dollar contracts. In my job as an educator, I come in contact with many athletes. 98% tell me that they are going to play basketball in the NBA or play football in the NFL. The NFL has popularity and name recognition. If you play in the NFL, chances are good that you are well known, at least in your region. Same is said for basketball.

The NFL and NBA have a sexiness to them. Major League Baseball has a workman ethic. Not sexy, but more of a grind. While the NFL has a 16-game season, and the NBA has a 82-game season, Major League Baseball has a whopping 162 games. With football being played once a week, it captures more attention. An NBA team may play 2-3 games in a week’s time, but baseball plays almost every day. Perhaps it’s a case of oversaturation?

SLAM Magazine
SLAM Magazine

The NFL is at an all-time high in popularity and the NBA is very visible with stars like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden. The NFL has superstars like Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Tom Brady, among others.  Major League Baseball has stars like Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, and others. Notice a trend? The majority of superstar athletes that play in the NBA and NFL are African-American; the majority of superstars in MLB are Anglo or Hispanic.

Why? Again, I go back to the money issue. Who remembers the Peyton Manning commercials where he chants, “Cut that meat!”?

Who remembers the McDonald’s commercial where Larry Bird and Magic Johnson play HORSE for a meal?

Remember that baseball commercial where…uh…where…ah…well…you get my point. Major League Baseball doesn’t have that appeal to fans, although you will always have diehard fans who keep scorebooks at games. When’s the last time you went to a football game and kept a book for penalties called? When’s the last time you saw someone keeping a book at a basketball game?

Check out these numbers provided by the NCAA.

baseball_0

football_0 mbb_0

In these statistics from the NCAA, you can clearly see that NOT MANY athletes make the cut. Many boys and girls grow up dreaming of playing sports in college and the pro ranks. But of the nearly eight million students currently participating in high school athletics in the United States, only 460,000 of them will compete at NCAA schools. And of that group, only a fraction will realize their goal of becoming a professional athlete.

The sad part is, while some athletes are good enough to play in college, their grades will not get them into college. That frequently forces them go to Junior College where some, if not all, never make it out.

USATSI
USATSI

Baseball is the only sport now that allows players from high school to go straight to the pro’s. Noah Syndergaard, a pitcher from Mansfield Legacy High School in Texas, went from high school to the New York Mets farm club. He is currently on the major league roster.

The NBA has enforced the “one and done” rule, requesting high school basketball prospects to wait at least one year before declaring for the draft. Contrary to popular belief, the NBA does not require athletes to attend one year of college, but they must wait an entire year or be at least 19 years old to declare for the draft.

The NFL will not draft a player from HS. They prefer the player have at least 2 years in college. More underclassmen are declaring for the draft, and more and more are going UNDRAFTED.

Sexy vs. the Grind. Which would you choose?

Which brings me back to my first question: Where have you gone, Willie Mays?


Ronnie Garcia is the Voice of Reason at The Scoop. He is also an avid guitarist, educator, and all around smarmy guy. You can follow him on twitter @TheRonMann.

Tales of Unsigned First Round HS Pitchers, Part 1

UTSanDiego.com
UTSanDiego.com

When the Astros and Brady Aiken, their first overall pick in the 2014 draft, failed to reach agreement at the signing deadline, the entire baseball world was utterly flabbergasted. A couple days after the draft, the 6’4”, 210 lbs, southpaw reportedly accepted the Astros‘  original signing bonus offer which came out at $6.5 million.

However, an MRI discovered something physically unusual in Aiken‘s pitching arm – an abnormally undersized UCL. Concerning about the potential risk of Tommy John surgery, the Astros reduced their offer to $3.16 million. Aiken and Casey Close, his adviser, didn’t like the move, and the sides moved apart. The Astros increased their offer to $5 million at the very end, but Aiken never took it.

As a result, Aiken joined the club of “unsigned overall 1st picks in the history of the baseball draft” as the 3rd member, which consists Danny Goodwin from June 1973 and Tim Belcher from January 1983.

Now we know how it turned out. Aiken joined IMG Academy‘s post-graduate program to reboot his stock for the upcoming 2015 draft. Unfortunately, in his first outing with the squad, he exited the game after just 12 pitches due to an elbow injury that eventually required him to undergo Tommy John surgery – just like the Astros foresaw.

Even though he’s unable to throw for another few months, Aiken is seen as a first round pick in the 2015 draft, although it’s hard to see someone offering him $5 million again. So, in hindsight, Aiken should have taken the Astros‘ final offer, even if it was an insult to him.

This led me to wonder how these stories ended up in previous cases. Using Baseball America‘s Draft Database, there have been 12 pitchers, other than Aiken, who went unsigned when they were drafted out of high school since 1987 when they ditched the January draft.

In this 2-part series, I inspected how life treated each case. Some gained benefit from the decision, while some others went on to disastrous careers.


Alex Fernandez, 24th overall, 1988 

Spokeo
Spokeo

Fernandez forewent the Brewers‘ $110,000 signing bonus offer to attend a Miami area JuCo. After transferring to University of Miami after his Freshmen year and spending a spectacular campaign as a Hurricane, he went as the 4th overall pick in the 1990 draft and signed a $350,000 bonus with the White Sox. He spent 10 years in the big leagues before shoulder injury cut his career short at the age of 30.  The Cuban descendant put up a career 115 ERA+, and struck out 1252 while walking 552, in 1760.1 innings.


Scott Burrell, 26th overall, 1989

Burrell, a 6’5″ right-hander out of Hamden High School in Connecticut, was also known as a basketball star. He turned down the Mariners‘ offer, which was reportedly more than $110,000, to play basketball at University of Connecticut.  After being selected in the 5th round in the next year’s draft by the Blue Jays, and signed for “first round money,” Burrell played briefly in their farm system over the parts of two following seasons.

Inside Hoops
Inside Hoops

His professional baseball career wasn’t as successful as his basketball one, which lasted more than seven years in the NBA.

 


Chad Hutchinson: 26th overall , 1995

Much like Burrell, the San Diego native stood at 6’5″ and was known as a two-sport athlete in high school, though he was a baseball-football guy.  He was selected 26th overall in the 1995 draft by the Braves, who offered a $1.5 million signing bonus.  Rather than playing in the minor leagues for the next few years, Hutchinson accepted a two-sport scholarship from Stanford University, where he pitched for the baseball team in the spring, and played quarterback for football team in the fall over the next 3 years.  With

AP Photo
AP Photo

an MVP award in the Sun Bowl and a trip to the College World Series under his belt, Hutchinson re-entered the draft in 1998. He went with the 48th overall pick this time, and signed a $3.4 million major league contract with the Cardinals. He could have gone higher than that, in fact, there were buzzes from some evaluators that considered him as the best pitching prospect in the class, but many teams thought it would be tough to sign a deal with him; hence, he slipped this low.  Despite breaking camp with the Cardinals in 2001, he got sent back to triple-A after an obscene 24.75 ERA and 17.05 FIP in 4.0 innings, and he never made another

AP Photo
AP Photo

appearance as a big league pitcher. After his baseball career came to an end after the 2001 season, Hutchinson went on to play QB for the Cowboys and the Bears, but his career in NFL lasted no longer than 3 years.


Matt Harrington, 7th overall, 2000

If William Shakespeare wrote a story about baseball,  it would be about Matt Harrington. This is arguably the saddest and most tragic story in baseball draft history.

Entering the 2000 draft out of Palmdale HS near Los Angeles, the right-hander attracted scouts everywhere from the States with his 98 MPH fastball. Baseball America, Gatorade, and USA Today named him the best high school player in the nation that year. Due to signability concern, he slipped to the Rockies’ pick, 7th overall. Their $2.2 million initial offer was far apart from Harrington’s asking price, $4.95 million. Negotiations after negotiations, the Rockies finally offered that $4.9 million, but it was as a salary over 8 years, and forced him to give up 3 arbitration years. Tony Tanzer, Harrington’s adviser, insisted that he reject the offer. And the sides never came close thereafter.

ESPN OTL
ESPN OTL

After a brief 19-inning stint with the St. Paul Saints,  one of the most well-known independent league clubs, Harrington re-entered the draft in 2001. Losing the fastball velocity he once possessed, as well as his stock as a player, he slipped to the 58th overall pick with the Padres. Their offer was somewhere around $1.2 million. Scott Boras, who had taken over the role as Harrington‘s  new adviser, told him not to take it.  Once again, he did not sign.

His fall from grace continued.

Harrington spent another year in independent ball, splitting time between the Long Beach Breakers and the Fort Worth Cats.  The Rays took him in the 13th round of the 2002 draft, but he didn’t take the offer.

5 more seasons in independent ball, 2 more draft selections and rejections, and one not-so-impressive spring training with the Cubs later, Harrington found himself working at Costco as a tire-repairer, for 11 and a half bucks an hour.

This is an extreme case of a player falling off a cliff after turning down big money. You can read more about the sad saga of Matt Harrington in this ESPN story,  written by Amy K. Nelson back in 2009.

This is part 1 of 2-piece series. Part 2 will be out later date.


Kazuto Yamazaki is a Contributor at The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @Kazuto_Yamazaki.