Thursday, February 17, 2005The Morning Toast (Part 2): No NHL Today..
Bledsoe Goes Bye Bye
One of the forgotten stories from yesterday was that the Buffalo Bills parted ways with the human statue, Drew Bledsoe. Not surprising considering the ridiculous contract Bledsoe had in tow and the emergence of Willis McGahee will guarantee that new incumbent J.P. Losman probably won't get killed.
"I completely disagree and can't understand their point of view," Bledsoe said during a conference call from his home in Oregon. "Do I think this is fair? No, I don't think it's fair. But I'm also aware that that's how it works, and I understand that."
Bledsoe is on the down end of his career and in reality I think he gave Buffalo the best he could last season and it still isn't enough. Personally I expect Bledsoe to end up in Dallas will his former coach Bill Parcells. Also don't write off Cleveland so Bledsoe can tutor whichever QB the Browns draft.
In other NFL news a very frightening situation for New England star linebacker Tedy Bruschi. The three-time Super Bowl champion had been admitted to the hospital with headaches that were later diagnosed as stroke-like symptoms, including temporary blindness in his left eye.
At 31 years old, I'm happy to see that Bruschi was "walking and talking" later in the night but it's just another reminder of why the National Football League is such a sacrifice. Bruschi's is one of the toughest men in the league so I don't expect him to snap up and retire after this incident but I hope New England will not put him on the field unless he's 100%.
NBA Eastern All-Stars Revealed!
Much like I did with yesterdays group, I'm going to inspect the Eastern All-Stars to see where the talent level is in the league. The goal is to reach the apex of the league back in 1993 when their were 14 stars all in their prime.
* LeBron James -- It's scary to think that the King is 3-4 years away from playing his best basketball. He's already an undisputed team leader at the age of 20. Averaging 25, 7 and 7 and he's not 21 until Dec. 30?? You've got to be kidding me. You want a reason to like the NBA, watch LeBron. He's the only guy in Sunday's game who has the chance to be larger than life.
* Allen Iverson -- Iverson's a few years past his MVP season of 2001 but he's probably playing the best basketball of his career right now. Forget the rumors from "Screamin'" Stephen A., Iverson is as happy as he's ever been in Philly. He loves playing with a young team and he's turned Kyle Korver and Samuel Dalembert into very servicable pros.
* Vince Carter -- He's selfish, he's vastly overrated and he's a big part of the league's bad reputation because his attitude sucks. But VC has been on fire in bringing the Nets back to sanity. If he stays healthy (a big if) and Jason Kidd doesn't get traded, I expect the Nets to win the ultra-weak Atlantic Division.
* Grant Hill -- One of my (and probably Bee-Ranom's) favorite things about going to Magic games is watching glimpses of the Grant Hill we once knew. The speed is returning, the skills haven't completely eroded. He able to run with Steve Francis. It's a great thing for basketball that a guy like Hill is back in the league.
* Shaquille O'Neal -- The Diesel has found a newer, more friendly sidekick to roll with and he's as happy as he's ever been in Miami. Shaq's footwork has all died off since his first appearance in this game in 1993, but he's still got the ability to have a dominating performance.
Gilbert Arenas -- Team basketball was a new concept to Arenas last year, but after spending the off season working with his teammates Arenas' points and FG percentage are up and the Wizards are winning.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas -- The main beneficiary of the LeBron era, and going into his free agent year the King arrived just at the right time. Will Z do what Carlos Boozer did and run for every last dollar or give Cleveland a small hometown discount in hopes of helping LeBron to his first title.
Jermaine O'Neal -- Of all the people in "the brawl", I felt sorriest for O'Neal because he had been such a good guy in the league. Fortunately the young man has been even more proactive with his off-court maturation after the incident. He's also averaging 25.5 PPG and over two blocks per game.
Paul Pierce -- You wonder how much longer Pierce will be in Celtic green. Personally I think he could look good as a Timberwolf for Sprewell, which would allow Boston to spend as much as they desire since Spree's contract will come of the books at the end of the season. Pierce's numbers have declined every year since 2001.
Dwyane Wade -- The Prince of Marquette, better known as Flash. Wade has jumped dramatically in virtually every category (points, rebounds, blocks, FG percentage) including turnovers. Once he cuts those down he'll be fine.
Antawn Jamison -- Jamison was lost with all the talent in Dallas, he's been able to shine better on the steadily improving Wizards. Having a career year averging almost 21 and 8.
Ben Wallace -- The most ferocious interior defenseman in the league grew by leaps and bounds after his dominating performance in the NBA finals last year. I actually expected Wallace to break double digits in scoring but he's stuck at 9.5. Declining numbers in rebounds and blocks tells me that Wallace is starting to fade but he's also got Rasheed Wallace to help carry the burden.
So the East has one Megastar in Lebron, which equals two players in their prime. Three guys in the prime of their careers (Jermaine O'Neal, Arenas, Jamison), two one-dimensional scorers (Pierce, Carter), one player on the cusp (Wade), one strong roleplayer (Ilgauskus and a ton of veteran leadership (Shaq, Iverson, Hill, Wallace).
So that's 11 guys in the primes of their career and a lot of good veteran talent. The league continues to get stronger and deeper as the high schoolers drafted early in the century are maturing.
The Morning Toast (Part 1): Ice Capades
Personally I think hockey as we know it is over. With no deal imminent and no real TV revenue or contract to speak of, the league doesn't have anyone pushing them for a deal. ESPN has said that from a programming standpoint that gain to make more money off of additional college basketball games and reruns of poker.
Actually if you believe Ed Sherman of the Chicago Tribune, the league has lost its leverage with the World Wide Leader in Sports and ESPN might not be interested.
As for what ESPN might do next season, [ESPN Executive VP of Programming] Mark Shapiro said: "What next year? As far as we're concerned, they're on lockout. At this point, we have to make other plans."
The thing is that Gary Bettman was so close. He did what he wanted to do, he broke the union, got the union to agree to a salary cap and it was very owner-friendly. In the end Bettman wanted more and he stuck with the hardest of the hard-line owners who really didn't want to play this season.
Risky move? Possibly.
Downright sinful? According to Richard Justice it is.
Even when it became clear he was wrong, Bettman smugly compounded the mistake by failing to admit it. In an attempt to make his sport more appealing, he changed so many rules that even the fans who cared passionately about it in the first place became alienated.
Now my problem with the sport is the current lack of skills. The ice pundits can talk about hockey being far more exciting then what's being shown on television but I've covered six NHL Stanley Cup finals games in the last two years and believe me, the neutral zone trap is as excruciating in person as it is on television. Clutching and grabbing anyone who dares try to play offense looks just as frustrating in person.
So I hope Bettman is honest when he says that the product we'll see on the ice will be a different a better product. One free of the trap, one free of ridiculous goalie pads, one with shootouts and the end of the two-line pass. One without fights and thuggery.
Because if it isn't better, the NHL is in store for the doom that the sports world fears. Or as Rod Brind A'Mour said.
“This isn’t basketball, this isn’t ACC football. They could take probably 10 years off and pick up. This is a fragile sport, we’re trying to build it here. We need to get back out there.”
Wednesday, February 16, 2005The Morning Toast: All-Stars All The Time..
Steroids You Say? I'm Shocked!
Overrated manager Tony La Russa admits that he knew about Jose Canseco using steroids only a few days after denying that he knew anything. Yes, I'm shocked...I wonder if La Russa would lie about anyone else? Hmmm.
My favorite part of his statement (to be aired tonight on 60 Minutes II):
"I think it's fair to say that Major League Baseball could have been more hard-nosed about their approach, but it's more fair to say that even any effort that they made, or would have made, would have been rebuffed by the players association....Why does the players' association do things that is really not in the best interest of the game as a whole? They're really concerned with their constituents."
So he blames the players for him not coming clean. Right. I bet it had nothing to do with the simple fact that Oakland was winning a lot of ball games. La Russa is no different than anyone else involved in this mess. He's a self-serving liar, who looked the other way when he saw that steroids could help him win.
Speaking of self-serving liars, MLB's high chief was apparently warned by the FBI that many players were using illegal steroids in the 1990s.
"There's little question the use of steroids was very widespread in baseball," FBI Special Agent Greg Stejskal told the Daily News. "Major League Baseball in effect, they didn't sanction it, but they certainly looked the other way."
Surprisingly the league claims they never knew about the conversation with Stejskal. Less surprisingly, I don't believe the league.
The NBA's Big Show
The NBA is starting to reach its level again. The youth invasion that started in 1999 is finally matured and hit its prime. The younger stars are taking off like Amare Stoudamire and King James and even the older guys like Shaq are showing new signs of life.
So at this stage, I try to rate this year's All-Star team and compare it's worthiness to the 1993 All-Star teams, the deepest All-Star game in my existence. Just look at it. You had roughly 14 guys in their primes, plus a rookie Shaq and second-year pro Larry Johnson, who was the 1991-92 rookie of the year.
Not surprisingly it was a great game, a mixture of transition and set offenses. Even the coaches (Paul Westphal and Pat Riley) had great playoff runs that only came up short because that Jordan guy happened to be on the floor at the same time.
So let's examine the 2005 Western All-Stars, with my comments in italics. The east will go tomorrow.
*Kobe Bryant -- Not surprisingly, Kobe will play in this game at 80% because he can try to turn in into a way to upstage everyone in a state where he dealt with a rape trial. Kobe's definitely in his prime and when he's healthy, he's one of the best.
*Tracy McGrady -- T-Mac has had to do some good PR work because he left Orlando with a bad reputation due to his admittance of slacking off. T-Mac's prime should be as good as Kobe's but I have a weird feeling he's squandered some of it.
*Tim Duncan -- Total professional, class individual, class ballplayer. No one combines the forward-center skills like Duncan.
*Kevin Garnett -- A 7'1 small forward seems exciting on the surface but if he played a little bigger I think the T-Wolves would be a little better. Reigning MVP is as good as he'll get.
*Yao Ming -- I think Yao's best basketball is ahead of him. He and McGrady are starting to learn each other's traits. He's not physical or dominating like Shaq is but he has good awareness.
Ray Allen -- One of my favorite players is probably entering the latter stages of his career. He's still a marksman shooter and his pyschological games with Kobe Bryant have given me much joy.
Manu Ginobili -- One of the four Non-Americans on the West squad. Ginobili is a great idea of the "international" guard. He does several things well, nothing great but he's an all-around contributor.
Rashard Lewis -- At 25, Lewis is finding his game. He's actually been productive since his third year. He's never going to be the #1 option, but with Allen he's the #1.5 option on the Sonics. He's even starting to play a little defense. At 6'10, I'd love to see him averging eight rebounds a game.
Shawn Marion -- One of three Suns on the team and his reputation as a finisher has been enhanced by Steve Nash. He's got a lot more game than you think, averging 18.1 and 9.6 for a career. He's a solid defensive player when he's given the chance to play defense.
Steve Nash -- I expect you'll see Nash on the floor with Marion, Nowitzki and Amare at some point. Having a career year with his assists. Broken-down body probably has two more years of playing at a strong level. Should be a starter.
Dirk Nowitzki -- Larry Bird and Tom Chambers' child is having a career season (27.1 ppg). Probably should be starter as well. Unlike Garnett, Dirk is willing to get the tough buckets and I think the Mavericks have a better shot to win the West than people think.
Amare Stoudamire -- A little out of position as a center but he's a young buck so it doesn't matter. He's almost doubled his points output since his rookie season and he's shooting 57.3 percent from the floor.
So by my count there are six guys in their primes (Kobe, T-Mac, Duncan, KG, Dirk, Lewis) and three guys on the cusp (Amare, Yao, Marion), one super complimentary player (Ginobili) and two strong vets (Ray Allen, Nash).
This is going to be close.
When Deadline Strikes
It's Official. More basketball for me.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005The Midnight Snack: Manic Monday...
More Steroid Accusations
First there's Victor Conte, then Jose Canseco and now...some skank Barry Bonds slept with.
Yes, because the one thing this baseball epidemic needed were more non-credible witnesses, I give you Kimberly Bell. Miss Bell has apparently had a long, extramarital relationship with Bonds and she told Geraldo (yet another credible news source...why not just tell Matt Drudge) that she saw Bonds use steroids, he's got acne, etc. etc.
I'm not going to deny Bell's story. Hell I believe Canseco for the most part. However I'm going to inspect the media double standard here. Because Canseco is being ripped for basically being a low-life (partially true) but will the media take this woman who we don't have a clue about, and who all but admitted she wasn't paid enough to shut up, seriously? That's the question. I'm expecting Kato Kaelin to say he injected Mike Piazza in the next few days.
Well the L.A. Times is at least interested and the N.Y. Post is being the tacky tabloid it usually is.
NFL = Not For Long
Especially if your name is Jeff Garcia. On Monday, the Browns decided to just release the NFL's most popular metrosexual. Garcia was never a fit in Cleveland as the success he achieved in San Francisco (thanks to Terrell Owens) couldn't be matched (due to a lack of guys named "Terrell Owens" on the Browns).
So if there were any doubts that Romeo Crennel is running this show, those doubts have been erased. It seems plainly obvious that Cleveland will focus on a QB in the draft and probably resign free agent veteran Kelly Holcomb.
As for Garcia. Well he's not very good without Terrell Owens, if anything he's proved that Terrell Owens is probably still underpaid. I mean that guy can make a QB look good while playing on a broken leg. Garcia needs to spend the year as a backup somewhere to get his confidence back. I'd suggest the Jets, he'll get plenty of work as Chad Pennington recovers from surgery and the Jets need an experienced backup.
If backup isn't his thing, the Arizona Cardinals have a logjam at QB and all of them are horrible. I expect him to sign in one of five places (N.Y. Jets, Arizona, Dallas, Miami and New Orleans) with an incentive-laden contract.
Personally I think Garcia is a horrible average quarterback made to look great by T.O., however he's got enough athletic ability to where he can be successful. He's a bit of a whiner...okay he's a LOT of a whiner and his sheer existence seems to grate certain people (T.O.) the wrong way. He also didn't get along with the Browns' staff and complained about how he was being used.
In other news, the Vikings will have the NFL's first black owner. The NFL hasn't really played this story up as big as Major League Baseball did when Arte Moreno took over the Anah...err Angels of Greater Los Angeles County (???) a couple of years ago.
However, the Boston Globe calls it a racial milestone and the Star-Tribune reminds all Vikings fans that it's still Red's show. Way to support the deal guys.
After getting past the red tape Fowler will have to do something with star receiver Randy Moss. Jets coach Herman Edwards says he could handle the ornery Moss without any problems. His friends at Newsday would rather he didn't take the risk.
Personally I doubt Moss is going anywhere, not for the two first-rounders the Vikes are asking for.
Make That Tuesday...No Wednesday
Apparently that's the FINAL NHL deadline and if no deal is reached by Wednesday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will announce the cancellation of the season.
Both sides had more meetings yesterday and nothing came of them, no change from the last 150 meetings they've had.
Bottom line is I don't think Bettman will actually cancel the league. Eventually days and games will run out and the season will sort of cancel itself. If you're with the players, what's the rush? Bettman can't even get hold to his own deadlines. I don't blame the players for not trusting the league, the league can't set a deadline without changing it.
If the NHL wants to save itself, they should cut from the top. Guess where I want to start?
Monday, February 14, 2005The Morning Toast: Can He Pull the Plug?
The NHL's most recent deadline doesn't mean anything until Gary Bettman has the nads to actually pull the plug and be prepared to go long term with the negotiations. I can understand Bettman's apprehension because he's probably living by Vince McMahon's motto that any press at this point is good press.
If the NHL decides to cancel the season it'll stay in the American wraps for 3-4 days and then it's off to spring training. The NHL becomes an afterthought until September. However, eventually March will come about and once baseball spring begins, you can forget about hockey drawing a buzz. It's a fact that Spring Training and the NCAA conference and national tournaments dominate March.
So is there any surprise that the NHL Officials rep has stepped into the sitation, begging the NHLPA to concede. Yeah, if the players don't care about who pays their salaries, they damn sure don't care about the guys who keep them off the ice for two minutes at a time. Futhermore:
The NHL's 44 referees earn an average $150,000 per season, while linesmen average $100,000. Many officials have taken up odd jobs to make ends meet, as well as keep themselves occupied. Don Van Massenhoven has been selling cars, Bill McCreary builds kitchen cabinets and Kerry Fraser obtained his real estate license.
The NHL also has offered loans to officials who require it.
"Our guys are basically unemployed," Walkom said. "Our guys are basically covering the bills. That's all we're doing."
Considering the real struggles that the ticket takers, seat cleaners, vendors and other low income jobs associated with each franchise are dealing with, I have a hard time feeling sympathy for the officials. $150K/year is a decent chunk of change, if the officials saved properly they could survive for a year.
Yeah yeah, I know what you are thinking: They make a lot of money, but they spend of lot of money. Well I may act like I care about the officials' plight, but really I don't.
As for public opinion, it seems that: Bettman is dumb, the league deserves no sympathy, and new players could improve the product.
Otherwise, some NHL'ers sign with Russia and others are terrorizing a minor league near you.
I haven't bought it yet. I will this evening and I'll probably start reading it tomorrow.
FINALLY someone has made a bona fide, absolute, outright denial. Did Mark McGwire do it on camera? Well lord no, that would be stupid because we could see his noticably slimmer physique (alledgely 60-70 pounds lighter, so light he supposedly wore a flakjacket of sorts for his brief ESPN appearance this summer).
However here's what Big Mac said:
"Once and for all, I did not use steroids nor any illegal substance. I feel sorry to see someone turn to such drastic measures to accomplish a personal agenda at the expense of so many."
The relationship that these allegations portray couldn't be further from the truth. Most concerning to me is the negative effect that sensationalizing steroids will have on impressionable youngsters who dream of one day becoming professional athletes."
Sounds believable to me, but he's lied before.
As for the godfather of steroids, he had his day in the sun on 60 minutes last night. I'd review it for you, but I'm lazy so go here, here, here, here or here for professional opinions. And here's one more for good measure.
And here's the semi-official transcript.
Maryland Fans Are Thugs:
And they have a horrible inferiority complex too. You would think Terps never defeated Duke, scary thing is they did it three weeks ago.
"It's school unity, school pride," said student Tyler Edwards, 21. "You definitely can't stop the riots. It's going to happen at any school, especially a big school like Maryland."
Yeah, they said the same thing at Kent State. Guys, act like you've been there before. Now if this were North Carolina beating Duke...I'd understand.
That's all for now...
Sunday, February 13, 2005The Morning Toast: The Art of the Denial...
Anyway, I'm thrilled about getting this Canseco book tomorrow. Even if the steroid stuff isn't huge in it, I'm sure he's got some great stories about sleeping with half the Raiderettes or something.
However, after listening to the Sports Reporters this morning. They made a good point about denials...or lack thereof. Let's start with Big Mac's denial, the one who some say is untouchable.
"I have always told the truth and I am saddened I continue to face
this line of questioning."
The truth he told was that he used andro. Baseball banned the substance soonthereafter and it's safe to say that McGwire's decline from his 1998 (70 HRs) and 1999 (65 HRs) season was pretty dramatic.
How about Bret Boone's denial?
"I don't know him. He doesn't know me. . . . The most I've ever said to him is, `What's up, Jose?' End of story."
Interesting denial don't you think. All he says is that Canseco didn't know him, no where does he deny using steroids.
Just something new to think about.
-- Speaking of America's pastime. Jason Giambi's apology was somewhere in between a joke and a gag. You can believe the Yankees had no prior knowledge of his usage if you want to, but they didn't remove all steroid language from his contract.
Here's Giambi on his role model status:
"I hope the message here that the parents or even the kids understand is that this is a guy who's facing his problems. He's not running from them. He's trying to overcome them. He's not quitting. That's what makes you a man."
BTW, Giambi is back up to his 235-pound physique that he got while in Oakland. So I can believe he's "trying" to overcome them, but he hasn't actually gotten there yet.
Giambi on Jose Canseco:
"I think it's kind of sad Jose's so desperate to make a dime."
He said he and McGwire used to shoot you up the ass and that's the best you've got? Is it true? Is it not true? Tell us the truth.
The Boss, George Steinbrenner added the following:
"It takes a hell of a big man to stand up and apologize to his teammates, to New York Yankee fans and to baseball fans everywhere and admit he was wrong."
Yeah it obviously takes a big man...A man that weighs about 235-238 pounds according to The New York Times. Mind you Giambi didn't admit what he was sorry for.
As for Giambi's character. It takes a real man not to cheat in the first place. I don't think he's there yet.